Assassinations Grow as Iraqi Elections Near

Tim Arango, New York Times, April 15, 2013

In the first Iraqi elections since the American troop withdrawal, Sunni candidates are being attacked and killed in greater numbers than in recent campaigns, raising concerns in Washington over Iraq’s political stability and the viability of a democratic system the United States has heavily invested in over years of war and diplomacy.

At least 15 candidates, all members of the minority Sunni community, have been assassinated—some apparently by political opponents, others by radical Sunni militants. Many others have been wounded or kidnapped or have received menacing text messages or phone calls demanding that they withdraw.

By going after members of their own sect, radical Sunnis aligned with Al Qaeda are effectively seeking to destabilize the Shiite-led government, making an already angry and alienated community fearful to participate in national governance. At the same time, it appears intra-Sunni rivalries are inadvertently aiding the radical cause, as Sunnis kill political adversaries in their quest for power.

As candidates nervously continue meeting voters, promising jobs and handing out cellphone cards in exchange for assurances, sworn on the Koran, of their votes in local elections this weekend, there are worries that the violence is deterring good candidates—and that voters will be put off as well.

In the latest surge of violence, more than 20 attacks around the country on Monday killed close to 50 people and wounded nearly 200. Two schools in Hilla that were to serve as polling sites were blown up by homemade bombs; no one was killed, but the explosions suggested that insurgents might be intent on attacking voters and not just candidates. {snip}

At the same time, the violence could further mar the credibility of an election that was already being closely watched for fraud or other abuses: for the first time since the American invasion in 2003, Iraqi officials will be largely on their own in securing and monitoring elections.

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Politics and violence have long been intertwined in Iraq, where the promise of democracy is always tempered by sectarian, tribal and ideological conflict. {snip}

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Civilians are often caught up in the violence. The bloodiest attack occurred on April 6, when a suicide bomber struck a hospitality tent in Baquba, where Sunni politicians were holding a rally. Nearly 20 people were killed, though none were candidates, and many more were wounded.

In the northern city of Mosul alone, six candidates have been killed, either by gunfire or homemade explosives, and six others have survived assassination attempts.

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