UN anger as armed gang launches grenade attack on oil-for-food HQ in Baghdad

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Four gunmen hurled grenades and fired bullets at an office of the UN oil-for-food agency in the Iraq capital Baghdad, destroying and damaging at least three vehicles in the compound, officials said.

No one was injured except one of the attackers who was overpowered and taken into custody by the Iraqi army, said a UN statement sent to Cairo. The remaining three gunmen fled, it said.

The attack was on Saturday night at the World Health Organisation's headquarters in Baghdad, which houses an office for UN officials monitoring the oil- for-food programme. According to preliminary reports the four men lobbed grenades and also opened fire at the WHO building.

Eric Falt, spokesman for the oil for food programme, told the Associated Press in Dubai that the attack came after office hours and only guards were present at the building.

The UN's humanitarian coordinator in Baghdad, Denis Halliday, condemned the attack, the first ever at a UN building in Iraq, the statement said. "It is the Iraqi government's responsibility to protect UN personnel and property against any harm and Mr Halliday has asked for an urgent meeting at the highest levels with the Iraqi leaders in order to express his concern," said the statement.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack.

Iraq has been under UN sanctions banning the sale of oil, its economic mainstay, since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But a special UN programme, put in place in December 1996, allows Iraq to sell $1 billion of crude every 90 days to buy needed food and medicine under UN supervision.

The WHO building is located in the al-Wahda district, where an Iranian opposition group in exile is based.