BAGHDAD, Iraq - A car bomb wounded five members of the Iraqi National Guard and killed two civilians yesterday near the northern town of Beiji, while residents of Baghdad and other major cities spent New Year's Eve under the threat of a three-day "curfew" imposed by an insurgent group bent on attacking U.S. targets.
Amid an official nighttime curfew imposed by the interim Iraqi government and enforced by U.S. troops and Iraqi police, the streets of Baghdad were quiet most of last night as families stayed home to mark the end of a violent year.
"I am not celebrating tonight because of the security situation," said Ahmed Sami, a 24-year-old computer science student. "Beyond that, there are a lot of areas in Iraq living in tragedy, such as Fallujah. We used to celebrate every New Year's Eve with my friends. But the circumstances were good then."
`Like dogs barking'
Iraqi and U.S. authorities dismissed the warning from the Ansar al-Sunnah Army for Iraqis to stay home Thursday, yesterday and today. And some Baghdad residents also played it down, saying such threats had become commonplace. "They are just like dogs barking," one Iraqi said.
Many people stayed indoors nonetheless.
"I am not celebrating tonight. We did it last night, because we thought something bad would happen tonight," said businessman Waleed Tariq, 38, recalling the bombing last New Year's Eve of Nabil, a popular Baghdad restaurant. This year, he said, "we sat in a friend's house, drank and watched music on television."
In a New Year's Eve address broadcast on state television, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi sought to reassure Iraqis that security would be a paramount concern during national elections scheduled for Jan. 30.
The Ansar al-Sunnah Army and other insurgent groups have vowed to disrupt the elections, which they denounce as being dictated by an occupying power or, because of their democratic nature, being antithetical to Islam.
Some Sunni Muslim leaders have called for the vote to be postponed. They say the violence and instability will make a representative turnout impossible, particularly in the predominantly Sunni areas that have been hit hardest by the insurgency.
"Iraq will be solid and strong in its political and social system, a united Iraq in a stable and secure region," Allawi said. "I am Iraqi, and I wish my good nation a happy new year and I hope it brings to Iraqis and the whole world happiness, prosperity and stability, God willing. The new year will be decisive in the history of our nation and its future."
The car bombing in Beiji targeted the guardsmen but destroyed a passing car and killed its occupants, a military official said. There were conflicting reports on whether any guardsmen were killed or wounded.
A guardsman was fatally shot and six others were wounded in a shootout yesterday in Mahmudiyah, according to news reports. ANd north of Fallujah the body of a National Guard member was found with a note attached that said: "This is the fate of anyone who collaborates with the occupation forces."
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