BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – An Iraqi police commander was killed Sunday in western Baghdad, a day after insurgents killed 19 Iraqi soldiers and wounded four in a coordinated ambush northeast of Baghdad.
The weekend bloodshed confirmed U.S. and Iraqi warnings of a surge in insurgent attacks ahead of national elections set for Dec. 15.
Gunmen using two cars opened fire on Lt. Col. Abdul-Razaak Abdul-Jabbar as he was heading to work, police Capt. Talib Thamir said.
Saturday”s attack occurred as an Iraqi army unit patrolled near Adhaim, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) north of Baghdad. Survivors said insurgents triggered a roadside bomb and then showered the patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire.
U.S. President George W. Bush said earlier this week that the eventual replacement of U.S. troops by Iraqi forces was key to his strategy for victory.
The U.S. command has released few details about the Thursday bombing that killed 10 Marines near Fallujah.
A witness said it occurred at a mill in the village of Amiriyat al Fallujah, just outside the city.
"More than 20 troops entered there and a huge explosion happened," said the witness, Mohsen Mohammed. "Afterward, the helicopters and tanks arrived in the area."
Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape Saturday from the Islamic Army of Iraq showing an explosion targeting a U.S. foot patrol. The tape did not directly link the explosion to Thursday”s attack, but the Al-Jazeera announcer noted the Marine deaths as the tape aired.
The grainy video, filmed through a long lens, showed ground troops walking down a street on both sides of a Humvee when a huge fireball engulfed the area, sending terrified Iraqi bystanders scrambling for their lives.
Al-Jazeera said the Islamic Army, one of Iraq”s best-known insurgent groups, claimed responsibility for a series of other attacks against U.S. forces north of Baghdad, in Nasiriyah and another in Fallujah.
A statement from the U.S. Marine unit in western Iraq on Sunday said the video tape did not depict the attack that killed the 10 Marines. The statement said it could not verify the authenticity of the video at all.
The United States hopes a big Sunni turnout in the Dec. 15 elections will produce a government that can win the trust of the minority Sunnis, the backbone of the insurgency.
Along with a stronger Iraqi military, it is hoped that will hasten the day when U.S. troops can leave.
In a separate incident, the U.S. base at the airport in Mosul, Iraq”s third-largest city, came under fire Saturday, wounding two American soldiers, the U.S. military said.
And in a sign of continuing tensions among Iraqi factions, the spokesman for the Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars said his organization may reconsider its participation in a national reconciliation process because of continued killings of Sunnis by Shiite extremists.
"What is happening today means crushing and killing this initiative," Abdul-Salam al-Kubaisi said.
Aides to the top cleric of Iraq”s Shiite majority said Saturday that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is signaling to his followers that they should vote for the Shiite alliance in the upcoming election.
Al-Sistani stopped receiving Shiite politicians and candidates weeks ago in a sign of displeasure over the Shiite-led government”s performance. However, aides said the cleric is now telling people to vote for the Shiite alliance to "preserve Iraq”s unity" and "protect Iraqis."
Also Saturday, a leading member of the British anti-war movement, Anas Altikriti, arrived in Iraq to try to win the release of the four Christian peace activists taken hostages last week.
Altikriti told the British Broadcasting Corp., that he would meet with various Iraqi organizations in hopes one of them might have contacts with the kidnappers.
The co-workers of the activists, two Canadians, an American and a Briton, appealed to militants Saturday to release them.
"They are really working for peace and justice. They are helping you and other Iraqi people," Peggy Gish of the Chicago-based organization Christian Peacemaker Teams told The Associated Press in Amman, Jordan.
The kidnappers have threatened to kill the hostages if Iraqi prisoners are not released from American and Iraqi jails by Dec. 8, the Arabic satellite Al-Jazeera television reported.
The German government said it was working to secure the release of an aid worker and her driver kidnapped in Iraq on Nov. 25. In a video made public on Tuesday, kidnappers threatened to kill Susanne Osthoff, 43, unless Germany stops dealing with the Iraqi government.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin that the government had been unable to establish contact with the kidnappers.
Germany opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and did not send troops but has been training Iraqi soldiers and police outside this country.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germany will not be "blackmailed" in the case.