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Iraq: Assailants Shoot Down Regional Council Member In Al-Basrah

Unknown assailants -- presumably insurgents opposed to the U.S.-backed interim government -- shot and killed a member of the regional council in Iraq's southern city of Al-Basrah today. It was the latest in what appears to be a systematic series of targeted attacks against figures in the new administration. RFE/RL reports that insurgents are employing a growing variety of methods in their assaults despite the U.S.-led coalition's handover of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government on 28 June.

Baghdad, 20 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Assailants reportedly dressed in police uniforms shot and killed a regional-council member in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah today in the latest of a series of killings of Iraqi officials.

Hazim Tawfiq al-Aynishi was approaching a checkpoint when the uniformed assailants shot him dead. Later, from his hospital bed, al-Aynishi's wounded driver described the incident: "We came the way we had chosen. We are always being threatened. We received threatening letters; so we always went different ways on the way there and on the way back," he said. "This time we went but we came back to the same checkpoint."

Al-Aynishi's death followed a truck bombing at a Baghdad police station yesterday that killed nine people and wounded 60. The attack was the fourth deadly car bombing of police and government installations in five days.

The body of the police chief of the town of Heet was found yesterday at a market in nearby Al-Fallujah. Police said the chief was abducted on 17 July from the police station. On 18 July, the head of Iraq's military-supply department was killed on his way home from work.

The Associated Press reported that since the Iraqi interim government assumed sovereignty on 28 June, militant attacks have killed at least 75 people. Militants have used continual car bombings, sabotage, assassinations, abductions, and hostage taking as their weapons. They increasingly have targeted government buildings and officials.

"The Boston Globe" wrote in an analysis that they also have engaged in what the analysis calls "an upsurge in the pace and sophistication" of attacks on coalition troops. It says that as many U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in the first half of July as in all of June. (As of 17 July, 36 U.S. soldiers had died. In all of June, 42 soldiers were killed.)

In the midst of the violence, the attention of much of the world was on Baghdad and Manila today, awaiting word of the fate of Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz. Militants abducted de la Cruz on 7 July and threatened to behead him unless the Philippines took their 51-member contingent from Iraq.

After attempts at negotiation and one false report that the man had been freed, the Philippine government acceded to the demand. The last members of the contingent crossed the border from Iraq into Kuwait today. Al-Arabiyah television reported that de la Cruz has been freed. The Philippine government says it has so far been unable to confirm the report.

Yesterday an Egyptian truck drive also held hostage was freed. His abductors delivered him to the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad after the Saudi company that employed him agreed to cease doing business in Iraq.

The Iraqi government continues efforts to normalize its relations with the outside world. Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi arrived in Jordan's capital Amman yesterday on the first stop of a regional tour. Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khader pledged Jordanian friendship yesterday on the occasion. "Jordan always supports Iraq in rebuilding its institutions, restoring its sovereignty, and holding elections," she said.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced the appointment of 43 ambassadors to be deployed around the world.

The government in Baghdad also is demonstrating its new independence from its sponsor, the United States. On 18 July, Allawi issued a decree permitting the weekly "Al-Hawzah" newspaper to resume publishing. Iraq's former U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer had ordered the paper closed in March. He said it had been inciting anticoalition violence. Allawi's office said the premier sought to show his belief in freedom of the press.

In the United States, Rend al-Rahim Francke, chief of Iraq's diplomatic mission in Washington, said in an interview yesterday that the new Iraqi government expects to have good relations with neighboring Iran. She said also that Iran has been cooperative with Iraq. Also yesterday, U.S. President George W. Bush said that the United States continues to investigate whether Iraq had a role in the 11 September 2001 attacks.