<$BlogRSDURL$>

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.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Iraq-Bound Japan Air Force Team Arrives in Kuwait.

The main body of an Iraq (news - web sites)-bound Japanese air force mission arrived in Kuwait on Friday as part of Japan's most controversial overseas military deployment since 1945.

The team of about 100 landed at Mubarak Air Base near the capital Kuwait City, witnesses said, and will join a first unit of the air force that arrived in the Gulf state in December.

One of the team's tasks will be to airlift supplies to Iraq.

An advance party of about 35 Japanese officers and soldiers arrived this month in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa.

The overall Japanese deployment could total around 1,000 troops.

The mission could be politically risky for Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi if there are any casualties among Japan's contingent.
Japan's decision to send troops to help with reconstruction in Iraq after the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) has divided domestic public opinion.

Critics say the deployment violates the country's pacifist constitution introduced after the Second World War.
CPA sticks to Iraq caucus plan, but willing to compromise.

A Coalition Provisional Authority official Thursday said the United States still favors caucuses and not direct elections to choose the Iraqi transitional legislature this spring.

Dan Senor, adviser to civilian administrator Paul Bremer, said the coalition is willing to consider refinements in its caucus plan and eagerly awaits a proposed U.N. assessment on the possibility of direct elections before the U.S. political handover to Iraqis this summer.

"We are looking forward to the possible deployment of a technical team being sent here to look at the viability of direct elections," Senor said. "We are not seriously considering any other options at this point."

Under the handover plan, the legislature has to be elected by May 31 and it must choose a transitional administration that would take power by July 1, ending the U.S.-led administration. The assembly would govern until a new constitution is developed and elections are held in 2005.

The issue of direct elections vs. caucuses represents a major political problem for the Iraqi sovereignty process.

The Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council proposed the caucus-style selection of the transitional national assembly, even though they support the principle of direct elections. They say a fair, viable electoral infrastructure cannot be cobbled together in a few months.

But Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's top Shiite cleric, has been pushing for direct elections.

Sistani and the Shiite masses, who represent 60 percent of the Iraqi population and would benefit from democratic elections, believe direct elections can be staged within months.

Continued foreign rule unacceptable.

Governing Council and Shiite officials are trying to reach a meeting of the minds. The council asked the United Nations to come up with proposals to solve the matter.

The United Nations -- which is amenable but has not yet formally agreed to taking on the task -- was planning to send a small security detail to Iraq, possibly paving the way for a political team.

The United Nations was asked to determine the feasibility of holding elections over the next several months and of an electoral process for a constitutional convention and direct elections after the transitional Iraqi government takes power.

Senor said the coalition is open to the idea of clarifications and elaborations to the transition process set down in a November 15 blueprint.

Shiites indicate that Sistani respects the U.N. expertise and would be open to its suggestions.

Thursday, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite Governing Council member, told CNN he "strongly" believes there can be a compromise, such as delaying the handover process and holding direct elections later this year.

"We're suggesting basically either keeping the Governing Council and handing over the sovereignty to it or ... having the election after the first of July in three months time or nine months time from now or 12 months time now, basically delaying the process but handing more authority more responsibilities to Iraqis," Rubaie said.

Rubaie said Sistani is reasonable and will understand if the United Nations says it is impossible to hold direct elections under the handover timetable.

"If the United Nations team of experts say that it's impossible to hold an election now, the question is, what is the best alternative to a general election? Would it be an approved list by the three major communities in Iraq; they agree on an approved list, and this list put out for a referendum? Is it something else? What is it?"

He added, "Our Iraqi experts are telling us that it is practically possible to have elections in six to nine months. So we need to find out what is the best alternative to the general elections."

Adnan Pachachi, this month's president of the Iraqi Governing Council, also proffered compromise possibilities, but has made clear that he favors adherence to the June 30 transition date.

"If the transfer of power were to be made to an expanded Governing Council, which would be more representative than it is at present, provided that elections would be held, in that case ... that's a possibility," he said during a talk at the National Press Club Wednesday night.

Delays, he has said, could push back sovereignty.

"But to keep the country under occupation and keep the country being administered by foreigners is unacceptable."
Dems Debate Issues Before N.H. Primary .

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Girding for the final weekend before New Hampshire's leadoff primary, the Democratic presidential rivals are seeking to answer lingering doubts about their electability while sharpening their attacks on President Bush.

