- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber struck the Baghdad headquarters of Iraq’s biggest Shi’ite political party yesterday, killing three persons , as the government announced plans to close borders and restrict movements to bolster security in the national election.

Terrorists also killed three candidates in broad daylight, officials said yesterday.

The Cabinet member responsible for internal security urged fellow Sunni Arabs to disregard threats by Sunni extremists and vote in the Jan. 30 election, in which Iraqis will choose a 275-member National Assembly and regional legislatures.

Otherwise, the minister warned, the country will slide into a civil war.

In a positive development, a Catholic archbishop kidnapped in northern Iraq was released yesterday without payment of ransom, the Vatican said. Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, an Iraqi, said he thinks he was kidnapped by mistake.

An American soldier was killed yesterday in a roadside bombing in Baghdad, and more foreigners were reported kidnapped, including Lebanese businessman Jebrail Adeeb Azar and eight Chinese construction workers.

The Chinese were shown being held hostage by gunmen claiming the captives worked for a company that deals with Americans.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said diplomats were “making all efforts to rescue” the hostages, who disappeared last week while traveling to Jordan.

The suicide driver detonated his vehicle after security guards stopped it at a checkpoint in front of offices of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the major groups contesting the election.

The Shi’ite party, known as SCIRI, has close ties to Iran and is strongly opposed by Sunni Muslim militants.

Iraqi police said the bomber and two others died and nine persons were wounded, including three policemen. The blast gouged a crater in the pavement, left several vehicles in flames, and spread shredded debris on the street in the Jadriyah district.

“SCIRI will not be frightened by such an act,” party spokesman Ridha Jawad said.

“SCIRI will continue the march toward building Iraq, establishing justice and holding the elections.”

Sunni Muslim militants, who make up the bulk of Iraq’s insurgents, have stepped up attacks on Shi’ites to frighten them into staying home on election day.

Although many Sunni clerics and others oppose the election, Shi’ite leaders have told their followers that voting is their religious duty.

Shi’ites make up about 60 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people and are expected to gain the political power long denied them by the Sunni Arab community, estimated at about 20 percent.

Large turnouts are expected in the Shi’ite heartland south of Baghdad and in Kurdish-controlled regions of the north.

Insurgents have warned people to stay away from the polls and have threatened candidates.

Gunmen killed three candidates, officials said yesterday. Two of them belonged to Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s political coalition, the Iraqi National Accord.

Alaa Hamid, who was running for the National Assembly, was killed Monday in Iraq’s second largest city, Basra, an official said. Mr. Hamid was also the deputy chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee in Basra, which had been relatively quiet.

Riad Radi, who was contesting the local race for Basra’s provincial council, died Sunday when masked gunmen fired on his car as he was driving with his family, the official said.

The third candidate, Shaker Jabbar Sahla, was fatally shot in Baghdad on Monday. He was a Shi’ite running for the National Assembly on the Constitutional Monarchy Movement ticket, headed by a cousin of Iraq’s last king.

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