BAGHDAD (AFP) - More than a dozen Iraqis were killed in attacks across the country as plans were unveiled to deploy 100,000 Iraqi forces to stave off a bloodbath on election day exactly a month from now. The deadly violence came after battles between US troops and Iraqi insurgents 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 Wednesday.
And the Iraqi government announced that a senior aide to Iraq'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.
On Wednesday, insurgents detonated car bombs against a US patrol and attacked a combat outpost in Mosul triggering air strikes and clashes that left at least 25 rebels dead, the US military said.
A US soldier died of wounds suffered in one of the car bombings, the military announced Thursday.
Despite the volatile security situation, US President George W. Bush insisted elections must go ahead as planned on January 30, even as an Islamic militant group reiterated a sabotage the poll with deadly violence.
An Al-Qaeda linked group, Ansar al-Sunna, which claimed responsibility for last week's deadly 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 insurgents, coupled with airtight security on January 30, will allow voting to go ahead across the nation.
Brigadier General Erv Lessel, the US-led military's deputy director of operations, bluntly listed the potential election day hazards.
"They (insurgents) 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 mobilised."
Lessel said US forces will ramp up their operations ahead of January 30 to disrupt the insurgency, with its turbulent mix of Saddam Hussein loyalists, criminals, Islamic fundamentalists and renegade tribal factions.
"In the areas where there are security concerns -- Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul -- we are taking active, positive steps to go on the offensive against the insurgents to help create the security environment necessary to have ... elections in those cities."
In the major northern city of Kirkuk, dozens of Kurds demonstrated to protest at violence against their community and to demand that regional elections be postponed.
Iragi voters are to choose a transitional 275-seat National Assembly, a parliament for the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and 18 provincial councils on January 30 in the first truly free and fair elections for half a century.
Meanwhile, the interim government revealed that a US-led raid in recent weeks netted Fadil Hussein Ahmed al-Kurdi, a 26-year-old Kurd suspected of aiding Zarqawi, and two other suspects.
A statement said Kurdi was also known as Abu Ubaida al-Kurdi or simply Ridha.
"Ridha was responsible for facilitating communications between Al-Qaeda and the Zarqawi terror networks, as well as coordinating the movement of terrorists in and out of Iraq."
The government had announced on Wednesday the capture of Abu Marwan, a "key leader" of the Zarqawi network in Mosul, on December 23.
A purported voice recording of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden aired on Arabic television Monday named Zarqawi his "emir" in Iraq.
Across the country, at least 15 Iraqis have been killed in various attacks by insurgents since Wednesday night, Iraqi 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.
Masked gunmen also kidnapped two Lebanese businessmen from their home in Baghdad's upscale Mansur neighbourhood, police and Lebanese officials said.
About 30 Lebanese working for private companies in Iraq have been kidnapped and later freed. However, in September, one was killed by his captors and three others killed during an attempted kidnap.