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Middle East
Explosions hit Iraq ahead of poll
Blasts in Ramadi and Najaf leave three dead and more than 50 injured in election run-up.
Last Modified: 06 Mar 2010 20:42 GMT

Separate explosions in southern Iraq have left at least three people dead and more than 50 others wounded a day before the country's parliamentary elections.

Iraqi officials have assured voters that the country is ready for Sunday's poll, but security remained a concern for many Iraqis on Saturday.

Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh, reporting from Iraq's southern Anbar province, said three loud explosions shook central Ramadi, the provincial capital, followed by a volley of bullets.

"I spoke to two police sources, they gave two different accounts. The first said there were three mortar attacks near a polling station in central Ramadi. The report said one policeman was injured.

"Another police source said there were three improvised explosive devices detonated under the supervision of police and there were no injuries there.

"Security commanders said they are deploying more than 60,000 troops from the army and police and they said everything is under their control.

"But the explosions will give a message to the people in Ramadi that this place is still dangerous."

Iranian pilgrims killed

Earlier on Saturday, three people were killed and more than 50 injured in a car bomb explosion in the Iraqi city of Najaf.

special report

Saturday's blast gutted two buses parked at a garage near the revered Imam Ali shrine, which draws millions of Shia worshippers from Iraq and Iran each year.

Anita MacNaught, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Baghdad, said two of the dead were Iranian pilgrims.

"The bomb was in a car park some 500 metres from the Imam Ali shrine. As far as we are aware, the Imam Ali shrine itself has not been damaged in any sense.

"One of the reasons the bomb was so far away was because of the protective cordon around the site.

"It was a car park that was used for mass arrivals of vehicles - in particular the buses and cars bringing pligrims in from all over the Middle East."

Appeal to voters

At least 45 people - some of them members of the security forces who were voting early - have been killed over the past few days as the election campaign draws to a close.

Iraqi politicians are making their final appeal to voters as their country heads for the 325-seat legislature poll on Sunday.

Religious leaders have also encouraged Iraqis to vote, and on Saturday, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr urged his followers to turn out and vote in the election, The Associated Press news agency reported.

In a televised address from Tehran, the capital of neighbouring Iran, al-Sadr urged Iraqis to turn out in large numbers and give their support to those who he said were "faithful" to the Iraqi people.

Sunday's vote will determine the shape of the Iraqi government over the next four years and will play an important role in Washington's policy in the country.

Security measures

Strict security measures have come into force - beginning with a curfew on Friday evening in Ramadi and other restrictions that will last for three days.

They include a ban on use of civilian vehicles on election day.

The election will be supervised by as many as 120 international monitors, with a number of foreign embassies providing staff to act as monitors too.

Iraqis living abroad started voting in their country's general election two days before the election.

The Iraqi electoral commission is to announce preliminary results on March 10-11, based on votes from about 30 per cent of the polling stations.

The supreme court would then certify the poll results, after hearing appeals, within about a month of the election, the official said.

After the last national election in 2005,it took Iraq's feuding political parties about five months to agree on a prime minister and for a cabinet to be approved.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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