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Iraq official discourages demonstrations
Updated: 2005-03-28 00:24

Iraq's interior minister warned citizens Monday not to hold protests, saying the gatherings were an invitation for a large-scale terrorist attack. His comments came a day after government bodyguards opened fire on a group of employees demanding higher wages, killing one person.

Interim Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, likely to be out of job once the new government takes over, said the protest was among "attempts to destabilize the situation" in Iraq. He accused the protesters of trying to enter the office of Science and Technology Minister Rashad Mandan Omar and said the bodyguards where just doing their job by protecting the official.

Haithem Jassim, one of three people injured in the melee, said the demonstrators were unarmed.

Iraqis elected a new parliament on Jan. 30 in the first free elections in 50 years, but progress in forming the new government has been slow. Officials have acknowledged that has caused a gap in some services, frustrating citizens.

But al-Naqib warned against future protests, saying they are a perfect target for insurgent bombings.

"Iraq has witnessed more bloodshed than it should," he said. "We are witnessing a situation in which Iraqi blood is becoming very cheap."

He added that Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was "surrounded in more than one area, and we hope for the best. He's moving between more than one area."

Iraqi and U.S. officials have arrested several people linked to al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq, but he has eluded detention.

Al-Zarqawi's organization has claimed responsibility for kidnappings and killings across Iraq. On Sunday, militants posted a video on the Internet showing the purported execution of a man identifying himself as Interior Ministry official Col. Ryadh Gatie Olyway.

Al-Naqib outlined progress by the fledging security forces, predicting that U.S. troops would be able to slowly begin pulling out of the country, and that "hopefully, within 18 months we will be capable of securing Iraq." However, he did not talk about a timeline for a complete withdrawal.

Violence continued Monday, with gunmen opening fire on a car carrying Abdul Karim Fahad Abbass as he headed to work in Baghdad's sprawling southeastern Doura quarter, killing the neighborhood station chief and his driver, Capt. Falah al-Muhimadawi said.

Across the Tigris River that bisects Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol in the Hay Al-Amil area, killing one policeman and wounding five others, Capt. Thalib Thamir said.

In Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up near a police patrol that was protecting a holy shrine. Two policemen and three civilians were killed, police and hospital officials said. At least five other people were injured.

In the northern city of Mosul, two Iraqi army soldiers were injured when attackers opened fire on their car, Dr. Bahaa al-Deen al-Bakry said. The two were dressed in civilian clothes at the time of the attack, he said.

A university professor, Waad Mohammed Hussein, was also fatally shot as he was driving from home to work in the Zanjely neighborhood, said al-Bakry said.

Insurgents appear to be focusing attacks on Iraqi security forces, who are slowly taking over the fight against Iraq's insurgency in an effort that U.S. officials hope will pave the way for an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.

In Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, 150 special forces and 50 border guards graduated Monday, the latest additions to Iraq's growing security forces.

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