Iraqi Candidate Killed on Videotape
Insurgents unleashed a string of fierce attacks across central and northern Iraq on Thursday that left nearly a dozen Iraqis and an American marine dead, while the militant group led by the country’s most wanted guerrilla posted a video on the Internet showing the fatal shooting of a candidate from the prime minister’s slate in Sunday’s elections. The killing of the candidate, Salem Jaafar al-Kanani, was one of the most direct strikes yet against Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s party. Mr. Kanani appears as No. 150 in a list of candidates led by Dr. Allawi, according to a Web site aimed at informing overseas Iraqi voters. Dr. Allawi’s slate is expected to perform well on Sunday, when millions of Iraqis are to vote in the country’s first multiparty elections in decades. But given the large number of competing slates, it was considered unlikely that Mr. Kanani would have ended up winning one of the new National Assembly’s 275 seats.
The video of his killing, with at least three shots to the chest, was posted by the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who vowed earlier this week to wage all-out war on the process of democracy. The murder of Mr. Kanani and a spate of attacks on Thursday, which included suicide car bombings in the besieged cities of Samarra and Baquba, appeared intended to sow fear among Iraqis as they decide whether to vote on Sunday.
The videotape of the killing of Mr. Kanani began with several minutes showing his identification cards, including one from the Titan Systems Corporation, a company that provides interpreters to the American military. Another card showed his membership in the Iraqi National Accord, Dr. Allawi’s party. Mr. Kanani then spoke to the camera. “I advise all young men not to back the enemy occupiers and ask them to serve the people of their homeland,” he said. “I was captured by the mujahedeen. They treated me very well.” The video then showed Mr. Kanani lying face-up on a floor as an insurgent fired three bullets into his chest.
This is the most serious of the recent incidents and part of a larger trend:
Attacks Climb Ahead Of Vote (USAT, p. 1)
Insurgents determined to derail Sunday’s vote pressed ahead with a wave of pre-election violence that killed at least a dozen Iraqis and one Marine. In Samarra and Kirkuk, violence-troubled cities north of Baghdad, car bombs struck. In Samarra, armed men also blew up a school building that was to be a voting center. A terror group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi posted a videotape on the Internet showing the killing of a candidate from the party of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
In Ninewah province, which includes the city of Mosul, officials were scrambling just three days before the election to replace most of the 1,000 election workers who quit for fear of being killed by insurgents. Militants linked to Iraq’s Sunni minority, which has historically retained authority in Iraq, fear a loss of power to the Shiite majority in the election. Zarqawi, a Jordanian who wants Iraq to be ruled by an Islamic theocracy similar to Iran, has condemned democratic elections as Ã¢€œevil.Ã¢€
Against the backdrop of violence, the campaigning continued, especially on the airwaves, which were crowded with ads. Allawi campaigned in downtown Baghdad Thursday with heavy U.S.-provided security.
The Iraqi people are apparently treating this like Americans would react to news of an impending hurricane or snowstorm:
Iraqis Get Ready For The Worst (LAT, p. 1)
Amid excitement and fear over Sunday’s election, Iraqis are in a mad rush to prepare for an unprecedented three-day national lockdown. With insurgents vowing to disrupt the balloting and kill voters, U.S. and Iraqi security forces have imposed a lengthy set of emergency security measures. Starting Saturday, borders will be sealed and the airport will be shut down. Government offices and most companies will take a three-day holiday. Nightly curfews begin at 7 p.m. and last until 6 a.m. In addition, cars will be banned from roads unless occupants have special election badges, except in cases of medical emergency.
Traffic in Baghdad, a city that loves cars as much as Los Angeles does, appeared Thursday to be down by about half. Road closures and police checkpoints made navigating the capital difficult. Many drivers said they wouldn’t risk taking to the roads, noting that insurgents had threatened to attack anyone attempting to vote or assisting in the election.
Demand for gas, food and emergency supplies has spurred a price surge. Black-market prices for gasoline doubled from $1.30 a gallon last week to $2.70 a gallon Thursday. Potatoes that sold for 22 cents for a little more than two pounds on Monday sold for 55 cents Thursday. Long lines snaked out of bakeries selling samoun, a popular bread. Grocery stores were selling out of water, eggs, canned food and rice.
Iraqis, who over the last two decades have grown accustomed to hunkering down, are preparing for the worst. “Many people are scared,” said Ahmed Abdullah, 36, a taxi driver who charged double his usual fare this week. “But so what? For one reason or another, we’ve been scared all our lives.” Similar stockpiling occurred shortly before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. But widespread road closures are rare in Iraq, the last one occurring in 1997 during a one-day national census.
A bit of good news, though, shows some progress being made against the terrorists:
Authorities in Iraq have arrested two close associates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, including the chief of the terror mastermind’s Baghdad operation, the government said Friday, two days ahead of historic elections that extremists have vowed to subvert. […] Qassim Dawoud, a top security adviser, told reporters that the arrests of the al-Zarqawi lieutenants occurred in mid-January but gave few details. Dawoud said one of the men, Salah Suleiman al-Loheibi, headed al-Zarqawi’s Baghdad operation and had met with the Jordanian-born terror leader more than 40 times over three months. The other was identified as Ali Hamad Yassin al-Issawi.
The elections will be over in three days, so we’ll soon see whether this violence is a desperate, last-ditch effort by a losing cause. In any event, we’ll soon be in a new phase of this conflict.