A senior Iraqi official has announced a new nationwide offensive against insurgents. The declaration comes as a bomb was detonated outside the U.S. consulate in the southern city of Basra, killing at least one.

Minister of State Kasim Dawood says the goal of the offensive is to bring stability to Iraq ahead of national elections to be held in January 2005.

"The Iraqi forces started for a military operation against the terrorists in different parts of Iraq," he said. "We are still operating with the back-up and the support of the multinational forces in operation in Tal Afar in the north, in Fallujah in the west, and in the area of Mahmodiya-Latifiyah."

Mr. Dawood did not go into specifics about the tactics involved in the offensive. But he said the target is clear - militants loyal to deposed leader Saddam Hussein and terror groups.

"We are facing two major groups - the remnants of [the] Saddam regime and the people which [are] connected with al-Qaida or Zarqawi," said Kasim Dawood. "So these are groups that we are fighting. And of course their political agenda is quite clear. They want to stop the new current of democracy."

The announcement came hours after a bomb blast at the the U.S. Consulate in the city of Basra, which is housed in what was a palace during the Saddam Hussein regime. Officials say blast walls outside the building withstood the force of the explosion.

One person outside the building was killed.

Iraq has been plagued by instability since the U.S.-led invasion last year. U.S. forces have conducted four days of airstrikes on the city of Fallujah - a militant stronghold.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Army military intelligence soldier has been sentenced to eight months in prison after pleading guilty to involvement in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

Specialist Armin Cruz was also given a reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge. Cruz is the eighth person to be indicted for abusing detainees at the prison.