Sun, Jun 13, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Gunmen shoot dead Iraq's deputy foreign minister

MAYHEM CONTINUES The attack was the second assassination of a senior Iraqi official in the last month

AP , Baghdad, Iraq

Iraqi Interim Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, left, leaves with his aid Bassam Kubba right, at the end of the final session of the Arab foreign ministers' meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Thusday. Kubba, now Iraqi deputy foreign minister was shot dead yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Gunmen killed a deputy foreign minister yesterday on his way to work as insurgents stepped up attacks in advance of the handover of power June 30. A radical cleric whose uprising killed hundreds pledged to support the new government if it works to end the US military presence.

Bassam Salih Kubba, Iraq's most senior career diplomat, was mortally wounded in Baghdad's Azimiyah district, Foreign Ministry spokesman Thamir al-Adhami said. The attack took place in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood where support for Saddam Hussein was strong.

The attack was the second assassination of a senior Iraqi figure in the past month. The head of the now-disbanded Iraqi Governing Council, Izzadine Saleem, was killed in a suicide car-bombing May 17 at an entrance to the heavily guarded Green Zone headquarters of the US-run occupation authority.

Another Governing Council member, Salama al-Khafaji, escaped injury in a May 27 ambush south of Baghdad but her son and chief bodyguard were killed. Council member Aquila al-Hashemi, also a career diplomat, was assassinated last September.

US officials had feared a major upsurge of violence in the run-up to the power transfer and although those predictions have so far not panned out, attacks on infrastructure and security installations suggest a campaign to undermine public confidence in the new Iraqi leadership.

On Friday, gunmen blew up a police station in Yusufiyah, 20km south of Baghdad, after driving off outgunned policemen in a hail of small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire. It was the fourth such attack on a police station in the past week.

Elsewhere, the US military said it was investigating the May 17 fatal shooting of an Iraqi male by an American soldier in Baghdad. A statement said the Iraqi was an "anti-Iraqi forces operative" who bragged that he had killed a 1st Cavalry Division soldier.

During a raid to apprehend him, the Iraqi tried to grab the weapon of a US soldier "who shot and killed the subject," the command said.

Last week, the command said it was investigating a May incident in Kufa in which an Iraqi was shot dead at close range by an American following a shooting at a checkpoint.

According to the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kubba and his driver were headed for his office when gunmen drove up behind him and opened fire. The assailants then passed the stricken vehicle and fired a second burst, the spokesman said.

Both Kubba and his driver were wounded, and the deputy minister died later in hospital, the spokesman said.

Kubba, 60, held a Master's degree in international relations from St. John's University in New York, was one of several deputy foreign ministers. He had served as acting chief the Iraqi mission to the United Nations in New York and as Iraq's ambassador to China. Kubba also served on the committee which ran the ministry after the fall of Saddam's regime.

Elsewhere, two roadside bombs exploded yesterday in Baqouba, 60km northeast of Baghdad, wounding two coalition soldiers and two Iraqi policemen, the US military said.

Despite the violence, the government received an endorsement Friday from an unlikely source -- radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. In a sermon read to his followers by an aide, al-Sadr said he was ready for a dialogue with the new government if it works to end the US military presence.

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