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Iraqi gunmen ambush, kill public television director

BAGHDAD -- Gunmen killed the director of Iraq's public television channel and his driver yesterday, the second slaying this month of a figure who shapes broadcast news coverage of the country's sectarian strife.

Amjad Hameed, 45, a former cameraman and programming executive who had run Al-Iraqiya television since July, was shot several times in the face and chest after the assailants cut him off as he headed to work in central Baghdad, the capital. He died instantly, police said.

Al-Iraqiya, indirectly controlled by the Shi'ite Muslim-led government, suspended regular programming and aired verses from the Koran after reporting the news of his death. It showed footage of female colleagues as they wept over Hameed's coffin and of surgeons as they struggled to revive his driver, who died after emergency surgery.

The slayings occurred four days after the shooting death of Munsuf Abdallah Khalidi, a news anchor on Baghdad Television, which is run by the country's largest Sunni Arab party. That channel and Al-Iraqiya give highly partisan, opposing slants to the bloodshed that pits Sunnis against Shi'ites.

Last month, a famous war correspondent for the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya channel, Atwar Bahjat, was shot to death along with her cameraman and engineer while covering the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra. The blast brought a weeklong spike in nationwide violence that left hundreds dead.

The Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, reacting to yesterday's killings, announced that it would ask the interior minister to grant journalists licenses to carry firearms in self-defense. More than 70 foreign and Iraqi journalists have been listed as killed since US forces toppled President Saddam Hussein three years ago. Al-Iraqiya says 38 of its employees, including nonjournalists, have been killed.

Authorities reported at least four other shooting deaths yesterday, including that of a human rights activist in Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad, and a police lieutenant colonel in the capital. A US soldier was wounded by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, the American military said.

Meanwhile, Sunni and Shi'ite political leaders met for the first time since the mosque bombing to resume talks on forming a new government. The talks have moved slowly since Dec. 15 elections produced a divided Parliament, with Shi'ites falling short of a majority.

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