Provincial governor assassinated in Iraq

Gunmen assassinated a Iraqi provincial governor on Wednesday, hours after a suicide attacker detonated a massive car bomb that killed at least 10 and wounded 40 in the worst attack in Baghdad since the United States handed over power to the Iraqi interim government on June 28.

A Saudi company employing an Egyptian driver held hostage by insurgents in Iraq said it will stop work in the country to win the captive’s freedom.

The move, reported by pan-Arab satellite television Al-Jazeera late on Wednesday, came after the Philippines said it had begun withdrawing its small peacekeeping contingent from Iraq early, apparently giving in to the demand of kidnappers threatening to kill a captive Filipino truck driver.

In Baghdad, a car packed with 450kg of explosives went off early on Wednesday at a checkpoint just outside the so-called Green Zone, former home to the US occupation government and currently home to the Iraqi interim government and the US and British embassies.

The blast killed 10 Iraqis, many as they waited in line to apply for jobs with the government, the Health Ministry said. The US military said 11 were killed.

The blast ripped a deep crater in the road, left five cars charred skeletons and partially destroyed a blast wall meant to protect the area. Black smoke rose from the scene.

“I’m sure that those who committed this were targeting the Iraqi Defence Ministry and its employees, not Americans,” said Air Force Staff Colonel Ather Burham Shafiq (39) as he lay in al-Karama hospital with a fractured leg and shrapnel wounds.

Hours later, insurgents tossed hand grenades and fired machine guns at a convoy transporting Nineveh Governor Osama Youssef Kashmoula, killing him and two of his guards, Iraqi and US military officials said.
Mosul is the largest city in Nineveh province.

Kashmoula was attacked between the cities of Beiji and Tikrit north of Baghdad as he travelled to the capital, the US military said. Four of the attackers were killed in the fight, Mosul officials said.

Insurgents have repeatedly attacked local officials, who are seen as being collaborators with American forces, but had not a killed an official as senior as Kashmoula since the assassinations last month of Iraq’s most senior career diplomat and a top Education Ministry official.

Gunmen also killed Sabir Karim, an Industry Ministry auditor, in a drive-by shooting on Tuesday as he was leaving his Baghdad office, authorities said on Wednesday. Karim is the second auditor in Iraq’s fledgling interim government to be targeted for assassination.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said the bombing was retaliation for the government’s arrests of terror suspects.

“This is a naked aggression against the Iraqi people,” Allawi said as he toured the bombing scene in Baghdad.

“We will bring these criminals to justice,” he said as he surveyed the scene.

In attacks early on Thursday, a rocket landed on a home in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, killing four people and injuring three others, police and hospital officials said. The target of the attack was not immediately clear.

Faisal al-Naheet, owner of the unidentified Saudi company employing the kidnapped Egyptian, told Al-Jazeera television that his company “will stop our work in Iraq in order to save the life of the hostage who works for us as a driver”.

It was unclear if al-Naheet meant the company is about to leave Iraq or is awaiting developments in the hostage’s case before withdrawing.

Al-Jazeera reported earlier on Wednesday that the Iraqi Legitimate Resistance group that kidnapped the Egyptian, 42-year-old Alsayeid Mohammed Alsayeid Algarabawi, demands the Saudi company leave Iraq within 72 hours. The group has issued no specific threat.

Al-Naheet said the kidnappers also are demanding a $1-million ransom, but he said the company will not pay.

The Philippines said on Wednesday it is working to withdraw its 51-member peacekeeping force, a move aimed at saving the life of Angelo de la Cruz.

The withdrawal was criticised by some as caving in to terrorists, but Filipino officials said now is not the time for debate.

“What is important now is the safety of Angelo,” Vice-President Noli di Castro said in a statement.

Another militant group headed by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi killed one of two Bulgarian truck drivers it was holding hostage, the Bulgarian government confirmed on Wednesday. In a video shown on Al-Jazeera early on Wednesday, the group, which had demanded the release of Iraqi detainees, said it will kill the second man in 24 hours.

Since taking power more than two weeks ago, Allawi’s government has made it clear it intends to crack down on insurgents who have caused chaos in the country for nearly 15 months with assassinations, car bombings, sabotage and other attacks. The violence has greatly hampered efforts to rebuild and recover after war and years of sanctions.

Allawi said he had provided the intelligence for a US airstrike on a suspected al-Zarqawi safehouse in Fallujah last week that killed 15 people. The government passed emergency laws last week giving Allawi the power to declare curfews and limited martial law to tackle the violence.

The government has made a series of threats against the militants and on Monday rounded up more than 500 “criminals, kidnappers and looters” in Baghdad, police said.

On Wednesday, a statement posted on a website, purportedly from al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for a mortar attack near Allawi’s home last week. The statement said the militant’s group will continue to pursue Allawi, whom insurgents view as a collaborator with US President George Bush and the 160 000 foreign troops in Iraq.

“We are after you,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, US marines from the First Marine Expeditionary Force clashed with insurgents in Ramadi, a stronghold of support for Saddam Hussein’s former regime. The marines suffered no casualties, but said a “significant” number of insurgents died and that no civilians were hurt.

However, Dr Allaa al-Ani of the Ramadi hospital said the attacks killed three people and wounded 19.

Elsewhere, two US soldiers were killed and two others injured after their vehicle rolled over on a road in northern Iraq, the US military said in a statement on Thursday. Their vehicle swerved while trying to avoid an oncoming truck and rolled over on Wednesday near Tall Afar, about 70km west of Mosul.—Sapa-AP

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