Senior Oil Ministry Official Assassinated in Iraq
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
An Iraqi Oil Ministry official was gunned down in Baghdad today, the latest assassination in Iraq's insurgency. The insurgents have stepped up their attacks since an interim Iraqi government was installed late last month, and Iraq is seeing some of the bloodiest days since the end of major combat was declared two years ago. Still, Iraqi and American officials are painting a picture of steady progress in rebuilding the country. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.
(Soundbite of Iraqi national anthem)
PETER KENYON reporting:
As a recording of the Iraq national anthem played on a recent sunny Baghdad afternoon, another symbol of the transfer of Iraq to the Iraqis went up. The national flag was raised over the army's new headquarters. The ribbon-cutting was portrayed as another brick in the wall of Iraqi sovereignty.
(Soundbite of ribbon-cutting ceremony)
Unidentified Man #1: You've got it, General.
Unidentified Man #2: One, two, three.
Unidentified Man #1: Three.
(Soundbite of applause)
KENYON: But then reality reasserted itself. As the ribbon fell to the ground, officials immediately pushed reporters back, saying, `No media, no media.' Journalists are not allowed to say where this ceremony took place. US officers refused to talk, saying this was the Iraqis' day. Most Iraqi officers wouldn't give their names or be photographed for fear of being assassinated. It was reminiscent of another event some 11 months ago.
Ambassador PAUL BREMER: Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist on June 28th at which point the occupation will end.
KENYON: Last June, Ambassador Paul Bremer handed sovereignty over to a provisional Iraqi government led by Ayad Allawi. That event, too, was shrouded in secrecy for security reasons. Nearly a year later, the same rules apply. At milestone after milestone set by the Bush administration, the narrative of the creation of a new democratic Iraq stubbornly refuses to move ahead according to plan. A ruthless insurgency fueled by followers of an extreme and violent interpretation of Islam and by disenfranchised members of the Saddam Hussein regime has proved to be far more resilient, adaptable and murderously effective than the Americans initially gave it credit for.
Recently estimates of the enemy have been revised. A senior US military officer who briefed reporters in Baghdad yesterday said there's evidence that insurgents made a deliberate decision earlier this year, at a meeting believed to have been held in Syria, to emphasize the use of car bombs.
(Soundbite of explosions and gunfire)
KENYON: The ensuing explosions sowed carnage around Iraq, more than 450 dead in just over two weeks, most of them Iraq civilians, police or soldiers. As the Americans step back from the spotlight, Iraqi government spokesman Layth Kubbah has been left to field questions about the shocking death toll and the apparent lack of response. His answer was a variation on a theme that's been heard from Iraqis before: We just got here and we're only here for a limited time anyway.
Mr. LAYTH KUBBAH (Iraqi Government Spokesman): (Through Translator) This government is in its second week. It inherited a country that was without order for two years, a country with no army, with open borders. Nobody should expect miracles to happen in 200 days. That's the remaining time for this government.
KENYON: Which is not to say that the steady reports of accomplishments on the ground put forth by the Americans and the Iraqi government are false. In the complicated, chaotic place that is modern Iraq, there are many thousands of people, both military and civilian, taking frightening risks to do their best for the country. Hundreds of suspected insurgents have been arrested, railroads, airports and water plants are being opened, Iraqi judges are sentencing criminals and terrorists to prison terms.
On one level, despite all the false starts and setbacks, something has changed in the past year. The latest sign came when Iraq followed the American secretary of State's visit with an immediate and longer visit by the foreign minister of Iran. Government spokesman Layth Kubbah suggested that was no accident, that Iraq is looking ahead to the day when its attention will be focused not on Washington but on its neighbor, Tehran.
Mr. KUBBAH: (Through Translator) The reason behind all these things is to achieve benefits for Iraq and to return the region back to its normal balance.
KENYON: Occasionally, an American will articulate the new reality, that success or failure in Iraq is no longer solely in US hands. As the senior US officer put it, still speaking anonymously, `We're likely to succeed but we could still lose this one,' and then he clarified, `The Iraqi government could fail, but that's up to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people.'
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Baghdad.
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