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Iraqis Prepare for Elections

Next weekend Iraqis go to the polls for elections to shape the future of their country. But some are doing everything they can to make them fail.

Despite the ongoing attacks by insurgents, in less than a week, millions of Iraqis will have their voices heard in their historic January 30th elections. Many fear the violence will only escalate in the coming days after Iraq's most wanted man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, this week declared war on democracy.

But Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi dismisses concerns that violence will keep voters away. He said, "The Iraqi people are excited, they are happy, and they are for the first time exercising their rights which have been denied for decades."

And efforts to disrupt the election may have been dealt a serious setback Monday with the arrest of a senior insurgent described by Iraqi authorities as al-Zarqawi's "most lethal lieutenant." The Iraqi interim government says the suspect, known as Abu Omar al-Kurdi, is linked to 75 percent of all car bombings in Baghdad since the fall of Saddam Hussein, including the deadly August 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.

Iraq's first national election since Saddam Hussein's fall will select a 275-seat National Assembly and 18 provincial assemblies. Voters will not be choosing individual politicians, but a list of candidates representing a party or coalition. However, threats of violence mean most of the 7,500 candidates shy away from rallies. Only leading politicians dare appear on television.

Despite these concerns, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte expects a good turnout for the vote. "We foresee strong participation in these elections, especially in the northern and in the southern parts of the country,” he said.

But political scientist Louay Bahry of the Middle East Institute says in the Sunni Triangle, where the insurgency has been strongest, it may be difficult to lure voters to the polls. "I'm afraid that the turnout in certain areas like Falluja and Ramadi and to some extent Mosul will be weak. And some parts of Baghdad will be weak too,” he said.

Still, millions of ballots have been printed and election officials are preparing polling workers for the vote. Security will be unprecedented. Officials plan to close the borders three days before the election and will extend curfews to keep civilians and militants off the streets. Troops will be on high alert prepared for the worst.

Preliminary results will be released on the day of the election. But it will take up to two weeks to get the final results.