Militants Kill 26 Ahead of Trial

Published October 19, 2005

| Associated Press

Sunni-led insurgents killed 26 people in Iraq on the opening day of Saddam Hussein's trial, including six Shiites who were lined up at a factory and gunned down in front of their fellow workers, police said.

In two other deadly attacks Wednesday, six civilians were killed when mortar rounds hit their homes in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, and three election commission officials were shot and killed on the outskirts of the capital in Abu Ghraib (search), as they drove home after another round of counting ballots from the constitutional referendum, police said.

A bomb also went off at a famous monument in a Baghdad square honoring the 8th-century founder of Baghdad to whom Saddam often compared himself. The blast, which toppled the bust of Abu Jaafar Al-Mansour (search) but caused no injuries, appeared to be a jab at the former dictator.

In addition, the military said that two coalition soldiers were killed — one American, the other British — in attacks Tuesday night.

Iraqis are still awaiting the outcome of last weekend's referendum, as the slower-than-expected vote counting continued. Questions about the integrity of the vote and delays in getting marked ballots to the capital mean final results from the landmark vote won't be announced until Friday at the earliest, officials said.

The returns have raised questions over the possibility of irregularities in the balloting — and have prompted an audit into an irregularly high number of "yes" votes.

An argumentative Saddam and seven senior members of his regime went on trial Wednesday for a 1982 massacre of about 150 Shiites in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad. He challenged the legitimacy of the court and pleaded innocent to all charges.

The judge later adjourned the session until Nov. 28.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) heralded the constitutional referendum and said the American strategy in Iraq was to "clear areas from insurgent control, hold them securely, and build durable, national Iraqi institutions."

Rice told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee the United States is working to dismantle the insurgent network and disrupt foreign support for them, maintain security in areas insurgents no longer hold, and build national institutions to "sustain security forces, bring rule of law, visibly deliver essential services, and offer the Iraqi people hope for a better economic future."

Wednesday's worst insurgent attack occurred in a mostly Sunni region south of Baghdad known as the Triangle of Death (search) because of all its militant groups.

About nine militants barged into a building materials factory near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, lined up all the workers and forced the six Shiite ones to identify themselves, said police Lt. Colonel Khalil Mohammed. The militants then tied up the hands of Shiites, shot them to death in front of the other workers, and fled in several stolen company cars, Mohammed said.

Insurgents opened fire on a police checkpoint near the Hai Al-Adil highway in a western Baghdad, killing four policemen and wounding 11, said police Capt. Qassim Hassan.

Rory Carroll, 33, an Irish citizen who is the Baghdad correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian (search) also was apparently kidnapped in the capital on Wednesday.

A roadside bomb hit a U.S. Army patrol late Tuesday night, killing one soldier and wounding two near Iskandariyah, the military said. The attack raised to at least 1,981 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.

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