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Baghdad Governor Assassinated, Questions Raised About January Elections

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Nick Simeone

Gunmen in Iraq have assassinated the governor of Baghdad province and 10 other people in a series of attacks. More Iraqi leaders are now raising questions about whether elections should take place later this month in light of the dangerous security situation.

An insurgent group led by accused Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for Tuesday's ambush, which also killed six of Governor Ali al-Haidari's bodyguards and amounted to the highest profile attack on an Iraqi official in eight months.

Over the past year, the Zarqawi group has claimed responsibility for multiple suicide bombings, kidnappings and executions of Iraqis and others who it accuses of working with the United States and the interim government in Baghdad.

Despite the presence of 150,000 American troops in the country, U.S. and Iraqi officials have said they fully expect violence to increase in the run up to the first election of the post Saddam Hussein era. But the violence in Sunni areas has now reached such a level that Iraq's president and defense minister are questioning whether the January 30 elections should go ahead as scheduled.

In an interview with Reuters, President Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni, suggests the United Nations, which is helping to organize the vote, may want to consider a postponement if that would persuade Iraq's largest Sunni party and allied groups to reverse course and agree to take part. Otherwise, he says, it might be tough to go ahead with the voting. Iraq's defense minister made similar comments in Cairo Monday.

A lack of Sunni participation has raised concerns that an expected victory by majority Shiites could further split Iraq along religious lines and lead to even more violence.

Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and President Bush have insisted the vote will take place on time.

In Thailand, Secretary of State Colin Powell rejected any suggestion that the upcoming elections should be postponed.

"The Iraqi interim government is determined to fight this insurgency and you can be sure the coalition will do anything they can to fight the insurgency so that the Iraqi people can have a successful election at the end of the month," said Mr. Powell.

President Bush and Iraq's Interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, spoke by phone Monday about the security situation but a White House spokesman says there was no discussion of postponing the vote.

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