Mon, Nov 22, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Iraq sets Jan. 30 as date for elections

AP , BAGHDAD, IRAQ

Iraq's Electoral Commission yesterday set national elections for Jan. 30, and a spokesman said ballots would be cast nationwide, including in areas now wracked by violence.

Iraqis will go to the polls to choose a national assembly, which will among other things draft a permanent constitution. The vote is seen as a major step toward building democracy after years of rule by Saddam Hussein.

Farid Ayar, spokesman of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said areas still beset by violence -- including the insurgent strongholds of Fallujah and Ramadi, as well as northern Mosul -- will participate in the elections.

Elsewhere, the US military said that Iraqi and US forces have detained more than 1,450 people in connection with the Fallujah offensive. More than 400 detainees have already been released after being deemed to be non-combatants.

Northwest of Baghdad, US forces conducted a raid to capture a "high-value target" associated with Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an area northwest of Baghdad, a US spokesman said yesterday. Three people were detained.

Late Saturday, Marines conducted a "limited-scale" raid to disrupt insurgent activities in the Haqlaniyah area, about 215km northwest of Baghdad, said 1st Lieutenant Lyle Gilbert.

Three people were detained and a weapons cache was confiscated, Gilbert said. He did not specify whether any of the three was the "high-value target" that US forces were seeking.

Eyewitnesses said US troops raided a Sunni mosque Saturday night, arresting its cleric -- Douraid Fakhry -- and detaining dozens of residents in nearby homes during a sweep of Haqlaniyah. The US military denied that a mosque was raided in the area.

The raid on the mosque in the Haqlaniyah area comes as part of the government campaign against some hardline Sunni clerics whom the government accuse of fueling the insurgency in Iraq and of using their mosques as stores for weapon caches.

A suicide car bomber attempted to kill the police chief of Hillah by ramming his car into General Qais Abdullah's vehicle, police said yesterday. Captain Hadi Hatif said the attacker's car detonated before it made contact, killing only the bomber in the Saturday incident.

Abdullah was on his way to work when the attack happened in this central Iraqi town about 100km south of Baghdad, Hatif said.

A day earlier, another suicide bomber exploded his car outside the Jabal police station in Hillah, targeting the police commander. Only the bomber died.

Iraqi and US forces have begun security operations in several areas around the country -- including northern Mosul -- in an attempt to control insurgent activity.

A joint operation by Iraqi police and National Guards in Baghdad and central Babil province will be launched this week against insurgents operating in a belt of cities south of the capital, police said yesterday.

Meanwhile, an explosion yesterday near a Shiite mosque in the central Iraqi city of Kufa injured one person, an officer said. A subsequent raid of the mosque grounds netted a weapons cache believed to belong to a Shiite militia.

The blast, apparently from a homemade bomb, detonated as a worker searched through the trash near the al-Kufa mosque, said Lieutenant Aquil Jawad of the Iraqi National Guard.

Iraqi security troops sealed the area and searched the mosque grounds. A cache of 20 rocket-propelled grenades, five mortar rounds and a missile was uncovered in a yard behind the mosque, Jawad said, adding the weapons likely belonged to the Shiite militia.

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