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Iraq: New Violence Raises Concern About Elections

Insurgent attacks today in northern Iraq have killed more than 20 Iraqis. At least 17 Iraqi civilians were killed by one attack in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit. Another attack -- a suicide car bombing to the north of Tikrit -- killed an Iraqi National Guard commander and three of his security guards. The attacks mark the latest violence within Sunni-Muslim areas of Iraq over the past three days that has killed more than 70 people.

5 December 2004 -- Iraqi emergency workers have been rushing to the scenes of insurgent violence across northern Iraq that has claimed more than 70 lives in the past three days.

Most of those who have died since 3 December are Iraqi security forces or Iraqi civilians who had been working for the U.S. military.

Election Worries

U.S. military officials have been predicting an increase of insurgent violence ahead of what organizers hope will be Iraq's first democratic elections in decades, scheduled for the end of January.

The surge of violence in recent days has fueled fears that the elections could be derailed by guerrilla attacks and intimidation.

In Baghdad today, there were new calls for a postponement of the elections. A gathering of about 200 mainly Sunni Muslim politicians and party officials issued the call after a sharp upsurge in violence. Speaker after speaker said delaying the poll would be better than undermining its legitimacy, especially as the ballot is to set the foundations for permanent institutions.

Interim Iraqi Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir countered in a televised interview today that elections in his country can be held by the target date of 30 January.

But he told U.S. television that the international community must provide sufficient support. He called on the United Nations and the international community to help Iraq.

Attacks On Local Forces

Today in Iraq, the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division said gunmen opened fire on two buses that were carrying Iraqi civilian workers to a weapons dump outside of former President Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

At least 17 of those civilian workers were shot dead by the gunmen, and another 13 were injured.

In another attack today, a suicide car bomber detonated explosives in his vehicle beside a National Guard convoy in the insurgent stronghold of Baiji, north of Tikrit. National Guard commander Muhammad Jassim Rumaid was killed along with three of his bodyguards.

The commander of Iraq's National Guard in the northern region of Kirkuk -- General Anwar Ahmed Amin -- said he was targeted by insurgents yesterday. Amin said he survived the explosion of a homemade bomb near his motorcade that was a clear assassination attempt against him.

Today's violence also follows an attack yesterday by a suicide bomber that targeted a bus carrying Kurdish peshmerga fighters in the city of Mosul about 390 kilometers north of Baghdad.

Kurdish officials say 16 people were killed in that attack. The peshmerga have been helping secure Mosul since many of the city's police fled after an insurgent onslaught in November.

U.S.-Led Raids

U.S. troops raided a mosque in Mosul overnight in an attempt to find insurgents who have been involved in the recent surge of violence. There was no immediate comment from the U.S. military about the raid.

Witnesses said U.S. troops secured the outer perimeter of the Al-Sabirin Mosque in Al-Wahda neighborhood to the southeast of Mosul and sealed it off before entering the mosque.

The witnesses say U.S. forces used armored vehicles to push into the mosque compound, demolishing the outer walls and damaging the mosque's facade.

Reuters reported that despite the overnight raid by U.S. forces, gunmen armed with rocket-propelled-grenade launchers and assault rifles were continuing to operate a checkpoint in the city's Al-Wahda district today.

Washington said its top foe in Iraq, Al-Qaeda ally Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, might have fled to Mosul after the recent U.S. offensive in Al-Falluja. A reward of $25 million has been offered by the United States for information leading to al-Zarqawi's capture.

In Baghdad yesterday, two suicide bombers struck at a police station just outside of the fortified "green zone" that houses Iraqi government facilities and foreign embassies. Seven people were killed and more than 50 were injured.

On 3 December, a suicide bomb outside a Shi'ite mosque in Baghdad killed 14. Eleven Iraqi police officers also were killed when guerrilla fighters assaulted another police station in the Iraqi capital.

At least six U.S. soldiers have also been killed by insurgent attacks since 3 December. Two were reportedly killed by an ambush in Mosul yesterday. Two were killed by separate roadside bombs earlier yesterday, and two Marines were killed by a suicide car bomb at the Jordanian border on 3 December.

(compiled from wire reports)

[For more on events in Iraq, see RFE/RL's dedicated "The New Iraq" webpage.]