IRAQ Insurgents increase bombs, mortar fire
Early election returns confirm low Sunni turnout.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Insurgents struck Iraq's security forces Monday with suicide bombs and mortar fire, killing more than 30 people as violence escalated after last week's election. First returns from the Sunni heartland confirmed many Sunnis stayed away from the polls, leaving the field to Shiite and Kurdish candidates.
Election officials acknowledged thousands of people in the Mosul area who wanted to vote during the Jan. 30 balloting were unable to because of security. Fewer than a third of the planned 330 polling centers in Mosul and the surrounding province managed to open on election day, officials said.
A Kurdish ticket, meanwhile, pulled ahead of the list backed by U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in the race for the 275-member National Assembly, thanks to a surge of votes released Monday from the Kurdish self-governing area of the north. The Shiite-dominated ticket backed by the Shiite clergy leads among the 111 candidate lists.
U.S. troops manning a checkpoint Monday discovered four Egyptian technicians who had been kidnapped the day before in Baghdad, an Egyptian diplomat said. The four were freed and some arrests were made, he added.
Monday's deadliest attack occurred in Baqouba, where a suicide car bomber exploded his vehicle outside the gates of a provincial police headquarters, killing 15 people and wounding 17, police Col. Mudhahar al-Jubouri said. Many victims were looking for jobs as policemen, al-Jubouri said.
In Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, a suicide bomber wandered into a crowd of security personnel at a hospital and blew up himself, killing 12 people and wounding seven, U.S. officials said.
Insurgents shelled a police station in Mosul with more than a dozen mortar rounds Monday, killing three civilians, police said. And one Iraqi was killed and four others wounded when mortar shells exploded near the City Council building in Samarra, hospital officials said.
In Ramadi, an insurgent center west of Baghdad, the body of an Iraqi National Guardsman was found on a city street. Witnesses said he had been shot.
Separate postings on a Web site claimed responsibility for the Baqouba and Mosul attacks in the name of Al-Qaida in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The claims could not be verified.
The attacks were the latest sign that insurgents are stepping up attacks against Iraq's security forces, which the United States hopes can assume a greater role once a newly elected government takes office.
The bombings and kidnappings have shattered a brief downturn in violence after the Jan. 30 elections, when Iraqis chose a new National Assembly in the first nationwide balloting since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.
A final tally was expected by week's end, but partial returns point to a landslide by Shiite Muslim candidates endorsed by their clerics. Shiites comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.
Kurds, estimated at 15-20 percent of the population, gave most of their votes to a joint ticket made up of the two major Kurdish parties, which was in second with about 24 percent of the votes reported as of Monday.
Allawi's ticket trailed with about 13 percent of the vote, with the Shiite ticket leading with about half the votes. One of the Kurdish leaders, Jalal Talabani, has announced his candidacy for the presidency.
Many Sunni Arabs, estimated at 20 percent of the population and the core of the insurgency, are believed to have stayed home, either out of fear of insurgent reprisal or because of a boycott call by Sunni clerics.
Figures released Monday by the election commission from Salaheddin province, which includes Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, confirmed suspicions that many Sunnis avoided the polls.
With results in from 80 percent of the province's polling stations, the United Iraqi Alliance -- which is backed by the country's top Shiite clerics -- had the most votes with 27,645. The Kurdish Alliance was next with 18,791 votes.
A party headed by the Sunni Arab president, Ghazi al-Yawer, received only 15,832 votes. The faction led by U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who ran on a law and order platform, got just over 13,000.