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Mar 6th, 2010


Anti-U.S. Militia Returns to Baghdad

Minority Sunnis fearful of Shiite group ahead of elections

Image: Muqtada al-Sadr supporters
Iraqi Shiite Muslims shout slogans in support of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr during prayers in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood on Friday, March 5, 2010. A militia tied to al-Sadr has resurfaced and is threatening Sunnis. (Photo credit: Joseph Eid / AFP — Getty Images)


March 5, 2010

BAGHDAD — They’re back, on street corners in places Sunnis had thought were safe again: the Shiite militiamen who drove them from their homes in a bloody campaign that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Many Iraqis in areas where anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army once held sway say young men who had worn the militia’s signature black shirts have returned ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary elections, albeit in smaller numbers and a low profile.

Many Sunnis in flashpoint neighborhoods say they are lying low or temporarily moving to safer areas as they wait in fear that the elections will spark a new sectarian backlash against them. …

 
Interactive
Iraq’s 2010 elections 
View a timeline, videos and more about the steps toward democracy.

Ex-Mahdi Army members appear to have been emboldened by the prospect of an Iraq free of the U.S. military and by al-Sadr’s decision to join a Shiite-led alliance that may become the single largest bloc in the next legislature. The alliance could earn the right to nominate the next prime minister.

The radical cleric’s movement fought bloody battles with Sunni militants and the Americans and was blamed for some of the worst retaliatory sectarian violence. The elections could give it more leverage than it has had since it burst on the scene after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Bloodshed between death squads from the two rival Islamic sects brought Iraq to the brink of civil war before a U.S. troop buildup in 2008 helped rout the extremists from both sides. …

Sunday’s election for a 325-seat legislature has been billed as a key step in Iraq’s democratic evolution. Iraqis hope it helps them achieve national reconciliation at a time when the United States is pressing ahead with plans to withdraw all its forces by the end of next year.

Slide presentation
Image: Iraqis in Iran vote
Iraq goes to the polls
Scenes from an election that will determine who will lead the country as U.S. forces go home.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who in 2008 initiated several offensives against Shiite and Sunni militant groups, is seeking a second term in office. He leads an alliance that is dominantly Shiite and led by his Dawa Party. He refused to join the Supreme Council and the Sadrists in one coalition.

The decision by a Shiite-led vetting panel to disqualify more than 400 candidates from running because of alleged ties to Saddam’s outlawed Baath party also has left many Sunnis seething. They see the move as a thinly veiled attempt to undermine their minority community, which dominated Iraq under Saddam.

Some Shiites are worried that extremist Sunnis will respond to the elections with bloodshed. …

In one of the worst recent incidents, eight members of one Shiite family were shot and beheaded last month in the village of Wahda, a mixed Shiite-Sunni village south of Baghdad.

Al-Sadr, who considered past elections illegitimate, has joined a Shiite alliance led by an Iranian-backed party — the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. He has endorsed this election as a means of “political resistance,” raising the likelihood of a large turnout by Sadrists and the possibility that the alliance could emerge as Iraq’s strongest political force after Sunday’s vote.

Al-Sadr’s movement has returned to using the “Sadrist Trend” — its official name — on its campaign propaganda material. In previous elections, the movement said it was only backing selected independents. …

The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council is thought be behind the hundreds of posters in Shiite areas of Baghdad bearing the image of the country’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in a move designed to use the name of the much revered cleric to attract voters.

In a clear provocation to the Sunnis, former Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili, one of two former government officials accused of allowing Shiite death squads to use ambulances and government hospitals to carry out kidnappings and killings, is running for parliament in the Shiite-led coalition led by the Supreme Council and the Sadrists. The charges against the two were dropped two years ago.

The number of Iraqis killed in war-related violence increased by 44 percent — to at least 255 — between January and February.

Figures compiled by The Associated Press show that at least 30 unidentified bodies were found in January and February across the country. That was still a low number compared with past years but a number large enough to suggest that sectarian killings may not have entirely ceased.

Video

A mix of hope, fear (NBC Nightly News, March 5, 2010) — A power void immediately following Iraq’s elections could put the still-volatile country in peril. NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel reports. (01:32)

Pre-election analysis by Richard Engel

Iraqi elections: America’s final hurdle

——

Attacks Mar Iraq Early Voting

Video

Amid violence, Iraqis head to polls (NBC Nightly News, March 4, 2010) — At least 12 people were killed and 27 injured Thursday in separate attacks in Iraq, a reminder that the violence continues even if the war is winding down. NBC’s Richard Engel reports on how that has affected the nearly 100,000 Americans still stationed there. (02:19)


March 4, 2010

BAGHDAD — A string of deadly blasts shattered an early round of voting in Iraq Thursday, killing 17 people and highlighting the fragile nature of the country’s security gains ahead of crucial parliamentary elections this Sunday.

Iraq security forces were out in full force, trying to protect early voters in an election that will determine who will lead the country through the crucial period of the U.S. troop drawdown and help decide whether the country can overcome its deep sectarian divisions.

But three explosions — a rocket attack and two suicide bombings — showed the ability of insurgents to carry out bloody attacks. They have promised to disrupt the voting with violence. …

Many of the blast victims were believed to be security personnel, targeted by suicide bombers who hit police and soldiers lined up to vote. …

In the first attack, a Katyusha rocket killed seven people in the Hurriyah neighborhood about 500 yards from a closed polling station, police said.

The second attack hit the upscale Mansour neighborhood, where a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest near a group of soldiers lining up at a polling station, killing six and wounding 18, police said.

The blast left a small crater in the middle of the street, and debris from the explosion splattered around the crater. Pools of blood and burnt human flesh littered the ground along with broken glass, rubble from buildings and the remnants of shops signs.

In the third blast, another suicide bomber blew himself up near policemen waiting to vote in the Bab al-Muadham neighborhood in central Baghdad, killing four people and wounding 14 others, according to police and hospital officials. …

In Washington, senior administration officials said a number of potential attacks were headed off by security forces on the perimeter of polling places Thursday. …

Sunday’s elections are only Iraq’s second for a full parliamentary term since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein, leading to the eventual creation of the Shiite-dominated government in power today, headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. …

——

Related reports on this site

Muqtada al-Sadr on the March (April 1, 2010)

Iraq Election Results (March 26, 2010)

Iraq Set to Elect Pro-Iran Leader (Feb. 25, 2010)

Iraq Mass Casualty Bombing (Feb. 1, 2010)

Iraq War on Trial (Jan. 29, 2010)

Triple Bombing Rocks Baghdad (Jan. 25, 2010)

Iranian Troops Cross into Iraq (Dec. 18, 2009)

Deadly Violence Erupts in Iraq (Dec. 8, 2009)

Massive Bomb Attack on Iraq Govt (Oct. 25, 2009)

Bomb Blasts Across Baghdad (Aug. 19, 2009)

Mass Casualty Baghdad Bombings (May 21, 2009)

——

FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — March 6, 2009

A policeman inspects the wreckage of a vehicle use...
A policeman inspects the wreckage of a vehicle used in a car bomb attack in Hamza, 80 miles south of Baghdad, on Thursday, March 5, 2009. (Photo credit: Reuters)

Iraq Update

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that a car bomb exploded in a livestock market in Iraq’s southern Babil province, killing 12 people, wounding 40, and shattering a peace that had held in the area for some time, while insurgents attacked a main U.S.-Iraqi base in the northern city of Mosul, killing one American soldier and striking directly at the Iraqi command center for an offensive against the militants.





9 Responses to “Iraq Election Preview”
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