String of Iraq bomb attacks target poll candidates
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A string of bombings targeted groups taking part in Iraq's March election late on Saturday, wounding seven people, an Interior Ministry official said.
The attacks stoked fears that violence may mar what is expected to be a fiercely contested March 7 parliamentary vote.
One bomb wounded two people when it exploded in front of the north Baghdad headquarters of a political group headed by prominent Sunni Muslim politician Saleh al-Mutlaq, co-founder of the Iraqiya election list.
Another bomb was thrown into the garden of a building used by Sunni scholars, including poll candidates, in Mansour in west Baghdad, wounding two guards. Another blast damaged the headquarters of the United Iraq list in east Baghdad.
Two people were wounded when a bomb struck the headquarters of the Moderate Movement list in Karrada in east Baghdad, and another person was hurt when a bomb struck a building used by an election list led by Nehru Abdulkarim al-Keznazani.
In a new statement, Omar al-Baghdadi, purported leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, threatened to prevent the election because it would result in Iraq's Shi'ite majority, whom al Qaeda considers heretics, ruling over Sunnis.
"Sunni participation in this election will certainly lead to the establishment of the principle that Sunnis in Iraq are a minority who have to be ruled by the rejectionists," said an audio recording attributed to him, posted on a website on Friday.
"We have decided to prevent these elections by all legitimate means possible, primarily military means," the recording continued.
One member of the Iraqiya candidate list was murdered a few days ago in the violent city of Mosul.
Overall violence has fallen sharply in Iraq in the last two years, but huge bombings have rocked the country in recent months. Al Qaeda and members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Sunni-dominated Baath party have been blamed.
Iraqi and U.S. officials hope the election will solidify the country's young democracy before a U.S. military withdrawal due by the end of 2011, by drawing former insurgents and militias into the political process.
However, tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites have been fanned by the banning from the polls of prominent Sunni candidates for alleged links to the Baath party.
(Additional reporting by Dubai bureau, writing by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Mark Trevelyan)