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Al-Zarqawi declares war on democracy

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Members of the Iraqi government downplayed a purported threat from the nation's most wanted terrorist Sunday that there will be a "fierce war" on election day, calling the statement a desperate move to reinvigorate a dying insurgency.

Instead, one government official said that he believes suspected terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his terrorist cell will successfully attack no more than a dozen of the 5,000 polling centers, not hundreds of centers as many fear.

In a 35-minute tape posted on two Islamic Web sites, a voice claiming to be al-Zarqawi said that anyone who participates in the Jan. 30 elections—voters or candidates—would be considered an enemy of God.

"We have declared a bitter war against democracy and all those who seek to enact it," al-Zarqawi said.

Al-Zarqawi also said that the American government was foisting the election on the Iraqi people to put a Shiite Muslim government in place, saying four millions Iranians have been brought into the country to vote for a Shiite slate. Under Saddam Hussein, Sunni Muslims, the minority sect, controlled much of the government.

"You have to be careful of the enemy's plots that involve applying democracy in your country and confront these plots, because they only want to do so to ... give the rejectionists the rule of Iraq," the speaker said. "And after fighting the Baathists ... and the Sunnis, they will spread their insidious beliefs, and Baghdad and all the Sunni areas will become Shiite. Even now, the signs of infidelity and polytheism are on the rise."

As the tape was released, a car bomb reportedly exploded outside a polling center in Hilla, injuring six Iraqi policemen.

On Jan. 30, voters will choose a 275-member National Assembly that will craft the nation's constitution.

Al-Zarqawi, who is the suspected leader of an al-Qaida cell in Iraq, is believed to be responsible for some of the biggest attacks in Iraq and many of the beheadings of Iraqis and foreigners. The United States is offering a $25 million reward for his capture.

The Iraqi government has said that it expects attacks to increase leading up to the election. But Sabah Kadhim, a spokesman or the Ministry of Interior said he does not believe the group is capable of the massive attacks it has promised.

"They want to do something spectacular, but they can't," Kadhim said.

He said the police force, which falls under supervision of the Ministry of Interior, are better prepared and al-Zarqawi is weaker than he was three months ago.

Police are less likely to leave their posts during an attack, as they were notorious for doing just a month ago, and that the security forces have confiscated thousands of weapons, he said.

Kadhim called al-Zarqawi's latest tape an act of desperation.

Al-Zarqawi's statement "was a departure from his usual line. The line was that Americans are occupiers. That had more appeal," Kadhim said. "You don't change your line unless you are desperate."

Kadhim said that while the new al-Zarqawi threat could discourage some from voting, it would not sway most voters because they are used to living in fear.

"The price of freedom is always expensive. It is never cheap," he said. "The risk (of participating in the elections) is not excessive because we are suffering everyday."

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Company on Sunday, Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said the government was doing everything it can to secure voters.

Allawi also dismissed an increasingly popular request from Iraqis that the United States announce when it will leave the country.

"It is very early to talk about these issues. We wouldn't like to set a time at all. We would like to have the multinational forces helping us, and training and developing both our army as well as our internal security forces," Allawi said.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.