Iraqi commander snubs deputy PM’s attack claim

Iraqi Deputy PM al-Mutlaq said he escaped an assassination attempt, but an Anbar military commander described the incident as a dispute

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A military commander on Saturday rejected a claim by Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq that he and his convoy were targeted in an assassination attempt, describing the incident as the result of a dispute between security personnel.

On Friday, shots were fired at Mutlaq’s convoy on the outskirts of the greater Baghdad area, near the border with the restive, Sunni-dominated, Anbar province.

The head of the Anbar Military Command, Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih said a dispute between Mutlaq’s bodyguards and security forces assigned to protect the Ministry of Water Resources led to shots being fired.

The bodyguards opened fire after an argument over whether the convoy could travel further west than the town of Abu Ghraib than initially arranged, Fleih said.

“The 9th Division did not open fire at all. Whenever any official with a high rank visits an area, it should happen though telegrams that he will be coming so that the road is secured,” the Associated Press quoted Fleih as saying.

He added: “There was no assassination attempt.”

A Sunni lawmaker accompanying Mutlaq, Talal al-Zobaie, said after the shooting a group of armed men in army uniforms opened fire at their convoy, triggering a firefight.

However, Sam Patten, a U.S.-based consultant representing Mutlaq's political bloc, said witnesses and the deputy prime minister’s bodyguards alleged that the shooters were members of the Iraqi army’s 9th Division, and that they opened fire first.

A statement he released said the convoy was held up at a checkpoint on the border of Anbar province for 10 minutes before being cleared to move on, and that after five kilometers it “came under vehicle-mounted PKM machine gun fire from an Iraqi army position marked by U.S.-made Humvees.”

He said Mutlaq’s security detail returned fire and advanced on the attackers, and that they took two wounded soldiers back to Baghdad for treatment.

The shooting was the latest incidence of violence in Iraq as the country heads toward crucial parliamentary elections on April 30.

The Sunni Mutlaq is currently campaigning to represent the Al-Arabiya Coalition in the parliamentary elections, of which his party, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, is part.

The Al-Arabiya coalition was part of the secular yet Sunni backed Al-Iraqiya List, whose candidate Ayad Allawi won the 2010 election by one seat but did not take on the position of the country’s premiere.

Mutlaq is a fierce critic of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and had called him a “dictator” in previous statements.

While Mutlaq is one of the most senior Sunnis within the Shiite-dominated government, hard-line Sunni militants have targeted Sunnis who cooperate with the government because they see them as collaborators with a Shiite government with friendly ties to neighboring Shiite powerhouse Iran.

Meanwhile, violence continued Saturday. A parked car bomb in a commercial area in Baqouba, 60 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, killed four people and wounded 16, police said. In Tarmiyha, 50 kilometers north of Baghdad, a roadside bomb hit a police patrol, killing one and wounding six, police said.

Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to release the figures to the press.

(With the Associated Press)

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