Militants kill 24 as Iraq goes to polls

Bomb and rocket attacks killed at least 24 people as Iraqis voted yesterday in a election that put Iraq's security forces and its fledgling democracy to the test before US troops leave.

Blasts rumbled across Baghdad and other cities as scores of mortar rounds, rockets and roadside bombs exploded near polling stations designed to scare voters.

Sunni militants had vowed to wreck the voting for Iraq's second full-term parliament since the 2003 US invasion.

Iraq's political course will be decisive for President Barack Obama's plans to halve US troop levels over the next five months and withdraw entirely by end-2011 and was watched closely by oil companies planning to invest billions of dollars in Iraq. In the deadliest attacks, 12 people died when a bomb blew up a Baghdad apartment block and four were killed in a similar explosion at another residential building. A Katyusha rocket killed four people elsewhere in the capital of seven million. At least 65 people were wounded around the country.

The number of eligible voters was 19 million.

Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said only 15 people had been killed in the capital. The US military said insurgents had "fallen short" in attempts to intimidate voters. Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission said only two of 50,000 polling stations had to be closed briefly for security reasons.

Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari described the attacks as largely random mortar fire meant to frighten people.

Major General Qassim Al Moussawi, the Baghdad security spokesman, said most of the rockets and mortar bombs had been fired from mainly Sunni districts in and around the city.

A car ban aimed at foiling vehicle bombs had been lifted after less than four hours of voting, he said.

The 96,000 US troops in Iraq stayed in the background, underscoring the waning American role in Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki urged all parties to accept the results. "He who wins today may lose tomorrow, and he who loses today may win tomorrow," he said after casting his ballot at Green Zone.

 

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