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Iraqi Governing Coucil Member Dies of Wounds

Iraqi Governing Coucil Member Dies of Wounds

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Aquila al-Hashimi, the first member of Iraq's American-picked Governing Council to be targeted for assassination, died Thursday, five days after she was shot in an ambush. In the latest attack on foreigners in Baghdad, a bomb exploded outside a hotel housing NBC staff, killing a Somali guard and injuring a Canadian sound engineer.

Elsewhere, seven American soldiers were wounded Thursday in the northern city of Mosul when two roadside bombs exploded as their convoy passed. U.S. officials said one Humvee was destroyed and another badly damaged in the attack, which took place about 9 a.m. on the western side of the city.

Also Thursday, two suspected Iraqi resistance leaders accused of organizing and financing attacks against U.S. soldiers near Saddam Hussein's birthplace were arrested in raids. Their identities were not released.

Al-Hashimi, slated to become Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, died about 11:30 a.m., said Gary Thatcher, coalition director of strategic communications. She was ambushed and critically wounded by gunshots to the abdomen by six men in a pickup truck while driving near her home in western Baghdad Saturday. She was to have attended the U.N. General Assembly, which opened in New York on Tuesday.

Al-Hashimi will be buried Friday. The Governing Council announced a three-day mourning period beginning Thursday.

In a statement, the council said al-Hashimi "fell as a martyr on the path of freedom and democracy to build this great nation. She died at the hands of a clique of infidels and cunning people who only know darkness.

The council said her death would not distract it from rebuilding Iraq.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was "shocked and saddened" by al-Hashimi's death and that her "lasting legacy" would be "a stable and free Iraq." Arab League spokesman Hisham Youssef said assassinations "will never improve the situation in Iraq or achieve any results. We're totally against this approach."

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq who currently is in Washington, issued a statement of condolences.

"Today, the people of Iraq have lost a courageous champion and pioneer for the cause of freedom and democracy. On behalf of the Coalition Provisional Authority and all its members, I offer my heartfelt condolences to her family, her colleagues at the Governing Council and the people of Iraq," Bremer said.

Earlier Thursday, a bomb exploded three feet from the outside wall of the al-Aike Hotel in south-central Baghdad, killing the Somali night watchman as he slept and injuring Canadian soundman, David Moodie. The U.S. NBC television network had offices in the hotel.

Iraqi police said the bomb was placed in a hut that housed the hotel generator.

Lt. Col. Salman Kareem said damage to the hotel was minimal -- mainly broken glass.

NBC correspondent Jim Avila said there were no signs on the building indicating NBC had quarters there.

A dozen NBC staffers were inside the building when the explosion occurred.

"I was awake," Moodie, the injured soundman, said. "A chest of drawers in the room fell on me. I sleep in the room immediately above the generator, so I guess I was lucky."

Moodie said he suffered one deep cut from flying glass and would require stitches. He said no other NBC employees were hurt.

In New York, NBC News spokeswoman Allison Gollust said the network remained "dedicated to covering the story while doing everything possible to ensure the safety and security of our employees."

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, said it was too early to tell whether the attack was targeting the media.

"It is clear that these terrorist elements are ... targeting the international community, targeting the Iraqi people and targeting coalition forces," he said at a news conference in Baghdad.

Al-Hashimi, who was not married and thought to have been in her mid-40s, had been cared for at a U.S. military hospital in the compound at Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace in central Baghdad where the U.S.-led coalition has its headquarters.

Al-Hashimi, a career diplomat and Shiite Muslim, had served in the Foreign Ministry during the Saddam government and was the only official of the ousted regime appointed to the 25-member Governing Council.

The Governing Council president, Ahmad Chalabi, blamed remnants of the Saddam regime, ousted by U.S.-led forces in April.

Chalabi attended the Security Council along with Adnan Pachachi, the elder statesman on the council and a former foreign minister in a government before Saddam seized power.

Al-Hashimi was a controversial choice for the council. She has served as a key aide to former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and often traveled abroad with him as he represented Saddam's government.

Al-Hashimi ran the oil-for-food program in the Foreign Ministry under which the United Nations allowed Iraq to exchange oil earnings for humanitarian goods.

She had a degree in law and a doctorate in French literature and viewed herself as a women's rights advocate. Her last role at the ministry was as director of international relations.

U.S.-led forces have been struggling to put down a guerrilla-style insurgency that has targeted Americans and their Iraqi allies. The police chief of the central town of Khaldiyah, who was working with U.S. forces, was assassinated by gunmen last week, and other attacks have killed police recruits trained by the Americans.

Last month, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, a top Shiite cleric who leads a movement with a seat on the Governing Council, was killed in a car bombing that left at least 85 people dead. Al-Hakim's brother, Abdel-Aziz, is a council member.

The council was established by the U.S.-led coalition in mid-July to put an Iraqi face on the process of rebuilding the country.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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