BAGHDAD (AP) – Gunmen killed four Iraqi policemen at a checkpoint west of Baghdad in an early morning attack Sunday, police officials said.
Political leaders, meanwhile, held urgent talks to try to clear the way for parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for next month but likely to be delayed because of the bickering over voting rules and allocation of seats.
The attack came as security officials warned of a possible rise in insurgent attacks before next year’s election and the U.S. withdrawal of combat troops due by the end of August. It also follows an attack last month that left 13 dead in the same area.
Gunmen stormed the checkpoint in Abu Ghraib, on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, at about 7 a.m. Sunday, killing one policeman on duty and three others on a break, according to two police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give information to the media.
Last month, 13 villagers in the Abu Ghraib area were killed in an attack possibly linked to tribal rivalries. Witnesses said gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms abducted and killed the 13, whose bodies were later found with gunshot wounds to the head. They included a local leader of Iraq’s largest Sunni party, which once helped fight AL Qaeda.
Overall violence has decreased sharply across Iraq, but major bombings and other attacks still occur.
In Baghdad, leaders from Iraq’s main political blocs held talks to try to break an impasse over the parliamentary elections as a deadline loomed.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi had vetoed the new law for the scheduled Jan. 16 balloting over demands that included giving full voting rights to Iraqis living abroad, most of whom are fellow Sunni Arabs whose votes could boost Sunni seats in the new 323-seat parliament.
Al-Hashemi’s veto expired Sunday, but he held the option to re-impose it, which would again freeze efforts to work out a voting system.
Envoys from Iraq’s main groups, Sunnis, Kurds and the majority Shiites, met with al-Hashemi and his aides in attempt to reach a compromise. Other disputes include how the seats would be distributed among Iraq’s 18 provinces.
In a statement on his Web site, al-Hashemi said he would hold off on re-issuing the veto “as long as their is a chance” at a deal. But it seems very unlikely the elections could be held on time. Some officials have proposed a delay in the election until late February or early March, which could complicate the Pentagon withdrawal timetable that calls for U.S. combat missions to halt at the end of August.