Smoke and flames pour from a vehicle moments after it exploded close to a polling station in southern Baghdad. Insurgents set off a car bomb and attacked voting stations and security forces in several Iraqi cities. (AFP/Ali al-Saadi).
Iraqi elections will be held this weekend. For those of you who cast votes in November, count yourselves blessed to have voted without fear of mortar fire. I don't know what to expect Sunday.
Reports from the news over the past few days.
"About 300,000 Iraqi, U.S. and other multinational troops and police will provide security for the voting, which will take place at 5,300 polling centers." (AP)
"If reasonable numbers of the country's embattled Sunni Arab minority go to the polls, defying a vicious insurgency, the rebels could lose steam. That, in turn, would improve life for average Iraqis and may mean a quicker trip home for America's 150,000 troops. But if most Sunnis stay away, either out of fear of attack or a belief the election is illegitimate, the new government could start out weak. Tensions might rise between Sunnis and the majority Shiites flush with new power. And the insurgency might get a shot in the arm." (AP)
'A U.S. helicopter crashed in a desert sandstorm in the early morning darkness, killing the 30 Marines and one Navy sailor aboard.' (AP)
'Militants set off at least eight car bombings that killed 13 people and injured 40 others, including 11 Americans.' (AP)
'[President Bush] said it was a "very discouraging" day when the U.S. death toll for the war rose above 1,400.' (AP)
'Four days before historic elections in Iraq, many candidates' names are still secret. Almost no one is out pressing the flesh. And fliers threaten death to anyone who dares vote.' (AP)
'Using paper ballots, voters will choose parties rather than individuals. The number of candidates seated from each party will depend on the party's percentage nationwide. Results may not be known for several weeks.' (AP)
'The fact that candidates' names remain unknown has raised concerns that many Iraqis will choose a slate based mainly on the top few candidates, without knowing much about anyone else on the list, or their positions. It also means many Iraqis are susceptible to influence from people they trust — voting, for example, according to what their imams or tribal leaders recommend.' (AP)
'Iraqi newspapers also published for the first time the names of some 7,000 National Assembly candidates, many of whose identities had been kept secret to protect them from assassination.' (AP)
'One Marine was killed and five others were wounded when insurgents fired mortars at their base near Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad in tense Babil province.' (AP)
'In Ramadi, capital of the insurgent-plagued province of Anbar, an Iraqi national guard soldier was killed when insurgents attacked a joint U.S.-Iraqi force guarding a voting center at a school, police Lt. Safa al-Obeidi said.' (AP)
'Al-Zarqawi's group posted a new Web message warning Iraqis that they could get hit by shelling or other attacks if they approach polling stations, which it called "the centers of atheism and of vice. "We have warned you, so don't blame us. You have only yourselves to blame," it said.' (AP)
'In London, voters and election officials clapped their hands and sang to celebrate the start of voting, and one staff member banged a water container like a drum. "Today I feel that I am born again," said Darbaz Rasool, 23, a Kurd who fled Iraq in 1994.' (AP)
'"I am voting out of loyalty for my fellow countrymen, for our great Iraq, for those buried in mass graves and for our martyrs," a weeping Adel Mijbil Qawqaz said at a polling station in the United Arab Emirates.' (Reuters)
'Najib Al-Hilsy, a truck driver from Lincoln, Nebraska, drove overnight [to Chicago] for nine hours. "I have to do something for my country," he said. "I hope democracy comes to Iraq."' (Reuters)
Five more U.S. soldiers were killed today. One in a bombing in southern Baghdad at 2:00pm local time. One in a firefight with insurgents in the north at 2:15pm. Three more in a roadside bombing in western Baghdad at 4:00pm. (AP)
The Associated Press has a great Q & A about the basics of the election; check it out if you're curious.
Pray, too. I don't know what else to say.