In Iraq, 5 die in blasts targeted at Ayad Allawi's political bloc

By Leila Fadel and Uthman Mukhtar
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 29, 2010

BAGHDAD -- A series of explosions in a border town in western Iraq killed five people on Sunday, including a member of former prime minister Ayad Allawi's political bloc, which won the most seats in Iraq's parliamentary election, Iraqi officials said.

The attacks, which wounded 26 people, exacerbated fears that the outcome of Iraq's March 7 parliamentary elections will continue to trigger unrest as Iraqi politicians begin to assemble a new government. Allawi and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are vying to get a majority of parliamentarians on their side in order to be appointed prime minister for the next four years.

Sunday's attack was seen as the latest politically motivated assassination by Sunni insurgents who have threatened to derail the political process. Allawi, whose coalition won a slim plurality in Iraq's next parliament, says his bloc is also under siege from the Maliki administration. He says the government has harassed and detained supporters, campaign workers and candidates.

Iraqiya, Allawi's coalition, won 91 seats, two more than Maliki's coalition. The next parliament will have 325 seats.

The horse trading as the new government is formed is expected to last well into the summer, and many officials worry that political battles could turn violent, potentially destabilizing an already fragile and fractured nation as the U.S. military draws down.

On Sunday morning, a bomb was planted inside the house of Ghanim al-Murdhi, a member of a predominantly Sunni party within Allawi's bloc. Murdhi did not run in the election, but he organized campaign activities in Al Qaim, a small town near the Syrian border.

Much of Murdhi's home collapsed, killing him and his brother, officials said. As people gathered outside, another bomb placed inside a fire extinguisher and buried in a garbage can ripped through the crowd of people. Minutes later, two more blasts were detonated.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda front organization, recently threatened to attack political entities.

The Anbar provincial security center imposed a vehicle ban in the city and requested additional troops to calm down residents of Al Qaim.

Allawi's faction drew support from a largely Sunni constituency and won 11 of 14 seats in the Sunni province of Anbar.

Meanwhile, in Diyala province north of Baghdad, where Iraqiya took eight of the 13 seats, winning candidates from the bloc said they were advised by leading members to leave the province for their own safety. The second top vote-getter in the province, Najim al-Harbi, was detained weeks before the election by an anti-terrorism unit that reports directly to Maliki, Harbi's family said.

The arrest was first reported by McClatchy Newspapers. Two others, including a winning candidate, are now on the run. Security officials in Diyala confirmed that forces from Baghdad arrested Harbi last month.

"There is no reason for this, only that he is a member of Iraqiya and he is a candidate for Iraqiya," his brother Ahmed Harbi, said in a phone interview. "What's happening? Do you think a terrorist can get all these voters in one province?"

Maliki denies that his government has used the levers of power to weaken rivals. He has said he will not recognize the preliminary results of the election, which were released Friday, and is challenging them through a judicial panel at the electoral commission and through Iraq's supreme court.

Maliki in a television interview on Sunday signaled for the first time that he may step down as prime minister. He said that an alliance between his group and three other major blocs, including the Kurds and a rival Shiite coalition, should be expected in the "coming days."

"Each component will have the chance to nominate one candidate and then we shall start a process of elimination to reach the one," he said. He is the only nominee for his own bloc.

Special correspondent Hassan al Shammary contributed to this report.

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