UN Iraq envoy unhurt after bomb attack on convoy

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NAJAF: The UN envoy to Iraq, Dutch diplomat Ad Melkert, was unhurt after a bomb attack targeting a convoy of vehicles south of Baghdad, UN and police officials said.

There were conflicting reports over Tuesday’s incident, with Melkert saying he was in the convoy that was attacked, while senior Iraqi officials said he was not.

Melkert had been meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest-ranking Shia cleric in Iraq, and "was going to the airport when the bomb exploded," UN spokeswoman Randa Jamal said.

Melkert, 56, said he was in the convoy escorting him to the airport in the holy Shia city of Najaf when a roadside bomb exploded at 4:00 pm (1300 GMT).

"My convoy was attacked by a bomb, which led to the killing of one Iraqi policeman, so far as I know. I feel sad for the death of the policeman.

The investigation is still going on," he told Al-Arabiya television in remarks voiced over in Arabic.

"I think it was roadside bomb — this kind of attack is targeting a lot of Iraqi people — and my convoy was targeted. It was a shock."

Melkert, who was appointed to the post in July 2009, called the attack a "terrible experience," but declined to speculate when asked if he had been the target.

The UN’s first envoy to Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion, Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, was killed along with 21 of his colleagues in a massive August 2003 bombing attack by insurgents.

Asked if he would leave the country because of the attack, Melkert said: "I will stay in Iraq because I want to help the Iraqi people."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the attack but underscored that it would not deter the UN mission in the conflict-stricken country.

"This attack will not deter the UN from continuing its efforts to assist the Iraqi people on their path to reconciliation and prosperity," a statement said.

In Paris, a French foreign ministry spokesman said: "By attacking UN representatives, the terrorists were targeting the entire international community and its efforts on behalf of Iraq."

The US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice also condemned the attack "in the strongest terms." She added: "The United States will continue to support the tireless work that the men and women of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq undertake each day to help the Iraqi people build a sovereign, democratic and stable Iraq."

In conflicting reports, provincial police Chief Abdel Karim Mustapha and a military commander both said Melkert was not in the convoy that was attacked.

Mustapha told AFP the incident occurred after Melkert had been dropped off at the airport in Najaf.

"The bomb targeted my vehicle and convoy as I was returning from the airport after saying farewell to Mr Melkert," the police chief said.
"One of my guards was killed and three wounded," he added. "It was not Melkert who was targeted."

Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanemi, a military operations commander in central Iraq, said the attack was "against the police commander’s convoy, not Melkert’s convoy."

Iraq has been without a government since inconclusive March 7 elections, in which the Shia-led State of Law bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki finished a narrow second behind Iyad Allawi’s Sunni-dominated Iraqiya group.

Neither side came close to securing a parliamentary majority, however. The country has been in political deadlock ever since.

"This is the time for the political blocs to sit at one table for dialogue according to the constitution," Melkert had said at a news conference after meeting Sistani before the attack.

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