Organised violence in Iraq

Gunmen ambushed a bus carrying unarmed Iraqis to work at a U.S. ammo dump near Tikrit on Sunday, killing 17 and raising the toll from three days of intensified and bloody insurgent attacks to at least 70 Iraqi dead and dozens wounded.

The attacks, focused in &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Baghdad and several cities to the north, appeared to be aimed at scaring off those who co-operate with the American military - whether police, national guardsmen, Kurdish militias, or ordinary people just looking for a paycheque.

The violence came just weeks after the United States launched major offensives aimed at suppressing guerrillas ahead of crucial elections set for Jan. 30. Later Sunday, several small Sunni Muslim groups joined more influential Sunni clerics in demanding that the vote be postponed by six monthssays CBC News.

According to the Guardian, the organised violence underlines the insurgency's continued strength despite last month's US military assault on &to=http:// 22/101/399/14549_Fallujah.html ' target=_blank>Falluja and suggests that attacks will intensify in the run-up to next month's general election.

In southern Iraq, the Black Watch returned to base in Basra at the end of a controversial month-long deployment south-west of Baghdad.

A Ministry of Defence source said there were no plans to send more British troops outside their area of responsibility.

At 8.30am yesterday gunmen in Tikrit, &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Saddam Hussein's home town north of Baghdad, opened fire on two buses delivering Iraqi workers to a weapons dump, the US military said. At least 17 people were killed and 13 were injured and taken to hospitals.

The US commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, acknowledged that the insurgency is proving a tough task for the country’s fledgling security forces, which he said were not yet up to the task of ensuring secure elections, requiring the planned increase in US troops from 138,000 to 150,000.

"This means a council will emerge that does not represent all and thus will lack legitimacy," the leaders said in a statement. Their call echoed concerns expressed previously by Iraq’s most influential Sunni politicians that the raging insurgency has made huge areas of the country too dangerous for the polls.

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