Insurgents launched multiple attacks on Iraqi police across the dangerous Sunni Triangle on Tuesday, killing 24 people — including 19 policemen — a day after the major Sunni Muslim political party pulled out of the Jan. 30 elections citing the deteriorating security situation.
Also Tuesday, a militant group claimed to have executed eight Iraqi employees of the Sandi Group, American security company, saying they had supported the U.S.-led occupation. The claim could not be independently verified.
Twelve policemen died when gunmen attacked a station 12 miles south of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, said Arkan Mohammed, a local government official.
A car bomb killed five Iraqi National Guardsmen and injured 26 near Baqouba, a town 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, after the paramilitary troops had cordoned off an area in order to disarm a roadside bomb, said Maj. Neal O'Brien.
In Baqouba, gunmen assassinated Capt. Na'em Muhanad Abdullah, a local police commander, and wounded three other men, a spokesman said.
Elsewhere Tuesday, a car bomb exploded in the village of Muradiya, 18 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing five civilians and wounding dozens, said Dr. Ahmed Fouad of the Baqouba General Hospital.
In Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, a gunman attacked a police station in the Hadbaa district, killing one policeman, police Capt. Ahmed Khalil.
In another blow to plans to hold the ballot as scheduled, the largest Sunni political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party withdrew from the race Monday, only hours after a suicide car bomber killed 15 people in Baghdad in an attempt to assassinate the head of Iraq's strongest Shiite party.
The rebels campaign to disrupt the elections for a new constitutional assembly has steadily escalated in recent weeks, and most Sunni parties and religious groups have already decided to boycott the ballot, calling for a postponement of the vote until the security situation stabilizes.
Iraq's national security adviser Qassem Dawoud called on Syria to turn in Saddam Hussein loyalists who are helping insurgents in Iraq and to help secure its border. He said Iraq that Sabaawi al-Hassan, one of Saddam's half brothers, and a Saddam loyalist named Younis al-Ahmed are supporting the insurgency from Syria.
"We hope the Syrian government ... will cooperate with us on drying the sources of terrorism in its territories and limiting the movements of Saddamists there," Dawoud told the Al-Rai Al-Aam daily during a visit to Kuwait.
Insurgents have mainly targeted members of the interim government's security forces — whom they consider to be collaborators with the American occupation forces — killing hundreds in the past two months.
The 10 employees of Sandi Group were kidnapped west of Baghdad on Dec. 13 by militants claiming to represent the Mujahedeen Army, The Black Banner Brigade, and the Mutassim Bellah Brigade.
"Eight have been executed because it was proven that they were supporting the occupying army. The other two will be released for lack of evidence," a statement said.
In the city of Samarra, a suicide attacker detonated his car in the city center wounding 10 people, including three children, police Maj. Saadoun Ahmed Matroud.
Shortly after the explosion, people were told through mosques loud speakers to stay inside because of a curfew, and U.S. and Iraq troops set up roadblocks, witnesses said. Also in Samarra, U.S. troops killed three gunmen when they attacked an American post, the military said. No U.S. servicemen were wounded.
Several mortar rounds targeted an Iraqi police station in Mufriq, north of Baghdad, injuring three policemen, said Lt. Saleh Hussein. The three were hospitalized.
In Babil province south of Baghdad, police said they arrested 10 armed men in a raid in the area of Jbila after intelligence indicated the suspects were allegedly plotting to attack a police station there, Capt. Hady Hatif said.
Meanwhile, in an audiotape broadcast Monday by the Al-Jazeera satellite television, a man purported to be Osama bin Laden endorsed Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as his deputy in Iraq and called for a boycott of the elections.
In urging a boycott of the election, the voice on the Al-Jazeera tape described al-Zarqawi as the "emir" of al-Qaida in Iraq and called on Muslims there "to listen to him." Last month al-Zarqawi declared allegiance to bin Laden and changed the name of his group, which is responsible for numerous car bombings and beheadings of foreign hostages in Iraq, to Al-Qaida in Iraq.
Shiites comprise by far the biggest community in Iraq, with Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds making up 20 percent each. Many people in Iraq and abroad fear the legitimacy of the upcoming election will be brought into question if Sunnis refrain from voting.