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Suspects Arrested in Murder of Iraqi Governing Council Member - 2004-02-16

Iraqi officials say police have arrested five Iraqis in connection with the assassination last year of a member of the U.S.-backed Governing Council.

Interior Ministry officials said Monday the suspects, whom they would not identify, were arrested earlier this month in the city of Amarah, some 300 kilometers southeast of Baghdad.

Iraqi Governing Council Member Akila al-Hashimi was shot several times when unidentified gunmen ambushed her car last September 20. She died five days later.

Ms. al-Hashimi had also served under Saddam Hussein's ousted regime.

In other developments, correspondent Kirk Troy reports a military spokesman in Baghdad says a U.S. civilian was killed in Iraq over the weekend and that two American soldiers died in attacks Monday. The U.S.-led coalition also says it is open to changing the plan for the transfer of power to Iraqis by the end of June.

Coalition authorities have said one U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded by a roadside bomb in central Baghdad. The routine patrol was targeted by a remote-control bomb that was detonated as their three-car convoy was passing.

In a separate incident, another U.S. soldier was killed when a bomb went off near his convoy north of the capital in the town of Baquba.

[Meanwhile, an Iraqi child died in a grenade explosion outside a school in Baghdad. Iraqi police say children were playing near a trash bin in a school yard and triggered a grenade that was left inside.]

The U.S. military also reported one American civilian was killed and two others wounded in an ambush south of the capital on Saturday. The three were working for a Christian charity in Iraq and were traveling back to Baghdad from the ancient city of Babylon when their convoy was attacked by gunmen in another vehicle.

"I do know that there was as group affiliated with a church organization that was moving, they were ambushed near Mahmudiyah on the 14th," said Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. "One American citizen was killed and two were wounded."

General Kimmitt said the wounded were taken to a U.S. military hospital and that the attack was under investigation.

Despite the continued violence in Iraq, the U.S. government says it will stick to a plan to transfer power to Iraqis on June 30, but that it is open to suggestions on how to choose a transitional authority before the handover. A U.S. plan for regional meetings to choose the government has met with opposition, especially within the Shi'ite community.

Dan Senor, the coalition spokesman in Baghdad, said "we are moving forward on the implementation of the caucus plan as it is outlined in the November 15 agreement; however we have said from the beginning that we would be open to clarification, we would be open to elaborations, we would be open to modifications to the plan and certainly we would welcome the advice that the U.N. has. The plan in terms of its implementation has not changed."

The U.N. special representative to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, was in Iraq last week with a fact-finding team to assess the feasibility of early elections. The team is to present its findings to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan sometime this week.