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U.S. woman working in Iraq dies in ambush

The victim helped provide training for political parties. Three guards also are killed in the Baghdad attack.

January 18, 2007|Borzou Daragahi and Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — An American woman working for a U.S. nonprofit organization in Iraq to help strengthen the fledgling government was among four people killed Wednesday in a roadside ambush.

The woman, whose name was withheld pending notification of her family, worked for the National Democratic Institute, a Washington organization that advises political parties around the world.

Les Campbell, director of the group's operations in the Middle East and North Africa, said the three other people killed -- a Hungarian, a Croat and an Iraqi -- were bodyguards from the private security firm Unity Resources Group.

Two other guards were injured, one seriously, Campbell said.

He said details of the attack on the victims' convoy remained sketchy.

"The people who lived to tell the tale are injured," Campbell said from Washington.

He said the attack occurred when the National Democratic Institute employee was leaving a morning training seminar in Baghdad that she had conducted for Iraqi political parties.

He said the ambush in the Yarmouk neighborhood led to an extended gunfight between the attackers and the security guards. The attackers also threw grenades.

Campbell said the woman had been in Iraq for three months on an expected 18-month tour to work with political parties.

A National Democratic Institute official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said the victim "was an extremely hardworking and dedicated young woman."

"She brought a lot of enthusiasm. She believed in what she was doing," the official said.

The National Democratic Institute is among a small group of charities and nongovernmental groups still working in the country, often expending large amounts of money for security.

Typically, the organization's staff members put on workshops, seminars and discussion groups to show political parties how to recruit activists, research public needs and promote their ideas to voters.

The National Democratic Institute and several like-minded organizations are cloistered in a well-guarded central Baghdad compound outside the heavily fortified Green Zone. But an Iraqi official at one of the organizations said he thought the woman had lived in the Green Zone.

An April 2005 suicide bombing of another National Democratic Institute convoy killed Marla Ruzicka, a 28-year-old activist from Lakeport, Calif., who worked with the nonprofit Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict.

Campbell said that although his group remained committed to its work in Iraq, it would reevaluate how it did business in the country and could reconsider its presence in Baghdad.

"Something like this shakes us," he said.

The attack came on a day when car bombs killed at least 27 people in Baghdad and northern Iraq.

In the deadliest blast, a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-packed car into a busy market in the capital's mostly Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Sadr City, the stronghold of radical cleric Muqtada Sadr and his Al Mahdi militia. At least 17 people were killed and 45 injured, including a family of four in a passing car.

A truck bomb aimed at a police station in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk killed at least 10 people and injured 42.

The U.S. military announced that a soldier died Wednesday and another died Monday of wounds sustained in combat in Al Anbar province. Their names were not released.

Gunfire erupted and rocket shells landed on Baghdad's Haifa Street, a volatile Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold near the Green Zone.

A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in the capital killed one officer and injured two others.

Gunmen kidnapped a Baghdad city councilman and killed four of his bodyguards.

Police in Hillah, south of the capital, discovered the body of a police officer who was hanged.

*

daragahi@latimes.com

peter.spiegel@latimes.com

Daragahi reported from Baghdad and Spiegel from Washington. Staff writer Saif Hameed and special correspondents in Baghdad, Hillah and Kirkuk contributed to this report.

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