Tuesday, March 16, 2004

4 U.S. Civilians Killed in Iraq Shooting

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Four American relief workers were killed and one was wounded in a drive-by shooting Monday in the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. military said. Hospital officials said at least two of the dead were women.

The fifth American was being treated at a U.S. military hospital in Mosul.

The five were traveling in one car on the eastern side of the city when they were attacked, Lt. Col. Joseph Piek, a spokesman for American forces in Mosul, said in an e-mail.

An off-duty Iraqi policeman found the car shortly after the late afternoon shooting. Three of the Americans were dead and the two wounded were taken to an Iraqi hospital. U.S. Army air medevac helicopters later transported them to a combat support hospital in Mosul.

One of the two was then flown to a U.S. hospital in Baghdad, but died en route, Piek said.

The name of the fourth slain American and the injured victim were being withheld until family members had been contacted.

The five all worked for the Richmond, Va.-based Southern Baptist International Mission Board. The board indentified the dead as Larry T. Elliott, 60, and Jean Dover Elliott, 58, of Cary, N.C. and Karen Denise Watson, 38, of Bakersfield Calif.

"We do not know what the five U.S. citizens were doing at the time of the attack, but we do know they were in the Mosul area to deliver relief supplies," Piek said.

Iraqi police and the FBI were involved in the investigation.

The victims were attacked by two or three men in a car, witnesses said.

In Kirkuk, another northern city, an Arab member of the city council was gunned down along with his bodyguard as he drove to a meeting Monday, the second Iraqi official in the region to be killed in two days.

In Spain, the newly elected prime minister promised to withdraw the country's 1,300 troops from Iraq by June 30 unless the United Nations assumes control of peacekeeping. A U.S. coalition spokesman responded by saying Spain's role in Iraq had been critical to restoring order in Iraq.

"The Spaniards are performing heroically, and are critical to our efforts here," coalition spokesman Dan Senor said.

The new prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, vowed to pull out Spanish forces during the election campaign. The United States plans to turn over sovereignty to Iraq by June 30 but has no plans to cede control of the military operation to the United Nations.

Zapatero's Socialist party was propelled to an upset victory in elections Sunday by anger over terrorist attacks in Madrid last week that killed 200 people. Voters accused the outgoing prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, of making Spain a target for terrorism by supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Spain leads the Plus Ultra brigade, a command that also includes forces from El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Eleven Spaniards have died in Iraq since August, including seven intelligence agents killed in an ambush in late November.

In Kirkuk, Aggar Al-Taweel was shot several times in the head as he drove to the weekly meeting of the council of the ethnically divided city, said police chief Torhan Yussif. His bodyguard was also killed.

The gunmen fired from a red car and sped off.

Al-Taweel, a Shiite who founded an Arab political party that later splintered, was known for his frank opinions and was often outspoken in council debates.

Arabs are at odds with Kurds, many of whom were displaced from their homes by Saddam Hussein's regime. Kurds want to make oil-rich Kirkuk the center of a Kurdish federal region in the new government.

In Mosul on Sunday, guerrillas raked a government convoy with gunfire, killing the regional secretary of labor and social affairs and his driver, U.S. Maj. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

New interim constitution for Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Calling it a new beginning for their country, Iraqi Governing Council members Monday signed an interim constitution, laying the groundwork for future elections, a permanent constitution and eventually a return to self-rule.

"Here we are today standing in a historical moment to lay the strong foundation for rebuilding a new Iraq," said governing council President Mohammed Bahrululum. "A new, free, democratic Iraq that protects the dignity of the human being and protects human rights."

But almost immediately there was criticism from one of Iraq's most influential religious leaders.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the key leaders of Iraq's Shiites, issued a statement on his Web site saying, "This (document) places obstacles to arriving at a permanent constitution for the country.

"Any law prepared for the transitional period will not have legitimacy until it is approved by the elected national assembly."

As governing council members gathered, an explosion was heard across Iraq's capital city, but was not heard at the conference center where the ceremony took place.

According to Iraqi police, a rocket hit a house near the Karada police patrol station in central Baghdad, wounding four people, including two children and a police officer.

