U.N. diplomat unhurt in Iraq bombing; 1 policeman killed
Tuesday, October 19, 2010; 6:05 PM
BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb targeted a convoy that was transporting the top U.N. diplomat in Iraq on Tuesday afternoon, but the diplomat was not harmed, U.N. and Iraqi officials said.
One Iraqi policeman was killed, and two others were seriously wounded in the blast.
Envoy Ad Melkert, a Dutch citizen, was traveling to the airport in the southern city of Najaf after meeting with the country's top Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, when a bomb ripped through one of the vehicles in his convoy, said Col. Khalid Naseer, an Iraqi army official in Najaf.
An elite team of Iraqi security forces was traveling with Melkert to reinforce his security detail.
The attack was particularly notable because Najaf, a revered city in Shiite Islam, has been among the safest places in Iraq in recent years.
"He was 700 meters away from the blast," Naseer said, referring to Melkert.
Investigators suspect that the militant Shiite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq carried out the attack, possibly assuming that the convoy included U.S. military officials, Naseer said. "We have information from them that they are targeting the American forces" in southern Iraq.
Randa Jamal, a U.N. spokeswoman in Baghdad, confirmed that Melkert was not harmed. "We cannot speculate on what the motive may have been," Jamal said.
Melkert is among the few Western officials to have a working relationship with Sistani, who wields enormous influence over Iraqi politicians.
The envoy played a key role in the lead-up to Iraq's parliamentary elections in March and has urged Iraqi leaders to resolve the political deadlock since then that has kept them from seating a new government.
In a news conference in Najaf shortly before the blast, Melkert urged Iraqi politicians to put personal interests aside and overcome their differences, according to Iraqi media reports.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq is among a handful of armed groups that continue to fight the U.S. military presence in Iraq as a foreign occupation. The group was in reconciliation talks with the Iraqi government last year, a process during which its leader arranged for the release of himself and hundreds of followers from Iraqi and U.S. custody.
The reconciliation talks broke off, though, and the group is suspected of having carried out rocket attacks targeting Baghdad's Green Zone in recent months.
Special correspondent Jinan Hussein contributed to this report.