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Analysis: Is Insurgent Violence Having Desired Effect On Iraqi Elections?

  • Kathleen Ridolfo --> An injured Iraqi man collects belongings from his home after a truck explosion this morning at Qasr Dar al-Salam Militants killed Baghdad Governor Ali Radi al-Haydari in an early morning attack --> outside his home in the Iraqi capital on 4 January.

The incident marks the most senior assassination since the death in May of Governing Council president Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad and should be seen within the context of the recent surge in violence ahead of national and provincial elections slated for 30 January.

The White House condemned the al-Haydari killing later the same day and insisted that Iraqi elections will go ahead as scheduled.

But there is evidence that the campaign by insurgents to thwart elections might be having some effect.

Kurdistan Satellite television reported on 3 January that the Kurdish and Iraqi parliaments will call on the Council of Ministers and the president to postpone the elections due to the unfavorable conditions in the country. That request is due to be made at the interim National Assembly's next meeting in Baghdad, the station reported. Meanwhile, interim Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan proposed in Cairo on 3 January that national elections be postponed by a few weeks in order to allow Sunnis to organize should they agree to participate in elections. It is unclear whether al-Sha'lan's proposal was an official proposal floated by the interim government or a personal one. For now, there is no official word on whether a delay will take place.

Death Of A Post-Hussein Politician

Al-Haydari rose to prominence in the Iraqi capital following the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime. Born in Baghdad in 1958, al-Haydari, a Shi'ite independent not affiliated with any political party, was a mechanical engineer. He joined the Al-Adl neighborhood council in the months after the war and later joined the Al-Mansur neighborhood council. In July 2003, al-Haydari became a member of the Baghdad Municipality. He was later appointed general director of the financing department at the Education Ministry; in June 2004, he was appointed governor of Baghdad, where he oversaw numerous reconstruction projects.

Al-Haydari escaped at least one previous attempt on his life, in September 2004.

Increased Violence

Al-Haydari's assassination is the latest episode in an atmosphere of heightened violence in the period ahead of elections later this month. A militant detonated a tanker truck laden with explosives outside the Green Zone in Baghdad on 4 January, killing at least 10 and wounding some 60 people, Interior Ministry officials said. The attack followed a string of attacks across the country one day earlier that included three car bombings and a roadside attack that claimed the lives of at least 16 people. In one of the attacks, militants strapped a booby-trapped bomb onto a decapitated body and detonated it as police approached to investigate the corpse.

The attack on al-Haydari is also just one of several attacks in recent months targeting national figures and politicians, including a recent attack targeting leading Shi'ite politician Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim and, more recently, the 3 January attack on the headquarters of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's political party in Baghdad.

Insurgents' Goals

The goal of the insurgents appears to be two-fold. First, insurgents want to send a message to government officials and politicians that no one can escape their reach. Second, the attacks are aimed at intimidating the general population in order to prevent people from heading to the polls. A poor voter turnout would presumably be interpreted as signaling illegitimate elections. Militants are exerting maximum effort to prevent successful elections.

In a joint statement issued on 30 December, three militant groups threatened attacks against Iraqis who participate in the elections, "Al-Hayat" reported on 31 December. The statement said the elections are "designed to promote acceptance of atheism and the atheist laws articulated by the crusaders, isolate our great religion from the reality of life, and offer secularism as an alternative." The militant groups Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, the Islamic Army in Iraq, and the Mujahidin Army have continuously targeted Iraqi civilians and security forces over the past year and a half. The statement also called the elections a "comedy proposed by the enemy to impose so-called legitimacy on the new government that serves the crusaders and implements their plans. Efforts to ensure the success of these elections and participation in them would be the biggest gift to the United States, the enemy of Islam and the Satan of this age," the statement added.