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Since 1st March, 1999
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Top diplomat killed in blow to new Iraq regime

Baghdad, June 12 (Reuters): Gunmen killed a top Iraqi diplomat today in the first high-profile assassination in Iraq since an interim government took over on June 1.

Attackers fatally wounded Bassam Qubba, the foreign ministry’s director-general, as he was on his way to work from his home in Baghdad’s mainly Sunni Adhamiya district.

US officials say insurgents, who often target Iraqis seen as cooperating with the Americans, are likely to step up attacks before Iraq’s occupation formally ends on June 30.

In other lawlessness, kidnappers killed a Lebanese citizen, Hussein Ali Alyan, 28, and two of his Iraqi colleagues, after seizing them in Baghdad on Thursday, a Lebanese diplomat said. Foreign ministry sources in Beirut said the bodies of the men, who worked for a Lebanese telecommunications company, had been dumped between Falluja and Ramadi, west of the capital.

But the ordeal of seven Turks kidnapped in Falluja five days ago ended in their release today, a Turkish diplomat said. The seven employees of a Turkish contracting firm were in good health.

There was no word on who had seized them or why.

Foreign ministry spokesman Thamer al-Adhami said Qubba’s assailants had overtaken his car and fired as they drove past, wounding the official in the waist. His driver took him to hospital, where he died soon after arrival. Qubba, a Shia, was appointed to his post two months ago. He was a veteran career diplomat who served as ambassador to China during Saddam Hussein’s Baathist rule.

Gunmen killed another career diplomat, Aqila al-Hashemi, in September, just weeks after she became a member of Iraq’s US-appointed governing council, which is now defunct.

In other attacks today, a roadside bomb wounded three Iraqi policemen and a civilian in Baquba, 65 km north of Baghdad.

Yesterday, the army said, 25 insurgents attacked a police station south of Baghdad, scaring away officers with warning shots before stealing items including rifles and a television and demolishing much of the building with explosives.

The new interim government, which set security as its top priority when it was sworn in on June 1, has won cautious backing from radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

“We accept the interim government if it rejects the occupation and sets a timeframe for its withdrawal,” Sheikh Jaber al-Khafaji said in a Friday sermon delivered on Sadr’s behalf in Kufa, near the holy city of Najaf.

Iraq’s interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, has promised tough action against Sadr if his Mehdi Army militia, which launched an anti-US revolt in April, pursues violence.

Sadr had previously denounced the interim government as a puppet of the US. Removing another cloud over Allawi’s government, Kurds have dropped their threat to leave it in protest at the failure of this week’s new UN resolution to mention Kurdish autonomy.

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