- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Britain to withdraw remaining forces

BAGHDAD | Britain will withdraw its remaining forces from Iraq to Kuwait by the end of the month because the Iraqi parliament failed to pass a deal allowing them to stay to protect oil platforms and provide training, a British spokesman said Tuesday.

Britain already has withdrawn its combat forces according to a previous agreement. The British Ministry of Defense said the new announcement related to between 100 and 150 mostly navy personnel left to train the Iraqi navy.

The lingering presence has faced opposition, principally by followers of anti-U.S. Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who stalled the ratification of the deal until lawmakers adjourned Monday for their summer recess.

British Embassy spokesman Jawwad Syed said Tuesday it was a procedural delay and that the remaining British forces would pull back to Kuwait until the issue is resolved. The troops’ existing mandate expires July 31.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, meanwhile, said during a visit to Iraq on Tuesday that the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from urban bases was paying off as Iraqi forces assumed the lead for the fragile security. Mr. Gates met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and was due to hold talks with Defense Minister Abdel Qader Jassim.


U.S. envoy presses settlements

JERUSALEM | Israel’s prime minister and the top U.S. Middle East envoy said they made progress Tuesday on their dispute over West Bank settlements, but offered no sign of a breakthrough at a meeting in Jerusalem.

President Obama’s envoy, George Mitchell, has been pressing Israel to halt all construction in settlements built on captured land claimed by the Palestinians, stressing that such a gesture would improve prospects for a peace deal. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says limited construction must be permitted to allow “natural growth” in the existing settler population.

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Mitchell both reported “progress” after their meeting, but gave no details on how close they were to resolving the disagreement.

The settlement issue has given rise to the worst public tensions between Israel and its closest ally in nearly two decades.

Mr. Mitchell is one of four senior U.S. envoys visiting Israel this week, all part of a U.S. effort to forge a wider peace that would end Israel’s conflicts with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon and normalize Israel’s ties with the rest of the Arab world.


Space tourism port planned

ABU DHABI | Tourists will be able to journey to outer space via Abu Dhabi as part of a deal by a local investment group to take a stake in the world’s first commercial space travel operator, the two companies said Tuesday.

Aabar Investments said it plans to build a space port in Abu Dhabi, capital of the seven-member United Arab Emirates federation, after agreeing to buy a 32 percent stake in the holding company of Virgin Galactic for $280 million, valuing the business at around $900 million.

Aabar expects to spend another $100 million on a small satellite launch facility and will gain exclusive regional rights to host Virgin Galactic tourism and scientific research space flights.

Virgin Galactic, fully owned until now by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, was set up in 2004 to provide commercial space travel. The project is in its final stages with the test flight program under way.


Gunmen kill 8 in bank robbery

BAGHDAD | Robbers fatally shot eight people at a Baghdad bank before blasting open its vault with sticks of dynamite and making off with 8 billion Iraqi dinars ($6.84 million) in cash Tuesday, police said.

All of the dead at a branch of state-owned Rafidain bank in central Baghdad’s Karrada district were security personnel. The attack came two days after gunmen opened fire on a money exchange office, killing three people.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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