Gunmen Kill Three Iraqi Forces

Insurgents killed three members of Iraq's security forces on Saturday by firing from speeding vehicles at army soldiers and policemen in the northern city of Kirkuk (search), officials said.

The gunmen killed one policeman and two soldiers as they headed to work in two separate drive-by shootings, police Brig. Sarhat Qadir said.

Further to the north, in Mosul (search), a car bomb damaged one vehicle in a U.S. military convoy, but there were no reports of casualties, said Sgt. John H. Franzen. Mosul is 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

A Filipino contract worker, Francisco Luz, was shot and injured Saturday in Baghdad, police and hospital officials said. It was unclear if Luz was targeted or whether he was caught in crossfire.

The shootings came a day after an important Sunni cleric urged Iraq's new president to disregard U.S. pressure and free thousands of suspected rebels, a sign the religious group most often associated with the Iraqi insurgency might be willing to work with the new government.

If President Jalal Talabani (search) "wants to begin a new page, he must first release those in jail. Secondly, there must be a full pardon," Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, a cleric in the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, said during Friday prayers.

He also urged Talabani to refuse to "obey and kneel to pressure from" Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search). The United States has opposed freeing prisoners or pardoning insurgents.

It remains unclear how much say Talabani, a Kurd, will have in his largely ceremonial post. Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) is putting together a Cabinet and it isn't known if the new government backs a pardon.

After he was sworn in as president this month, Talabani appealed to Iraq's homegrown insurgents to work with the newly elected leadership and suggested they could be pardoned, although he said the Iraqi government would continue to fight foreign militants.

Most of the 10,500 detainees are held by the U.S. military, and some lawmakers have said the new president is just expressing his personal opinion.

Still, Talabani and other members of the new government are reaching out to Iraq's Sunni minority, which was the dominant group under Saddam Hussein and is believed to be the backbone of the insurgency.

Al-Samarrai's comment was the latest sign that his organization, which has been alleged to have links to insurgents, is responding. Two weeks ago, he instructed his followers to begin joining Iraqi security forces.

Many Sunnis, who make up 15 percent to 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, boycotted the Jan. 30 elections or stayed home for fear of attacks at the polls.