Thursday, October 07, 2004

US report finds no banned Iraqi weapons as Iraq's leaders vow to retake rebel enclaves

Iraq had no active chemical, biological or nuclear programs at the time of the US-led invasion in 2003, according to a long-awaited US report, as the Iraqi government expressed renewed determination to erase pockets of resistance in time for January elections.

In Baghdad, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met with Iraqi leaders a day after a combined force of thousands of US and Iraqi troops stormed insurgent enclaves immediately south of the capital.

Meanwhile, 10 Iraqi national guard recruits and a child were killed in more car bombings.

In his more-than-1,000-page report, chief US weapons inspector Charles Duelfer said Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons were essentially destroyed in 1991 but Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein wanted to recreate them after UN sanctions were removed.

"Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq's (weapons) capability -- which was essentially destroyed in 1991 -- after sanctions were removed and Iraq's economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed," the report said.

"Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability -- in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks -- but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare capabilities."

Amid the debate over Saddam's weapons, Iraqi leaders tried to broker truces with rebels in both Sunni and Shiite areas but warned the threat of further military attacks loomed unless government authority was restored.

Tough-talking interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi kept up the pressure saying fighters had to lay down their weapons unconditionally and abide by the rule of law, without any special deals.

"People want stability and for the government to start reconstruction efforts in these areas," interim deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said.

"We have met for the last two to three weeks with representatives of Fallujah," he said, referring to the most defiant Sunni Arab city, which has been under rebel control since April.

"People are sick and tired of the situation there."

Saleh said the government was ready to restore its authority by negotiation if possible and noted that talks were continuing with Shiite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to try to end almost daily clashes with the US military in their Baghdad bastion of Sadr City.

The cleric's aides confirmed they were continuing to talk to the government about a local truce for the sprawling Shiite slum neighbourhood.

"There are a couple of sticking points outstanding before we sign a deal that would involve Sadr's office, the government and the US military," Sadr spokesman Sheikh Abdul Hadi al-Darraji said.

US warplanes again pounded Fallujah, hitting what commanders described as a meeting of loyalists of Jordanian Islamist militant leader Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted man in Iraq. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

In a rare car bombing in the barren western plains, a suicide attacker rammed his vehicle into a group of people signing up with the national guard at a military base in Anah, some 260 kilometres (160 miles) west of Baghdad.

Ten young recruits were killed and 24 wounded in the latest attack on the fledgling force, which has been repeatedly targeted by the insurgents, police said.

South of the capital, a second car bomb exploded at a checkpoint killing a child and wounding seven more national guardsmen, medics said.

In a worrying sign for foreign diplomats holed up in the high-security Green Zone compound in the heart of Baghdad, the US embassy said it found and defused a bomb at a popular cafe there.

Despite the relentless bloodshed, Straw, who met with Allawi and President Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar among others, said he was impressed by Iraq's commitment to holding nationwide elections on time.

"There is a great deal of work to do but I have been impressed by the work that already has been undertaken and which is in the pipeline," Straw said.

The biggest foreign troop contributor to Iraq after the United States, Britain too has been touched by the violence there, most recently with the kidnapping of 62-year-old engineer Kenneth Bigley, snatched from his Baghdad home September 16 with two US colleagues, who have already been beheaded.

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi joined a host of foreign statesmen who have already appealed for his release.

In other violence, an official from the Saadia region near Baquba, north of Baghdad, told AFP three Kurdish militiamen and their civilian driver were killed in a drive-by shooting late Tuesday.

A bomb also exploded in the main southern city of Basra, killing one civilian, and wounding 10 other people, including four policemen.

In addition, police said the bullet-riddled body of an Iraqi working as an interpreter for the US military was found near Ramadi and a police officer died in a roadside blast just outside the western city.

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