- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

BAGHDAD — Gunmen assassinated the governor of Baghdad province and six bodyguards in a professionally executed attack yesterday, adding to the unease of officials who increasingly are talking about postponing the Jan. 30 elections.

Five U.S. servicemen also were slain in a day of violence that included a truck bombing in the capital that killed eight Iraqi police commandos and two civilians.

Such incidents have prompted renewed calls for a postponement of the elections, particularly from members of the long-ruling Sunni minority, who fear the intimidation will keep their supporters from the polls.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi discussed the violence in a phone conversation with President Bush on Monday, but White House officials said there had been “no discussion” of delaying the vote.

“They talked about the importance of making sure that there is as broad a participation as possible in the elections and moving forward on the date that has been set,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

“As [the Iraqi people] move forward on elections, it will help defeat the ambitions of those terrorists and Saddam loyalists who seek to derail that transition.”

The carnage yesterday began when a suicide bomber detonated a gasoline truck filled with explosives near the entrance to an Interior Ministry compound. The blast left at least 10 dead, injured dozens and shook the entire city.

An hour later, according to witnesses, Baghdad Gov. Ali al-Haidari was attacked by gunmen who converged from several directions as he traveled in a convoy that included a black BMW and several four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Bullet-riddled vehicles and pools of blood were seen later at the site in the west Baghdad neighborhood of Hurriyah, considered a stronghold of Sunni militants who oppose the elections. Six of Mr. al-Haidari’s bodyguards were killed, according to the Associated Press.

Militants loyal to Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi took responsibility for the assassination, posting a videotape on the Internet that appeared to show the aftermath of the attack.

“Young mujahedeen holy warriors … assassinated a tyrant from among the Americans’ agents,” said an accompanying statement, which could not be authenticated. “We tell every traitor and everyone who is loyal to the Jews and the Christians that this will be your fate.”

Mr. al-Haidari, who had survived an assassination attempt in September, recently held two press conferences in which he lauded U.S. Army efforts to improve schools, electricity and water infrastructure.

“The American army helped us much to carry out projects,” he told reporters last month. “These projects will improve the living conditions of people in Baghdad. We shouldn’t play down the role of the support given by the American army.”

A half-hour after his assassination, three U.S. troops were killed when a roadside bomb hit their convoy in Baghdad. Another soldier was killed 30 miles north of the capital in Balad, and a Marine died in a hostile incident in the western desert, military officials announced.

Three British security contractors died a day earlier in a car bombing at an entrance to the fortresslike green zone, the country’s administrative center.

The escalating violence has frayed the nerves of many Iraqis.

“We fear that Iraq is turning into a madhouse,” said Ghassan Attiya, leader of the National Independent Party, one of more than 100 parties and coalitions running slates of candidates in the election.

“We don’t know where this country is heading. Some are afraid to reveal even their names, so how can we conduct elections?”

Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan joined those calling for postponing elections. He said during a visit to Cairo on Monday that it was essential that Sunnis be able to vote without fear. “We want to give our Sunni brothers another chance, even if this means delaying the vote,” he said.

But other officials point out that any delay in the vote past Jan. 31 would require a rewriting of the country’s transitional constitution and a new U.N. Security Council resolution.

U.S. officials, backed by Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, Kurds and others, also argue that any change of the election schedule would hand a victory to the forces of international terrorism.

“There are people who are opposed to democracy in Iraq,” said Hamid al-Kifaey, who leads a slate of candidates in the election.

“We can’t give in to them. If we delay the elections six months because of security, there’s no guarantee in six months security will be any better.”

Successful elections have been held amid violence in other countries, but never under such lawless conditions, said Tom McDonald, a former U.S. diplomat who has monitored elections in Zimbabwe and Cambodia.

“There were violence, intimidation, efforts to dumb down the vote, long lines and people being turned away from the polls,” said Mr. McDonald, a partner in the Washington office of law firm Baker & Hostetler LLP.

“But in Iraq, you could die if you vote,” he said by telephone. “I haven’t seen anything like this anywhere.”

The Times of London yesterday quoted Iraq’s new director of intelligence as saying he thinks the insurgents outnumber the anticipated 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

“I think the resistance is bigger than the U.S. military in Iraq. I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people,” said Gen. Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani.

He told the newspaper that there were at least 40,000 hard-core fighters attacking U.S. and Iraqi troops, with the remainder made up of part-time guerrillas and volunteers providing logistical support, information, shelter and money.

• James G. Lakely contributed to this report in Washington.

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