BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Suicide car bombs struck Iraqi police and Kurdish militiamen in Baghdad and northern Iraq on Saturday, killing at least 14 people, wounding dozens, and again demonstrating the lethal reach of Iraq's insurgency just weeks ahead of crucial elections.
The U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, acknowledged that the country's homegrown forces aren't yet up to the task of ensuring secure elections, necessitating the planned increase in U.S. troops. More than 40 Iraqis have been killed in the last two days alone.
But U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi criticized the military's hard-line approach to the insurgency and said credible elections cannot be held Jan. 30 under the current conditions.
Meanwhile, the insurgents pursued their deadly campaign against American troops. Two U.S. soldiers were killed by roadside bombs in Baghdad and north of the capital Saturday, and the military said two other Americans died the day before in suicide car bombings of their post near the Jordanian border.
With the country still so unstable and elections eight weeks away, the U.S. military plans to increase its troop strength from 138,000 to about 150,000 by mid-January -- slightly more than during the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime -- in an attempt to keep order during the vote.
Officials had hoped the recent U.S.-led assault on the insurgent hotbed of Fallujah would put the rebels on the defensive. But the latest attacks showed they are still highly capable of hitting back where they choose.
Saturday's car bombs in Baghdad went off nearly simultaneously at about 9:30 a.m. by a police station across the street from a checkpoint leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses Iraqi government offices and several foreign missions.
Health officials said the bodies of seven people killed by the blast and 59 wounded were brought to two Baghdad hospitals. Officials said most of the victims were police officers, but the identities of all the dead were not yet known.
In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide bomber exploded his vehicle alongside a bus carrying Kurdish militiamen, killing at least seven and wounding three, an official said. Along with Iraq's majority Shiites, Kurds back the upcoming elections, and the bombing may have been an attempt to drag them into a civil war.
The militiamen were being brought in from the mainly Kurdish province of Irbil to guard Kurdish offices in Mosul, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling insurgents following last month's uprising.
In fierce fighting on Friday, gunmen tried to seize four police stations but were repelled, the U.S. military said. About 70 guerrillas also ambushed a U.S. patrol with roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. After regrouping, U.S. and Iraqi forces struck back, killing more than two dozen fighters, the military said.
In eastern Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed an American soldier and wounded five others Saturday, the military said. Another bomb near the town of Ghalabiyah, six miles west of the insurgent hotbed of Baqouba, north of Baghdad, hit a truck in a U.S. military convoy, killing a soldier and wounding another, Master Sgt. Robert Powell said.
A suicide car bomb hit an American forward operating base near Iraq's border with Jordan on Friday, killing two U.S. service members, the U.S. command said Saturday.
The killings -- along with two Americans killed in roadside bombs in Baghdad and Kirkuk on Friday -- brought to at least 1,269 the number of U.S. military members to have died since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Also Saturday, a hospital official said the bodies of four slain men wearing Iraqi National Guards uniforms were found in northwestern Iraq. Friday's grisly discovery in Tal Afar takes to at least 70 the number of remains discovered in and around that town and Mosul, about 30 miles to the east, since Nov. 18.
Police in the northern city of Samarra also came under attack Saturday. Mortars were fired at a station after midnight, wounding two officers. Gunmen injured two policemen in another attack at about 10 a.m., according to police Maj. Sadoon Ahmed Matroud.