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Baghdad bomb near U.N. kills officer

| Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A suicide bomber, his body wrapped in explosives and his car filled with 50 pounds of TNT, struck a police checkpoint Monday outside U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing an Iraqi policeman who stopped him and wounding 19 people.

The bomber, who also died in the 8:10 a.m. blast, was trying to get into the U.N. compound at the Canal Hotel, where a truck bomb a month ago killed 23 people, including the top U.N. envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, said a U.S. military spokesman. Yesterday's attack wounded two U.N. workers.

The bombing, apparently timed to snarl attempts by Washington to win U.N. legitimacy for the U.S. occupation of this Arab country, could diminish the world body's willingness to become more deeply involved in Iraq's reconstruction. The United Nations already sharply reduced its work here after the Aug. 19 bombing.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that if the situation continues to deteriorate, U.N. operations in Iraq "will be handicapped considerably."

"I am shocked and distressed by this latest attack on our premises in Baghdad," Annan said at the United Nations.

"We are assessing the situation to determine what happened, who did it, and taking further measures to protect our installations," he said.

The blast, which could be heard over much of the Iraqi capital, took place a day before President Bush was to address the U.N. General Assembly. He was expected to seek an expanded U.N. role in rebuilding Iraq, a condition set by many nations for contributing peacekeepers and money to the reconstruction effort.

But it was unclear how the United States would respond to French and German requests for the world body to oversee the process of handing over more authority to Iraqis and to be given a larger role in the management of Iraq's transition to democracy.

Annan has said he wants assurances of security for U.N. personnel in Baghdad along with any expanded role.

President Bush in his U.N. speech today will resist French and German pressures for a quick surrender of U.S. authority in Iraq, top aides said. American and European diplomats worked behind the scenes to draft a compromise on the pace of a handover.

The president cited "good progress" in Iraq as he met with two visiting Iraqi ministers in the Oval Office on the eve of his speech. His national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, criticized any plans to rush the transfer of power, saying it must come in "an orderly process."

Diplomats say a draft Security Council resolution backing a multinational occupation force, circulated by American officials, won't specifically meet French demands for a timetable on the handover.

Instead, it will call on the 25-member U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council to come up with a timetable of its own -- a compromise that may satisfy the French only if a framework for such a timetable is agreed upon privately ahead of time.

Security measures work

The bomber in yesterday's attack was blocked at a newly established police checkpoint on a street in back of the compound. As police inspected the bomber's car, he detonated the explosives.

Praising new security arrangements around the hotel, a U.S. military officer at the scene credited Iraqi police with preventing an even greater tragedy.

"I reiterate that he was not through the checkpoint, and he was not near the U.N. compound. That means security is working," said Capt. Sean Kirley of the U.S. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He said the Iraqi police had a warning of yesterday's attack shortly before it happened, but gave no further details.

Authorities identified the slain policeman as 23-year-old Salam Mohammed.

The bomb exploded two days after an assassination attempt against Aquila al-Hashimi, one of three women on the Iraqi Governing Council and a leading candidate to become Iraq's U.N. ambassador if the interim government wins approval to take the country's U.N. seat.

She was reported to be improving yesterday, after being shot in the abdomen by six gunmen who chased her two-car convoy as she left home.

The ongoing violence has raised questions about American stewardship of the country and has led to calls for an expanded role for the United Nations in post-Saddam Iraq.

Since Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, more than 160 American soldiers have been killed. More than 300 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led coalition launched military operations March 20.

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