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An Interview with Iraq's Foreign Minister

Target: Hoshyar Zebari

by PATRICK COCKBURN


Baghdad.

Assassins tried to kill Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, yesterday morning by leaving a car packed with explosives on a road where he was about to travel. His guards discovered the bomb shortly before his convoy went past.

The repeated attempts to murder Mr Zebari since he took over as Foreign Minister last year are a back-handed tribute by the insurgents to his effectiveness as the interim Iraqi government’s international spokesman.

"They don’t dare ambush us because they know they will be killed," he said defiantly in an interview just after the latest attack was foiled. He expected the assassination campaign against government ministers to escalate.

The bomb yesterday was the second attempt on his life in recent months. He shows, with a certain pride, two photographs of another car bomb containing 800kg of explosives that had been intercepted near his house.

The elaborate bomb included white blocks of TNT, a dozen or more 130mm shells and even a torpedo all connected with red electrical wire. "It’s frightening," he said. "The whole neighbourhood would have been wiped out, not one or two or three houses."

Mr Zebari, a veteran leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party who fought as a guerrilla for many years against Saddam Hussein in the mountains of Kurdistan, expects the insurgents to try again. He said the number of their operations had dropped from 106 a day to between 60 and 80 since the capture of Fallujah. But, overall, he did not sound optimistic that the level of violence would be much reduced.

He confirmed Dr Iyad Allawi will go to Jordan on Wednesday or close to that date to talk to opponents of the government. But he was quick to add that it was not a conference. The meetings would be with "religious leaders, tribal chiefs and Baathists, though not those on the wanted list". Most come from the western Iraqi city of Ramadi which after Fallujah is one of the main centres of resistance.

Mr Zebari left no doubt that the Iraqi election would go ahead on 30 January. He said the Iraqi National Security Council, of which he is a member, had met at the weekend and decided the poll must go ahead. "Any postponement, any weakness will benefit our enemies, our opponents.

"There are no guarantees that the security would be better if there was a postponement." He added with a laugh that there were also no assurances that security would be any better after the election.

The reason why the Sunni party leaders wanted a delay was obvious enough, said the Foreign Minister. They feared a boycott of the poll in Sunni districts which would wipe them out politically. "They are afraid there will be a Shia majority and they are not organised enough," Mr Zebari said. "They need consensual arrangements with other communities."

Mr Zebari thought the uprising in Sunni parts of Iraq would fail because it was an attempt by a minority to impose its will. He said "definitely the great majority of the Iraqi people will not tolerate a minority hijacking the country at gunpoint for its own selfish power interests."

The US is strongly committed to a poll on 30 January. The election was mentioned repeatedly by George Bush as a symbol of the success of his policy of bringing democracy to Iraq. And Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the influential Shia religious leader, has long demanded an election. The US and the interim government do not want to alienate him.