Attacks killed 24 people in Iraq Tuesday, the latest in a wave ofdeadly violence that has cast a pall over the country's first general election since UStroops withdrew.The bloodshed, a day after 64 people died in a nationwide spate of blasts, raisesquestions over whether security forces can protect upwards of 20 million people
eligible to vote on Wednesday.Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, under fire over the worst protracted surge in violence
in years and a laundry list of voter grievances, is bidding for a third term in the firstnational election since 2010.
The Shiite premier has trumpeted a battle against jihadists he claims are enteringIraq from war-torn neighbour Syria, with support from Gulf Arab states, includingSaudi Arabia and Qatar.But critics say heavy-handed treatment of minority Sunnis by his government hascontributed to the unrest.With Monday's attacks fuelling fears voters may stay at home rather than risk beingcaught up in bloodshed, twin bombings hit a town northeast of Baghdad, killing 15
more people, and violence elsewhere left nine others dead."I can't imagine the militancy is going to sit back and say, 'Yeah, have yourelection,'" said John Drake, a London-based security analyst at AKE Group."They are going to make a strong statement undermining the government,undermining the capability of the security forces, and hopefully deterring voters sothat the vote result will be seen as illegitimate... in the eyes of many of theelectorate."
But on a street in Baghdad's Karrada neighbourhood, which has been rocked bythree suicide bombings in just two weeks, residents told AFP they were set onvoting.Mahir Ayad, reaching into his pocket to take out a poem written for a friend killedin one of those bombings, said it was his duty to vote."Tomorrow, we begin to change our reality, to prove that our friend's blood was notwasted," said Ayad, a 55-year-old waiter.- 'Won't put up with the situation' -
Laith al-Azzawi said he had only left his home in Karrada on essential trips, and thathis ears were still ringing from a recent bombing, but that he remained determinedto vote."We won't put up with this situation after today," said the 40-year-old, who waswounded in the stomach by the same suicide bombing that killed Ayad's friend.
More than 3,000 people have been killed in violence this year, according to an AFPtally.The unrest is the worst since Iraq was plagued by all-out sectarian fighting in 2006and 2007 that left tens of thousands dead.Authorities have announced a week-long public holiday to try to bolster security forthe election, and vehicles are barred from Baghdad's streets from Tuesday evening.No group has claimed responsibility for the latest bloodshed, but Sunni militantshave been accused of launching previous attacks to try to derail the politicalprocess.Voters often list an array of grievances, including poor public services, rampantcorruption and high unemployment, not to mention the persistent violence, but allthat got short shrift as the month-long campaign centred on whether Maliki should
get a third term.The premier contends foreign interference is behind deteriorating security andcomplains of being saddled with a unity government of groups that snipe at him inpublic and block his efforts to pass legislation.
The 63-year-old, who hails from Iraq's Shiite Arab majority and is accused byopponents of monopolising power and targeting minority Sunnis, is widely expectedto win the largest number of seats in parliament, but is unlikely to win a majority.In such a case, he would have to win the support of coalition partners, notablyKurdish and Sunni parties as well as fellow Shiites who have been critical of his rule.With the opposition divided, analysts say Maliki remains the frontrunner.Forming a government could take months, as rival groups wrangle over the toppositions of prime minister, president and parliament speaker.After previous elections, a de facto agreement has emerged whereby the premier isShiite, the president a Kurd and the speaker a Sunni Arab.