Iraqis working for U.S. firm killed

Attack on two women in Basra follows the first killings of civilian officials

March 12, 2004|By Mike Dorning | Mike Dorning,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunmen killed two Iraqi women who worked in a laundry for the U.S.-led coalition a day after the first killings of civilian coalition officials, the occupation authority said yesterday.

Later in the day, two U.S. soldiers were killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in an attack on a convoy near Habbaniyah, west of Baghdad, U.S. Central Command said. Authorities said the soldiers were from the 1st Brigade Combat Team of Task Force All American.

Also, the military said an American soldier from the 652nd Engineering Battalion was killed and two others wounded the day before when a homemade bomb went off in the city of Baqouba north of Baghdad, a center of insurgent activity.

The slain Iraqi women, who were sisters, were killed when the assailants opened fire on them as they left a taxi outside their home in the southern city of Basra late Wednesday, a British military spokesman said.

The women worked in a laundry for Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Houston-based Halliburton Corp., which is providing logistical support for the coalition, officials said.

The women were identified as Liqa Falih, 26, and Shayma Falih, 29.

Victims identified

The attacks came just one day after two American coalition officials and their translator were slain by assailants dressed as Iraqi police.

The gunmen stopped the officials' car at a roadblock near Hillah, 35 miles south of Baghdad.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, said investigators had not yet determined whether the officials' killers were members of the Iraqi police force or merely disguised as police. Five suspects are in custody.

"They were in police uniforms. We haven't established that it was the police," Sanchez said in Baghdad.

"We are very concerned about it," he said. "We know that this has gone on ... that there are some policemen that have done criminal acts in the past."

A coalition spokesman identified the slain officials as Fern Holland, 33, an attorney from Tulsa who was a regional coordinator handling women's issues, and Robert James Zangas of Trafford, Pa., who was a regional public affairs officer.

Both officials worked out of the coalition's south-central regional office in Hillah, said the spokesman, Jared Young.

Holland, who once worked for the Peace Corps in Namibia, investigated human-rights violations in Iraq and had been instrumental in setting up women's centers in six provinces, Young said. The centers provide vocational education and a forum to encourage political participation.

"If I die, know that I'm doing precisely what I want to be doing," Holland wrote in an e-mail to a friend in Tulsa on Jan. 21.

Her job in Iraq required her to travel almost every day on highways made dangerous by snipers and roadside bombs.

"We stand out, and those who dislike us know precisely when we come to town," she wrote.

Zangas was a coalition spokesman who worked primarily with local Iraqi news outlets.

Both had returned to Iraq to work as civilian employees of the coalition authority after previous service in Iraq, Holland for the U.S. Agency for International Development and Zangas as a Marine Reserve officer. Young said he did not know whether Zangas fought in the invasion.

Violence expected

L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, predicted that attacks would increase in the coming months as a scheduled transfer of power from the coalition to an interim Iraqi government nears.

"We will have more of a threat from terrorism as we go toward the June 30 handover because the terrorists clearly understand that once there is democracy here, there is no pretext for attacking anymore," Bremer told the Reuters news agency.

"We predicted that the situation would become more dangerous, and I think it will."

Gunmen in a car ambushed a vehicle carrying American civilians on a road in the Hillah region on Feb. 14, killing one and wounding three others, the U.S. military said.

A convoy carrying CNN employees was attacked Jan. 27 near Mahmudiyah - between Hillah and Baghdad - and two Iraqi employees were killed.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Killed in Iraq

As of yesterday, 553 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations, and 2,766 U.S. service members have been wounded. Since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 415 U.S. soldiers have died.

Latest identification

Army Capt. Gussie M. Jones, 41, Louisiana; non-combat-related death Sunday in Baghdad, Iraq; assigned to the 31st Combat Support Hospital; Fort Bliss, Texas.

Associated Press

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