|09-20-2003, 02:49 PM||#1|
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Assassination attempt in Iraq
Iraq Official Shot in Assassination Bid
By TAREK AL-ISSAWI
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunmen firing from SUVs seriously wounded a member of Iraq's Governing Council on Saturday as she was preparing to leave for the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.
It was the first attempt on the life of a member of the U.S.-backed council and occurred as major U.S. allies pressed for a greater U.N. role in bringing stability to this fractured country.
Aquila al-Hashimi, one of three women on the 25-member council and a leading candidate to become Iraq's U.N. representative, was reported in critical but stable condition with wounds in the abdomen after the morning attack, which took place near her home in western Baghdad.
Members of her security detail said the assailants fired from two SUVs, missing her car with a rocket-propelled grenade before opening fire with Kalashnikov assault rifles. She was rushed to the al-Yarmouk Hospital for surgery and was later moved in a convoy of American armored vehicles and military ambulances to the U.S. military hospital at Baghdad International Airport.
"She is fine," said Haitham al-Husseini, an adviser to council member Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a fellow Shiite. "She is in stable condition." Three of her bodyguards were also wounded, according to Mohammed Abdul Ghany, a security official at the hospital.
Baghdad police commander Brig. Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim told The Associated Press that no one had been arrested in the brazen attack, and he refused to say who might be behind it. However, U.S. troops and Iraqis who cooperate with them have been targeted in a guerrilla-style insurgency that the United States blames on loyalists of ousted leader Saddam Hussein.
Al-Hashimi, a former diplomat, is the only former member of Saddam's Baath Party on the council, which was established by the U.S.-led coalition in mid-July to put an Iraqi face on the process of rebuilding the country.
Ahmad Chalabi, the president of the Governing Council for September, said al-Hashimi's attackers "were remnants of the Baathist regime and Saddam's assassins."
"The members of the Governing Council and ministers will not be intimidated by the terrorists," Chalabi said in a statement. "They will continue to do their patriotic duty to move Iraq towards freedom, democracy and sovereignty."
Al-Hashimi has emerged as a leading foreign policy figure on the council. She was part of a delegation that addressed the United Nations in July and she was preparing to head again to New York for a General Assembly session on Tuesday where the Iraqi council will try to assume Iraq's seat.
If the delegation receives the seat, many U.N. diplomats expect al-Hashimi would be named Iraq's representative. Chalabi said in his statement that the council delegation would attend the U.N. session, but did not say whether al-Hashimi would be replaced.
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, said he was "shocked and saddened by this horrific and cowardly act."
"This senseless attack is not just against the person of Aquila al-Hashimi. It is an attack against the people of Iraq and against the common goals we share for the establishment of a fully democratic government," Bremer said in a statement.
In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw deplored "the senseless act of violence" and pledged that "this cowardly act" against a member of the council "will not stop them from achieving their goal."
Last month, a Shiite Muslim leader _ Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim _ was assassinated in a bomb blast in the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad. The attack, widely thought to be the work of Saddam's supporters, killed at least 85 people.
Al-Hakim's Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the biggest anti-Saddam opposition group, is represented on the Governing Council by al-Hakim's brother, Abdel-Aziz.
The continuing security crisis has raised questions about U.S. stewardship of Iraq since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations May 1. Since then, 82 American soldiers and 11 Britons have been killed in hostile encounters. That has led the Bush administration to appeal to other countries for troops and funds to help in reconstruction and security.
However, many nations have balked, citing the need for a U.N. mandate. On Saturday, leaders of Britain, Germany and France called for a significant U.N. role in Iraq and a quick transfer of power to the Iraqis. However, no proposed timetable for a transfer of power was announced.
In Saturday's attack, a neighbor of al-Hashimi's, Khola Ibrahim, said she was in her kitchen when she "heard shooting, very heavy shooting."
Another neighbor, Saba Adel, said al-Hashimi's brother _ who acted as one of her bodyguards _ knocked on her door crying out, "My sister, my sister!"
Adel said she saw another bodyguard lying on the sidewalk wounded in the arm and leg. "He looked in terrible condition," she said.
U.S. troops have been trying to track down pro-Saddam fighters who have launched near-daily attacks on coalition forces, including an ambush and gunbattle that killed three soldiers and wounded two on Thursday night near Tikrit.
U.S. tanks and armored fighting vehicles rumbled through Tikrit early Saturday in a show of force meant to discourage more attacks and flush out armed resistance. Tanks swept through residential areas, but the patrols ended without incident.
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