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Gunmen kill sister of Iraq's Sunni vice president

A sister of Iraq’s new Sunni Arab vice president was killed Thursday, a day after her brother called for the Sunni-dominated insurgency to be crushed by force.
Jalal Talabani, Tariq al-Hashimi, Adil Abdul-Mahdi
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, center, is shown Wednesday at a Baghdad press conference with President Jalal Talabani, left, and Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Al-Hashimi's sister was killed in a drive-by shooting on Thursday.Mohammed Hato / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A sister of Iraq’s new Sunni Arab vice president was killed Thursday in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad, a day after the politician called for the Sunni-dominated insurgency to be crushed by force.

In southern Iraq, a bomb hit an Italian military convoy, killing four soldiers — three Italians and a Romanian — and seriously injuring another passenger, officials in Rome said. The bomb struck the convoy near an Italian military base in Nasiriyah, a heavily Shiite city 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, said local Iraqi government spokesman Haidr Radhi.

Elsewhere, a U.S. jet fired two missiles at insurgent positions in Ramadi, U.S. officers said. Fighting also broke out northeast of Baghdad between Iraqi forces and insurgents

The violence came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald  Rumsfeld were visiting Baghdad to meet with officials in the new Iraqi government. Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite hard-liner recently tapped as Iraq’s prime minister, is trying to form a national unity government aimed at stopping a wave of sectarian violence.

Al-Maliki has 30 days to assemble a Cabinet from divided Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties. The most contentious question will be filling key ministries that control security forces amid demands to purge them of militias blamed for the rise in sectarian bloodshed.

Vice president also lost brother
Mayson Ahmed Bakir al-Hashimi, 60, whose brother, Tariq al-Hashimi, was appointed by parliament as vice president Saturday, was killed by unidentified gunmen in a sedan as she was leaving her southwestern Baghdad home with her bodyguard, said police Capt. Jamel Hussein. The bodyguard, Saad Ali, also died, Hussein said.

It was the second recent killing in Tariq al-Hashimi’s immediate family. On April 13, his brother, Mahmoud al-Hashimi, was shot while driving in a mostly Shiite area of eastern Baghdad.

On Thursday, two of the vice president’s brothers, one an army officer, raced to the scene to recover the body of their sister, Hussein said. She had worked on the government’s audit commission and was married with two grown children.

The television station Baghdad, owned by the vice president’s Iraqi Islamic Party, showed home photos of Mayson al-Hashimi, wearing an orange headscarf, and footage of her bullet-riddled white SUV, while playing mournful music.

Attack on woman angers officials
Ziyad al-Ani, a senior official in the Iraqi Islamic Party, condemned the attackers.

“What astonished us is that they targeted a woman. This shows how wicked the attackers are,” al-Ani told The Associated Press. He said the killings “by the enemies of Iraq” will fail in their goal of driving al-Hashimi and his party away from the country’s new government.

The party is one of three major Sunni political groups in the Iraqi Accordance Front, which won 44 seats in the Dec. 15 parliamentary election.

On Wednesday, Tariq al-Hashimi called for Iraq’s insurgency to be put down by force. Shiites had demanded that Sunni officials make such a statement as a show of their commitment to building a democratic system.

Al-Hashimi also shrugged off a video released this week by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, during which the al-Qaida in Iraq leader tried to rally Sunnis to fight the new government and denounced Sunnis who cooperate with it as “agents” of the Americans.

“I say, yes, we’re agents. We’re agents for Islam, for the oppressed. We have to defend the future of our people,” al-Hashimi said at a news conference with President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and his fellow vice president, Shiite Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

All three Iraqi leaders met with Rice and Rumsfeld on Wednesday.

Meeting with al-Sistani
On Thursday, al-Hashimi met with Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the holy city of Najaf. Al-Sistani has played a big role in restraining Shiite anger in the face of Sunni insurgent attacks that have pushed Iraq toward civil war. Top politicians, especially Shiite ones, often seek al-Sistani’s advice.

Afterward, the cleric said he had urged al-Hashimi to form a government with politicians who put Iraq’s national needs ahead of “their personal, party or sectarian interests.”

More important, Sistani said, the government must improve security by ending widespread bombings, drive-by shootings and kidnappings, reduce government corruption, and restore electricity and clean drinking water to many people.

After the meeting, al-Hashimi said he was determined to form a government that includes Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and to disarm militias aligned with Iraq’s political parties.

Latest violence
The clashes northeast of Baghdad occurred when insurgents attacked four Iraqi police checkpoints in Baqouba, a Sunni-Shiite city 35 miles northeast of the capital, police and residents said. U.S. forces have been gradually turning over security responsibilities to Iraqis.

In Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, U.S. forces exchanged fire with insurgents who attacked with small arms and shoulder-fired rockets from a former train station and a nearby building.

Lt. Col. Ronald Clark, commander of the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, said a U.S. jet fired two laser-guided missiles at the buildings and U.S. forces returned fire with mortars and rockets, killing eight of the attackers.

In a separate incident, one Iraqi soldier was killed during a firefight with insurgents in a nearby Ramadi neighborhood, army officers said.

A roadside bomb in Baghdad hit an Iraqi army patrol, killing a soldier, police said.

The bodies of 16 Iraqis who had been kidnapped and tortured were found Thursday in Baghdad and other cities, police said.

At least 134 Iraqis have been killed in insurgency- or sectarian-related violence since al-Maliki was tapped as prime minister Saturday and asked to form a new government.

Insurgents have targeted prominent men and women politicians in the past.

On April 17, the brother of another leading Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq, was found dead after he was kidnapped.

About 2,600 Italian troops are stationed in Nasiriyah, and 27 had been killed before Thursday’s bombing. Romanian Cpl. Bogdan Hancu, 28, who died in the explosion, was the first Romanian soldier killed in combat in Iraq, Romania’s government said. Romania has 860 troops in Iraq.