UN envoy in Iraq escapes bombing unharmed

AP News
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Posted: Oct 19, 2010 4:44 PM
UN envoy in Iraq escapes bombing unharmed

The chief U.N. envoy to Iraq escaped unharmed from a bombing that hit his convoy Tuesday after a meeting with the nation's top Shiite cleric about how to unsnarl Iraq's stalemated government. The U.N. said a member of the Iraqi security forces was killed and several others were injured in the attack.

Officials have long worried that the political impasse that has gripped Iraq for more than seven months may lead to violence, and the attack on U.N. Special Representative Ad Melkert underscored those fears.

The U.N. pulled out of Iraq after a 2003 bombing of its Baghdad headquarters killed then-envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 employees and a series of other attacks against aid workers. But the world body returned in 2004 and has stepped up its presence over the years as violence ebbs and the U.S. military begins to leave Iraq.

U.N. spokeswoman Randa Jamal said Melkert had finished meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and was leaving the Shiite holy city of Najaf when his convoy hit a roadside bomb. Nobody in the delegation was injured and Melkert was safely back in Baghdad by Tuesday evening, Jamal said.

Jamal said the U.N. convoy was accompanied by an Iraqi security escort. Iraqi Gen. Othman al-Ghanemi, who oversees military operations in the area, initially said nobody in the convoy was killed or injured.

But U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later confirmed that "regretfully, one member of the Iraqi security forces was killed and several others injured," U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. Ban said all U.N. staff, including Melkert and U.N. Deputy Special Representative Jerzy Skuratowicz, escaped without injury.

Ban strongly condemned the attack and vowed that "it will not deter the U.N. from continuing its efforts to assist the Iraqi people on their path to reconciliation and prosperity," Haq said.

The secretary-general sent condolences to the family of the victim and expressed appreciation to Melkert and the U.N. staff "who are working under difficult circumstances to implement the mandate of the United Nations in Iraq," Haq said.

At a press conference before leaving Najaf, Melkert said he would not discuss any specifics of his meeting with al-Sistani, who wields strong influence with Shiites in Iraq and other countries and has refused to meet with U.S. diplomats in recent years. Melkert said al-Sistani expressed concern about Iraq's government, which has been in limbo since March 7 parliamentary elections failed to yield a clear winner.

As a result, a mostly Shiite political alliance led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and a Sunni-backed group headed by secular Shiite Ayad Allawi have been furiously jockeying for allies to control parliament and pick Iraq's new leaders.

"It is time for all to meet together at one table to form a government, according to Iraq's constitution and without beforehand conditions," Melkert said before Tuesday's bombing. "Iraqi interests should be above any other interest."

Al-Maliki arrived in Egypt Tuesday as part of a tour to seek support from neighboring countries for his bid to stay in power.

The political void so far has not spurred widespread or religiously fueled violence that would further set back the already wobbly democracy and, officials fear, likely destabilize the Mideast. But bombings, shootings and other attacks continue to plague Iraq.

In Saddam Hussein's northern hometown of Tikrit, a bomb that apparently targeted a city policeman killed his parents and a baby girl in an early morning blast that leveled the house.

Lt. Col. Qais Rashid was not there at time, as he lives in a different house with his wife and three children. The attack killed his sister, two brothers and their wives, said Tikrit police Col. Khalid Jassim.

A 2-year-old girl _ the dead baby's older sister _ survived the blast, officials said. Saad Hassan, an official in Tikrit's main hospital, confirmed the death toll.

In Samarra, 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed two policemen and wounded two. In the capital Baghdad, two bombs attached to buses exploded and wounded 15 Iranian pilgrims, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

In other developments, east Baghdad's commander of military operations Lt. Gen. Abdul-Karim al-Izi said he will investigate his troops in connection with the beating of journalists who were covering a bombing Monday in the capital.

Two Associated Press journalists were among those assaulted by Iraqi soldiers while trying to cover the blast, which killed a Baghdad provincial council lawmaker. An AP Television News cameraman had his foot broken in the beatings and soldiers punched and kicked an AP photographer.

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Associated Press Writers Barbara Surk and Mazin Yahya in Baghdad and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.