Grenade attack leaves deputy unscathed

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IZZAT IBRAHIM, vice-chairman of Iraq's ruling Revolution Command Council, escaped injury in a grenade attack last Sunday in the southern city of Kerbala Iraqi television reported yesterday.

Unknown assailants reportedly threw two grenades at Mr Ibrahim's car as he was getting out, wounding several bodyguards and civilians. He was in Kerbala, representing President Saddam Hussein to whom he has long been a close political ally.

The Iraqi media said "the cowardly assassination attempt" occurred on Sunday near the tomb of Imam Hussein, the founding martyr of the Shia, who was killed in battle at Kerbala in 680. Kerbala is one of the holy cities of Iraq, long a centre of opposition to the ruling Iraqi Baath party and played an important role in the uprising of 1991.

The full name of the vice president is Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, but all Iraqi leaders have dropped names denoting their tribal or geographical origin. He was born in al-Dur a village near Samarra, a city on the Tigris north of Baghdad in 1942, the son of a seller of ice. Like most of the ruling elite he is a Sunni Muslim.

He was a member of the Baath party and he joined its Revolution Command Council in 1969, a year after it came to power in a military coup. He has been a senior member of the Iraqi leadership since, serving as minister for agricultural reform and later as interior minister.

He and his clan are closely allied to the extended family of the Iraqi leader. His daughter Hawazin was briefly married to Uday, the son of President Saddam, but the marriage was annulled. Other members of his family have played an important role in the intelligence services. He was prominent in leading the government counter-attack against the Kurdish revolt in 1990. In recent years the influence of his family appeared to be on the wane.

The publicity given to the attack on him will create fears that the government will use it to justify a clampdown on Shia Iraqis and on the holy cities of Kerbala, Najaf and Kufa, south- west of Baghdad on the Euphrates. A grenade attack on Tariq Aziz, now Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, in Baghdad in 1980 led to the immediate execution of Shia dissidents held in prison and the expulsion of Iraqis of Iranian origin to Iran.