- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2003

BAGHDAD — Six gunmen firing assault weapons from a Toyota pickup truck chased a member of Iraq’s Governing Council in her car and seriously wounded her in the first assassination attempt targeting the U.S.-created leadership body.

The brazen, daytime attack was against Aquila al-Hashimi, one of three women on the council, a Shi’ite Muslim and a strong candidate to become Iraq’s representative at the United Nations.

Mrs. al-Hashimi had been preparing to leave for a key U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York on Tuesday. Major U.S. allies are pressing for Washington to give the United Nations a greater role in bringing stability to this fractured country.

The Governing Council president blamed Saddam Hussein loyalists for the shooting.

U.S.-led forces have been struggling to put down a guerrilla-style insurgency that has targeted Americans and their Iraqi allies. The police chief of the central town of Khaldiyah, who was working with U.S. forces, was assassinated by gunmen last week, and other attacks have killed police recruits trained by the Americans.

Last month, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, a top Shi’ite cleric who led a movement with a seat on the Governing Council, was killed in a car bombing that left at least 85 persons dead. Ayatollah al-Hakim’s brother, Abdel-Aziz, is a council member.

The attack occurred yesterday at 9 a.m., when gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Mrs. al-Hashimi’s car soon after she left her house in western Baghdad, members of her security detail said. The grenade missed, and the attackers opened fire with assault rifles.

Mrs. al-Hashimi, critically wounded in the abdomen, was rushed to the al-Yarmouk Hospital for surgery and was later moved in a convoy of American armored vehicles and military ambulances to the U.S. military hospital at Baghdad’s international airport. Three of her bodyguards were also wounded.

There, she was reported in stable condition. “She is fine,” said Haitham al-Husseini, an adviser to Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim.

Firas Shams al-Din, 30, a security guard at a school near where the shooting occurred, said a white Toyota pickup truck carrying six bearded men armed with Kalashnikovs — as well as a black Mercedes and a blue sedan — chased Mrs. al-Hashimi’s vehicle.

When Mr. Shams al-Din opened fire on the pickup, the three vehicles of attackers turned around and fled. Mrs. al-Hashimi’s car crashed through the gate of a private home’s compound at the end of the street and into a car parked inside.

Mr. Shams al-Din said he ran to Mrs. al-Hashimi’s car and found her conscious and moaning in pain with blood oozing from her side.

At the site of the shooting, Iraqi police were questioning witnesses, and Western-looking security men examined the scene. There was shattered glass on the street, and there were bloodstains on a sidewalk, where a wounded man, believed to be one of Mrs. al-Hashimi’s bodyguards, had lain earlier.

Ahmed Chalabi, the president of the Governing Council for September, said Mrs. al-Hashimi’s attackers “were remnants of the Ba’athist regime and Saddam’s assassins,” referring to Saddam’s former ruling Ba’ath Party.

“The members of the Governing Council and ministers will not be intimidated by the terrorists,” Mr. Chalabi said in a statement. “They will continue to do their patriotic duty to move Iraq towards freedom, democracy and sovereignty.” He said Mrs. al-Hashimi had received threats recently.

Two Iraqi Governing Council members attending a conference near Washington said they feared that al Qaeda terrorists may have been responsible for the shooting.

“I believe many groups could be behind this, including Saddam loyalists and al Qaeda members,” said Wael Abdulatif, who is also the governor of Basra.

He said Saddam’s loyalists, with the help of terrorists from al Qaeda and other sources were trying to sabotage the U.S.-approved council to prevent them from moving toward democracy.

“I feel pained, tremendous pain for what happened. But this will not deter us from our work of achieving democracy in our country,” Mr. Abdulatif said.

Governing Council member Songul Capuk, who was also attending the conference, which was sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said of Mrs. al-Hashimi:

“She was my best friend, and she’s very brave.”

Ms. Capuk also said “non-Iraqi people” were probably responsible.

“They are targeting a lot of people to create instability,” she said. “It won’t affect our work.”

Baghdad Police Commander Brig. Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim told the Associated Press that no one had been arrested in the attack, and he refused to say who might be behind it.

The 25-member Governing Council was established by the U.S.-led coalition in mid-July to put an Iraqi face on the process of rebuilding the country.

The White House denounced the assassination attempt. Spokeswoman Suzy DeFrancis called it a “tragic situation” that is a part of a “continuing pattern” in which insurgent forces attack signs of success in the process of Iraq’s transition to democracy.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s office issued a statement saying, “Violence such as the murderous attack on Dr. al-Hashimi only retards that process and that goal.”

• Sharon Behn in Washington contributed to this report.

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