Blast hits Iraq in election run-up

Deadly bombing near holy shrine in Najaf comes a day before country holds parliamentary polls.

    "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."

    Officers targeted

    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.

    The 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.

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    Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police have been deployed across the country to protect voters on election day.

    Religious leaders used Friday's prayers to encourage Iraqis to vote.

    Jonathan Steele, a columnist for the London Guardian newspaper who reported on the last election, said Sunday's vote was "extremely important" and that there were "some big differences" from the last election in 2005.

    "First of all, the Shia group, which is obviously the dominant group in terms of population and political power, has not split and there're two big Shia coalitions taking part instead of one united one," he told Al Jazeera.

    "Secondly, the Sunnis who largely boycotted [the election] for various reasons in 2005 are going to vote - we don't know in what numbers - but they still will be taking part.

    "And I think, third, the big difference - and it's really crucial - is that the American are now on their way out and American influence is considerably diminished from what it used to be five years ago."

    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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