Violence continues as Iraqi election nears
Monday, January 17, 2005 Posted: 12:16 PM EST (1716 GMT)
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- At least 14 members of Iraqi security forces were killed Monday at checkpoints in two different cities, Iraqi officials said, as security preparations were getting under way across the country for the January 30 elections.
South of Baquba, seven Iraqi army soldiers and one Iraqi civilian were killed at a checkpoint by insurgents traveling in multiple vehicles, Iraqi and U.S. military officials told CNN.
The officials said four other Iraqi soldiers were wounded when they were hit with small arms fire in the attack in Buhritz, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of Baquba.
At least seven Iraqi police were also killed Monday when a suicide car bomb exploded at the first of three checkpoints in front of an Iraqi police headquarters north of Tikrit, a U.S. military spokesman and a local official told CNN.
The official with the Tikrit governorate said 19 other people were hurt in the explosion at the Beiji police headquarters, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Tikrit.
Northeast of Baquba, a truck driver was reported missing after three civilian trucks carrying military equipment were attacked, a U.S. military spokesman said Monday.
The trucks were attacked by unknown gunmen using small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades around 11:15 a.m. Sunday, said the spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division.
The trucks were headed to a military base near the Turkish border, the spokesman said. Two of the vehicles were destroyed, he said, and one was slightly damaged.
In Iraq's capital Sunday, the director general of the de-Ba'athification Committee, Imad Abd Al-Zahra, was assassinated as he left his home, according to a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation. Al-Zahra also served as the director of the mechanical department of Iraqi Railways.
Last month, Al-Zahra's brother was killed by unknown gunmen.
To the north, unknown gunmen Sunday assassinated Younes Idris Al-Hiyali, a member of the Mosul Law Council, according to a provincial council member.
The council member lamented Al-Hiyali's death but said Iraqis would "continue forward despite all efforts by these criminals."
On Monday, Iraq's Council of Ministries reported that in the past few days in Falluja, clashes between the Iraqi army and insurgents resulted in the deaths of 35 "terrorists." Sixty-four others were detained, the council said, and weapons and rockets were confiscated.
Meanwhile, a school west of Kirkuk that is slated to be used as a polling station in Iraq's upcoming elections was damaged by some kind of an explosion early Monday, according to Kirkuk's chief of police.
No casualties were reported, the chief said, but the entrance of the school was damaged in the attack.
Another school that will be used as a voting site, this one in western Basra, was also attacked with machine gun fire and RPGs Sunday night, a police officer in Basra told CNN.
Iraqis in the United States will line up Monday to register to vote in their homeland's first independent election in nearly 50 years, joining Iraqis at polling centers in 13 other nations as they prepare to choose a constitutional assembly.
But officials acknowledge that planning for Iraq's overseas vote has been fraught with confusion as they struggled to organize the effort in just three months. (Full story)
Allawi campaigns in Baghdad
Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi campaigned at Baghdad University on Sunday, as Iraqi and U.S. authorities firm up security plans for the elections.
"I am meeting my students of Iraq to announce to them a few important steps that we have taken, including allocation of funds to send students to do further studies and scholarships abroad," Allawi said, after holding a roundtable discussion with students. "I just signed 100 million dollars ... to support the grants and scholarships."
On Saturday, Allawi visited a school in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
Despite the precarious security situation across the country, Iraqi and U.S. officials have vowed not to delay the January 30 election for a 275-member national assembly.
White House spokesman Dan Bartlett, speaking on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," acknowledged Sunday that the "security environment" in Iraq "is tough," but said that millions of Iraqis who want to vote would be able to do so.
"We will work to make sure we do everything to undermine or work around the terrorists' desires," he said, "but I think it does speak to the central issue here, and that is the terrorists understand how important Iraq's election process is, we understand it, and the Iraqi people understand it."
Iraq's provincial affairs minister on Saturday laid out the preliminary security plan for the upcoming vote, which includes a restriction on traffic around the polling stations so that only pedestrians will be allowed inside.
"There will be some cooperation with the Multi-National Forces, but the greatest responsibility will be for the Iraqi security forces to secure these elections," Wa'il Abdul Latif said.
Latif said the basic security guidelines are not final. Iraqi authorities are considering a three-day travel ban, ahead of the elections.
U.S. government officials said they believe the insurgent campaign aimed at keeping Iraqis from the polls, particularly in Sunni Muslim areas, will work, to a degree. In some provinces, practically no voting will take place, they said.
The officials said Iraqis who want to vote could face intimidation. Polls could be threatened. Iraqis could be followed and attacked as they return home from voting.
In the predominantly Sunni city of Mosul, Iraqi security forces have bolstered their troop strength to 4,000 ahead of the election, according to a statement from the U.S. military.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen Carter Ham, commander of Multi-National Brigade-Northwest said about 12,000 Multi-National Forces are in the Mosul region.
Mosul police will be responsible for the internal security of the polling centers on election day, Ham said.
Ham also said that security in Mosul has greatly improved since insurgent violence there -- such as an attack on a U.S. military base which killed 22 people, including 14 U.S. troops.
CNN's Arwa Damon, Nermeen al-Mufti and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.