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Baghdad Bombing Atrocity Threatens Iraqi Elections

Concerns that violence could deter voters in upcoming polls come amid widespread anger at government’s security failings.

The devastating aftermath of this week's double bombing in Baghdad has cast doubt on the government's ability to guarantee security and prompted fears such violence may affect voter turnout in anticipated January elections.

At least 155 people were killed and more than 500 wounded after two truck bombs exploded on October 25 outside heavily protected government buildings in the Salehiya neighborhood, close to the capital's fortified Green Zone.

The attacks come just over two months after so-called Bloody Wednesday (August 19), when a string of bombs in the same area killed more than 100 people. The Iraqi government has blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq and Baathist elements in Syria for both attacks, calling for an international tribunal to bring those responsible to justice.

But it was clear where public anger in the wake of the bombings was directed.

Sitting next to a wounded colleague in a Baghdad hospital, Anwar Ahmed, employed at the ministry of justice -- one of the targets -- was furious that the government she had helped elect had failed to keep the extremists at bay. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has pointed to improved security as one of his main achievements.

"How are we going to head to polls again when the people we had elected in the past have not protected us?" asked the 42-year-old. "How could that car bomber get into a vital area where the security forces were?"

Ghalib Salih Hamad, a 30-year-old taxi driver, was also disillusioned. "People do not have the desire to participate in the next elections," he said. "They will vote neither for Maliki nor for anybody else."

"For what sin were these poor people killed in such a brutal, criminal way?" asked survivor Hasan Abu Ali, a shopkeeper in his 40s.

"I cannot describe what I saw. Charred bodies everywhere, the wounded crying for help, I could not know who to save or help."

Among the buildings hit were two kindergartens in which at least 24 children were killed. Ali Hussien Hamza's five-year-old daughter, Istabraq, was among the wounded.

"I would like to talk to each official and ask him, what was this girl's sin?" the 35-year-old told IWPR. "Why you do not provide us with security? Why are you only busy with your disputes?"

Walid al-Helli, of the ruling Dawa party, denied that the attacks would affect Maliki's support in the parliamentary elections scheduled for January.

"Such attacks will not weaken Maliki or undermine people's confidence in his government," he said, adding that those responsible for the atrocities were supporters al-Qaeda and Baath party elements in neighbouring countries.

"The bombs are a clear proof of their hatred towards the Iraqi people."

But elsewhere there was widespread acknowledgment that the bombings would affect voter turnout at the upcoming poll.

Maliki's rivals in the elections, the Shia-led Iraqi National Alliance, warned the whole political process would be undermined if such atrocities kept people away from the ballot box.

"These [latest] bombings, together with the ones on Bloody Wednesday, killed Iraqis' hopes of having a stable security situation; it is a very dangerous matter," said Ridha Jwad Taqi, a legislator from the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, ISCI, the party that heads the alliance. The party has lobbied Maliki to join its coalition.

"Everybody should take responsibility."

"I expect a low turnout in the elections if matters go on this way," said Mithal al-Alosi, an independent member of parliament and the deputy head of the foreign relations parliamentary committee.

"The wounds of Bloody Wednesday have not healed yet and the Salehiya bombs have deepened those wounds," he added.

Alosi called on the government to press ahead with demands for a probe of Syria's alleged involvement in the attacks.

"This time the government should act on its demand for an international tribunal," he said. "We must not ask the citizens of Iraq to be patient each time."

At the same time, the parliamentary security and defense committee called for an investigation to show just how the security in such a sensitive area had been breached.

"We will hold urgent meetings with security personnel to establish the failings of security measures in the area," said Adil Barwari, a member of the committee. "Those bombs will affect the elections, one way or another."

On October 29, more than 60 security force members, including 11 officers, were arrested as part of investigations into the truck bombings.

Salah Abdul Razzaq, the governor of Baghdad, told IWPR, that heads would roll over the security breach.

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