Updated at 11:42 p.m. EST, March, 1, 2010
With only days left before Sunday’s national elections, Iraqi officials have confirmed an increase in Iraqi deaths over the last several weeks. Nevertheless, only one Iraqi was killed and six more were wounded in light violence today. Also, Kirkuk could become a battlefield after Sunday’s elections; some politicians would like to see U.S. troops keep the peace there.
Official casualty figures for February show an expected increase in deaths ahead of elections. Combined data from the health, interior and defense ministries put the number of deaths at 352 Iraqis, about 80 percent higher than in January. The official numbers approximate the figures reported in the media; however, government agencies have long been known to underreport casualties. With reporters having shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, media outlets have only become even more dependent on those official figures. Occasionally, a news report will mention the underreported casualties, but without confirmation from another source those deaths remain uncounted.
Kirkuk politicians are divided over a request from Gen. Ray Odierno to keep U.S. troops on duty in the city. Recently, U.S. troops joined Iraqi army soldiers and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters at checkpoints along the de facto border between Kurdish and Arab areas of Iraq. This psychological border is not to be confused with Kurdish Autonomous Region, which is a semi-independent government that oversees three provinces within Kurdish regions of Iraq. The government of the K.A.R. would like to annex more predominantly Kurdish areas, oil-rich Kirkuk among them. Some area leaders feel the U.S. troops could stabilize those Arab-Kurd tensions, while others believe their presence is illegal. Thanks to years of these Arab-Kurd tensions, Kirkuk has not had an election in five years.
In Mosul, gunmen threw a hand grenade at an army patrol, wounding four soldiers.
In Baghdad, a sticky bomb planted on a car belonging two an employ of former P.M. Allawi exploded, wounding two bystanders in Ghazaliya.
Gunmen in Touz Khormato killed a man who belonged to al-Jamaa al-Islamiya.
Four I.E.D.s were defused on a rural highway in Muthanna province.
Four explosive belts were discovered in Haditha.
As part of pre-election security operations, Anbar forces have implemented a motorbike ban in the province. Also, all vehicles will be kept away from polling locations.
Dhi Qar province has imposed a vehicle ban for Sunday’s elections as well.
Seven suspects were detained in Basra.
In Salah ad Din province, more than 40,000 supervisors, including 24 poll watchers from the U.N., will oversee election activity.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office denied reports that he has issued an arrest warrant for Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Maliki may actually need Sadr’s support depending on the outcome of elections.