BAGHDAD -- US troops staged raids in Mosul and elsewhere in northern and central Iraq yesterday, arresting dozens, while insurgents stepped up attacks two weeks ahead of national elections, ambushing a car carrying a prominent candidate and killing 17 people in other assaults.
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 Khafaji, was ambushed in central Baghdad 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 Khafaji, who is running on the slate endorsed by the main Shi'ite Muslim cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
US and Iraqi officials have insisted that the elections proceed 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 a 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 other people.
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 reported late yesterday.
A mortar also damaged a school in Mosul that was to be used as a polling place. Four other mortar rounds blasted schools in relatively quiet Basra, in the south, also slated to serve as polling centers.
Even in heavily Shi'ite areas of south-central Iraq, which is far more stable than Mosul or Baghdad, several election workers have been threatened and have resigned in recent days, a senior US Embassy official said yesterday in Hillah while outlining election preparations.
''Most expect a high turnout if things seem quiet enough," the official said. ''There is some worry if you have a series of car bombs, people will think twice about coming."
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, 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 the nationwide balloting in Afghanistan in October 2004 and that it was impossible to guarantee ''absolute security" against the ''extraordinary intimidation that the enemy is undertaking" in Iraq.
''There was intimidation in Afghanistan -- the Taliban threatened all kinds of violence against people who registered or people who voted," he said. ''But I don't believe they ever got around to shooting election workers in the street or kidnapping the children of political candidates."
An Associated Press poll of Americans indicated that 53 percent surveyed said they were not optimistic that a stable government will take hold in Iraq.
Around Mosul, the US Army's Stryker Brigade Combat Team detained 11 suspected insurgents, including an alleged cell leader, and seized weapons and bomb-making material in several weekend raids -- part of a strategy to secure the city short of launching an all-out offensive.
The Mosul area has emerged as a major flash point between US and Iraqi forces and the insurgents, raising fears that the election cannot proceed in much of the city.
US and Iraqi officials are scrambling to recruit police and election workers in Mosul after thousands resigned in the face of rebel intimidation. Similar mass resignations are thought to have occurred in other Sunni Muslim areas of northern, central, and western Iraq.
Meanwhile, the ministry announced that Iraq expects to resume pumping crude oil from its northern oil fields to the Turkish export terminal of Ceyhan in 10 days.
The flow of oil through the northern pipeline has halted since a Dec. 18 explosion by saboteurs.
Elsewhere, the body of a man was found in a street in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi with a paper on his back identifying him as an Egyptian citizen.
''This will be the punishment of anyone who deals with American forces," the note said.