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Bremer Survived Roadside Ambush

Officials say it's unlikely the Iraqi insurgents, who struck two weeks ago, were targeting the leader of the U.S.-led coalition.

December 20, 2003|Tracy Wilkinson | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The top U.S. official running Iraq said Friday that he escaped possible death when his convoy was hit by a roadside bomb and gunfire, another sign of the precarious state of security eight months after Saddam Hussein was deposed.

L. Paul Bremer III, the Bush administration's governor for Iraq, said the attack two weeks ago did not harm anyone traveling in his convoy, which came under fire on a road to the international airport on the western edge of Baghdad. It was the first time Bremer's entourage has been attacked, a spokesman said, but the incident did not appear to be an assassination attempt directed intentionally at Bremer.

"As you can see, it didn't succeed," Bremer said Friday during a tour of the southern city of Basra when reporters asked about the attempt on his life. "Thankfully I am still alive and here I am in front of you."

The attack occurred Dec. 6 while U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was visiting Iraq. Rumsfeld was not in the convoy.

Bremer, who moves about in an armored vehicle with a heavily armed security detail, has not curtailed his activities as a result of the attack, his spokesman, Dan Senor, said at a news conference Friday.

The assault resembled scores of other ambushes on U.S. convoys here, and it was unlikely that the attackers knew they were hitting Bremer, Senor said. Bremer was returning from an unscheduled event when he was attacked, Senor said.

"We have reason to believe that it was just a random, opportunistic attack not necessarily specifically targeted at him," Senor said. Bremer's convoy sped away after the explosion and eruption of gunfire.

Killing Washington's civilian administrator of Iraq would be an enormous blow to efforts to tame the country. The most senior foreign official to have died here was the head of the United Nations mission to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in a massive car bombing of the U.N.'s Baghdad headquarters in August.

Meanwhile Friday, the U.S. military continued to widen its dragnet for Iraqi guerrillas fighting the occupation, following last Saturday's dramatic capture of Hussein.

Documents found on Hussein have helped authorities begin to root out insurgent cells operating in the capital and central Iraq, officials say.

A U.S. Army spokesman said Friday that about 310 suspects had been rounded up in sweeps in central Iraq during the last 24 hours, including 15 who were believed to be mid-level guerrilla commanders.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said that attacks on U.S. forces had decreased slightly but Iraqi civilians were being targeted with more frequency.

In addition to about 30 Iraqis killed in car bombings this week, two Shiite Muslim politicians were assassinated, and early Friday an explosion collapsed part of a one-story building used by the largest Shiite political party and its militia.

A 35-year-old woman was killed and seven people were wounded in the blast, all of them relatives of guards stationed at the building, which had belonged to Hussein's Baath Party but was taken over by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest Shiite faction.

The violence heightened fears of bloodletting between Sunnis, who wielded power under Hussein but have lost their position with his downfall, and Iraq's majority Shiites, long suppressed and now in the ascendancy.

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