BAGHDAD, Iraq – Four days before the scheduled transfer of sovereignty, violence continued to erupt across Iraq Saturday, as insurgents launched attacks on political parties participating in the interim government.
Nine people, six of them rebels, died in the Sunni Triangle city of Baqouba (search), U.S. and Iraqi officials said. Two Iraqi National Guardsmen and a policeman died in Mahmoudiyah (search), about 20 miles south of Baghdad.
A car bomb in the northern city of Irbil (search) wounded a Kurdish politician and 15 others, and the politician's bodyguard was killed.
An American soldier died of wounds incurred in an ambush on his patrol in central Baghdad, but the U.S. military did not say when the attack occurred.
The attacks in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, occurred only two days after U.S. tanks and jets routed insurgents who assaulted police stations and government offices there as part of a widespread offensive that killed about 100 people nationwide.
In the Saturday attacks, rebels targeted offices of two political parties — one of them run by Iraq's prime minister — a police station and a government building. U.S. soldiers and Iraqi security forces took up defensive positions across the city, the center of Iraq's orange-growing region.
A taxi apparently filled with weapons and ammunition blew up a street about 250 yards from one of the political party offices which was attacked earlier, witnesses reported.
The two Iraqi National Guardsmen in Mahmoudiyah died in an ambush. A police officer was also killed in a separate attack Saturday, said the director of the Mahmoudiyah general hospital, Dawoud al-Taei.
The Irbil car bomb injured the culture minister of the pro-American Kurdistan Democratic Party (search), killed his bodyguard and hurt 18 others, four of them children.
Gunfire broke out Saturday in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, and ambulances raced to the scene. It was unclear who was shooting and why since the city has been generally quiet since an agreement several weeks ago to end clashes between U.S. soldiers and radical Shiite militiamen.
Several strong explosions rumbled through central Baghdad before dawn Saturday but the origin was unclear.
Gunmen attacked a police station in the New Baghdad area but officers fought back and forced the attackers to flee, an Interior Ministry official said. Police arrested three Iraqis.
The attacks were the latest in a wave of violence in the days leading to the transfer of sovereignty on Wednesday. Most of the attacks have been directed at the interim Iraqi government's security forces — the foundation of its power.
In the Baqouba attacks, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at the offices of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (search), or SCIRI, a pro-Iranian Shiite group that has been cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition, said party member Maitham Ibrahim.
Three party members died and two were injured, hospital officials said.
Gunmen also stormed the offices of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's political party, the Iraq National Accord (search), setting off an explosion before fleeing, witnesses said. No one was hurt. Flames and smoke poured from the building's third story windows. Police sealed off the area.
Video footage from Associated Press Television News showed men carrying bloodied victims on blankets into the city's small hospital as gunfire crackled nearby. A guerrilla in an Arab dishdasha (search) robe ran through the streets carrying a rifle and with belts of ammunition draped over his shoulders.
Four guerrillas also attacked Baqouba's blue-domed government building, said Maj. Neal O'Brien, spokesman of the 1st Infantry Division. Armed guards returned fire and killed the four, O'Brien said. One of the attackers wore an explosive suicide vest, he said. Two other insurgents died in an attack on a police station, O'Brien said.
Both parties hold important posts in the interim government due to assume sovereignty on Wednesday.
SCIRI promotes the interests of the country's Shiite majority, which has long struggled with the influential Sunni Muslim minority for political power and had cooperated with U.S. forces during a showdown this spring with another Shiite group led by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search).
In Baghdad, Iraq's defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, warned Friday of a "showdown" with insurgents, and officials repeated warnings that the new government may impose some form of martial law in selected areas of the country if order cannot be restored.
Much of the violence has been blamed on a movement led by Jordanian-born extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), who U.S. officials believe is operating from Fallujah, which emerged as a virtual green zone for insurgents after U.S. Marines gave up their siege of the city in April having failed to rout rebels there.
U.S. jets launched an airstrike against a suspected al-Zarqawi hideout in Fallujah on Friday — the third such strike in less than a week. U.S. officials estimated up to 25 people were killed, though Al-Jazeera television and a witness said the building was empty at the time.
An American news network quoted a U.S. official as saying a convoy which may have been al-Zarqawi's had just arrived at the building. A man was blown down by the blast but was hustled away from the site by aides. In Washington, several Pentagon officials with access to information about the airstrike said they could not confirm the account.
Al-Zarqawi's group, Tawhid and Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War), has also claimed responsibility for kidnapping and beheading American businessman Nicholas Berg (search) and South Korean translator Kim Sun-il (search).
Al-Zarqawi was known previously to have had a "small but very lethal network," but now may be working with other groups of fighters. Those groups may include supporters of Saddam Hussein and Iraqi nationalists who believe the new interim government is simply a cover for continued U.S. domination of the country.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.