- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 2004

BAGHDAD — U.S. troops rounded up 49 suspected terrorists near Saddam Hussein’s hometown yesterday, one day after Iraq’s most violent rebel groups warned voters against participating in crucial elections for a constitutional assembly on Jan. 30.

American soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division detained the suspects during a midnight raid in Duluiyah, 45 miles north of Baghdad, dubbed “Operation Powder River,” the U.S. military said.

The operation appeared to be the latest in a series of anti-insurgency campaigns in the so-called Sunni Triangle in central Iraq. Duluiyah is near Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit.

In Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, U.S. troops came under mortar attack yesterday. They opened fire, killing one Iraqi and wounding two others, local hospital sources said.

In Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, two civilians were killed and four Iraqi national guardsmen wounded when terrorists detonated a car bomb next to the taxi in which the soldiers were riding. A passing car absorbed the brunt of the blast, and its two occupants were killed, Maj. Neil O’Brien said.

North of Fallujah, the body of an Iraqi national guardsman was found in the Thira’dijlla area with a handwritten note pinned to it saying, “This is the fate of anyone who collaborates with the occupation forces.”

In Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy on the highway leading to the western Dora neighborhood, damaging one American vehicle, police said.

Insurgents have been ratcheting up the pressure on U.S.-led multinational forces as the campaign for the Jan. 30 elections heats up. Terrorists mainly have targeted members of the U.S.-installed interim government’s security forces, labeling them collaborators with American occupiers.

On Thursday, the radical Ansar al-Sunnah Army and two other terrorist groups issued a statement warning that democracy was un-Islamic.

“Democracy is a Greek word meaning the rule of the people, which means that the people do what they see fit,” the statement said. “This concept is considered apostasy and defies the belief in one God — Muslims’ doctrine.”

The joint statement — also signed by the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Mujahideen Army — reiterated the threat that “anyone who accepts to take part in this dirty farce will not be safe.”

The statements by the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgent groups seemed aimed at countering Shi’ite leaders’ assertions that voting in the election is every Muslim’s duty. Shi’ites, who make up 60 percent of the population, hope to use the vote to grab power from minority Sunnis, who were favored under Saddam.

Yesterday, a senior member of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq denied a report by the Al Jazeera satellite channel that all 700 workers for the Mosul electoral commission resigned Thursday because of threats.

“Only two people resigned and they are the head of the [electoral] office in Mosul and an accountant,” Abdel al-Lami said, adding that the two had stepped down “for personal reasons.”

During Friday prayers in a Baghdad mosque, Sheik Ahmed Abdul-Ghafour Al-Samarie of the Association of Muslim Scholars — an influential Sunni group — demanded that U.S. troops leave Iraq.

“We have to realize that the Allah is mightier than America and more powerful than the occupation forces,” he said. “America, which conducted crimes everywhere and supported Israel against Muslims, should take the lesson of the torrent and surge of the ocean in Asia.”

Sheik Al-Samarie was referring to Sunday’s tsunami in the Indian Ocean that devastated 11 nations, leaving more than 120,000 dead.

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