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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 January, 2005, 19:27 GMT
Violence 'will deter many Iraqis'
Iraqi security forces set up a polling station in Ramadi
Voter turnout will be closely watched
Many Iraqis will not vote in Sunday's historic election because of continuing violence across the country, the interim president has said.

Ghazi Yawer said voters would probably stay away from polling stations over safety concerns not as a protest.

An unprecedented security operation has been introduced for the election.

But violence continued, even in the heavily fortfied centre of Baghdad where two Americans died in a rocket attack on the US embassy compound.

At least four people were wounded in the Saturday night attack, inside the so-called Green Zone.

"It hit near the embassy building," spokesman Bob Callahan said. "There are two dead and four who are wounded... all Americans."

It is not clear if the casualties were embassy employees.

The BBC's Jennifer Glasse in Baghdad says the compound on the banks of the Tigris River is home to embassy staff as well as employees of other international organisations.

The embassy was last hit by mortar fire in August last year, but no-one was hurt.

In other developments:

  • Iraq's interim government has extended by a month the country's state of emergency, giving it the right to impose curfews and restrict movements

  • US President George W Bush says US forces will stay in Iraq after the election to help the new government train security forces and "establish security"

  • UK troops in the southern city of Basra say they have seized explosives and arrested several Iraqis suspected of plotting a bombing campaign

  • The Associated Press news agency says the bodies of five Iraqi men, accused of working with the Americans, were found lying in a street in Ramadi.

Friday: Expatriate voting begins; overnight curfews in Iraq
Saturday: Borders and airport closed for three days
Sunday: Election day, cars banned from roads, polls open 0700 (0400 GMT) and close 1700 (1400 GMT)
28,000 voting booths in some 5,300 polling centres
Next week: Vote counting for 4 or 5 days
Early Feb: Final results announced
Early March: PM appointed
Late March: Government formed

Hours before the rocket attack, at least eight people died in a suicide attack north-east of the capital.

Officials said three Iraqi soldiers and five civilians were killed when a bomber blew himself up in Khanaqin, close to the Iranian border.

Sporadic attacks have been reported at some polling stations.

The capital also echoed to the sound of mortars and heavy machine-gun fire at midday, less than 24 hours before voting is set to begin.

Mr Yawer told reporters that he accepted that many people would not take part in the poll to elect a 275-member transitional National Assembly to draft a constitution.

"We know that the majority will not take part because of the security situation and not because they are boycotting the elections," he said.

"There are only very few who will boycott."

It was not clear whether President Yawer meant that the majority of Iraqis would not vote or that most of those who stayed away did so because of fear not as a protest.

Security reinforced

Record numbers of US soldiers are reported to be on duty to enforce security measures, which include a dusk-to-dawn curfew in most cities and a ban on travel between provinces.

Voting means voting against violence, it means voting against terrorism and it means voting for free and democratic Iraq
Ahmad Mousawi
Iraqi in London, UK

Iraq's borders and the main international airport in Baghdad are also closed.

Some Sunni political parties have urged Iraqis to boycott the election. In a poll conducted by Zogby International, 76% of Sunni Arabs said they "definitely would not vote". Only 9% said they would vote.

The minority Sunni community dominated Iraqi politics during the regime of Saddam Hussein.

You can watch John Simpson's Panorama programme on the state of Iraq on BBC One on Sunday 30 January at 2215 GMT and on BBC World television on Saturday 5 February at 0810, 1210 and 2210 GMT.

Gunfire sporadically breaks Baghdad's eerie silence


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