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Fmr. Iraq PM Assassination Target

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said an attempt was made on his life Sunday during a visit to a Shiite holy city in southern Iraq, adding that about 60 men armed with pistol, knives and swords planned to attack him.

Allawi, a secular Shiite, said he and his delegation were attacked while performing prayers at the Shrine of Imam Ali, one of the Shiite's holiest in Iraq. He said Shiite clerics had invited him to the city.

"They were planning to kill the whole delegation, or at least me," Allawi told reporters shortly after he arrived back in Baghdad. "One of them took out his pistol, but he panicked and it fell from his hand."

Earlier in the day, police said that about a dozen people, some of them carrying clubs, tried to prevent Allawi from entering the shrine.

Footage shown on television stations showed Allawi running from the shrine as shoes and stones were thrown at him.

"As I was praying, a group of 60 or 70 people, wearing black uniforms, and carrying swords and pistols moved toward us as they chanted slogans against us. It became clear that it was an assassination attempt similar to what happened to cleric Abdul-Majid al-Khoei," Allawi said.

He was referring to the April 2003 slaying of Shiite cleric al-Khoei by followers of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Allawi said least seven bullets were fired from the crowd.

In August 2004, when Allawi was prime minister, Iraqi and U.S. troops took over Najaf from al-Sadr's followers after heavy fighting. Many Shiites have not forgiven Allawi for his role in the assault.

Also, the government's national security adviser said Iraqi authorities uncovered a plot by a Sunni Arab insurgent group to attack the trial of Saddam Hussein when it holds its third hearing Monday.

A statement released by the office of national security adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said the 1920 Revolution Brigades planned to fire rockets at the court building during Monday's session.

The statement said Iraqi intelligence uncovered the plot but gave no further details and did not say whether anyone had been arrested.

Saddam and seven co-defendants are on trial for the 1982 killing of Shiite Muslims in the town of Dujail following an assassination attempt against him there. The defendants face the death penalty if convicted.

In the southern town of Samawah, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad, a crowd threw stones at Japanese troops and chanted ant-Japanese slogans when they arrived for the opening of an education institute.

The institute was across the street from the local office of al-Sadr's militant Shiite group, the Mahdi Army, whose members led the protest. A mirror was broken on one of the Japanese vehicles, but there was no other injuries or damage.

The soldiers have been involved in a series of reconstruction efforts since arriving in the area in January 2004, including paving roads, rehabilitating schools and providing hospitals with medical supplies and appliances.

The bomb exploded in Tahrir square, police Cap. Nabil Abdelqadir said. Gunmen in two cars opened fire on Lt. Col. Abdul-Razaak Abdul-Jabbar as he was heading to work in western Baghdad, police Capt. Talib Thamir said.

In another attack Sunday, police Lt. Bilal Ali said gunmen shot dead a Shiite Muslim candidate who was running in this month's general election. Sheik Abdul-Salam Abdul-Hussein, a follower of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, died instantly in Baghdad's eastern neighborhood of Zayouna.

Saturday's attack occurred as an Iraqi army unit patrolled near Adhaim, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. Survivors said insurgents triggered a roadside bomb and then showered the patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire.

President Bush said earlier this week that the eventual replacement of U.S. troops by Iraqi forces was key to his strategy for victory.

The weekend bloodshed confirmed U.S. and Iraqi warnings of a surge in insurgent attacks ahead of national elections set for Dec. 15.

The United States hopes a big Sunni turnout in the elections will produce a government that can win the trust of the minority Sunnis, the backbone of the insurgency. Along with a stronger Iraqi military, it is hoped that will hasten the day when U.S. troops can leave.

And in a sign of continuing tensions among Iraqi factions, the spokesman for the Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars said his organization may reconsider its participation in a national reconciliation process because of continued killings of Sunnis by Shiite extremists.

"What is happening today means crushing and killing this initiative," Abdul-Salam al-Kubaisi said.

Aides to the top cleric of Iraq's Shiite majority said Saturday that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is signaling to his followers that they should vote for the Shiite alliance in the upcoming election.

Al-Sistani stopped receiving Shiite politicians and candidates weeks ago in a sign of displeasure over the Shiite-led government's performance. However, aides said the cleric is now telling people to vote for the Shiite alliance to "preserve Iraq's unity" and "protect Iraqis."

Also Saturday, a leading member of the British anti-war movement, Anas Altikriti, arrived in Iraq to try to win the release of the four Christian peace activists taken hostages last week.

Altikriti told the British Broadcasting Corp., that he would meet with various Iraqi organizations in hopes one of them might have contacts with the kidnappers.

The co-workers of the activists, two Canadians, an American and a Briton, appealed to militants Saturday to release them.

"They are really working for peace and justice. They are helping you and other Iraqi people," Peggy Gish of the Chicago-based organization Christian Peacemaker Teams told The Associated Press in Amman, Jordan.

The kidnappers have threatened to kill the hostages if Iraqi prisoners are not released from American and Iraqi jails by Dec. 8, the Arabic satellite Al-Jazeera television reported.

Insurgents killed 19 Iraqi soldiers and wounded four others in a coordinated ambush northeast of Baghdad just two days after the deadliest attack against U.S. Marines in four months.

The bloodshed confirmed U.S. and Iraqi warnings of a surge in insurgent attacks ahead of national elections set for Dec. 15. A total of 14 U.S. service members have died so far this month, 10 of them in a huge bombing Thursday near Fallujah.

