- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2008

IRAQ

Report says deal kept troops out of fight

LONDON | A secret deal with an Iran-backed militia kept British forces out of a battle in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, leaving U.S. and Iraqi forces to fight alone, a newspaper reported Tuesday. The Ministry of Defense denied that any deal was struck and said it held back to ensure that the operation was seen as Iraqi-led.

The pact between Britain and the Mahdi Army of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was aimed at coercing the Shi’ite militia back into the political process and marginalizing extremist factions, the Times of London reported, quoting a senior defense official. But the effect was that 4,000 British soldiers were kept out of action for six days until a deal brokered in Iran ended heavy fighting.

A separate report earlier in Britain’s Independent newspaper also suggested a secret deal existed between the militia and the British.

The British military turned over provincial control of Basra to the Iraqi government in late December despite vicious infighting between Shi’ite factions and widespread militia infiltration of the local security forces. But British troops remained on standby at their airport base outside the city.

IRAN

Government halts stoning sentences

TEHRAN | Iran has decided to spare the lives of four people sentenced to death by stoning and is halting the implementation of other such sentences pending a review of their cases, the judiciary said Tuesday.

A judiciary spokesman who announced the decision did not say how many people had been sentenced to death by stoning. Defense lawyers last month said at least eight women and one man had received such sentences and may be executed at any time.

The last officially reported stoning in the Islamic Republic was carried out on a man a year ago, drawing criticism from human rights groups, the European Union and a top U.N. official.

Iran’s judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi ordered a moratorium on stoning in 2002.

According to Iran’s Islamic penal code, men convicted of adultery should be buried up to their waists and women up to their chests for stoning. Stones used should not be large enough to kill the person immediately.

Meanwhile, Iranian journalist Yaghoob Mirnehad was executed Monday in the city of Zahedan after being convicted and sentenced to death earlier this year, the judiciary spokesman said. Mr. Mirnehad was accused of being involved in the armed Jundallah group, which operates along the Iranian-Pakistani border.

GAZA STRIP

Shortage of cash threatens salaries

RAMALLAH, West Bank | Banks in the Gaza Strip face a currency shortage that could prevent Palestinian Authority workers from receiving their salaries in the coastal enclave, Palestinian and Western officials said Tuesday.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad plans to pay salaries to public workers on Thursday, but the officials said Israel has yet to allow the banks to bring 100 million Israeli shekels ($28 million) into the Gaza Strip for payday.

Palestinian Authority workers in the Gaza Strip get their salaries by withdrawing cash from bank teller machines. Without a cash infusion, officials say, banks in the territory may not have enough shekels to cover workers’ withdrawals.

Israel allowed a small shipment of shekels into the Gaza Strip last week to replace bills that were worn out, the officials said. Large shipments are made several times a year.

ISRAEL

Vacationers forget daughter at airport

JERUSALEM | An Israeli couple going on a European vacation remembered to take their duty-free purchases and their 18 suitcases, but forgot their 3-year-old daughter at the airport, police said Monday.

The couple and their five children were late for a charter flight to Paris on Sunday and made a mad dash to the gate. In the confusion, their daughter got lost.

A policeman found her wandering in the duty-free area at Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel’s bustling main international air portal. The officer alerted airline staff, but the flight had already taken off.

Police said the parents were unaware they had boarded the aircraft with only four children instead of five until they were informed by cabin staff after 40 minutes in the air.

The child, accompanied by an airline staffer, took the next flight to Paris, where she was safely reunited with her parents.

The Ha’aretz paper reported that several days ago, an 8-year-old boy traveling alone boarded a flight to Brussels instead of Munich, and two weeks before that, a 10-year-old boy was left behind when the rest of his group flew to Copenhagen.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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