It seems like all of Baghdad is holding its breath as the elections approach. Originally scheduled for early January, they have been delayed until March 7th for a variety of political reasons including the current Iraqi Parliament's difficulty in passing the budget. Political parties seem to be aligning along sectarian lines and several politicians were blocked from participating in the elections because of their past affiliation with the Saddam regime. It's called "debathification". Of course, a high number of the politicians who have been excluded from the political process are Sunnis - a sectarian divide that the Iraqi political climate really doesn't need right now.
There were a series of bombings at hotels the last week of January (one of which was closer than comfort to our office). Five political party offices were targeted last week. Violence has increased in Mosul, with many Christians being targeted. The general status quo is being maintained in Baghdad, although we're all waiting for the next big bombing to take place. The pattern of bombings changed recently - it used to be mostly in the morning, between 9-10 am. The hotel attacks were in the afternoon. Mortar fire would usually happen after dark, but last week there were two early in the morning. There's a kind of comfort in thinking that these things follow a pattern; it gives you a false sense of control.
The hotel bombings blew out quite a six of our office windows, knocked an air conditioner off the concrete wall it was drilled into and the force of the blast splintered a 2 ft piece of wood off our front door. Needless to say, not an experience I want to experience again anytime soon.
A lot of international organizations are moving their expats out of Baghdad for the election and post-election period. We're starting to think that the post-election period may be worse than the lead up to the Big Ballot Day because of the feared increase in sectarian violence. My organization is "drawing down" meaning that most of the expats will be leaving the city. I'll be staying in Baghdad and I hope to blog about the events from my front row seat, so to speak.