Howard Dean, his voice raspy and his campaign still stumbling from a drubbing in the Iowa caucuses, sought to reclaim his insurgent message during a final debate Thursday night.

"If we're willing to say anything we have to say to get elected, then we're going to lose," Dean said. "We have to say what we believe, whether it's popular or not."

John Kerry, winner of the first test in Iowa and widening the gap on Dean and the other candidates in New Hampshire polls, looked at times like he was trying to debate Bush and not his Democratic rivals.

"The president is talking about a very different world than every one of us," the Massachusetts senator said. "I will put America back to work."

Seven of the Democratic rivals met in a two-hour campaign debate, largely lacking the fire and sniping of earlier encounters in a race that's been jumbled in its opening week. Much of the attention was on Dean, who has been forced to explain a raucous speech he gave after finishing third in Iowa's leadoff caucuses.

"I'm not a perfect person," he said. "A lot of people have had fun with my Iowa hollers."
Virtually all of the contenders sought to make the case they offer the best chance for Democrats to oust Bush, an issue that polls have shown is high on the list of concerns for Democratic activists.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards argued that Democrats can no longer afford to cede the South to Republicans, and argued that his Southern twang was key to victory in that region.

"I grew up in the rural South," Edwards said. "I know inside what people care about."

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, bragging that he's the Democrat Republicans most fear, vigorously defended his backing for the war in Iraq, conceding it had cost him in some Democratic circles.

"When it comes to our troops in battle, I will never say no, period," Lieberman said. "We owe them our lives and our liberties, and they deserve our unwavering support."

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, back in the mix after skipping the Iowa contest, made the case that Democrats no longer can afford to cede "family values" as an issue to Republicans, and sought to dispel worries that he's a newcomer to the Democratic banner.

"I'm in this party now and I bring a lot of other people to the party," he said. "That's what we need to win in November."

The Democrats charged that Bush's policies have shortchanged the middle class and burdened troops called up by the thousands for overseas duty.

The debate was closely watched because the dynamics of the Democratic contest shifted sharply this week when Kerry won Iowa's leadoff test, and one-time front-runner Dean finished third. That showing, coupled with a concession speech that's become fodder for late-night talk shows and Internet pundits, has put the spotlight on Dean's effort to recover.

His campaign was hoping for a strong debate showing to begin putting the speech behind him in the closing days of the New Hampshire campaign. In a debate that largely featured reprises of campaign stump speeches, some didn't see such a breakthrough.

"Nobody stood out. Nobody faltered," said Donna Brazile, who helped run the Democrats' 2000 campaign. "He (Dean) still hasn't regained his footing."

"He is in a bad box," Democratic strategist Dane Strother said.

The mild tenor of the debate reflected lessons the rivals may have learned from earlier tests. Dean and Rep. Dick Gephardt (news - web sites) of Missouri exchanged spirited jibes in the Iowa campaign, but finished third and fourth, respectively. That rocked Dean's campaign and forced Gephardt from the race.

Several of the contenders passed up opportunities to criticize one another — chances they might have leapt at in earlier encounters.
"This is a time to be affirmative. I'd say nice try," Lieberman told one questioner who had invited him to make a critical comparison with other Democrats on the stage.

Brit Hume of Fox News Channel and Peter Jennings of ABC News participated as moderators and questioners, along with John DiStaso, senior political reporter for The Union Leader of Manchester, and Tom Griffith, anchor at WMUR-TV. All four news organizations sponsored the event.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Qatar to Waive Most Iraq Debt After Baker Visit

