- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

BAGHDAD — Insurgents unleashed a wave of car bombings across the Iraqi capital yesterday, killing at least a dozen persons, despite stepped-up U.S. and Iraqi measures to protect this month’s elections. North of Baghdad, insurgents killed a British security officer and kidnapped a Japanese engineer, officials said.

Gunmen fired on the Baghdad office of a major Kurdish party, and two senior officials escaped assassination in separate attacks in the north.

The U.S. military put the death toll from the Baghdad bombings at 26, saying the number was based on initial reports at the scene. Iraqi officials gave a lower toll — 12 persons killed in the bombings and one at the Kurdish office.

Sunni Muslim insurgents have threatened to disrupt the elections, and the five car bombings — four within a span of 90 minutes — underscored the grave threat facing Iraqis at this watershed in their history. U.S. and Iraqi forces have stepped up raids and arrests in Baghdad, Mosul and other trouble spots as the elections approach.

Nevertheless, the attacks had little effect on preparations for the Jan. 30 balloting, in which Iraqis will choose a 275-member national assembly and regional legislatures. At Baghdad International Airport, Iraqi authorities yesterday received the largest shipment of ballot boxes and other elections equipment to date.

Elections official Farid Ayar said 90,000 ballot boxes had been flown to Iraq with millions of ballots, printed mostly in Canada and Australia.

Throughout the morning, the routine clatter of big-city traffic was punctuated by the crisp sound of distant explosions. U.S. military helicopters rattled low overhead as they roamed the bright blue sky for signs of trouble.

Al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq took responsibility for the first of the day’s blasts, which occurred about 7 a.m. at the Australian Embassy in the capital. A truck packed with explosives blew up outside the concrete barriers in front of the embassy, killing two persons and wounding several, including two Australian soldiers.

A half-hour after the embassy blast, a car bomb exploded at a police station next to a hospital in eastern Baghdad. The U.S. military said 18 were killed there, but the Iraqi Interior Ministry put the death toll at six, including a policewoman.

Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, director of the U.S. military press center, said U.S. officials could not explain the discrepancy between the American and Iraqi figures, “but we are holding to our numbers.”

A third car bombing struck at the main gate to an Iraqi military recruiting center located at a disused airport in central Baghdad. Police said the driver told guards that he was delivering potatoes and detonated his explosives at the gate, killing three Iraqi soldiers and injuring one American.

The U.S. military also said a car bomb detonated southwest of the international airport, killing two Iraqi security guards. The fifth car bomb exploded around noon near a Shi’ite mosque and a bank in north Baghdad, killing one person and injuring another, police said.

Also in the capital, insurgents in a car fired on an office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, killing one of its members and wounding another, party officials said.

Elsewhere, an Iraqi police officer was killed in a car bombing in the largely Shi’ite city of Hillah, south of Baghdad, the Polish military said.

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