Bombs, bullets kill at least 24 as new violence erupts in Iraq

Storm after calm: With election results pending, officials say, insurgents want to increase turmoil
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BAGHDAD, Iraq - Violence increased across Iraq after a lull following the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, with at least two dozen people including a U.S. soldier killed Monday in shootings and bombings mostly targeting the Shiite-dominated security services.

Officials blamed the surge in violence on insurgent efforts to deepen the political turmoil surrounding the contested vote. Preliminary figures - including some returns released Monday from ballots cast early by expatriate Iraqis and some voters inside Iraq - have given a big lead to the religious Shiite bloc that controls the current interim government.

The violence came as three opposition groups threatened a wave of protests and civil disobedience if fraud charges are not properly investigated. The warning came from the secular Iraqi National List, headed by former Shiite Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, and two Sunni Arab groups.

Iraq's Electoral Commission said Monday that final results for the 275-seat parliament could be released in about a week.

Sunni Arab and secular Shiite factions are demanding that an international body review more than 1,500 complaints, warning they may boycott the new legislature. They also want new elections in some provinces, including Baghdad. The United Nations has rejected an outside review.

''We will resort to peaceful options, including protests, civil disobedience and a boycott of the political process until our demands are met,'' Hassan Zaidan al-Lahaibi, of the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, said in neighboring Jordan, where representatives of the groups have met in recent days.

Among the complaints are 35 that the election commission considers serious enough to change some local results. But, said Farid Ayar, a commission official, ''I don't think there is a reason to cancel the entire elections.''

Every time there has been a defining event in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, there has been a period of calm. They included the June 28, 2004, transfer of power from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, the Jan. 30 elections, and the Oct. 15 constitution referendum.

The recent lull in violence ended Sunday, with the deaths of 18 people.

On Monday, a suicide car bomber slammed into a police patrol in the capital, leaving three dead, officials said, and a suicide motorcycle bomber rammed into a Shiite funeral ceremony, killing at least two, said Maj. Falah Mohamadawi of the Interior Ministry. A mortar then killed two people in a mostly Shiite neighborhood.

Four other car bombs killed at least two people and gunmen killed five officers at a police checkpoint 30 miles north of Baghdad, officials said.

A U.S. soldier serving with Task Force Baghdad was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle while on patrol in the capital, the military said.

In Jordan, a lawyer for Saddam and a Jordanian newspaper claimed Monday that the former ruler's half brother rejected a U.S. offer of a ranking Iraqi government position in exchange for testimony against the deposed leader.

Other Iraq developments

* Gunmen raided a house in southern Baghdad, killing three people, police said. Gunmen attacked the house again when police arrived to remove the bodies, wounding two officers.

* A Shiite cleric in the southern city of Najaf and a man in the northern city of Mosul were gunned down. In Baghdad, a civilian driving his children to school and a professor were killed.

* A car bomb targeted the governor of Diyala province, killing a bodyguard, and gunmen killed a member of Diyala City Council.

* Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko paid an unannounced visit to his country's troops. His country is pulling out its remaining 867 soldiers this week.

* Susanne Osthoff, a German freed after being held hostage in Iraq for more than three weeks, said she was treated well by her kidnappers, who told her they do not hurt women or children.