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Governor of Baghdad Killed By Gunmen Amidst Bombings

By Richard A. Oppel Jr.

The New York Times -- BAGHDAD, Iraq

Gunmen assassinated the governor of Baghdad province on Tuesday as insurgents pressed a campaign to derail elections scheduled for Jan. 30. The governor, Ali al-Haidari, is the highest-ranking Iraqi official slain since May.

The killing came just as a fuel-truck bomb detonated near an office of the Interior Ministry and the main U.S. compound in central Baghdad, killing 10 people and wounding about 60. And it came on a day that five U.S. soldiers fell in three other attacks, according to military officials.

It was the bloodiest day for the United States since the Dec. 21 suicide bombing at a mess tent in Mosul, which killed 14 soldiers and four American contractors.

Iraq’s homegrown security forces are bearing the brunt of the intimidation and attacks, with eight Interior Ministry commandos dying in the bomb attack on Tuesday. That brings to nearly 70 the number of Iraqi police, national guardsmen and commandos who have been abducted and murdered, or killed by car bombs or other means in the past week.

The violence prompted a fresh round of calls to delay the elections. Iraq’s president and most senior Sunni Arab official, Ghazi al-Yawer, suggested that the United Nations examine whether national elections should be delayed. In an interview with Reuters, he said holding the elections on schedule would be a “tough call.”

In recent weeks, U.S. officials -- including President Bush -- have pointed to al-Yawer as an example of a Sunni Arab leader willing to move forward with the elections despite violence in Sunni-dominated areas of the country.

But the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, who is regarded as a closer ally to Iraq’s prime minister, Ayad Allawi, vigorously rejected calls for a delay on Tuesday and said any change in the timetable would be tantamount to a surrender to insurgents whose campaign of violence has been aimed at derailing the vote.

Sunni leaders worry they will be disenfranchised if the vote goes forward in the rest of the country while being short-circuited in the Sunni areas. But U.S. officials say the violence will only continue if the election is delayed.

In Washington, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, reiterated Bush’s call for a Jan. 30 ballot. “What we are focused on right now is doing everything we can to support the situation on the ground by improving the security situation and making sure that we can see as full participation as possible in those elections,” McClellan said.

Al-Haidari was the most senior Iraqi official assassinated since the president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Ezzedine Salim, an Islamist politician and writer, was killed by a suicide bomber on May 17.

In Phuket, Thailand, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said he was saddened by the murder. “It once again shows that there are these murderers and terrorists, former regime elements in Iraq, that don’t want to see an election,” he said. “They don’t want to see the people of Iraq choose their own leadership. They want to go back to the past.”

The terror group headed by al-Qaida’s leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the attack in an Internet posting, calling al-Haidari an “autocrat” and his killing part of an effort to “liberate this city and all the country.”