- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2003

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s new foreign minister, a member of the Kurdish minority, said yesterday that he is going to the Arab League meeting in Egypt this week to claim Baghdad’s seat in the organization, not beg for it.

Iraq’s seat on the pan-Arab group’s council of ministers has remained empty since Saddam Hussein’s ouster in April. The Cairo-based organization has refused to recognize the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, which was put in place in July.

“We are not seeking recognition. We are the de facto authority in Iraq, and we are attending as representatives of Iraq,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in his first comments since being sworn in Wednesday by the Governing Council.

Amr Moussa, the league’s secretary-general, has hinted that the 22-member bloc may finally recognize the Governing Council as a legitimate government and include it in the organization. But, he said, the ministers must decide.

In the holy city of Najaf, banned militiamen from the armed wing of a Shi’ite Muslim group stopped their weeklong patrol around a holy shrine where a top cleric was killed in a car bombing last month.

The unexplained disappearance of the Badr Brigade militiamen came a day after L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, said the armed men were acting with the approval of coalition authorities.

However, Qatar-based Al Jazeera television reported yesterday that the United States had given armed militias in Iraq’s holiest Shi’ite city, about 110 miles south of Baghdad, until Sept. 13 to disarm and disband.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. George Krivo said yesterday that the American-led coalition would not turn a “blind eye to any militia.”

“We are supporting any Iraqi who desires to help secure the country. However, that has got to be through the direction of the central government,” Col. Krivo said in Baghdad.

Another senior U.S. military official said on the condition of anonymity that militia groups would be dealt with “gingerly” once tensions cooled in Najaf, where the leading Shi’ite cleric was killed in the bombing outside the Imam Ali shrine on Aug. 29.

Meanwhile, the military said yesterday that U.S. forces around Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit had uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition hidden in a row of bunkers that residents dubbed the “RPG shopping center.”

The discovery on Saturday included wire-guided surface-to-surface missiles, 315 rocket-propelled grenades and 62 mortar shells, spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle said.

Also Saturday, two surface-to-air missiles were fired at a coalition aircraft leaving Baghdad’s international airport, the U.S. military said.

Coalition forces increasingly are being attacked from a distance by mortars and remote-controlled homemade bombs, a possible change in strategy by anti-American insurgents, Col. Krivo said.

The U.S. military also said yesterday that troops had captured a person suspected of being a Saddam loyalist. The suspect is believed to have attacked a children’s hospital in Baqouba, about 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, with grenades.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed in the Aug. 11 attack. The suspect, who was captured Saturday, was not identified by the U.S. Central Command.


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