Mon, Dec 27, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Latest attacks bring Christmas death toll to 24

AFP , BAGHDAD

Attacks against Iraq's fledgling security forces claimed more lives yesterday, bringing to at least 24 the number killed in three days of violence over the Christmas period.

With just five weeks to go to the Jan. 30 election, a US newspaper reported that the administration of US President George W. Bush was seeking to guarantee top level jobs for the country's Sunni Muslim minority regardless of the vote result.

Bush on Saturday thanked US forces stationed in Iraq and other hotspots, just days after a suicide bomb blast on a US military base in northern Iraq that killed 22 people, including 18 Americans, and wounded more than 70.

Turkey, meanwhile, said it was doing its best to free one of the country's richest businessmen, who has been missing for a week and is believed to have been abducted in Iraq.

About 150,000 US troops -- the highest number ever -- are being deployed in Iraq as violence continues to saturate the country ahead of next month's landmark legislative elections.

In a bid to stem strong opposition to the elections from the country's Sunni Muslims, the US administration is discussing with Iraqi leaders the possibility of guaranteeing Sunnis high-level posts in any future government even if they do not do well in the polls, The New York Times reported on its Web site.

Citing an unnamed Western diplomat, the newspaper said US officials had already raised with an aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, the possibility of adding some of the top vote-getters among the Sunni candidates to the 275-member legislature, even if they lose to non-Sunni candidates.

Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of the population of Iraq but were oppressed under toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, are expected to do well in the January vote while Sunnis fear losing their influence.

Meanwhile, Najaf police accused Damascus of being behind a bombing in the holy Shiite city one week ago that killed 52 and wounded scores, charging that a suspect "confessed that Syrian intelligence services had played a role".

A Syrian official dismissed the charge as "irresponsible," according to the official SANA news agency.

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