- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2003

BAQOUBA, Iraq — Attackers ambushed a U.S. military vehicle with a rocket-propelled grenade in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing a soldier and wounding two others, officials said yesterday, while a third of the remaining 42 U.N. staff members in Baghdad were evacuated.

The further U.N. pullout came a day after Secretary-General Kofi Annan slashed the already-diminished foreign staff.

In the holy city of Najaf, mourners buried Aqila al-Hashimi, the first member of Iraq’s U.S.-appointed Governing Council to be killed in violence that still rattles the country after more than five months of American occupation.

In Baqouba, a Sunni Muslim city 30 miles north of Baghdad, a mortar shell that exploded in a market Thursday night may have been intended for Americans stationed nearby, a U.S. commander said yesterday.

Police Gen. Waleed Khalid put the death toll at nine civilians with 15 wounded. U.S. officials said the wounded numbered 18.

The police official called the attack a “criminal act aimed at hurting Iraqi civilians.”

But Col. William Adamson, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, said he thought the attackers were trying to hit an American base about 300 yards south of the market.

“It appears that this was an Iraqi action that was more than likely directed at our civil-military operations center,” Col. Adamson said. “Mortar attacks on our compound are quite frequent.”

About 20 U.S. soldiers were at the blast site yesterday, providing security and assisting Iraqi police in the investigation.

The U.S. military said one soldier from the 173rd Airborne Brigade was killed and two were wounded in the ambush at Kirkuk, 145 miles northeast of Baghdad, when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at their vehicle at about 11 p.m. Thursday.

The death raised to 86 the number of U.S. troops killed in combat since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major fighting in Iraq. The military also announced that a soldier from the 4th Infantry Division died and another was injured in a fire Thursday night in an abandoned building in the Tikrit area.

Funeral services for Mrs. al-Hashimi began yesterday with a brief, somber ceremony at the Governing Council headquarters in Baghdad, attended by council members, officials from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, diplomats and Iraqi police.

“Aqila, as we all knew her, in her modesty, in her courage, in her creative imagination, in her understanding of the human spirit, in her love of liberty and justice, and in passionate commitment to her family and to her people, represented the full and free potential of the true Iraq,” Jeremy Greenstock, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s envoy to Iraq, said in a eulogy.

After a reception by an Iraqi police honor guard, the casket holding the body was carried into the building by the woman’s family members, some of them weeping and chanting “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great.”

The casket was placed in the middle of the hall, surrounded by wreaths as verses from Islam’s holy book, the Koran, were recited.

Her coffin was then transported to her west Baghdad home briefly before being taken on a white pickup truck to Najaf, the holiest Shi’ite Muslim city in Iraq and Mrs. al-Hashimi’s birthplace. She was buried there in what is said to be the biggest cemetery in the world.

In Amman, Jordan, a charter plane arrived from Baghdad yesterday carrying U.N. staff, according to a U.N. official in Jordan who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that over the past 24 hours, the international staff in Iraq was reduced by 10. But he said that figure included three U.N. workers who entered Iraq during that time.

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