At least six people including three paramilitary policemen -- were killed in separate rebel strikes in Baghdad on Thursday, as the resistance kept up their campaign to derail Iraq's upcoming general election.
Wednesday's launch of the campaign for the Jan. 30 vote for a 275-member National Assembly was marred by an explosion near one of Shia Islam's holiest shrines in the southern city of Karbala.
The attack in the heartland of Iraqi's majority Shiite population killed eight people and wounded 40, including a prominent cleric, Sheik Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalayee.
Local leaders said the attack was an attempt by militants to fuel a civil war between the Shiites and the minority Sunnis.
The start of campaigning was subdued due to security fears, with no media blitzes or rallies.
In the capital, unidentified gunmen on Thursday shot dead Qassim Mehawi, deputy head of the Communications Ministry as he was heading to work, police officials said.
Eight of Mehawi's bodyguards were injured in the attack and were taken to the hospital.
Government officials are frequent targets of the insurgents, who accuse them of collaborating with the Americans.
In the west of the capital, a roadside bomb exploded near a passing SUV, badly damaging the vehicle, police said.
After the blast, gunmen opened up on the survivors with automatic fire, killing two foreigners and wounding two others, Al-Khadra police commissioner Ali Hussein Al-Hamadani said.
There was no immediate information on their nationality.
Al-Hamadani said three Iraqi National Guardsmen died and six others were injured when another roadside bomb exploded in western Baghdad as their pickup truck was driving by.
And a US soldier was wounded when an Abrams main battle tank he was riding in struck a mine near Beiji, 250km north of Baghdad, a spokesman said Thursday.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, several thousand Arab residents rallied Thursday in front of the governor's office to demand that the elections be postponed.
The protesters said they were worried that a campaign to return displaced Kurds to the city, where former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime drove out many Kurds and replaced them with Arabs from other areas, would alter Kirkuk's ethnic mix.
The electoral campaign kicked off as a government official said that Saddam Hussein's notorious right-hand man, Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali," will be the first among 12 former regime members to appear at an initial investigative court hearing next week.
Majid will be facing charges for crimes allegedly committed during Saddam's 35-year dictatorship.