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Ukraine Mulls Iraq Exit

The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday called for an immediate withdrawal of the nation's peacekeepers from Iraq — the fourth-largest contingent in the U.S.-led coalition.

The non-binding vote comes a day after outgoing President Leonid Kuchma ordered the foreign and defense ministries to develop a plan for withdrawing Ukraine's troops from Iraq within the first half of 2005. President-elect Viktor Yushchenko also supports a withdrawal.

The parliament's call came two days after eight Ukrainian soldiers died in an explosion at an ammunition dump in Iraq. The blast was reported as an accident, but a top commander later raised suspicions that it could have been a terrorist action.

A series of attacks by insurgents who are trying to disrupt a landmark Jan. 30 national election continued in Iraq.

A roadside bomb that missed a passing U.S. military convoy killed seven Iraqis in a minibus on Tuesday, police and hospital sources said, while a suicide car bomb at police headquarters in Tikrit killed six.

The last two days have seen a new surge of attacks, with four roadside bombings and suicide attacks on Iraqi and American forces on Monday.

In other developments:

  • A former Navy SEAL says he saw fellow SEALs and CIA officials kick, choke and eye-gouge detainees at a U.S. military base in Iraq. The former SEAL testified at a military hearing Monday that he saw "interrogation by means of abuse" take place at Camp Jenny Pozzi, the SEAL base at Baghdad International Airport.
  • Former members of the military unit accused of assaulting Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib prison took turns testifying against the scandal's alleged ringleader, saying he laughed while forcing prisoners to pose naked. Spc. Charles Graner Jr. is the first soldier accused in the scandal to go on trial. Three guards from the 372nd Military Police Company have pleaded guilty to abusing detainees in late 2003. Their plea deals required them to take the stand as prosecution witnesses against Graner, a 36-year-old Army reservist charged with conspiracy to maltreat Iraqi detainees, assault, dereliction of duty and committing indecent acts.
  • Iraqi policemen, soldiers and National Guardsmen are increasingly wearing ski masks on the job and lying to neighbors about their work to protect themselves from assassination, the Washington Post reports.

    The victims in Tuesday's civilian roadside bomb explosion were traveling in a bus in Yussifiyah, 10 miles south of Baghdad, when the blast occurred, said the director of the town's hospital, Dawoud al-Taie.

    Little other information was known about the Tikrit blast. U.S. military spokesman Maj. Neal O'Brien said six were killed, while police sources said 12 were wounded.

    "As the Iraqi police continue to get stronger, and continue to pose a threat to the insurgents and terrorists, they will be targeted," O'Brien said.

    In the central city of Samarra on Tuesday, a car bomb exploded near al-Razzaq Mosque — also when a U.S. military convoy was passing — in the central Moalmeen neighborhood, police Maj. Qahtan Mohammed said.

    O'Brien said one U.S. soldier was wounded and the driver of the car bomb was killed.

    At dawn on Tuesday, an explosion tore through a gas pipeline between Kirkuk and a refinery in Beiji. An official with the Northern Oil Company said the pipeline was destroyed and would take five days to repair.

    The official said another explosion hit a few pipelines that run next to one another in the Zegheitoun area, 35 miles southwest of Kirkuk. The extent of the damage wasn't immediately known.

    Insurgents have repeatedly targeted Iraq's oil infrastructure, denying the country much-needed reconstruction money. Oil exports to Turkey, the outlet for Iraq's northern fields, were halted because of a blast mid-November.

    After a relative lull in recent days, Monday saw a new surge of violence that included the roadside bombing of a heavily armored Bradley Fighting Vehicle — the second in a less than a week — killing two U.S. soldiers.

    The blast came hours after gunmen in a passing car assassinated Baghdad's deputy police chief and his son while they drove to work, part of a campaign to target Iraq's security forces. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility.

    American officials have cautioned that insurgents will escalate attacks in a bid to scuttle Jan. 30 elections. After a roadside bomb struck a Bradley on Thursday and killed seven soldiers, the Defense Department warned that militants were increasing the size and power of their bombs.

    The attack Monday on a Bradley in southwest Baghdad followed the same pattern.

    "It's fair to say that they are afraid of the elections, they are afraid of what the outcome will be and they want to do everything they can to derail that process because that's just one more step toward their demise," U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. James Hutton said. "This is probably an indication of their increase in effort and investment to derail the vote."

    In a suggestion that the insurgents were looking for new ways to intimidate voters, a militant group posted threats in at least two towns warning it would deploy "highly trained" snipers to target voters around Iraq during the elections.

    The statement, signed by the previously unknown Secret Republican Army, said 32 snipers will stalk voters outside polling in Wasit, a largely Shiite province south of Baghdad that includes Kut, Numaniyah and Suwaiyra. It did not say how many would be sent elsewhere.

    Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq's estimated 26 million people, say the country is far too dangerous for the vote later this month, and many are refusing to participate. Failure by the Sunni Arabs to participate in the vote would undermine the election's credibility.

    A number of election officials and government leaders have already fallen victim to brutal terror attacks, and many have received death threats. The most prominent victim in recent weeks was the governor of Baghdad, Ali al-Haidari, who was slain with six bodyguards on Jan. 4.

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