Thu, Jun 03, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Violence greets new Iraqi leaders

SOVEREIGNTY Clashes in Najaf and Kufa saw eight Iraqis killed and 23 wounded, as the UN unveiled a draft setting out a timetable for US troops to leave the nation

AFP , BAGHDAD

A car with a body in the trunk speeds off during clashes between militiamen loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army and US troops in the town of Kufa, a few kilometers from the holy city of Najaf, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Fresh fighting broke out in Iraq yesterday despite the unveiling of the first post-Saddam Hussein government and a draft UN resolution setting out a rough timetable for the departure of US troops.

Eight Iraqis were killed and 23 wounded when clashes erupted between US forces and radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's militia in the holy cities of Najaf and nearby Kufa, south of Baghdad, as well as in the capital itself.

The fighting came after Iraq's new interim government was unveiled in Baghdad amid criticism that the US had tried to impose its will on the selection process.

UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who was supposed to play the central role in choosing the government, responded to the criticism yesterday by stressing that Washington's views could not be ignored.

"I don't think he'd mind my saying this: Bremer is the dictator of Iraq. He has the money, he has the signature," Brahimi said in reference to the US overseer in Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer.

The diplomat also warned that the coalition and new government would quickly have to work out the status of foreign troops in the nation beyond any UN Security Council resolution legitimizing their presence.

The heaviest combat overnight was in Kufa where five people were killed and 11 injured, while in Najaf three mortar shells killed one person and injured 12 close to a US military base, hospital sources said.

Two militiamen were killed in the capital's teeming Shiite district of Sadr City, the cleric's office here said.

Also in Baghdad, four people were killed and 34 wounded in a car bombing and a second blast, while three Filipino soldiers were wounded in an ambush south of the capital.

US President George W. Bush warned on Tuesday that the violence would continue ahead of the June 30 formal transfer of sovereignty from the US-led coalition to the appointed government, which was sworn in the same day.

But he also said the naming of the new Cabinet "brings us one step closer to realizing the dream of millions of Iraqis, a fully sovereign nation with a representative government that protects their rights and serves their needs."

Britain, the chief US ally in Iraq, claimed the interim leadership under prime minister Iyad Allawi would be the "most representative" in Iraq's history.

The EU, through its Irish presidency, wished the government "every success" while Russia expressed hope that it would be able to ensure security and rebuild the country's shattered infrastructure.

There was no immediate reaction from France and Germany, who opposed the US-led invasion which toppled president Saddam Hussein in April last year.

But Iran, part of the so-called "axis of evil" in the words of the US president, said it hoped the government was a "step toward a return to sovereignty."

In the Arab world, only Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan officially reacted to the government's nomination.

Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah and Bahrain King Hamad welcomed Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar's appointment as president and said they hoped to strengthen ties with Iraq's new leadership.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, in a congratulatory telegram to Yawar yesterday, said the government was "a step toward ending the occupation and the return of full sovereignty."

At the UN, changes were made to a Security Council resolution sponsored by Britain and the US to satisfy concerns that genuine sovereignty would be restored at the end of the month.

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