A suicide car bomber struck on Monday near a checkpoint on a street leading to Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's party office, wounding at least 10 people in the latest guerrilla attack before Jan. 30 elections.
Officials in Allawi's office said the prime minister was not in the area in western Baghdad at the time. Health Ministry officials said seven policemen and three civilians were wounded.
The blast echoed across central Baghdad, and a plume of smoke rose from the scene of the bombing. U.S. and Iraqi troops sealed off the area and helicopters buzzed overhead.
Guerrillas fighting U.S.-led troops and Iraq's interim government have mounted frequent suicide car bomb attacks and ambushes on Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite targets in the run-up to the elections.
Sunday, al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declared all-out war on the elections, berating the Shi'ite majority for embracing the poll and urging Sunnis to fight against what he called infidel voters.
Allawi vowed his U.S.-backed government would do everything possible to safeguard more than 5,000 polling stations against "evil forces determined to hurt Iraq."
ZARQAWI DENOUNCES SHI'ITES
Zarqawi, a shadowy Jordanian militant who tops Washington's wanted list in its drive to stamp out an insurgency, said the poll was a plot by the United States and Shi'ite allies against Sunnis, who were dominant during Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s rule.
"We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it," a speaker identified as Zarqawi said in an audio tape on the Internet.
"Those who vote ... are infidels," he said. "You have to be careful of the enemy's plots that involve applying democracy in your country and confront these plots, because they only want to do so to ... give the (Shi'ite) rejectionists the rule of Iraq."
Iraqi officials say Sunni guerrillas are not only trying to wreck the elections -- expected to cement the new-found power of the long-oppressed 60 percent Shi'ite majority -- but also want to provoke sectarian civil war.
Zarqawi's network has assassinated politicians and beheaded foreign hostages. Despite a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, he has eluded a U.S.-led manhunt.
His group's almost daily attacks -- including most of the deadliest suicide bombings of the past year -- have raised fears of a bloodbath during next Sunday's elections, Iraq's first since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam.
The U.S. military said one of its soldiers was killed by small arms fire in the northern city of Mosul Saturday, bringing to 1,080 the number of U.S. troops killed in action in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion.
"We are determined to do our best to put an end to the escalation of violence," Allawi told the BBC, adding it was premature to talk about U.S.-led forces withdrawing until Iraq's fledgling security services were fully trained and combat ready.
Many Sunni leaders have called for an election boycott, saying insurgent attacks in the Sunni heartland would prevent voting and skew the outcome in favor of the Shi'ites.
A low Sunni turnout would undermine the credibility of the election to choose a national assembly.
Militants have kidnapped more than 120 foreigners over the last year, killing about a third of them.
A mystery surrounding the fate of eight Chinese laborers taken hostage this month was resolved when the Chinese embassy tracked them down a day after guerrillas said they had freed them. Their captors had originally threatened them with death.
China, a critic of the U.S.-led invasion, had appealed for their release, saying it had warned its citizens to stay out of Iraq. The eight young men smiled and shook hands with Chinese officials who greeted them at a mosque in the western city of Ramadi. A Chinese diplomat said no ransom had been paid.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, predicted Iraqis would be able to cast ballots in most of the country but acknowledged there would be "problematic areas."
U.S. commanders have said four of Iraq's 18 provinces, accounting for a quarter of the population, are unsafe to vote.
Guerrillas have killed hundreds of Iraqi security men they brand as collaborators with U.S.-led forces.
The Army of Ansar al-Sunna group released a video Sunday of a masked gunman executing an Iraqi National Guard officer, saying it was to "serve as an example for other apostates."
Another video posted on the Web showed an Egyptian trucker warning foreign drivers against working in Iraq before he was shot dead in public by Zarqawi's group. His body was found by police on Jan. 16 in a street in the western city of Ramadi.
The government plans to seal Iraq's borders, close airports, impose curfews and enforce traffic bans on election day -- all to try to prevent suicide bombings and other attacks.