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Rocket-propelled grenade attack kills U.S. soldier

Saturday, September 27, 2003

BAQOUBA, Iraq -- Attackers ambushed a U.S. military vehicle with a rocket-propelled grenade in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing a soldier and wounding two others, officials said Friday. More U.N. employees left Iraq, a day after Secretary-General Kofi Annan slashed the already diminished foreign staff.

In the holy city of Najaf, mourners buried Aquila al-Hashimi, the first member of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council to be killed in violence that still rattles the country after more than five months of American occupation.

In Baqouba, a Sunni Muslim city 30 miles north of Baghdad, a mortar shell that exploded in a market Thursday night may have been intended for Americans stationed nearby, a U.S. commander said Friday.

Police Gen. Waleed Khalid put the death toll at nine civilians with 15 wounded. U.S. officials said the wounded numbered 18.

The police official called the attack a "criminal act aimed at hurting Iraqi civilians."

But Col. William Adamson, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, said he thought the attackers were trying to hit an American base about 300 yards south of the market.

The U.S. military said one soldier from the 173rd Airborne Brigade was killed and two were wounded in the ambush at Kirkuk, 145 miles northeast of Baghdad, when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at their vehicle at about 11 p.m. Thursday.

The death raised to 86 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in combat since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major fighting in Iraq. The military also announced that a soldier from the 4th Infantry Division died and another was injured in a fire Thursday night in an abandoned building in the Tikrit area.

Funeral services for al-Hashimi began Friday with a brief, somber ceremony at the Governing Council headquarters in Baghdad, attended by council members, officials from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, diplomats and Iraqi police.

"Aquila, as we all knew her, in her modesty, in her courage, in her creative imagination, in her understanding of the human spirit, in her love of liberty and justice, and in passionate commitment to her family and to her people, represented the full and free potential of the true Iraq," Jeremy Greenstock, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's envoy to Iraq, said in an eulogy.

After a reception by an Iraqi police honor guard, the casket holding the body was carried into the building by al-Hashimi's family members, some of them weeping and chanting "Allahu Akbar," or God is great.

The casket was placed in the middle of the hall, surrounded by wreaths as verses from Islam's holy book the Quran were recited.

Her coffin was then transported to al-Hashimi's west Baghdad home briefly before being taken on a white pickup truck to Najaf, the holiest Shiite Muslim city in Iraq and al-Hashimi's birthplace. She was buried there in what is said to be the biggest cemetery in the world.

In Amman, Jordan, a charter plane arrived from Baghdad on Friday carrying U.N. staff, according to a U.N. official in Jordan who spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that over the past 24 hours, the international staff in Iraq was reduced by 10. But he said that figure included three U.N. workers who entered Iraq during that time. When Annan issued the order Thursday to remove about half of the foreign U.N. workers, there were 42 foreign staffers in Baghdad and 44 in the north.

Eckhard said the world body's humanitarian programs would continue with limited international supervision over the 4,233 Iraqis working for the United Nations.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, told a news conference at the Pentagon that the U.N. decision to pull out more staff will make it harder for the world body to accomplish its mission.

"It's regrettable that the U.N. apparently has decided to reduce still further its presence there," he said. Bremer expressed hope that the world body will "at an early date build those people back up and that capacity back up."

The U.N. headquarters at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad has been attacked twice with bombs.

The first, on Aug. 19, killed 22 people. At that time, there were about 300 international staff in Baghdad and 300 elsewhere in Iraq. The second bomb, earlier this week, killed an Iraqi policeman and wounded 19 other people, mainly local police.

The cuts in international U.N. staff come as the Bush administration is negotiating a new U.N. resolution seeking to entice more international involvement, including military peacekeepers, to help with the pacification and rebuilding of the country. As part of the plan, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States would like Iraqi leaders to produce a new constitution in six months, paving the way for elections perhaps six months later and a return to self-rule.


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