On the thousandth day since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Reuters reporter Luke Baker began a story on the upcoming Dec. 15 election to elect an Iraqi legislature by reporting that "Gunmen assassinated a high profile Sunni Muslim politician [in Ramadi] in western Iraq on Tuesday."[1]  --  ABC News noted that Tuesday was the last day of the campaign, since "No campaigning is allowed Wednesday to give Iraqis time to reflect ahead of the vote."[2]  --  Hopes for a peaceful election were raised by an announcement by the Islamic Army in Iraq, a resistance group, that it would not attack polling stations, and while "al-Qaida in Iraq and four other Islamic extremist groups issued a rare joint statement denouncing the elections as a 'satanic project' . . . the statement contained no clear threat to disrupt voting," Patrick Quinn reported....


By Luke Baker

December 13, 2005


BAGHDAD -- Gunmen assassinated a high profile Sunni Muslim politician in western Iraq on Tuesday, two days before the nation votes for its first full-term parliament since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Mizhar al-Dulaimi, who ran his own political party, was shot dead as he campaigned in Ramadi, a violent city west of Baghdad, police said.

Three of his bodyguards were wounded.

He was the latest of several influential Sunni Muslims, including a top cleric, to be killed in the run up to the December 15 election, as militants try to wreck the U.S.-backed political process.

Dulaimi's killing came a day after the first votes were cast in the election -- detainees, Iraqi security forces and hospital patients all voted on Monday -- and as Iraqis living abroad also began casting their ballots.

More than 15 million Iraqis are registered to vote in what supporters hope will be a watershed event, ushering in a full four-year parliament and a new government to tackle rampant violence, even as foreign forces begin to withdraw.

Militant groups have told Iraqis not to go to the polls, calling the election a "Satanic project," but most have steered away from the grim threats to kill all voters that they made ahead of the last election in January.

One group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, which has carried out many deadly bombings, issued a statement on Tuesday saying that it would not attack polling stations, even though it did vow jihad, or holy war, against the Americans.

The election is expected to see far higher participation than last time among Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, who form the backbone of the two-year insurgency against the government and U.S. forces.

The Sunnis largely boycotted January's poll.

That boycott is now seen as a mistake. Sunnis, powerful under Saddam, saw their influence cut to next to nothing. Sunni leaders are now determined to make amends for that error.

Several Sunni Arab lists are registered for the election and are expected to pick up strong support in central and western parts of the country, even if some groups remain adamantly opposed to the process.

U.S. President George Bush offered encouragement to Iraqi voters ahead of the ballot in a speech on Monday, but also acknowledged that the election would not be perfect.

"A successful vote is not the end of the process. Iraqis still have more difficult work ahead," he said.

"These enemies aren't going to give up because of a successful election."

Tuesday is the 1,000th day since U.S.-led forces invaded to overthrow Saddam in March 2003.

Bush also for the first time made mention of the number of Iraqis killed in the war, saying he believed 30,000 citizens had died since the invasion.

Previously his administration has shied away from even referring to an Iraqi death toll.

The figure mirrored that of Iraq Body Count, a U.S.-British group that monitors media reports. Its estimate is widely believed to underestimate the total because many deaths are not reported.

At least 2,144 US troops have died in Iraq and more than 16,000 have been wounded.

The Bush administration hopes Thursday's election, the third time Iraqis will have voted this year, will cement the country's transition to democracy and ultimately lay the groundwork for some of the 150,000 U.S. troops to withdraw.

Whatever government emerges from the election will have as its top priority the bolstering of Iraqi security forces to take on the insurgency alone -- the central platform of Bush's plan for a staggered pullback of his own troops.

But there will also be complex domestic and social problems to face, including delivering electricity and clean water, making the oil sector work, renegotiating parts of the constitution, and deciding how best to handle de-Baathification, the removal of members of Saddam's Baath party from public life.

A poll commissioned by the BBC ahead of the vote showed that turnout could be as high as 80 percent, up from just under 60 percent in January's election.

Iraq's Electoral Commission said on Tuesday that everything was in place for the vote to go smoothly.

Political analysts expect the United Iraqi Alliance, a large Islamist bloc from the Shi'a Muslim majority, to be the clear front-runner in the poll, although its share of the vote is likely to fall from the 48 percent it took in January.

The Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq's 27-million people, are also expected to make a strong showing.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said in a television interview on Monday that he would not stand for re-election and hinted he might seek a more active role in the new government.

A crucial question in the poll is how much support Iyad Allawi, the first post-Saddam prime minister, can win.

Allawi, who heads a largely secular list that encompasses the Shi'a, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, is appealing for the middle ground, urging Iraqis away from a religious vote.

Some think his support could end up determining post-election politics.

