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Shoulder-Launched Missiles Miss U.S. Plane in Iraq

Security is increased in Baghdad as Iraqi foreign minister leaves for Arab League meeting.

September 08, 2003|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The firing of two shoulder-launched missiles at an American cargo airplane over the weekend was a reminder of the dangers still faced by U.S. and allied forces in Iraq almost five months after the fall of Baghdad.

But a U.S. military spokesman Sunday also noted that the country was "unusually quiet" because two days had passed without a single member of the more than 150,000 coalition military personnel in Iraq wounded or killed.

Lt. Col. George Krivo said that two shoulder-fired missiles were fired in the direction of the C-141 transport plane early Saturday as it departed Baghdad's international airport. But he asserted that the weapon posed no genuine danger to the aircraft because of the plane's altitude. Krivo said other similar attacks had occurred "numerous times" near the airport in the past, but he declined to be more specific.

With daytime temperatures dipping below 100, making it seem like the worst of summer has passed, traffic police worked throughout the day, road workers tidied up the city center, and commerce was bustling. A recent drive to collect garbage has given the capital a cleaner look than it has had in months.

However, across the city, there were signs of international institutions and organizations beefing up security to face the heightened threat of car bombs. Hotels in the city popular with journalists have installed additional barriers outside. Many nongovernmental organizations are receiving extra protective surveillance from the reconstituted Iraqi police, and in some cases roads are now blocked to prevent access to soft targets.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister newly named by the Iraqi Governing Council, Hoshyar Zebari, left en route to claim Iraq's seat at a meeting of the Arab League scheduled for Tuesday in Cairo -- in what could be an important milestone in gaining international legitimacy for the interim government appointed under U.S. occupation.

Iraq is a charter member of the Arab League, but the 22-country organization so far has declined to recognize the legitimacy of the Governing Council, appointed by U.S. occupation administrator L. Paul Bremer III and made up mainly of former political exiles and opponents of Saddam Hussein.

Zebari's trip poses a direct challenge to the league to embrace the new Iraq. He was not invited to the foreign ministers' meeting, but to reject him would risk pushing Iraq to operate outside of the Arab fold, an anathema to an organization that, rhetorically at least, has always championed the unity of Arabic-speaking states.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said in Italy on Friday that the league is leaning toward accepting the new Iraqi mission. He was quoted in news reports as saying, "I don't think there is any alternative."

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