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Baghdad governor assassinated

20 others die in Iraq in day of violence

BAGHDAD -- Gunmen early today assassinated the governor of the Iraqi province that includes Baghdad, Ali al-Haidari, police officials said.

Haidari was shot dead while in his car in Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Hurriyah, said the police officials, who demanded anonymity. He was a target of another assassination attempt last year, and was the most senior Iraqi official to be killed since May. No other details of the killing were available.

At least 20 other people were killed in Iraq yesterday by car bombers, roadside bombs, assault rifle fire, and an explosive rigged to a headless body, as insurgents appeared to intensify efforts to derail nationwide elections set for Jan. 30.

The day's first car bomb exploded around 9:30 a.m. outside the headquarters of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's political party, the Iraqi National Accord, shortly before Allawi was to appear at a news conference detailing a slate of candidates. Allawi was not injured, but three police officers and the bomber were killed, according to a government spokesman.

"What I saw was heavy smoke and fire and policemen shooting continuously. It was as if I was in a battle," said a taxi driver who identified himself only as Sanaa.

The bomb was the second recently to target a political party; on Dec. 27, a suicide car bomber killed more than a dozen people outside the headquarters of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, another former exile party active in the interim government.

The Ansar al-Sunna Army, the group that asserted responsibility for a Dec. 21 bombing inside a US military base in Mosul, posted an Internet statement heralding "more good news. . . . Body pieces of the apostates were scattered everywhere, and their cars caught on fire. Ambulances rushed to transport dozens of injuries. Thanks and gratitude to God."

Another car bomber yesterday killed himself and four Iraqi National Guardsmen at a checkpoint in Dijail, a town north of Baghdad not far from where 22 guardsmen aboard a shuttle bus were killed on Sunday by a car bomb. The victims of yesterday's attack were members of the guard's 210th Battalion, according to Mohammed Hamza, 43, an assistant physician at the guard's medical facility.

The third car bomb was detonated around 3 p.m. by a man who pretended his sport-utility vehicle had broken down near a gate to the Green Zone, the fortified area of Baghdad that houses Iraq's interim government and the US and British embassies. The man waited for a convoy of the large, late-model SUVs that are widely known to carry Western contractors, diplomats and security personnel, then exploded his vehicle.

The blast blew one vehicle off the roadway. An Associated Press photographer reported seeing three bodies burning inside. The AP quoted a US Embassy spokesman as saying the victims worked for Kroll Inc., a risk-assessment and security firm based in New York.

Neighbors, who were physically shaken by the explosion, emerged from houses to clear their yards of twisted steel and body parts. Jassem Ahmad, 17, carried a shovel and pointed to the freshly turned earth where he had just buried two feet, a piece of black shirt, and a lower nose and chin -- all presumably belonging to the bomber.

In another graphic attack, insurgents booby-trapped the decapitated body of a civilian in the city of Tall Afar, west of Mosul. When Iraqi police investigated the corpse, it exploded, killing one officer and wounding two, the government said in a statement.

Six National Guardsmen were killed by a pair of roadside bombs in Tikrit, the hometown of former president Saddam Hussein, which until last week had been considered relatively peaceful. In Baiji, an oil refining city in the Sunni Triangle midway between Mosul and Baghdad, a police major and a captain were killed in a hail of gunfire from a white sedan, police said. And in Baqubah, another insurgent hot spot about 35 miles northeast of the capital, gunmen assassinated a city councilman from nearby Khalis, according to an emergency room physician at Baqubah General Hospital.

"This is another example of how the criminal and terrorist attempting to thwart Iraq's efforts to conduct free and fair elections has no regard for their fellow countrymen," the interim government said of the Tall Afar attack. "The interim Iraqi government is determined to rout out and bring these insurgents to justice."

Balloting on Jan. 30 will select a 275-member parliament to serve for one year and oversee the drafting of a constitution.

The country's defense minister, meanwhile, traveled to Egypt to seek help in getting Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority to take part in the elections. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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