QAIM, Oct 3 (AP): Iraq's oil minister narrowly survived an assassination attempt when a roadside bomb blasted his seven-car convoy in Baghdad, killing three of his escorts, officials said.
The attack, which left Bahr al-Uloum with no injuries, occurred at 9:30 a.m. as he was traveling north for a ceremony to open a rebuilt oil refinery in the city of Beiji.
Iraq's oil industry has the world's third largest known reserves, but it has been crippled by war, sanctions and the insurgency. Oil production remains limited, curbed by decaying infrastructure and frequent attacks on pipelines and refineries by militants.
Elsewhere, roadside bombs and fighting between insurgents and Iraqi forces Monday wounded at least seven Iraqis in Ramadi, a militant stronghold 70 miles (115 kilometres ) west of the capital, police and hospital officials said.
In the northern city of Mosul, a drive-by-shooting killed Nafi'a Azis, a female member of Ninevah's provincial council, and her son, said police spokesman Brig. Saeed Ahmed. Azis was in charge of the council's human rights committee and a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
The offensive and street fighting were occurring less than two weeks before the national referendum on a new Iraqi constitution. Al-Qaida in Iraq and other groups in the Sunni-led insurgency have launched a wave of violence to wreck the vote, killing at least 207 people over the past eight days.
On Sunday, Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed to have taken two US Marines captive during the fighting and threatened to kill them within 24 hours unless all female Sunni detainees are released from US and Iraqi prisons in the country. The US military said the claim appeared false, but that it was conducting checks "to verify that all Marines are accounted for."
The offensive in western Iraq by 1,000 US Marines, soldiers and sailors began early Saturday in the village of Sadah and has since spread to Karabila and Rumana, two nearby towns on the banks of the Euphrates River. On Monday, witnesses told The Associated Press that helicopter attacks on Rumana were sending black smoke up into the air.
Also Sunday, political differences among Iraqi leaders deepened ahead of the crucial Oct. 15 national vote on a new constitution.
Talabani, Iraq's Kurdish president, urged Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari to step down over accusations he is monopolising power in the government and ignoring his Kurdish coalition partners' demands, a spokesman for Talabani's party said.
Elsewhere, Shiite militiamen released the recently kidnapped brother of Iraq's interior minister, the freed man, Abdul-Jabbar Jabr, told Associated Press Television News.