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Iraq early voting shattered by deadly blasts

BAGHDAD - A string of deadly blasts shattered an early round of voting in Iraq yesterday, killing 17 people and highlighting the fragile nature of the country's security gains ahead of crucial parliamentary elections this Sunday.

Iraq security forces were out in full force, trying to protect early voters in an election that will determine who will lead the country through the crucial period of the U.S. troop drawdown and help decide whether the country can overcome its deep sectarian divisions.

But three explosions, a rocket attack and two suicide bombings showed the ability of insurgents to carry out bloody attacks. They have promised to disrupt the voting with violence.

"Terrorists wanted to hamper the elections, thus they started to blow themselves up in the streets," said Deputy Interior Minister Ayden Khalid Qader, responsible for election-related security across the country.

Yesterday's voting was for those who might not be able to get to the polls Sunday. The vast majority of early voters were the police and military who will be working election day, when the rest of the country votes, to enforce security. Others voting included detainees, hospital patients and medical workers.

A spokesman for the Independent High Electoral Commission, Muhammad Al-Amjad, said about 800,000 people were eligible to vote yesterday. He had no figures on how many actually cast ballots.

Many of the blast victims were believed to be security personnel, targeted by suicide bombers who hit police and soldiers lined up to vote.

Convoys of army trucks and minibuses ferried soldiers and security personnel to polling stations. Many stores were shuttered, and normally crowded streets were nearly empty, as people stayed home on a holiday declared by the government.

In Washington, senior administration officials said a number of potential attacks had been headed off by security forces on the perimeter of polling places.

Sunday's elections are only Iraq's second for a full parliamentary term since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein, leading to the eventual creation of the Shia-dominated government in power today, headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

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