Tuesday, March 16, 2004

4 U.S. Civilians Killed in Iraq Shooting

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Four American relief workers were killed and one was wounded in a drive-by shooting Monday in the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. military said. Hospital officials said at least two of the dead were women.

The fifth American was being treated at a U.S. military hospital in Mosul.

The five were traveling in one car on the eastern side of the city when they were attacked, Lt. Col. Joseph Piek, a spokesman for American forces in Mosul, said in an e-mail.

An off-duty Iraqi policeman found the car shortly after the late afternoon shooting. Three of the Americans were dead and the two wounded were taken to an Iraqi hospital. U.S. Army air medevac helicopters later transported them to a combat support hospital in Mosul.

One of the two was then flown to a U.S. hospital in Baghdad, but died en route, Piek said.

The name of the fourth slain American and the injured victim were being withheld until family members had been contacted.

The five all worked for the Richmond, Va.-based Southern Baptist International Mission Board. The board indentified the dead as Larry T. Elliott, 60, and Jean Dover Elliott, 58, of Cary, N.C. and Karen Denise Watson, 38, of Bakersfield Calif.

"We do not know what the five U.S. citizens were doing at the time of the attack, but we do know they were in the Mosul area to deliver relief supplies," Piek said.

Iraqi police and the FBI were involved in the investigation.

The victims were attacked by two or three men in a car, witnesses said.

In Kirkuk, another northern city, an Arab member of the city council was gunned down along with his bodyguard as he drove to a meeting Monday, the second Iraqi official in the region to be killed in two days.

In Spain, the newly elected prime minister promised to withdraw the country's 1,300 troops from Iraq by June 30 unless the United Nations assumes control of peacekeeping. A U.S. coalition spokesman responded by saying Spain's role in Iraq had been critical to restoring order in Iraq.

"The Spaniards are performing heroically, and are critical to our efforts here," coalition spokesman Dan Senor said.

The new prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, vowed to pull out Spanish forces during the election campaign. The United States plans to turn over sovereignty to Iraq by June 30 but has no plans to cede control of the military operation to the United Nations.

Zapatero's Socialist party was propelled to an upset victory in elections Sunday by anger over terrorist attacks in Madrid last week that killed 200 people. Voters accused the outgoing prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, of making Spain a target for terrorism by supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Spain leads the Plus Ultra brigade, a command that also includes forces from El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Eleven Spaniards have died in Iraq since August, including seven intelligence agents killed in an ambush in late November.

In Kirkuk, Aggar Al-Taweel was shot several times in the head as he drove to the weekly meeting of the council of the ethnically divided city, said police chief Torhan Yussif. His bodyguard was also killed.

The gunmen fired from a red car and sped off.

Al-Taweel, a Shiite who founded an Arab political party that later splintered, was known for his frank opinions and was often outspoken in council debates.

Arabs are at odds with Kurds, many of whom were displaced from their homes by Saddam Hussein's regime. Kurds want to make oil-rich Kirkuk the center of a Kurdish federal region in the new government.

In Mosul on Sunday, guerrillas raked a government convoy with gunfire, killing the regional secretary of labor and social affairs and his driver, U.S. Maj. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

New interim constitution for Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Calling it a new beginning for their country, Iraqi Governing Council members Monday signed an interim constitution, laying the groundwork for future elections, a permanent constitution and eventually a return to self-rule.

"Here we are today standing in a historical moment to lay the strong foundation for rebuilding a new Iraq," said governing council President Mohammed Bahrululum. "A new, free, democratic Iraq that protects the dignity of the human being and protects human rights."

But almost immediately there was criticism from one of Iraq's most influential religious leaders.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the key leaders of Iraq's Shiites, issued a statement on his Web site saying, "This (document) places obstacles to arriving at a permanent constitution for the country.

"Any law prepared for the transitional period will not have legitimacy until it is approved by the elected national assembly."

As governing council members gathered, an explosion was heard across Iraq's capital city, but was not heard at the conference center where the ceremony took place.

According to Iraqi police, a rocket hit a house near the Karada police patrol station in central Baghdad, wounding four people, including two children and a police officer.

The latest attack followed a barrage of at least seven small rockets that damaged a hotel Sunday evening in central Baghdad.

The newly approved 25-page interim constitution defines a new Iraq as being "federal, democratic and pluralist," according to an advance copy secured by CNN's Jane Arraf.

The ceremony was delayed by nearly a week because of deadly violence and disagreement among Shiite and Kurdish council members.

