BAGHDAD, Iraq – Six gunmen firing assault weapons from a Toyota pickup truck chased a member of Iraq's Governing Council (search) in her car and seriously wounded her in the first assassination attempt targeting the U.S.-created leadership body.
The brazen, daytime attack was against Aquila al-Hashimi (search), one of three women on the council, a Shiite Muslim (search) and a strong candidate to become Iraq's representative at the United Nations.
Al-Hashimi had been preparing to leave for a key U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York on Tuesday. Major U.S. allies are pressing for Washington to give the United Nations a greater role in bringing stability to this fractured country.
The Governing Council president blamed Saddam Hussein loyalists for the shooting.
U.S.-led forces have been struggling to put down a guerrilla-style insurgency that has targeted Americans and their Iraqi allies. The police chief of the central town of Khaldiyah, who was working with U.S. forces, was assassinated by gunmen last week, and other attacks have killed police recruits trained by the Americans.
Last month, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, a top Shiite cleric who leads a movement with a seat on the Governing Council, was killed in a car bombing that left at least 85 people dead. Al-Hakim's brother, Abdel-Aziz, is a council member.
Saturday's attack came at 9 a.m., when gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade on al-Hashimi's car soon after she left her house in western Baghdad, members of her security detail said. The grenade missed, and the attackers opened fire with assault rifles.
Al-Hashimi, critically wounded in the abdomen, was rushed to the al-Yarmouk Hospital for surgery and was later moved in a convoy of American armored vehicles and military ambulances to the U.S. military hospital at Baghdad International Airport (search). Three of her bodyguards were also wounded.
There, she was reported in stable condition. "She is fine," said Haitham al-Husseini, an adviser to Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim.
Firas Shams al-Din, 30, a security guard at a school near where the shooting occurred, said a white Toyota pickup truck carrying six bearded men armed with Kalashnikovs -- as well as a black Mercedes and a blue sedan -- chased al-Hashimi's vehicle.
When Shams al-Din opened fire on the pickup, the three vehicles of attackers turned around and fled. Al-Hashimi's car crashed through the gate of a private home's compound at the end of the street and into a car parked inside.
Shams al-Din said he ran to al-Hashimi's car and found her conscious and moaning in pain with blood oozing from her side.
At the site of the shooting, Iraqi police were questioning witnesses and Western-looking security men examined the scene. There was shattered glass on the street and bloodstains on a sidewalk, where a wounded man, believed to be one of al-Hashimi's bodyguards, had lain earlier.
Ahmad Chalabi, the president of the Governing Council for September, said al-Hashimi's attackers "were remnants of the Baathist regime and Saddam's assassins," referring to Saddam's former ruling Baath party.
"The members of the Governing Council and ministers will not be intimidated by the terrorists," Chalabi said in a statement. "They will continue to do their patriotic duty to move Iraq towards freedom, democracy and sovereignty." He said al-Hashimi had received threats recently.
Baghdad police commander Brig. Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim told The Associated Press that no one had been arrested in the attack and he refused to say who might be behind it.
The 25-member Governing Council was established by the U.S.-led coalition in mid-July to put an Iraqi face on the process of rebuilding the country.
The White House denounced the assassination attempt. Spokeswoman Suzy DeFrancis called it a "tragic situation" that is a part of a "continuing pattern" in which insurgent forces attack signs of success in the process of Iraq's transition to democracy.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's office issued a statement saying, "Violence such as the murderous attack on Dr. al-Hashimi only retards that process and that goal."
Al-Hashimi has emerged as a leading foreign policy figure on the council, participating in a delegation that addressed the United Nations in July. At Tuesday's General Assembly session, the council delegation will try to assume Iraq's U.N. seat -- and if it succeeds, many U.N. diplomats expected al-Hashimi to be named Iraq's representative.
Chalabi said in his statement that the council delegation would attend the U.N. session, but did not say whether al-Hashimi would be replaced.
The continuing security crisis in Iraq has raised questions about America's stewardship of Iraq since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations May 1. Since then, 82 American soldiers and 11 Britons have been killed in hostile encounters.
The Bush administration is trying to get a U.N. resolution appealing to countries to send troops and funds to help in reconstruction and security. France and other nations, however, want the resolution also to give more control to the United Nations and set a timetable for handing power to Iraqis, possibly within months.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed similar concerns Saturday in an interview with U.S. media, and he said the on-going violence proves Russia's contention months ago that going to war would worsen international security. "The conflict continues; Islamic extremists who weren't there before are more and more frequently infiltrating Iraqi territory," he said.