Iraq's Basra police chief escapes assassination bid

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BAGHDAD, Oct 24 (Reuters) The police chief of Iraq's southern city of Basra said today he escaped an assassination attempt by gunmen who opened fire at him from rooftops while he was getting into his car.

Major-General Abdul-Jelil Khalaf told Reuters by telephone that one of his bodyguards was wounded in the attack at a bustling outdoor market in the centre of Basra, Iraq's second largest city.

The shooting came a day after clashes between the Mehdi Army militia of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and local security forces in the city. The militiamen freed an imprisoned comrade from the main police headquarters.

''Gunmen from rooftops around the market shot at my armoured car as soon as I got inside. One of my guards was wounded outside. They fired many bullets at my vehicle but no one else was hurt,'' he said.

Khalaf said two of the gunmen were captured after the shooting.

Basra, which sits on top of Iraq's largest oil fields, has seen increasing tension between powerful Shi'ite factions keen to spread their influence in the city after British forces withdrew from their last base in the city in September.

The turf war involves supporters of Sadr, the powerful Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and smaller Fadhila party, which controls the governorate.

Reuters AE DB2139

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