In a day of jockeying, Saddam's VP issues a call to arms

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 15, 2008 

BAGHDAD — Throughout Iraq, legislators, armed factions and former members of Saddam Hussein's regime were electioneering Tuesday — some with bombs, others through vitriolic audio messages — in an effort to bolster themselves for the scheduled fall provincial elections

The government hasn't set an election date, but Iraqis of all persuasions think that the process could reshape the political landscape. Nearly every interest group has begun positioning itself.

In one day:

  • A key former member of Saddam's regime who's eluded capture purportedly released an audio message for the first time, demanding that his followers not be ignored.
  • Suspected members of the group al Qaida in Iraq set off two explosions targeting Iraqi army recruits in an effort to remind voters that their elected government can't protect them and they should therefore abandon the process.
  • In parliament, Kurdish legislators walked out of a session after rival sects suggested that a key northern province shouldn't vote this fall.
In an audiotape purportedly by Iraq's former military commander and vice president under Saddam's regime, Izzat al Douri told President Bush that this would be a "decisive year" and vowed to continue fighting American forces.

Douri, who became the leader of the Baath Party after Saddam was executed in December 2006, told Bush that "the Iraqi people will fight you until doomsday." He demanded that Bush withdraw American troops from Iraq and called on him to reveal the true U.S. troop death toll, suggesting that the American military was withholding information.

Douri also criticized firebrand Iraqi cleric Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army militia and al Qaida. His messages probably were aimed less at Bush and more to rally his troops, who've been beleaguered as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has gained more of his constituents' confidence.

Two suicide bombers attacked an army recruiting station in one of Iraq's last remaining hot spots, killing at least 27 men and injuring nearly 60 others.

The bombings occurred in quick succession outside the Baqouba Recruiting Center, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, where men had gathered to learn whether they had jobs in the army.

After the first bomber detonated himself at around 8 a.m., the survivors began to flee. The second bomber chased them into a corner and detonated into the crowd seconds later, said a man working at the center who wanted to be identified only as Maj. Ghassan out of fears for his safety.

"It was a surreal sight. What a sick persistence," Ghassan said.

Maliki has announced that he'll move Iraqi forces to clear the province in the coming weeks. Until then, he's encouraged fighters to turn themselves in.

Survivors and residents tied Tuesday's attack to the upcoming operation and fall's scheduled elections. They said that security was starting to improve slightly and residents were venturing out, and that the attackers felt threatened.

"This is, of course, contrary to what the gunmen want. They want people to huddle inside their homes afraid to go out," said Ammar Nasir, a medical assistant at Baqouba Hospital.

Outraged, many would-be soldiers said they'd come back and join the army as soon as their wounds healed.

"Of course they don't want people to sign up. They are furious that we have signed up — and in such numbers — and have tried to stop us, and will do so again and again," said Tariq Mohammed Ahmed, 25, who was injured in the head and shoulder in the bombing. "This will not stop me. I will be enlisting again as soon as I get better, and my motive is to stop more of my brothers getting killed."

Hours after the attack, members of parliament began debating when to hold provincial elections.

Some members proposed that every province but oil-rich Kirkuk vote this fall, saying that the security situation there is too volatile. But Fouad Maasoom, a Kurdish legislator, charged that some legislators want to use Kirkuk as a reason to delay the election process. The Kurds consider Kirkuk a key asset to an eventual Kurdish state.

After some legislators proposed putting the issue to a vote, Kurdish members walked out. Saying that they no longer had a quorum, the parliament postponed the key vote to Thursday.

(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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