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Chalabi survives convoy attack

Suspected insurgents fire mortars Iraq's National Council

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Suspected insurgents fired mortars near the meeting of Iraq's new 100-member National Council and ambushed a convoy of Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi on his way to the session.

Chalabi escaped injury when two carloads of gunmen opened fire on his convoy Wednesday, injuring two bodyguards, an aide has said.

In Baghdad, two people were wounded in the mortar attacks near the National Council meeting.

The mortar rounds landed not far from the entrance to Baghdad's Green Zone near the convention center where Iraq's new National Council was sworn in.

The Coalition Press Information Center said an Iraqi civilian was injured in the mortar blast. An Iraqi security official at the scene said one Iraqi guard at the Green Zone checkpoint was wounded.

The blasts did not affect the convention center, where a CNN crew reported hearing six explosions.

According to Chalabi aide Haider Musawi, the politician's convoy was en route from Najaf to Baghdad when it came under fire in the Latifiya area about 30 miles (48 km) south of Baghdad at around 7:30 a.m. (0330 GMT).

Haider said Chalabi's bodyguards returned fire, but the gunmen escaped.

Chalabi made it to the council's swearing-in ceremony, but said Iraqis "must work very hard, very quickly to free this area from the scourge of the terrorists and open this very important road to the public to pass safely."

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi "strongly" condemned the attack and blamed on "outlaw terrorist factions."

"Out of responsibility for the protection of our dear people, I have ordered the authorities concerned of the Interior Ministry to chase the party that perpetrated this cowardly act and to put an end to their subversive activities," Allawi said

The 100-person National Council, chosen last month at the Iraqi National Conference gathering in Baghdad, was sworn in Wednesday and began its work.

It is to serve as an advisory and oversight body for the interim government up to the elections for a transitional national assembly, which are scheduled to be held in January.

The National Council consists of 19 members of the disbanded Iraqi Governing Council, including Chalabi, along with 81 others from a wide range of backgrounds.

Chalabi had visited the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf on Tuesday to wish him well and to discuss the future plans for Iraq elections. Chalabi also made a visit to the Imam Ali Shrine, the scene of recent clashes.

Al-Sistani and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr brokered a cease-fire in the holy Shia city of Najaf last week.

Chalabi had been a key U.S. ally leading up to the war in Iraq, but has recently fallen out of favor with Washington.

In May, Iraqi police and U.S. troops searched his home and office, and U.S. officials accused him of passing closely held American secrets to Iran -- allegations he denied.

Chalabi blames Jordan for generating a smear campaign against him for exposing the country's weapons dealing with Saddam Hussein.

In 1992, Chalabi was convicted in absentia of bank fraud by a military court in Jordan after Petra Bank collapsed in 1989 amid charges of wrongdoing. He has said those charges were politically motivated.

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