- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

BAGHDAD — The operation was fraught with danger. The walkie-talkies crackled. The armed men stood guard.

The high-profile Iraqi VIP stepped out of the vehicle and into her favorite shoe store.

“I had only five minutes to buy two pairs of shoes,” said Raja al-Khuzai, a former Governing Council member now serving on the commission to create an Iraqi constitution. “But I really, really wanted to go shopping. I had to.”

In the wake of recent attacks on high-profile Iraqi officials, rigid security precautions have been tightened even further. Already facing mounting bureaucratic tasks, Iraq’s new interim government officials are finding their biggest challenge may be surviving their morning commute.

Twice last weekend, assassins killed high-ranking ministry officials as they left for work. Bassam Salih Kubba, fatally shot Saturday, was a longtime foreign ministry official. Kamal al-Jarah, killed by gunfire Sunday, worked for the ministry of education.

In addition to a number Iraqi officials killed in the outlying provinces, a number of attacks on high-level officials in Baghdad have rocked the government.

Akila al-Hashemi, a Governing Council member, was killed in a fusillade in September, and a car bomb killed Governing Council member Ezzedine Salim last month. Ten days later, gunmen fired on another council member, killing his son.

U.S. officials say there have been even more near misses.

“While there have been some tragedies over the last few weeks that have been simply awful, I think it’s important to recognize that a number of tragedies have been averted,” coalition spokesman Dan Senor said during a weekend press conference.

Despite the security problems, many Iraqi officials go about their duties without fear.

Newly appointed Transportation Minister Louay Hatem Sultan al-Erris said he regularly crisscrosses the country to check ongoing projects. Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan said he continues to meet with judges to assess the state of Iraq’s legal system.

Hamid al-Kifaey, head of public relations for President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawar, vowed that the nascent government, which is set to take formal control of Iraq on June 30, would not be distracted by the attacks.

But Mr. Kifaey conceded that the targeting of Iraqi leaders has hampered their ability to interact with constituents.

Mrs. Khuzai, a gynecologist who spent the years of Saddam Hussein’s rule inside Iraq fighting for women’s rights and building up her provincial maternity hospital, said it feels strange being isolated.

“Six months ago I used to meet with students and young people,” she said. “Now, unfortunately, I have to restrict my movements.”

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