- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Compromise sought in Kirkuk standoff

BAGHDAD | Iraqi political leaders reached a tentative compromise on Monday that could resolve a stalemate over the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and allow local elections to go ahead, the deputy speaker of parliament said.

Lawmakers rescheduled for Tuesday a vote on a provincial election law, which had been held up by wrangling over Kirkuk that has threatened to escalate into renewed ethnic strife.

Washington has been pressing hard on Iraqi leaders to resolve the standoff before it jeopardizes the elections, originally scheduled for Oct. 1 and seen as vital to reconciling the country’s factions and solidifying its fragile democracy.

“The new date has been set after fresh hope appeared of reaching an agreement,” said Khalid al-Attiya, deputy parliament speaker and a member of Iraq’s largest Shi’ite bloc.

A vote had been planned for Sunday but it was scrapped when lawmakers failed to agree on how the elections would affect Kirkuk, which minority Kurds want to make part of their semiautonomous northern region.

Although violence has fallen to its lowest level since 2004, Iraq remains a dangerous place. Two U.S. soldiers were killed and one was wounded on Monday when a bomb struck their vehicle in eastern Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi, a member of the Shi’ite majority, gathered rival politicians at his home to broker an end to the standoff over the elections, which the United States and United Nations are urging Iraq to hold this year.


Troops in cities to fight crime

ROME | More than 1,000 troops fanned out across Italy on Monday to help police fight crime on orders from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, an unorthodox use of the armed forces dismissed by critics as a publicity stunt.

The deployment, which will soon rise to 3,000 troops, was the most visible initiative so far in a law-and-order campaign by the conservative leader. He was elected in April on a pledge to make the country safer.

Soldiers were sent to Rome, Milan, Turin and Palermo with orders to patrol streets along with police and help protect “sensitive” sites, from Milan’s Duomo cathedral to embassies and consulates.


Battles rage in tribal areas

MINGORA | Pakistan’s army killed 94 Islamist militants and lost 14 soldiers in fighting in the northwestern Swat Valley in the past week and plans a major operation against the insurgents, a senior officer said on Monday.

The ferocity of the clashes sounded the death knell for a peace deal between the government and militants seeking to impose Taliban-style Islamic law in the alpine valley that was once one of Pakistan’s main tourist destinations.

Among the 14 soldiers killed were three members of the Inter-Services Intelligence, who were killed on July 28 in an ambush by fighters loyal to a radical cleric called Fazlullah.

Mr. Fazlullah launched a campaign of violence last year, drawing the army into a conflict at a time when militants across northwest Pakistan had launched a wave of suicide attacks on security forces and leading politicians.


Militants charged over al Qaeda escape

NAIROBI | Kenya charged three people on Monday with helping a top al Qaeda operative escape over the weekend, nearly 10 years after two U.S. Embassy blasts put the militant group on the world stage. He is accused of planning them.

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed has evaded capture since his indictment by the United States for the twin attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 240 people on Aug. 7, 1998.

Police arrested three Kenyans after a raid late on Saturday on a private villa in the resort town of Malindi, and charged them in a Mombasa court on Monday. They seized mobile phones, documents and a camera.

The suspects - Mahfoudh Ashur Hemed and his son, Ibrahim Mahfoudh, and Mr. Mahfoudh’s wife, Lutfiya Abubakar - all pleaded not guilty during their appearance in court.

Mohammed, the Comorian-born leader of al Qaeda’s east African cell, had sneaked into Kenya from nearby Somalia for treatment of a kidney ailment, Kenyan police have said.

Mohammed is the most-wanted al Qaeda operative in Africa with a $5 million bounty on his head for the 1998 bombings, the first major attack reliably attributed by the United States to the militant group led by Osama bin Laden.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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