- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2008

PESHAWAR, Pakistan | Gunmen opened fire on the top U.S. diplomat in northwestern Pakistan early Tuesday as she left for work in her armored vehicle, forcing her driver to slam into reverse and retreat to the shelter of her residential compound. No one was killed in the attack.

Lynne Tracy, principal officer for the consulate in the bustling city of Peshawar, was 100 yards from her house when two men with AK-47s jumped out of their sport utility vehicle and sprayed her car with dozens of rounds of ammunition.

Her driver reversed the vehicle and fled back to her home, said Arshad Khan, the local police chief and senior investigator in the case. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The brazen attack came just hours after the breakup of Pakistan’s ruling coalition government.

The United States has remained publicly neutral in the political contest to succeed former President Pervez Musharraf.

But a senior U.S. official on Tuesday confirmed a New York Times report that Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to the United Nations, had unusual contacts with Asif Ali Zardari, widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a contender to succeed Mr. Musharraf, including multiple recent telephone calls and a meeting planned for next week.

The contacts angered senior diplomats at the State Department. The Khalilzad-Zardari meeting is now canceled, the official said.

The government Monday announced a ban on the Pakistani Taliban - blamed for a wave of suicide bombings in recent days - and hours earlier rejected a cease-fire offer in the Bajur tribal region by the militants.

Ms. Tracy, an Ohio native, has headed the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar since late 2006. Mr. Khan said her heavily armored sport utility vehicle was slightly damaged.

Militant activity is rampant in parts of northwest Pakistan - a rumored hiding place of terrorist Osama bin Laden and home to him in the 1980s - though mainly in tribal regions where U.S. officials say insurgents have found safe havens in which to plan attacks on U.S. and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Concerns about militant activity in and around Peshawar, a crowded, dusty city, prompted the government to stage a paramilitary offensive in neighboring Khyber tribal region earlier this year.

Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment runs deep, is considered a hardship posting for U.S. diplomats, with many coming for one-year stints without family. However, while there are occasional attacks on Western targets, ones directly targeting U.S. officials are still relatively unusual.

Along with its embassy in capital Islamabad, the U.S. has three consulates in Pakistan - in Peshawar, the eastern city of Lahore and the southern city of Karachi. In 2006, a suicide attacker blew himself up outside the Karachi consulate, killing a U.S. diplomat.

In 2002, a militant hurled grenades into a Protestant church in Islamabad attended by members of the diplomatic community, killing five people, including two Americans.

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