Insurgents pressed their bloody campaign to sabotage Iraq's Jan. 30 elections with three car bombs and a roadside attack Monday, one near the prime minister's party headquarters in Baghdad and others targeting Iraqi troops and a U.S. security company.
At least 16 people were killed, bringing the toll over two days to about 50 and emphasizing how poorly prepared Iraqi's interim government is to provide security before the vote. U.S. and Iraqi leaders have repeatedly warned that the guerrillas would step up violence, but both have been unable to prevent attacks.
The country's defense minister, meanwhile, traveled to Egypt to seek help in getting Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority to take part in the elections. Leaders of the Sunni community, about 20 percent of Iraqis, say the country is far too unsafe to hold the vote.
A low turnout because of the fear of violence or a Sunni boycott could undermine the legitimacy of the country's first free elections since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958.
Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan suggested that if Sunnis agreed to participate, the vote could be postponed by a few weeks to give them time to prepare. Iraq's Sunni areas, mostly surrounding and west of Baghdad, have seen some of the worst violence in recent weeks.
But Fareed Ayar, a spokesman for Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission, seemed adamant that no delay was envisioned. "The commission is still working on holding the elections on schedule," he said.
In other developments:
Late Monday afternoon, a suicide bomber plowed his car into an SUV in a convoy that had just left the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area in the heart of Baghdad that houses the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Bob Callahan said the convoy was carrying employees of the New York-based risk consulting group Kroll Inc. but had no details. An Associated Press photographer saw three bodies burning inside the wrecked vehicle.
A Kroll spokesman refused to comment, saying the company was investigating. The checkpoint is the main Green Zone exit for trips to Baghdad International Airport west of the city, and American contractors and diplomats commonly make the journey along the dangerous airport road in SUVs.
Earlier in the day, an explosive-laden car blew up when the driver rammed a checkpoint outside the offices of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's National Accord party. Two policemen, a civilian and the driver died, and 25 people were wounded. Witnesses said machine-gun fire broke out after the explosion, which set fire to three police vehicles.
Allawi, a secular member of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority was not at the building when the blast occurred, his aides said. The Ansar al-Sunnah Army — known for numerous deadly attacks against U.S. troops, Iraqi forces and politicians — claimed responsibility for the strike.
"One of Islam's lions managed to carry out a heroic martyrdom operation targeting a large bunch of Iraqi police agents responsible for guarding the headquarters of the National Accord of the apostate Allawi," a statement posted on the group's Web site said.
A roadside bomb in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit killed at least six Iraqi National Guardsmen and wounded four, police said.
In Balad, about 50 miles north of the capital, a suicide car bomber killed four Iraqi soldiers and wounded 14, U.S. military spokesman Neal E. O'Brien said. "Anti-Iraqi forces continue to target the Iraqi National Guard" because the force is creating conditions for "successful elections," he said.
An Iraqi policeman was died and two were wounded when a beheaded, booby-trapped corpse exploded in the northern city of Mosul as "Iraqi police officers secured the site and attempted to search the remains in order to identify the body," a government statement said. It was not clear when the incident happened.
"This is another example of how the criminals and terrorists — attempting to thwart Iraq's efforts to conduct free and fair elections — have no regard for their fellow countrymen," the government said.
The attacks followed a string of attacks Sunday that killed more than 30 people. The worst was a suicide car bombing of a bus full of National Guardsmen that killed 22 soldiers and their driver.
Shiites, who account for 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, are eager for the elections to go ahead so they can take power held by Sunnis since Iraq was carved out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. But they hope the Sunnis will participate lest the vote be considered illegitimate.
Iraq's insurgents, believed to be predominantly Sunni, repeatedly have targeted Shiites in apparent attempts to widen sectarian rifts.
Shaalan, the defense minister, told reporters in Cairo that he had asked the leaders of predominantly Sunni Egypt to try to persuade Iraq's Sunnis to take part in the vote.
"We could postpone the date to let all Iraqis go to the polls in one day" if that would accommodate Sunnis, Shaalan said.
Shaalan is known for taking an independent line, at one point prompting Allawi to publicly distance his interim administration from Shaalan's statements.