- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 31, 2010

IRAQ

Anti-U.S. cleric calls for referendum

BAGHDAD | An anti-American Shi’ite cleric called Tuesday for a referendum on who will be Iraq’s prime minister, a proposal that was nearly certain to fail but which added more turmoil to an already tense and uncertain postelection period.

The firebrand cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, who leads a Shi’ite religious party that won 39 seats in the March 7 parliamentary election will likely be a kingmaker in the effort to form a governing coalition.

His call for a referendum was made in a statement on his Web site and delivered from Iran, where he has been living while pursuing clerical studies.

A referendum would run counter to Iraq’s constitution, under which the president chooses a prime minister-designate from the largest bloc in parliament to come up with a government within 30 days. The lawmakers subsequently vote on the Cabinet, which needs a simple majority approval.

The call comes as the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is challenging the top vote-getter’s right to form the next government and possibly assume the top job.

Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi’ite who was heavily backed by Sunnis, came out narrowly ahead of Mr. al-Maliki, with his bloc winning 91 of parliament’s 325 seats. That gave Mr. Allawi just a two-seat edge.

ISRAEL

Fighters scrambled over warplane alert

JERUSALEM | Israel’s air force scrambled fighter jets over the northern city of Haifa on Tuesday after several foreign warplanes approached the Jewish state’s airspace, media reports said.

The Israeli jets returned to base after determining that the foreign aircraft, which apparently approached the Israeli coast from the Mediterranean, were not hostile, Channel Two reported.

The report did not say which country the jets were from and it was not clear what they were doing near Israeli airspace.

The Israeli military confirmed the incident, but provided no details except that it ended quickly.

The incident occurred as Israelis celebrated the Jewish festival of Passover. Israel’s military is sensitive to attack on festivals, since a surprise offensive launched by Syria and Egypt on the Yom Kippur holy day in the 1973 Middle East war.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Fund director dies in glider crash

DUBAI | Moroccan authorities recovered the body of the director of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund Tuesday, five days after a glider he was riding in plunged into a lake in the North African kingdom.

Sheik Ahmed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, w hose glider crashed into a lake south of the Moroccan capital, Rabat, on Friday, was managing director of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. He was also a younger brother of the president of the United Arab Emirates.

The 38-y ear-old Sheik Ahmed was ranked 27th on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful people in 2009. Analysts believe the Abu Dhabi fund he led is the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, with estimates of its size ranging from less than $400 billion to $875 billion and beyond.

The Abu Dhabi fund’s investments include a $7.5 billion cash injection into Citigroup Inc. in 2007.

IRAN

Agents free diplomat kidnapped in Pakistan

TEHRAN | Iran said Tuesday its intelligence agents mounted a “complicated” cross-border mission and freed a diplomat kidnapped in 2008 in northwestern Pakistan.

Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said Iran had asked Pakistan to free Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, but after it failed to do the job, Tehran stepped in.

However, a senior Pakistani security official said Pakistani intelligence did help in the rescue. Another Pakistani official, North West Frontier Province Gov. Owais Ahmed Ghani, said Afghan officials helped recover Mr. Attarzadeh. He said he received information suggesting the diplomat was handed over to Iranian authorities in the Afghan capital Kabul.

Mr. Attarzadeh and his Pakistani bodyguard were driving over a narrow bridge in Peshawar on Nov. 13, 2008, when two gunmen blocked their way with a car and opened fire. The attackers fled with the diplomat after killing the guard.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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