Insurgents aiming to derail Iraq's 30 January elections have mounted several attacks on Shi'a shrines and clerics in the past few months.
Iraq's majority Shi'ites, who were oppressed under Saddam Hussein's regime, strongly support the vote, while some leaders of the Sunni minority have called for a boycott of the election because of worsening security.
Meanwhile, militant leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi has called on his followers to prepare for a holy war lasting months and years against U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
An audio message from a speaker identifying himself as al-Zarqawi was posted on an Islamist website yesterday, coinciding with President George W. Bush's inauguration for his second term.
"In the fight against the arrogant American tyrant who carries the flag of the cross, we find that despite its military might it is being crushed emotionally and morally," the speaker said.
U.S. officials have offered a $25 million for the capture or death of al-Zarqawi, who has pledged his loyalty to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
In a separate statement posted on the Internet, al-Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for an attack near a British base in southern Iraq that injured nine British soldiers and a number of Iraqis.
The statement said the attack, near the Shaibah logistics base west of Al-Basrah, was a suicide operation in retaliation for British abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
Also, the U.S. military says one U.S. soldier has been killed and another injured during predawn raids on suspected Iraqi insurgent hideouts today north of Baghdad.
The U.S. military said in a written statement that the soldier was killed during an operation to kill or capture members of an insurgent bomb-making cell in Al-Duluiyah.
The U.S. military said one insurgent was killed and 12 other suspected guerrillas captured in the raids on eight locations.
(Reuters/AP/AFP)[For news, background, and analysis on Iraq's historic 30 January elections, see RFE/RL's webpage "Iraq Votes 2005".]