Suicide car bomber kills 7 in Iraq's north
A suicide car bomber killed seven people, five of them Iraqi National Guards, near the northern town of Baiji Friday, as the insurgent campaign to wreck the Jan. 30 election gave no sign of a New Year lull.
Elsewhere in the Sunni Arab heartlands, another National Guard was found shot dead near Falluja with a note on his body warning others against working with U.S. forces.
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told Iraqis in a live New Year's Eve phone-in on state television that his government would still do all it could to ensure voters' safety.
"Iraq will be solid and strong in its political and social system, a united Iraq in a stable and secure region," Allawi said later in New Year message to the nation as the familiar sound of occasional mortar fire echoed over central Baghdad.
Violence in the Sunni north and west may keep many in Saddam Hussein's once dominant Sunni minority away from the polls, causing complaints among their leaders that the new assembly may give exaggerated power to the Shi'ite majority -- an outcome that would complicate Washington's plans for ensuring stability.
Other tensions complicating the formation of a new government were raised when a senior leader in the autonomous Kurdish region demanded Arabs be excluded from the vote in the northern oil capital of Kirkuk, where the Kurds accuse Saddam's regime of ethnic cleansing in a bid to ensure Arab control.
A lull in attacks after U.S. forces stormed the Sunni bastion of Falluja, west of the capital, appears to have ended.
A note attached to the bullet-riddled body of the Guard found dead outside Falluja read: "This is the fate awaiting anyone who collaborates with the occupier."
U.S. forces are still fighting insurgents in parts of Falluja. Iraqi officials say hardened fighters withdrew from the city before the offensive and are still operating elsewhere.
Residents of the battered city have begun going home but most who fled the fighting remain in refugee camps, exacerbating Sunni resentment of the occupation. Returns picked up, with more than 5,000 people going through U.S. checkpoints Friday, the military said. But the total number of people to pass through is still only 16,000 out of a population of some 300,000.
At Siniya, west of the oil refining town of Baiji, a suicide bomber drove his car at a checkpoint, killing five National Guards and two civilians, Guard Captain Raad Jassim told Reuters. Two other civilians were shot dead by Guards nearby when they failed to stop at a checkpoint, hospital staff said.
In Mosul, scene of a suicide bombing at a U.S. base last week which cost the Americans their heaviest single casualty toll of the war, troops were active. They said they killed a gunman among a group which fired on them from a mosque.
U.S. soldiers in Mosul said they killed about 25 insurgents Wednesday, after an audacious frontal assault on an American outpost in which a soldier was killed and over a dozen wounded.
The group led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, endorsed this week by bin Laden as al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, posted a claim of responsibility for the attack on the Internet.
U.S. forces arrested 49 people around Duluiya overnight.
In Samarra, sporadic gunfire and explosions marked another day of skirmishing between guerrillas and U.S. troops. Two police officers were killed, police said.
The prime minister of autonomous Kurdistan, in the northern mountains, said that Arabs in Kirkuk should be denied the vote, accusing the present government of accepting the result of a deliberate campaign by Saddam to "Arabise" the city.
"They are playing with an issue of destiny for the Kurds and want to legitimize the present situation. They insist on denying more than 100,000 Kurds the franchise and let Arab families that used to live in the south vote," Nechirvan Barzani told Reuters.
"We don't want to create problems. But there is always the possibility that Kurds could pull out of the elections if our objections keep being ignored."