In an eastern neighborhood Sunday, unidentified gunmen killed a Shiite Muslim sheik, who was running in the Dec. 15th legislative elections. He was a follower of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Last week, a Sunni candidate was shot dead.

And an Iraqi police commander was killed Sunday in western Baghdad by gunmen who fired on him from two cars.

The Saturday attack occurred as an Iraqi army unit was on patrol near Adhaim, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. Survivors said insurgents triggered a roadside bomb and then showered the patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire.

Earlier this week, President George W. Bush outlined his strategy for victory in Iraq, with a key point calling for Iraqi forces to eventually replace U.S. troops in the fight against insurgents.

Elsewhere, the U.S. base at the airport in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, came under mortar or rocket fire Saturday, wounding two American soldiers, the U.S. military said.

In related developments:

  • Iraq's security forces have "a long way to go" to deal with the bloody insurgency and violent crime, the government said in a report obtained by The Associated Press. The report concludes that Iraq's army, praised just this week by President Bush, needs more men, better leaders, new equipment and improved training to confront the insurgents without U.S. support.
  • The kidnappers of four Christian peace activists threatened to kill the hostages unless all prisoners in U.S. and Iraqi detention centers are released, according to a videotape broadcast Friday by Al Jazeera television. The tape showed what the broadcaster said were two Canadian hostages. An American and a Briton are also being held. The kidnappers gave the two governments until Dec. 8 to meet their demands, Al Jazeera quoted a statement delivered with the tape as saying.
  • Three U.S. soldiers from the 48th Brigade Combat Team were killed Friday in a traffic accident south of Baghdad, and the military said an Army soldier assigned to the 2nd Marine Division died of wounds suffered the previous day when his vehicle was struck by a rocket in Ramadi, 70 miles west of the capital.
  • Military officials in Baghdad for the first time Friday described a Pentagon program that pays to plant stories in the Iraqi media, an effort the top U.S. military commander said was part of an effort to "get the truth out" there.
  • In Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, the U.S. military launched a counterinsurgency operation code-named Operation Shank, a statement said. "The purpose of the operation is to disrupt a terrorist group that utilizes an area of Ramadi as its base for attacks on local Ramadi citizens, Iraqi and U.S. military," the statement said.
  • Iraq's interior ministry has banned all non-Iraqi Arabs from entering the country until further notice as part of security measures for the Dec. 15 general elections, officials said Friday.

    The U.S. command has released few details of the bombing which killed 10 members of the Marines' Regimental Combat Team 8, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

    A witness said it occurred at a mill in the village of Amiriyat al Fallujah, just outside the city. The bomb was fashioned out of four large artillery shells, U.S. officials said.

    "More than 20 troops entered there and a huge explosion happened," said Mohsen Mohammed. "Afterward, the helicopters and tanks arrived in the area."


  • Later Saturday, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape from the Islamic Army of Iraq showing a huge explosion targeting a U.S. foot patrol near Fallujah. The tape did not directly link the explosion to Thursday's attack, but the Al-Jazeera announcer noted the Marine deaths as the tape aired.

    The grainy video, which appeared to have been shot through a long lense, showed ground troops walking down a street on both sides of a Humvee when a huge fireball engulfed the scene, sending terrified Iraqi bystanders scrambling for their lives.

    Al-Jazeera said the Islamic Army, one of Iraq's best-known insurgent groups, also claimed responsibility for a series of other attacks against U.S. forces north of Baghdad, in Nasiriyah and another in Fallujah.

    In another video aired by Al-Jazeera, a group calling itself the Mujahedeen of Tal Afar claimed responsibility for destroying a U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicle in the northern city. The video showed bomb damage to the Bradley but Al-Jazeera said it was unclear whether the footage was authentic.

    The United States hopes a big Sunni turnout in the Dec. 15 election will produce a government that can win the trust of the Sunnis, the backbone of the insurgency, and convince more of them to lay down their arms. That would hasten the day U.S. troops could go home.

    Iraq's top Shiite cleric is signaling to his followers that they should vote for the Shiite alliance in the upcoming election, aides said.

    Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had stopped receiving Shiite politicians and candidates weeks ago in a sign of displeasure over the Shiite-led government's performance. However, aides said the cleric is now telling people to vote for the Shiite alliance to "preserve Iraq's unity" and "protect Iraqis."

    The aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to talk to the media, said al-Sistani is not openly endorsing the United Iraqi Alliance or mentioning it by name.

    Meanwhile, the German government said it was making intense efforts to secure the release of an aid worker and her driver kidnapped in Iraq on Nov. 25. In a video made public on Tuesday, kidnappers threatened to kill Susanne Osthoff, 43, unless Germany stops dealing with the Iraqi government.

    Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters in Berlin that the government had been unable to establish contact with the kidnappers.

    Germany opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq but has been training Iraqi soldiers and police outside this country.

    A leading member of the British anti-war movement, Anas Altikriti, arrived Saturday in Iraq to try to win the release of four Christian peace activists — two Canadians, an American and a Briton. Altikriti told the British Broadcasting Corp., that he would meet with various Iraqi organizations in hopes one of them might have contacts with the kidnappers.

    On Friday, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape and statement in which the kidnappers threatened to kill the hostages unless all prisoners in U.S. and Iraqi detention centers were freed by Dec. 8.

    The Christian activists — Norman Kember, 74, of London; Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Virginia; James Loney, 41, of Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, of Canada — had been repeatedly warned by Iraqi and Western security officials that they were taking a grave risk by moving about Baghdad without bodyguards.

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