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Iraqi minister escapes assassination
Updated: 2004-03-29 09:51

Gunmen opened fire Sunday on a convoy carrying Iraq's minister of public works, killing a driver and a bodyguard and injuring two others, the U.S.-led coalition said. The minister, Nisreen Berwari, was unharmed.

In another attack in the same city, Mosul, gunmen killed a Briton and a Canadian who were working as security guards for foreign electrical engineers at a power station. The ambush appeared to be part of a campaign to undermine U.S.-led reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

The attacks highlighted the tenuous security situation in Iraq's third-largest city, once a prime recruiting ground for the officer corps of Saddam Hussein's military.

Berwari was returning to Mosul from a meeting in the city of Dohuk when her convoy was attacked, said Kristi Clemens, a coalition spokeswoman in Baghdad.

Saro Qader, an official with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, described the attack as an "assassination attempt." Berwari is a member of the Kurdish party.

Iraqi police said the attack occurred around 11 a.m. in the al-Karama neighborhood of Mosul. They said the two men who were killed were both bodyguards, and that Berwari was in another car that was not hit by gunfire.

Berwari, who earned a degree at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1999, is one of five Kurdish ministers in the coalition-appointed interim government. There are 20 other ministers.

Previously, Berwari was development minister in the Kurdistan regional government, and she also served with United Nations organizations in Iraq.

Another female political leader, Aqila al-Hashimi, was assassinated in September. She was a Shiite member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

The slain Briton and Canadian had been assigned to protect foreign engineers working for General Electric Co., a coalition spokesman said on condition of anonymity. GE is helping rebuild Iraq's decrepit electrical infrastructure, which has suffered from war, neglect and years of sanctions. Power blackouts are frequent.

U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police sealed off the area after the shooting. Witnesses saw two partly burned bodies, clad in flak jackets, lying beside a four-wheel drive vehicle that was on fire. One man had been shot in the head.

In London, the Foreign Office said one Briton was killed. In Ottawa, the Canadian Foreign Ministry said a Canadian died. Their names were not released.

An Iraqi official at the power station in East Mosul said the slain men were protecting experts working at the station. Private security firms provide guards to many foreign companies operating in Iraq.

This month, assailants have killed other Western civilians linked to reconstruction efforts: four American missionaries working on a water project in Mosul, two Finnish businessmen in Baghdad, a German and a Dutch national working on a water project south of Baghdad, and two American staffers with the coalition shot south of the capital.

U.S. military officials in Mosul say insurgents are shifting from attacks on American troops to targeting Iraqi security forces, and most recently civilians. The shift could be partly because there are fewer American soldiers in the area, and consequently fewer U.S. targets.

The U.S. military, however, says rebels are choosing civilians targets because they are frustrated at a lack of success in attacking soldiers.

Late last year, some 20,000 soldiers with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division occupied Mosul and surrounding areas. Since the 101st pulled out in February, the region around Mosul has been occupied by 8,000 U.S. troops under Task Force Olympia, which lacks the 101st's fleet of helicopters.

The new forces in the north have cut back on the number of economic development and infrastructure projects undertaken by the 101st.

In other violence in Mosul on Sunday:

_ Iraqi police said two U.S. soldiers were wounded after gunmen in a car opened fire on their military vehicle. The U.S. military said troops returned fire, killing all four "enemy forces" in the car.

_ A U.S. military Stryker vehicle caught fire after being struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, but there were no injuries, the U.S. military said.

_ Gunmen exchanged fire with Iraqi police guarding the main gate of the television station. Two policemen were injured, and the attackers fled.

_ A rocket, possibly aimed at a police station a block away, hit a classroom at a primary school while a lesson was in progress. It failed to explode, and no pupils were injured.

In Baghdad, U.S. soldiers shut down a weekly newspaper run by followers of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, saying its articles were inciting violence against the coalition. The Al-Hawza newspaper will be closed for 60 days, the coalition said. Hours later, 1,000 followers of al-Sadr demonstrated against the closure, saying it violated freedom of expression.

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