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4 Iraqi officials kidnapped; U.S. mistakenly bombs home near Mosul

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Insurgents kidnapped four Iraqi government officials Saturday in one of the nation's most dangerous areas as U.S. forces mistakenly bombed a home near Mosul and a rebel Shiite cleric reached out to his Sunni counterparts, saying he agreed that next month's elections should be delayed.

The kidnapping of the officials—an assistant governor, a college dean and a provincial councilman—underscored the increasing violence directed toward those who participate in the election process. U.S. officials had said Friday that there could be a "series of horrific attacks that cause mass casualties in some spectacular fashion in the days leading up to the elections."

Thirty miles south of Mosul, U.S forces mistakenly dropped a 500-pound bomb on a house and destroyed it, killing five people, U.S. officials said. The house owner said 14 people died and five were wounded.

"The house was not the intended target for the air strike. The intended target was another location nearby," the U.S. military said in a statement. Officials said they were investigating. The U.S. military "deeply regrets the loss of possibly innocent lives," the statement said.

Iraqi media reported a spate of other violence Saturday:

_ In Baqouba, insurgents beheaded a translator working with the U.S. army, police said.

_ An Iraqi policeman was killed by masked gunmen as he was leaving his house in Baghdad.

_ A booby-trapped car blew up Saturday at a gas station in Mahaweel, about 35 miles south of Baghdad. One man was killed and several others were injured, police said.

_ In west Baghdad, gunmen shot dead Abboud Khalaf al-Lahibi, deputy secretary-general of the National Front for Iraqi tribes, which represents several Iraqi tribes, and a bodyguard was killed and three others wounded.

The attack on election officials seemed particularly symbolic.

The Iraqi government released the names of three: Khataan Hamada, Salah Ad Din Provincial Council chairman; Ali Ghalib, assistant governor for technical affairs; and Amar Aaiash, dean of the Tikrit University College of Law.

Officials said the group was traveling in two cars from their home near Tikrit toward Najaf to meet with representatives of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani. The men discussed the upcoming Jan. 30 election and their plans to participate, officials in Najaf said. On the way back Saturday, a group of gunmen stopped and ambushed them about 40 miles south of Baghdad, in an area known for kidnappings. One of the cars escaped.

Several high-ranking public officials have been attacked in the last month. Insurgents have killed scores of Iraqi police and national guardsmen. Last week, a group of men ambushed and killed Baghdad's provincial governor Ali al-Haidari. In Diyala, the chief election worker was assassinated, and in Mosul, a top-ranking member of the major Sunni party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, also was assassinated.

Car bombs also exploded outside Allawi's party headquarters and the home of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a politician at the top of the main Shiite political ticket. Those men were spared but 18 others died from the blasts.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minster Iyad Allawi has said the insurgents are former Baathists and Saddam supporters trying to derail the nation's first free elections in decades.

On Saturday rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr joined Sunnis in calling for delay, saying elections cannot happen if Sunnis cannot fairly participate.

In a statement read by his aides, al-Sadr also said that elections cannot happen until the foreign coalition troops leave, that elections held under occupation are illegitimate.

The occupying forces are "trying to lead us to sectarian state and civil war, God forbid. Therefore, be cautious and be careful to reject all that could lead to that, including the election process," al-Sadr said in his statement. "Know that when our dear Sunnis do not participate, it will give no importance to the elections."

Many other Sunnis also have called to delay the election, saying it is too dangerous in their communities for people to vote, but both the Iraqi and U.S. governments have insisted the elections must proceed.

The Shiite majority is expected to make big gains in the election for 275 National Assembly seats, taking power away from the minority Sunnis who dominated under Saddam Hussein.


(Knight Ridder special correspondent Qassim Mohammed contributed to this report.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.