BAGHDAD, Iraq — Sunni-led insurgents killed 19 people in Iraq on Wednesday, the opening day of Saddam Hussein’s trial , including six Shiites who were lined up at a factory and gunned down in front of their fellow workers, police said.
The day’s fatalities also included three election commission officials who were shot and killed on the outskirts of the capital in Abu Ghraib, as they drove home after another round of counting ballots from last weekend’s constitutional referendum, police said.
A bomb also went off at a famous monument in a Baghdad square honoring the 8th-century founder of Baghdad to whom Saddam often compared himself. The blast, which toppled the bust of Abu Jaafar Al-Mansour but caused no injuries, appeared to be a jab at the former dictator.
In addition, the military said that two coalition soldiers were killed — one American, the other British — in attacks Tuesday night.
Iraqis are still awaiting the outcome of last weekend’s referendum, as the slower-than-expected vote counting continued. Questions about the integrity of the vote and delays in getting marked ballots to the capital mean final results from the landmark vote won’t be announced until Friday at the earliest, officials said.
The returns have raised questions over the possibility of irregularities in the balloting — and have prompted an audit into an irregularly high number of “yes” votes.
An argumentative Saddam and seven senior members of his regime went on trial Wednesday for a 1982 massacre of about 150 Shiites in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad. He immediately challenged the legitimacy of the court and pleaded innocent to all charges.
The judge later adjourned the session until Nov. 28.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heralded the constitutional referendum and said the U.S. strategy in Iraq was to “clear areas from insurgent control, hold them securely, and build durable, national Iraqi institutions.”
Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the United States is working to dismantle the insurgent network and disrupt foreign support for them, maintain security in areas insurgents no longer hold, and build national institutions to “sustain security forces, bring rule of law, visibly deliver essential services, and offer the Iraqi people hope for a better economic future.”
Brutal attack in ‘Triangle of Death’
Wednesday’s worst insurgent attack occurred in a mostly Sunni region south of Baghdad known as the Triangle of Death because of all its militant groups.
About nine militants barged into a building materials factory near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, lined up all the workers and forced the six Shiite ones to identify themselves, said police Lt. Colonel Khalil Mohammed. The militants then tied up the hands of Shiites, shot them to death in front of the other workers, and fled in several stolen company cars, Mohammed said.
Insurgents opened fire on a police checkpoint near the Hai Al-Adil highway in a western Baghdad, killing four policemen and wounding 11, said police Capt. Qassim Hassan. The fighting continued for several hours, and it was not immediately known if any militants were hurt, Hassan said.
In other attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday, insurgents shot and killed Hakim Mirza, a municipal director, and his driver, in the Dora neighborhood, and Muhsin Chitheer in front of his home in the al-I’alam area, police said. Chitheer was a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi army that U.S. forces disbanded after invading in 2003.
U.S., British soldiers killed
A roadside bomb hit a U.S. Army patrol late Tuesday night, killing one soldier and wounding two near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, the military said. The attack raised to at least 1,981 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.
A British soldier also was killed by a roadside bomb late Tuesday night in the southern region of Basra, where most British forces are based, the Ministry of Defense said in London.
In Kirkuk, 180 miles north of the capital, a vehicle carrying Kurdish tribal leader Sheik Anwar Khalifa was hit by a car bomb, police said. He escaped unhurt, but a relative with him was injured, and one passer-by was killed and three wounded, police said.
Elsewhere in northern Iraq, insurgents shot and killed two men at a gas station near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said.
In Baghdad, the bombing of the famous monument honoring Al-Mansour knocked his bust off the top of a 30-foot-tall triangular monument, said police Capt. Qassim Hussein. The attack occurred at 1:30 a.m. in a northwestern area named after Al-Mansour, a caliph, or supreme religious leader of the Islamic empire, who built Baghdad on the banks of the Tigris River in 762 A.D.
During his dictatorial rule from 1979 to 2003, Saddam often tried to compare himself and his accomplishments to those of Al-Mansour. Police said it was not immediately known who had launched the attack or what motivated it.
Examining suspect ‘yes’ votes
The audit of the referendum by Iraq’s Electoral Commission will examine results that show an oddly high number of “yes” votes — apparently including the crucial provinces of Ninevah and Diyala that could determine the outcome.
The commission and United Nations officials supervising the count have made no mention of fraud and have cautioned that the unexpected votes are not necessarily incorrect.
But Sunni Arab leaders who oppose the charter have claimed the vote was fixed in Ninevah, Diyala and elsewhere to swing them to a “yes” after initial results reported by provincial officials indicated the constitution had passed.
Both provinces are believed to have slight Sunni Arab majorities that likely voted “no” in large numbers, along with significant Shiite and Kurdish communities that largely cast “yes” ballots. But initial results indicated about 70 percent of voters supported the charter while only 20 percent rejected.
Sunni opponents needed to win over either Diyala or Ninevah to veto the constitution. Sunnis had to get a two-thirds “no” vote in any three of Iraq’s 18 provinces to defeat the charter, and they appeared to have gotten it in Anbar and Salahuddin, both heavily Sunni regions.
Sunnis fear the constitution would divide Iraq into three districts: oil-rich Kurdish and Shiite mini states in the north and south, and a mostly Sunni region in western and central Iraq that would include a weak government in Baghdad.
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