- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2004

BAGHDAD — Gunmen assassinated an Iraqi deputy foreign minister yesterday, the second high-profile attack on members of the caretaker government in less than a week.

Bassam Salih Kubba, 60, was the most senior of Iraq’s four deputy foreign ministers, a career diplomat responsible for international organizations and coordination. His white Mercedes was ambushed in the Adhamiyah neighborhood of Baghdad, where a day earlier an influential Sunni cleric had criticized the prime minister and foreign minister for inviting foreign troops to remain on Iraqi soil.

Mr. Kubba, a former envoy to the United Nations and China, was a Sunni and a Ba’athist, a fact that some observers say may have made him a prominent target for insurgents trying to undermine confidence in the new leaders.

Coalition authorities have warned repeatedly that attacks on foreigners, officials and infrastructure are likely to increase as the handover of sovereignty on June 30 approaches.

Adhamiyah is a predominantly Sunni Muslim neighborhood where Saddam Hussein took refuge when American forces overran the city in April 2003. Support for the former regime runs strong there.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the attack “bears all the hallmarks of leftover supporters of Saddam Hussein’s evil regime.”

Four days ago, gunmen tried to attack the deputy health minister, Ammar al-Safar, whose bodyguards exchanged fire with the assailants in the same Baghdad neighborhood.

Izzadine Saleem, a Shi’ite who headed the now-disbanded Iraqi Governing Council, was killed May 17 in a suicide car-bombing near the entrance to the heavily fortified Green Zone headquarters of the American-run occupation authority.

Ten days later, gunmen ambushed the convoy of another Governing Council member, Salama al-Khafaji, south of Baghdad, killing her son and her chief bodyguard.

The rest of the country remained largely peaceful yesterday with an uneasy calm holding in the restive Shi’ite city of Najaf and the Sadr City slum in western Baghdad.

On Friday, rebel Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appeared to reverse his opposition to the new government and urged worshippers in the town of Kufa to stop attacking Iraqi police and soldiers.

An aide to the radical cleric told supporters that he supports the new government and asked them to “help me take this society to the path of security and peace,” according to news reports.

More good news for the new government may be coming from the north today when Kurdish leaders are expected to announce they will not withdraw from the government, as they had threatened earlier this week.

“We don’t believe that they will leave the government,” said one Baghdad-based diplomat, who declined to be identified. “It would be a gesture, but they have indicated they will remain with it.”

Kurdish leaders are furious that the U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq does not mention the federalist system that would allow them to retain a great deal of independence from the Arab central and southern parts of the country.

Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, the two Kurdish leaders, had threatened to withdraw from the new government, and presumably force the resignation of several Kurdish officials.

In other developments yesterday, a Lebanese Foreign Ministry official said a Lebanese construction worker, Hussein Ali Alyan, had been fatally shot by kidnappers and his body found yesterday near Fallujah.

Mr. Alyan was among three Lebanese believed to have been abducted on Thursday. One was freed and the third one is missing.

Also yesterday, seven Turkish contractors who had been abducted while working for a Turkish construction company were freed in Fallujah by their captors.

More than 40 people from several countries have been abducted in Iraq since April — although many of them have been released or freed by coalition soldiers.

Three Americans — Pfc. Keith M. Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, William Bradley of Chesterfield, N.H. and Timothy Bell of Mobile, Ala. — have been missing since their convoy was attacked April 9 outside Baghdad.

Many of the kidnappings appear to have occurred between the Sunni Muslim cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, the scene of a three-week siege by Marines in April after the savage killing of four employees of the U.S. security firm Blackwater USA.

Following an international outcry over the siege, the Marines withdrew and handed security over to an Iraqi force made up of former Iraqi army officers — and some insurgents. Ten Marines and hundreds of Iraqis died in the siege, which ended with the Blackwater killers still at large.

During a press conference yesterday, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy operations chief in Iraq, acknowledged that Americans had not achieved their goals in Fallujah despite relative calm in the city, where hard-line Islamic clerics now hold sway.

“There’s still a long way to go in Fallujah before the coalition, and for that matter the Iraqi government, can be satisfied that we have brought Fallujah to resolution,” Gen. Kimmitt said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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