Iraq opened its polls early on Thursday for tens of thousands of soldiers and police officers and other security workers, but a series of attacks in Baghdad aimed directly at them marred the first day of voting in the country’s parliamentary elections.
The attacks killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more, according to preliminary reports from Iraqi officials.
The attacks occurred despite the overwhelming presence of Iraqi security personnel on the streets in Baghdad and in cities across the country. The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who faces a fierce contest to win a second term, declared a holiday from Thursday to Sunday, allowing security officials to vote early so they would be free to work on Election Day.
Two suicide bombers struck two different polling stations at schools in the center of Baghdad, killing seven soldiers and wounding at least 35 other people. NYT
Those attacks followed another involving a hidden bomb, which struck a school in northern Baghdad. That school will also be a polling station on Sunday, but early voting was not taking place on Thursday. That blast killed at least five people and wounded 22.
Iraqi official and United States commanders have braced for violence, imposing strict controls on vehicles and cordoning off entire streets around polling sites. Thursday’s attacks made it clear there are still gaps in security, but on the streets of Baghdad, where lines of soldiers and police officers formed as soon as voting began at 7 a.m., there was also a sense of defiance.
“The last two or three months we’ve been receiving warnings about violence around the elections,” a senior federal police commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of orders from the Ministry of the Interior. “And we know that even after the elections, until they form a government, we have to worry about attacks.” He received a text message on his telephone about the first bombing and then vowed not to let violence disrupt the election, which is widely viewed a pivotal moment in Iraq’s history seven years after the American invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
“Even if they hit a polling station somewhere,” he said, shortly before two suicide bombers did just that, “we will have it open within 30 minutes and people will continue to vote.”
The latest violence came the day after a large coordinated attack in Baquba, the provincial capital of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, killed at least 31 people.
In Baquba on Thursday, a group of police officers at one polling station began to dance elatedly: several of them had survived a suicide attack on the city’s hospital.
“They promised each other to dance in front of every one of the polling stations,” Ibrahim Said, a colleague, said as he watched.
Thursday’s early voting also included prisoners and patients at the country’s hospitals. In addition to the bombings, problems also emerged with the voting itself, a potentially ominous signal ahead of Sunday’s vote, which many candidates have said could be tainted by confusion or fraud.
In Baghdad, Anbar and other provinces there were numerous reports that Iraqi soldiers and police officers could not find their names on the voter rolls at the polling stations. An election official promptly appeared on television and noted that voters could cast provisional ballots, which would be counted in their proper districts. No results from the early voting will be announced until after Sunday’s election.