The missiles in Sunday's attack were fired toward the so-called Green Zone from the bed of a Toyota SUV parked about 400 yards (400 meters) north of the Al-Rashid Hotel, the official said.

A civilian security employee was slightly wounded but later returned to duty, the official said.

The Green Zone includes the Coalition Provisional Authority's headquarters in the presidential palace, which is across the street from the conference center where the signing ceremony was scheduled to take place.

Word of Sunday's attack came shortly after a spokesman for a member of the Iraqi Governing Council said Iraq's interim constitution would be signed without changes Monday.

"There were different opinions among us, but we were able to come to an understanding," said Sayed Mohammed Hussein Bahrululum, son of the council president. "We will continue with the signing of the interim constitution without making any changes in it".

On Friday, Shiite council members backed out of the ceremony after the nation's top Shiite cleric objected to a provision that would effectively give three Kurdish provinces veto power over approval of a permanent constitution.

"They reached a positive and clear understanding by the religious authorities for the development of the constitution and they plan to continue with the signing of the interim constitution on Monday," said Ali al-Shabout, spokesman for council member Muwafaq al-Rubaie.

The clause at issue says that if two-thirds of the voters in any three provinces reject the permanent constitution, which is to be drawn up in coming months, it would not go into effect until it is revised.

The three Kurdish provinces want more autonomy than the majority Shiites are likely to approve.

Shabout said the meetings were attended by clerics Mohammed Ishak Sayed, Mohammed Said Al-Hakim and al-Sistani.

In addition to Rubaie and Bahrululum, council members who attended the meetings were Ahmed Chalabi, Adel Abdul Mehdi, who is a spokesman for Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, and a spokesman for Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

The signing ceremony was originally to take place Wednesday but was delayed for three days during a mourning period for victims of suicide bombings in Baghdad and Karbala.

The council gathered for a pomp-filled ceremony Friday afternoon to sign the historic transitional constitution, but the disagreements delayed the event and the council adjourned eight hours later.

The document will be the law of the land while efforts are made to adopt a permanent constitution and to directly elect Iraqi leaders -- a period coalition spokesman Dan Senor said would begin July 1, when sovereignty is set to be transferred to Iraq.

The interim constitution will not go into effect until given the go-ahead by Paul Bremer, the top civilian administrator in Iraq, who is expected to approve it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Iraqi Strikes Disrupt International Calls

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Three rockets struck a major telephone exchange Wednesday, knocking out international phone connections for much of the country only days after the system was put back in service, officials said.

One Iraqi worker was killed and another injured.

Qassim Hadi, an undersecretary with Iraq's Communication Ministry, said the attack happened just after 7:30 a.m. local time at an exchange in the Mansour district west of the Tigris river.

The rockets damaged one of six exchanges that are housed in trailers, said Iraqi police Brig. Gen. Samer Saadoun.

There were no arrests, but police were searching for the attacker.

Hadi said thousands of people with phone service weren't able to make international calls. Domestic calls did not appear to be affected.

He said the exchange would be repaired, but didn't have a timeframe.

Twelve new telephone exchanges in Baghdad were set up last month, replacing the ones destroyed in the U.S.-led invasion, enabling the Iraqi Telephone and Post Co. provide service for 240,000 lines in and around Baghdad.

An estimated 280,000 lines remained out of service, but that was not related to Wednesday's attack.

A call seeking comment from ITPC by The Associated Press wasn't able to go through.

The new switches were installed by the ITPC and Bechtel, through its subcontractor Lucent Technologies, while Globecomm installed an international gateway that will permit long-distance phone calls.

Most Iraqis use cell phones with prepaid cards to communicate or satellite phones.

The missile attacks came a day after simultaneous suicide bombings on Shiite Muslim shrines in the capital and the holy city of Karbala killed hundreds of people.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Iraqi Forces to Take on Security Role

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Retired Iraqi special forces Gen. Mudir Aboud greeted U.S. forces with a white flag when they rolled into Baghdad 10 months ago and told them where they could find Saddam Hussein's remaining fighters.

After months of U.S.-supervised training, Aboud on Wednesday took command of 6,800 Iraqi Civilian Defense Corps soldiers based in Baghdad. American officers say the new force will soon take over security duties in the capital as they reduce their presence here.

Apart from a few grumbles about his new rank — he is now a colonel — Aboud says he is proud to lead the force, but complains his men do not have enough tools to take on the insurgents, who are increasingly attacking local police and soldiers.

