Fierce clashes in eastern Baghdad left at least 11 Iraqi policemen dead Tuesday, a hospital official said, and gunmen assassinated a senior Iraqi judge in a series of slayings that highlight the grave security risks in the run-up to this weekend's elections.
Amid the violence, Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said the time was not right to talk of a U.S. troop withdrawal and that Iraq must first build up its security forces to confront the insurgents.
"Others spoke about the immediate withdrawal or setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces," Allawi told reporters on Tuesday. "I will not deal with the security matter under political pretexts and exaggerations that do not serve Iraq and its people."
"I will not set final dates" for the withdrawal of international forces "because setting final dates will be futile and dangerous," Allawi said.
In other developments:
With few exceptions, Iraqi authorities have not acted to stop the mistreatment, the report said. International police advisers, largely funded by the U.S. government, "have turned a blind eye to these rampant abuses," it said. Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 90 detainees in Iraq, of whom 72 claimed to have been tortured or abused.
The Iraqi government acknowledged there were abuses and said it had launched its own investigation.
Fighting erupted Tuesday in Baghdad's eastern Rashad neighborhood as Iraqi police fired on insurgents who were handing out leaflets warning people not to vote in Sunday's national elections.
About the same time and in the same neighborhood, insurgents opened fire on police who were checking out a report of a possible car bomb. Seven police died in the ambush, according to policeman Khazim Hussein.
Another bomb blew off the gate of a secondary school in the neighborhood and gunmen opened fire on Iraqi and U.S. forces responding to the blast. A witnesses said two Iraqi policemen and an insurgent were killed.
Altogether, 11 policeman were killed in the various clashes, according to an official at Kindi Hospital.
Officials have warned of a surge in violence around Sunday's national elections, which insurgents have vowed to disrupt.
The slain judge was identified as Qais Hashim Shameri, secretary general of the judges council in the Justice Ministry. Assailants sprayed his car with bullets in an attack that also wounded the judge's driver.
Assailants also shot dead a man who worked for a district council in western Baghdad as he was on his way to work, police said.
In a third ambush, gunmen firing from a speeding car wounded three staffers from the Communications Ministry as they were going to work, police Lt. Iyman Abdul-Hamid said. The three workers, one of them a woman with serious injuries, were rushed to a hospital.
Attackers also shot dead the son of an Iraqi translator working with U.S. troops, police said.
A police colonel was also gunned down along with his 5-year-old daughter on Monday as he was driving in southern Baghdad, officials said Tuesday. Col. Nadir Hassan was in charge of police protection forces for electric power facilities in two provinces flanking the capital.
Iraqis are to choose a 275-member National Assembly and legislatures in each of the 18 provinces in Sunday's balloting. Voters in the Kurdish-ruled area of the north will also elect a new regional parliament.
Many Sunni Arabs are expected to boycott the elections, either to express opposition to the process or for fear of reprisals.
On Tuesday, militants handed out flyers in Baghdad promising that rebels would wash the streets with the blood of voters and shower polling stations with bombs, mortar fire and rockets.
The leaflets, which didn't bear the name of any militant group, warned that "those who dare to stand in the lines of death to participate in the elections will be responsible for the consequences that will be heavy."
"He will not be able to imagine what will happen to him and his family for taking part in this crusaders' conspiracy to occupy the land of Islam," the flyers said.
Allawi promised to "build a strong Iraqi security force" that will be able to take responsibility for protecting Iraqis who participate in the election.
There has been speculation that the new Iraqi government to be chosen after the weekend elections might ask the Americans to begin negotiations for their departure from the country — as demanded by Sunni Arab insurgents as well as members of the Sunni clergy.
However, none of the major political figures contesting the election has publicly called for such a step.