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Thursday’s Headlines: Bombings in Iraq; Parties Weigh Health Care Reconciliation

A series of blasts targeting voters in Baghdad killed 17 people Thursday, as many Iraqis cast early ballots ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary elections. The latest violence comes a day after a coordinated attack in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, killed at least 31 people.

Deputy Interior Minister Ayden Khalid Qader told the Associated Press that bombers were not able to reach polling places due to security measures and were targeting voters on their way to polling centers. Many of the victims were believed to be security personnel — the main group casting ballots during early voting.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is in a tough race to win another election, which will help determine who will oversee the country as U.S. forces go home.

The Obama administration has acknowledged that the worry for the United States is not who will win the elections, reports the New York Times, but the possibility that the elections could ignite violence that would complicate the U.S. withdrawal.

“We’re not leaving behind cooks and quartermasters,” Vice President Joe Biden told the Times. The remaining U.S. troops “will still be guys who can shoot straight and go get bad guys.”

Writing in Foreign Policy, Thomas Ricks doesn’t believe the bombings represent “any long-term trend.” However:

The big question in my mind is what happens in the three months after the election. How long will it take to form a government? And will that process exacerbate ethnic and sectarian tensions? If we don’t see an Iraqi government by June 1, I will be very concerned.

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One day after President Barack Obama said that he wanted a final up or down vote on health care reform, the Washington Post reports Thursday that Democratic party leaders are “scrambling to settle policy disputes and assemble the votes necessary for passage in the coming weeks.”

Writes Laura Meckler and Janet Adamy in the Wall Street Journal:

Passing the health overhaul would fulfill a decades-old Democratic dream, bringing insurance to some 30 million Americans, and represent the greatest expansion of coverage since Medicare was created in 1965. But if the public judges the overhaul harshly, it is likely to cost some Democrats their seats, and the party’s majority in the House could be at risk.

Max Fisher at the Atlantic breaks down reconciliation scenarios and wonders if passage of health care reform can be accomplished by Easter.

And the man truly at the center of reconciliation? Alan Frumin, the Senate parliamentarian. Who and what? Exactly.

Time Magazine profiles the man who will decide what parts of the previously passed Senate health care bill Senate Democrats can and cannot amend with a simple majority of 51 votes.

Frumin is “the defense counsel, he’s the prosecution, he’s the judge, he’s the jury and he’s the hangman,” Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the top Republican on the budget committee, told Time.

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In his last news conference as head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, Kai Eide said Thursday that a political solution should be found with the Taliban and that “decisive success” within two years was “unachievable.”

Eide said that while he has always supported a policy of engagement, he understands the complexities of negotiating peace with Taliban leaders.

Eide also defended his two-year posting, which has been mired in controversy over his handling of last year’s presidential elections, was marked by a Taliban attack that killed five U.N. workers in Kabul and was tarnished by allegations from his American deputy, Peter Galbraith, that he failed to curb the fraud in the August presidential election.

“We all have to admit that we could have achieved more,” Eide said.

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