"We are still using old weapons from the Iraqi army," he said after a commissioning ceremony for him and eight other officers at 1st Armored Division Headquarters here. "We need better communication and transportation, and more training."

Officers here acknowledge that the force, which numbers around 25,000 countrywide, is under equipped, but say they plan to provide it with trucks, communication devices and better weapons soon. For now, its troops normally go on joint patrols with American soldiers.

The corps faces a daunting task battling the insurgents, who have mixed hit-and-run tactics with a series of devastating suicide bombings in cities around the country. American officers here believe that guerillas are a mix of loyalists to ex-leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida fighters that have infiltrated the country.

Coalition authorities started training the force in July. Around half of its members are ex-soldiers with the Iraqi army. They get paid a starting salary of around $140.

Since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 263 U.S. soldiers have been killed. Iraqi police and ICDC causalities are equally as high, American commanders estimate.

On June 30, the United States will formally end its occupation when it hands over power to an Iraqi interim authority. While coalition forces will still be in overall charge of security, U.S. commanders are eager to give the corps a front line role.

"For the past year, we have been leading from the front," said Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armored Division, which is in charge of Baghdad. "Now we are reducing our footprint."

Both U.S. and Iraqi commanders claim that the attacks on Iraqi security forces — the latest of which killed seven police officers in Kirkuk on Monday — have not dented the numbers of people applying to join up.

Deputy Interior Minister Ahmed Kadhum Ibrahim, who is in charge of the Iraqi police force, said there was no shortage of recruits to the force, which coalition authorities are also funding.

"Many civilians are coming to join," he told The Associated Press recently in his office at the National Police Academy. "They want to fight for freedom."

As Ibrahim spoke, recruits could be heard practicing in the academy's firing range. Outside his office, a long line of people waited for application forms, apparently backing up his claim that people were wanting to join up.

"It's worth the danger because of the love for our country," said Noman Thabit, one of the hopefuls.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Double suicide bombings kill 8 in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Twin suicide vehicle-bomb attacks on a coalition base south of Baghdad on Wednesday morning killed eight Iraqis, U.S. military officials said, the latest in a series of bloody strikes harming civilians.

The attacks injured 44 people, including 12 coalition troops -- 10 Polish, one American and one Hungarian, officials said. The two bombers also died.

The attack happened at 7:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m. Tuesday ET) when a car loaded with explosives attempted to run a gate at Camp Charlie, a multinational coalition base in Hilla, Polish army Maj. Andrzej Wiatrowski said.

Soldiers fired on the vehicle, killing the driver. A truck following close behind ran into the first car, causing both to explode, he said.

Col. Gerardo Layug, a Filipino commander at the base, said he thinks the first car bomb was meant to clear the way for the second vehicle, with the aim of allowing the bomb-laden vehicle to penetrate the heart of the camp before exploding.

The base in Hilla, 60 miles (90 kilometers) south of Baghdad, is a former Iraqi police academy.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, in an overnight raid in Baqubah, U.S. forces and Iraqi police detained 22 people who were part of a group of anti-coalition insurgents, U.S. Army Col. William Adamson said.

Adamson said the military suspects that seven of the detainees have ties to al Qaeda and helped coordinate a mid-January suicide car bombing in Baqubah.

Wednesday's assault in Hilla follows insurgent attacks last week in Iskandariyah, Baghdad and Fallujah. Those strikes killed more than 125 people.

Elections report to be reviewed
The violence comes at a critical phase, as plans are negotiated for the U.S.-led coalition to turn political power over to the Iraqis at the end of June. The Iraq Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority are awaiting a United Nations report on whether direct elections before June 30 are possible.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will receive a draft of the report Wednesday night from his special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, and meet with him Thursday morning.

Brahimi just returned from Iraq and will discuss its future with more than 40 countries who are considered "friends of Iraq."

Brahimi is expected to say that direct elections are not possible by the planned June 30 transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition to Iraqis. Diplomats and U.N. officials say Brahimi made that clear while touring Iraq. The bigger question, the diplomats said, is what alternatives there are to direct elections.

One diplomat indicated Brahimi will likely offer the most feasible date possible for direct elections, outlining the timing and different steps needed to get there. The diplomat said there are so many complex actions related to holding an election that it might take up to eight to 10 months to conduct a large-scale poll.

Brahimi's full set of written recommendations will be held for formal release pending Annan's approval, which is not expected to come before Friday.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the United States will do its best to accommodate Brahimi's suggestions.

