Published — Thursday 7 February 2013
Last update 7 February 2013 4:03 am
BAGHDAD: Security concerns sparked by anti-government rallies in Iraq could hamper provincial polls due in April, a top election official said yesterday.
Muqdad Al-Sharifi, the chief electoral officer of Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), also told reporters that 131 candidates had been barred from the April 20 vote due to their ties to the Baath Party of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein.
“We have a problem in some provinces where there is a political crisis,” Sharifi said, referring to weeks of demonstrations in north and west Iraq against the alleged targeting of the Sunni community by the authorities.
“The commission is worried about the continuation of this situation ... because it will create problems for the elections,” he said in Baghdad at a joint news conference with UN special envoy Martin Kobler.
Sharifi said IHEC staff in Iraq’s north and west had been sent threatening letters warning them against taking part in the polls. Kobler too said the protests were “of increasing concern”.
“I do hope that the demonstrations going on do not impact on the elections,” he said.
Sharifi also said that of a total of 8,224 candidates who had registered to run in the elections, 131 had been barred by a commission charged with filtering out those with ties to Saddam’s Baath Party.
The provincial elections come amid a political crisis in the country that has pitted Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki against several of his erstwhile government partners and tensions have been heightened by the protests.
Meanwhile, assailants opened automatic fire on police checkpoints in central and northern Iraq yesterday, killing four officers and wounding five, officials said.
In one attack, gunmen in two cars sprayed policemen with machinegun fire in the town of Musayyib, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of the capital Baghdad. Two officers were killed and four were wounded there, a police official said.
In the other attack, militants on foot exchanged fire with police at a checkpoint in the city of Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, killing two policemen and wounding one.
Two hospital officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.
Security forces are frequently targeted by insurgents seeking to undermine government efforts to restore security in Iraq after years of strife.
Despite a significant drop in violence since the height of insurgency several years ago, militants still launch deadly attacks almost daily.