- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Gunmen opened fire on former Iraqi Governing Council President Ahmed Chalabi’s convoy yesterday, wounding two of his bodyguards, the politician and his aides said.

The attack occurred in the Latifiyah area, south of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, where gunmen have attacked several foreigners and Iraqi officials in the past.

“We were returning from Najaf after meeting with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and gunmen opened fire on the convoy south of Baghdad,” said Mr. Chalabi, who escaped unhurt.

He was traveling to the first meeting of Iraq’s 100-member National Council, which will act as a watchdog over the interim government and help shepherd the nation toward elections.

The council formally was sworn in at the Baghdad convention center, in a ceremony marred by a nearby mortar attack that injured one person, the U.S. military said.

Mr. Chalabi, now a vocal critic of U.S. policy in Iraq and an ally of rebel Shi’ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, had been the Pentagon’s choice to lead postwar Iraq.

A U.S.-appointed Iraqi judge issued an arrest warrant for him last month on charges of counterfeiting money, but Mr. Chalabi said yesterday that those charges had been dropped.

In other developments, militants freed seven foreign truck drivers yesterday after holding them for six weeks.

A U.S. air strike hit a house in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, killing nine civilians, including three children, and wounding six persons, hospital officials said.

There was no comment from the U.S. military, but U.S. forces have bombed numerous targets in the city, which is a center of resistance to U.S. forces.

In southern Iraq, portagents and Iraqi oil officials said that the country’s southern oil terminals were fully operational and that exports from them were running at between 1.7 million and 1.9 million barrels a day.

There had been conflicting reports earlier in the week over whether new attacks on oil facilities had shut down shipments.

The Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Co. (KGL) said it paid $500,000 to secure the release of its seven employees — three Kenyans, three Indians and one Egyptian — yesterday, a day after a video surfaced on a militant Islamist Web site showing the purported killing of 12 Nepalese workers kidnapped in Iraq.

The seven, who were abducted on July 21, were freed after a team of company employees drove under armed guard to an unspecified location to pay the ransom, KGL Chief Executive Officer Said Dashti said.

The seven men had been kidnapped by a group calling itself the Holders of the Black Banners, which demanded that the truckers’ home governments pull all their citizens out of Iraq and that their Kuwaiti employer withdraw as well. It later also demanded that Iraqi prisoners in Kuwaiti and U.S. prisons be freed and that compensation be paid to victims of fighting in Fallujah.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi issued a statement condemning the attack on Mr. Chalabi, which he said was conducted by “terrorist groups in an attempt to launch a campaign of terror and destabilization in our dear country by targeting political and religious figures.”

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