- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

BAGHDAD — The head of a U.N. team said yesterday that better security in Iraq is vital for elections to take place by a Jan. 31 deadline. A U.S. soldier was killed by a bomb west of Baghdad, and British troops in the south fired rubber bullets to disperse anticoalition activists.

The United Nations team met with members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to discuss setting up an interim government before the U.S.-led coalition transfers sovereignty to the Iraqis by June 30, and to make plans for general elections after that.

A bombing near a U.S. military convoy west of Baghdad killed an American soldier, a U.S. official said. The attack occurred northwest of the restive city of Fallujah.

Late yesterday, residents in Fallujah reported heavy gunfire in the city’s al-Askari neighborhood. Fighting in that area on Friday killed a U.S. Marine and at least five Iraqis, including an ABC News cameraman.

In the southern city of Basra, British troops in riot gear fought with dozens of anticoalition Iraqis who resisted eviction from a government-owned building. At least four Iraqis were injured. Two British soldiers suffered minor injuries.

Iraqis threw stones and bricks at the soldiers and set fire to tires in the streets. Associated Press Television News footage showed two soldiers with plastic shields and wooden batons struggling with an Iraqi who grabbed one of their weapons.

One of the injured was seen lying on the ground before being carried away by his comrades. Blood poured from another protester’s head. A free-lance photographer working for AP, Nabil al-Jurani, was shot in a leg with a rubber bullet by the soldiers. He was treated and released from a hospital.

The fighting came one day after U.S. soldiers in the northern city of Mosul fatally shot four persons suspected of being rebels, the military said. On Sunday, gunmen fired on a convoy carrying a government minister near Mosul, and killed a Canadian and a Briton in another attack.

Also in northern Iraq, the governor of Nineveh province, Ghanem al-Basso, resigned yesterday after being questioned by coalition officials about reported corruption, a senior U.S. official said. No charges were brought, and the official did not elaborate on the accusations.

In Baghdad, Carina Perelli, who led the U.N. team, told reporters after a two-hour meeting with Governing Council members that security was key.

“We need to make sure that between now and the 31st of January, there is a modicum of security that will make Iraqi people feel they can go to the polls, that they can run as candidates without extreme fear,” Miss Perelli said.

“We put the expertise and the experience of the U.N. at the disposition of the Iraqi people in terms of the assistance it might need in carrying out this process,” she said.

Miss Perelli’s team arrived in Baghdad on Friday and will stay for several weeks. A second U.N. delegation, led by top negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi, is expected early next month.

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