Vol. 4 Num 230 Sat. January 17, 2004  
Front Page

Plane with Georgian defence minister shot at in Iraq
Bomb blasts kill four

A plane carrying Georgia's Defense Minister David Tevzadze was shot at as it took off from Baghdad's airport to return to the Caucasus country overnight, but no one was hurt in the attack, officials said yesterday.

"The plane made a maneuver and coalition helicopters opened return fire," Koba Kobaladze, Georgia's national guard chief travelling with the minister, told reporters upon returning to Tbilisi.

"I was sleeping at the time and didn't notice anything," Tevzadze said.

Tevzadze flew to Iraq for one day to inspect Georgian soldiers who are serving as part of the US-led peacekeeping force there.

Georgia sent 70 elite troops, doctors and mine-clearing experts to Iraq in August. They are due to return in February, to be replaced by 200 troops who will include special forces.

Another 300 soldiers are due to arrive before mid-2004.

A Baghdad report adds: A 15-year-old boy was killed and five people injured yesterday when a bomb exploded on a busy street in central Baghdad as US soldiers and Iraqi police were trying to defuse it, police and medics said.

"People stayed near the bomb, people wouldn't leave, the Americans put something on the bomb to cover it when the soldiers backed off from the bomb, someone detonated it by remote control," said Sergeant Mohi Naimi.

Haidar Khodayr, 15, had been playing football in an abandoned lot with friends when people spotted a bomb hidden in a garbage bag on Haifa street, said Naimi, an officer who rushed to the scene.

But police struggled to push people back. Even after US troops arrived, they could not chase onlookers out of the immediate area when an assailant blew the bomb up by remote control, Naimi said.

Mohi said Khodayr had been watching the soldiers from the wall of the abandoned lot where he played football when the shrapnel hit him.

Five others were wounded, two of them seriously, with the oldest of the casualties being 30 years old, he said.

The US military earlier confirmed the blast but said only that three civilians and a translator were wounded when the bomb exploded before the US army could disarm it. The Iraqi capital has been hit by string of attacks, culminating in a New Year's Eve car-bomb blast at a popular restaurant that killed eight people.

Coalition officials warned that the incident could herald new tactics in the insurgency as guerillas switch to softer targets in their efforts to destabilise US-controlled Iraq.

Another report adds: A bus packed with university students was blown apart by a landmine Thursday leaving three dead near Saddam Hussein's hometown Tikrit in northern Iraq as a new post-war currency began circulating and tens of thousands demonstrated in Basra for elections.

The attack on the Tikrit university vehicle, came as Shiite Muslims filled the streets of the southern city of Basra to support their spiritual leader's call for elections.

And across the country, old Iraqi dinars bearing the image of Saddam became worthless, bundled for destruction and consigned to the history books as the US-led coalition declared the end of a three-month changeover period to introduce the new post-war currency.

The new dinars bearing less emotive images of Iraqi artefacts, scholars and landmarks came into circulation three months ago as the old "Saddams" were being collected.

The deadline for the old currency came as the dinar reached a new post-war peak of 1,000 to the dollar, appreciating at a rate that has alarmed central bank chiefs and put the squeeze on many Iraqis who receive their pay in dollars.

Preparations meanwhile were underway for talks at the UN on Iraq's future.

Paul Bremer, the US civilian overseer in Iraq, was due for talks at UN headquarters in New York on Monday accompanied by Iraqi Governing Council president Adnan Pachachi.

Pachachi told reporters that he, Bremer, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan would hold "three-way discussions."