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Iraq Preparing to Lock Down Country for Elections


With elections coming in just over a week, Iraq's interim interior minister has announced Saturday additional security measures in an effort to prevent insurgents from disrupting the voting.

While acknowledging that conditions for voting in several regions of the country are far from ideal, Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib says that every effort is being made to give everyone in the country a chance to vote next Sunday.

As part of the security preparations for election day, the minister announced on Saturday that officials will close Baghdad International Airport on the 29th and the 30th, the day of the vote.

To prevent suicide car bombings, vehicle traffic will also be severely restricted in most cities on those days and banned near polling sites. Mr. Naqib said he is confident that enough sites will be open to limit the distance that people will have to walk in order to vote. "There will be quite a lot. There are more than 5,400 in the whole country so it really won't be long distance. And those people who are unable to walk, we'll help them by the ministry of transportation and the ministry of interior," he said.

In addition to closing the country's borders, announced previously, other security measures include extending a nighttime curfew in many parts of the country. Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has already declared the country is under emergency law.

The interior minister denied that authorities were planning to shut down mobile phone networks during the election period.

Mr. Naqib said that he has also issued arrest warrants for a number of insurgents and terrorists on the government's most-wanted list. They include a former top aide to Saddam Hussein, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, and al-Qaida leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. "Some of them worked with previous regime. Others, they really work for Zarqawi. So, there's two sides. Some of them have been involved in assassinations, car bombings, and some other terrorist activities in the country," he said.

The top leaders of a militant religious group in Iraq, the Army of Ansar al-Sunnah, have also managed to elude capture. Ansar al-Sunnah is an off-shoot of Ansar al-Islam, a group with ties to al-Qaida that was based in northern Iraq until the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Ansar al-Sunnah said on its Internet Web site Saturday that the group has executed 15 Iraqi soldiers, captured after a convoy carrying them was ambushed last week on a desert road in western Iraq.

Iraqi police and soldiers have become the favorite target of insurgents, who accuse them of collaborating with U.S. troops and the U.S.-backed interim government.

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