BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunmen shot and fatally wounded a deputy foreign minister as he drove to work yesterday morning. It was the first killing of a senior Iraqi official since the announcement of the interim government on June 1.
The official, Bassam Salih Kubba, 60, was shot in the stomach near a mosque in the northwest Baghdad neighborhood of Azimiya, a Sunni-dominated area that is hostile to the occupation. He was taken to a nearby hospital and died there, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.
Unlike some officials in the interim government who have spent most of their lives in exile, Kubba had extensive experience working as a government official in Iraq. He was Iraq's ambassador to China and chief of the Iraqi mission to the United Nations under the government of Saddam Hussein.
He also served as an adviser to Tariq Aziz, Hussein's foreign minister, and held a master's degree in international relations from St. John's University in New York.
In a written statement, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said, "We are saddened to lose such a close friend and a highly capable diplomat who has been helping our efforts to rebuild the Foreign Ministry."
Kubba's killing underscored the dismal security situation in Iraq, especially in relation to Iraqis who are seen by insurgents as collaborators with the American-led occupation. Occupation officials have said the guerrilla war is likely to intensify as the sovereignty is transferred to the Iraqis on June 30.
"There are some people who will be out to test the new Iraqi government, the sovereign Iraqi government, to see how durable it is, how capable it is," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a spokesman for the occupation forces, said at a news conference.
Hajim al-Hassani, the minister of industry, said in an interview with the Qatar-based television network Al-Jazeera that he believed Kubba was killed because of his role in the new interim government, not because of his past work with Hussein's government.
The Aziamiya neighborhood, a stronghold of support for Saddam, remains turbulent after fierce battles there between American soldiers and insurgents in April. Many Sunni Arabs who had been supporters of Saddam and now feel disenfranchised under the American-led occupation, live there. At Friday prayer at Abu Hanifa Mosque, which serves the neighborhood, an imam called for former officers of the Hussein-era military to join the insurgency.
The killing of Kubba followed several weeks in which insurgents have tried to assassinate prominent Iraqi officials.
On May 17, a car bomb killed Izzadine Saleem, then the head of the Iraqi Governing Council, near an entrance to the fortified American headquarters in Baghdad. Ten days later, gunmen shot at a convoy carrying Salama al-Khafaji, another Governing Council member, killing her 18-year-old son and chief bodyguard.
Violence has also continued against foreign civilians in Iraq.
A Lebanese diplomat said yesterday that insurgents had killed a Lebanese contract worker and two Iraqi colleagues who were kidnapped on Thursday in Baghdad, Reuters reported.
The kidnappers had slit their throats and dumped their bodies on the road between Ramadi and Fallujah, a town about 30 miles west of the capital that has been a center of unrest in the insurgency against the American-led occupation.
However, seven Turks who had been abducted in Fallujah five days ago were released yesterday, a Turkish diplomat said.
Yesterday, Kimmitt issued a "mixed report card" on Fallujah because occupation forces had failed to meet most of their goals there. The 2,000-strong militia called the Fallujah Brigade has yet to disarm and disband insurgents and track down the people who killed and mutilated four American security contractors there March 31.