Police and Polling Stations Attacked

Insurgents kill five policemen in attacks around the country.

Police and Polling Stations Attacked

Insurgents kill five policemen in attacks around the country.

Friday, 18 November, 2005

Insurgents have stepped up their violent campaign to disrupt the January 30 elections, attacking polling sites and police stations across Iraq.

At least five police officers were killed and more than a dozen others injured in the violence which included three car bombs in Riyadh, a town south of Kirkuk. Four policemen were killed there in explosions in front of police stations and on the Hawija-Rez road, where United States forces appeared to be the target.

The fifth officer died in the Diyala provincial capital of Baaqubah, northeast of Baghdad, during clashes with insurgents at the Ibn Sina primary school, one of the designated polling stations in the town. An insurgent was also killed.

IWPR reporters saw gunmen firing shots in neighbourhoods around Baaqubah, while masked gunmen drove through the city. The streets were virtually empty of

pedestrians and private vehicles.

A state of emergency has been declared in Diyala province, where so far there have been at least four attacks on polling sites since the local electoral commission office announced the location of polling centres on January 22. Two policemen were killed on January 25 by a mortar round while protecting a polling site.

“We now control the situation, and terrorism will not affect us,” police officer Munim al-Khafaji said on January 26. “The elections will go on in the Diyala governorate under intensive protection.”

Elsewhere in Iraq, bombs exploded at two polling stations in Baghdad on January 26, while in the northern city of Mosul, 11 car bombs were discovered.

US forces also suffered heavy casualties.

Thirty-one Marines died in a helicopter crash around Rutbah in the volatile Anbar province of western Iraq. The cause of the crash has yet to be announced.

Four US Marines were also killed in Anbar during clashes with insurgents.

Despite the violence, interior minister Falah al-Naqib tried to sound optimistic at a press conference where he claimed that security challenges in four governorates labeled unstable had been overcome. Those are Ninewa, which includes the city of Mosul; Salah al-Din, which includes Samarra; Anbar and Diyala.

Iraqi officials had previously acknowledged that elections would be difficult in these four provinces because of the volatile security situation.

Elections will be held all over Iraq, said al-Naqib, adding 80 per cent of the country is stable.

He noted that each governorate has the authority to take whatever action necessary to ensure security during the elections. Election workers and security forces will be given rewards of up to 200 US dollars for each car bomb, explosive device or other piece of military materiel they discover.

In the mainly Shia city of Karbala, one security measure includes expelling all foreigners from the city.

Rahman Mashawi, a spokesman for Karbala's police directorate, said hotel owners will be required to check the identification documents of all visitors who remain in the city, or face police sanctions.

Each year, tens of thousands of pilgrims visit Karbala, which is home to two of Shia Islam’s most revered shrines. They come from all over the Shia world, including Iran, Afghanistan and India.

About 200 polling stations have been set up in and around the city, to receive 2,000 voters each. More than 6,000 election workers will be facilitating the voting.

Mashawi said police are setting up four security zones around the city to prevent insurgents from carrying out attacks. The police will enforce a curfew from 9 pm to 6 am up to January 29, the day before the election.

On election day, a 24-hour ban on vehicles and other forms of transportation will go into effect. Only government vehicles with special badges will be allowed to travel. Mashawi added that the police department has set up five new communication centres connected to a central network to provide all polling stations with a direct link to the police.

Aqil Jabbar and Ghassan Ali are IWPR trainee journalists in Iraq.

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