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Iraqi prime minister doesn't fear return of violence with elections

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Will Iraq remain divided?
  • Iraq's Nuri al-Maliki says upcoming elections will not lead to violence in region
  • Al Qaeda in Iraq has vowed to disrupt elections
  • Al-Maliki says he's open to asking U.S. troops to stay in Iraq past proposed withdrawal date

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he does not fear a return to terrorism and sectarian violence despite a spate of pre-election bombings and political assassinations in the run-up to parliamentary elections this weekend.

"I am not afraid of terrorism spreading or returning again, because we have an army, police and adequate security forces, and there is national unity that took hold following national reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites," al-Maliki said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Arwa Damon.

Iraq was wracked with sectarian violence after the 2003 U.S. invasion that ousted President Saddam Hussein, but left a power vacuum, which exposed lingering hostilities between Muslim sects and ethnic groups.

In the most recent attack, more than 30 people died in a trio of suicide attacks Wednesday in the central Iraqi city of Baquba. Sunni insurgents continue to fight U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces in Diyala province, where Baquba is the capital.

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  • Iraq
  • Al Qaeda in Iraq
  • Terrorism

U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned of large-scale attacks in the run-up to the voting. Al Qaeda in Iraq's umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq, has promised to disrupt the elections.

The Iraqi military also said intelligence reports indicate that al Qaeda in Iraq fighters "are increasingly staging politically motivated assassinations" to undermine the Iraqi government and the elections.

More than 6,000 candidates are competing for 325 seats in the Iraqi parliament in Sunday's ballot, the second to be held since the fall of Hussein. Early voting has begun for those who will be unable to cast their ballots when the rest of the country starts voting Sunday. They include thousands of military and security personnel, detainees, hospital staff and patients.

Al-Maliki has left open the possibility of asking U.S. forces to stay in Iraq longer than planned, depending on the security situation and the readiness of Iraqi troops.

Damon asked the prime minster Thursday whether he would ask the United States to extend any of its deadlines for withdrawing troops.

"This depends on the future, on whether the established Iraqi army and police would be enough or not," he said, "so this issue is depending on the developments of the circumstances, and regulated by the Strategic Framework Agreement between the United States and Iraq."

He has not previously said he would consider asking U.S. forces to extend any of their withdrawal deadlines.

When asked if the situation dictated it, would he be willing to have U.S. forces extend their stay in Iraq," al-Maliki replied "Absolutely."

The United States plans to withdraw all of its combat troops by the end of August, leaving 50,000 in advisory roles, and then withdraw those by the end of 2011.