DOHA (Reuters) - The Gulf state of Qatar, a key U.S. ally, said Tuesday, following talks with Washington's Iraq debt envoy, that it would waive most of the $4 billion or so Iraq owes it and will consider writing off the rest. "The state of Qatar will forgive most of the debts Iraq owes it and will consider waiving the remaining amount at a later, more appropriate time," a Qatari foreign ministry official told the state's Qatar News Agency (QNA).
"Reducing debt in 2004 is a crucial and defining issue and provides Iraqi people a chance to build a free and prosperous country," QNA reported the official as saying.
Iraq owes Qatar about $4 billion that has accrued since the 1980's, another official told Reuters.
Iraq is estimated to owe Gulf countries $45 billion, mostly money given to Baghdad during its 1980-1988 war with Iran. Iraq insists the money from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states was given as grants.
The decision followed a meeting between Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and the United State's Iraq debt envoy James Baker.
Baker is also visiting the Gulf states of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week to secure pledges to reduce Iraq's debt.
The United States, struggling with a deadly insurgency in Iraq, sees freeing the country of its estimated $120 billion foreign debt burden as key to reviving the economy.
Baker has in recent weeks already secured pledges from major creditors, such as Germany, France and Japan, to reduce the debt. Iraq is the most heavily indebted country in the world in terms of its population.
Analysts say Gulf heavyweight Saudi Arabia is key to finding a deal to ease Iraq's debt and support economic recovery after the U.S. overthrow of Saddam in April.
Riyadh has said any talks on loan write-offs would have to wait until Iraq had an independent government. The United States plans to transfer political power to Iraqis by July 1.
Qatar's decision to waive Iraqi debts does not imply other Gulf states will follow suit, analysts say.
Qatar, a political maverick in the conservative Gulf region, was the headquarters of the main command center for the 2003 U.S.-led war on Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein.
It also enjoys close political and economic ties with Washington. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are locked in a diplomatic row since 2002 over Doha's ties to Israel and its controversial Al Jazeera satellite news channel.
Qatar to Waive Most Iraq Debt After Baker Visit

DOHA (Reuters) - The Gulf state of Qatar, a key U.S. ally, said Tuesday, following talks with Washington's Iraq debt envoy, that it would waive most of the $4 billion or so Iraq owes it and will consider writing off the rest. "The state of Qatar will forgive most of the debts Iraq owes it and will consider waiving the remaining amount at a later, more appropriate time," a Qatari foreign ministry official told the state's Qatar News Agency (QNA).
"Reducing debt in 2004 is a crucial and defining issue and provides Iraqi people a chance to build a free and prosperous country," QNA reported the official as saying.
Iraq owes Qatar about $4 billion that has accrued since the 1980's, another official told Reuters.
Iraq is estimated to owe Gulf countries $45 billion, mostly money given to Baghdad during its 1980-1988 war with Iran. Iraq insists the money from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states was given as grants.
The decision followed a meeting between Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and the United State's Iraq debt envoy James Baker.
Baker is also visiting the Gulf states of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week to secure pledges to reduce Iraq's debt.
The United States, struggling with a deadly insurgency in Iraq, sees freeing the country of its estimated $120 billion foreign debt burden as key to reviving the economy.
Baker has in recent weeks already secured pledges from major creditors, such as Germany, France and Japan, to reduce the debt. Iraq is the most heavily indebted country in the world in terms of its population.
Analysts say Gulf heavyweight Saudi Arabia is key to finding a deal to ease Iraq's debt and support economic recovery after the U.S. overthrow of Saddam in April.
Riyadh has said any talks on loan write-offs would have to wait until Iraq had an independent government. The United States plans to transfer political power to Iraqis by July 1.
Qatar's decision to waive Iraqi debts does not imply other Gulf states will follow suit, analysts say.
Qatar, a political maverick in the conservative Gulf region, was the headquarters of the main command center for the 2003 U.S.-led war on Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein.
It also enjoys close political and economic ties with Washington. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are locked in a diplomatic row since 2002 over Doha's ties to Israel and its controversial Al Jazeera satellite news channel.
Iraq Power Play
The UN should return to Iraq and, with the U.S., help it find a way to form a government.

