M A I N   N E W S

Bomb attacks kill 31 in Iraq
Brisk turnout of voters

Baghdad, January 30
Iraqis turned out to vote today in their country’s first free election in a half century, defying insurgents who launched deadly suicide bombings and mortar strikes at polling stations. By mid-day, at least 31 persons were dead but the violence had slowed and voting picked up.

In the most deadly attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a polling station in western Baghdad, killing himself, three policemen and a civilian, officials said. Witness Faleh Hussein said the bomber approached a line of voters and detonated an explosives belt.

In a second suicide attack at a polling station, a bomber blew up himself, one policeman and two Iraqi soldiers. In a third suicide attack at a school in western Baghdad, three people and the bomber died.

And in the fourth attack, at another school in eastern Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed himself and at least three others. Another five persons died in suicide attacks.

Also, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the home of Iraq’s justice minister in western Baghdad in an apparent assassination attempt. The minister was not home but the attack killed one person, an Interior Ministry official said.

Overall, eight of the 31 persons killed were suicide bombers.

In addition, three persons were killed when mortars landed near a polling station in Sadr City, the heart of Baghdad’s Shiite Muslim community. Two others died when a mortar round hit a home in Amel, and a policeman died in a mortar attack on a polling station in Khan al-Mahawil, south of Baghdad.

In Mosul, the province’s deputy escaped an assassination attempt, but his bodyguard was killed.

Casting his vote, interim Prime Miniter Ayad Allawi called it “the first time the Iraqis will determine their destiny.” The head of the main Shiite cleric-endorsed ticket, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, said: “God willing, the elections will be good ... today’s voting is very important.”

Despite the heavy attacks that began two hours after the polls opened, turnout was brisk in many Shiite Muslim and mixed Shiite-Sunni neighbourhoods, both in Baghdad and in southern cities like Basra.

Even in the small town of Askan in the so-called “triangle of death” south of Baghdad a mixed Sunni-Shiite area 20 people waited in line at each of several polling centres. More walked toward the polls.

In one sign of potential trouble, polls at first were deserted in mostly Sunni Muslim cities like Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra around Baghdad, and in the restive, heavily Sunni northern city of Mosul.

By mid-day, however, hundreds of people were voting in Samarra and several hundred people were voting on Mosul’s eastern side, which includes both Kurdish and Arab neighborhoods, witnesses said.

There were still big pockets with little turnout, though, and clashes had erupted beween insurgents and Iraqi soldiers in western Mosul. In Baghdad’s mainly Sunni area of Azamiyah, the neighborhood’s four polling centers did not open today, residents said. In Beiji, a Sunni insurgent stronghold in northern Iraq, polling centres were all but deserted.

Meanwhile, US military serviceman was killed today in the volatile western province of al-Anbar, the US Marines said in a statement.

“A service member assigned to the First Marine Expeditionary Force was killed in action on January 30 at about 3.30 am (0600 IST) while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in the Al Anbar Province,” the marines said.

The death brings the number of US troops killed in action to 1,417 since the US-led invasion of March 2003, according an estimate based on Pentagon figures.

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