Iraqis vote in first local ballot since US withdrawal

BAGHDAD - Iraqis voted for provincial councils on Saturday in their first ballot since US troops left the country, a key measure of political strength before parliamentary elections next year.
Iraqi politics are deeply split along sectarian lines with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government mired in crisis over how to share power among Shi'ites, Sunni Muslims and ethnic Kurds who run their own autonomous region in the north.
Violence and suicide bombings have surged since the start of the year with a local al-Qaeda wing vowing a campaign to stoke widespread confrontation among the country's combustible sectarian and ethnic mix.