Visitors to this northern city are likely to find a ghost town - a curfew is in place most of the day and cars are not allowed on the streets. US soldiers and their Iraqi National Guards counterparts have dispersed throughout the city.

In November, Mosul erupted as an unlikely centre of fighting just days after US forces attacked Falluja. Iraqi police abandoned their posts, and polling centres and security stations were burned to the ground.

So, with less than 24 hours to go before polling stations open elsewhere in Iraq, Mosul is still far from holding elections. There are no polling centres or electoral programmes in the city and campaign posters encouraging people to vote have been burned or torn down.

Forms unavailable

Mosul's residents have yet to receive voter registration forms, which the interim government promised would be distributed by food ration agents making their rounds.

Armed groups such as Ansar al-Sunna threatened the agents with death and ordered the forms be destroyed. Entire warehouses of forms and other elections material were burned in November and December.

On walls everywhere in the city, it is possible to read anti-election slogans, some stating that elections are religiously forbidden, others threats by Ansar al-Sunna to kill anyone participating in the poll.

Crucial voter bloc

The city of about three million people and home to the largest cadre of former Iraqi army officers, is predominantly Sunni and forms the third largest city in Iraq. It is pivotal in any national election.

US soldiers secure a school due to
be a polling station in Mosul

In an 11th-hour bid to persuade Mosul residents to participate, the interim Iraqi government and US forces attempted to re-establish some polling centres in the city.

Hundreds of election workers armed with voting material were transported to Mosul on Friday night by US soldiers amid intense security.

With the vote only hours away, they were all given about two hours of training and promised the equivalent of $500 for their effort.

US warplanes and Apache helicopters will provide air surveillance while Navy Seal snipers will be posted on rooftops around polling sites, which are expected to number 40.

Confusion

Such intense security may push voters away, however. Most of the new polling stations are so heavily guarded they look like US military and Iraqi National Guard barracks. One can even see tanks and armoured vehicles inside the centres, triggering fear in potential voters.

The risk of being targeted, confusion over the ballot, the candidates and the type of elections have all left Mosul residents debating whether or not the vote is worth the gamble.

In a city that is home to Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Assyrians and other minorities, many do not feel comfortable talking to reporters for fear of violent reprisal. But for those who did, many expressed a desire to partake in a democratic process but feared the security situation.

"The best thing that happened is that the elections have been cancelled in Mosul city, in order to protect people's lives"

Mosul resident

Qais Aziz, a professor at Mosul University, said: "I really wish to participate in such a democratic experience, but it is out of our hands. These armed groups have deprived us from practicing our right in the elections."

An Iraqi woman, who declined to give her name, preferred that elections not be held at all.

"The best thing that happened is that the elections have been cancelled in Mosul city, in order to protect people's lives," she added.

Ghalib Fawaz, however, disagrees with the concept of elections while US-led forces still control the country.

"I am against the elections as they are carried out under occupation authority. There are no honest and free elections under occupation," he said.