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Bombs Count Down To Election Day

A car bomb exploded near a Baghdad police station Friday, killing four people and injuring two others, in the latest of a series of attacks intended to scare Iraqis into not participating in Sunday's national election, the first democratic vote in the nation's history.

Authorities say officers guarding the police station in the capital's southern Dora neighborhood opened fire on the car bomb vehicle Friday as it sped toward them and exploded.

In another move to convince Iraqis to stay away from the polls, a new videotape has been posted on the web, purportedly by the terror group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The tape appears to show the murder of a candidate from interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's party. It calls Allawi a traitor and tells him to wait for "the angel of death."

Only a few hours later, the Iraqi government announced the arrests of what it says are two lieutenants of al-Zarqawi's group, including the head of his Baghdad operation, which has been linked to numerous kidnappings and beheadings.

In preparation for Sunday's election, hundreds of American soldiers have been moving out of their massive garrison on the western edge of Baghdad to take up positions to protect voters at smaller bases throughout the city. That will allow them to respond more quickly to any election-day attacks.

Iraqis living overseas have already begun casting ballots.

Iraqi expatriates began casting ballots in Sydney Friday in their nation's first independent elections in more than 50 years.

Amid tight security at a converted furniture warehouse, young children mingled with elderly Kurdish women in head-to-toe black robes. About two-dozen people jostled to be among the first to vote at 7 a.m., which was 3 a.m. EST.

"This is a long dream that now comes true," said 56-year-old Karim Jari before casting his vote. "We hope this is a new beginning."

In other recent developments:

  • Senator Ted Kennedy says the American military's continued presence in Iraq is fanning the flames of conflict. The Massachusetts Democrat is calling for a "new plan" to bring U.S. troops home. In remarks prepared for a speech in Washington, Kennedy says the U.S. military presence in Iraq "has become part of the problem, not part of the solution." Kennedy is not the first member of Congress to call for withdrawing troops, but he's the first senator to do so.
  • The British newspaper The Guardian reports that U.S. and British military officials have privately agreed on an exit strategy from Iraq based on accelerated training of Iraqi police, who would take over, but probably not for years. The plan to pull out the 150,000 coalition troops does not include a deadline for doing that - in part, sources say, to avoid encouraging rebel forces in Iraq.
  • Thursday, 11 Iraqis and one U.S. Marine were killed as insurgents clashed with U.S. troops and blew up a school slated to serve as a polling center.
  • A U.S. soldier died from a gunshot wound early Thursday on a base near Tikrit in what the American military command called an accident.
  • Another U.S. soldier was injured when his convoy was attacked early Thursday near Kirkuk by small arms fire and a roadside bomb, said Master Sgt. Robert Powell.
  • Three Iraqis were killed and seven injured when a roadside bomb missed a U.S. convoy in Mahmoudiya area, 20 miles south of Baghdad on Thursday morning, according to the area's hospital director, Dawoud al-Taie.
  • 30 U.S. Marines and one Navy sailor died in a helicopter crash in bad weather in the western desert Wednesday. That, combined with attack deaths, made Wednesday the deadliest single day for Americans since the Iraq war began nearly two years ago. The helicopter, a CH-53E Super Stallion, was carrying personnel from the 1st Marine Division when it went down about near the town of Rutbah.
  • Australian officials announced that one of two car bombings on Baghdad's dangerous airport road Wednesday had injured eight Australian soldiers riding in a convoy escorting Australian government officials.
  • A Muslim youth group in Brazil issued an appeal for the kidnappers of a Brazilian hostage to release him. The appeal by the Alliance of Muslim Youth, broadcast on Al-Jazeera, noted that many Brazilians had opposed the Iraq war.
  • Near Tikrit, a roadside bomb killed one Iraqi bystander and narrowly missed another passing U.S. military convoy, police said. The attack happened on a road near former dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown, about 80 miles north of Baghdad, said police Lt. Shalan Allawi.
  • In Samarra, armed men blew up a local school administration building on Thursday morning after first ordering the staff to leave, said police Lt. Qassim Mohammed. The destroyed building had been scheduled to be a voting center in Sunday's elections. Sporadic clashes also erupted in Samarra on Thursday morning between U.S. troops and armed men, killing one Iraqi civilian and injuring another, Mohammed said.
  • In Baqouba, the body of a colonel in the former Iraqi intelligence during Saddam's era, Talib Minshid, was found in the city, according to a Baqouba hospital official, Mohammed Ali. Minshid had been abducted by armed men two days ago. In the same town, one Iraqi police officer was killed and four others injured by a suicide car bomb Thursday, according to Adel Mulan, the head of the Diyala provincial police force.

    U.S. troops packed extra uniforms and ammunition before moving out of their main base Thursday to take up positions around Baghdad, part of a massive security operation to protect voters during weekend elections that insurgents have vowed to disrupt.

    Iraqi police and soldiers will play the more visible role, manning checkpoints and securing the polls — many of which have already been bombed and rocketed by insurgents ahead of Sunday's vote.

    American troops will be around, nonetheless — backing up the Iraqis in the event of major violence the Iraqis can't handle, U.S. and Iraqi commanders said.

    The U.S. presence could make American troops easier targets, and it also has raised concerns the United States might be seen as orchestrating the elections.

    Patrol boats will ply the country's rivers, tanks will protect important roads and bridges, and warplanes will streak overhead. Medical teams will be on alert and nationwide restrictions on traffic will be imposed from Saturday to Monday to try to deter car bombs.

    Insurgents have promised to disrupt the voting with car bombings and other attacks, and U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned of increased violence ahead of the vote. The bloodshed continued Thursday, with bombings and gunfire from militants reported in several cities.

    Voters will choose a National Assembly that will govern the country and draft a permanent constitution, and also choose provincial councils in the 18 provinces. Those living in the Kurdish self-governing region of the north will also choose a regional parliament.

    To prevent major disruptions, Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib has announced the curfew would be extended from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. starting Friday through Monday.

    The government has already said it will close Baghdad International Airport and seal the nation's borders during the election period. Weapons will be banned, and al-Naqib announced rewards for Iraqis who turn in "terrorists."

    Local officials have been authorized to add extra security measures in their own areas if they see fit. Many details of the overall security plan have been kept secret, officials say, to avoid tipping off the rebels.

    At the same time, U.S. teams also have been out in villages and towns across Iraq encouraging people to vote. A respectable turnout in the face of insurgent threats would be seen as rejection of the insurgency by millions of rank-and-file Iraqis.

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