BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Insurgents killed three Iraqis and two coalition soldiers — one American and one British — in the hours before Saddam Hussein”s trial began on Wednesday.
A bomb also went off at a famous monument in a Baghdad square honoring the 8th-century founder of Baghdad to whom Saddam had often compared himself. The blast, which toppled the bust of Abu Jaafar Al-Mansour but caused no injuries, appeared to be a jab at the former dictator.
Meanwhile, Iraqis continued to await the outcome of last weekend”s constitutional referendum, as the slower-than-expected vote counting continued.
Questions about the integrity of the vote and physical barriers to getting marked ballots to the capital mean final results from the landmark referendum won”t be announced until Friday at the earliest, officials said.
The returns have raised questions over the possibility of irregularities in the balloting and have prompted an audit into an irregularly high number of "yes" votes.
Shortly before Saddam”s trial was to begin in Baghdad”s highly secured Green Zone, suspected insurgents shot and killed Hakim Mirza, one of several municipal directors of the capital, and his driver, in the southern neighborhood of Dora, said police Maj. Falah Al-Mohamadawi.
Gunmen also killed a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi army that U.S. forces disbanded after invading Iraq in 2003
The bombing of the famous monument honoring Al-Mansour knocked his bust off the top of a 30-foot-tall triangular monument, said police Capt. Qassim Hussein.
The attack occurred at 1:30 a.m. in a northwestern area named after Al-Mansour, a caliph, or supreme religious leader, of the Islamic empire who built Baghdad on the banks of the Tigris River in 762 A.D.
During his dictatorial rule from 1979 to 2003, Saddam often tried to compare himself and his accomplishments to those of Baghdad”s founder. But Hussein said it was not immediately known who had launched the attack or what motivated it.
Saddam and seven senior members of his regime were to go on trial Wednesday for a 1982 massacre of about 150 Shiites in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.
In other violence in Iraq, a roadside bomb hit a U.S. Army patrol late Tuesday night, killing one soldier and wounding two near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, the military said.
The attack raised to at least 1,981 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war, according to an Associated Press count.
A British soldier also was killed by a roadside bomb late Tuesday night in the southern region of Basra where most British forces are based, Britain”s Ministry of Defense said.
The audit Iraq”s Electoral Commission is conducting in the referendum will examine results that show an oddly high number of "yes" votes — apparently including in two crucial provinces that could determine the outcome of the vote, Ninevah and Diyala.
The commission and United Nations officials supervising the counting have made no mention of fraud and have cautioned that the unexpected votes are not necessarily incorrect.
But Sunni Arab leaders who oppose the charter have claimed the vote was fixed in Ninevah and Diyala and elsewhere to swing them to a "yes."
Both provinces are believed to have slight Sunni Arab majorities that likely voted "no" in large numbers, along with significant Shiite and Kurdish communities that largely cast "yes" ballots. But initial results from election officials in Ninevah and Diyala indicated about 70 percent of voters supported the charter and only 20 percent rejected.
Sunni opponents needed to win over either Diyala or Ninevah to veto the constitution. Sunnis had to get a two-thirds "no" vote in any three of Iraq”s 18 provinces to defeat the charter, and they appeared to have gotten it in Anbar and Salahuddin, both heavily Sunni.
Sunnis fear the constitution would divide Iraq into three districts: oil-rich Kurdish and Shiite mini states in the north and south, and a mostly Sunni region in western and central Iraq that would include a weak government in Baghdad.