Posted by D from 22.214.171.124.cfl.rr.com (126.96.36.199) on Thursday, May 29, 2003 at 7:52PM :
Hundreds of American soldiers swept through a western Baghdad area that has seen five attacks on U.S. troops in the past few days.
Also on Wednesday, in neighboring Iran, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami opened a meeting of the foreign ministers of Muslim-majority countries with a call for power to be placed in the hands of Iraqis "as soon as possible."
Khatami did not name the United States on Wednesday, but his government had been a sharp critic of the U.S.-led postwar administration of Iraq.
The United States, in turn, suspects Iran of meddling in Iraq through anti-Saddam Shiite groups it long supports. Tension between the two countries has increased in recent days amid U.S. accusations Iran is harboring al-Qaeda terrorists and trying to build nuclear weapons.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair headed to Iraq on Wednesday, his visit coming at a time when the focus is on the challenge of restoring calm after the war he helped the United States wage.
The official Kuwait News Agency said on Tuesday that Blair will meet Kuwait's leaders and then cross into neighboring Iraq today. British troops are mostly serving in and around Basra in southern Iraq.
Blair will find a nation still reeling from war and occupying troops struggling to restore order. Eight American soldiers have died and nearly two dozen others been wounded in Iraq this week.
The U.S. military sweep through western began at 3 a.m. and was expected to end on Wednesday evening.On Sunday, one soldier died in an attack in the area, after the Humvee in which he was traveling was hit by explosive placed along a highway. At least five soldiers were injured in the incidents, which included two grenade attacks on a police station, and three highway attacks on moving U.S. military vehicles.
Military officials said they didn't believe all the incidents were connected.
Lt. Clint Mundinger, a U.S. Army intelligence officer, said it appeared that the three highway attacks may have been carried out by the same group, and that the two police station attacks were also staged by the same men -- but that those two groups were probably not connected.
Baghdad remains violent, after dark in particular, though it has become steadily more stable in recent weeks.
Early on Wednesday, an Iraqi police officer was hit four times when an assailant opened fire on him from a moving car as he stood near a police station in northwest Baghdad. He was rushed to a Baghdad hospital, and then to a U.S. army medical facility. He was in critical condition, officials said.
On Tuesday, Iraqis opened fire in Fallujah, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Baghdad, killing two U.S. soldiers. Hours later, two American military police officers were wounded in grenade assaults in Baghdad.
Saddam had many strong supporters in Fallujah, where protests against the U.S. presence turned violent twice in April, with soldiers firing at crowds, killing 18 Iraqis and wounding at least 78. The United States said people in the crowds fired first, but Iraqis insisted no one shot at the Americans.
Fallujah's 200,000 residents benefited greatly from Saddam's regime, with its young men awarded positions in the elite Republican Guard forces or jobs in government-built factories.
In other developments
The new U.N. envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, held his first news conference since his appointment. Vieira de Mello said he plans to begin work by Monday and the top of his agenda will be to consult Iraqi leaders and opinion makers "to make sure that the interests of the Iraqi people come first" in rebuilding their country. He said establishing "good working relations" with the occupying powers was a second priority.
The U.S. Treasury Department said it was lifting most remaining sanctions on Iraq, freeing U.S. companies to engage in many normal trade and investment opportunities without first having to obtain government approval. The action followed a U.N. Security Council resolution last week that ended 13 years of sanctions.
U.N. nuclear agency inspectors planning to investigate Iraq's largest nuclear complex will leave a few days later than planned, spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said. The agency's inspectors had initially been set to return to Iraq by the end of this week to investigate whether nuclear material stored at the Tuwaitha nuclear complex remains safe. The site was looted after the U.S.-led war against Iraq.
U.S. troops detained a Palestinian diplomat and four Iraqis on Wednesday on suspicion of carrying illegal weapons in Baghdad, a city still awash with guns following the fall of Saddam Hussein. Charge d'affaires Najah Abdul Rahman denied carrying a weapon. He was detained outside the Palestinian mission, and troops prevented anyone from entering.
Baghdad - The Associated Press
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