Tuesday, January 27, 2004

U.N. to send election team to Iraq.

PARIS, France (CNN) -- Hoping to break a stalemate over how to transfer power in Iraq, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday he was ready to send a mission to Iraq to decide if and when elections can be held.

Key in the process is the ability of the Coalition Provisional Authority to provide adequate security, he said.

Most U.N. staff pulled out of Iraq in October, following an August bomb attack on the group's Baghdad headquarters that killed 22 people, including top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

"I have concluded that the United Nations can play a constructive role in helping to break the current impasse," Annan said in a statement.
"The mission will ascertain the views of a broad spectrum of Iraqi society in the search for alternatives that might be developed to move forward to the formation of a provisional government."

The Governing Council and U.S.-led coalition want caucuses to choose a transitional national assembly by the end of May. That assembly would pick a transitional sovereign government, which would take power July 1.

But Shiite critics of the plan, particularly Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, want direct elections for the transitional legislature. Thousands of Shiites have marched to demand direct elections, putting pressure on the United States to find a compromise.

The United States maintains that it is too difficult to organize direct elections before the July 1 deadline but has asked the United Nations to gauge the possibility of direct elections within the timetable.

A leading member of the Governing Council, Ahmed Chalabi, has also called for early nationwide elections.

"I strongly hold to the idea that the most sustainable way forward would be one that came from the Iraqis themselves," Annan said. "Consensus amongst all Iraqi constituencies would be the best guarantee of a legitimate and credible transitional governance."
Iraqi Cop Killed During Insurgent Attack.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents attacked the headquarters of Polish forces in a southern city, triggering a gunbattle that killed one Iraqi policeman, and guerrillas fired a rocket into the U.S. compound in Baghdad, officials said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Iraq's interim interior minister blamed Osama bin Laden's terror network al-Qaida for many of the suicide car bombings in the country in recent weeks.

Late Monday, gunmen fired at a hotel housing Polish troops in the holy city of Karbala, but were repulsed by Iraqi police, said Karbala police spokesman Rahman Mashawi. He said the police and the attackers fought a gunbattle that left one policeman dead. Police arrested two of the gunmen and there were no Polish casualties.

Poland heads a multinational force in south-central Iraq to which it has contributed 2,400 troops based in Karbala, 75 miles south of Baghdad. So far, two Polish soldiers have been killed in Iraq.

A bomb exploded outside a liquor store early Tuesday in a south Baghdad neighborhood, shattering windows but causing no casualties, witnesses said.

On Monday night, a rocket landed in an empty parking lot inside the "green zone," the sprawling headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad, a central command spokesman said on condition of anonymity. There were no injuries or casualties.

The attack occurred a day after guerrillas killed seven policemen in two separate hit-and-run attacks on checkpoints in Ramadi west of Baghdad, which is part of the Sunni Triangle, the stronghold of Saddam Hussein loyalists.

The insurgents have been blamed for most of the violence since President Bush declared an end to major hostilities on May 1. But frequent suicide bombings have also raised suspicion about involvement of foreign fighters including al-Qaida operatives.

On Monday, Interior Minister Nouri Badran told a news conference: "There is a presence of al-Qaida in this country. We've announced that directly and indirectly,"

"A lot of the suicide attacks have the fingerprints of the crimes committed by al-Qaida," he said.

Badran provided no evidence to back his claim. There was no immediate comment from U.S. military commanders who have been wary of drawing a clear connection between al-Qaida and the insurgency even though a handful of non-Iraqi Arab and foreign fighters have been detained or killed in Iraq.

A U.S. official in Washington said Saturday that Kurdish forces had captured a senior al-Qaida figure, Hassan Ghul, as he tried to enter northern Iraq. Ghul was turned over to the United States for interrogation, the official said on condition of anonymity.

The suicide vehicle attacks have been aimed largely against U.S. forces but also claimed the lives of hundreds of Iraqi civilians.

The latest attack was on Jan. 18 when a pickup truck exploded at the gates of the U.S.-led coalition's headquarters, killing at least 31 Iraqis and wounding more than 120.

Earlier this month, a U.S. military commander in the "Sunni Triangle" said al-Qaida and other foreigners might be trying to come into Iraq.

"I think al-Qaida and foreign fighters are trying to get involved in Iraq," said Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division. "I think in the next six to eight months, they (will) start to really try to infiltrate the area." .

Badran also said the insecurity in the country does not allow for holding direct elections, which is at the heart of a political dispute between the coalition administration and Iraq's majority Shiites.

A U.S. plan for transfer of power calls for setting up a provisional government through a caucus system. But the Shiites are demanding direct elections. The United Nations is considering sending a team to Iraq to find out if elections can be held.

In the north, military divers were still searching the muddy waters of the Tigris River on Tuesday for three missing U.S. soldiers, including two pilots of an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter that crashed Sunday in Mosul during rescue operations after a patrol boat capsized, a military spokesman said.

It was the fifth U.S. helicopter lost in Iraq this month, three of which were downed by hostile fire.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Japanese Coalition Partner OKs Iraq Plan.

TOKYO - The ruling party's coalition partner threw its support Monday behind Japan's plan to send ground troops to Iraq, paving the way for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government to issue a dispatch order.

Japan's Self-Defense Forces have already sent an advance team of ground soldiers to Samawah in southern Iraq, but Koizumi's government wanted an additional show of support before deploying the bulk of the 550 troops planned for the mission.

