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Violence Increases in Advance of Iraqi Elections

In 10 days Iraqis will head to the polls to elect a transitional national assembly. Fifteen million Iraqis are eligible to vote: 14 million within Iraq and another one million around the world. As Election Day draws near, violent attacks have increased.

In the capital of Baghdad and sections of northern and central Iraq, insurgents have begun a bombing campaign meant to intimidate voters before the national election. On Wednesday five bomb attacks killed more than two-dozen people in Baghdad.

Colonel Mike Murray of the U.S. Army says two people were killed and four wounded when a car exploded in front of the Australian Embassy. "About 7 o'clock this morning, a truck was driving down the street, drove into the building behind me, and exploded."

A militant group led by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for the bombings. The White House said the bombings show that terrorists and Saddam loyalists know how high the stakes are in the Iraqi elections and will do everything they can to derail the transition to democracy.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has repeatedly condemned the violence. Earlier in the week he promised to increase Iraqi security forces by 70,000 troops in the coming year so Iraqis can safely move about without fear.

In advance of the national election, the government released a public service announcement to Iraqi television showing citizens staring down insurgents.

There are sections of Iraq, including parts of Baghdad that have been free of bombings. There hasn't been a major clash between supporters of the anti-American cleric Moqtada al Sadr and the U.S. military in Sadr City since last June.

That has allowed the residents of this sprawling poverty-stricken northeastern edge of Baghdad to live in relative peace and to accept the presence of U.S. military personnel.

But Lt. Colonel Gary Volesky has no illusions that the idyllic picture in Sadr City will last. "If tomorrow Moqtada al Sadr wakes up and says, ‘Begin fighting multinational forces in Sadr City,’ there's two to three percent of that population that is going to do exactly what they're told."

Despite the present violence and the threat of additional attacks, campaigning continues throughout the country with political parties promising a different future for Iraq. One group's posters call for a free and independent Iraq, another promises a peaceful country.