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Iraq Death Toll Back at Pre-Election Levels
Published on Wednesday, February 9, 2005 by the Sydney Morning Herald
Iraq Death Toll Back at Pre-Election Levels
by Paul McGeough

Intensified suicide bombings and assassinations in Iraq ahead of the release of final election figures have restored the insurgency-inflicted, mostly Iraqi, death toll to pre-election levels of about 100 a week.

As electoral officials indicated that the outcome of the January 30 poll could be completed as early as today, there was a series of attacks.

The bombing of a Baghdad military recruiting centre and the assassination of the two sons of a controversial political figure on Tuesday helped push the number of deaths since January 30 to 170.

Provisional tallies indicate that Shiite religious parties, campaigning as List 169, will control more than half of the 275-seat National Assembly. But with the coalition headed by the interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, likely to run a distant third, parties representing the Kurdish north could snatch a king-maker role with the second biggest block of seats.

Influential Shiite clerics are already demanding that elements of sharia, or strict Islamic law, be enshrined in Iraq's new constitution. But their spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said on Tuesday that the drafting of a new national charter should be left to the National Assembly.

In keeping with his rare and Delphic statements in the past, a spokesman for the grand ayatollah said only that the constitution "should respect the Islamic cultural identity of the Iraqi people".

The words are deliberately ambiguous and give no indication of how Ayatollah Sistani or his aides will respond to developments. But US officials who have acted contrary to his wishes have discovered in the past two years that the unelected grand ayatollah is Iraq's single most powerful figure.

More than 100 of those who have died since the easing of a vice-like security clamp for three days around the election were Iraqi soldiers or policemen; 15 were US troops.

The recruitment centre attack, by a pedestrian wearing a bomb-vest, was the deadliest since the election. Apart from killing at least 21, it wounded nearly 30 other applicants for military service.

Responsibility for the attack and two others earlier in the week was claimed by al-Qaeda's Iraq affiliate, which is led by the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

A spokesman for Dr Allawi reacted angrily to the renewed violence. "To attack and brutally murder patriotic and innocent Iraqis on their way to volunteer to protect their homeland is a crime against all people of Iraq. We will fully investigate this incident and bring these perpetrators to justice," he said.

The political figure who came under attack in Baghdad was Mithal al-Alusi, a former member of the Ahmed Chalabi-led Iraqi National Congress who has been strident in his criticism of Syria and Iran and who provoked much criticism by visiting Israel last year.  Reuters reports: Gunmen abducted an Iraqi Interior Ministry official, Colonel Riyadh Katei Aliwi, yesterday, dragging him from his car in Baghdad. In Basra, the local correspondent of the US-funded television station Alhurra was assassinated outside his house.

Copyright © 2005. The Sydney Morning Herald


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