Wed, Oct 08, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Mortar attack hits foreign ministry office in Baghdad

AFP , BAGHDAD

A mortar attack targeted Iraq's foreign ministry yesterday after stalemate at the UN left US troops facing a long haul in efforts to stabilize and reconstruct the country "under new management" from Washington.

The ministry compound was hit by a mortar bomb which caused no casualties but shattered windows and left a crater in the garden, police and security guards said.

The US military said a gunfight broke out soon after the blast, but it was not known if the two were connected.

The area, also home to the US-led ruling coalition's main offices in ousted president Saddam Hussein's former republican palace and the Baghdad convention center, is among the most heavily guarded neighborhoods in the city.

Earlier, an employee of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the main Shiite political party, was killed in a mortar attack on the party's offices in the northern city of Kirkuk.

Ezzedine Mussa, the head of SCIRI's Kirkuk branch, blamed al-Qaeda and Saddam loyalists.

The latest incidents followed a weekend of violent protests by army veterans seeking back pay, which claimed the lives of five Iraqis, amid the grinding low-level war between US-led coalition forces and guerrilla fighters.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council was unmoved Monday by a US draft resolution seeking cash and troops, although Turkey's government opted to deploy soldiers in Iraq and sought parliamentary backing for a move which caused alarm in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Washington made no headway in drumming up support for a resolution it hoped would persuade wary nations to help stabilize and rebuild Iraq.

US Ambassador John Negroponte denied the measure had been all but killed off by harsh criticism, much of it from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"Now is just the time to take a brief pause," he said, acknowledging that no date had even been set to reopen debate on the draft.

Council diplomats suggested Washington was in a quandary after Annan forcefully opposed the resolution on the grounds that it left no UN role in shaping postwar Iraq's political process.

Annan, France and Germany favored a quick handover of power to Iraqis who would then write a constitution and hold elections.

The US wants a constitution written first, which could take a year or more, before elections. Britain and Spain, which supported the war to topple Saddam, backed the resolution.

Handing over power too quickly to Iraqis risks dooming the nation to failure, US officials said.

Iraq's US-sponsored Governing Council was to review a report yesterday for the best way to draft Iraq's new constitution.

The report, delivered last week by a committee appointed by the council, aims to navigate tensions among Iraq's multiple ethnic groups and ensure the legitimacy of the constitutional process.

It offers several options and acknowledges the demands of Iraq's 15-million strong Shiite majority, who have insisted on elections for a constitutional conference, but the council appears divided over how to proceed.

"One of the proposals is for partial elections, another one is for a general election and another suggests that some of the members of the constitutional assembly be nominated," Kurdish council member Mahmud Othman said on Monday.

"We will meet [yesterday] to discuss these proposals and we will try to work out a formula," he added.

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