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The Tension (and Bloodshed) Mounts

Attacks on Polling Stations Leave 13 Dead

by PATRICK COCKBURN And ELIZABETH DAVIES

Baghdad.

With only three days to go until polling booths open in Iraq’s elections, insurgents determined to disrupt the vote carried out a series of attacks on voting stations yesterday, killing at least 12 Iraqis and one US Marine.

The most serious losses occurred when insurgents blew up a school building in Samarra, north of Baghdad, killing 11 Iraqis and one US Marine. The building was scheduled as a voting centre in Sunday’s election. An Iraqi National Guard soldier was also killed when insurgents targeted a joint US-Iraqi force guarding a voting centre in Ramadi.

In the north, a spate of attacks on seven polling stations in Kirkuk provided further evidence that insurgents were fulfilling their promise to create a climate of intimidation in the days leading up to Sunday’s poll.

Iraqis will choose a 275-member legislature and provincial councils across the country. But the election is expected to be overshadowed by a boycott by Sunni Muslim militants, who fear that the elections will concentrate power in the hands of the Shia majority.

As tension mounted, coalition forces stepped up security operations around Baghdad yesterday. The interim Iraqi government announced it would deploy an additional 2,500 troops to help with the elections and hundreds of US soldiers have also been moved from Camp Liberty, near Baghdad’s main airport, to take up positions at smaller bases scattered around the city.

"We’re hoping to enable the Iraqi security forces to be successful in defending the polling sites so their countrymen can vote," said Brig Gen John Basilica, commander of the National Guard’s 256th Brigade. "It’s a critical time for them."

American marines also came under attack yesterday in intermittent clashes with armed fighters near Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, during which a US Marine died. Another marine was killed yesterday in what the military described as an "accident". In the capital, the notorious Haifa street was once again the scene of fighting between Iraqi forces and insurgents.

An Iraqi soldier was killed and five civilians injured when a suicide car bomb exploded near a patrol in Baqouba. A hospital in the city also confirmed that the body of a former colonel in Iraqi intelligence under Saddam, Talib Minshid, had been discovered following his earlier abduction.