Georgian pullout leaves a vacuum
BAGHDAD | The departure of 2,000 Georgian soldiers from Iraq leaves a question mark over the future of a series of checkpoints along smuggling routes near the Iranian border, forcing the U.S. to shuffle units to fill the vacuum.
Three Georgian checkpoints on highways surrounding the area’s main city of Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, were empty Monday, residents and Iraqi officials said.
But many Iraqis aren’t sorry to see the Georgians go. They say the Georgians were rude, disrespectful and ineffective.
“They never respected us,” college student Saad Hassan, 20, complained. He said Georgian soldiers would hold families at checkpoints for hours even in extremely hot or cold weather.
The former Soviet republic was the third-largest contributor of coalition forces after the U.S. and Britain. After Georgia initially sent a group of 70 servicemen to Iraq in August 2003, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili agreed to increase the contingent to 2,000 as he courted U.S. support to lessen Russian influence.
But Georgia called its forces home after an outbreak of fighting with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Giza pyramids to lose peddlers
CAIRO | Tourists have long been awed by Egypt‘s famed Giza pyramids and irritated by having to fend off peddlers relentlessly offering camel rides and trinkets.
But the hustlers were gone Monday as Egypt started an elaborate project to modernize the area and make it friendlier to tourists. Security is also improving, with a 12-mile chain-link fence featuring cameras, alarms and motion detectors.
The three Giza pyramids have been unusually open for a 5,000-year-old Wonder of the World. Slums have been built right to the edge of the site, separated in places by only a low stone wall.
Hamas blames Egypt for tunnel deaths
GAZA CITY | The Islamist group Hamas said Monday that Egypt was responsible for the deaths of eight Palestinians because it used water, gas and explosives to seal a network of tunnels under its border with the Gaza Strip.
Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Ehab al-Ghsain criticized Egypt’s anti-smuggling tactics as dangerous. Three Palestinians were crushed to death Monday when their tunnel under the border collapsed, medics said. Five others suffocated on Aug 1.
Smugglers have dug dozens of tunnels to move people and contraband, including arms and ammunition, between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, which is blockaded by Israel.
Mr. al-Ghsain said Cairo “shares the blame” with Israel for the blockade by keeping the coastal enclave’s only border crossing with Egypt closed.
Egyptian security sources confirmed that Egypt had pumped gas into tunnels in recent months before sealing them off. They said the gas was not harmful and was used to prevent Palestinians from trying to re-enter the tunnels.
Sunni rebels kill two hostages
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates | Iranian Sunni rebels holding a group of policemen hostage said they have killed two of them and also abducted three Revolutionary Guards officers, Al Arabiya television reported Monday.
Al Arabiya, citing a spokesman of Jundollah (God’s Soldiers), said the rebels killed the two men after “the failure of contacts between the Iranian government and Jundollah.”
Jundollah, which the government of Shi’ite-dominated Iran has accused of having links to al Qaeda, abducted 16 policemen in June and has already killed at least four of them.
The Revolutionary Guards officers, including a colonel and a major, were abducted Sunday, the spokesman told the Dubai-based news network in a telephone call.
The rebels operate mostly in Sistan-Baluchestan, a volatile region near the border with Pakistan, home to Iran’s mostly Sunni ethnic Baluchis.
Al Qaeda fugitive killed in shootout
SAN’A | Yemen said Tuesday that a prominent fugitive member of the local branch of al Qaeda was killed in a shootout when police stormed a house in the eastern province of Hadramaut.
Hamza al-Quayti, one of 23 al Qaeda militants who broke out of jail in February 2006, was killed along with four other fighters in Monday’s clash in the town of Tarim, the Defense Ministry Web site said.
Two policemen were killed and three others wounded, while two militants were wounded and captured, it added.
The ministry claimed the cell was behind attacks including a suicide car bombing that killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemeni guides at a historic site in Marib, east of San’a, in July 2007.
The group was also behind a foiled attack on oil installations in Marib in 2006, and a suicide car bombing last month in the Hadramaut town of Sayun, in which one policeman was killed and 17 people wounded, it added.
Three of the 23 al Qaeda escapees remain at large, five have been killed and 15 others recaptured.
From wire dispatches and staff reports