The latest attack followed a barrage of at least seven small rockets that damaged a hotel Sunday evening in central Baghdad.

The newly approved 25-page interim constitution defines a new Iraq as being "federal, democratic and pluralist," according to an advance copy secured by CNN's Jane Arraf.

The ceremony was delayed by nearly a week because of deadly violence and disagreement among Shiite and Kurdish council members.

The missiles in Sunday's attack were fired toward the so-called Green Zone from the bed of a Toyota SUV parked about 400 yards (400 meters) north of the Al-Rashid Hotel, the official said.

A civilian security employee was slightly wounded but later returned to duty, the official said.

The Green Zone includes the Coalition Provisional Authority's headquarters in the presidential palace, which is across the street from the conference center where the signing ceremony was scheduled to take place.

Word of Sunday's attack came shortly after a spokesman for a member of the Iraqi Governing Council said Iraq's interim constitution would be signed without changes Monday.

"There were different opinions among us, but we were able to come to an understanding," said Sayed Mohammed Hussein Bahrululum, son of the council president. "We will continue with the signing of the interim constitution without making any changes in it".

On Friday, Shiite council members backed out of the ceremony after the nation's top Shiite cleric objected to a provision that would effectively give three Kurdish provinces veto power over approval of a permanent constitution.

"They reached a positive and clear understanding by the religious authorities for the development of the constitution and they plan to continue with the signing of the interim constitution on Monday," said Ali al-Shabout, spokesman for council member Muwafaq al-Rubaie.

The clause at issue says that if two-thirds of the voters in any three provinces reject the permanent constitution, which is to be drawn up in coming months, it would not go into effect until it is revised.

The three Kurdish provinces want more autonomy than the majority Shiites are likely to approve.

Shabout said the meetings were attended by clerics Mohammed Ishak Sayed, Mohammed Said Al-Hakim and al-Sistani.

In addition to Rubaie and Bahrululum, council members who attended the meetings were Ahmed Chalabi, Adel Abdul Mehdi, who is a spokesman for Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, and a spokesman for Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

The signing ceremony was originally to take place Wednesday but was delayed for three days during a mourning period for victims of suicide bombings in Baghdad and Karbala.

The council gathered for a pomp-filled ceremony Friday afternoon to sign the historic transitional constitution, but the disagreements delayed the event and the council adjourned eight hours later.

The document will be the law of the land while efforts are made to adopt a permanent constitution and to directly elect Iraqi leaders -- a period coalition spokesman Dan Senor said would begin July 1, when sovereignty is set to be transferred to Iraq.

The interim constitution will not go into effect until given the go-ahead by Paul Bremer, the top civilian administrator in Iraq, who is expected to approve it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Iraqi Strikes Disrupt International Calls

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Three rockets struck a major telephone exchange Wednesday, knocking out international phone connections for much of the country only days after the system was put back in service, officials said.

One Iraqi worker was killed and another injured.

Qassim Hadi, an undersecretary with Iraq's Communication Ministry, said the attack happened just after 7:30 a.m. local time at an exchange in the Mansour district west of the Tigris river.

The rockets damaged one of six exchanges that are housed in trailers, said Iraqi police Brig. Gen. Samer Saadoun.

There were no arrests, but police were searching for the attacker.

Hadi said thousands of people with phone service weren't able to make international calls. Domestic calls did not appear to be affected.

He said the exchange would be repaired, but didn't have a timeframe.

Twelve new telephone exchanges in Baghdad were set up last month, replacing the ones destroyed in the U.S.-led invasion, enabling the Iraqi Telephone and Post Co. provide service for 240,000 lines in and around Baghdad.

An estimated 280,000 lines remained out of service, but that was not related to Wednesday's attack.

A call seeking comment from ITPC by The Associated Press wasn't able to go through.

The new switches were installed by the ITPC and Bechtel, through its subcontractor Lucent Technologies, while Globecomm installed an international gateway that will permit long-distance phone calls.

Most Iraqis use cell phones with prepaid cards to communicate or satellite phones.

The missile attacks came a day after simultaneous suicide bombings on Shiite Muslim shrines in the capital and the holy city of Karbala killed hundreds of people.

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