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Al-Qaida Group Warns Violence Against Iraqi Voters

An al-Qaida group has declared an election "curfew" in Iraq, warning Sunni Muslims they will face violence if they head to the polls on Sunday.

The Islamic State of Iraq posted a message on the Internet Friday, telling Sunnis that participation in the country's parliamentary election will only empower majority Shi'ite Muslims.

The Iraqi government has been increasing security in the days leading up to the election. Separate bombings near Baghdad polling stations killed at least 15 people Thursday, and U.S. officials say Iraqi security forces thwarted a number of potential attacks.

Despite the threat of violence, Iraqi religious leaders are urging their followers to vote in the elections, with some telling worshippers voting is their religious duty.

The nationwide poll is widely seen as a test of Iraq's ability to maintain security and conduct a smooth transition of power.

On Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki touted his government's accomplishments, including security improvements and the Iraqi-U.S. security agreement that calls for U.S. troops to withdraw by the end of this year.

The vote is only the second parliamentary election in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Nearly a million Iraqis were eligible to cast early votes - including soldiers, police, medical staff, patients and prisoners.

Voting also has begun for millions of Iraqis living overseas. Iraqis across 14 countries - many in Syria and Jordan - started casting their ballots Friday.

Unlike the previous national election in 2005 when Iraqi Sunnis boycotted the polls, many Sunnis say they plan to participate. Many Iraqi politicians have also been running campaigns that attempt to cut across sectarian lines.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.