Insurgents Continue Attacks Post-Election

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BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Insurgents launched fresh attacks with bombs and bullets, killing 21 Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers, and officials said Saturday that final results will be released within five days from Iraq's historic election, in which a Shiite alliance with ties to Iran has been rolling up a big lead.

With the count still going on, a group of Sunni Arab parties that refused to participate in the election said Saturday they want to participate in the drafting of a permanent constitution — part of an effort led by a prominent Sunni politician to ensure the minority is included in the key next step after the vote.

Sunni Arabs are believed to have largely sat out last weekend's election — either out of fear of violence or as a protest — and it is feared that resentment over the vote's results could increase the largely Sunni insurgency.

Partial results have shown the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, which is endorsed by powerful cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, with a large margin over U.S.-backed interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in the race for seats in the 275-member National Assembly.

The returns, however, do not necessarily indicate a trend, since they have so far all come from the 10 southern provinces of the Shiite heartland, were the Alliance was expected to do well. Results from much of Baghdad, the Sunni Arab provinces of north-central Iraq and the Kurdish provinces in the north have yet to emerge.

The Iraqi election commission released no new election returns Saturday, but predicted it would announce final vote totals by Thursday. In figures announced Friday, the Alliance had two-thirds of the 3.3 million votes counted so far, while Allawi's faction trailed with about 18 percent — or more than 579,700 votes.

The National Assembly will form the next government and draw up a permanent constitution, which will then be put to a national referendum. Officials at one prominent organization of Sunni clerics, the Association of Muslim Scholars, have already said they won't join the constitution process, saying the vote was invalid because it was held amid violence and the U.S. military presence.

But around a dozen Sunni groups, organized by elder statesman Adnan Pachachi, said they want to participate in the process. "The representatives of these political bodies that did not participate in the elections have decided in principle to take part in the writing of the permanent constitution in a suitable way," a statement from the group said.

The groups were mainly small movements and it was not clear how representative they are. Pachachi, a former foreign minister, ran for a seat in the National Assembly in last Sunday's balloting.

Top Shiite leaders have promised to reach out to the Sunnis and include them in decision-making. However, it's unclear how the Shiites intend to proceed, and it is still unknown how many Sunnis will have spots in the Assembly.

In the latest violence, four Iraqi National Guardsmen died in a roadside bombing early Saturday in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, while gunmen overran a police station in the northern city of Mosul, killing five officers, police officials said.

Gunmen assassinated a member of the Baghdad city council, Abbas Hasan Waheed, and a member of Iraq's intelligence service in two separate drive-by shootings.

Two Iraqi troops died from a blast that hit a patrol in the central city of Samarra, and three Iraqi National Guard soldiers were also killed in clashes west of Mosul, in the city of Tal Afar, on Friday night, hospital officials said.

The two American soldiers from Task Force Danger were killed in a roadside bombing Friday night near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said Saturday. The military had said a second roadside blast in the same area killed two more American soldiers, but later said that report was wrong.

The brother of the police chief for Mosul and the surrounding Ninevah province was kidnapped Saturday, police officials said.

The kidnapping came three days after the chief, Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al-Jubouri, had threatened to destroy rebel sanctuaries if insurgents did not surrender their weapons within two weeks.

West of the capital, a U.S. convoy in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi was rocked by a roadside bomb that killed two Iraqi bystanders, a hospital official said. It wasn't clear if there were any American casualties.

On Baghdad's western outskirts, several mortar rounds exploded with thunderous booms, sending up a cloud of black smoke. It wasn't clear exactly where they struck or if there were any casualties.

Early Saturday, an Italian journalist received a call from the mobile telephone of colleague Giuliana Sgrena, 56, who was kidnapped by gunmen Friday near Baghdad University.

Radio journalist Barbara Schiavulli, who received the call from Sgrena's phone, heard only Arab music playing in the background, said Cristiana Tomei, a colleague of Schiavulli's speaking in Rome.

Gunmen grabbed Sgrena as she left a mosque near the university, forcing her into a car while trading fire with university guards. Schiavulli had received a call from her phone apparently while the abduction was taking place, hearing only gunshots and footsteps but not Sgrena's voice.

A Web site posting in the name of the Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but Italian officials said they were not convinced the statement was genuine.

Sgrena is the second Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq, and at least the ninth Italian seized here in recent months. French journalist Florence Aubenas, who works for the daily newspaper Liberation, is missing since disappearing Jan. 5 in Baghdad.

More than 190 foreigners have been kidnapped in the past year, and at least 13 remain in their captors' hands.

Associated Press Television News obtained video footage Saturday from the Islamic Army of Iraq, showing a militant firing a shoulder-fired missile at what appears to be a C-130 transport plane flying at a low altitude. The plane's crew fired flares and the missile veered away from the aircraft's rear without hitting it.

It wasn't clear where or when the footage was recorded.

Also Saturday, an Iraqi police commander said 11 of his officers were missing after their convoy was ambushed this week in a western Baghdad suburb. Insurgents killed five policemen and an Iraqi National Guard major in the Thursday attack.

In the northern city of Mosul, the bodies of three unidentified Iraqis who had been shot in the head were found on the streets of the city's eastern sector, police said. No other details were available.