Six suspects held in Baghdad governor killing
U.S. troops have arrested six suspects in the assassination of Baghdad's provincial governor, the highest-ranking official hit so far in attacks to sabotage Iraq's Jan. 30 election, the military said on Wednesday.
Acting on a tip from residents, soldiers seized the suspected insurgents on Tuesday in a house in western Baghdad, U.S. officials said.
The capture of gunmen involved in the Jan. 4 killing of Governor Ali al-Haidri would mark a rare U.S. intelligence success against loosely knit guerrilla cells that strike almost at will and have proved difficult to penetrate.
"We were able to act on this intelligence and detain these guys without firing a shot," said spokesman Major Web Wright. The U.S. military said the men were being held for questioning.
The shooting underscored the vulnerability of Iraq's new governing class and raised fresh doubts over whether fledgling security forces would be able to protect politicians and voters as the election draws near.
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that "pockets" of Iraq would be too dangerous to vote.
In the latest attack, insurgents killed two Iraqi National Guards with a roadside bomb in the volatile northern city of Mosul on Wednesday. A bombing killed three National Guards overnight in a U.S.-Iraqi convoy that was delivering heaters and other supplies to a school, the U.S. military said.
BREMER DEFENDS DISBANDING SADDAM'S ARMY
Paul Bremer, former U.S. administrator in Iraq, defended the decision by U.S.-led forces to disband Saddam Hussein's army and bar senior Baathists from government jobs after what he called the "liberation" of the country.
In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Bremer said a key objective of the war had been to create a "New Iraq" after more than 30 years in which Saddam used the army and intelligence services "to inflict misery, torture and death."
The U.S. moves have been criticized for pushing military men and Saddam supporters into the ranks of the insurgency.
In a departure from their usual Islamic slogans, guerrillas launched a propaganda campaign with an English-language video urging U.S. troops to lay down their arms or face retribution.
Washington, which recently increased troop strength in Iraq to 150,000, has vowed to keep forces there until the country is safe. At least 1,067 troops have died in combat since the start of the war.
The U.S. force that scoured Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, cited by President Bush as justification for war, has abandoned its fruitless hunt to assist in counter-insurgency efforts, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
The 1,700-strong Iraq Survey Group (ISG) last month wrapped up physical searches for weapons of mass destruction and its mission has been refocused on gathering information to help U.S. forces in Iraq win the guerrilla war, the officials said, adding the ISG would continue to review documents and interview those with knowledge of Saddam's arms programs.
In recent months, insurgents have concentrated their firepower on Iraq's security services which are supposed to take over from U.S. forces when they leave the country.
More than a hundred security men have been killed in the past 10 days alone in bombings and ambushes by guerrillas who accuse them of collaborating with foreign occupiers.
Security forces will face their biggest test when Iraq holds elections that have raised fears of a bloodbath.
Bush spoke to Allawi by phone and they agreed the election should go ahead as planned despite growing calls for delays.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan acknowledged the elections would probably have some problems, but said: "We want to make sure there is as broad participation as possible in those elections. I think we all recognize that the election is not going to be perfect."
McClellan said the U.S. military was working to address "ongoing security challenges."
Leading Sunni Arab parties say they will boycott the poll because violence in the Sunni heartland will scare away voters and skew results to favor Iraq's majority Shi'ites, who expect to emerge dominant after years of oppression under Saddam.