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Member of Iraqi council wounded after attack by gunmen

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A member of Iraq's Governing Council was seriously wounded Saturday after gunmen opened fire on her in an apparent assassination attempt as she left her Baghdad home.

Akila al Hashimi, one of three women on the U.S.-appointed body, was shot in the stomach, shoulder and leg and underwent treatment at a local hospital, but was later transferred to a U.S. military hospital, medical authorities said.

The ambush was the latest in a string of attacks on prominent Iraqis cooperating with the U.S.-led occupation in an apparent attempt to intimidate Iraqis and undermine the U.S. effort.

A senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hashimi would undergo a second operation to remove a bullet still lodged in her abdomen. The official described her condition as severe, but stable.

No group has taken responsibility for the attempted assassination, the first on a member of the 25-person council since it was formed in July.

In a statement from Washington, L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, condemned the attack as a "horrific and cowardly act" and vowed that it would not derail Iraq's recovery, already under serious challenge by an increasingly viscous guerilla war waged by Iraqi militants and foreign extremists.

"This senseless attack is not just against the person of Akila al Hashimi," Bremer said. "It is an attack against the people of Iraq and against the common goals we share for the establishment of a fully democratic government."

Hashimi, a prominent diplomat from Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, led the Iraqi delegation to the New York donor's conference this summer, and was preparing to leave for New York again with other envoys in an attempt to secure Iraq's seat at the U.N. General Assembly.

Hashimi stood out as one of the few council members who held a top spot in deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Most of the council is dominated by exiles, who have yet to win over strong public support.

One of Hashimi's drivers and her brother were also wounded in the incident. The brother suffered a wound to his hand and was released, said Majeed Khasim, security chief at Yarmouk Hospital, where Hashimi underwent three hours of surgery. The driver was shot twice in the back and was also transported to the U.S. military hospital.

"It's not good," the security chief said. "She has a bullet lodged in her womb."

Neighbors said gunmen ambushed Hashimi's Toyota Landcruiser and a Hyundai sedan with her security guards just moments after they left her home in Al Atbaa' in western Baghdad, a neighborhood made up mostly of medical doctors and other professionals. Some residents said the attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Hashimi's car but missed.

Hashimi's four-person security detail reportedly told police the gunmen opened fire from two new sport utility vehicles. Lt. Ahmed Mohammed, 23, a police officer standing guard outside Hashimi's home late Saturday said many details were unclear. No suspects have been arrested, he said.

Adil Musa, 59, was at home when heavy gunfire erupted just outside.

"The firing went on for 10 minutes," he said. "It was like a battle. After it was over, I saw one of her drivers lying outside on the ground in a pool of blood."

Shattered glass and dark stains of dried blood marked the spot where the ambush took place. A bloody bandage lay in the dirt under some nearby trees. Bullet holes pockmarked the walls of nearby homes.

Mahdi Al Hashimi, a cousin of the wounded council member, blamed the attack on members of Saddam's former regime. He said he wasn't aware if Hashimi had received any specific death threats, but pointed out that Iraqi guerillas had threatened the Governing Council for collaborating with occupation authorities.

"This was an attempt by terrorists to kill her," he said. "She was one of the most prominent persons on the Governing Council. They wanted to kill her because she has the most democratic personality."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.