Insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Italian mission in Baghdad, damaging the building but causing no injuries, the US military said yesterday. And in a political setback for the US-led occupation, key figures in the powerful Shiite Muslim leadership criticized the US plan to transfer power to Iraqis, saying elections should occur sooner than planned.
A US military convoy also came under attack yesterday on the main highway west of Baghdad near the town of Abu Ghraib, witnesses said. Two flatbed military trucks were abandoned with their cabs blazing fiercely as dozens of townspeople converged to loot tires and other vehicle parts. The military had no immediate information on the incident.
Also yesterday, unidentified gunmen shot dead an Iraqi police sergeant in the northern city of Mosul, Brigadier General Muwaffaq Mohammed said.
The overnight attack on the Italian mission underscored the precarious security situation in the Iraqi capital, despite a reduction in attacks on US-led coalition forces in recent days. Two weeks ago, a suicide bomber detonated a truck bomb outside the Italian barracks in Nasiriyah, killing 19 Italians and 14 others in an apparent attempt to weaken the resolve of Washington's coalition partners.
In Mosul, US soldiers on Wednesday killed a girl and injured three people in a pickup truck that was approaching the soldiers, who had been shot at, the US military said. No weapons were found in the truck. Assailants had fired at two shuttle buses traveling from a US military compounds, but no US troops were hurt.
On Sunday, two US soldiers were fatally shot in Mosul, which had been relatively peaceful until a recent upsurge in violence.
Under overcast skies and intermittent rain yesterday, some US soldiers took time out from street patrols and their hunt for Iraqi guerrillas to celebrate Thanksgiving, a major US holiday, with races, concerts, games of American football and traditional dinners of turkey meat and cranberry sauce.
The festivities marked a respite from the daily grind for US troops in Iraq, one day after they arrested a wife and a daughter of a top Saddam deputy suspected of leading the anti-US insurgency.
The capture of the relatives of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who is sixth on the US list of most-wanted Iraqis, was an apparent attempt to pressure his surrender or gather intelligence that might lead to him. US officials last week offered a US$10 million reward for information leading to al-Douri's capture.
Troops in Samarra, 115km north of Baghdad, detained the women in a raid that also netted another al-Douri associate, US Lieutenant Colonel William MacDonald said in Tikrit.
On the political front, US-led efforts to establish a sovereign Iraq with a stable government suffered a setback when two top Shiite Muslim leaders said they wanted elections sooner than March 15, 2005, part of a plan agreed to by the coalition and the coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. The plan also calls for the creation of an interim administration by July next year.
In Iraq's holy city of Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani felt that "real loopholes" in the plan "must be dealt with, otherwise the process will be deficient and will not meet the expectations of the people of Iraq," said Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite member of the Governing Council, after talks with al-Sistani.