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UN pulls out more staff from Iraq

Move comes as Governing Council member dies

BAGHDAD - The United Nations (UN) said yesterday it was pulling out 19 of its 105 international staffers from Iraq as a member of the country's US-appointed Governing Council died of wounds suffered in an ambush last week.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said the withdrawal had begun and 86 staff members now remained in Iraq.

This is not an evacuation, just a further downsizing, and the security situation in the country remains under constant review,' he said.

The decision comes as a blow to US claims that the security situation was under control and to efforts by US President George W. Bush to give the world body a bigger say in Iraqi reconstruction.

Marking the first time Iraq's violence has claimed the life of a member of the US-appointed administration, a member of Iraq's Governing Council died yesterday from wounds suffered in an assassination attempt last week.

Ms Aquila al-Hashimi's death came on the same day a bomb exploded at a Baghdad hotel where US television network NBC is based, killing a Somalian guard.

The blast shattered windows around the three-floor Aike Hotel.

On Wednesday, Iraq saw one of its bloodiest days of combat since the end of the war, with bombs rocking Baghdad and Mosul and American troops involved in a string of clashes.

Ms Al-Hashimi will be buried today. The Governing Council, which announced a three-day mourning period, said her death would not distract it from rebuilding Iraq.

For the first time on Wednesday, US soldiers in Baghdad deployed bomb-disposal robots to check a suspicious object in an underpass.

That proved harmless, but at about the same time 4.8km to the north-west, a bomb targeted at a US patrol exploded as two buses rolled by. At least one Iraqi was killed.

In Mosul, a bomb exploded in a cinema. Two people were killed.

South of Tikrit, seven Iraqis attacked an oil pumping station guarded by US troops. Three Iraqis were killed.

Elsewhere, a US patrol killed three Iraqis waiting in ambush, and two Iraqis died when US troops shot at three men trying to bury a mortar shell on a highway.

US soldiers also came under fire south of Tikrit. They killed one attacker.

Yesterday, two suspected resistance leaders were arrested. AP, Reuters, AFP


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