Middle East

Iraq's deputy PM escapes assassination attempt

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2010 file photo, Sunni lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq speaks to reporters in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

BAGHDAD: Iraq's deputy prime minister escaped an assassination attempt in which militants dressed as soldiers opened fire on his convoy west of Baghdad on Friday, according to an Iraqi lawmaker and a statement from the deputy premier's office.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack - the latest violence as the country heads toward crucial parliamentary elections on April 30. But Islamic militants have in the past frequently targeted officials in their effort to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Sunni lawmaker Talal al-Zobaie said he was accompanying Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, also a Sunni, and several other government officials on a visit to the villages in the Abu Graib area, west of the Iraqi capital, when the attack took place on Friday.

A group of armed men in army uniforms and driving military vehicles opened fire at their convoy, triggering a shootout with guards and soldiers protecting al-Mutlaq, said al-Zobaie.

Three of al-Mutlaq's guards were wounded in the shootout and the attackers fled the scene, the lawmaker added.

According to a statement from al-Mutlaq's office, the officials were inspecting flood damages to the area after militants from an al-Qaida-splinter group overrun territory in and around the nearby city of Fallujah and shut off a water dam.

Both al-Zobaie and al-Mutlaq have in the past called on politicians across Iraq's religious and ethnic spectrum to put aside their differences and focus on protecting the nation.

Also on Friday, a roadside bomb struck a minibus outside the northern city of Mosul, killing one civilian and wounding six.

Violence has surged in Iraq since last year, with the country weathering its deadliest bout of violence since it pulled back from the brink of civil war in 2008.

The April 30 balloting will be Iraq's first since the 2011 U.S. troop pullout.

More than 9,000 candidates will vie for 328 seats in parliament, but there will be no balloting in parts of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, which is engulfed in clashes between security forces and the Islamic militants.

The militants have seized and are continuing to hold parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi, and nearly all of the nearby city of Fallujah.





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