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Baaqubah Faces Wrath of Militants

Insurgents terrorise city forcing electoral officials to quite their jobs.
By Aqil Jabbar

The writing is already on the wall for the voters in this city 20 kilometres north of Baghdad. “Go to the electoral centre means you will enter hell," said one spray-painted warning. Another wall reads, “Try to erase this graffiti and you will see how we will behead you."


Walls in Baaqubah have no election banners or photos advertising party platforms and candidate lists. Instead, they are full of condemnations of the current government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and the upcoming January 30 vote.


Insurgents in Diyala Province where Baaqubah is located have already shown their threats are more than just idle words written in black spray paint. Last week, unknown assassins gunned down the security chief of the local electoral commission as he left his home in Ba’qubah. In total, 12 staff members from the commission have been killed.


Countless other electoral officials have received death threats, forcing many to resign.


"I was obliged to leave the job after I received four consecutive threats which I would find every morning in my garden,” said Hashim Ahmed al-Rubaii, an electoral official who was responsible for voter registration.


“The security office of the electoral commission did not provide any assistance, so I could not do my job and I left it to protect the safety of my family."


On January 22, the electoral commission in Diyala revealed the location of one voting centre in Ba’qubah, and it was hit by mortars just hours later. Candidates have refused to publish their names in the city because they feel they have no protection.


Schools and government buildings along al-Yarmook Street are covered in graffiti. Police wage a battle against the graffiti artists, erasing the threats one day only to find them rewritten the next. Nobody knows who’s responsible for them.


Citizens and shop owners say they do not dare to erase the graffiti. On the front of Mukarram Khalid’s clothes shop on al-Yarmook Street, a scrawled message warns, "We will blow up the electoral centres."


“I came in early in the morning to find this graffiti on the door of my shop,” said Khalid. “Frankly speaking, I am to fearful to erase it, if the police want to let them come and do it - I can’t."


The police say the insurgents will attack people who hang up election banners. Officers cite a case in which a member of the Iraqi National Accord party was killed hanging up a campaign poster with two other party members.


Thar Mahdi al-Khafaji, a 33-year-old construction worker, said he was recently approached by a member of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The party member offered al-Khafaji twice his daily wage to hang up the party’s publicity material.


“I refused this job because there are threats and dangers involved that could end in death,” said al-Khafaji. “I asked him to do the job himself instead of putting our lives in danger."


Aqil Jabbar is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.


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