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U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq narrowly escaped attack

BAGHDAD, Iraq—As more explosions burst in and around Iraq's capital on Friday, the American-led coalition revealed that the top U.S. civilian administrator in the country, L. Paul Bremer, escaped an attack in Baghdad earlier this month.

No one was hurt in the Dec. 6 assault on Bremer's convoy, which the coalition had kept under wraps for almost two weeks, but it was a glaring example of the city's continuing instability.

"We have reason to believe that it was just a random opportunistic attack, not necessarily specifically targeted at" Bremer, said spokesman Dan Senor. "But it's premature at this point to make that conclusion."

Asked whether the convoy attack might have been the result of information about Bremer's movements leaking out of coalition offices—or, indeed, an infiltration by anti-coalition operatives—Senor stressed that the ambassador was returning from a meeting that had not been on his schedule.

"It was in an area of town that is frequently the target of attacks," Senor said. "Attacks occur there all the time, and he happened to drive through it."

Senor would not elaborate any further on the specifics of the attack, saying that it's still under investigation.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in Baghdad that day, Senor said, but wasn't in the convoy.

While it will be weeks before it's possible to gauge whether Saddam Hussein's capture on Saturday, and any intelligence that can be gleaned from interrogating him, will dampen armed resistance, violence has continued in the days since his capture.

Early Friday morning, an explosion all but flattened a building in south Baghdad that had been used by members of the Badr Brigade, the military wing of the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). A woman was killed in her sleep when the roof collapsed, and two other men were injured.

And near Abu Ghraib, an area just west of Baghdad, a roadside bomb wounded two U.S. soldiers.

Neighbors and some of those inside the south Baghdad building said they heard a loud explosion sometime near 5:15 a.m. The concrete walls and roof of the structure, formerly used by Saddam's Baath party, collapsed, and steel reinforcing bars were twisted.

Muhammad Rahim Jabar, whose family was squatting in the building at the time, said that Badr members showed up during the past week and hung a sign on the outside wall advising the neighborhood of their presence. The Badr group, he said, was planning to hold religious classes during the day.

Although the neighborhood is predominantly Shiite Muslim, as are Badr members, the streets immediately surrounding the building are filled with Muslims of the Sunni sect, the religion of Saddam and most high-ranking officials in his Baath Party. There is friction between the two religious divisions of Islam.

The neighbors weren't pleased by the arrival of Badr members, said Jabar, whose family is Shiite. Despite his family's pleas, said Jabar, the Badr brigade wouldn't take down the banner or post armed guards.

Standing near Jabar, amidst the rubble, were two relatives: Jamal Jabar, whose head was wrapped in gauze and partially covered with caked blood, and Maitham Jabar, a 23-year-old who hours earlier had pulled the dead woman, his aunt, out of the wreckage.

Residents were left guessing about the cause of Friday's blast.

"It may have been anything," said Shamal Kamel, a neighbor who was awakened by the explosion. "There are many fighters here: fedayeen (fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein), people against the Sunnis, people against the Shiites, maybe American troops." The building looked as though it exploded from the inside, causing one neighbor, who asked that his name not be used, to speculate that Badr members had been storing bombs there.

Later in the day, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a coalition military spokesman, said that troops hadn't been able to find the building, much less verify the explosion.

After a reporter said that he'd visited the site earlier in the day, adding that residents of the neighborhood could easily point the way, Kimmitt was handed a small note. Having read it, Kimmitt said that Iraqi police had apparently determined that the building collapsed because of structural problems.

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

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

Bremer.

Iraq

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