BAGHDAD, Iraq – The head of a U.N. team said Monday that better security in Iraq is vital for elections to take place by a Jan. 31 deadline. A U.S. soldier was killed in a bomb west of Baghdad (search) and British troops in the south fired rubber bullets to disperse anti-coalition activists.
The U.N. team met with members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (search) to discuss setting up an interim government before the U.S.-led coalition transfers power to the Iraqis by June 30, and plans for general elections after that.
A bomb explosion near a U.S. military convoy west of Baghdad killed an American soldier, a U.S. official said. The attack occurred northwest of the restive city of Fallujah (search).
Late Monday, residents in Fallujah reported heavy gunfire in the city's al-Askari neighborhood. Fighting in the same area on Friday killed a U.S. Marine and at least five Iraqis, including an ABC News cameraman.
In the southern city of Basra, British troops in riot gear fought with dozens of anti-coalition Iraqis who resisted eviction from a government-owned building. At least four Iraqis were injured. Two British soldiers suffered minor injuries.
Iraqis threw stones and bricks at the soldiers and set fire to tires in the streets. Associated Press Television News footage showed two soldiers with plastic shields and wooden batons struggling with an Iraqi who grabbed one of their weapons.
One of the injured was seen lying on the ground before being carried away by his comrades. Blood poured from another protester's head. A freelance photographer working for The Associated Press, Nabil al-Jurani, was shot in a leg with a rubber bullet by the soldiers. He was treated and released from a hospital. Officials said just two rubber bullets were fired.
The fighting came a day after U.S. soldiers in the northern city of Mosul shot and killed four suspected rebels, the military said. On Sunday, gunmen fired on a convoy carrying a government minister near Mosul, and killed a Canadian and a Briton in another attack.
Also in northern Iraq, the governor of Nineveh province, Ghanem al-Basso, resigned Monday after being questioned by coalition officials about alleged corruption, a senior U.S. official said. No charges were brought and the official did not elaborate on the allegations. Mosul is the provincial capital of Nineveh.
In Baghdad's Saydiyah neighborhood, a hand grenade was thrown from a car at a police checkpoint, seriously wounding one policeman, witnesses said.
In Baghdad, Carina Perelli, who led the U.N. team, told reporters after a two-hour meeting with Governing Council members that security was key.
"We need to make sure that between now and the 31st of January, there is a modicum of security that will make Iraqi people feel they can go to the polls, that they can run as candidates, without extreme fear," Perelli said.
"We put the expertise and the experience of the U.N. at the disposition of the Iraqi people in terms of the assistance it might need in carrying out this process," she said.
Perelli's team arrived in Baghdad Friday and will stay for several weeks. A second U.N. delegation, headed by top negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi, is expected in early April.
Perelli said the U.N. team, Governing Council and the coalition had to move quickly to meet the election deadline.
"If there is going to be an election on the 31st of January, then all the basic agreements need to be reached for the electoral frame no later than the end of May. Otherwise the date might be compromised," she said.
Mohsen Abdel-Hamid, a Sunni member of the Governing Council, said council members spoke about how to protect the elections. He said the council should set up a committee of Iraqis to oversee the vote.