In insurgent heartland, Sunnis expected to vote in large numbers

Buildings still lie in ruins, pulverized by two of the most intense urban battles of the Iraq war. The city is sealed off, with only residents allowed into or out of the tight security cordon.

But despite continuing violence and intimidation in Iraq's insurgent heartland, turnout for Thursday's election in Fallujah, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad, is expected to be high.

Campaign posters were plastered Wednesday over blast walls along the street, at police checkpoints, on the walls of houses.

"All indications we have are that (local leaders) are 100 percent behind the election tomorrow," said Lt. Col. Rip Miles, Executive Officer of Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.

American officials are hoping that a large &to=' target=_blank>Sunni Arab turnout, especially in Anbar province cities such as this, will give the minority enough votes to have a say in the 275-member parliament.

A strong enough Sunni Arab presence in parliament would allow them minority to block an outright win by the Shiites and force the formation of a coalition government. Such a government could have enough legitimacy to let the steam out of the insurgency _ which has been fighting what it has described as an illegal government.

In January parliamentary elections, almost nobody voted in Anbar province, heeding a call for a boycott by Sunni Arabs and the insurgency they dominate. That led to rival Shiites and Kurds winning most of the seats in the interim parliament. The result sharpened communal tensions and instead fueled the insurgency.

But Sunni leaders reversed their stance for Thursday's vote, which will produce a government to select a four-year government.

On Tuesday, more than 1,000 Sunni clerics have issued a fatwa, or religious decree, instructing their followers to vote. Local clerics in Fallujah have also been using their Friday sermons to urge people to vote _ although they have not endorsed any particular candidate, U.S. officials in the city say.

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