In Baghdad, mortar rounds mark Iraq election day

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Dozens of mortar rounds thudded across Baghdad on Sunday morning and at least 12 people were killed as Iraqis went to the polls in an election testing the stability of the country’s still-fragile democracy.

Insurgents had vowed to disrupt the elections -- which they see as validating the Shiite-led government and the U.S. presence -- with violence in order to increase uncertainty over a looming U.S. troop drawdown and widen still jagged sectarian divisions.

As the polls opened at 7 a.m., bombs began exploding and mortar rounds landing across the city.

In the Shurta neighborhood in west Baghdad, at least eight people were confirmed dead as rescuers pulled 20 victims from a three-story building that collapsed after an explosion.

In east Baghdad, across the Tigris River near Sadr City, four people were killed when a blast ripped apart a residential building.

Mortar rounds were also lobbed toward the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area that is home to the U.S. Embassy and the prime minister’s office.

The attacks were aimed at unnerving the city’s residents to keep them from participating in the second election for a full term of parliament since the U.S.-led invasion seven years ago. About 6,200 candidates are competing for 325 parliament seats.

The city’s roads were nearly empty as only authorized vehicles were allowed on the streets. The country’s borders have been sealed, the airport closed and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police officers are on alert.

In Baghdad, small bands of people continued to venture out to the polls.

“If we had to crawl, we would crawl” in order to vote, Ali Abdul Wahab said, even though “anyone we vote for will be bad.”

In Najaf on Saturday, a car bomb ripped through a parking lot used by pilgrims in the Shiite holy city, killing three people in an attack that was almost certainly intended to ignite sectarian passions. Two Iranians and an Iraqi were killed in the explosion about 300 yards from the Imam Ali shrine, one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam. The attack wounded 54 people, 19 of them Iranians.

Times wire services were used in compiling this report.