- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008

IRAQ

Provincial elections slated for January

BAGHDAD | Iraq said Tuesday that it will hold long-awaited provincial elections Jan. 31, a step forward for U.S.-backed efforts to promote national reconciliation even though a key northern area will not participate in the vote.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the Cabinet decided on the date, which had been widely expected, at a meeting Tuesday. The announcement of the election date comes as parliament prepares for a Nov. 24 vote on a U.S.-Iraqi security pact to allow American troops to stay in Iraq for three more years.

The elections had been hoped for as early as Oct. 1. They will be the first provincial elections since 2005, when Iraq’s insurgency was far stronger than it is now.

The elections will not be held in Tamim province, which includes the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Lawmakers had decided to postpone a decision on how to resolve a power-sharing dispute over Kirkuk, which Kurdish leaders believe should be incorporated into their semiautonomous region in the north.

GAZA STRIP

Israeli tanks cross border

GAZA CITY | Israeli tanks moved into the southern Gaza Strip Tuesday, drawing mortar fire from Palestinian militants and intensifying violence that has chipped away at a tenuous cease-fire.

Israel and Hamas have been trading fire for two weeks after nearly five months of relative quiet. The June 19 truce is slated to expire next month, and both sides might be trying to dictate more favorable terms in anticipation of the agreement’s renewal.

The Israeli military described the activity as “a routine operation to uncover explosive devices near the border fence in the southern Gaza Strip.” It said two mortars were fired at troops, causing no injuries or damage.

Militant groups said they fired both mortars and rockets.

IRAQ

300 charged with corruption

BAGHDAD | Iraq has charged more than 300 officials with corruption this year and courts handed out 86 convictions, its corruption watchdog said Tuesday as a nation awash in oil money fought back against graft.

Iraq is perceived as being the world’s third most corrupt country, with only failed state Somalia and Burma’s military junta below it, according to the Transparency International index measuring perceptions of graft in 180 nations.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been preoccupied with restoring security; but as violence falls, it is seeking to match battlefield successes with political reforms.

The New York Times meanwhile reported Tuesday that the al-Maliki government is systematically dismissing oversight officials who were installed to fight corruption in Iraqi ministries by order of the American occupation administration.

IRAN

Demonstration ends at U.N. headquarters

UNITED NATIONS | Iranian demonstrators ended a 65-day vigil outside U.N. headquarters Monday and headed to Washington to seek assurances the U.S. will continue protecting a disarmed militia in Iraq that opposes Iran’s government.

Across from the U.N., demonstrators held signs, chanted and made speeches until Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the Iranian dissidents living at Camp Ashraf northeast of Baghdad, which the Americans may hand over to the Iraqis. Now, they are converging on a park across from the White House.

For more than two decades the camp has housed members of the Mujahideen Khalq, also known as the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, that was thrown out of Iran in the 1980s. They became allied with Saddam Hussein’s regime, which helped fund attacks against the Iranian regime.

From wire dispatches and staff reports


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