Shiite Leader: Stop 'Stalling' Elections

A leading Shiite member of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council (searchon Sunday demanded no more "stalling" on arranging for elections for a new government.

Abdel Aziz al-Hakim (search), a Shiite cleric and Governing Council member, said the U.S.-run coalition should have begun planning for elections months ago.

In an interview broadcast Sunday by Al-Jazeera television, he said wanted guarantees that "there'll be no more stalling as was the case in the past."

The statement underscored the impatience among some Iraqis, notably Shiite leaders, as U.S. forces try to stamp out insurgents and stabilize the country enough for a June 30 handover of power.

The violence continued Monday, with a vehicle bomb detonating outside a police station in a Kurdish neighborhood of the ethnically divided city of Kirkuk (search), killing at least 10 people and wounding 45 others, police and hospital officials said.

About 20 policemen had gathered in front of the Rahimawa police station to get their day's orders when the morning blast went off, said the station's chief, Col. Adel Ibrahim.

A U.S. military rapid reaction team came to the scene, as police closed off the area.

At least 10 people were killed, all of them believed to be policemen, and 45 people wounded, said officials at two Kirkuk hospitals. Among the wounded were a schoolboy and four girls from a nearby high school. Lt. Abdul Salaam Zangana, a security officer at al-Jumhuriya hospital, said 10 of the wounded were in critical condition.

On Sunday, a roadside bomb killed an Iraqi near the northern city of Mosul, while another bomb exploded in Baghdad's al-Washash neighborhood and injured four Iraqi policemen. The officers were responding to a report of a "strange body" found in the area, police said. They had no further details.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (searchsaid Sunday the insurgents were trying to create strife among Iraqis as a means toward frustrating U.S. interests there.

Rumsfeld said some attacks aim to foster interethnic and interreligious conflict, while others are strikes against the newly formed security services to persuade Iraqis not to join.

But "instead of responding by acquiescing, we see volunteers are still in line to join the police. They're still in line to join the Army. They're leaning forward. They're taking losses, and God bless them for it," said Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters during a refueling stop at Shannon, Ireland, while traveling to Kuwait to visit U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf region.

Shiites, believed to comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, are anxious for quick elections to transfer their numerical superiority into political power after decades of suppression by the Sunni Muslim minority. Sunnis fear a hasty vote will further marginalize their community, closely identified with Saddam Hussein's regime.

Some key Shiite figures have signaled they might accept a limited delay in elections if the government that takes power from the coalition June 30 has only limited powers and will arrange a national vote as soon as possible.

The Shiites fear an appointed government might try to postpone elections indefinitely to keep itself in power.

In Tokyo, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said a report on the recent U.N. mission to Iraq would be released Monday in New York with the group's findings on ways to establish an Iraqi government.

Annan said last week the mission concluded that Shiite demands for elections to choose a provisional legislature before June 30 were impossible. However, Annan did not outline any alternatives.

The United States is keen to meet the June 30 deadline to deprive the Democrats of an election issue in the November U.S. presidential election.

The transfer of power will mean a formal end to the U.S.-led occupation, even though U.S. and international troops will remain in Iraq. On Sunday, a bomb south of Fallujah exploded as a U.S. Army convoy passed, witnesses said, but there was no report from the U.S. command on casualties.

The U.S. military also announced American soldiers had arrested a pair of Iraqi policemen suspected of membership in Saddam's Fedayeen militia, the ousted dictator's private army. Fedayeen members are believed behind many of the attacks against U.S. soldiers.

The two police officers were arrested Saturday after two Iraqis believed to have orchestrated riots in Beiji in October surrendered and gave interrogators the names of the policemen, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, spokeswoman of the 4th Infantry Division.

In Baghdad, a Sunni Muslim cleric, Sheik Dhamer al-Dhari, was killed by gunmen while walking near his mosque, the Association of Muslim Scholars said. Al-Dhari's half brother is secretary-general of the association, which issued a statement last week cautioning against hasty elections.