BAGHDAD, Iraq – A car bomb killed 17 people Saturday and injured 21 others in a mostly Shiite Muslim (search) town south of Baghdad, and U.S. troops backed by tanks battled rebels in the country's third-largest city as the insurgency showed no sign of abating after national elections.
Officials plan to announce the final results of the Jan. 30 vote on Sunday, election commission spokesman Farid Ayar said. Another car bomb exploded in an eastern Baghdad neighborhood as a U.S. military convoy passed, killing an Iraqi woman and wounding three others but causing no American casualties, Iraqi police said. The bomb exploded about half a mile from a U.S. Army base.
The car bomb south of Baghdad exploded near the main hospital in Musayyib (search), a mostly Shiite town 35 miles south of Baghdad along the Euphrates River. The town is in a religiously mixed area that has been the scene of frequent attacks by Sunni Muslim insurgents.
It appeared the attack was part of a campaign by Sunni Arab extremists against the country's Shiites — an estimated 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people — who stand on the verge of a major election victory as officials finish the final vote tallies.
More than 100 people have been killed this week in sectarian and insurgency-related violence, much of it targeting Shiite Muslims.
Ayar said on Al-Arabiya television the election commission would meet Sunday morning to finalize some unspecified issues and then announce the final figures in the afternoon. The results will be considered official after a three-day period.
"We will give three days to verify the results, hear any disputes, and then they will be officially declared final," Ayar said. "All the numbers will be announced tomorrow."
Partial returns show a Shiite-dominated ticket endorsed by the Shiite clergy leading in the race for the 275 seats in the National Assembly (search). Shiite religious groups appear to have won control of provincial councils in wide areas of the country, including the two biggest cities, Baghdad and Basra.
Sunni Arab extremists, fearing a loss of their privileged position, have accused the Americans of manipulating the election to install Shiites and Kurds (search) in power. Sunni Arabs, an estimated 20 percent of the population, form the heart of the insurgency, and many of them boycotted the election.
Fears of sectarian violence prompted the Iraqi government to announce a five-day closing of the nation's borders starting Thursday to protect worshippers during a major Shiite religious holiday, the Feast of Ashoura, that peaks next weekend.
U.S. and Iraqi officials hoped the election eventually would produce a stable government with the resources and public support to crush the insurgency. In the short run, however, U.S. military officials have warned that the war with the Sunni insurgents was far from over.
The performance of Iraqi security forces could determine when the United States would hand over more responsibility to local police and soldiers, hastening the day when American and other foreign troops can leave.
However, training among Iraqi forces, especially the police, remains a major problem.
In Germany, NATO's top commander, U.S. Gen. James. L. Jones, said the alliance's military academy for Iraqi officers outside Baghdad is unlikely to be up and running before September, signaling continued difficulties finding troops and funding for the training mission.
When NATO nations approved the plan to set up the academy in September, officials hoped it could be operational before the end of 2004, but the alliance has struggled to persuade nations to commit instructors and support troops.
Meanwhile, fierce clashes broke out Saturday in the northern city of Mosul after American troops, responding to a mortar attack on one of their bases, were attacked with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades by insurgents inside a mosque, U.S. officials said.
The insurgents disabled a U.S. Army tank and a Stryker armored vehicle during the battle, which raged for hours around the mosque, Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla said. U.S. troops killed nine insurgents but suffered no fatalities, Kurilla said.
A woman died when a mortar round hit her house during the fighting, and another person was killed when a bomb exploded in another part of Mosul, hospital officials said.
Earlier Saturday, Mosul police discovered the bodies of 12 men — six dressed in Iraqi National Guard uniforms and six Kurdish security guards — dumped in two areas of the city.
Notes left near the bodies of the Iraqi guardsmen said, "This is the destiny for those who participated in besieging Fallujah," referring to November's U.S.-led assault on the insurgent bastion 40 miles west of Baghdad.
Insurgents mounted a major uprising in Mosul during the Fallujah assault, forcing American and Iraqi commanders to rush troops to the northern city after the entire 5,000-member police force deserted.
Also Saturday, a roadside bomb blasted an American military convoy, killing an Iraqi bystander but causing no U.S. casualties, a police official in the town of Youssifiyah said.
In Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, two gunmen assassinated a prominent Iraqi judge who served under Saddam Hussein. The judge, Taha al-Amiri, was the former chief jurist on Basra's highest criminal court and was among several former Baath Party figures killed in the city during the past 18 months.
Suspicion has fallen on Shiite extremists seeking revenge for Saddam's oppression of the majority Shiite community.
Elsewhere, police found the bodies of a Sunni Muslim imam, who worked for an endowment that handles funds for mosques, and his son on a highway southeast of Baghdad. It was unclear whether the attacks were reprisal killings by Shiites seeking revenge for insurgent attacks on their community.