U.S. troops have arrested six suspects in the assassination of Baghdad’s provincial governor, the highest-ranking official hit so far in attacks to sabotage a Jan. 30 election, the U.S. military said on Wednesday.
Acting on a tip from residents, soldiers seized the suspected insurgents on Tuesday in a house in western Baghdad, officials said.
The capture of gunmen who carried out the Jan. 4 killing of Gov. Ali al-Haidri would mark a rare U.S. intelligence success against insurgents whose loosely knit cells have proved difficult to penetrate and have shown the ability to strike almost at will.
“We were able to act on this intelligence and detain these guys without firing a shot,” said Maj. Web Wright, an army spokesman. The military said the men were being held for questioning.
Al-Zarqawi group claimed assassination
A group led by al-Qaida ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, behind some of the bloodiest attacks since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, claimed responsibility for Haidri’s assassination, saying its fighters had struck down a “tyrant and American agent.”
The shooting underscored the vulnerability of Iraq’s new governing class and raised fresh doubts over whether fledgling security forces would be able to protect politicians and voters as the election draws near.
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that “pockets” of Iraq would be too dangerous to cast ballots but insisted such areas would be limited in number.
In the latest violence:
- Gunmen stopped three trucks carrying new Iraqi coins near the town of Salman Pak, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, on Tuesday and killed the drivers, stole the money and set the trucks on fire, a police official said. The trucks were carrying the money from the southern port city of Basra to the Central Bank of Iraq in Baghdad, the official said on condition of anonymity.
- A U.S. soldier was killed in action in Iraq’s volatile western Anbar province, a military statement said Wednesday. The statement said only that the soldier, assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, was killed Tuesday. The unit is based at Camp Fallujah west of Baghdad. The death brought to 1,356 the number of American troops killed in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003, including at least 1,069 died who as a result of hostile action.
- Insurgents detonated a roadside bomb and opened fire on a U.S.-Iraqi convoy in the volatile northern city of Mosul on Monday, killing three Iraqi National Guards, the military said. It said troops were delivering heaters and other supplies to a school.
Violence has surged in the run-up to Iraq’s Jan. 30 election, and Mosul has been a major trouble spot in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, Allawi discussed preparations for this month’s election by telephone with President Bush, and both leaders underscored the importance of going ahead with the vote as planned, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
The prime minister said at a news conference that “hostile forces are trying to hamper this event.”
Allawi plans 150,000-man army
“Certainly, there will be some pockets that will not be able to participate in the elections for these reasons, but we think that it will not be widespread,” Allawi said, adding that he plans to boost the size of the country’s army from 100,000 to 150,000 men by year’s end.
In a related development, L. Paul Bremer, former U.S. administrator in Iraq, defended the controversial decision by U.S.-led forces to disband Saddam Hussein’s army and bar senior Baathists from government jobs after what he called the “liberation” of the country.
The move has been criticized for pushing out-of-work military men and armed Saddam supporters into the ranks of the insurgency.
In an , Bremer said the decision “served an important strategic purpose and recognized realities on the ground after the war.”