By PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Insurgents killed a Sunni Arab candidate for parliament and tried to blow up a leading Shiite politician in separate attacks Tuesday, the last day of campaigning for Iraq’s election.
Ali al-Lami, executive director of the Iraqi Electoral Commission, appealed for peace on Thursday, when about 15 million people will be called on to vote in more than 6,200 polling stations.
Insurgents have denounced the election as a "satanic project" but have not threatened to attack polling stations.
Early voting was held Monday for Iraqi security forces, hospital patients and prisoners, and proceeded without problems, al-Lami said. Balloting for Iraqis who live abroad opened Tuesday, and began in Australia, where there are up to 20,000 registered Iraqi voters live. They are part of a group of 1.5 million voters living outside Iraq who will cast ballots at polling centers in 15 countries, including the United States, Canada and the Netherlands.
Gunmen in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killed Sunni Arab candidate Mezher al-Dulaimi while he was filling up his car at a gas station.
A roadside bomb targeted the convoy of Sheik Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, a Shiite member of the National Assembly who was elected with the governing United Iraqi Alliance. The Iraqi army said the explosion in Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, damaged one of the vehicles.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi held a pre-election rally in the southern city of Basra for about 1,000 supporters, while former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi hosted a gathering in Baghdad. No campaigning is allowed Wednesday to give Iraqis time to reflect ahead of the election.
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told about 1,000 tribal leaders who gathered in Baghdad’s Jadriyah neighborhood that the military wing of his group — the Badr Brigade — was ready to help with election security.
"I declare that the Badr Organization is ready to mobilize 200,000 of its men in all parts of Iraq so that they can play a role in defending Iraqi and Iraqis," said the black-turbaned cleric, who is heading the strong Shiite United Iraqi Alliance slate.
"Violence has no place in any democratic elections. This is a time for national reconciliation though the political process," al-Lami said.
President Bush offered encouraging words from Washington to Iraqi voters but cautioned that the parliamentary elections "won’t be perfect."
"Iraqis still have more difficult work ahead, and our coalition and a new Iraqi government will face many challenges," Bush said Monday in a speech in Philadelphia.
In a rare joint statement, Al-Qaida in Iraq and four other Islamic extremist groups denounced the election as a "satanic project" and said that "to engage in the so-called political process" violates "the legitimate policy approved by God."
The groups vowed to "continue our jihad (holy war) … to establish an Islamic state ruled by the book (the Quran) and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad."
However, the statement contained no clear threat to disrupt voting, unlike the Jan. 30 election for an interim parliament and the Oct. 15 referendum on the constitution.
The authenticity of the statement could not be verified, but it appeared on a Web site that often publishes extremist material.
The absence of a clear-cut threat could reflect the growing interest among Sunni Arabs, the foundation of the insurgency, to take part in the election. The Sunni decision to boycott the January ballot left parliament in the hands of Shiites and Kurds — a move which increased communal friction and cost the Sunnis considerable influence in drafting the constitution.
A leaflet that appeared Monday in the Baghdad Sunni stronghold of Azamiyah acknowledged that Sunni Arabs could make gains in the election but that "fighting will continue with the infidels and their followers."
The statement was unsigned but was written in a style favored by Islamic extremists.
U.S. officials hope for a large turnout among the disaffected Sunni Arab minority, a development which could produce a government capable of winning the trust of the Sunnis and defusing the insurgency. That would enable U.S. and other foreign troops to begin heading home next year.
Sunni Arab politicians have promised an end to what they term abuse at the hands of the Shiite-dominated security services.