In Iraq's northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region, hopes are high for strong Kurdish representation in Iraq's new National Assembly following Sunday's election. But many of the polling stations were in remote, mountainous areas, and the counting is expected to take several days.

In the four provinces of northern Iraq comprising the Kurdish region, collecting the ballot boxes at a central location for counting means bringing them down from isolated villages in the mountains, as well as gathering up those in major cities, such as Erbil.

An official with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, Adil al-Alami, said the counting would continue for several days, and results are not expected before next week.

Heading into this election, officials of the Kurdistan Democratic Party said they hoped the unified slate of candidates they forged with the other major Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, would enable them together to win 20-to-25 percent of the 275 seats in the new National Assembly.

The unity the two parties forged during this election campaign is in sharp contrast to differences, which, in 1994, led to fighting between them that resulted in two mirror regional governments being established.

Election officials reported a high turnout in the Kurdish region. But after the polls closed Sunday, the streets of Erbil were quiet. Security remained tight, and there was very little traffic except for official vehicles.