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Interim government vows to provide a secure election



Published: Sat, January 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Some residents are stockpiling supplies, saying they don't know what to expect around election day.

COMBINED DISPATCHES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The interim Iraqi government promised voters Saturday that polling centers for parliamentary elections Jan. 30 would be secure and that the election would be run solely by Iraqis.

But with only two weeks before the election, authorities have yet to reveal important details about the process and residents in some areas are stockpiling essential supplies amidst fears of chaos.

In Baghdad, three mortar shells exploded Saturday near the heavily guarded Green Zone, causing no casualties but sending American and Iraqi officials scurrying for cover. It marked the third straight day of rebel attacks on the Green Zone, the nerve center of the U.S. and Iraqi administration, after a lull of a couple of weeks.

In the Abu Ghraib area west of the city, a roadside bomb ripped through a U.S. convoy Saturday, destroying a truck, Abu Ghraib police Lt. Akram al-Zubaie said. There were no reports of casualties.

Keeping mum

The Independent Election Commission, which promised a transparent system, has not yet said when it would reveal the names of the candidates or when voters would learn where they could cast their ballot. And they said the security plan they outlined could change.

They also conceded that in four of the nation's 18 governorates, security difficulties could hamper the vote. Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of Task Force Olympia, which includes Mosul, said Saturday that in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, the commission is trying to replace election workers who resigned because of concerns for their safety.

Insurgents have assassinated election workers in several areas of the country, including a bold daylight attack on the streets of Baghdad.

As the government began trickling information out about the election, some residents in Baghdad were stockpiling supplies at home, saying they did not know what to expect around election day. Many observers expect an upsurge of violence.

Yusra Yousef, a 30-year-old mother of two in western Baghdad, said that she was buying food and water. She had heard there could be a water shortage.

"We are used to such crises. We have stockpiled for every crisis and war," Yousef said.

Ahmed Kamal, 33, owns a grocery store in western Baghdad and said that since last week, he noticed more people buying canned foods, rice and beans. Some of his customers bring a list of goods they need, and he spends the day packaging them.

"Some people want to take it with them to Syria or Jordan," Kamal said. They want to leave the country "to avoid the violence. It's cheaper for people to shop from here."

Declaring a holiday

Wael Abdel Latif, the Minister of State for Provinces and Hussein Hindawi, the chairman of the Independent Election Commission said Saturday that the government would declare Jan. 30, election day, a holiday. Police and military forces would be stationed throughout the country, and cars would not be allowed near polling centers to avoid possible car bombings.

Latif said Iraqi forces would be in charge of security. Coalition forces, including U.S. troops, would play a supporting role.

The Iraq forces "will be distributed according to the number of voting centers," Latif said.

He did not reveal the number of forces but Sabah Kadhim, the Ministry of Interior spokesman, said 100,000 of the nation's 135,000 police officers would be working that day.

The election centers would open between 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. There would be two lines leading into a polling center -- one for men, the other for women -- Hindawi said. Voters in each line are to be searched before casting their ballot.

Afterward, the ballots would be counted at each polling center, Hindawi said. The results would then be sent to Baghdad, and the government expects to release preliminary results within hours after the polls close and the final tally within 10 days, he said.




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