Insurgent rewards increased
To quell the continuing violence, the U.S.-led coalition said Tuesday it is increasing the rewards it offers for the capture of the insurgents attacking coalition soldiers, Iraqi security personnel and civilians who work with the coalition.

The reward system puts targets into three categories, with different bounties for each, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt.

The coalition will pay:

- $1 million for 10 outstanding members of what the coalition calls the "strategic blacklist," all of whom appear on the Pentagon's list of the 55 Most Wanted Iraqis.

- $200,000 for 11 former regime officials with regional responsibilities.

- $50,000 each for 20 local terror cell operatives.

Kimmitt also announced a $1 million reward for Mohammed Yunis, whom he described as a top insurgent. Coalition officials did not provide any more information about Yunis, except for a couple of aliases: Mohammed Yonis al Ahmed Al Moali and Khadr Al-Sabahi.

The more the military understands the insurgency's organizational structure, the more officials hear the same names, Kimmitt said.

"Those are the targets we're going after and that's one of the reasons we're raising the price for rewards," he said.

He said the insurgency does not appear to be controlled from a central point, but is rather more like a "series of cells with loose association between each other," he said.

Last week, the military announced $10 million rewards posted for top fugitives Ibrahim Izzat al-Douri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Al-Douri, who was a member of the former ruling Baathist party's inner circle, is the highest ranking fugitive on the Iraqi 55 Most Wanted List, at No. 6.

Al-Zarqawi is an insurgent of Jordanian descent whom the military said most likely wrote a letter meant for al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan. The letter, obtained with the capture of an al Qaeda courier last month, claims responsibility for several terror attacks on the coalition in Iraq and calls for the fomenting of violence against Shiites to promote civil war.

The coalition paid a $1 million reward to an Iraqi who provided critical information that led to the arrest last month of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, a Baath Party regional chairman for the Karbala governorate, Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor said.

Coalition officials said "significant security" is provided to people who have won rewards.

Other developments

- Mowaffak Al Rubaie, an Iraq Governing Council member, said Iraqis are working closely with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy who led the U.N. team, to determine an appropriate date and a formula for elections in Iraq. Al Rubaie said Wednesday Kurdish officials in northern Iraq have agreed to a plan that would govern the relationship between Kurds and the Baghdad government during the transitional period.

- Iraqi police are questioning five suspects in the September 2003 assassination of Iraq Governing Council member Akila Al-Hashimi, an Iraqi police official said Wednesday. They are being held at the Major Crime Unit office in Baghdad.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Female U.S. Soldiers Under Fire in Iraq.

TIKRIT, Iraq - The roadside bomb near the main American military base here killed one woman soldier, made another a hero, and turned attention to the new role American women are playing in the war in Iraq.

The nature of the conflict, with U.S. soldiers facing guerrillas, not conventional troops, has blurred military traditions, and put usually rear echelon troops such as the military police — with their large contingent of women — under direct enemy fire, along with the infantry, special forces and other front line troops.

Although women are barred from front line units, more than 10 American women soldiers have died in Iraq since U.S.-led troops invaded in March. Many others have been wounded.

On Oct. 1, the dangers to women soldiers in Iraq struck home for the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division when Pfc. Analaura Esparza Gutierrez, 21, of Houston, was killed as a roadside bomb struck her Humvee near Takrit, ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown and a center of resistance to U.S. forces.

She was the first women from the division to die in Iraq. At the same time, the quick thinking and bravery shown by Gutierrez's friend and fellow support soldier, Spc. Karen Guckert, saved two troops injured in the blast and won her a U.S. Army Commendation Medal for Valor.

"We were deeply moved when we lost Analaura Esparza," Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, said. "This is not to say we are not moved when we lose a male soldier, but her loss deeply affected us in additional ways."

But Guckert and some other women serving in Iraq have different feelings about the dangers facing women soldiers.

"Infantrymen say to me they couldn't handle seeing a female getting hurt because it would remind them of their sister, aunt or wife," said Guckert, 24, of Yakima, Wash. "I understand their point, but at the same time we are all soldiers and we can all die for our country. So we can't we fight for our country?"

Many female soldiers like Guckert acknowledge that the physical stresses of combat, which include carrying packs close to their own weight for long distances or lifting men wounded in action, might prove too tough for some women.

But most women, particularly military police soldiers who have been trudging Iraqi streets and conducting house raids for months, say this conflict has provided them with the same tasks as any infantryman.

"Any soldier out here is at risk, whether they are male or female or infantry, military police or anything else," said Lt. Amanda Lee Dorsey, a 25-year-old military police officer from Hickory Hills, Ill.

