BAGHDAD, Jan. 23 -- The most feared and wanted militant in Iraq declared a "fierce war" against democracy Sunday and repeated a threat to disrupt national elections scheduled for next Sunday.
Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian whose al Qaeda-linked group has asserted responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks in postwar Iraq, called candidates running in the elections "demi-idols" and the people who plan to vote for them "infidels," according to a speech reportedly made by him and broadcast on a Web site.
An Iraqi youth walks past a torn campaign poster of Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, in central Baghdad.
(Ali Jasim -- Reuters)
"We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology," said the speaker, who identified himself as Zarqawi. "Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it."
Zarqawi said the Americans had rigged the election to favor Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim population, which was persecuted under deposed leader Saddam Hussein. Zarqawi also accused the Shiites of selling out to the Americans.
"Oh, people of Iraq," he said in the broadcast, "where is your honor? Have you accepted oppression of the crusader harlots . . . and the rejectionist pigs?"
Iraq has been the scene of almost daily bloodshed in advance of the elections, the country's first democratic vote in nearly half a century. U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned that attacks were likely to increase and have implemented security measures aimed at preventing violence on election day.
Travel between provinces will be prohibited, no weapons will be allowed on the streets and the country's borders and airports will be closed. Iraqis also will be banned from congregating near polling centers and checkpoints.
"These security measures are being established and enforced in order to deter terrorist attacks on the Iraqi people and ensure free and fair elections will occur without intimidation or fear of harm," the U.S.-backed interim government said in announcing the measures. "The Iraqi government is doing everything possible to provide a secure environment on election day. The Iraqi government will not allow the small amount of criminals and traitors to deter the will of the Iraqi people to build a better future for their families."
In a series of interviews Sunday on television talk shows, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said security remained an issue, particularly in the volatile Sunni Triangle area north and west of Baghdad. But he emphasized the steps being taken to protect the voters.
"Certainly the insurgents and . . . al Qaeda and Zarqawi have all said they want to do their utmost to try and disrupt the election," Negroponte said on "Fox News Sunday." "And I would expect that we will see strong participation by Iraqi voters in the northern and southern parts of this country. There will be problem areas in the Sunni Triangle."
The violence continued this weekend, nearly unabated even during the three-day celebration of Eid al-Adha, one of Islam's most important holidays, that ended Sunday.
A U.S. Army soldier was killed Saturday while on patrol in Mosul, the military said. No other details were available.
In Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, an Iraqi intelligence officer, Muwthana Salman, 38, was ambushed and killed in the city center, said Ahmed Fouad, a medical examiner at Baqubah General Hospital.
Five civilians also were killed in the city when a van of gunmen opened fire on a row of liquor dealers conducting business on the open street, witnesses said. The men had been warned to leave the area many times, said Thalib Doulmi, the brother of one of those killed. The gunmen shouted, "There is no God but Allah," before shooting, Doulmi said.