Iraqis claim assassination was staged

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AN IRAQI opposition group yesterday disputed government reports of an assassination attempt on the life of Saddam Hussein's deputy.

Baghdad "falsified" the reports to "increase repression" on Shiite Muslims in southern and central Iraq, said a statement by the London-based Iraqi National Congress.

The statement was also read over the Iraqi Broadcasting Corporation, a radio station that operates in northern Iraq and is affiliated to INC, an umbrella of several Iraqi opposition groups.

State-run Baghdad television reported on Monday that assailants threw two grenades at Izzat Ibrahim, President Saddam's deputy, as he got out of his car Sunday in the central Shiite holy city of Karbala to attend a religious ceremony. He was unhurt.

"The [Iraqi] regime falsified this attack in order to increase repression of the Shiite people in central and southern Iraq," said the INC statement.

Baghdad television said several bodyguards and bystanders were wounded in the assassination attempt.

The INC statement said that on the day of the alleged attack, Ibrahim - who is Saddam's deputy on the powerful Revolutionary Command Council and deputy commander of the Iraqi armed forces - was leading troops from the elite Republican Guard, the Emergency Units and Saddam's Fedayeen, as part of the "national campaign to capture [army] deserters."

President Saddam's Fedayeen is a paramilitary force of 40,000 run by his eldest son, Odai.

The Emergency Units is part of the Iraqi army, specialized in combating riots, rebellions and other disturbances.

Clashes broke out between Ibrahim's forces and the Shiites as arrests were being made, and a number of soldiers were killed, said the INC statement. "But there was no attempt against Izzat Ibrahim personally." It said the assassination attempt was falsified to justify the "mass arrests of young people in the town" and the clashes between Ibrahim's forces and the people of Karbala.

It said the campaign to capture army deserters was launched on 7 November in several Iraqi towns in the southern marshes where thousands of deserters and Shiite rebels take refuge and carry out hit-and-run attacks against government forces.

Iraq's defiance of Washington brought most Arab nations to its side and has proved that the United States was not the world's only superpower, President Saddam was quoted as saying yesterday.

He said it did not matter if the "feeble and weak" Arab rulers did not support him during his stand-off with the United States over UN weapons inspections.

"We are not frustrated if we fail to persuade" Arab rulers to support Iraq, state-run newspapers quoted the Iraqi president as saying.