On Nov. 30 — a day that has gone down in recent army folklore as "Bloody Sunday" — military police, joined by infantry, armored and engineer forces, waged a half-hour gunbattle in Samarra with 60 Iraqis firing rockets and machine guns. The insurgents were trying to ambush Iraqi security trucks transporting money to Iraqi banks.

U.S. officials say 54 Iraqis died, including 36 killed by American military police. One woman soldier was credited with killing three of them. No U.S. soldiers died in the clash, but six were injured, including a woman.

"When it came down to it, my female and male soldiers of the military police were all fierce and killed many," said Lt. Col. David Poirier, commander of the 720th Military Police Battalion.

Sgt. Maj. Angela Wilson, 49, the senior ranking enlisted military police soldier in Iraq, has witnessed great attitude shifts in the military during her 29 years of service.

"I remember when it was optional for women to fire an M-16 rifle during basic training," she said. "We also had to learn how to wear makeup properly in the field.

"Now basic training is the same for all people, male and female. I am waiting for the day when they say women can enter the special forces. It doesn't mean everyone can do it, but it means that people should be given the opportunity to be assessed on their own merits."

Poirier said the female soldiers have been invaluable during house raids — a staple task of the military police — in which they have calmed Iraqi women in targeted homes and searched their belongings without causing offense. Iraqis find it highly objectionable for male soldiers to deal with women.

Lt. Alexis Marks, a platoon leader, said when she was going through West Point, she was constantly being told that the military police was the "chick's infantry."

"But in the MPs, nobody sees a gender difference," said the 24-year-old from Melbourne, Fla.

One of her soldiers, 23-year-old team leader Cpl. Casey Williams, said she is unfazed by risks faced during her patrols.

"I think it's cool to be in a dangerous position. It's kind of fun," Williams, from Algiers, La., told the AP while driving to Samarra. "In the MPs, it is the closest women can get to combat."
U.S. Says More Time Needed on Iraq WMD.

WASHINGTON - The White House says it needs more time to determine whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, an issue the Bush administration once was so confident about that it was cited as a justification for waging war.

The issue was injected into the presidential campaign when retired chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay said he had concluded, after nine months of searching, that deposed President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) did not have stockpiles of forbidden weapons. Confronted with Kay's statement, administration officials declined to repeat their once-ironclad assertions that Saddam had them.

Democrats pounced on Kay's conclusion as evidence that President Bush duped the nation about the reasons for going to war.

Campaigning in New Hampshire, Sen. John Kerry, seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said Bush had misled the people. "When the president of the United States looks at you and tells you something, there should be some trust. He's broken every one of those promises," the Massachusetts senator said.

Howard Dean, another Democratic candidate, said, "The White House has not been candid with the American people about virtually anything with the Iraq war."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "Obviously, we want to compare the intelligence from before the war with what the Iraq Survey Group learns on the ground. But the first step is to let the Iraq Survey Group finish their work so the intelligence community can have ... as complete a picture as possible."

McClellan said the inspectors should continue their work "so that they can draw as complete a picture as possible. And then we can learn — it will help us learn the truth."

Kay, meanwhile, was called to appear Wednesday at a public hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee and agreed to attend.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle demanded an investigation, either by the Senate Intelligence Committee or an independent commission, into the "administration's role in the intelligence failures leading up to the war with Iraq."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, another Democratic candidate campaigning in New Hampshire, also urged an investigation or congressional hearings "on the intelligence that some of us saw directly, and the statements that the administration was making and the emphasis the administration was putting on weapons of mass destruction."

Vice President Dick Cheney, meeting in Rome with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, did not answer when a reporter asked if he felt prewar intelligence was faulty. Cheney has been among the administration's most forceful advocates of war and was outspoken in describing Iraq's alleged threat.

Kerry has questioned whether Cheney tried to pressure CIA analysts who wrote reports on Iraq's weapon programs.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, traveling in Vienna, Austria, said the Iraq war was justified, even if banned weapons are never found, because it eliminated the threat that Saddam might again resort to "evil chemistry and evil biology."
Saddam's willingness to use such weapons was sufficient cause to overthrow his regime, Ashcroft said, referring to the use of chemical and biological arms against Iraqi Kurds in 1988 and during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.

Even before Kay announced his conclusion, Bush had expanded his public rationale about the war as the search for weapons proved fruitless. Bush cast it as a broader war against terrorism, calling Iraq the central front, and said democracy would spread in the Middle East if it should take hold in Iraq.

