Iraqi politicians escape suicide bomber

Attack demonstrates country's lawlessness, ex-prime minister says

December 12, 2007|By Tina Susman | Tina Susman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- Two prominent lawmakers, including a former prime minister, escaped assassination yesterday when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint near their offices here and killed two guards.

Neither former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi nor Saleh Mutlaq was in the country. Both condemned the attack as a sign of rampant lawlessness in Iraq despite U.S. and Iraqi claims of greatly improved security.

A statement from Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party said it was the second such attack on the secular Shiite in two days. The statement said a bomb went off Monday near Allawi's home, which also serves as his office.

"The same enemies set off another bomb this morning at the checkpoint immediately opposite the house ... thinking he was present," the statement said.

Leading political and security officials are constant targets of insurgents in Iraq. Since August, two provincial governors have been assassinated. On Sunday, a provincial police commander praised by U.S. officials for standing up to militias and insurgents was assassinated.

Police said several guards were seriously injured in yesterday's blast, which occurred in western Baghdad on a street where several lawmakers have homes and offices.

Allawi was appointed prime minister in June 2004 after the fall of Saddam Hussein and held the job for 10 months. He has survived several attempts on his life, including one in 1978 purportedly carried out by agents of Hussein. He is a fierce critic of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government, accusing it of sectarianism and of letting militias run the country.

Earlier this year, Allawi hired a Washington public relations firm to represent him, leading to speculation that he was positioning himself for a bid to take charge again if al-Maliki's government collapses.

Mutlaq is a well-known Sunni Muslim politician who heads the Iraqi National Dialogue party. He told Al-Arabiya television that the bomber gained access to the street by convincing guards that he worked at one of the offices within the protected area.

"Everyone is vulnerable," he said on television from Jordan.

Like Allawi, Mutlaq is a critic of the government and accuses it of being infiltrated by militias and biased against members of the Sunni minority.

The attack was likely to heighten sectarian tensions in parliament, which remains too splintered to agree on major legislation aimed at ending ethnic and religious distrust. The pending bills include one to manage Iraq's oil wealth and another to expand job opportunities in government for members of Hussein's formerly ruling Baath Party.

Still, violence is down sharply since the summer. The U.S. military said yesterday that rocket and mortar attacks in Baghdad dropped to 24 in November, after 49 in October. The decrease is attributed to an increased troop presence and the forming of so-called concerned local citizens groups - volunteers who work alongside U.S. and Iraqi forces.

An Iraqi soldier died yesterday when a body rigged with a bomb blew up as security forces were removing it from a Baghdad street. Seven Iraqi soldiers and police were wounded.

The U.S. military said an American soldier died of injuries suffered Monday when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle near a patrol.

Tina Susman writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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