- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

BAGHDAD — Insurgents killed an American soldier in the restive city of Mosul and mortar strikes pummeled central Baghdad yesterday, while the U.S. Embassy barred employees from the dangerous highway leading to the airport.

To provide security for the Jan. 30 elections, the U.S. government has announced it is raising troop strength in Iraq to its highest level of the war. The number of troops will climb from 138,000 now to about 150,000 by mid-January — more than in the 2003 invasion.

Although Iraq’s Kurds and majority Shi’ites back the Jan. 30 date for the elections, Sunni groups have demanded a postponement because of the poor security. President Bush dismissed those calls yesterday, insisting the elections must not be delayed.

“It’s time for Iraqi citizens to go to the polls,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office.

The American soldier who was killed yesterday was on a U.S.-Iraqi patrol in Mosul when the attack occurred, Lt. Col. Paul Hastings said. He said two Iraqi commandos also were wounded.

Col. Hastings also said Iraqi and U.S. forces discovered 14 unidentified bodies in Mosul yesterday and five more bodies reportedly were picked up by family members. That brings to at least 66 the number of bodies — many of them thought to be members of the Iraqi security forces — found there since Nov. 18.

In other attacks yesterday, terrorists launched at least five mortars in central Baghdad, including two that crashed into the green zone, the compound that houses Iraq’s interim administration and U.S. diplomatic missions.

One round struck near a mobile phone office in the Arasat neighborhood, killing two civilians and wounding five, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. James Hutton said.

A car bomb in the city of Beiji, about 155 miles north of Baghdad, wounded two U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi national guardsmen, the U.S. military said.

The military said a vehicle accident in western Baghdad on Wednesday killed one U.S. soldier and injured four.

A group of U.S. senators visiting Iraq yesterday said they were pleased with Mr. Bush’s decision to raise troop levels, but criticized him for not doing so earlier.

“We should have leveled with the American people in the beginning,” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, told reporters. “It was absolutely inevitable” that more troops would be needed, he said.

The Baghdad airport highway has been a symbol of the Americans’ struggle to restore security. Attackers using car bombs and explosives have stymied U.S. efforts to protect the road, one of the country’s most crucial but also one of its most perilous.

The U.S. Embassy decision to ban its employees from using the highway followed a nearly identical warning Monday from Britain’s Foreign Office. The embassy also cautioned Americans in Iraq to review their security situation and warned those planning to travel to Iraq to consider whether the trip was “absolutely necessary.”

However, Qassim Dawoud, Iraq’s national security adviser, said insurgent attacks were down since the invasion of Fallujah. He provided no details but said Iraq didn’t need U.S.-led coalition forces’ help to safeguard the elections.

“We don’t want to involve the multinational forces in the election affairs,” he said. “We are taking our measures to provide security to our society, specifically to the electoral centers.”

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