'An election worker has been killed and another one kidnapped over the last two weeks, a senior Iraqi election official said Monday, in a worrying sign of the dangers facing election workers as the country's March 7 parliamentary election draws closer.
Hamdia al-Hussaini, a commissioner on the Independent High Electoral Commission, said the employees are believed to have been targeted because they worked for the election commission.
The nationwide election will decide who will lead the country for the next four years as U.S. forces, in Iraq since 2003, draw down, with combat forces leaving by the end of August and the rest by the end of 2011.
Election workers were targeted by insurgents ahead of three nationwide votes in 2005 - two general elections - in January and December - and a referendum on a new constitution in October.
Those attacks were designed to disrupt the vote and intimidate Iraqis from taking part.
"Now, it is very dangerous to go out," al-Hussaini told The Associated Press in an interview at her office, located in the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and the prime minister's office. "We can protect them only when they are in their offices."
She said numerous employees have also received death threats, and others have had family members kidnapped or killed. She gave no figures or specifics.
Al-Hussaini said the government has agreed to a commission request to provide safe housing for employees as the vote approaches. A complex inside the Green Zone has been set aside for that purpose, she said.
"Despite all the difficulties, our staff is continuing their work in order to make the process a success," she said.'