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Kurdish ticket gains; violence escalates

More than 30 killed in insurgents' attacks

BAGHDAD -- A Kurdish ticket pulled into second place ahead of the slate supported backed by US-backed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in the race for National Assembly seats, after a surge of votes released yesterday from the Kurdish-governed area of the north.

Overall, the Shi'ite-dominated ticket backed by the Shi'ite clergy continues to lead among the 111 candidate slates for the 275-member assembly.

Insurgents struck Iraq's security forces yesterday with suicide bombs and mortar fire, killing more than 30 people as violence escalated after last week's election.

First voting returns from the Sunni heartland confirmed yesterday that many Sunnis didn't vote, leaving the field to Shi'ite and Kurdish candidates.

Election officials acknowledged that 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.

In developments yesterday:

US troops staffing a checkpoint found 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.

The deadliest attack of the day occurred in Baqubah, where a suicide car bomber exploded his vehicle outside the gates of a provincial police headquarters, killing 15 people and wounding 17, police Colonel Mudhahar al-Jubouri said. Many victims were looking for jobs as policemen, Jubouri said.

In Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, a suicide bomber wandered into a crowd of security personnel at a hospital and blew himself up, killing 12 people and wounding seven, US officials said.

Insurgents shelled a police station in Mosul with more than a dozen mortar rounds, 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 has been shot.

An Internet posting in the name of the Jihad Organization pledged to release Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena in a few days because it was determined that she was not a spy and because Sunni clerics had appealed for her freedom. The statement's authenticity could not be verified. Sgrena, 56, a reporter for the communist daily Il Manifesto, was kidnapped Friday, and the Jihad Organization claimed responsibility.

Separate postings on an Internet site claimed responsibility for the Baqubah and Mosul attacks in the name of the Al Qaeda faction in Iraq, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The claims could not be verified.

A final tally was expected by week's end, but partial returns pointed to a landslide by Shi'ite Muslim candidates endorsed by their clerics. Shi'ites constitute about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. Kurds, estimated at 15 percent to 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 place with about 24 percent of the votes reported as of yesterday. Allawi's ticket trailed with about 13 percent of the vote, with the Shi'ite ticket leading with about half the votes.

Many Sunni Arabs, estimated at 20 percent of the population, are believed to have stayed home, either out of fear of insurgent reprisal or because of a boycott call by Sunni clerics.

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