Iraqis Express Election Support Despite Violence



Many Iraqis in violence-plagued Baghdad are expressing support for the interim government's decision to impose restrictive security measures before nationwide elections on January 30. Insurgents opposed to the polls are pressing on with attacks on Iraqi security forces, which are to provide security for voters on election day.

To prevent suicide car bombings and other attacks on January 30th, Iraq's interim government announced on Saturday that it is preparing a range of measures, including a three-day nationwide ban on car travel and wide cordons around thousands of polling places.

Many would-be voters on the streets of Baghdad expressed approval of the measures, even though some people may now have to walk long distances on election day and wait in long lines to be body-searched before being allowed inside to vote.

College student, Hassan Ali, 27, says with insurgent attacks escalating daily in the capital and elsewhere in the country, he believes the government has no choice but to implement such harsh measures. "I think that is a good thing to do because the place is not fully secured and a lot of people want this election to fail so that they can make their point," he said.

In the past four months, Sunni Muslim extremists and al-Qaida-related terrorists have killed at least seven election workers, several candidates, and nearly 1,500 Iraqi policemen and soldiers.

Despite the violence and repeated warnings from insurgents to boycott the elections, a recent independent survey of nearly 2,200 people across Iraq found that nearly a third of the country's population intend to vote in this month's balloting to create a new transitional national assembly.

Shiite Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the population but suffered under decades of Sunni Muslim rule, stand to gain the most from these elections and have been vocal supporters of the balloting process.

Shiite Muslim, Mohammed Kadhim, 37, says not being able to drive on election day will not keep him from exercising his right to have a say in his country's future. "I will walk. That is not a big problem for me because I am doing the best thing for the country. I want to vote. I want to make a government," he said.

But senior Iraqi and U.S. officials acknowledge that even with stepped up security, elections may not be possible in certain Sunni areas of the country where the insurgency is taking a huge daily toll on civilians and Iraqi security forces.

The latest attack occurred in the oil refining town of Beiji in the Sunni heartland north of Baghdad. Insurgents detonated a car bomb at a police station, killing nearly a dozen people and wounding another 20. A short time later, gunmen killed eight Iraqi soldiers at a military checkpoint near another insurgent stronghold of Baqoubah, northeast of the capital.

About 130,000 Iraqi troops and police are to take the lead in protecting 55-hundred polling stations in Iraq on January 30th. But to reassure nervous voters, the U.S. military says 150,000 of its troops will be close by to back them up.

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