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Since 1st March, 1999
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Revealed: Ambush on Baghdad big gun
- Bremer targeted during VIP visit

Baghdad, Dec. 19 (Reuters): Iraq’s US administrator said today he escaped an ambush on his convoy earlier this month, as a blast in Baghdad underlined the political violence hindering efforts to rebuild the country.

Paul Bremer came under guerrilla attack on December 6 when his convoy was attacked on the same day US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was visiting. “Yes, this is true, but thankfully I am still alive and here I am in front of you,” Bremer told reporters on a visit to the southern city of Basra, when asked about reports of the ambush.

Rumsfeld, who was making his third visit to Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s fall in April, was not in the convoy. Dan Senor, a spokesman for Bremer’s Coalition Provision Authority (CPA), told a news conference it was too early to draw conclusions but “we have good reason to believe it was a random opportunistic attack not necessarily targeting him”.

“The party was travelling from an impromptu meeting, that was not scheduled,” he said.

US television network NBC said Bremer’s convoy had been hit by an explosive device and came under small arms fire as it drove from Baghdad airport. The convoy was able to speed away.

Bremer, a counter-terrorism expert, is leading efforts to rebuild Iraq as guerrilla attacks and bombings on western targets and the US-backed police force rattle the country.

Those attacks are set against a backdrop of internal political violence hampering efforts to improve security as the US administration prepares to hand over power to Iraqis. Today, a blast destroyed a Baghdad office of Iraq’s largest Shia party in an attack the movement blamed on Saddam Hussein supporters. Witnesses said a woman was killed and up to seven people wounded.

The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq works with US occupiers and represents Iraq’s majority Shias long oppressed by Saddam.

“The men of the regime and terrorist elements are behind the attack,” Mohsin al-Hakim, a party official said.

Washington was hoping Saddam’s capture on Saturday would ease attacks on American soldiers and help defuse political tensions between a volatile mix of Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and other communities vying for power.

Senior officials said the surge of political violence with sectarian overtones reflected the desire of Saddam’s scattered followers and foreign “terrorists” to thwart US plans to reshape Iraq as a democracy in the heart of West Asia.

“Any sort of ethnic tension or regional tension that you see at play that manifests itself in terms of attacks against political leaders... is a function of people who want this project, who want this experiment to fail,” he said.

The latest violence suggests Iraq will remain vulnerable to divisions as US forces brace for more attacks that have killed nearly 200 soldiers since major combat ended on May 1.

Qaida drug boat seized

A US warship seized two tonnes of hashish from a small dhow in the northern Arabian Sea this week in what was believed to be an al Qaida smuggling operation, the navy said today.

“An initial investigation uncovered clear ties between the smuggling operation and al Qaida,” the navy said in a statement about Monday’s incident near the Strait of Hormuz in which the guided-missile destroyer Decatur stopped the 12-meter) boat.

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