Thursday, April 27, 2006

Iraq vice-president's sister gunned down

A sister of Iraq's new Sunni Arab vice-president was killed in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad on Thursday, police said. She died one day after her brother called for the Sunni-dominated insurgency to be crushed by force.

In southern Iraq, a bomb hit an Italian military convoy on Thursday morning, killing four soldiers -- three Italians and a Romanian, Italy's government said.

The explosion near an Italian military base was caused by a roadside bomb that hit the convoy in Nasiriyah, a heavily Shi'ite city 320km south-east of Baghdad, said local Iraqi government spokesperson Haidr Radhi. About 2 600 Italian troops are stationed in Nasiriyah, and 27 had been killed before Thursday's attack.

Romanian Corporal Bogdan Hancu (28), who died in the bombing, was the first Romanian soldier killed in combat in Iraq, Romania's government said. Romania has 860 troops in Iraq as part of the multinational force.

The violence came as United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were visiting Baghdad to meet officials in the new Iraqi government.

Mayson Ahmed Bakir al-Hashimi (60), whose brother, Tariq al-Hashimi, was appointed by Parliament as Vice-President on Saturday, was killed by unidentified gunmen in a BMW sedan as she was leaving her home at 8am with her bodyguard in south-western Baghdad, said police Captain Jamel Hussein. The bodyguard, Saad Ali, also died in the shooting, Hussein said.

It was the second recent killing in Tariq al-Hashimi's immediate family. On April 13, his brother, Mahmoud al-Hashimi, was shot while driving in a mostly Shi'ite area of eastern Baghdad.

On Thursday, two of the vice-president's brothers, one an army officer, raced to the scene to recover the body of their sister, Hussein said. She had worked on the government's audit commission and was married with two grown children.

The television station Baghdad, owned by the vice-president's Iraqi Islamic Party, showed home photos of Mayson al-Hashimi, wearing an orange headscarf, and footage of her bullet-riddled white SUV, while playing mournful music.

It was not immediately possible to contact the vice-president, but Ziyad al-Ani, a senior official in the Iraqi Islamic Party, condemned the attackers.

"What astonished us is that they targeted a woman. This shows how wicked the attackers are," al-Ani said in an interview. He said the killings "by the enemies of Iraq" will fail in their goal of driving al-Hashimi and his party away from the country's new government.

The party is one of three major Sunni political groups in the Iraqi Accordance Front, which won 44 seats in the December 15 parliamentary election.

Sunni insurgents have targeted prominent men and women politicians in the past.

On April 17, the brother of another leading Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq, was found dead in Baghdad after he was kidnapped.

Aqeela al-Hashimi, a member of the governing council put together by the US before the return of sovereignty to the Iraqis, was killed by gunmen who sprayed her car with gunfire in September 2003. Her successor in the post, Salama al-Khafaji, had several assassination attempts against her.

In other violence on Thursday, the bodies of 13 Iraqis who had been kidnapped and tortured were found by in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, police said.

That and the drive-by shooting raised to 123 the number of Iraqi civilians or police who have been killed in insurgency- or sectarian-related violence since Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite hard-liner, was tapped as Iraq's prime minister designate on Saturday and asked to form a new national unity government aimed at stopping a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq.

Al-Maliki has 30 days to assemble a Cabinet from divided Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish parties. The most contentious question will be filling key ministries that control security forces amid demands to purge them of militias blamed for the rise in sectarian bloodshed.

On Wednesday, Vice-President al-Hashimi had made a show of unity with his Kurdish and Shi'ite colleagues, calling for Iraq's insurgency to be put down by force. Shi'ites had demanded that Sunni officials make such a statement as a show of their commitment to building a democratic system.

Al-Hashimi shrugged off a videotape by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, widely seen on TV on Tuesday, during which the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader tried to rally Sunnis to fight the new government and denounced Sunnis who cooperate with it as "agents" of the Americans.

"I say, yes, we're agents. We're agents for Islam, for the oppressed. We have to defend the future of our people," al-Hashimi said at a news conference with President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and his fellow Vice-President, Shi'ite Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

Al-Hashimi, Talabani and Abdul-Mahdi met Rice and Rumsfeld on Wednesday.

On Thursday, al-Hashimi and Abdul-Mahdi were meeting in the holy city of Najaf with Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The reclusive al-Sistani, who lives in Najaf, 160km south of Baghdad, has played a big role in restraining Shi'ite anger in the face of Sunni insurgent attacks that have pushed Iraq toward a sectarian civil war. Top politicians often seek al-Sistani's advice.

"The new government will provide security to all people and work to integrate militias into Iraq's army and police forces," al-Hashimi said, heading into his meeting with al-Sistani.

Rice and Rumsfeld hope that Sunni participation in a new national unity government in Iraq led by al-Maliki will undermine the country's Sunni-led insurgency and reduce Shi'ite-Sunni violence that has flared in the past two months. -- Sapa-AP


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