Nineteen Iraqis killed in attacks

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Nineteen Iraqis, including eight policemen, died in insurgent attacks in and around Baghdad on Monday as two Shiite politicians were gunned down and a provincial governor escaped an assassination bid.
Some 30 rebels, armed with mortars and anti-tank weapons as well as small arms, took part in the deadliest assault — an attack on a police checkpoint in ethnically mixed Diyala province northeast of the capital, police said.

Five police were killed and another four wounded in the morning assault in the village of Buhruz, just outside the provincial capital of Baqouba. Police said they killed six insurgents.

Gunmen later opened fire on the car of local councillor Suad Jaafari, a member of the main Shiite alliance, killing her and three bodyguards.

Hours later, a Shiite politician from the largest party within the ruling alliance, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was shot while in a taxi in Najaf.

Fattah Dabhawi’s brother told AFP that he had died of his wounds following the attack in the Shiite holy city south of Baghdad.

Insurgents also targeted Diyala governor Raed Rashid Mulla Jawad with a car bomb as he was leaving Baqouba for his home village of Beni Tamim further north. The governor survived but one of his bodyguards was killed and two wounded.

Baquoba has seen repeated insurgent attacks in recent weeks, including an assault on an army outpost that killed eight soldiers Friday.

In Baghdad, two police and two civilians were killed as four separate bombings targeted police patrols, the interior ministry said. A further 25 people were wounded.

Insurgents also detonated a booby-trapped motorcycle in a busy marketplace in the predominantly Shiite Shula neighbourhood of north Baghdad, killing one and wounding 23.

A university professor, Nofal Ahmed, was killed by gunmen outside his home and police said they had also recovered the bodies of three people killed in and around the capital, one of them a policeman.

South of Baghdad, in the area known as the Triangle of Death for its insurgent activity, one policeman was killed and two wounded in a bomb attack targeting the under-fire force.

In Fallujah, a suicide bomber’s explosive vest failed to detonate properly at a checkpoint to the entrance of the city, prompting US marines to shoot him.

The daily death toll since the landmark December 15 parliamentary elections has been averaging nearly a dozen as insurgents target the fledgling security forces and other symbols of the new Iraq.

In an attack with a different kind of symbolism, assailants killed one and wounded two by firing rocket propelled grenades at a gas station in Kirkuk, a northern town where the insurgent Ansar Al Sunna group warned against implementing government-mandated price hikes.

The tripling of Iraq’s heavily subsidised gasoline price has sparked demonstrations in several Iraqi provinces.

US soldier killed

Back in the capital, a US soldier was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on his patrol, the US military said, without providing further details.

The death brings the US military death toll since the start of the war to at least 2,165 according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures.

The violence came as the United States’ top general acknowledged that Iraqis wanted coalition troops to go home “as soon as possible” and said US troop levels in Iraq were now being re-assessed on a monthly basis.

The admission by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine General Peter Pace followed a decision by the Pentagon to reduce the current level of 160,000 soldiers in Iraq by two army brigades, which amounts to about 7,000 soldiers.

“Understandably, Iraqis themselves would prefer to have coalition forces leave their country as soon as possible,” Pace said in a Christmas Day interview on Fox News Sunday.

“They don’t want us to leave tomorrow, but they do want us to leave as soon as possible.”

The new violence on the ground came as the count continued following parliamentary elections, with Sunni Arab factions crying foul.

With preliminary results showing the main Shiite alliance headed for a majority in the first full-term legislature since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, calls proliferated over the weekend for the formation of a national unity government involving all of Iraq’s ethnic and confessional groups.

Iraqi politicians have come under intense pressure from the US-led coalition to agree a new administration as quickly as possible to avoid the sort of prolonged uncertainty that followed January’s elections and was widely credited with fanning the insurgency in Sunni areas.

Meanwhile, the Arab League appointed former Sudanese foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail as its special envoy to Iraq to prepare an upcoming reconciliation conference.

In November, more than 100 Iraqi politicians met in Cairo and agreed to hold a reconciliation conference at the end of February, involving all the country’s different ethnic and confessional groups.

Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko arrived in Iraq for a surprise visit as his country wrapped up a withdrawal of most of its troops.

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