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Abu Ghraib prisoners escape

Baghdad election center director killed

U.S. troops survey the scene Friday after a roadside bomb overturned their armored vehicle in Baghdad. Two soldiers were wounded.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi police are on the lookout for 28 Abu Ghraib prisoners who escaped while en route to Baghdad for trial.

The detainees, which included several Arabs from other countries, were traveling aboard a bus from the prison to the courthouse late Thursday, according to a police official.

But due to a shortage of handcuffs, several had their hands bound with rope and were able to loosen the knots before overpowering police and security guards in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Sa'alam.

Iraqi police found handcuffs and rope scattered in the streets.

One prisoner managed to seize an officer's AK-47 and critically wounded him with it.

Four guards and the bus driver were severely beaten.

All 38 detainees escaped, but multinational and Iraqi forces were able to capture 10 of them shortly afterward.

The mass escape comes as violence batters Iraq in the run-up to election day.

Three Kurdish Peshmerga fighters died Thursday while fighting alongside Iraqi national guard forces against insurgents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, according to a Kurdish Democratic Party official.

The incident happened around 7 p.m. (11 a.m. ET) in Mosul's southwest district of al-Zira'i.

The Kurdish Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, is one of two main factions of Iraq's Kurdish minority.

The U.S. military had no comment and said they are investigating the incident.

Two U.S. Marines were killed in action Thursday "while conducting security and stability operations" in Iraq's vast al-Anbar province, according to a military release.

The Marines were assigned to the I Marine Expeditionary Force. The military, citing security risks, released no other details.

Also Thursday, a 1st Infantry Division soldier died near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in a non-combat-related death, which is still under investigation, according to the 1st ID.

With the deaths, 1,364 U.S. troops have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Of those, 1,076 were killed in combat.

On Thursday morning, around ten gunmen 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 deputy chief of mission for the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad, Aydin Selcen, identified the kidnap victim as Abdulkadir Tanrikulu, a crane operator working for a Turkish construction firm in Baghdad.

Later, a car bomb outside a Shia mosque in the town of Khan Bani Saad, south of Baquba, killed four Iraqi policemen and three civilians. The blast also wounded 30 other people.

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.

Insurgents also made an apparent assassination attempt on Iraqi presidential candidate Mithal al-Alousi, the second bid in two weeks.

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

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.

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.

Quick reaction forces

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.

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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