A car bomb exploded near tour buses of pilgrims in the holy city of Najaf on Saturday, killing at least three people and wounding 54 on the eve of Iraq's parliamentary election.
The car bomb detonated in a parking lot near the Safi al-Safa shrine, where a revered figure in Shiite Islam is buried. The 8:30 am bombing gutted two tour buses. Burned-out vehicles littered the parking lot where tour buses and visitors' cars were parked.
Most of the dead and wounded were Iranian pilgrims, health and security officials said.
"We think it is a political targeting of Najaf province," said Adnan al-Zurfi, governor of the southern province. "During each election Najaf is a top province that has almost full participation. ... This targeting aims to scare people."
Iraqi security officials are on high alert the day before the election, hoping to avert violence that may frighten voters away from the polls or kill scores as they wait to caste their ballots. On Saturday night, a vehicle curfew will be imposed to protect voters walking to the polls.
The bombing is a reminder of the tenuous security situation that Iraqis face as they take to the polls on Sunday. On Thursday, when early voting started for hospital patients, inmates and security personnel, the capital was rocked by three attacks that killed at least 12 people.
In Sunni areas, residents have reported that fliers were distributed warning them not to go to the polls.
The Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, issued its own curfew Friday, calling on Sunnis to stay home on election day from 6 am to 6 pm, according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant and insurgent groups.
The statement called Sunday's vote a vehicle to solidify the power of the Shiite government and its U.S. backers. "It is the language of force, fighting, slaughter and tons of explosives that topple the like of these rotten heads in order to purify the earth, which is replete with their polytheism and their infidelity," the statement said.
Despite the violence and threats, most Iraqis plan to go to the polls on Sunday. Some will mark an X on their ballot in protest, while others will vote for the candidate they hope will transform Iraq into a place with basic services and security.
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