BAGHDAD, Iraq – Insurgents struck Iraq's security forces Monday with bombs and mortar fire, killing more than 30 people as violence escalated after last week's election. First returns from the Sunni heartland confirmed many Sunnis stayed away from the polls, leaving the field to Shiite and Kurdish candidates.
Election officials acknowledged thousands of people in the Mosul (search) area who wanted to vote during the Jan. 30 balloting were unable to because of security. Fewer than a third of the planned 330 polling centers in Mosul and the surrounding province managed to open on election day, officials said.
A Kurdish ticket, meanwhile, pulled ahead of the list backed by U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) in the race for the 275-member National Assembly, thanks to a surge of votes released Monday from the Kurdish self-governing area of the north. The Shiite-dominated ticket backed by the Shiite clergy leads among the 111 candidate lists.
U.S. troops manning a checkpoint Monday discovered four Egyptian technicians who had been kidnapped the day before in Baghdad (search), an Egyptian diplomat said. The four were freed and some arrests were made, he added.
Monday's deadliest attack occurred in Baqouba, where a car bomber exploded his vehicle outside the gates of a provincial police headquarters, killing 15 people and wounding 17, police Col. Mudhahar al-Jubouri said. Many victims were looking for jobs as policemen, al-Jubouri said.
In Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, a bomber wandered into a crowd of security personnel at a hospital and blew himself up, killing 12 people and wounding seven, U.S. officials said.
Insurgents shelled a police station in Mosul with more than a dozen mortar rounds Monday, killing three civilians, police said. And one Iraqi was killed and four others wounded when mortar shells exploded near the City Council building in Samarra, hospital officials said.
In Ramadi, an insurgent center west of Baghdad, the body of an Iraqi National Guardsman was found on a city street. Witnesses said he has been shot.
Separate postings on a Web site claimed responsibility for the Baqouba and Mosul attacks in the name of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The claims could not be verified.
The attacks were the latest sign that insurgents are stepping up attacks against Iraq's security forces, which the United States hopes can assume a greater role once a newly elected government takes office.
The bombings and kidnappings have shattered a brief downturn in violence after the Jan. 30 elections, when Iraqis chose a new National Assembly in the first nationwide balloting since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.
A final tally was expected by week's end, but partial returns point to a landslide by Shiite Muslim candidates endorsed by their clerics. Shiites comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.
Kurds, estimated at 15-20 percent of the population, gave most of their votes to a joint ticket made up of the two major Kurdish parties, which was in second with about 24 percent of the votes reported as of Monday.
Allawi's ticket trailed with about 13 percent of the vote, with the Shiite ticket leading with about half the votes. One of the Kurdish leaders, Jalal Talabani, has announced his candidacy for the presidency.
Many Sunni Arabs, estimated at 20 percent of the population and the core of the insurgency, are believed to have stayed home, either out of fear of insurgent reprisal or because of a boycott call by Sunni clerics.
Figures released Monday by the election commission from Salaheddin province, which includes Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, confirmed suspicions that many Sunnis avoided the polls.
With results in from 80 percent of the province's polling stations, the United Iraqi Alliance — which is backed by the country's top Shiite clerics — had the most votes with 27,645. The Kurdish Alliance was next with 18,791 votes.
A party headed by the Sunni Arab president, Ghazi al-Yawer, received only 15,832 votes. The faction led by U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who ran on a law and order platform, got just over 13,000.
Salaheddin includes such insurgency flashpoints as Samarra and Beiji, as well as a major American military base at Balad.
Some Sunni and Christian politicians who participated in the election have accused officials of denying thousands of people the right to vote, especially in Ninevah province which includes Mosul. They complained polling stations ran out of ballots and voters were turned away.
Election commission officials acknowledged 15,188 people were unable to vote in one Ninevah town alone, Bartala. They blamed the problems there and elsewhere on the security crisis.
Officials said only 93 of a planned 330 polling centers opened in Ninevah province. Gunmen looted some polling places, stealing ballot papers, commission official Izzedine al-Mahmoudi said.
Farooq Mabrouk, chief of the Egyptian mission in Baghdad, gave no details of how the four Egyptian technicians were freed and the U.S. military press office said it had no information.
"It's the Americans who freed them," Mabrouk said. "They were released and they will come to the embassy."
The four, who were employed by a subcontractor of an Iraqi mobile telephone company, were seized Sunday in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, a Web posting in the name of the Jihad Organization pledged to release Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena in a few days because an investigation determined she was not a spy and after an appeal for her freedom by Sunni clerics. The statement's authenticity could not be verified.
Sgrena, 56, a reporter for the communist daily Il Manifesto, was kidnapped Friday by gunmen who blocked her car outside Baghdad University. An earlier posting by the Jihad Organization claimed responsibility and gave Italy 72 hours to withdraw its troops from Iraq.
A spokesman for the Iraqi police in Babil province, Capt. Muthana Khalid Ali, withdrew a report that 22 Iraqi security troops and 14 insurgents had been killed Sunday night when insurgents tried to storm a police station in a village near Mahawil south of Baghdad.
Ali had said the fighting raged for about an hour and five Iraqi national guardsmen and 17 police were killed, as well as 14 insurgents. The U.S. command denied the report, and Ali said Monday he has misread an initial police report.
He said 12 suspected insurgents were arrested in the village after an ambush killed two Iraqi soldiers and wounded four others.