Iraqi officials and private citizens have denounced recent attacks that targeted a number of candidates running in the upcoming local elections.
"Al-Qaeda has intensified its terrorist attacks on local election candidates and balloting centres with the aim of making the elections fail," Iraqi government media advisor Ali al-Musawi told Mawtani.
"Members of al-Qaeda have even started to tear up the candidates' wall posters and promotional leaflets in a manner that confirms it finds in democracy and the success of the political process in the country a real threat to its existence," he said.
The violence prompted the Iraqi government to postpone council elections in Anbar and Ninawa provinces due to security conditions, the cabinet said in a statement Tuesday (March 19th).
"The cabinet decided to postpone elections in Ninawa and Anbar for no more than six months because of the security situation in those two provinces", the statement said.
However, elections would be held in the rest of the provinces on April 20th as scheduled, the statement added.
Security forces have a plan to prevent further al-Qaeda attacks on voters, candidates or balloting centres, which will remain in force until after the elections, al-Musawi said.
"During the past two weeks, five candidates in the provinces of Anbar, Ninawa and Diyala were killed by gunmen who were members of al-Qaeda," said Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan.
Muthanna al-Kubaisi was killed in the town of al-Rutbah and Abdul Moneim Abdul Salam was killed in the town of Heet, both in Anbar province; Kamel Abed was killed in Baqubah, the centre of Diyala province; and Bahjat al-Athari and Ahmad al-Sabawi died violently in the city of Mosul, the capital of Ninawa province, Maan said.
The attacks also targeted two balloting centres and three centres for updating voter registration lists, Maan added, noting there also have been several incidents of campaign posters being torn down.
"The strikes launched by al-Qaeda were expected and security forces are working hard to prevent these assaults, but the fact there are about 21,000 candidates across Iraq makes it difficult to provide protection to all of them," he said.
Protection will be provided "within hours" for any candidate who fears a potential terrorist attack and submits a request, along with protection for the candidate's home or family, he added.
Seven people in a number of Iraqi cities have so far been arrested in connection with these crimes, Maan said, and their names will be made public when the investigation is complete.
"The attacks were carried out in the same style and method used by al-Qaeda," he added.
Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq said "the victims belonged to different parties and sects in Iraq, not to a specific community."
"Al-Qaeda targets the strong candidates who have a serious chance to win, and who enjoy popular support in their cities," al-Mutlaq told Mawtani.
This is "proof al-Qaeda's ideology does not believe in partnership, or the peaceful, democratic turnover of authority; rather, it is an ideology that is based on bloodshed and intimidation," he said.
"Al-Qaeda's attempts to sabotage the elections process are natural, but the elections will be held despite that, and security forces will help in making it successful, as they did in the previous elections," he said.
Meqdad al-Sharifi, head of the electoral department at the Independent Higher Electoral Commission, told Mawtani logistical preparations for the election have been completed.
"We have ample trust in the security forces to provide a secure elections environment on voting day," he said, noting that the Ministries of Defence and Interior "will devote all they are capable of to this mission".
"One of the goals of the terrorist attacks is to intimidate the population, and scare them out of going to the elections, but this method has proven its failure in past elections," al-Sharifi said.
"Elections are originally an Islamic legislation to elect the most capable people to rule society and the country," said Sheikh Qassem Abdullah, a religious leader in Mosul.
"Attacks by the various terrorist factions against the elections show their disrespect of the Islamic religion, and their determination to destroy the country," he said.
"We are used to al-Qaeda's attempts to target anything that is beneficial to citizens," Abdullah said, adding that these actions will only result in rejection of the organisation in any way possible.
"My favourite candidate, Muthanna al-Kubaisi, for whom my wife and I intended to vote, was killed by al-Qaeda," said 42-year-old Anbar resident Khalil Ahmad.
"In spite of that, I will not allow al-Qaeda's wish – to force us to stay away from the elections – to come true," he said. "I will give my vote to someone else, and even if I do not find a candidate who is convincing to me, I will still go to the balloting centre to cast a white ballot."
"What is important is that I will take part in the elections, in defiance of al-Qaeda and in answer to its crimes," he said.