Qaeda threat to kill Iraqis who vote

BAGHDAD; Al-Qaeda in Iraq yesterday threatened to kill people who vote in the war-torn nation’s election and imposed a self-declared curfew during polling hours when millions are to cast ballots.

The Islamic state of Iraq, the Qaeda front in the country, in a statement two days ahead of tomorrow’s vote said anyone who defies the curfew would “expose himself to the anger of Allah and... all kinds of weapons of the mujahedeen.” The group, which has previously threatened to sabotage the poll and claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed hundreds in Iraq, delivered its warning after a series of suicide bombings left dozens dead.

“The Islamic state declares... a curfew on election day... from six in the morning until six pm, throughout Iraq and especially in Sunni areas,” US monitors SITE quoted it as saying in an Internet statement.

“For the safety of our people, any of those who learn of this, report it to those who do not know and supply yourself with needs for the curfew,” it said in a translation of the message which was posted on jihadist forums.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Qaeda front, had already threatened last month to disrupt the election by “military means.” The terror group’s latest statement came with voting already under way for Iraq’s estimated diaspora of 1.4 million in 80 cities in 16 different countries.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said later voting was going well, and that Washington would follow through with its plan to withdraw its troops from Iraq in less than six months. Religious leaders used Friday prayers to order citizens to vote and safeguard democracy in the second parliamentary election since the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein in a US-led invasion in 2003.

“You must go to the voting centres because it is your duty,” said Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Jorani, Sunni imam of the Al-Hai mosque in the central city of Baquba. “Even if you don’t want to vote, go to the voting centres to destroy your electoral papers so they cannot be forged by others fraudulently.” Sunnis are expected to cast ballots in large numbers, in stark contrast to their 2005 boycott of the poll.

Ahmed al-Safi, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, the country’s top Shiite cleric, said the election was a “huge vital issue,” essential to ensuring Iraqis can “draw their own future.”

Iraq’s fragmented political scene virtually ensures that no single party will emerge with the 163 seats needed to form a government on its own and the ensuing horse-trading to form a governing coalition is likely to be protracted.

Bomb rocks Najaf

NAJAF: A car bomb targeting Iranian pilgrims killed

three people in Iraq’s holiest city on Saturday.

The blast near a Shiite shrine in Najaf, which local officials said killed two Iranian pilgrims and an Iraqi and wounded at least 54 people, came despite a massive nationwide security operation in the run-up to Sunday’s vote.

It gutted four pilgrim buses, mangled cars and left the area spattered with blood, smashed glass and torn clothes, and blew out the windows of nearby hotels that host the thousands of Iranians who flock there every month. “The attack carries the prints of Al-Qaeda and Saddamists,” said Faed al-Shimmary of the provincial council in Najaf.