BAGHDAD — An overnight rocket attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad that killed two Americans and injured four others set the tone for the election Sunday.
By the end of the day at least 29 people had been killed in attacks on polling stations and voters.
An hour after polling stations opened at 7am, mortar blasts began echoing across the capital city, at almost an attack a minute at times.
Most Iraqis stayed home after resistance fighters threatened to ”wash the streets with blood.”
A suicide bomber at a security checkpoint in Monsour district of western Baghdad killed a policeman and wounded two others. A man wearing a belt of explosives detonated himself at a voters queue in Sadr City in Baghdad, killing himself and at least four others.
Many Iraqis who had intended to vote stayed indoors as gunfire echoed around the downtown area of Baghdad. Mortar attacks on polling stations continued through the day.
”Yesterday a bicycle bomb killed someone near my house,” said 32-year-old Ahmed Mohammed. ”I never intended to vote in this illegitimate election anyway, but if I had wanted to I would never go out in these conditions.”
With draconian security measures in place, even some ambulances rushing to victims of bomb attacks were turned back at security checkpoints.
”Baghdad looks like it’s having a war, not elections,” said Layla Abdul Rahman, a high school English teacher. ”Our streets are filled with tanks and soldiers and our bridges are closed. All we are hearing is bombings all around us, and for the last two nights there have been many clashes that last a long time. We shouldn’t have had elections now because it’s just not practical with this horrible security.”
The threats by the resistance fighters followed by a string of attacks across Baghdad clearly reduced voter turnout.
”How can we call this democracy when I am too afraid to leave my home,” said Baghdad resident Abdulla Hamid. ”Of course there will be low turnout here with all these bombings.”
A series of bombings have been reported also in Hilla, Mosul, Kirkuk, Basra and Baquba. In Samarra where a roadside bomb struck a U.S. patrol, there was no sign either of voters or of the police on the streets, according to reports from there.
”Nobody will vote in Samarra because of the security situation,” Taha Husain, head of Samarra’s local governing council told reporters.
Interim U.S.. appointed prime minister Ayad Allawi announced Saturday that martial law will now be extended for another month. The hope of many Iraqis that the elections will bring security and stability continue to fade.
Voter turnout in the Kurdish controlled north of Iraq and the Shia dominated southern region has been heavy, but most polling stations in the capital city and central Iraq remained relatively empty.
Aside from security reasons, many Iraqis chose not to vote because they question the legitimacy of these elections.
”They are wrong on principle, the High Commission for Elections was appointed by Bremer (former U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer), so how can we have a legitimate election under these circumstances,” said Sabah Rahwani in the Karrada district of Baghdad. ”This election only serves the interest of the occupier, not Iraqis. This is only propaganda for Bush.”
U.S. President George W. Bush announced in his weekly radio address Saturday that ”as democracy takes hold in Iraq, America’s mission there will continue.” His administration has also recently announced that U.S. troops will remain in Iraq at least until 2006.
The parliament elected by the Sunday election will draft a new constitution for the country. A referendum on that is scheduled for Oct. 15, followed by another election Dec. 15.