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Bomb Rocks Iraq Holy City on Election Eve

Saturday, 06 March 2010 01:04 PM

NAJAF- A car bomb targeting Shiite pilgrims killed three people in Iraq's holiest city on Saturday on the eve of the country's parliamentary election which Al-Qaeda has threatened to wreck.

The blast near a Shiite shrine in Najaf, which officials said killed two visiting Iranians and an Iraqi and wounded at least 54 people, came despite a massive nationwide security operation in the run-up to Sunday's vote.

It gutted four pilgrim buses, mangled cars and left the area spattered with blood, smashed glass and torn clothes, and blew out the windows of nearby hotels that host the thousands of Iranians who flock to Najaf every month.

"We had gathered all the pilgrims in the car park, and they were getting into the buses when the explosion took place, and killed and injured many visitors," said Hussein Banahi, an Iranian tour guide.

Thirty-seven of the wounded were Iranians, officials said, adding the blast was just 500 metres (yards) from Najaf's shrine of Imam Ali, the Prophet Mohammed's son-in-law and a revered figure in Shiite Islam.

"The attack carries the prints of Al-Qaeda and Saddamists," said Faed al-Shimmary of the provincial council in Najaf, which lies south of Baghdad.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast condemned the attack as an "inhuman and criminal act."

Later on Saturday, a polling station in the Sunni town of Ramadi, western Iraq, was struck by a round of mortar fire which wounded three people, local police said.

The final days of campaigning for the poll, the second parliamentary ballot since US-led troops ousted dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, have been overshadowed by a series of suicide bombings in Baghdad and other cities.

The Islamic state of Iraq, the Qaeda front in the country, said it would impose a "curfew" on polling day and anyone who dared defy it would "expose himself to the anger of Allah and... all kinds of weapons of the mujahedeen."

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Qaeda front, had threatened last month to disrupt by "military means" the poll which looks set to see minority Sunnis vote en masse, in stark contrast to their 2005 election boycott.

Friday's statement from Qaeda, an extremist Sunni group that views Shiites as heretics, came as voting was already under way for an estimated 1.4 million Iraqis living abroad in 16 different countries.

Some 200,000 Iraqi police and soldiers will be on duty in Baghdad alone to provide security for the vote, the country's borders and its airports will be shut for the day and all cars banned from the streets.

Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby, the second highest-ranking US officer in Iraq, described the security operation as "an all-Iraq show" requiring little American manpower.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the Shiite head of the State of Law Alliance, boasted this week that he was "certain" of victory.

But he faces stiff competition from Shiite former premier Iyad Allawi, whose rival secular Iraqiya list has strong support in Sunni areas.

Also competing for the top job are former deputy premier Ahmed Chalabi, who was once favoured but is now loathed by Washington, Shiite Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi and Finance Minister Baqer Jaber Solagh.

Iraq's fragmented political scene virtually ensures that no single party will emerge with the 163 seats needed to form a government on its own and the ensuing horse-trading to form a governing coalition is likely to be protracted.

One thing that is almost certain is that the new prime minister will be from the Shiite majority that was oppressed by the Sunni dictator Saddam but which now dominates the political scene.

The US military sees Sunday's poll as a crucial precursor to withdrawing its combat troops by September. It says that after that date it hopes to have only 50,000 soldiers in Iraq.

Currently there are about 96,000 US troops in the country but they are mostly confined to their bases under the terms of a security agreement that saw them leave Iraq's cities, towns and villages last June.

Copyright © 2010 AFP.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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NAJAF- A car bomb targeting Shiite pilgrims killed three people in Iraq's holiest city on Saturday on the eve of the country's parliamentary election which Al-Qaeda has threatened to wreck.
Saturday, 06 March 2010 01:04 PM
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