Qaeda ally declares all-out war on Iraqi election
Al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declared all-out war on Sunday on Iraq's landmark elections in a warning intended to scare away voters a week before they go to the polls amid a raging insurgency.
But interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vowed his U.S.-backed government would do everything possible to safeguard more than 5,000 voting stations against what he called "evil forces determined to hurt Iraq."
Zarqawi, a shadowy Jordanian militant who tops America's wanted list in Iraq, berated the country's Shi'ite majority for embracing the election and urged Saddam Hussein's once-dominant Sunni minority to wage what he termed a holy fight against it.
"We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it," a speaker identified as Zarqawi said in an audio tape on the Internet.
"Those who vote ... are infidels. And with God as my witness, I have informed them (of our intentions)," he said.
Zarqawi's network has assassinated politicians and beheaded foreign hostages. Despite a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, he has eluded a U.S.-led manhunt.
His group's almost daily attacks -- including most of the deadliest suicide bombings of the past year -- have raised fears of a bloodbath during next Sunday's election, Iraq's first since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam.
Iraqi officials say Sunni guerrillas are not only trying to wreck the election, which is expected to cement the new-found power of the long-oppressed 60 percent Shi'ite majority, but also want to provoke sectarian civil war.
In the latest attack, a security guard was killed when a bomb blew up an election office in a lawless region south of Baghdad known as the "Triangle of Death," police said.
The U.S. military said one of its soldiers was killed by small arms fire in the northern city of Mosul on Saturday, bringing to 1,080 the number of U.S. troops killed in action in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion.
"We are determined to do our best to put an end to the escalation of violence," Allawi told the BBC, adding it was premature to talk about U.S.-led forces withdrawing until Iraq's fledgling security services were fully trained and combat ready.
Many Sunni leaders have called for an election boycott, saying insurgent attacks in the Sunni heartland would prevent voting and skew the outcome in favor of the Shi'ites.
A low turnout by Sunnis, who had held sway in Iraqi politics since the 1920s, would undermine the election's credibility.
Electoral Commission official Saeed al-Battat said he was confident of a big turnout in the southern Sh'ite city of Basra.
"The security situation in Basra compared with other areas in Iraq is ideal, I would say," he said.
Militants have kidnapped more than 120 foreigners over the last year, killing about a third of them.