Zarqawi Tape Adds to Jitters in Baghdad

Residents say they feel personally threatened by the militant leader's call for a boycott.

Zarqawi Tape Adds to Jitters in Baghdad

Residents say they feel personally threatened by the militant leader's call for a boycott.

Friday, 18 November, 2005

A warning about the Iraqi election attributed to militant leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi is having a chilling effect on some Baghdad voters.

A voice reported to be Zarqawi’s declared “all-out war” on the Iraqi election in an recording played on an Islamic website over the weekend. The voice also criticised Iraq’s Shia majority for supporting what it called an election held under United States occupation.

Salwan Samir Murad, a 50-year-old trader in the capital, said he and his family members will not vote on January 30 unless Zarqawi is captured or killed – not a very likely prospect in the few remaining days.

“If I go to vote in the elections, I cannot guarantee that I will get back home,” said Murad. He explained that Zarqawi has men who watch people and target them for assassination.

“I know I am not the only person who will not participate in the elections because of Zarqawi,” he added.

Bahaa Salam Mahmood, a 32-year-old barber, said he found a letter on his shop door warning him not to vote on January 30.

“The threat said that Iraqis shouldn’t participate in the elections, and that beards shouldn’t be shaved… otherwise my shop would be blown up,” he said.

Mahmood said Iraqis cannot even consider voting until there is security on the streets.

Many people say they are afraid to vote, especially after the January 24 explosion near the party headquarters of Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi and the recent attacks on polling stations throughout Iraq.

Mansur Muhammed, a 34-year-old trader, said he believes the Iraqi security forces are doing their best to guarantee security, but militants are still getting into the country to cause mayhem.

“Anyone who can blow up Allawi’s office can do the same thing on election day,” he said.

Prime minister Allawi sought to allay voters’ fears during a press conference held a day after the attack on his party offices. He said the government had completed all the preparations for the ballot, and added that it was still hoped that more security forces could be deployed in unstable areas.

He insisted the government would show no leniency towards those seeking to create chaos and destabilise Iraq.

Allawi also addressed the contentious issue of the US-led Coalition troop presence, saying his government was preparing a schedule for Iraqi forces to take over security duties. But he declined to give an exact date for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

While some Baghdad residents are scared to cast their ballots, others said they would not be deterred.

Farhad Mahmood said he and his family members would be voting despite the dangers.

He said he believed the best way to tackle security was for people to show a united front and vote for a National Assembly that will then write a new constitution for Iraq.

“Putting a constitution in place means imposing the law to regulate all the issues, and erasing that thing which is called terrorism,” he said.

Salam Jihad is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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