A journalist and a driver working for the American cable channel CNN were ambushed and killed in Iraq yesterday as the UN secretary general refused to send a team of his officials to the country until security improved.
CNN said the two employees were returning in a two-car convoy to Baghdad from south of the capital when they came under fire on the outskirts of the city.
Dureid Issa Mohammed, a translator-producer, and Yasser Khateeb, a driver, were killed and a CNN cameraman in the second car was grazed in the head by a bullet. Michael Holmes, a correspondent who was in the car, was unhurt.
The ambush came as Kofi Annan said he would send a team of UN experts to Iraq to assess the possibility of holding elections, but only when their safety could be guaranteed. "As soon as we are given indications that the practical and security arrangements are in place ... we are ready to send the mission," he said at a briefing in Paris with President Jacques Chirac. "Consensus amongst all Iraqi constituencies would be the best guarantee of a legitimate and credible transitional governance arrangement for Iraq."
The team's job would be to assess the possibility of direct elections - a demand of the leading Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has challenged the proposal of the Bush administration to allow regional caucuses choose a transitional assembly.
The administration, which wants to transfer sovereignty to an Iraqi authority before November's presidential election, is counting on the UN team to agree that organising elections before the planned handover on 30 June would be impossible due to a lack of security and electoral laws.
Ayatollah Sistani - who rarely appears in public and has refused to meet US officials - has hinted that he would respect a UN decision about the feasibility of elections. His aides in Najaf said he met a group of Iraqi academics on Monday night who were likely to be involved in talks with the UN team.
The ever-present dangers were underlined yesterday by another attack to the west of Baghdad when three US soldiers were killed and one was wounded by a roadside bomb. Witnesses said that at least one Iraqi was also killed and several were wounded. As reinforcements rushed to the scene in Khaldiya, another bomb went off, hitting a second military vehicle. The death of the three US troops brings the total of American troops killed in Iraq since the war began to at least 517. Of those, 358 have been killed in combat.
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