Iraqi bandits attempt to ambush MP's convoy

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Ann Clwyd, the Prime Minister's special representative on human rights in Iraq, escaped unscathed when her convoy was threatened by bandits yesterday.

The Labour MP told her office at Westminster that shots were fired but that no one had been hurt in the incident, which occurred near Kirkuk, in Northern Iraq.

Ms Clwyd, who was with a convoy of eight cars and military escorts, insisted she was "none the worse" for the experience but sounded shaken as she spoke of the incident.

"We were going along the road to the south of Kirkuk and people were coming in our direction. They were making gestures holding their hands together as though they were tied. They were trying to warn us there had been shots fired at cars coming in our direction.

"Shots were certainly fired at people coming towards us. We stopped short of that. We were given a warning. Then the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters, and the Americans went after them," she said. The MP for Cynon Valley, South Wales, said the bandits eluded capture by running into the hills.

Despite the confrontation, Ms Clwyd sounded a positive note over her visit to the country. "There is such normality you can't believe there has been a war," she said.

Ms Clwyd, who supported Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq, had been a veteran campaigner against the brutality of the Iraqi regime, which she compared to the Khmer Rouge and the Nazis. She was the first MP to highlight the plight of Kurdish refugees fleeing bombardments by Saddam Hussein's regime in 1991.

Her special appointment in Iraq combines her role to report on human rights' violations during Saddam's Baath party rule and to ascertain the extent of Iraq's post-war problems.

The ambush came a day after her tour of the largest mass graves uncovered in Iraq, outside the city of Hillah, on Sunday. She visited the site with British forensic science experts who are teaching Iraqis how to preserve evidence and gather clues on those who disappeared under the old regime.

She spoke of the significance of preserving such findings for use in war crimes trials, and the harm that ordinary Iraqis searching for missing family members could unwittingly do. "It's understandable that people want to come and find out whether the bodies of their relatives are here, but they also should be told that they might be destroying evidence," she said.

Ms Clwyd is a founder of Indict, which sought to bring criminal charges against the former Iraqi leader under international laws.