- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 31, 2005

BAGHDAD — Bombings and shootings killed at least 20 persons across Iraq on the final day of the year, while U.S. troops shivered in the cold during a performance by an “American Idol” singer as part of New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The U.S. military also reported the death of an American soldier from wounds, bringing its death toll in Iraq for 2005 near last year’s record level.

Iraq’s electoral commission, meanwhile, repeated a call for political groups to remove from their candidate lists 90 former members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party before the agency issues final results this week from the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

Many Iraqis, particularly from the long-oppressed Shi’ite Muslim majority and Kurdish communities, want to keep ex-Ba’athists out of the new government. Sunni Arabs, the backbone of Iraq’s insurgency, see the effort as an attempt to deny their minority a role in politics.

A letter from President Bush lauded political developments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, praising the efforts of U.S. troops in helping Iraqis exercise the right to vote three times during 2005 and the people of Afghanistan for casting ballots.

“In the coming year, America will continue to stand beside these young democracies and lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren,” Mr. Bush said.

“We appreciate the brave men and women in uniform who protect our country and advance freedom around the world. We are grateful to their families for their support and sacrifice, and we pray for all those who have lost loved ones in freedom’s cause.”

At Camp Victory near Baghdad’s airport, “American Idol 3” finalist Diana DeGarmo and other entertainers treated hundreds of U.S. servicemen and women to a New Year’s Eve show.

Soldiers sat in the cold in front of a tan stage as Miss DeGarmo pulled several on stage to dance. She was followed by comedian Reggie McFadden and country music singer Michael Peterson, who traveled with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a six-nation holiday tour to thank the troops.

Gen. Peter Pace said it will be up to the Iraqis to choose their leadership — but the sooner the better to help secure peace in the country to allow U.S. forces to leave.

“Stability in the country is part of the conditions for withdrawal,” he told a small group of reporters in a gilded room at one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

“The faster that the Iraqi government is able to stand up and take charge, the faster we’ll reach the conditions where they’re able to lead their own armed forces and their own military in a way that will allow us to transition more of the overall security responsibility to them.”

Gen. Pace also delivered bags of Starbucks coffee beans and mugs, saying employees of the U.S. chain donated 18,000 pounds of the beans to share with the American military units he has visited.

In another day of bloodshed, gunmen raided a house south of Baghdad, killing five members of a Sunni Arab family.

A roadside bomb in the capital killed two policemen and another bomb killed five members of the Iraqi Islamic party near their headquarters in Al-Khalis, 10 miles east of Baqouba, police said.

Police also said they found the bodies of six men who had been blindfolded, shot and dumped at a sewage plant in southeast Baghdad. A mortar round killed a policeman in Baghdad, and gunmen fatally shot the owner of a supermarket in the capital, officials said.

A U.S. soldier died yesterday from wounds inflicted by a mortar attack in Baghdad, the military said. That put the American military death toll for the year at 841 — five short of 2004’s toll.

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