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Iraq Violence Targets Early Voters as Sunday Election Draws Near

March 4, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Iraq began early voting for its parliamentary elections amid blasts at polling locations that killed at least 17 people and injured more than 30 people. Ray Suarez reports.
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JIM LEHRER: Bombs ripped through parts of Baghdad today, as early voting began for Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Seventeen Iraqis were killed in the attacks. More than 30 others were wounded.

Ray Suarez begins our coverage.

RAY SUAREZ: People were already lining up to vote early today when the first attack came. A rocket killed seven people about 500 yards from a not-yet-opened polling station.

Two suicide bombings followed. Despite heavy security, one attacker detonated his explosive vest near soldiers lining up to vote, while another went after police. They joined hospital patients, medical workers, and others among the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis casting early ballots.

MAN (through translator): We come here today to perform parliamentary elections for 2010. We hope that the next government pays heed to security.

RAY SUAREZ: The goal of early voting was to make sure security forces and hospitals are fully staffed for Sunday. Millions of Iraqis are expected to vote then, with insurgents also expected to carry out more attacks.

Overall, in the last two years, violence has dropped sharply in Iraq, but there’s been a series of bombings in the run-up to the voting. Just yesterday, a string of suicide blasts in Baquba killed 32 Iraqis.

MAN (through translator): We condemn this cowardly and terrorist act. This will not undermine our will or our determination to participate in the vote.

RAY SUAREZ: The election will be Iraq’s second for a full parliamentary term since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein.

The first election, in 2005, led to the Shiite-dominated government in power today. That government has banned dozens of Sunni candidates from running because of alleged ties to the former ruling Baathist party. And the ban has intensified deep rivalries over power-sharing among minority Sunnis, majority Shiites, and the Kurds.

On Sunday, about 19 million of Iraq’s estimated population of 28 million will be eligible to vote. More than 6,200 candidates are competing for just 325 seats. U.S. officials will be watching closely, as the outcome will determine the shape of the government that runs Iraq as American forces begin to go home. There are currently just under 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

The Obama administration plans to withdraw all combat troops by the end of this August and the remaining forces by the end of 2011.