BAGHDAD, Dec 30: Fifteen Iraqis were killed in attacks across the country on Thursday as plans were unveiled to deploy 100,000 Iraqi soldiers to stave off a bloodbath on election day exactly a month from now.

The deadly violence came one day after battles between US troops and guerillas in the northern city of Mosul left at least 26 dead, including a US soldier, and 30 people were killed when a booby-trapped house in Baghdad exploded.

The grim business of hostage-taking again surfaced, with two Lebanese businessmen kidnapped in an upmarket neighbourhood of Baghdad late on Wednesday. And the Iraqi government announced that a senior aide to the country's most wanted man, Abu Musab al Zarqawi - whose militants are behind many deadly attacks and killings of hostages - was captured recently in Baghdad.

A similar arrest was made in Mosul. On Wednesday guerillas detonated car bombs against a US patrol and attacked a combat outpost in Mosul, triggering air strikes and clashes that left at least 25 guerillas dead, the US military said.

A US soldier died of wounds suffered in one of the car bombings, the military announced. Across the country, at least 15 Iraqis have been killed in various attacks by guerillas since Wednesday night, security officials said.

Three border policemen were gunned down in Baquba, north of Baghdad, while on leave, and the son of local police chief was kidnapped. In the capital, an Iraqi army officer was killed while strolling in the street.

Four civilians were killed in an ambush at Shorgat, north of the capital, while further north two civilians were killed and four hurt when a bomb exploded near their car as it followed a national guard convoy.

Two more Iraqis died and four were wounded when they tried to break through a national guard roadblock in Syniya, a woman was killed and three people wounded by a roadside bomb on the road between Baghdad and Balad and, in Samarra, a national guard was died and four others were wounded in an ambush.

The violence raised to well over 100 the death toll for the past 48 hours. Despite the volatile security situation, US President George Bush insisted elections must go ahead as planned on Jan 30, even as a militant group reiterated to sabotage the poll with deadly violence.

ELECTION THREAT: An Al Qaeda-linked group, Ansar al Sunna, which claimed responsibility for last week's attack against US troops in Mosul, renewed a threat to attack polling stations during the election, in a statement on its website.

"It's very important that these elections proceed," Bush said Wednesday. US and Iraqi officials have said they hope an increase in offensives against guerillas, coupled with airtight security on Jan 30, will allow voting to go ahead across the nation.

Brig Gen Erv Lessel, the US-led military's deputy director of operations, bluntly listed the potential election day hazards. "They (guerillas) will make attempts to try to disrupt the process by attacking election officials as well as those Iraqi citizens who have volunteered to be candidates and campaign in the political process.

There will be attempted attacks against polling places and polling locations." Adel Lami, a ranking officer on Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission, said "about 100,000 police and national guard will be mobilized".

Brig Lessel said US forces would ramp up their operations before Jan 30 to disrupt the resistance, with its turbulent mix of Saddam Hussein loyalists, criminals, religious hard liners and renegade tribal factions. -AFP

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