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Attacks raise tensions on eve of Iraq polls

File - A man passes by a campaign poster of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, April 27, 2014 .(AP Photo/ Nabil al-Jurani)

BAGHDAD: On the eve of the first general election since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq, attacks killed 24 people across the country Tuesday, in the latest in a wave of deadly violence.

The bloodshed, a day after 64 people died in a nationwide spate of blasts, raises questions over whether security forces can protect upward of 20 million people eligible to vote in Wednesday’s polls.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, under fire over the worst protracted surge in violence in years and a laundry list of voter grievances, is bidding for a third term in the first national election since 2010.

The Shiite premier has trumpeted a battle against jihadists he claims are entering Iraq from next door in war-torn Syria, supported by Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

But critics say the heavy-handed treatment of minority Sunnis by authorities has added to the unrest.

With Monday’s attacks fueling fears voters may stay at home rather than risk being caught up in bloodshed, twin bombings hit a town northeast of Baghdad, killing 17 more people and violence elsewhere left seven more dead.

“I can’t imagine the militancy is going to sit back and say, ‘Yeah, have your election,’” said John Drake, a London-based security analyst at AKE Group.

“They are going to make a strong statement undermining the government, undermining the capability of the security forces, and hopefully deterring voters so that the vote result will be seen as illegitimate ... in the eyes of many of the electorate.”

But on a street in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood, which has been rocked by three suicide bombings in just two weeks, residents told AFP they were set on voting.

Mahir Ayad, reaching into his pocket to take out a poem written for a friend killed in one of those bombings, said it was his duty to vote.

Laith al-Azzawi said he had only left his home in Karrada on essential trips and that his ears were still ringing from a recent bombing, but was determined to vote.

“We won’t put up with this situation after today,” said the 40-year-old, who was wounded in the stomach by the same suicide bombing that killed Ayad’s friend.

More than 3,000 people have been killed in violence this year, according to an AFP tally, in the worst unrest since Iraq was plagued by all-out sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007 that left tens of thousands dead.

Authorities have announced a weeklong public holiday to try to bolster security for the election, and vehicles are barred from Baghdad’s streets from Tuesday evening.

The 63-year-old premier, who is accused by opponents of monopolizing power and targeting minority Sunnis, is widely expected to win the largest number of seats in parliament, but is unlikely to win a majority.

In such a case, he would have to win the support of coalition partners, notably Kurdish and Sunni parties as well as fellow Shiites who have been critical of his rule, to form a government.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 30, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

On the eve of the first general election since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq, attacks killed 24 people across the country Tuesday, in the latest in a wave of deadly violence.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, under fire over the worst protracted surge in violence in years and a laundry list of voter grievances, is bidding for a third term in the first national election since 2010 .

With Monday's attacks fueling fears voters may stay at home rather than risk being caught up in bloodshed, twin bombings hit a town northeast of Baghdad, killing 17 more people and violence elsewhere left seven more dead.


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