Yesterday's meeting between United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. Iraq administrator Paul Bremer could lead to the most significant development since the war began and deeply affect the future of the occupation and of an eventual Iraqi government.
At stake is the UN's return to Iraq with a clear, substantive role in the occupation and the political process leading to formation of a sovereign government in Baghdad. That, in turn, would stamp an international imprimatur on the postwar effort and possibly persuade alienated U.S. allies to help. Also at stake is the cooperation of key Shia leaders in reaching the goal of establishing a democracy with full protection of equal minority rights.
Persuading Annan is the key - a task made more difficult by the horrific weekend bombing in Baghdad, clearly intended to dissuade the UN from re-entering Iraq. Immediately at issue is the resistance of Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to the U.S. plan to form a transitional Iraqi assembly by July 1, which would be selected through caucuses of regional political elites in May. What Sistani, a Shia, wants instead are direct popular elections - a practical impossibility within the agreed time frame and amid the Sunni insurgency.
Sistani, who supports a secular Islamic democracy, has hinted he is willing to compromise. But he needs a face-saving deal since he has come out so strongly against the caucuses. What he wants is for Annan to send a UN team to affirm to him that national elections are not possible at this time, given the obvious constraints. The UN team then could supervise the setting up of limited regional referenda, not elite caucuses, to form an interim government. That's where Annan - and Bremer's persuasiveness - must come in.
Sistani's power within the 60-percent Shia majority should not be underestimated. A critical outcome of his meeting with Annan must be a firm understanding that any political arrangement with the majority Shia leadership must protect minority rights. (No decision was announced.) Lacking that, referenda will never have legitimacy for the Sunni and Kurdish minorities and would only spread the seeds of internecine political struggles.
For his part, Annan will want indisputable clarity in the expanded role the UN would assume in Iraq. That's only fair and would go a long way toward mending the rift President George W. Bush has opened up with the international community with his blunderbuss diplomacy on Iraq.
U.N. team may be sent to study Iraq elections
U.S., Iraqi leaders press for decision on feasibility of having early, direct vote

UNITED NATIONS - Secretary-General Kofi Annan promised U.S. and Iraqi leaders yesterday that he would consider their request to send a U.N. team to Iraq to study whether the country could have quick, direct elections for a new legislature.
A decision by U.N. experts would help resolve a growing dispute between the United States and a top Shiite cleric over the best way to transfer power before a June 30 deadline.










Annan, who stressed that security of U.N. staff would be paramount, gave indications that he was leaning toward approving. "If we get it wrong at this stage, it'll be even more difficult and we may not even get to the next stage," he said. "So I think it is extremely important that we do whatever we can to assist."
The United Nations is essentially being asked to help resolve an argument between the Bush administration and Iraq's most prominent Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who has demanded direct elections to choose a provisional government by June 30. The coalition wants to stick to a handover plan approved Nov. 15 calling for caucuses to choose a provisional assembly.
Agreeing to al-Sistani's request would essentially mean holding the direct elections by May, and Annan has said repeatedly that it doesn't appear to be enough time to prepare for a fair vote.
Annan said he recognized that the election issue was urgent and that he hoped for a speedy decision. Experts were expected to start technical talks later yesterday.
Al-Sistani has indicated that he would accept the U.N. team's decision, even if it affirms Annan's belief that direct elections are unfeasible.
Annan had called yesterday's meeting with the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S.-led coalition to help clarify a possible new U.N. role in Iraq's future.
The crucial issue for Annan is whether U.N. staff will be safe. He ordered all international staff to leave Iraq in late October after two bombings at U.N. headquarters - including one on Aug. 19 that killed top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others.
"Obviously, the scope for operational U.N. activities inside Iraq will continue to be constrained by the security situation for some time to come," Annan said.
The top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III has said elections cannot be organized in time to meet the June 30 deadline, given the continuing violence and lack of voter rolls.
But he acknowledged that the mechanics of the plan's election formula could be altered - an indication that the United States is taking al-Sistani's demand seriously. "We think that that is a legitimate question and one where the U.N. with its expertise in elections can offer a perspective," he said.
Adnan Pachachi, the current Governing Council president, said the decision on elections must be resolved by the end of February, when the Iraqis will implement basic laws for the handover and transition. That means Annan would have to decide quickly about the team.
"We should not stick to rigid positions on these matters," Pachachi said. "We've got to find ways and means to deal with problems as they arise, and I think this is a very healthy way of managing the affairs of our country."

Monday, January 19, 2004

BREMER WARNS BOMBERS


American military officials have claimed the suicide attack in Iraq which killed 20 people was an attempt to derail crucial talks on the country's future.
A further 60 people were wounded by Sunday's car bomb which exploded outside the headquarters of the US-led coalition in Baghdad.

