News in Brief: Violence Mars Iraq Vote
- Violence Mars Iraq Vote
Bomb and mortar attacks rocked Baghdad and other cities on Sunday, March 7, killing at least 24 people as Iraqis cast their ballots to elect a new parliament for the second time since the 2003 US-led invasion.
"Terrorists wanted to hamper the elections, thus they started to blow themselves up in the streets," said Deputy Interior Minister Ayden Khalid Qader.
Explosions reverberated across the capital Baghdad even before the polls opened at 07:00 am (04:00 GMT).
Two massive blasts flattened two residential buildings, killing 16 and wounding 16 others a few minutes before the start of balloting in apparent dynamite attacks.
Shortly after voting started, dozens of mortar rounds rained down on Baghdad, including the fortified Green Zone, the seat of the government and the US embassy, killing at least four people and wounding many others.
Four people were killed in other bomb attacks near Baghdad polling stations.
In Anbar province, west of the capital, at least 10 explosions rang through its capital Fallujah.
A series of attacks also struck across Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, two of them were improvised bombs that struck an American and an Iraqi convoy.
At least four people were injured, two of them Iraqi soldiers.
Baquba, Samarra and other cities were also hit by mortars or bombs, many of them exploding near polling stations.
The attacks came despite a massive security operation, with 200,000 police and soldiers deployed in Baghdad alone.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq had threatened to disrupt the voting and threatened to kill anyone who participates in the elections.
Many Iraqis braved the attacks to cast their ballots.
"We’re Iraqis. We're not afraid," Abdul Azak told The New York Times as he was voting with his wife and baby.
There are 18.9 million eligible voters, casting ballots for 325 seats in the parliament.
"It is a duty to participate in the democratic process," said Abu Adel, 57, a retired man who was the first to cast his ballot at the Omar al-Mokhtar polling centre in central Baghdad.
Ali Abdul Wahab, a Baghdad resident, was also keen to participate in the crucial elections.
"If we had to crawl, we would crawl (in order to vote,)."
This is Iraq's fifth nationwide vote since 2003, but only the second for a full four-year-term parliament.
The election is viewed as pivotal as the country tries to end violence and set the stage for stability and economic growth ahead of a US withdrawal by end-2011.
Iraqis Charge Batteries For Elections
As preparations are in full swing for Iraq’s parliamentary polls on Sunday, March 7, Iraqis are charging batteries to cast ballot the elections, seen as a test for reconciliation in the war-torn country.
“It is a moment of democracy and we cannot stay home without sharing our participation,” Feiraz Rabia’a told IslamOnline.net.
“In a country where sect is part of our reality, we should use our vote to guarantee that all Iraqis be represented.”
Rabia’a is planning to cast her vote for a candidate who is running on an independent list.
“I won’t vote for anyone who is seeking re-election because they had time to show improvements and if they didn’t, they won’t do if they keep their seats.”
Iraqi voters will go to polling stations early Sunday in the second parliamentary ballot since the 2003 US invasion to elect a new 275-seat parliament.
Some 6,200 candidates from across Iraq's complex religious and ethnic spectrum are vying in the polls, seen as a test for reconciliation in the country.
Iraq's fragmented political scene virtually ensures that no single party will emerge with the 163 seats needed to form a government on its own and the ensuing horse-trading to form a governing coalition is likely to be protracted.
The final days of the campaign for Sunday's polls have been rocked by a series of suicide bombings that left dozens dead.
At least three people, including two Iranian pilgrims, were killed and 54 others wounded in a powerful car bombing in the holy city of Najaf.
From Inmate to Rights Defender
He was locked up in prison almost half his life, facing racism and discrimination if not for his skin color then for his Muslim faith.
But despite all that, Jihad Abdulmumit, now a community activist, motivational speaker and author, considers himself lucky.
Since his release, he has been making the full use of every single day.
"I see freedom differently," Jihad, 54, told IslamOnline.net.
"It is precious to have the free ability to express oneself in a healthy, wholesome, and beneficial way and to aspire to one’s own self-worth and greatness without hindrance, discrimination, oppression and retaliation."
In 1979, Jihad, who until then was David Bryant, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to over 23 years as a domestic political prisoner for his involvement in the Black Liberation Army and the Black Panther Party.
The two groups advocated taking up arms for the self-defense and liberation of blacks in the United States.
"The FBI did not view Blacks as terrorists, just ‘criminals,’" he recalled.
Within four months of his imprisonment and isolation, he found Islam.
"I was so inspired, relieved, and motivated to learn that God, Allah, was not a man, but the Creator of all things," Jihad described his feelings after joining his first Friday prayer.
"The brothers in the Muslim community in prison gave me the name ‘Jihad Daud Abdulmumit’ after I took my Shahadah (the Muslim declaration of faith).
They selected this name because I was a member of the Black Liberation Army, so I guess they figured ‘Jihad’ was appropriate."
Jihad says one of the worst things about being in jail is the isolation inside a cell for days.
But probably more hurtful to him was the racism he faced, many times for being a black and sometimes for being a Muslim.
"The racism I encountered in prison tended more to be because I am black.
"Although a correctional officer or counselor may treat you the same as any other inmate, the racism is inherent."
But Jihad found in Islam the "shelter" that helped him during the hardest times of his life.
"Islam taught me that nothing happens without and beyond the will of Allah, so I accepted my prison experience with calmness and patience."
He notes that many Muslim prisoners had endured racial attitudes against them in a way that earned the respect of their jailers.
"Over time Muslims received respect from prison authorities that is because of the maturity of the brothers and their discipline, and to the moral conduct we have.
