U.S. Soldiers Mark Year's End on a Violent Day in Iraq

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U.S. troops shivered in the cold during a performance by an "American Idol" singer as part of New Year's Eve celebrations, and violence killed at least 20 people across Iraq on the final day of the year.

At Camp Victory near Baghdad's airport, "American Idol 3" finalist Diana DeGarmo and other entertainers treated hundreds of U.S. servicemen and women to a New Year's Eve show.

Soldiers sat in the cold in front of a tan stage as DeGarmo pulled several on stage to dance. She was followed by comedian Reggie McFadden and country music singer Michael Peterson, who traveled with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a six-nation holiday tour to thank the troops.

Gen. Peter Pace also delivered bags of Starbucks coffee beans and mugs, saying employees of the U.S. chain donated 18,000 pounds of the beans to share with the American military units he has visited.

Iraq's electoral commission, meanwhile, repeated a call for political groups to remove from their candidate lists 90 former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party before the agency issues final results next week from the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

Many Iraqis, particularly from the long oppressed Shiite Muslim majority and Kurdish communities, want to keep ex-Baathists out of the new government. Sunni Arabs, the backbone of Iraq's insurgency, sees that as an attempt to deny their minority a role in politics.

A letter from President Bush lauded political developments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, praising the efforts of U.S. troops in helping Iraqis exercise the right to vote three times during 2005 and the people of Afghanistan to also cast ballots.

"In the coming year, America will continue to stand beside these young democracies and lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren," Bush said.

"We appreciate the brave men and women in uniform who protect our country and advance freedom around the world. We are grateful to their families for their support and sacrifice, and we pray for all those who have lost loved ones in freedom's cause."

In another day of bloodshed, gunmen raided a house south of Baghdad, killing five members of a Sunni Arab family.

A roadside bomb in the capital killed two policemen and another bomb killed five members of the Iraqi Islamic party near their headquarters in Al-Khalis, 10 miles east of Baqouba, police said.

Police also said they found the bodies of six men who had been blindfolded, shot and dumped at a sewage plant in southeast Baghdad. A mortar round killed a policeman in Baghdad, and gunmen fatally shot the owner of a supermarket in the capital, officials said.

A U.S. soldier died Saturday from wounds inflicted by a mortar attack in Baghdad, the military said. That put the American military death toll for the year at 842 -- four short of 2004's record total despite political progress and dogged U.S. and Iraqi efforts to quash the insurgency. A total of 846 U.S. military personnel died in 2004 and 485 in 2003.

Some Iraqis in Baghdad said their New Year's Eve wish is that U.S. troops will pull out.

"God willing, the occupation of our country will end and we will get rid of the Americans," said Noor Ali, who shopping at a Baghdad store.

At a nearby restaurant, Mohammad Jassem said he hoped for "water and electricity, security and stability."

The United States hopes that as more Iraqi police and army units are trained, they will slowly take over responsibility for security from American forces and let Washington begin pulling out troops.

Much of that expectation hinges on the ability of Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups to form a broad-based government that will have the legitimacy to deflate the Sunni Arab-led insurgency.

The 90 former members of Saddam's Baath party that the election commission wants taken off political lists include two leading members of former Shiite Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's secular Iraqi National List.

Saad Asem al-Janabi, a senior member of Allawi's group, said it had not received an official request from anyone.

The executive director of de-Baathification commission, Ali al-Lami, told The Associated Press that Allawi's list had the largest number in the group of 90 candidates that should be removed from tickets that competed in the parliamentary elections.

The election commission said it had insufficient evidence to bar the 90 people itself. The commission said that if the courts later determined allegations of Baath membership were true, the officials would be barred from elected office even if they were awarded parliament seats.