Most of the injured were Iraqis employed by the Coalition Provisional Authority.
They were waiting to get into the complex, formerly Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace.
The blast, the deadliest since Saddam was captured last month, came a day before major talks in Baghdad on the handover of power to Iraqis.
The US civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said Coalition plans for the transfer later this year would remain on course despite the attack.
He said: "The terrorist bombing in Baghdad is an outrage - another clear indication of the murderous and cynical intent of terrorists to undermine... progress in Iraq.
"They will not succeed," he added.
Annan seeks 'greater clarity' on U.N. role in IraqUNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Kofi Annan sought "greater clarity" in talks set for Monday with U.S. and Iraqi officials about a possible U.N. role in Iraq as the Bush administration faced a dispute with a prominent Shiite cleric over choosing a provisional government.
While coalition officials are pressing for the speedy return of U.N. staff pulled out of Iraq after two bombings last year, Annan has stated repeatedly that the security conditions there are still too dangerous. Sunday's suicide bombing at the gates of the U.S.-led coalition headquarters in Baghdad that killed about 20 people was likely to reinforce that view.
Despite serious differences with the United Nations over the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the Bush administration also is reaching out to the world body for help in ensuring a smooth transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government by July 1.
The senior U.S. administrator in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, and an Iraqi delegation led by Adnan Pachachi, current chairman of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, were to confer with Annan on Monday in New York, although no quick decisions were expected.
The U.S.-led coalition that has occupied the country since ousting Saddam Hussein in April has called for provincial caucuses to choose an assembly that would form an interim government, according to a blueprint for Iraqi sovereignty adopted Nov. 15.
American forces will stay in Iraq after the June 30 transfer of power, but in fewer numbers. They will gradually transfer security responsibilities to the Iraqis, thereby reducing the risk of American casualties as President Bush campaigns for re-election.
But the country's most prominent Shiite leader, the 75-year-old Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, has demanded direct elections for the legislature, which he says should then have a voice in whether coalition troops stay in Iraq beyond the transfer of power. Bremer maintains that elections cannot be organized in time to meet the June 30 deadline, given the ongoing violence and lack of voter rolls. That view is backed by Annan, who has called for the process of choosing an interim assembly to be expanded to include all segments of Iraqi society and to be fully transparent.
"The U.N. can be helpful in helping to bring all parties together to support the November 15 plan," Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Dutch television network.
Bremer has said the mechanics of the plan's election formula could be altered, but he has rejected postponing the June 30 deadline for ending the U.S. civilian administration and handing over power to Iraqis.
"The Iraqi people are anxious to get sovereignty back, and we are not anxious to extend our period of occupation," Bremer said Friday after meeting with Bush, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Powell.
Annan recommended an early transfer of sovereignty "so he's pleased that they're moving towards this objective and he wants to help them in any way he can," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Friday.
Pachachi and Bremer want Annan to state clearly that credible elections before July 1 are not possible, a coalition official said in Baghdad on condition of anonymity. The coalition also reportedly wants the United Nations to play some sort of advisory role during the caucuses.
U.N. officials say Annan will express a readiness to assist the Iraqis in drafting a constitution and holding general elections, which are called for by the end of 2005 under the Nov. 15 plan.
But what meaty role the United Nations could — or would — play before the June 30 transfer of power is unclear.
Annan ordered all international staff to leave Iraq in late October following two bombings at U.N. headquarters — including one on Aug. 19 that killed top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others — and a spate of attacks on humanitarian targets.
Although Annan has not ruled out sending some staff back if they had important tasks, he has called for "much greater clarity" on what the Iraqis and the coalition expect of the United Nations as he gauges whether the job is worth the risk.
"Whether to go back or not is primarily ... a security assessment, taken in connection with an assessment of the significance of the role we are being asked to play," Eckhard said.
France, which led the opposition to the war, welcomed the talks, which were to be followed by a Security Council briefing by Annan and Pachachi.
"We can only commend the importance of this meeting, which is an acknowledgment of the essential role of the United Nations," French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said.
US Troops Kill Syrian, 2 Yemenis in Iraq Gunbattle

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. troops killed two Yemenis and a Syrian who opened fire on them on Monday during a raid on a house in Baghdad, police at the scene said. They said U.S. soldiers were shot at as they raided the house around 1:30 a.m. (2230 GMT) searching for weapons.
Pools of blood were visible on the ground around the house, and the walls were pockmarked with bullet holes. A car in the garage had also been hit by several bullets.
Witnesses said U.S. soldiers found a box of hand grenades inside the house.
A U.S. military spokesman said he had no information on the incident.
U.S. officials have said they believe foreign Islamic militants have been entering Iraq attack to help Iraqi guerrillas mount attacks on occupying troops and international organizations.

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

ARCHIVES