Iraq group: We make own rockets
BAGHDAD (AP) — A top insurgent leader boasted that his al-Qaida-linked group was now making its own rockets, posting the claim in an audiotape online Tuesday, while Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki said his government was talking with militant groups to try to stop the violence.
The voice on the audiotape was said to be that of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq. The tape was posted on an Islamic Web site used by militant groups, but its authenticity could not be confirmed.
The rockets – called al-Quds-1, or Jerusalem-1 – “have moved into the phase of military production with an advanced degree of range and accuracy,” al-Baghdadi said, without elaborating.
Insurgents in Iraq have used a range of Soviet-era rockets like Katyushas, and shoulder-fired ground-to-air Sam-7 missiles – most of which were looted from Saddam Hussein’s depots in the lawless weeks that followed the collapse of his regime. Recently, the U.S. has accused Iran of funneling Iranian-made weapons to insurgents in Iraq – mostly to Shiite militias but to some Sunnis as well.
Al-Maliki said the insurgent groups in contact with the government included members of Saddam’s former regime.
“We are having meetings with groups that are not part of the political process … They asked us not to reveal their names,” al-Maliki said. “The talks are still going and they are part of the national reconciliation.”
Al-Maliki announced a 24-point national reconciliation program in June, that offers amnesty to members of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency who were not involved in “terrorist activities,” and amends a law that removed senior members of Saddam’s Baath Party from their jobs.
Last week, President Jalal Talabani said negotiations with five insurgent groups to join the political process had reached final stages. Talabani also did not give their names.
Separately, al-Baghdadi’s group posted a Web statement Tuesday saying its religious court had condemned 20 kidnapped Iraqi soldiers to death. On Saturday, the group claimed to have captured the troops to avenge the alleged rape of a woman by Iraqi police, and demanded the government hand over the rapists within 48 hours.
But there were no reports of any Iraqi officers missing, and an Interior Ministry official said Tuesday that all troops were accounted for.
Meanwhile, hundreds of residents of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, crowded into a tent erected Tuesday in front of the governor’s office for the start of a three-day sit-in to demand the official’s resignation.
“This governor is a hypocrite. We want him to come out!” they shouted. “We demand the Basra governor resign,” read a banner hung from the tent. Gov. Mohammed al-Waili was not believed to be in the building at the time.
The peaceful sit-in came a day after thousands of people paraded from a downtown mosque to al-Waili’s office in a demonstration that defied orders from Baghdad officials. Residents of Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, have long complained of poor city services – garbage pickup, water and electricity.
But demands for al-Waili’s ouster were thought to be political as well. He is a member of a rival Shiite faction to that of Muqtada al-Sadr, the rebellious but extremely popular cleric who commands tremendous influence over Iraq’s majority Shiites.
On Monday, al-Sadr’s six ministers quit the Cabinet to protest al-Maliki’s refusal to back calls for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. The move severed al-Sadr’s ties to the U.S.-backed prime minister and raised fears his Mahdi Army militia might again confront American troops.
The resignations were not likely to bring down al-Maliki’s government but highlighted growing demands among Iraqi politicians and voters that U.S. troops leave.
On Tuesday, a group of senior Sunni Muslim clerics visited Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the holy city of Najaf and emerged from the meeting saying followers of the two sects are “brothers.”
“Everybody’s aim is to extinguish the fire of strife in our country. This is our call to everyone,” said Sheik Mohammed Talabani, head of the Clerics Association in Kurdistan.
Sunni clerics have frequently visited al-Sistani in the past. They also visited three other top Shiite clerics in Najaf on Tuesday.
The deputy chief of Mosul police was killed Tuesday in a drive-by shooting along with two of his guards, said police Brig. Mohammed al-Wagga. Also in Mosul, a roadside bomb apparently targeting a U.S. patrol killed one civilian instead, al-Wagga said.
The violence in Mosul, a mostly Sunni Muslim city 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, came a day after a university dean, a professor, a policeman’s son and 13 soldiers died near there in attacks that bore the marks of al-Qaida.
Nationwide, at least 51 people were killed or found dead Monday. And the U.S. military reported the deaths of eight more American service members: three soldiers and two Marines on Monday and two soldiers on Saturday, as well as one Marine who died Monday in a “non-hostile incident” while on patrol in western Anbar province.
The U.S. military issued a statement Tuesday that a dump truck filled with drums of gasoline had overturned north of Baghdad en route to attack a joint U.S.-Iraqi security station.
“The driver of the vehicle told the soldiers that he was paid $30,000 to attack the JSS (Joint Security Station), which also houses the Mashahda Police Station,” the military said.