|Men gathered in Baqubah on Saturday next to coffins for nine members of an Iraqi family killed by gunmen. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)|
Mosul blast kills 3 Iraqi soldiers
Tensions build during runup to voting Saturday
BAGHDAD - A car bomb exploded near a Kurdish party's office yesterday in Mosul, killing at least three Iraqi soldiers as tensions rose in volatile areas north of Baghdad ahead of pivotal elections.
Friction between Kurds and Sunni Arabs, as well as Sunnis and Shi'ites, has made northern Iraq a key battleground with just days to go before the vote. Iraqis will choose ruling councils Saturday in most of the country's provinces.
The blast in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, occurred near the offices of the Kurdish Democratic Party, or KDP, which is headed by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani.
Iraqi security forces became suspicious of the vehicle, which blew up as a team approached to inspect it, an army officer said.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said two soldiers and a civilian also were wounded.
Hisham al-Gourani, a KDP official in Mosul, said the explosion took place about 100 yards from the KDP office, but the Kurds suffered no casualties.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred against a backdrop of heated rivalries between Kurds and mainly Sunni Arabs who are jockeying for power in Saturday's vote to be held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces.
Sunnis have a slight majority in Ninevah province, which includes Mosul, but they boycotted the January 2005 vote, leaving the Kurds with a disproportionate share of power on the 41-seat council.
Insurgents also remain active in the north despite numerous US-Iraqi military operations.
Some council members in Diyala province, to the south of Ninevah, complained it was too soon to hold the vote there because the area is still plagued with sectarian friction between Shi'ites and Sunnis.
Saja al-Khadori, a member of the provincial council's security committee who is seeking re-election, alleged that 15 candidates campaigning for spots on the council had connections to Al Qaeda in Iraq and had been linked to killings and displacing people from their homes.
She said she based her information on documents and intelligence obtained by Iraqi security forces, adding that an estimated 30 percent of the province was believed to be under the control of insurgents "and this might undermine the credibility of the coming elections."
"Most of Baqubah's neighborhoods are closed to one sect and this poses a problem because the voters cannot move freely and reach the voting stations," she said in a telephone interview.
The head of Diyala's provincial council Ibrahim Bajilan said he had unsuccessfully asked for the elections to be postponed in Diyala because military operations are ongoing and voters faced intimidation from insurgents in some areas.
"The people there are still afraid of the terrorists and they might be ordered to vote for the wrong people who would bring disaster to the province and hamper the work of the provincial council," he said.
The director of the Diyala security operations headquarters, Major General Abdul-Karim Al-Rubaie, denied the claim about the candidates, calling it election propaganda.
He acknowledged sectarian tensions remain high in the province but insisted Iraqi security forces have it under control.