Violence high on last day of year in Iraq; troops enjoy year-end celebrations

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
By JASON STRAZIUSO - Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq - (AP) Violence escalated in Iraq on the last day
of the year Saturday, with at least 20 people killed in a series of bombings
and shootings. American troops shivering in the cold were entertained by an
"American Idol" star as part of year-end celebrations.
A New Year's letter from President Bush noted that Iraqis had
exercised the right to vote three times in 2005, and that the people of
Afghanistan had 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 wrote. "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."
A U.S. soldier died on Saturday, bringing 2005's American military
death toll in Iraq near last year's record level.
"American Idol" star Diana DeGarmo and other entertainers treated
hundreds of U.S. forces in Baghdad to a New Year's Eve show.
The troops shivered in cold temperatures before a tan stage at Camp
Victory as DeGarmo pulled several on stage to dance. She was followed by
comedian Reggie McFadden and country music singer Michael Peterson, who were
traveling with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace as
part of a six-nation holiday tour to thank the troops.
Pace also left the troops with free bags of Starbucks coffee beans
and mugs, saying employees of the U.S. chain had donated 18,000 pounds of
the beans to share with forces during his tour.
Iraq's electoral commission, meanwhile, repeated a call Saturday for
the country's political groups to remove from their tickets 90 former
members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party before it issues final election
results next week.
Gunmen raided a house south of Baghdad, killing five Sunni family
members, and a roadside bomb in the capital killed two policemen, officials
Five members of the Iraqi Islamic party died when a roadside bomb
exploded 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.
On Saturday, a U.S. soldier died from wounds from a mortar attack in
Baghdad, the military said, putting the American military death toll 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 troops died
in 2004 and 485 in 2003.
The United States hopes that as more Iraqi police and army forces
are trained, they will slowly take over responsibility for security from
American 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.
Some Iraqis in Baghdad said that their New Year's wish was that U.S.
troops would pull out.
"God willing, the occupation of our country will end and we will get
rid of the Americans," said Noor Ali, who was in a Baghdad store.
At a nearby restaurant, Mohammad Jassem said he hoped for "water and
electricity, security and stability," he said.
The 90 former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party that the
election commission wants taken off of political lists include two leading
members of former Shiite Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's secular Iraqi National
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 must be removed from tickets that ran in the
Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.
The election commission, however, has cited insufficient evidence
against the 90 people and rejected the list. The commission said that if the
courts later determined that allegations of Baath membership were true, the
officials would be barred from elected office even if they won in the poll.
Iraq's federal court last week decided to remove the 90 people and
sent its decision to the election commission, an official said. Saad Asem
al-Janabi, senior member of the Iraqi National List, said the group had not
yet received an official request from anyone.
In other violence Saturday, a mortar round hit a police vehicle in
Baghdad, killing one of the car's occupants, police said. Gunmen also killed
the owner of a supermarket in Baghdad, police said.