Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Before Iraq's Historic Vote, Attention Turns to Safety ; Security Tightens to Prevent Attacks during Saturday's Constitutional Vote

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Before Iraq's Historic Vote, Attention Turns to Safety ; Security Tightens to Prevent Attacks during Saturday's Constitutional Vote

Article excerpt

Only a sprinkling of motorists ventured onto Baghdad's usually crowded streets Thursday, passing rows of shuttered shops as Iraq hunkered down two days before the constitutional referendum.

Concerned that insurgents may try to disrupt Saturday's referendum, a nationwide security lockdown and overnight curfew has begun. Government offices closed and checkpoints sprang up along highways, city streets, and polling places. Wednesday night, US forces in Baghdad raided suspected militant hideouts.

There has been considerable violence in the lead-up to Saturday's referendum. At least 422 people have been killed in insurgent attacks in the past 18 days, according to the Associated Press. And more than a dozen Iraqi police and soldiers have been killed this week in roadside bombings, drive-by shootings, and car bombs in Baghdad, Mosul, and Fallujah.

Insurgents in the often-violent Diyala province have already attacked some polling places. A voting center south of Baqouba was struck by small arms fire Thursday night, injuring and possibly killing several Iraqi police officers, according to US military personnel in the area.

Starting Friday travel between the country's provinces will be forbidden, and Iraq's borders and port will be closed. Many schools were already closed this week because they will be used as polling places.

"Life has kind of stopped," says Faidhl Hamid at a Baghdad computer game shop. But he and several friends say they're willing to accept the inconveniences to ensure their safety.

Far stricter measures are planned for election day. Voters will have to go on foot to cast "yes" or "no" vote on the permanent constitution. With the exception of a few government vehicles, cars are banned from the roads.

Similar steps worked well in January's election, which saw fewer attacks than a normal day. That experience has bolstered the confidence of many Iraqis in a safe weekend vote.

"I trust the security plan put in place by the police and Army," says Sarmad Falah, a Baghdad resident. But "all roads are closed and its difficult to reach your destination now. …

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