- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

BAGHDAD — Terrorists rocketed an Iraqi military bus west of the capital yesterday and 15 Iraqi soldiers were missing and feared kidnapped, as insurgent violence and intimidation escalated ahead of this month’s national election.

A senior American officer acknowledged that violence and threats by insurgents might keep some people in Baghdad away from the Jan. 30 vote.

The bus was driving to a U.S. military post when it was struck by rocket-propelled grenades about 90 miles west of Baghdad, said an Iraqi national guard officer who identified himself only as Lt. Col. Hesham.

He said the bus burst into flames but no bodies were found, raising fears the troops had been taken prisoner.

Elsewhere, the U.S. military announced yesterday that two Marines and a 1st Infantry Division soldier were killed in separate clashes the previous day.

Iraqi police ambushed a group of gunmen in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad known as a stronghold of support for Saddam Hussein, killing seven, police Capt. Ahmed Ismael said. The fight occurred near the Abu Hanifa mosque, whose clerics are outspoken opponents of the election.

The bus attack was the latest in a growing number of assaults on Iraqi security forces as the country prepares for balloting.

Although Iraq’s long-suppressed Shi’ite Muslim majority is expected to vote in huge numbers, Sunni Muslim clerics are urging a boycott and Sunni insurgents threaten attacks to disrupt voting, fearing the loss of power to Shi’ites.

Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, deputy commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, said violence could keep some Baghdad residents away from the polls.

He warned of a further surge in bombings and other violence as the election draws near and said there was no guarantee that Iraqi and American forces could stop a spectacular attack causing mass casualties.

“If I told you I could guarantee that, then I’d be a fool,” Gen. Hammond told reporters yesterday.

In Mauritius, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said conditions for elections in Iraq were “far from ideal.” He said participation by Sunnis was critical to ensure the new government is truly representative and urged Iraq’s interim government to “intensity its effort” to draw in Sunnis.

Terrorists in Iraq’s north killed three officials of a party representing Iraqi Kurds, who also are working aggressively for a high turnout in the election.

Gunmen also killed an Iraqi election official in western Baghdad late Thursday, police said, marking at least the seventh such killing ahead of the vote.

A Sunni militant group yesterday claimed it was behind Wednesday’s assassination of a Shi’ite community leader who had promoted the election on behalf of Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani. Ansar al-Islam said it killed Sheik Mahmoud Finjan because he was a “big supporter of the elections.”

“We … call upon all brother citizens not to participate in the elections because we are going to attack voting centers,” said an Ansar al-Islam statement posted on a Web site used by terrorists.

In other developments, an Iraqi bus collided with a U.S. tank on patrol in the city of Muqdadiyah north of Baghdad, killing six of the bus passengers and injuring eight, the U.S. military said.

Twenty-eight Iraqi prisoners escaped Thursday night as they were being transported by bus from the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad to another facility. A U.S. spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, said 38 initially got away but 10 were recaptured.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide