Report: U.S. wants access to military bases in Iraq
By Haaretz Service and Agencies - 4-19:
The United States is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, which would allow the Pentagon access to military bases and "project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region," Saturday's New York Times quoted senior Bush administration officials as saying.
According to the report, American military officials have identified four bases that could be used in the future. The paper lists the four as being located at the international airport outside Baghdad; at Tallil, near the southern city of Nasiriyah; at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline running to Jordan; and at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north.
According to the paper, the four bases are already in use by the American military to provide support for ongoing operations against the last vestiges of Saddam's regime, to deliver supplies and relief aid, and for reconnaissance patrols.
"There will be some kind of a long-term defense relationship with a new Iraq, similar to Afghanistan," the report quotes one senior administration official as saying. "The scope of that has yet to be defined - whether it will be full-up operational bases, smaller forward operating bases or just plain access."
Report: U.S. seeking phased end to Iraq sanctions
The New York Times also reported Saturday that the U.S. plans to ask the United Nations to lift sanctions against Iraq in phases, gradually turning over parts of the economy to a new Iraqi authority.
Quoting Bush administration officials, the paper said the step-by-step approach was the latest U.S. tactic to counter assertions by France, Russia and other Security Council members that they would oppose lifting sanctions without a broader role for the United Nations than envisaged by Washington.
Asked whether the Bush administration favored a phased end to international sanctions, one U.S. official told Reuters he was not familiar with such a proposal.
"I don't know if we've decided how we would go about it [getting sanctions lifted]," the official said. He added, "I just know the president wants to lift the sanctions."
The Times article said that in theory, France and Russia could veto the lifting of sanctions, possibly leading to a "messy situation" involving a slew of lawsuits.
"Nobody wants to have litigation on this," the article quoted one official as saying. "But the sanctions have to be modified or you can't have a reconstruction of Iraq."
Officials told the paper there had been a lot of discussion about the issue, with the administration now leaning toward having several UN resolutions and letting Iraqis build their economy in phases before getting full control of oil.
Troops in Baghdad take Saddam's finance minister into custody
U.S. troops have taken Saddam Hussein's finance minister into custody in Baghdad after he was captured by Iraqi police, the U.S. military said on Saturday.
Hikmat Ibrahim al-Azzawi was number 45 on a list of 55 Saddam supporters most wanted by the United States and was also a deputy prime minister. He was being held by U.S. Marines, Major Randi Steffy said at Central Command in Qatar.
Azzawi was the eight of diamonds in a deck of cards issued to U.S. troops hunting the overthrown Iraqi administration.
"He was captured by Iraqi police in Baghdad and turned over to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force," Steffy said.
She added that an "international terrorist" belonging to the Palestinian Abu Nidal organisation surrendered to the Marines in Baghdad on Friday. She named him as Khala Khadr al-Salahat.
It was not immediately clear what status Salahat had in the organization, which was mainly active in the 1980s and 90s.
Its leader, Abu Nidal, died in Baghdad last August. Iraqi officials said he committed suicide but Abu Nidal's organization, also known as the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said he was murdered.
The U.S. military announced the latest detentions a day after U.S. Central Command said Iraqi Kurds had captured and handed over Samir Abul Aziz al-Najim, a senior Baghdad official of Saddam's Baath Party, near Mosul in northern Iraq.
Azzawi was the fifth person from the U.S. list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis to be detained.
Marines start leaving Baghdad, army takes over
U.S. Marines who seized much of Baghdad earlier this month started pulling out of the Iraqi capital on Saturday, handing over control to U.S. Army units as the military's mission moves from combat to policing.
Two battalions - roughly 1,600 Marines - left Baghdad on Saturday to head south to an assembly area some 25-30 miles (40-50 km) northeast of the town of Karbala, Marine officers said.
"A couple of the units left today," said Major Dan Smith of the U.S. Marines' 1st Tank Battalion, adding that they would carry on with tasks similar to those they had begun in Baghdad. "It's basically nation-building, providing security, making sure the water, electricity, sanitation and all that kind of thing is functioning," he told Reuters in eastern Baghdad.
"They're going to meet with the local leadership and begin to stand up local governments, or facilitate governments that may already be there."
The Marines' move is part of a plan to reorganize the overall pattern of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Baghdad is currently divided between Marines who control the capital east of the river Tigris, and Army units occupying the western half, but the handover will bring the city under the control of a single commander.
The Marine Corps is a distinct organization from the U.S. Army, designed primarily as a vanguard strike force. The much larger Army has more resources to deal with the reconstruction and policing role required in the capital, where many residents are deprived of electricity and live in fear of looters.
Iraqis protest against U.S.
Tens of thousands of protesters demanded on Friday that the United States get out of Iraq and U.S. troops arrested a fourth wanted aide of Saddam Hussein.
Demonstrators poured out of Friday prayers in Baghdad mosques chanting anti-American slogans and calling for an Islamic state to replace Saddam's toppled government.
The protests on the Muslim holy day came as regional states met in Saudi Arabia to discuss a response to the Iraq war.
U.S. Central Command in Qatar said Iraqi Kurds had captured and handed over Samir Abul Aziz al-Najim, a senior Baghdad official of Saddam's Baath Party, near Mosul in northern Iraq.
He was the fourth person to be detained from a U.S. list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis. U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told a news briefing Najim may have been posted to northern Iraq to take command of some military operations there.
Abu Dhabi television, meanwhile, aired footage said to show Saddam and his son Qusay addressing a crowd in Baghdad from the top of a car on April 9 - the day the city fell.
Muslim preacher says U.S. invaded Iraq to defend Israel
In the first Friday prayers since U.S. tanks drove to the heart of Baghdad last week, a Muslim preacher said the United States had invaded to defend Israel and denied Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, a key justification Washington offered for the war. No prayers were held last Friday.
Followers of the preacher, Ahmed al-Kubaisi, carried Korans and waved banners that read "No to America. No to Secular State. Yes to Islamic State."
"Leave our country, we want peace," one banner read.
"This is not the America we know. The America we know respects international law, respects the right of people," Kubaisi said.
He said Iraqis had been betrayed by Saddam, who has disappeared along with most of his aides. "Saddam was the one who betrayed his people and ignored them and escaped," he said.
Organisers of Friday's demonstration called themselves the Iraqi National United Movement and said they represented both Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims and powerful Sunnis.
The protest served notice of the hostility that the U.S., which has appointed a retired American general to lead an interim administration in Iraq, is likely to face from sectors of the influential Muslim clergy.
In Qatar, Brooks said that, now Saddam was gone, Iraqis had the right to demonstrate. "We want the governance of Iraq to be handed over to, passed over to the Iraqi people as quickly as we can," he added.
The three other leading Iraqis held by U.S. forces are Saddam's half-brothers Barzan and Watban Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti and top scientific adviser Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi.
Abu Dhabi TV says pictures of Saddam taken on day his statue was toppled
New television footage of a chanting crowd swarming around Saddam, who has used doubles during his rule, renewed speculation about whether he had survived the barrage of bombs which rained down on the capital from March 20.
Abu Dhabi TV said the pictures were taken on the same day U.S. tanks drove into central Baghdad and Iraqis toppled a massive statue of Saddam, symbolically ending his 24-year rule.
"The bottom line is we don't know if he's dead or alive," said Major Rumi Nielson-Green at U.S. Central Command in Qatar. "It's really not so important considering he's not in political power. We know for a fact that he has doubles and people who look like him."