"Prison authorities could not ignore it."
US facing surge in rightwing extremists and militias
The US is facing a surge in anti-government extremist groups and armed militias, driven by deepening hostility on the right to Barack Obama, anger over the economy, and the increasing propagation of conspiracy theories by parts of the mass media such as Fox News.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre, the US's most prominent civil rights group focused on hate organisations, said in a report that extremist "patriot" groups "came roaring back to life" last year as their number jumped nearly 250% to more than 500 with deepening ties to conservative mainstream politics.
Extreme right on the march in Europe's most tolerant nation
Bahrain Shia demand cabinet change
Bahrain's largest Shia parliamentary group is demanding the cabinet be chosen by its elected parliament, and not appointed by the king.
The al-Wefaq bloc, which holds 17 of 40 seats in the assembly, added that the power sharing envisioned in Bahrain's constitution of 2002 had not yet been sufficiently implemented.
Khalil al-Marzooq, the opposition al-Wefaq spokesman, told journalists on Thursday that "the national charter that 98.4 per cent of people voted for [in 2002] clearly states that Bahrain is transferring into a constitutional monarchy".
Bahrain's citizens are predominantly Shia Muslim but the kingdom is ruled by the al-Khalifa family from the Sunni Muslim minority.
The gulf nation's cabinet is currently appointed by Bahrain's king, with about half the members coming from the royal family.
Irish town snubs Israeli envoy
An Irish town council has removed a page in its guestbook signed by the Israeli ambassador to Ireland in protest at Israel's diplomatic record.
The move, reported by the BBC on Tuesday, follows the alleged use of fake Irish passports in the murder of a Hamas commander, an operation widely thought to have been carried out by Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.
Matt Carthy, a local councillor, said: "I think if a government is responsible for a wholesale disregard for international law then local authorities, as well as our own government, have a responsibility to tell them we expect a higher standard."
The decision to get rid of Evrony's signature comes amid the fallout from the murder in a luxury hotel in Dubai of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, of the Palestinian Hamas movement, last month.
Al-Mabhouh was found dead in his hotel room on January 20 after being drugged and suffocated, according to police.
PM plays the anti-Baath card as poll approaches
Talk of former Baathists infiltrating next Sunday's election masks the more complex dilemmas facing Iraq, Patrick Cockburn writes
With a week to go until Iraq's legislative election, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denied yesterday that the decision to purge hundreds of candidates from the election was aimed at the minority Sunni population, despite evidence that the witch hunt is being extended.
"It's not true that it targeted Sunnis," Mr Maliki said in Baghdad. "The decision will not at all affect the Sunni turnout for the election. The decision was made because some of those were blatantly propagating Baath Party ideas." He said that most of those banned were Shia. However, all the important politicians among those blacklisted are Sunni.
Mr Maliki's claim that he is only going after former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party underlines the extent to which the purge has come to dominate the election, to be held on 7 March. The banning of some 500 candidates was unexpectedly announced at the start of the year. In the last few days it has been widened to include several hundred security and army officers, and about 1,000 provincial officials, according to sources in the Iraqi capital. Despite the government's notorious failings, posters and banners all over Baghdad – now largely a Shia city – call for "No return for the Baathist criminals" and "Revenge on the Baathists who oppressed you". There are only a few posters promising to do something about unemployment, electricity and services.
Newspapers, television and radio have been filled with coverage of the machinations of Iraq's old ruling party. In Shia provinces in the south of Iraq there have been demonstrations by thousands of protesters against Baathist infiltration. The Shia political parties, including those running the government, have been trying to outdo each other in the toughness of their demands for a clampdown.
Somalia's Shabab bans UN food aid
Al-Shabab, the Somali Islamist opposition group, has announced it will stop World Food Programme (WFP) operations in Somalia.
The armed group said on Sunday that food distributed by the UN agency had disadvantaged local farmers and accused the WFP of being politically motivated.
"Given the problems caused by the food WFP distributed, the movement of Shabab Al-Mujahideen banned the operations of the agency in Somalia generally starting from today", the statement read.
“The contractors working with WFP must avoid collaborating ... anyone working with the agency will be seen serving the interest of WFP".
Al-Shabab said they had received complaints from Somali farmers that the quantity of the WFP food aid prevented them from selling their own products at a fair price.
And the group also charged some food was past its expiry date and had caused people to fall ill.
Responding to the ban, the WFP insisted its role in Somalia was "impartial and non political".
Its website adds that the food programme is operating in "one of the most dangerous places in the world" and with "the highest humanitarian need for the size of its population".
South Yemen call for independence
Thousands have rallied across southern Yemen after an appeal from the last president of the independent south to re-establish the state that ceased to exist twenty years ago.
Ali Salem al-Baid, who led the south to unity with the north in 1990, called for a second day of "southern anger" on Saturday, to coincide with a meeting of international donors to Yemen in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
"I call on you ... to send a message to our Arab brothers and to the representatives of the international community gathered in Riyadh underlining your rejection of the occupation and your commitment to self-determination," Baid said.
"Our only weapon is our determination to recover our rights, whatever the cost ... we will succeed in regaining our independence."
Brandishing flags of the former south and of Saudi Arabia, crowds took to the streets in the major towns of the provinces of Dhaleh, Lahij, Abyan and Hadramawt.
Businesses in these areas remained closed for fear of clashes with security forces, witnesses and local officials said.
In Abyan, three civilians suffered bullet wounds when police moved to stop demonstrators cutting the highway between the provincial capital of Zinjibar and the south's main city, Aden, witnesses said.