Kay, in a weekend interview with National Public Radio, tried to deflect heat from Bush.

Asked whether Bush owed the nation an explanation for the discrepancies between his warnings and Kay's findings, Kay said, "I actually think the intelligence community owes the president, rather than the president owing the American people."

Monday, January 26, 2004

U.K. Foreign Secretary Stands by Iraq War.

LONDON - British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Monday it was "disappointing" that inspectors have not found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but he still he believes Saddam Hussein had them and that war was justified.

Straw said the issue facing lawmakers when they voted to go to war in March 2003 was Saddam's failure to comply with United Nations resolutions that threatened "serious consequences" if Iraq failed to show it had handed over or destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.

David Kay, the outgoing top U.S. inspector, said Sunday that he believed that Saddam did not possess banned weapons. Straw rejected that suggestion.

"I don't accept that, nor is David Kay saying that. He is saying there are a number of unresolved issues," Straw said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"I accept from a personal point of view that it is certainly disappointing that the inspectors including those of the Iraq Survey Group have not so far adduced further evidence of what the whole of the international community believes, and genuinely believed about weapons programs and weapons stockpiles which Saddam had," Straw added.

In Australia, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he believes weapons of mass destruction might still be found.

"I think it remains to be seen and the Iraqi survey group's work will continue," Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Monday.

"There's no doubt though that (Saddam Hussein) maintained the intention to have that capability," he added.

The Australian government was one of the staunchest supporters of President Bush's tough stance on Iraq.
U.S. Loses Fifth Copter This Month in Iraq.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. military lost its fifth helicopter this month in Iraq, which crashed in the Tigris river while searching for a soldier whose boat had capsized. The aircraft's two crew members and the soldier remained missing Monday.

"We have no news about the progress of the search" or the fate of the missing service members, a military spokeswoman at the central command in Baghdad said Monday.

The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter, attached to the 101st Airborne Division, crashed in the Tigris in the northern town of Mosul on Sunday evening during a search-and-rescue mission after a river patrol boat overturned in the river a couple of hours earlier.

Two Iraqi policemen and an Iraqi translator accompanying the American soldiers in the boat were confirmed killed in the incident, said the spokeswoman. But one soldier was still missing while three others were safe, she said.

There was no word on the cause of the crash or the capsize, said the spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. troops rushing to the scene came under "limited and ineffective small arms fire," she said. An Iraqi policeman manning one of the checkpoints was killed in a drive-by shooting, witnesses said.

Mosul is 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Four other helicopters have crashed in Iraq this month, three of them brought down by enemy fire. The fourth crash, also involving a Kiowa Warrior, occurred Friday near Mosul, but the cause remains unknown.

The crashes add to the mounting losses for American forces as the U.S.-led civil administration of Iraq prepares to hand over power to a sovereign Iraqi government on July 1.

But the plan — which envisages a non-elected government to take over after regional caucuses — has run into stiff opposition from a powerful Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who wants direct elections.

U.S. officials say the continuing violence and the absence of an electoral roll or a census make it impossible to hold early elections. However, the United States cannot afford to offend the Shiite leadership, because Shiites are estimated to comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people.

"The clerics' opinion is the opinion of the Iraqi people in general," said Muwafaq al-Rubaei, a Shiite member of the U.S.-installed Governing Council, after meeting with al-Sistani Sunday.

"The constitution shall be written by Iraqis elected by Iraqis and not by foreigners. Al-Sistani's call is still in place to hold elections," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to announce this week, possibly Monday, whether to send a team to Iraq to assess if early polls are possible as requested by the United States.

Washington hopes that the involvement of the United Nations will help break the deadlock and satisfy the Shiites.

The Bush administration also must deal with claims by David Kay, the outgoing chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

"I don't think they exist," Kay said Sunday on National Public Radio. "The fact that we found so far the weapons do not exist — we've got to deal with that difference and understand why."

Kay's remarks reignited criticism from Democrats in the United States.
"You truly should go to war as a matter of last resort," Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry told CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview to air Sunday night. "I'm afraid the president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace."

On Sunday, U.S. troops arrested nearly 50 people in raids in the Sunni Triangle in central Iraq after attacks in the volatile region killed six American soldiers.

The deaths raised to 513 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the United States and its allies launched the Iraq war March 20. Most of the deaths have occurred in the insurgency by Saddam loyalists since President Bush declared an end to active combat May 1.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?