Iraqi Police, Militia Battle in Holy City
NAJAF, Iraq (AP) _ Shiite militiamen and Iraqi police fought for control of the police headquarters in this holy city on Thursday in the first skirmishes since an agreement last week to end weeks of bloody clashes. Two Iraqis were killed and 13 were injured, hospital officials said.
Gunmen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr attacked the station near the city’s Revolution of 1920 Square late Wednesday. American troops were not involved, Iraqi police said.
Al-Sadr’s militia see the Iraqi police as being collaborators with U.S. forces.
The fighting comes only days after al-Sadr agreed to send his fighters home and pull back from the Islamic shrines in Najaf and its twin city of Kufa, handing over security to Iraqi police. The U.S. Army also agreed to stay away from the holy sites to give Iraqi security forces a chance to end the standoff.
The deal had largely held until late Wednesday, when police say they tried to arrest suspected thieves at a local bus station near the police headquarters. Masked attackers responded with machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades.
``They shot at us, injuring me and killing a colleague,″ said Qasim Ghazi, a policeman.
Fuad Torfi, one of al-Sadr’s spokesmen in Najaf, had no information on the attacks.
In northern Iraq, saboteurs blew up a key oil pipeline earlier Wednesday, forcing a 10 percent cut on the national power grid as demand for electricity rises with the advent of Iraq’s broiling summer heat.
The pipeline blast near Beiji, 150 miles north of Baghdad, was the latest in a series of attacks by insurgents against infrastructure targets, possibly to shake public confidence as a new Iraqi government prepares to take power June 30.
The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday voted unanimously for a resolution endorsing the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq’s new government.
While world leaders applaud their newfound unity, Iraq’s Kurdish leaders protested that the United States and Britain refused to include an endorsement of the interim constitution in the U.N. resolution. The Kurdish leaders expressed fears they will be sidelined politically by the Shiite Arab majority.
U.N. diplomats said the decision was made to keep a reference to the interim constitution _ the Transitional Administrative Law _ out of the resolution to appease Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who grudgingly accepted the charter when it was approved in March.
Barham Salih, 44, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and an American favorite, announced Wednesday he would not accept the post of deputy prime minister for national security unless the powers were spelled out ``appropriate to the position, sacrifice and important role of the Kurdish people,″ the PUK’s KurdSat television reported.
U.S. and other multinational forces will remain in Iraq after the new government takes power at the end of the month under terms of the U.N. resolution.
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi described the vote as a victory for Iraq because it declares an end to the military presence when a constitutionally elected government takes power in 2006 _ or before, if the Iraqi government requests it.
``The resolution is very clear that once Iraq stands on its feet, then we would ask the multinational forces to leave Iraq,″ Allawi said. ``This is ... an entirely a government issue.″
At the Group of Eight summit in the United States, French President Jacques Chirac raised objections to U.S. President George W. Bush’s proposal for a wider but unspecified role for NATO in post-occupation Iraq.
Bush discussed the possible expanded role for the NATO during a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his top Iraq war ally.
``We believe NATO ought to be involved,″ Bush said with Blair by his side. ``We will work with our NATO friends to at least continue the role that now exists, and hopefully expand it somewhat.″
But Chirac told reporters that, while he is ``open to all discussion″ on the issue, ``I won’t hide it from you that I don’t think it is NATO’s purpose to intervene in Iraq.″
Chirac said NATO involvement ``could only be envisaged″ if the Iraqi government requested it.
Around Fallujah, a rebellious Sunni Muslim city west of Baghdad, four members of an Iraqi force in charge of the city since April were wounded when a mortar round exploded Wednesday. First Lt. Amer Jassim speculated the attackers were firing at Americans but missed.
Elsewhere, Polish authorities said an explosion that killed six European soldiers _ two Poles, three Slovaks and one Latvian _ south of Baghdad on Tuesday was caused by a mortar attack rather than an accident as first reported.
Gen. Piotr Czerwinski, the head of a special investigating commission, said he suspected that Saddam Hussein loyalists were responsible for the deaths _ the first in Iraq for the small Slovak and Latvian contingents.
In Rome, three Italians returned home Wednesday, a day after they and a Polish hostage were freed by coalition forces. Kidnappers had held the Italians for two months.