A suicide bomber blew up an explosives-laden car near the prime minister's party headquarters on Monday, killing two police officers and one civilian and injuring 25 other Iraqis as insurgents pressed their campaign to disrupt national elections.
Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, according to his aides, was not inside the building in Baghdad's western district of Harithiya at the time of the blast.
Police said the yellow car exploded shortly before 10 a.m. Monday after trying to ram a police checkpoint outside the offices of the Iraqi National Accord party in a western Baghdad district.
The driver was killed in addition to the two policemen and civilian. Eighteen other officers were among the wounded as well as seven civilians. Witnesses said machine-gun fire broke out after the explosion, which set fire to three police vehicles.
Car bombings have become a standard feature of the deadly insurgency in Iraq ahead of the elections scheduled for Jan. 30. On Sunday, a car bombing killed at least 22 national guardsmen and their driver. Ten other people were killed in separate attacks.
The worst attack Sunday was in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, when a car blew up alongside a bus carrying Iraqi national guard troops. Police Lt. Haidar Karar said 22 guardsmen were killed along with their driver.
It was the deadliest assault on Iraqi security forces since October, when insurgents gunned down about 50 guardsmen at a fake checkpoint. Balad is in the so-called Sunni Triangle, the scene of frequent assaults on U.S. and Iraqi security forces.
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U.S. officials have warned of violence ahead of the landmark vote for a national assembly, and the guerrillas have made good on those fears with tragic ease. Iraq's poorly equipped security forces usually have far less training than American troops, and attacks on them usually result in more casualties.
Sunday, prominent Shiite leaders called for unity with Sunni Arabs wanting to delay the vote but insisted it be held despite the violence.
Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, are eager for the vote to go ahead so they can take power long denied them when the Sunni Arab minority had power under Saddam Hussein. But they hope the Sunnis, who make up about 20 percent of the people, 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.
The Shiite leaders who spoke Sunday belong to the Unified Iraqi Alliance, a mainstream Shiite coalition running in the election. The group was expected to do well and its leaders likely will have top government posts if the vote goes through.
"The Iraqi Unified Alliance calls for national talks to stand against the civil war or sectarianism conflict," said Sheikh Humam Hamoudy, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is part of the coalition. "We call for unity particularly with the Sunni brothers because there is a large plan to create a sectarian fight."
The Shiite leaders, who are backed by Iraq's most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said postponing the vote would only create more chaos in Iraq. They rejected comments purportedly made by Osama bin Laden in a tape released Monday in which the al-Qaida leader urged Muslims not to vote, calling the election illegitimate.
"We believe in the joint participation of all the components of the Iraqi people," said Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of SCIRI. "Bin Laden is interfering in the Iraqi affairs by calling his criminal followers to hinder Iraqis from voting."
Ahmad Chalabi, a former exile and one-time Pentagon confidant who led the Iraqi National Congress, said that while no Iraqi wants U.S.-led coalition forces to remain in Iraq, the alliance would not seek the troops' immediate withdrawal after the vote.