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Troops mark year’s end as violence continues

In this photo released by the U.S. Marine Corps,
In this photo released by the U.S. Marine Corps, "American Idol" star Diana DeGarmo, center, performs for soldiers at Camp Victory, Iraq, during a USO show Saturday. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Bombings and shootings killed at least 20 people across Iraq on the final day of the year Saturday, while U.S. troops shivered in the cold during a performance by an “American Idol” singer as part of New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The U.S. military also reported the death of an American soldier from wounds, bringing its death toll in Iraq for 2005 near last year’s record level.

Iraq’s electoral commission, meanwhile, repeated a call for political groups to remove from their candidate lists 90 former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party before the agency issues final results next week from the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

Many Iraqis, particularly from the long oppressed Shiite Muslim majority and Kurdish communities, want to keep ex-Baathists out of the new government. Sunni Arabs, the backbone of Iraq’s insurgency, see that as an attempt to deny their minority a role in politics.

A letter from President Bush lauded political developments in Iraq and Afghanistan, praising the efforts of U.S. troops in helping Iraqis exercise the right to vote three times during 2005 and the people of Afghanistan to also cast ballots.

“In the coming year, America will continue to stand beside these young democracies and lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren,” Bush said.

“We appreciate the brave men and women in uniform who protect our country and advance freedom around the world. We are grateful to their families for their support and sacrifice, and we pray for all those who have lost loved ones in freedom’s cause.”

At Camp Victory near Baghdad’s airport, “American Idol 3” finalist Diana DeGarmo and other entertainers treated hundreds of U.S. servicemen and women to a New Year’s Eve show.

Soldiers sat in the cold in front of a stage as DeGarmo pulled several on stage to dance. She was followed by comedian Reggie McFadden and country music singer Michael Peterson, who traveled with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a six-nation holiday tour to thank the troops.

Gen. Peter Pace also delivered bags of Starbucks coffee beans and mugs, saying employees of the U.S. chain donated 18,000 pounds of the beans to share with the American military units he has visited.

In another day of bloodshed, gunmen raided a house south of Baghdad, killing five members of a Sunni Arab family.

A roadside bomb in the capital killed two policemen, and another bomb killed five members of the Iraqi Islamic party near their headquarters in Al-Khalis, 10 miles east of Baqouba, police said.

Police also said they found the bodies of six men who had been blindfolded, shot and dumped at a sewage plant in southeast Baghdad. A mortar round killed a policeman in Baghdad, and gunmen fatally shot the owner of a supermarket in the capital, officials said.

A U.S. soldier died Saturday from wounds inflicted by a mortar attack in Baghdad, the military said. That put the American military death toll for the year at 841 – five short of 2004’s record total – despite political progress and dogged U.S. and Iraqi efforts to quash the insurgency. A total of 846 U.S. military personnel died in 2004 and 485 in 2003.

Some Iraqis in Baghdad said their New Year’s Eve wish is that U.S. troops will pull out.

“God willing, the occupation of our country will end and we will get rid of the Americans,” said Noor Ali, who was shopping at a Baghdad store.

At a nearby restaurant, Mohammad Jassem said he hoped for “water and electricity, security and stability.”


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