Campaigning for Iraq's April 30 general election opened Tuesday, with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki bidding for a third term as his government grapples with the country's worst bloodshed in years.
Iraqis face a long list of daily struggles, ranging from lengthy power cuts and poor running water and sewerage to rampant corruption and high levels of unemployment, to say nothing of a seemingly endless stream of attacks which have killed more than 2,200 people this year.
And despite officials vaunting wide-ranging security operations against insurgents and militant training camps, the bloodletting has shown little sign of abating.
Six members of the security forces were killed on Tuesday, as new figures showed unrest was still near its highest level since 2008.
"There are new faces, but these are the same old blocs," said Mazin Rumayadh, a 26-year-old employee of a Baghdad-based food wholesaler, voicing disdain for the apparent lack of progress since the last general election in March 2010.
"There is no need for them to fill the streets with posters -- they are only making the streets dirty and causing traffic jams.
"The elections will bring no change."
Political parties on Tuesday began plastering posters across Baghdad and the rest of the country, with more than 9,000 candidates vying for one of 328 parliamentary seats.
No single party is expected to win an absolute majority and previous elections have seen lengthy periods of government formation.
Elections in Iraq are rarely fought over political issues, with parties instead appealing to voters along sectarian, ethnic or tribal lines.
On some of the posters already up, for example, tribes voice pride over one of their members running for parliament.
Messages on other posters attempt to link would-be lawmakers with political leaders such as Maliki.
"We started putting up our posters in crowded areas of Baghdad, and in places we know many people live and pass through," said Munaf al-Haidari, running in the election for a breakaway offshoot of the premier's party.
"We have divided Baghdad into different areas, and we are targeting the areas where we have the most supporters," Haidari said.
Maliki's State of Law Alliance is widely seen as the frontrunner to secure the largest single number of seats in the polls, Iraq's first since March 2010.
But the bloc will encounter stiff competition in its traditional Shiite-dominated heartland of south Iraq from the Citizens List, a formerly powerful group seen as close to Iran, and Ahrar party that was until recently linked to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
In the Sunni-majority west and north, a variety of Sunni blocs are expected to compete for votes including those led by the parliament speaker and a deputy prime minister respectively.
And in the autonomous northern Kurdish region, a historic duopoly could be further dented by a relatively new political party that has made inroads in recent polls.
- Fears of greater violence -
The elections come with violence in Iraq at its highest level since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal sectarian war that left tens of thousands dead.
Separate sets of figures released on Tuesday by the UN mission to Iraq and the government differed markedly as to the scale of the bloodshed, but both pegged the violence at near its highest level in more than five years.
The bloodletting continued on Tuesday, with attacks in Tikrit and Mosul, north of Baghdad, killing six members of the security forces.
Analysts and diplomats have voiced fears that militants could try to further step up the pace of attacks in a bid to derail the elections.
Already, the vote appears unlikely to take place throughout parts of the western desert province of Anbar, which has been wracked by violence since the beginning of the year, with militants controlling an entire town on Baghdad's doorstep.
Sunni militants, who regard the Shiite-led government as illegitimate and allied with Iran, are often blamed for violence in Iraq.
The elections were briefly thrown into disarray by the mass resignation of the election commission, complaining of political and judicial interference, but the resignations were withdrawn within a week.
Nafia Abdul Jabbar, AFP