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Car bomb outside mosque kills seven

Baghdad election center director killed

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A car bomb was detonated outside a Shia mosque Thursday night, killing four Iraqi police officers and three civilians and wounding 30 others, a U.S. military spokesman said.

The bombing in the town of Khan Bani Saad, about 20 km (12 miles) south of Baquba, occurred at about 6 p.m. (10 a.m. ET), said Maj. Neal O'Brien, spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division in Tikrit.

Afterward, Iraqi police engaged in small-arms fire with insurgents, who were seen fleeing the area, he said.

The wounded were taken to a hospital. O'Brien said the attack "shows the desperate nature of the insurgents as Iraq moves closer to elections."

Meanwhile, gunmen killed the director of a Baghdad election center Thursday, another in a series of attacks targeting election officials and candidates as the vote set for January 30 approaches.

Baghdad police, who reported the slaying, did not release the director's name. He was in charge of an election center in the al-Khadoumiyah neighborhood in the northern part of Baghdad.

Also on Thursday, the Democratic Islamic Party announced Iraqi presidential candidate Mithal al-Alousi was targeted for the second time in two weeks.

Al-Alousi, who supports normal relations between Iraq and Israel, was attacked Tuesday at midnight in western Baghdad.

Al-Alousi said an explosion went off on the second floor of his home just as the lights were turned on in those rooms. No one was injured. Police believe a grenade was thrown through the window.

On Wednesday, a representative for prominent Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani was shot to death in Salman Pak, east of Baghdad. The representative's son and four bodyguards were also shot, police said.

Sheikh Mahmoud al-Madaeeni was al-Sistani's representative in Salman Pak, according to the town's police chief. Al-Sistani is Iraq's most influential Shiite leader and strongly supports the general elections. (Full story)

Group explains boycott

In a separate election-related development, an organization claiming about 3 million Iraqi tribesmen as members said it expects many of them to follow its lead and boycott the elections.

The organization said it was withdrawing from the elections because of security and fairness concerns.

The Patriotic Front of Iraqi Tribes comprises Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as Turkmen and Kurds, according to the group's spokesman, Ibrahim Al-Nahar. The majority are Sunni, he said. The group announced Wednesday it will withdraw from the elections.

Formed in April 2004, the group appears on the election list as the Patriotic Front of the Unity of Iraq, as the country's election commission refused to allow them to register with the word "tribes" in the name, Al-Nahar said Thursday. It could not be confirmed how many candidates representing the group are on the ballot.

The organization initially submitted 275 names for the ballot, Al-Nahar said.

The group's main goal is to have a united, democratic Iraq, Al-Nahar said. While it is opposed to the presence of occupying troops, it believes in legal, not armed, resistance, he said.

The tribal system and allegiances remain important to Iraqis, Al-Nahar said, and many tribesmen are expected to follow them as far as political and social decisions.

Election security outlined

A U.S. commander overseeing security in north-central Iraq said Iraqi forces will lead security efforts there on election day and U.S. troops will lend support.

Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said quick-reaction forces will be on hand to "stomp on the insurgent when he raises his ugly head."

And despite some problems in certain provinces, "the bottom line is, north-central Iraq is ready for elections," Batiste said.

Under no circumstances should the election be delayed, Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie told CNN on Thursday.

"This will send ... the whole country into absolute chaos," he said. "We will be in a deep constitutional crisis, because the transitional administrative law did not make any permission or allowance [for an election delay]."

Al-Rubaie acknowledged that Iraq's security situation "is not 100 percent."

"There are still some trouble pockets here and there, especially in the [Sunni] triangle," he said. "But I feel and I believe the overall security situation in the country will allow us to carry a fair and free election."

The White House said Iraqis' interest in the elections is strong.

"In survey after survey, the Iraqi people say, 'We want to choose our leaders,'" White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters in Washington.

Other developments

  • Gunmen on Thursday morning opened fire on a minibus in central Baghdad -- killing all six Iraqis on board -- before abducting a Turkish businessman waiting for the bus outside a hotel, according to police. The Turkish Embassy in Baghdad said it is investigating the incident.
  • Iraq's interim government is set to begin payments to Fallujans who are now in Baghdad, according to a statement issued Thursday. U.S.-led forces conducted a three-week operation in November aimed at routing insurgents from Falluja. Most residents left before the fighting began in the city, and some residents have been allowed to return. Each family is eligible for 150,000 Iraqi dinars, or about $100.
  • The United States might be able to withdraw some troops from Iraq this year if Iraqi forces can take a greater role in security, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday. "But I cannot give you a timeline as to when they'll all be home." (Full story)
  • The United States is taking steps to determine how it received faulty intelligence regarding deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction program, White House spokesman McClellan said Wednesday. His comments followed reports that the search for WMD has ended without any such weapons being found. (Full story)
  • President Bush on Wednesday defended his decision to invade Iraq. "I felt like we'd find weapons of mass destruction -- like many here in the United States, many around the world," Bush told Barbara Walters of ABC News in an interview to be broadcast Friday night. "We need to find out what went wrong in the intelligence gathering. ... Saddam was dangerous and the world is safer without him in power."
  • CNN's Dana Bash, Elise Labott, Nermeen al-Mufti, Barbara Starr, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Ayman Mohyeldin and Jennifer Yuille contributed to this report.

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