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Britons escape unhurt after gunmen ambush Baghdad convoy.

Four Britons escaped unhurt last night after gunmen ambushed a convoy on a northern Baghdad highway, killing one Iraqi security guard and a bystander.

The attack in Baghdad's Shoala district occurred near dusk as three sport utility vehicles headed south towards the city centre.

Gunmen in an approaching vehicle opened fire, sending three of the four SUVs careering off the road into barricades. The Britons and another Iraqi jumped out of the vehicles, flagged down a passing Iraqi vehicle and escaped. None of the Britons was hurt but the Iraqi was wounded, said the Foreign Office.

A spokeswoman dismissed as rumour witness reports that some Western men were abducted. Crowds of Iraqi youths danced and cheered as rescuers dragged a bloodied body, wearing a flak vest, from the driver's seat of one vehicle. Others looted tyres and set two vehicles on fire.

Witnesses Khalid Zaalan, aged 22, and Qays Hussein, aged 15, said there was a shoot-out, and armed Western men jumped from the wrecked SUVs, commandeered a passing car at gunpoint and escaped.

A family of three was caught in the crossfire, according to Dr Mazhar Abdullah of the nearby al-Sadr hospital. The husband was killed and his pregnant wife was seriously injured, the doctor said.

A preliminary report from the 1st Cavalry Division, responsible for security in Baghdad, said one Iraqi security guard was killed and another was wounded.

Last Monday, two British civilians working for a security company died when a roadside bomb blew up their armoured car near the coalition headquarters in Baghdad. Earlier yesterday US soldiers came under fire in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, as an agreement to halt fighting there appeared to be unravelling.

Two American soldiers were injured in the clashes around the city.

Elsewhere, attackers in Samarra, 75 miles northeast of the capital hurled three mortar shells into a market, killing three and injuring four, said Rashid Abdullah, a hospital official.

In Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, Shiite politicians sought to save a three-day-old agreement with radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to end the stand off with US soldiers and restore government control.

Al-Sadr's fighters took over Najaf and its twin city Kufa in early April after occupation authorities cracked down on his militia, closing his newspaper, arresting a key lieutenant and announcing an arrest warrant against him for the murder of a rival cleric.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 31, 2004
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