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Bombings in Iraq Kill Dozens Ahead of Parliamentary Elections

With a vote scheduled for Wednesday, Sunni militants stepped up lethal strikes across the country amid mounting sectarian hostility.

by John Beck
Apr 28 2014, 10:25pm

Photo via AP

More than 50 people were reportedly killed today in a series of bomb attacks in Iraq as members of the country's security forces voted ahead of Wednesday's parliamentary elections. The attacks were the latest in a wave of election-related violence that has killed more than 80 people since Friday.

Iraq’s police and military were voting before the rest of the electorate in order to focus on protecting polling stations during the upcoming ballot. Security was said to be extremely tight, but Sunni militants stepped up lethal strikes across the country amid mounting sectarian hostility.

Members of Iraq's security forces took part in early voting in Baghdad on April 28 in the country’s parliamentary elections.

The worst single loss of life occurred when a suicide bomber killed some 30 people in the Kurdish town of Khanaqin as supporters of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, gathered to watch television footage of him casting his vote.

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At least 21 others were killed throughout the day in a series of suicide blasts aimed at polling stations and police and military targets.

The pre-election weekend got off to a bloody start on Friday when bombs exploded at an eastern Baghdad stadium where a Shiite militant group was holding an election rally, killing 33. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is also fighting both government and rebel forces in neighboring Syria, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Another 10 people were killed on Sunday in an explosion at an outdoor market in Sadr City, one of Baghdad’s Shiite districts.

Iraqi authorities have taken a number of special security measures to reduce the possibility of further carnage: a weeklong holiday was declared to help keep streets clear, and a ban on traffic in Baghdad will be instituted from Tuesday night through Wednesday. Despite these efforts, attempts at further violence seem inevitable.

There are 328 parliamentary seats up for grabs in Wednesday’s voting. A coalition headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — who is standing for a third four-year term in office — is widely expected to win.

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The bombings were evidently meant to destabilize the electoral process and discourage voters from participating. Maria Fantappie, an Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group, told VICE News that this campaign will probably have the intended effect, particularly in areas like the predominantly Sunni Anbar Province.

“The security situation there will not allow many to reach the polling stations,” she said, “and those who do will be risking their lives.”

A lack of international observers might mean that those do attempt to participate won’t be voting in a free and fair environment. Fantappie believes this underscores a wider issue: a growing lack of trust in the electoral process, especially in Sunni-populated areas.

“The big difference between this election and the elections in 2010 is that since then, a large portion of the Iraqi population, especially in Sunni populated areas, don’t trust the political process and don’t see the elections as something which can really reshape the power balance in the central government institutions,” she said.

This will probably result in the Sunni population becoming even more disenfranchised from central government than it has been, preserving the likelihood of violence after election results are announced.

Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck