Iraqi candidates for parliament become new targets for insurgents

Gunmen killed 3 members of political party last week

December 14, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - With their names and faces plastered on campaign posters, the hundreds of candidates in Iraq's parliamentary elections next month are a new batch of targets for insurgents bent on sabotaging the country's political process.

The campaigns officially begin tomorrow, but candidates already are finding out that name recognition attracts assassins as well as potential voters.

Gunmen killed three members of a Shiite Muslim political party Wednesday night, the day after one of them announced his candidacy. On a busy Baghdad street where a car bomb recently exploded, rows of posters encouraging Iraqis to vote have been ripped down or splattered with black paint.

The countdown to the vote Jan. 30 is expected to bring more assaults on candidates and election workers. If police and national guardsmen wear masks to conceal their identities from attackers, many candidates asked, what hope is there for politicians, whose chances of winning depend on their ability to become well-known to the public?

"Some groups have been complaining that they haven't been able to prepare themselves or they would not be able to campaign properly in those [dangerous] areas," said Hussain al-Shahristani, a nuclear physicist who's part of a ticket made up of the dominant Shiite factions.

About 250 parties have registered to be on the ballot in the country's first democratic election. Voters will choose a 275-member national assembly that will draft a new constitution and help organize elections to select a permanent government by the end of next year.

Most candidates are taking precautions. One major sectarian party operates out of a nondescript building hung with a decoy sign that reads "computer school." Some politicians leave their names off posters or curtail public appearances.

Naseer Kamel Chadderji, one of the few Sunni Muslim politicians registered as a candidate, said security-related campaign restrictions almost certainly would prevent lesser-known candidates from a fair shot in the elections. "How could we go to cafes or public squares to meet people?"

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