Insurgents Ambush
50-Strong Iraqi Police Convoy

By Gideon Long
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraqi insurgents staged a major ambush on a road south of Baghdad Thursday, killing two policemen, wounding 14 and leaving at least 36 missing on the worst day of violence since last Sunday's election.
Police said militants attacked a police convoy as it traveled between Diwaniya, 180 km (112 miles) south of Baghdad, and the capital.
U.S. forces sealed off the site of the ambush, near the Abu Ghraib area on Baghdad's western fringes. Police said some of the wounded were treated in hospital in Diwaniya.
The attack came a day after guerrillas in the north dragged Iraqi soldiers off a bus and shot 12 of them dead, and suggests the country's 22-month-long insurgency is far from over, despite its failure to stop last weekend's vote.
At least a dozen civilians were also killed in Thursday's bloodshed, the worst this week.
Iraq's policemen and soldiers are increasingly bearing the brunt of insurgent attacks as U.S. troops try to assume a back seat role in preparation for an eventual withdrawal from the country they invaded in March 2003.
National security forces are widely perceived to have done a good job in preventing carnage during Sunday's ballot, when millions of Iraqis braved insurgent threats and voted in their freest election in half a century.
But they have yet to capture one of the insurgency's key figures -- Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and the man behind many of the worst atrocities.
Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said his forces had come close to catching him two or three times in recent weeks.
"I think we arrived a bit late. Maybe we missed him by one hour ... (but) we will get him -- very soon, hopefully," Naqib told Pentagon reporters in a videoconference from Baghdad.
In Wednesday's bus attack near the northern oil city of Kirkuk, militants pulled 14 police officers off their bus and killed 12 of them with a bullet to the head. The other two escaped to a nearby village.
Two U.S. Marines were also killed Wednesday in Anbar province west of Baghdad, a hotbed of anti-American militancy.
The deaths took the number of U.S. military and Pentagon personnel killed in action in Iraq since the invasion of March 2003 to 1,103. Including non-combat deaths the toll is 1,439.
In a reminder of the perils of voting in Iraq, militants shot dead two civilians Thursday in a car near the town of Balad, north of Baghdad. Local police said the victims had been singled out because they had voted.
At least 10 other civilians were killed in a spate of attacks across the country, the police and army said.
A roadside bomb killed three near the central town of Ishaaq and a Turkish truck driver was killed on a road between the northern cities of Baiji and Mosul.
South of Baghdad, near the largely Shi'ite town of Hilla, gunmen drew up alongside the car of a local government official and shot him dead before escaping.
Hospital sources said U.S. troops killed three Iraqis in the rebellious Sunni city of Ramadi and police said militants killed two men suspected of working at an American base north of Baiji.
Final results of Sunday's poll have yet to be announced and officials say it could be another week before they are.
With around 1.6 million votes counted from Baghdad and five mostly Shi'ite southern provinces, the main Shi'ite block had polled more than three quarters of votes cast.
A list headed by Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was second on around 20 percent.
Officials cautioned, however, that Shi'ites had been expected to score well in those provinces and the figures should not be seen as representative of the entire country.
"Only God Almighty knows the final figures," electoral commissioner Safwat Rashid told a news conference. "We are still in the process of counting."
Representatives of the Sunni Arabs, only 20 percent of Iraq's population but dominant under Saddam, look certain to have fared badly, raising fears they will not be adequately represented in the new 275-member national assembly.
Many Sunni parties boycotted the vote, saying it was tainted by the U.S.-led occupation. Some said their supporters had been unable to vote as they lived in areas where insurgency is rife.
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