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Baghdad Governor Assassinated

Gunmen assassinated the governor of Baghdad province and six of his bodyguards on Tuesday, and a suicide tanker truck bomber killed 10 people at an Interior Ministry commando headquarters in western Baghdad, the latest in a steady drumbeat of insurgent violence ahead of Jan. 30 elections.

Governor Ali al-Haidari's three-vehicle convoy was passing through Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Hurriyah when unidentified gunmen opened fire, said the chief of his security detail, who asked only to be identified as Maj. Mazen.

"Our convoy was moving in Hurriyah and they came from different directions and opened fire at us," said Maj. Mazen, reached on al-Haidari's cell phone.

Al-Haidari was the target of another assassination attempt last year that killed two of his bodyguards. He is the highest-ranking Iraqi official killed since the former president of the now defunct Governing Council, Abdel-Zahraa Othman, better known as Izzadine Saleem, was assassinated in May.

Speaking in Phuket, Thailand, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was saddened to hear of al-Haidari's death. It comes with the government trying to plan for Jan. 30 elections for a national assembly, a vote the insurgents have promised to sabotage.

"It once again shows that there are these murderers and terrorists - former regime elements in Iraq - who don't want to see elections. They don't want the people of Iraq to chose new leaders. They want to go back to the past. They want to go back to the tyranny of Saddam Hussein's regime and that's not going to happen," Powell said.

On Nov. 1, al-Haidari's deputy Hatim Kamil was shot dead while on his way to work. The Ansar al-Sunnah Army militant group claimed responsibility for that attack.

In other recent developments:

  • More Iraqi interim government officials are calling for the postponement of Jan. 30 elections to ensure a higher Sunni voter turnout, a sign that a campaign of violence might be taking its toll on Iraqi resolve. The country's electoral commission, however, insists that voting take place as scheduled. Sunni Arab clerics have called for a boycott and Iraq's largest Sunni political party announced it was pulling out of the race because of poor security that has seen insurgents kill scores of Iraqi security forces, as well as several election officials, in recent weeks.
  • The suicide bomber who killed 22 people when he blew himself up in a U.S. mess hall in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul was a Saudi medical student, an Arab newspaper reported Monday. Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat identified him as 20-year-old Ahmed Said Ahmed al-Ghamdi, citing unnamed friends of the man's father. The friends said members of an Iraqi resistance group contacted al-Ghamdi's father to tell him his son was the suicide bomber who carried out the Dec. 21 attack, the deadliest on an American installation in Iraq.
  • An Iraqi policeman was killed and two others were wounded when a beheaded, booby-trapped corpse exploded in Mosul as police were trying to identify the body.
  • European Union officials said Monday the bloc is sticking to a decision not to send observers to this month's Iraqi elections because of the security situation there.

    Also Tuesday, a tanker truck packed with explosives detonated near an Interior Ministry commando headquarters in western Baghdad, killing 10 people and wounding about 60, the Interior Ministry said.

    A suicide driver rammed the truck at an Iraqi police checkpoint near the headquarters, which is also near an entrance of the Green Zone, the fortified home of the U.S. Embassy and the interim Iraqi government.

    Eight Iraqi commandos and two civilians were killed, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

    Tuesday's attacks came a day after violence that saw three car bombs and a roadside attack, one near the prime minister's party headquarters in Baghdad and others targeting Iraqi troops and a U.S. security company convoy. At least 16 people were killed Monday.

    Iraq's insurgents have repeatedly targeted government officials and security forces around the country, saying they are allies of the U.S.-led coalition.

    Britain's Foreign Office said Tuesday that three Britons were killed in Iraq a day earlier. Britain's Press Association reported that the three Britons were killed along with an American in the car bombing of the U.S. security company.

    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.

    Britain's Press Association reported that a spokeswoman at Kroll's global headquarters in New York confirmed that two victims were British employees of Kroll and that another two were clients of the company.

    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.

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