--Additional reporting by Ammar al-Alwani in Ramadi and Waleed Ibrahim, Gideon Long, Aseel Kami and Mussab al-Khairalla in Baghdad


Breaking News

By Patrick Quinn

** Sunni Candidate Killed on Last Day of Iraq Campaigning; Attempt Made on Shiite Politican's Life **

ABC News
December 13, 2005


[PHOTO CAPTION: Soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division fill a hole left by an explosion on a road outside Beiji, north central Iraq, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2005. The explosions erupt from sand piles on the shoulder of a road, or the potholes that pock the highways of Iraq. They come from propane tanks buried under the ground that are filled with explosives, or artillery shells wired and hidden in shadows. This week, soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division found a donkey slung with a bomb, an improvised explosive device, or IED, trotting near the roadside.]

BAGHDAD -- Gunmen killed a Sunni Arab candidate for parliament and militants tried to blow up a leading Shiite politician in separate attacks Tuesday, the last day of campaigning for Iraq's election.

More than 1,000 Sunni clerics, meanwhile, issued a religious edict, or a fatwa, urging Sunni Arabs to vote in Thursday's balloting offering a seal of approval as members of the disaffected minority are expected to turn out in large numbers after mostly boycotting the landmark Jan. 30 polls.

Ali al-Lami, executive director of the Iraqi Electoral Commission, appealed for peace when about 15 million people will be called on to vote in more than 6,200 polling stations.

Insurgent groups also have in recent days backed way from the threats they used to keep Sunni Arabs away from previous elections.

The militant Islamic Army in Iraq told its fighters not to attack polling stations during the elections to avoid killing civilians, according to a statement published Tuesday in the group's name on the Internet.

Early voting proceeded without problems Monday for Iraqi security forces, hospital patients and prisoners, al-Lami said. Balloting for Iraqis who live abroad opened Tuesday, and began in Australia, where up to 20,000 registered Iraqi voters live. They are part of a group of 1.5 million voters living outside Iraq who will cast ballots at polling centers in 15 countries, including the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Gunmen in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killed Sunni Arab candidate Mezher al-Dulaimi while he was filling up his car at a gas station.

A roadside bomb targeted the convoy of Sheik Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, a Shiite member of the National Assembly who was elected with the governing United Iraqi Alliance. The Iraqi army said the explosion in Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, damaged one of the vehicles.

Police said a roadside bomb intended for one of their patrols in the central city of Samarra missed, instead killing a child and seriously injuring his father.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi held a pre-election rally in the southern city of Basra for about 1,000 supporters, while former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi hosted a gathering in Baghdad. No campaigning is allowed Wednesday to give Iraqis time to reflect ahead of the vote.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told about 1,000 tribal leaders who gathered in Baghdad's Jadriyah neighborhood that the military wing of his group the Badr Brigade was ready to help with election security.

"I declare that the Badr Organization is ready to mobilize 200,000 of its men in all parts of Iraq so that they can play a role in defending Iraqi and Iraqis," said the black-turbaned cleric, who is heading the strong Shiite United Iraqi Alliance slate.

"Violence has no place in any democratic elections. This is a time for national reconciliation though the political process," al-Lami said.

President Bush offered encouraging words from Washington to Iraqi voters but cautioned that the parliamentary elections "won't be perfect."

"Iraqis still have more difficult work ahead, and our coalition and a new Iraqi government will face many challenges," Bush said Monday in a speech in Philadelphia.

Sheik Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samaraie, who heads the Sunni Endowment, the government agency in charge of the maintaining Sunni mosques and shrines, said Iraqis have the right to choose the candidates they want.

"We call upon all the Iraqi people, and this is a fatwa from more than 1,000 Iraqi scholars who are urging Iraqis to vote," he said, speaking to the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, which last week claimed to have killed U.S. hostage Ronald Allen Schulz, stressed its decision not to attack polling stations did not mean it supported the political process and it vowed to continue attacking foreign and Iraqi security forces.

That call came one day after al-Qaida in Iraq and four other Islamic extremist groups issued a rare joint statement denouncing the elections as a "satanic project" and vowing to continue their war to establish an Islamic government in the country. But the statement contained no clear threat to disrupt voting.

The authenticity of the claims could not be verified, but they appeared on Web sites that often publish extremist material.

The absence of a clear-cut threat could reflect the growing interest among Sunni Arabs, the foundation of the insurgency, to participate in the election. The Sunni boycott of the January ballot left parliament in the hands of Shiites and Kurds a move that increased communal friction and cost the Sunnis considerable influence in drafting the constitution.

U.S. officials hope for a large turnout among the Sunni Arab minority, a development that could produce a government capable of winning the trust of the Sunnis and defusing the insurgency. That would enable U.S. and other foreign troops to begin heading home next year.

Sunni Arab politicians have promised an end to what they term abuse at the hands of the Shiite-dominated security services.