BAGHDAD (Reuters) – An al Qaeda-linked militant group claimed responsibility for election day bombings in Iraq and vowed to continue attacks against U.S. forces, according to an audiotape.
The group, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), had threatened voters before the March 7 parliamentary election. It called the election a farce aimed at cementing Shi’ite Muslims’ domination of minority Sunnis.
“We will continue to pursue the occupation, its helpers, and its agents, until we purify the land of their filth,” said the audiotape posted late on Tuesday on a website used by jihadists. The site said the voice was that of ISI head Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
The speaker said the rocket, mortar and other attacks that killed 39 people on election day were aimed at keeping Sunnis from voting and not at killing them. Despite the threats 62 percent of Iraq’s registered voters turned out to cast ballots.
Overall violence in Iraq has fallen in the last two years, but a series of blasts shattered the peace in the months leading up to the election. The vote was seen as a crucial test as Iraq emerges from years of war and sectarian slaughter.
ISI is believed by intelligence analysts to have been created by al Qaeda in Iraq as a local umbrella group for insurgent organizations.
Iraq’s Sunnis feel they have been marginalized by the ascent of the Shi’ite majority after the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
At least 100,000 Iraqis have been killed in the seven years since the invasion.