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IRAQ: Heavy security for election day

Baghdad, 19 January 2005 (IRIN) - In an attempt to guarantee safety on election day, Iraq is to impose a number of severe security measures on the three days around the 30 January polls, government officials say. The government intends to strengthen cooperation between the Iraqi army, US-led forces and police, with a potential doubling of their numbers on the streets, Ministry of Interior (MoI) officials told IRIN on Wednesday.

All private vehicles will be banned from the roads between 29 -31 January, while curfew restrictions will be extended. At the same time, travel between cities will be prohibited and Iraq's land borders will be sealed in an effort to keep fresh foreign insurgents from entering the country. Airports will also close for a few days before the elections.

On election day itself, people will be free to move only during the hours when the polls are open, Wael Abdul-Latif, Minister of Provincial Affairs, told IRIN in the capital, Baghdad. Polling stations will open from 0700 until 1700. He added that the telephones network would be shut down to prevent communication between insurgents.

The first results of the poll are expected on the same day but final results are likely to come only eight to 10 days later.

Hussein al-Hindawe, president of the Higher Independent Electoral Commission (HIEC), told IRIN that the location of polling stations will be handwritten on election posters just before the vote to ensure security for Iraqis and prevent the insurgents, who have promised to disrupt the elections, from making any attacks. This will also be the case for the candidate's name, which will only be present at the main ballot for each polling centre.

The government has also reduced the number of polling stations to around 5,000 from a planned 8,000 for security reasons.

At the same time, officials are well aware of the threats against election workers and candidates and are taking measures to guarantee their safety before and after the elections, the Deputy Minister of Interior, Sabah Kadham, told IRIN.

Each polling station will have an ambulance parked nearby for emergencies, Ministry of Health officials said. They added they were most concerned by threats from mainly Sunni insurgents, posted on the Internet, saying that people who voted would be beheaded.

Many Sunni parties have also threatened to boycott the elections. If this happens, many, including Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib, have expressed fears that it could plunge the country into civil war.

In the meantime, violence continues to escalate ahead of the poll, with 26 Iraqis reportedly killed on Wednesday in a series of suicide attacks in Baghdad. A large number of Iraqi security personnel have also been targetted in recent days.

Ongoing insecurity, specially in Baghdad, has kept campaigning off the streets, especially after three people who were distributing party literature were killed on the streets of the capital. As a result, most campaigning has been restricted to television commercials or high security government areas.

"Sometimes I feel that I'm in a war, it doesn't look like an election, more like the Third World War. In all countries it's a day of rest but here you only feel fear because you can die at any time," Maruan Muhammad, 45, a shopkeeper from Mansour district of Baghdad, told IRIN.

Theme (s): Conflict, Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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