A woman member of the US-sponsored Governing Council was shot and seriously wounded in an ambush yesterday, as Germany, France and Britain called for a transfer of power in Iraq as soon as possible.
Akila Hashimi, a foreign policy expert and former member of the ousted Baath Party, was hit twice in the stomach, once in the shoulder and once in the leg near her western Baghdad home, said Iraqi authorities.
Her condition was serious and she underwent surgery on her abdomen, authorities said. Hashimi's driver was shot twice in the back, while witnesses said four men with her, including two brothers, were also hurt.
At least one suspect was arrested for the attack, but there was no immediate word on who was behind the shooting -- the first on the US-installed administration since the April fall of Saddam Hussein.
Paul Bremer, Washington's top man in Iraq, quickly condemned the shooting as a cowardly act that would not derail reconstruction efforts. "We are shocked and saddened by this horrific and cowardly act," he said.
"Assassinations do not constitute the right way to face the difficult circumstances in Iraq," said Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, whose county opposed the US-led war to topple Saddam.
The shooting came amid continued violence in Iraq, with an explosion and an exchange of small arms gunfire striking the centre of Fallujah as hundreds of US troops and vehicles were deployed to the hotspot town west of the capital.
In Berlin, the major European powers called for a transfer of power in Iraq "as quickly as possible" and for the UN to be given a central role in rebuilding the country, after summit talks in Berlin.
Looking ahead to a so far elusive UN resolution, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said while they agreed on the need for a "more significant" UN role, there was still a "need for discussion."
"We all want to see a stable and democratic Iraq and that the transition to democracy occurs as quickly as possible," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.
"It is in everyone's interest that we reach agreement [at the UN] and I believe that we will," he added.
French President Jacques Chirac, for his part, said the three countries were "exactly on the same line," although he also acknowledged "differences" over the pace of the transition.
France and Germany, which clashed with London and Washington over their war to oust Saddam, were expected to underline a minimum consensus with Britain on the need to stabilize post-war Iraq.
At stake is a UN resolution that would help Washington by approving a multinational force for Iraq and sharing the financial costs of rebuilding, more than five months after the fall of Saddam's regime.
But it would also open the way for other countries to begin contributing in earnest to stabilizing the country, where US troops are under constant attack, with anything from aid donations to training Iraqi police and a new army.
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