Campaign activity, insurgent violence rise in Iraq
Dec. 5, 05
BAGHDAD - Iraq's political leaders are well into their campaigns.
Election posters plaster city streets. With 10 days left before
the historic vote for a permanent parliament, militant moves
to derail the process and U.S. and Iraqi government counterinsurgency
efforts also are in full swing.
By Qassim Zein, AFP
Joint U.S.-Iraqi operations in insurgent hotspots including
Anbar province are encountering increasing violence. On Thursday,
a massive roadside bomb killed 10 Marines on foot patrol near
Fallujah, a restive area that previously had been cleared of
insurgent activity. In Baghdad, 19 Iraqi troops were killed in
an ambush Saturday. Last week, a campaign worker putting up election
posters in the northern city of Mosul was killed.
On Sunday, about a dozen people, some carrying clubs, tried
to prevent former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi from entering
a shrine in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Allawi said. "They
were planning to kill the whole delegation, or at least me,"
he said after returning to Baghdad. The crowd dispersed after
bodyguards fired in the air. Allawi, a secular Shiite parliament
member running for re-election, was campaigning in the southern
city. As interim prime minister, he ordered U.S. and Iraqi forces
to capture Najaf from a radical Shiite cleric's militia in August
The latest violence, some of it claimed by top insurgent leader
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is similar to the upsurge in attacks that
preceded the elections for a transitional government in January.
U.S. officials say the unrest is likely to get worse but it
won't deter voters. "There are going to be horrific acts
of violence, candidly, at the point in time where (Zarqawi) can
get the most international media attention," Maj. Gen. Rick
Lynch, spokesman for coalition forces in Iraq, told reporters
last week. "But on the 15th of December, there will be peaceful
elections in Iraq."
He said U.S. and Iraqi forces plan to deploy more troops to
conduct anti-insurgent operations.
An Internet statement attributed to the Islamic Army in Iraq,
one of several dozen insurgent groups operating here, claimed
responsibility for Thursday's attack on the Marines. But a Marine
statement said Sunday that a video posted on the website, which
is used by insurgents to claim attacks, was not last week's Fallujah
incident. The bombing was the deadliest incident since 14 Marines
and a civilian interpreter were killed Aug. 3 by a roadside bomb
near Hadithah in western Iraq.
Despite the violence, Iraqi candidates are gearing up for
the elections. The Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, led
by the ruling Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq
(SCIRI), and the Dawa Party of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari,
is emerging as the front-runner.
But the alliance's image has been blemished recently by indications
of detainee abuse by police squads. The government has launched
an investigation to determine who is responsible for maltreatment
of 173 prisoners discovered Nov. 12 in a basement bunker attached
to the Interior Ministry, which is controlled by SCIRI.
Some voters are looking for leaders who focus less on religious
allegiances than on uniting Iraqis. Others will follow the recommendations
of their mosques.
"No more sectarianism," says Laith Fiaq, 55, a civil
servant, as he sips mint tea at the Karrada Nights teahouse in
central Baghdad. "I'd like to see parties in power that
are less religious. They don't work in dividing Iraq, they work
toward bringing us together."
Courting the secular vote: Allawi, who heads a coalition of
Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and Ahmad Chalabi, a onetime Pentagon
favorite who left the United Iraqi Alliance to form a rival coalition.
In January, thousands of Shiites voted for the SCIRI-led alliance
after revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued
a fatwa, or religious edict. Over the weekend, Sistani's
office announced that the reclusive spiritual leader is urging
followers to support religious candidates in this month's election.
The instructions fall short of a fatwa but could still
sway Shiites, who are the majority here.
Powerful coalitions such as the United Iraqi Alliance will
have to contend with a new electoral system. Elections will be
held within 18 provincial districts, each with an allotted portion
of the 275-seat legislature. The system is designed to allow
smaller parties larger representation, says Hassan Bazzad, a
Baghdad political analyst and former Baghdad University professor.
The coalitions also will face a reinvigorated Sunni electorate.
Sunnis, who largely boycotted January's vote, are likely to show
up Dec. 15 in large numbers in Sunni-dominated provinces, as
they did during the constitutional referendum in October.
Yonadam Kanna, secretary general of the Assyrian Democratic
Movement, says the real test will come when the rival parties
get down to forming a government, including naming a prime minister,
president and ministers.
In January, the Shiite alliance won 140 of the National Assembly's
275 seats. It took nearly three more months of political wrangling
with rival alliances to form the government, Kanna says. The
alliance is expected to win about 20 fewer seats, giving them
even less political muscle, he says.
"That will be where we either succeed as a government,"
Kanna says, "or face a crisis."
Contributing: Wire reports