Gunmen ambush electoral workers in southern Iraq

Official resisting extremists one of two people killed

By Sameer N. Yacoub
Associated Press / August 19, 2008
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BAGHDAD - Masked gunmen ambushed a bus carrying election workers in southern Iraq yesterday, killing two of them, including an official known for resisting interference by Shi'ite religious extremists, authorities said.

Also yesterday, a suicide car bomber blasted a police checkpoint in the western city of Ramadi, killing seven policemen, an official said.

The two incidents in widely separated parts of the country illustrate the dangers still facing Iraq despite a sharp decline in violence over the past year.

The attack on the bus occurred when gunmen opened fire as their car passed it in the Abu al-Khasib area south of Basra, police and election officials said. A third election employee was wounded.

The dead included the head of a local government committee preparing for provincial elections, Maath Wahab, and his deputy, Jassim Mohammed, according to Hazim al-Rubaie, director of the Basra electoral committee.

No group claimed responsibility and no arrests have been made. But local officials said Wahab was known for resisting interference in the electoral process by Shi'ite religious extremists.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared for their own safety.

Provincial elections are expected late this year and will probably redistribute power among Iraq's political and ethnic groups. No date has been set, with legislation stalled in the national parliament, but preparations have begun nationwide.

Control of polling places could enable parties to manipulate the results.

Voters will select members of the councils in Iraq's 18 provinces. Under the 2005 constitution, those councils will wield considerable power over security and resources, including Basra's vast oil wealth.

Basra had been under the control of rival Shi'ite militias until Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a military operation in March that wrested control from the gunmen.

The suicide bombing happened about 9:15 p.m. in the Tamim area, about 3 miles west of downtown Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, which is 70 miles west of Baghdad.

Ten people - six policemen and four civilians - were wounded in the blast, according to police Major General Tariq Youssef.

Ramadi was once the deadliest city in Iraq for US forces when Al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies held sway over the area.

The militants' grip ended when Sunni Arabs turned against Al Qaeda last year, but attacks still occur.

US forces had planned to hand over security responsibility to the Iraqis last month but the transfer was postponed indefinitely after a suicide attacker killed three US Marines and 20 Iraqis in the Anbar town of Karmah.

Elsewhere yesterday, a roadside bomb exploded in Mosul as a convoy carrying the city's mayor sped past, police said. The mayor escaped injury but a bodyguard was wounded, police said.

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