Head of Arab League arrives in Iraq; insurgents attack main oil pipeline
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The secretary-general of the Arab League arrived Thursday on his first visit to Iraq since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, hoping to organize a national reconciliation conference.Amr Moussa came to Baghdad from Cairo with a delegation of 34 Arab League members guarded under tight security. Another Arab League delegation was attacked by gunmen last week while in the Iraqi capital to prepare Moussa’s trip. No one from the delegation was hurt, but two policeman guarding them were killed.Moussa is disliked by many Iraqi Shiite Muslims and Kurds for his perceived refusal to act against Saddam Hussein’s persecution of both groups while the dictator was in power. Nevertheless, the Egyptian diplomat was expected to meet Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, as well as government and tribal leaders during his three-day visit.Insurgents launched new attacks Thursday, one day after Saddam and seven senior members of his regime went on trial for a 1982 massacre of about 150 Shiites in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad. Saddam challenged the legitimacy of the court and pleaded innocent to all charges. The judge adjourned the trial until Nov. 28.Gunmen in a car opened fire on civilians outside a food shop in southern Baghdad, killing two, said police Capt. Firas Gaiti. The militants then stopped, rushed into the store and gunned down a third Iraqi, Gaiti said.About an hour later, a rocket hit a public school for students aged 12 to 15 in western Baghdad, killing one child and wounding five, said police Capt. Qassim Hussein. The blast also killed a nearby shopkeeper, said Hussein.The U.S. military said four Army soldiers were killed and five wounded by roadside bombs Wednesday near the northern cities of Balad and Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown. Another American soldier died from a gunshot wound Tuesday at a military base near Mosul; the death was not from hostile fire, the military said.The fatalities raised to at least 1,987 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.Police also provided new information about the kidnapping of Rory Carroll, an Irish citizen who is the Baghdad correspondent of The Guardian, the British newspaper.Police Maj. Falah al-Mohamadawi said Carroll, 33, was captured Wednesday afternoon in the Sadr City section of the capital. Gunmen riding in two cars blocked a road and snatched Carroll from his car, leaving his driver behind, the officer said. A search was under way.Elsewhere, insurgents using explosives set fire to the main oil pipeline in the north on Thursday, officials said. The pipeline links an oil field in the northern city of Kirkuk to the country’s largest oil refinery in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.The pre-dawn explosion burned the pipeline and several oil valves about 35 miles west of Kirkuk, said firefighter Adil Mohammed.”The damage is 100 percent, and we have not been able to control the fire yet,” he said.Iraq has the world’s third-largest known oil reserves. But the industry has been crippled by several wars, sanctions during Saddam’s rule and the anti-U.S. insurgency. Oil production also remains limited by decaying infrastructure and frequent militant attacks on pipelines and refineries.On Wednesday, insurgents killed 26 Iraqis in widespread attacks, including three election commission officials who were shot on the outskirts of the capital in Abu Ghraib as they drove home after another round of counting ballots from the weekend constitutional referendum, police said.Iraqis are still awaiting the outcome of the vote. Results were expected on Friday at the earliest.The returns have raised questions over the possibility of irregularities in the balloting – and have prompted an audit into an irregularly high number of “yes” votes.Moussa’s visit was expected to focus on wrapping up the details for a reconciliation conference to be held at the 22-member Arab League’s Cairo headquarters soon after the final results of the referendum are announced. He has said reconciliation among Iraqi religious, sectarian and ethnic groups is as important as the draft constitution in maintaining Iraq’s national unity and stability.But there is a sense in the country that Moussa has not done enough to condemn the Sunni-led insurgency or back the country’s current government, dominated by Shiites and Kurds. Sunni Muslims, a minority in Iraq, dominate the Arab world.Previous efforts to hold a pan-Iraqi conference in Iraq have failed because Shiites and Kurds have refused to sit down with Sunni insurgents. But earlier this month, eight Arab foreign ministers met in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, and directed Moussa to go to Baghdad to try again.