Iraq to seal borders, extend curfew for vote

Associated Press

Baghdad, January 18:

Iraqi officials announced today that they will seal the country’s borders, extend a nighttime curfew and restrict movement inside the country to protect voters during the January 30 vote, which insurgents are seeking to ruin with a campaign of violence.

Attacks continued today, with a suicide car bomber detonating explosives outside the offices of a leading Shiite political party, killing himself and three other people. Also, masked gunmen killed a Shiite Muslim candidate in Baghdad. Sunni Muslim militants, who make up the bulk of Iraq’s insurgency, are increasingly honing in on Shiites in their campaign to ruin the January 30 election even as Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Naqib today warned the country risked sliding into civil war if the Sunni Muslim minority boycott the election. “Failing to take part in the elections is tantamount to treason and will lead to a civil war and the division of the country,” the minister told reporters.

This morning’s car bombing gouged a crater in the pavement, left several vehicles in flames and spread shredded debris and flesh on the street outside the offices of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a main contender in the election. The assailant told guards at a checkpoint leading to the party’s office that he was part of SCIRI’s security staff, but detonated his bomb-laden car at the guard post when he was not allowed to enter.

The US military reported the bomber and three others were dead and four people were injured.

A spokesman for the Shiite party said it would not be cowed. Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission announced that the country’s international borders would be closed from January 29 until January 31 except for Muslim pilgrims returning from the hajj in Saudi Arabia.

Iraqis will also be barred from traveling between provinces and a nighttime curfew will be imposed during the same period, according to a statement from the commission’s Farid Ayar.

Meanwhile, insurgents released a video today showing eight Chinese workers held hostage by gunmen who claim they’re employed by a construction company working with US troops.

Archbishop freed


A Catholic archbishop kidnapped in northern Iraq was freed on Tuesday, a day after his abduction, a church official said. Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa of the Syrian Catholic Church was kidnapped by gunmen in the city of Mosul on Monday. “He has been freed and he is on his way home without paying any ransom,” said Potris Moshi, an assistant to the church leader. — AP