Zarqawi rebels kill governor of Baghdad

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The Independent Online

Gunmen killed the governor of Baghdad province and his bodyguards yesterday in a swiftly executed mid-morning attack they apparently filmed and broadcast over the internet.

Gunmen killed the governor of Baghdad province and his bodyguards yesterday in a swiftly executed mid-morning attack they apparently filmed and broadcast over the internet.

Five American servicemen were also killed in a day of violence that included a truck bomb in the capital which killed 10 Iraqis, among them eight commandos serving in a special unit of the ministry of interior.

The assassination of Ali al-Haidari - in a district called Hurriyah, which means freedom - and the other attacks were the latest in a string of high-profile actions ahead of elections set for 30 January, which the insurgents violently oppose. The violence only deepens the dilemma for the Bush administration, thus far unshakeable in its public insistence that the vote will go ahead in less than four weeks. Condemning the Haidari assassination, President George Bush's spokesman admitted security "challenges," but said that the election would be held as scheduled, even in the most violent Sunni-dominated areas.

But some prominent Iraqis are now calling for a delay, while Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister, called Mr Bush at the White House in what some US officials believe may be a first move towards a formal request for a postponement. Officially, there was "no substantive conversation" about any postponement. But security is so precarious that many candidates have yet to declare their names publicly for fear of being targeted by guerrillas.

Despite fears that US troops will unable to protect voters at polling stations, the White House maintained that a delay would not only hand the insurgents a massive psychological victory, it would also extend the bloodshed even longer, until voting actually took place.

Iraq's latest deadly morning began when a suicide bomber detonated a petrol truck filled with explosives near the entrance to an interior ministry compound; at least 10 died and dozens were injured. An hour later, Mr Haidari - who evaded an attempt to kill him in September - was attacked and killed by men approaching from several directions as his convoytravelled through the Hurriyah district of western Baghdad, a stronghold of Sunni Arabs who oppose the elections. Six bodyguards also died in the ambush.

Militants loyal to the Jordanian Islamic radical Abu Musab al-Zarqawi quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, posting apparent footage on the internet. "Young mujahedin from the Al-Qa'ida Group of Jihad in the Land of Two Rivers assassinated a tyrant from among the Americans' agents," said the statement, whose authenticity could not be confirmed. "We tell every traitor and everyone who is loyal to the Jews and the Christians that this will be your fate."

Mr Haidari, believed also to be a candidate in the elections, had recently set about raising his profile, publicly praising the US army's efforts to improve schools, electricity and water infrastructure. Half an hour after the assassination, three American soldiers were killed in Baghdad when a roadside bomb struck their convoy. Another soldier was killed yesterday in Balad, 30 miles north of the capital, while a marine died in the western Iraqi desert.

The attacks came a day after three British security contractors were killed in a car bomb blast at an entrance to the fortress-like Green Zone, the country's administrative centre.

Despite the continuing bloodshed, Iraq's majority Shias and pro-American Kurds continue preparations for an poll likely to hand them control of the country for the first time in its history. Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister and a deputy to powerful Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, also voiced his support for the elections yesterday.

At the headquarters of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, which tops a coalition of Shia parties, Ali al-Aboudi, a council official, said: "This incident will only make us more determined to continue the political process ... So what if they killed Haidari? There are another thousand Haidaris."

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