A series of attacks hit Iraq over the weekend ahead of general elections on Wednesday.
At least 33 people were killed in three consecutive bombings on an election rally in Baghdad for the hardline Shiite group Asaib ahel al-Haq (League of the Righteous). Ten thousand people had gathered to hear speeches and the announcement of the group's election candidates. The group's military wing is currently (allegedly) fighting in Syria on the side of regime President Bashar al-Assad and is backed by Iran. It first rose to prominence in the insurrection against American forces.
The Sunni terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack. ISIS is fighting on the rebel side. In a post on jihadist forums, ISIS said that the attacks were revenge for Sunnis being forcibly removed from their homes by Shiite militias.
Last week attacks killed 26. There are fears that this may lead to a return to levels of sectarian violence not seen since 2008. More than 1,400 people were killed in the first two months of this year. The ongoing Syrian war has exacerbated religious and ethnic tensions. Christians have continued to flee the country due to religious persecution. Their population has dropped from over one million to only 400,000.
More than 22 million people are eligible to vote in Wednesday's elections, the first since the departure of U.S. forces in 2011. They will elect 328 representatives out of over 9,000 candidates.
Parties are largely split along sectarian and tribal lines rather than by policies. Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties are running on separate tickets. Incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law party is expected win the largest number of seats, although no party is expected to take an outright majority.
Maliki is expected to be boosted by the news that radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, best known for his militia group the Mahdi Army, will not be running, although others linked to him will be. Asaib ahel al-Haq, the Shiite group that was bombed on Friday, are linked to his faction.
More attacks are expected before the election. Policemen in Baghdad have already captured more than 20 explosive devices that were to have been used on election day to disrupt polling. A military official speaking off the record told Al-Jazeera that there would almost certainly be violence on election day, although he thought that it could be contained. ISIS said that they have already smuggled car bombs and suicide vests into Baghdad, ready for use.
Members of the security forces will vote on Monday so as to be free to guard polling stations on Wednesday. Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffries downplayed the severity of the violence saying, "Democratic processes are always messy."