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:
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.