- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

BAGHDAD — Insurgents pressed their attack on U.S. troops and Iraq’s security forces yesterday, killing five Iraqi police officers, including a general, and wounding 14 American soldiers in a relentless effort to derail next month’s elections. Iraqi officials said preparations for the vote are on schedule.

The Americans were wounded in separate attacks in northern Iraq. One car bombing and ambush wounded eight soldiers, prompting an American warplane to drop a 500-pound bomb on an insurgent position in Mosul.

“The commanders on the ground felt the attack was heavy enough to call in close air support,” military spokeswoman Capt. Angela Bowman said.

Violence continues to grip the Sunni-dominated areas in central Iraq despite last month’s U.S.-led assault on the main insurgent stronghold of Fallujah and on an area south of Baghdad. That attack was launched to try to curb terrorist attacks so parliamentary elections could be held nationwide Jan. 30.

The latest attacks appear to be part of a sweeping intimidation campaign aimed at foiling those elections, in part by killing Iraqis who cooperate with the United States, making them collaborators in the eyes of insurgents.

Police Col. Najeeb al-Joubouri was gunned down on his way to work on a road outside Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

Two more police commanders were fatally shot in Baghdad’s southwestern Saidiyah neighborhood in an early-morning ambush. A senior Interior Ministry official identified the victims as Brig. Gen. Razzaq Karim Mahmood and Col. Karim Farhan.

Gunmen ambushed a police patrol in Baghdad’s northern suburb of Azamiyah late Friday, killing a captain and a constable and wounding two others, police Lt. Mohammed al-Obeidi said.

Iraq’s government says the vote will go ahead as scheduled, and preparations continued yesterday, with election officials saying candidates from 70 political parties and coalitions have filed so far. The filing deadline is Dec. 15.

In other violence, terrorists fatally shot a Shi’ite cleric, Salim al-Yaqoubi, near his home in Baghdad, police said.

A second Shi’ite cleric, Sheik Ammar al-Joubouri, was slain Friday near Mahmoudiya, about 25 miles south of Baghdad, while driving to the capital. Sheik al-Joubouri once headed a religious court of followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the southern holy city of Najaf.

In northern Iraq, a suspected suicide car bomber wounded two U.S. soldiers in Beiji, while two more were wounded in a car-bomb blast near Kirkuk, about 60 miles to the north.

Two more U.S. soldiers were wounded by a roadside bomb outside Hawija, near Kirkuk.

A military spokesman said yesterday that U.S. commanders welcomed news that the Pentagon intended to speed up production of armored Humvees.

The issue of whether the military was providing enough protection for its troops received new attention last week after an Iraq-bound National Guardsman questioned Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in neighboring Kuwait on why he and his comrades must comb through scrap piles for metal to protect their vehicles.

“Commanders are looking for any opportunity to increase force protection for the sake of their troops,” said Maj. Neal O’Brien, spokesman for the Tikrit-based 1st Infantry Division. “Uparmor or add-on armor will always be one of those force protection assets they want more of.”

Meanwhile, a U.S. soldier was sentenced to three years in prison for killing a severely wounded Iraqi teenager, the military said yesterday.

Staff Sgt. Johnny M. Horne Jr., 30, of Wilson, N.C., pleaded guilty on Friday to one count of unpremeditated murder and one count of soliciting another soldier to commit unpremeditated murder.

His sentencing included a reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of wages and a dishonorable discharge.

The charges relate to the Aug. 18 killing of a 16-year-old Iraqi found in a burning truck with severe abdominal wounds suffered during clashes in Baghdad’s Sadr City, an impoverished neighborhood that was the scene of fierce fighting between U.S. forces and Shi’ite rebels loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

A criminal investigator had said during an earlier hearing that the soldiers decided to kill him to “put him out of his misery.”

Acting as a jury, a panel of seven service members late Friday sentenced Horne — who is attached to Company C, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, based in Fort Riley, Kan. — after about four hours of deliberations, the military said.

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