BAGHDAD: Iraq's election commission said Saturday that it has not yet decided how it will distribute voter ID cards in the embattled western province of Anbar, barely two months before the country's first election since the 2011 withdrawal of the U.S. forces.
The statement highlights the difficulties faced by Iraqi authorities in conducting elections following nearly a year of deteriorating security. Violence has spiked since last April, reaching levels unseen since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2008.
On Saturday, militants launched separate attacks in central and eastern Iraq, killing at least 14 people and wounding nearly two dozen.
The same day, Independent High Electoral Commission official Aziz al-Kheikani said the distribution began in four new provinces including the capital Baghdad in preparation for the April 30 ballot. Voters in 13 of Iraq's 18 provinces began to receive cards, which contain a computer chip, three weeks ago.
The cards are designed to make voting more transparent. Several Iraqi political blocs alleged that some people voted multiple times in the last vote in 2010, although the results of the election were not widely disputed.
Al-Kheikani said authorities will decide "soon" on when and how to distribute the cards in the remaining province, Anbar.
Fierce clashes pitting government security forces and allied Sunni tribal militias against a coalition of insurgents have been raging in western Iraq's Anbar province since late December. An al-Qaida offshoot and other insurgent groups have taken control of the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi. Thousands of families have left and government offices have shut down.
Insurgent attacks continue outside Anbar as well. On Saturday, two bombs targeted a four-vehicle patrol in the town of al-Saadiyah, 140 kilometers (90 miles) northeast of Baghdad, a police officer said. Later militants opened fire on the troops after the bombing.
Four military officers and five soldiers were killed, while four soldiers were wounded, he added.
The attack came hours after militants set off three car bombs exploded in the city of Tikrit, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, another police officer said. The officer said the blasts near the homes of local security and civilian officials killed five people and wounded 18.
Two medical officials confirmed figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information to journalists.
In his televised weekly speech on Wednesday, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reiterated a pledge to not delay elections because of the violence, calling on people to overcome any reluctance to pick up cards "because their vote will be decisive this time."
Nearly 22 million Iraqis are eligible to cast their ballots in parliamentary election, scheduled for April 30, to choose 325 lawmakers. Al-Maliki is eying a third term in office despite objections from political rivals who accuse him of marginalizing partners and seizing control of state institutions to consolidate power in his hands.
Last October, al-Kheikani said, Iraq's elections commission signed a deal with Spanish technology company Indra to organize the elections by implementing electronic and biometric systems to register voters. The five-year deal stipulates that the company issue 22 million ID chips with voter details recorded on them, as well as supply the needed equipment and training.
Al-Kheikani said the cards will be used only to facilitate the process of checking the voters' details before they take a ballot sheet in upcoming elections. Then will be developed to enable the voters to vote electronically in the future.
In previous elections, voters had to go through lists glued outside balloting centers to find their names before going inside.
All-Kheikani said the measure will not only ensure a smoother but also a more transparent process, as ballot sheets will not be handed out before each voter is cleared.