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Iraq's first lady escapes attack

world Updated: May 05, 2008 00:22 IST
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Iraq's first lady escaped unharmed from a bomb attack that hit her motorcade and injured four body guards in downtown Baghdad on Sunday.

US troops killed 18 Shiite extremists in unrelenting street battles in the capital's Shiite militia strongholds. Iraq's government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said there was no "conclusive" evidence that Shiite extremists have been directly supplied with some Iranian arms as alleged by the United States.

The US military said on Sunday that 11 al-Qaida insurgents were killed over the weekend in central and northern Iraq and a powerful roadside bomb killed four Marines on Friday in the deadliest attack in months in the former al-Qaida stronghold of western Anbar province.

President Jalal Talabani's wife, Hiro Ibrahim Ahmed, was headed to the National Theater to attend a cultural festival when her motorcade was hit in the Karrada district of Baghdad, the president's office said. It was not immediately clear whether she was the target or it was a random bombing.

Amid spiraling violence, al-Dabbagh and US military spokesman Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll vowed to maintain crackdowns on Shiite militias and al-Qaida insurgents in a news conference on Sunday. US troops on Sunday killed nine al-Qaida insurgents, including three who were wearing suicide vests, in a clash near Lake Thar Thar in the predominantly Sunni Salahuddin province northwest of Baghdad, the military said. Two other al-Qaida insurgents were killed in Samarra north of Baghdad on Saturday, it said.

The military also said it used drones and Bradley fighting vehicles to kill 18 militants in several clashes in Shiite militia strongholds of Sadr City, Shula and New Baghdad on Sunday. Iraqi health officials said at least 10 people including two children were killed in the past 24 hours in Sadr City, a slum of 2.5 million people and a stronghold for the Shiite Mahdi Army militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is believed to be living in Iran.

It was not clear whether any Shiite extremists were among them because health authorities did not provide a breakdown. Iraq is seeking to increase pressure on Iran, accused by the United States of financing and training Shiite militants in Iraq and of funneling lethal weapons into the country. Iranian officials have denied the allegations.

A five-member Iraqi delegation returned on Saturday from Tehran where they held meetings aimed at halting the suspected Iranian aid to militiamen.

Asked about reports that some rockets made in 2007 or 2008 and seized in raids against militias were directly supplied by Iran, al-Dabbagh replied: "There is no conclusive evidence." Al-Dabbagh said Iraq wants friendly ties with Iran and stressed both countries share common interests.

"We can't ignore or deny we are neighbors. We do not want to be pushed in a struggle with any country, especially Iran," he told a news conference.

"We are fed up with past tensions that we have paid a costly price for because some parties have pushed Iraq (in the past) to take an aggressive attitude to Iran."

Iran's Fars news agency reported that Iranian negotiators told their Iraqi counterparts that as long as the US carried out attacks against the Mahdi Army in Sadr City, Iran would not restart security talks with the Americans.

Driscoll said the "multinational force endorses all dialogue." But he added that Iranian involvement in Iraq was mostly an "issue between the government of Iraq a sovereign nation and Iran to discuss and seek resolution."

Al-Dabbagh said Iraq is "seizing every opportunity to establish good relations with Iran "but that security crackdown was an internal affair. "No other party, except the Iraqis, has anything to do with this issue," he said.

US and Iraqi forces have been battling militia members for weeks as part of an Iraqi government crackdown on the fighters. The clashes have caused deep rifts among Iraq's Shiite majority and have pulled US troops into difficult urban combat.

Al-Dabbagh said the government has been largely unable to implement a US$100 million (euro64.69 million) project to rebuild Sadr City because of lack of security. The poor neighborhood badly needs rehabilitation of sewage, water and electricity networks.

"We continue to target Special Groups that are causing majority of violence," Driscoll said, referring to elite fighters allegedly backed by Iran.

Militia members have been blamed for firing hundreds of rockets or mortars from Sadr City into the Green Zone, the US protected area housing the American embassy and much of the Iraqi government. In the past month, more than a dozen people including two American civilians and soldiers have been killed inside the zone during the attacks.

Driscoll also said there was "no place for al-Qaida" to hide in Iraq and US troops were continuing to hunt them down in Diyala province and the city of Mosul, where many are believed to have fled north from Baghdad.

In Anbar, the Marines were killed on Friday, but no other details of the incident were released. It was the most lethal attack in that province since Sept. 6, when four Marines were killed in combat.