US troops staged a series of raids in Mosul and elsewhere in northern and central Iraq, arresting dozens, and insurgents stepped up their attacks two weeks ahead of national elections, ambushing a car carrying a prominent female candidate and killing 24 people in other assaults.
US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz conceded that US and Iraqi forces cannot stop "extraordinary" intimidation by insurgents before the Jan. 30 vote.
Underscoring the precarious security situation, Salama al-Khafaji was ambushed in central Baghdad on Sunday by gunmen wearing police uniforms, but she escaped injury when her bodyguards returned fire, an aide said. It was the second attempt since May on the life of al-Khafaji, who is running on the favored slate endorsed by the country's main Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
US and Iraqi officials have insisted that the elections go ahead as scheduled, despite the persistent violence.
Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer said that if the elections were postponed for six months, there was no guarantee the violence would wane. The insurgents "might lay down for two or three months, then carry out attacks again," he said.
Most of the violence occurred around Kut, southeast of Baghdad, and the northern city of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city.
Near Kut, three Iraqi policemen were killed in one shooting and three Iraqi National Guard officers were killed by a hand grenade in another attack. As mourners gathered for the policemen's funeral, a suicide attacker blew himself up in the crowd, killing himself and seven others.
Gunmen also shot dead an Iraqi translator for a Filipino company working on water projects for multinational forces near Kut, a medical official said.
In Mosul, insurgents shot dead a member of a local government council. They also set off explosives as a US convoy passed, damaging a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, but no casualties were immediately reported.
A mortar also damaged a school in Mosul to be used as a polling place. And four other mortar rounds blasted schools in relatively quiet Basra, in the south, also slated to serve as polling centers.
Early yesterday, insurgents opened fire at a checkpoint in central Iraq, killing seven Iraqi National Guard soldiers, about 55km northeast of Baghdad, near the troubled city of Baquba, officials said.
Even in heavily Shiite areas of south-central Iraq, which is far more stable than Mosul or Baghdad, several election workers have been threatened and resigned in recent days, a senior US Embassy official said Sunday in Hillah while outlining election preparations there.
"Most expect a high turnout if things seem quiet enough. There is some worry if you have a series of car bombs, people will think twice about coming," the official said.
Elsewhere in central Baghdad, insurgents attacked an Iraqi National Guard patrol on the east side of the Tigris river, then melted into the crowd in the open market area, sending shoppers running. Sounds of heavy machine-gun and automatic-weapons fire reverberated for nearly an hour along Haifa street on the western side of the river.
Wolfowitz, speaking in Jakarta, Indonesia, acknowledged that the security threat was worse than in last October's nationwide balloting in Afghanistan and that it was impossible to guarantee "absolute security" against the "extraordinary intimidation that the enemy is undertaking."