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2005-01-28

Heavy Bloodshed in Iraq Only Expected to Worsen on Election Day

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As a three-day national lockdown begins in Iraq ahead of Sunday’s elections, bloodshed continues unabated across the country. We go to Baghdad to speak with independent journalist Dahr Jamail. [includes rush transcript]

A three-day national lockdown has begun in Iraq ahead of Sunday’s election. Borders have been sealed and travel between the country’s provinces has been banned. An extended dusk-to-dawn curfew has been announced in most cities.

Bloodshed continues across the country. Since Wednesday, at least 48 Iraqis and seven U.S. troops have been killed in attacks. A video has been released showing the execution of an Iraqi who had been a low-level candidate on interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi"s slate. Sunday"s election is for a 275-member National Assembly that will oversee the drafting of a permanent constitution.

Meanwhile in Washington, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, becoming the first Senator to do so. President Bush, on the other hand, did not. Bush told the New York Times that he expects the new Iraqi government to request US troops remain in Iraq. He said, "Most of the leadership there understands that there will be a need for coalition troops at least until the Iraqis are able to fight."

  • Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist currently based in Baghdad. He is one of the only independent, unembedded journalists in Iraq right now. He publishes his reports at DahrJamilIraq.com.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We have Dahr Jamail on the line from Iraq and then we’ll try to get the professor on from Oxford. Dahr Jamail joins us from Baghdad. Unembedded, independent journalist, Dahr, can you tell us the latest in these last few days before the election?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, there have been ongoing attacks on polling stations, just in the last 24 hours in Iraq. There’s been at least 15 people killed in attacks on polling stations as they’re being set up for Sunday’s polling process. It’s been very, very bloody here. Every day at least 15 Iraqis a day have been killed in the last, at least, four or five days at the minimum. It’s extremely tense here today. There’s not many cars whatsoever on the street. I was traveling around in Baghdad earlier — also the police and Iraqi soldiers on the streets are extremely tense, pulling cars over, checking everyone just because they’re very, very nervous, in high alert, very much expecting a rash of car bombs and heavy fighting through this coming weekend.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now Dahr, some of the reports that we’ve heard, if you can confirm them, that will all automobile traffic be banned in the major cities once the voting starts, and what about cell phones? There were some reports that all cell phone service will be curtailed during the voting.

DAHR JAMAIL: The Iraqi interim government has announced that all cell phone and satellite phone services will be cut, starting tomorrow, as will the national borders be closed. They are going to try to close all of the borders of each of Iraq’s 18 governors starting at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow for three days. Iran has closed its borders with Iraq. Baghdad International Airport will be closed the 29th and the 30th. But then also civilian flights are not going to take place on the 27th because the airlines are just too concerned to come in, even though the airport is supposed to be open. And as far as auto traffic, yes, that’s true. The government has announced that only officially certified press vehicles, security vehicles, of course the U.S. military and Iraqi police and Iraqi soldiers, will be on the streets and then they are drastically — they are not going to let any civilian traffic near any of the polling stations.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such draconian measures in an election. Even in the worst days of Vietnam, the elections that were conducted in that country had considerable more freedom of movement for the population than this. These are extraordinary attempts to control a population that are supposedly engaged in their first step towards a democratic — a free and democratic process.

DAHR JAMAIL: Yes. It’s very, very extreme and it lends an atmosphere more of that relating to a war zone than some sort of election, which one would assume that after so many years of dictatorship, it would be a joyous occasion. But Baghdad now is more like a city under siege. Everyone is very anxious, very afraid. The last couple of days, they found people going out, getting supplies, and literally every Iraqi I know now, all of my friends, my interpreter, so many people just plan on only going out when it is absolutely necessary, and most will not be going out whatsoever. It’s all of these polling stations are being set up—most of them are schools, by the way—and they’re surrounding them with large sand barriers, concrete blocks, razor wire, U.S. Military will be guarding them along with the Iraqi soldiers and police in attempts to provide some sort of security.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr, we’re also getting word that a number of schools are being bombed. It’s expected schools would be used as the polling places, though they’re not announcing that until the exact moment that the polls open, and that a video has been released showing the execution of an Iraqi who had been a low-level candidate on Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s slate. In fact, he is being described as his secretary. Dahr? Well, it looks like —

DAHR JAMAIL: Oh, I’m sorry. Could you repeat the last bit of that? We have a really bad connection here.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. I was asking about the video of the beheading of Iyad Allawi’s secretary, who was also a candidate on the Allawi slate.

DAHR JAMAIL: I actually have not seen that yet. So, I can’t comment on that.

AMY GOODMAN: But the bombings of the polling places as well. Or the schools that are expected —

DAHR JAMAIL: I’m sorry. Really, it’s — it’s a horrible phone line over here, as they always are, and I just don’t think I caught your question.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr, we’re going to leave it there and we’ll certainly be covering this extensively on Monday. Dahr Jamail, independent, unembedded journalist speaking to us from Baghdad.

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