Suicide bomber strikes near Allawi headquarters

A suicide driver detonated a car bomb at a guard post outside the Iraqi prime minister’s party headquarters in Baghdad on Monday, injuring at least 10 people. The al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq claimed responsibility a day after its leader declared all-out war on democracy.

Mortar rounds slammed into an Iraqi National Guard camp near Baghdad International airport on Monday, as the rumble of distant explosions reverberated through the capital. There was no report of casualties in the mortar attack.

The suicide bomber struck at a police checkpoint on the road leading to Ayad Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord offices in central Baghdad, shaking the city centre with a thunderous explosion.
Among the wounded were eight police officers and two civilians, said Dr Mudhar Abdul-Hussein of Yarmouk hospital.

Al-Qaeda’s wing in Iraq said in an internet posting that “one of the young lions in the suicide regiment” carried out the attack against the party office of Allawi, “the agent of the Jews and the Christians”.

The attacks occurred six days before Iraq’s crucial national elections, the first since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Insurgents have condemned the elections and vowed to disrupt them.

In an audiotape posted on Sunday on the web, a speaker claiming to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, declared “fierce war” on democracy and said anyone who takes part in next weekend’s Iraqi elections will be considered “an infidel”.

“We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology,” the speaker said. “Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it.”

The speaker warned Iraqis to be careful of “the enemy’s plan to implement so-called democracy in your country”. He said the Americans have engineered the election to install Shi’ite Muslims in power. Al-Zarqawi, who is a Sunni Arab like most of the insurgents in Iraq, has in the past branded Shi’ites as heretics.

US offers $25m reward

The United States has offered a $25-million reward for al-Zarqawi’s capture or death—the same amount as for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

During weekend appearances on American television, the US ambassador to Iraq acknowledged there are serious security problems ahead of this weekend’s landmark ballot, in which Iraqis will choose a national legislature that will run the country and draft a permanent Constitution.

Legislatures in 18 provinces and a regional Parliament in the Kurdish-run areas of the north will also be elected.

American and Iraqi officials have warned they expect rebels to unleash bloodshed and mayhem to keep voters from the polls in what supporters are advertising as the first free election in this country since the overthrow of Iraq’s monarchy in 1958.

During the weekend talk shows, US ambassador John Negroponte acknowledged an increase in rebel intimidation of Iraqi officials and security forces, and said serious security problems remain in the Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad.

“But security measures are being taken, by both the multinational forces here in Iraq as well as the Iraqi armed forces and police,” Negroponte told Fox News Sunday.

“There will be some problematic areas ... But even there, great efforts are being made to enable every Iraqi eligible to do so to be able to vote,” he said.

Three US soldiers were wounded on Sunday in a mortar attack in Samarra, north of Baghdad, the US command said. One of the soldiers was evacuated to a US military hospital in Germany with serious injuries.

Gunmen firing from a speeding car shot dead an Iraqi police lieutenant as he was returning home on Sunday night in Baghdad, an interior ministry official said. North of the capital, the deputy governor of Iraq’s Diyala province, Ghassan al-Khadran, escaped an assassination attempt on Monday morning as a roadside bomb struck his car.

Monday’s blast in Baghdad rattled buildings along the Tigris River in the centre of the city and sent black smoke rising above the skyline. US military helicopters cut through overcast skies above the scene.

Splintered police vehicles were engulfed in flames, and gunfire rattled after the explosion.

Earlier this month, a suicide car bomber targeted the same checkpoint outside the offices of Allawi’s party, killing four people and injuring 25.

Iraqi police had moved the roadblock of barbed wire and metal traffic barriers further away from Allawi’s office after that attack.

The site is not far from Baghdad’s Green Zone, the heavily fortified compound that houses the US Embassy and the offices of the Iraqi interim government. Insurgents have frequently targeted the district with mortar fire and car bombs.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press correspondent Sameer N Yacoub contributed to this report

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