- Associated Press - Saturday, April 12, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) - The head of the military command in Iraq’s Anbar province on Saturday disputed claims by supporters of the country’s deputy prime minister that he faced an assassination attempt a day earlier while traveling west of Baghdad.

Shots were fired Friday as Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq’s convoy was on the outskirts of the greater Baghdad area, near the border with the restive, Sunni-dominated Anbar province. The circumstances of what happened are in dispute.

A Sunni lawmaker accompanying al-Mutlaq, Talal al-Zobaie, said after the shooting that a group of armed men in army uniforms opened fire at their convoy, triggering a firefight.

Sam Patten, a U.S.-based consultant representing al-Mutlaq’s political bloc, said witnesses and the deputy prime minister’s bodyguards alleged that the shooters were members of the Iraqi army’s 9th Division, and that they opened fire first.

A statement he released said the convoy was held up at a checkpoint on the border of Anbar province for 10 minutes before being cleared to move on, and that after five kilometers (three miles) it “came under vehicle-mounted PKM machine gun fire from an Iraqi army position marked by U.S.-made Humvees.” It says al-Mutlaq’s security detail returned fire and advanced on the attackers, and that they took two wounded soldiers back to Baghdad for treatment.

The head of the Anbar Military Command, Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, offered a different account Saturday. He said a dispute between al-Mutlaq’s bodyguards and security forces assigned to protect the Ministry of Water Resources led to shots being fired.

The bodyguards opened fire after an argument over whether the convoy could travel further west than the town of Abu Ghraib as initially arranged, Fleih said.

“The 9th Division did not open fire at all. Whenever any official with a high rank visits an area, it should happen though telegrams that he will be coming so that the road is secured,” Fleih said. “There was no assassination attempt.”

The shooting happened just weeks before parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held on April 30. There won’t be voting in parts of Anbar province, where security forces are clashing with Islamic militants and allied fighters who control the provincial capital, Ramadi, and nearly all of the nearby city of Fallujah.

Al-Mutlaq is one of the most senior Sunnis within the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, though he has been critical of the Iraqi premier. Hard-line Sunni militants have targeted Sunnis who cooperate with the government because they see them as collaborators with a Shiite government with friendly ties to neighboring Shiite powerhouse Iran.

Meanwhile, violence continued Saturday. A parked car bomb in a commercial area in Baqouba, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, killed four people and wounded 16, police said. In Tarmiyha, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Baghdad, a roadside bomb hit a police patrol, killing one and wounding six, police said.

Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to release the figures to journalists.


Associated Press writer Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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