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Attacks aimed at derailing election kill 20 or more

At least 20 people were killed in Iraq on Monday by car bombers, roadside bombs, assault rifle fire and an explosive rigged to a headless body, as insurgents appeared to intensify efforts to derail nationwide elections set for Jan. 30.

The day's first car bomb exploded around 9:30 a.m. outside the headquarters of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's political party, the Iraqi National Accord, shortly before Allawi was to appear at a news conference detailing a slate of candidates. Allawi was not injured, but three police officers and the bomber were killed, according to a government spokesman.

The bomb was the second recently to target a political party; on Dec. 27, a suicide car bomber killed more than a dozen outside the headquarters of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, another former exile party active in the interim government.

The Ansar al-Sunna Army, the group that asserted responsibility for a Dec. 21 bombing inside a U.S. military base in Mosul, posted an Internet statement heralding "more good news."

"Body pieces of the apostates were scattered everywhere, and their cars caught on fire. . . . Thanks and gratitude to God," it stated.

A Saudi newspaper reported Monday that the Mosul bomber was a Saudi medical student whose father was informed of his death by the Ansar al-Sunna group. The attack killed 22 people, including 14 U.S. service members.

Another car bomber Monday killed himself and four Iraqi National Guardsmen at a checkpoint in Dijail, a town north of Baghdad not far from where 22 guardsmen aboard a shuttle bus were killed on Sunday by a car bomb. The victims of Monday's attack were members of the guard's 210th Battalion, according to Mohammed Hamza, 43, an assistant physician at the guard's medical facility.

The third car bomb was detonated around 3 p.m. by a man who pretended his sport-utility vehicle had broken down near a gate to the Green Zone, the fortified area of Baghdad that houses Iraq's interim government and the U.S. and British embassies. The man waited for a convoy of the large, late-model SUVs that are widely known to carry Western contractors, diplomats and security personnel, then exploded his vehicle.

The blast blew one vehicle off the roadway. An Associated Press photographer reported seeing three bodies burning inside. The AP quoted a U.S. Embassy spokesman as saying the victims worked for Kroll Inc., a New York risk-assessment and security firm.

Neighbors, who were physically shaken by the explosion, emerged from houses to clear their yards of twisted steel and body parts. Jassem Ahmad, 17, carried a shovel and pointed to the freshly turned earth where he had just buried two feet, a piece of black shirt and a lower nose and chin _ all presumably belonging to the bomber.

"There was a small beard too, and I buried all that myself right here," he said.

In another attack, insurgents booby-trapped the decapitated body of a civilian in the city of Tall Afar, west of Mosul. When Iraqi police investigated the corpse, it exploded, killing one officer and wounding two, the government said in a statement.

Six National Guardsmen were killed by a pair of roadside bombs in Tikrit, the home town of former President Saddam Hussein which until last week had been considered relatively peaceful. In Baiji, an oil refining city in the Sunni Triangle midway between Mosul and Baghdad, a police major and a captain were killed in a hail of gunfire from a white sedan, police said. And in Baqubah, another insurgent hot spot about 35 miles northeast of the capital, gunmen assassinated a city council member from nearby Khalis, according to an emergency room physician at Baqubah General Hospital.

Balloting on Jan. 30 will select a 275-member parliament, which will serve for one year and oversee the drafting of a constitution.

Armored Army vehicles

WASHINGTON _ The Army, beset with complaints that its troops are going into combat in inadequately armored Humvees, will send an older and less used class of armored personnel carriers to Iraq after spending $84-million to add armor to them.

These vehicles, both veteran warhorses, are the M113/A3 armored personnel carrier and the M577 command post carrier. Both will be tougher and safer than newly armored Humvees.

Army officials who pushed hard over the last two years for getting the M113 into Iraq said it was more useful, cheaper and easier to transport than the Army's Stryker armored vehicle, which also is in use in Iraq.

Information from Knight Ridder Newspapers was used in this report.