BAGHDAD, Dec. 27 -- The largest political party representing Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority announced Monday that it would drop out of the Jan. 30 election, dealing a fresh blow to the vote's credibility on the same day the top Shiite Muslim candidate survived a car bombing.
The withdrawal of the Iraqi Islamic Party, combined with the assassination attempt on cleric Abdul Aziz Hakim, heightened concerns that the parliamentary election may produce a lopsided result, further alienating Sunni areas where the armed insurgency is growing.
Number of total U.S. military deaths and names of the U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war as announced by the Pentagon yesterday:
In hostile actions: 1,038
In non-hostile actions: 283
1st Lt. Christopher W. Barnett, 32, of Baton Rouge, La.; Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 156th Armor Regiment, 256th Brigade Combat Team, based in Shreveport, La. Died Dec. 23 in Baghdad.
Chief Petty Officer Joel Egan Baldwin, 37, of Arlington, Va.; Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 77, based in Gulfport, Miss. Died Dec. 21 in Mosul.
Lance Cpl. Eric Hillenburg, 21, of Marion, Ind.
Lance Cpl. James R. Phillips, 21, of Hillsboro, Fla.
Cpl. Raleigh C. Smith, 21, of Lincoln, Mont.
All three Marines were assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. They died Dec. 23 in Anbar province.
All troops were killed in action unless otherwise indicated.
Total fatalities include three civilian employees of the Defense Department.
A full list of casualties is available online at www.washingtonpost.com/nation
SOURCE: Defense Department's www.defenselink.mil/newsThe Washington Post
The need for adequate Sunni participation has become a central issue a month before the election, seen by the United States and Iraq's interim leadership as pivotal to creating a stable government. On Monday, Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader, added his voice to those of Sunni clerics urging Iraqis to boycott the ballot, saying "anyone who takes part in this election consciously and willingly is an infidel."
Bin Laden issued the warning in an audiotape aired on the al-Jazeera satellite television network. In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell encouraged "all Sunnis and all Sunni leaders to join in this effort, to say no to terrorism, no to murder and yes to democracy."
But voter registration in Sunni areas has lagged far behind registration in other parts of Iraq, according to Iraq's top election official, Hussain Hindawi. Voters have not been able to register at all in Anbar province, home to the restive cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. Candidates have proved scarce as well: The 41 openings on Anbar's proposed provincial council have drawn only 50 candidates.
In another troubling sign, Western diplomats noted that preliminary indicators of voter participation nationwide are markedly lower than expected, judging by the sluggish early rate at which Iraqis have offered corrections to voter rolls.
Officials blame the problems on poor security and a late start in public information campaigns intended to explain the election to a population ruled by dictatorship for three decades. Leaders of the Iraqi Islamic Party also cited security as a reason for withdrawing the Sunni party's slate of 275 candidates.
"We asked to postpone the election long ago because we believe the security situation in the country is not suitable to hold elections," Mohsen Abdul Hamid, head of the party, told reporters in Baghdad.
"The Iraqis don't understand the elections yet," he said. "We need enough time, at least six months, to prepare ourselves. . . . The security issue is very complicated."
In the car bombing against Hakim, a vehicle driven by a suicide bomber exploded in rush hour traffic just after the Shiite cleric's motorcade entered a fortified compound on the Tigris River. At least 10 people were killed, including two guards and several motorists, according to U.S. military officials and one of Hakim's aides.
Hakim, who escaped injury, told the Reuters news agency that his group would not retaliate, noting that it had also not responded to the car bomb that killed his brother, Ayatollah Mohammad Bakir Hakim, in August 2003.
"The only ideology these people know is terror," Hakim said. "We laid down our arms in favor of pluralism. If we wanted violence, we would have responded a long time ago."
There was no indication as to who had carried out the attack.
Hakim heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. His name is first on the list of the Unified Iraqi Coalition, a slate of 228 candidates regarded as the leading contender for the votes of Shiites, who represent 60 percent or more of the population and whose political aspirations have been held in check by generations of Sunni leaders.