The steps are part of a total deployment of some 1,000 military personnel to Iraq and neighboring countries, marking the first time that Japanese troops have been sent to a combat zone since World War II. The soldiers will purify water and perform other non-combat tasks.

Air force pilots and other personnel are also in Kuwait to ferry supplies to the Iraq contingent, and an additional group was scheduled to leave Japan on Monday.
The support of the New Komeito Party was backed in a meeting of rank-and-file members in the morning, and party leader Takenori Kanzaki endorsed it in later talks with Koizumi. The New Komeito is allied with Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democrats.

Defense Agency Director Shigeru Ishiba was expected to issue the dispatch order later in the day.

The moves come despite strong reservations about the mission in Japan. Concerns about security were heightened on Monday, when the government said a trailer carrying a prefabricated housing unit for Japanese ground forces was attacked west of Baghdad.

The Jordanian driver of the trailer was killed, the Defense Agency said. Officials, however, doubted that the attack targeted Japan, since there was no sign connecting the vehicle to Japan and no Japanese personnel were in the area at the time of the assault.

"The trailer was not marked with anything indicating it was Japanese," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda "The situation wasn't one where the trailer would have been attacked because it was hired out by the Japanese government."

Also Monday, a poll published in the national Mainichi newspaper showed respondents split on the deployment, with 47 percent supporting it and 47 percent opposing it. The poll, which surveyed 1,023 people by telephone on Saturday and Sunday, however, showed opposition to the plan dropped from 54 percent in December. The poll included no margin of error, Mainichi said.
Kay Doubts Presence of Illicit Iraq Arms.

WASHINGTON - The outgoing chief U.S. weapons inspector says his inability to find illicit arms in Iraq raises serious questions about American intelligence-gathering.

Last year, David Kay had confidently predicted weapons would be found. But after nine months of searching, he said Sunday: "I don't think they exist."

"It's an issue of the capabilities of one's intelligence service to collect valid, truthful information," Kay said on National Public Radio.

Asked whether President 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."

The CIA would not comment on Kay's remarks, though one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted that Kay himself was vocal in predicting he would find weapons.

Kay said his predictions were not "coming back to haunt me in the sense that I am embarrassed. They are coming back to haunt me in the sense of `Why could we all be so wrong?'"

The White House stuck by its assertions that illicit weapons will be found in Iraq.

But Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, a Democratic presidential candidate, said Kay's comments reinforced his belief that the Bush administration had exaggerated the threat Iraq posed.

"It confirms what I have said for a long period of time, that we were misled — misled not only in the intelligence, but misled in the way that the president took us to war," Kerry said on "Fox News Sunday." "I think there's been an enormous amount of exaggeration, stretching, deception."

Kay's comments came as no surprise to Hans Blix, the former chief U.N. inspector whose work was heavily criticized by Kay and came to an end when the United States went to war with Iraq.

Blix said the United States should have known the intelligence was flawed last year when leads followed up by U.N. inspectors didn't produce any results.

"I was beginning to wonder what was going on. Weren't they wondering too?" he told The Associated Press by telephone. Speaking of Kay's resignation, Blix said, "If you find yourself on a train that's going in the wrong direction, its best to get off at the next stop."

Kay told The New York Times in a later interview for Monday's editions that U.S. intelligence agencies did not realize Iraqi scientists presented Saddam with fanciful plans for weapons programs and then used the money he authorized for other purposes.

"The whole thing shifted from directed programs to a corrupted process," Kay told the Times. "The regime was no longer in control; it was like a death spiral. Saddam was self-directing projects that were not vetted by anyone else. The scientists were able to fake programs."

Kay said Iraq did try to restart its nuclear weapons program in 2000 and 2001, but that evidence suggests it would have taken years to rebuild after being largely abandoned in the 1990s.

He said it is now clear that the CIA's basic problem was that the agency lacked its own spies in Iraq who could provide credible information, but that he does not believe analysts were pressed by the administration to make their reports conform to a White House agenda.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was surprised Kay "did not find some semblance of" banned chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq. Roberts said a report on Iraq intelligence, to be delivered to his panel Wednesday, should help clarify the CIA's prewar performance.

"It appears now that that intelligence — there's a lot of questions about it," Roberts said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition."

In October 2002, Bush said Iraq had "a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for and is capable of killing millions." In his television address two days before launching the invasion, Bush said U.S. troops would enter Iraq "to eliminate weapons of mass destruction," or WMD.

Kay returned permanently from Iraq last month, having found no such weapons, nor missiles with longer range than Saddam was allowed under international restrictions.

But on Sunday, Kay reiterated his conclusion that Saddam had "a large number of WMD program-related activities." And, he said, Iraq's leaders had intended to continue those activities but had not decided whether to begin producing such weapons at the time of the January invasion.

Kay also said chaos in postwar Iraq made it impossible to know with certainty whether Iraq had had banned weapons.

And, he said, there is evidence that Iraq was moving a steady stream of goods shipments to Syria, but it is difficult to determine whether the cargoes included weapons, in part because Syria has refused to cooperate in this part of the weapons investigation.

Kay said he resigned Friday because the Pentagon began peeling away his staff of weapons searchers as the military struggled to put down the Iraqi insurgency last fall.

Kay hopes to draw on his experiences to write a book on weapons intelligence.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

US helicopter comes down in Iraq
Two US troops are missing after their helicopter crashed into a river in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

America losing world's trust

The blunt conclusion by David Kay, the chief US arms inspector in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein "got rid" of his unconventional weapons long before the Iraq invasion last year underscores what has become ... (photo: US Army) Sydney Morning Herald

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