Leading Shiite politician asks for God’s help to counter insurgency
BAGHDAD, Iraq – A leading Shiite politician marked Islam’s feast of sacrifice Wednesday by asking for God’s help to smite the insurgency, and warned his governing religious bloc would not allow substantive changes to Iraq’s new constitution – a key Sunni Arab demand.U.S. Army soldiers killed six insurgents in a fire fight in Baghdad, including two wearing suicide belts. They arrested one man and confiscated a weapons cache that the Army said included 400 pounds of homemade explosives and components to make 15 pressure-activated bombs.Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment came under fire, said Spc. George Welcome, of the 101st Airborne Division.”Following the fire fight, the soldiers discovered two dead insurgents wearing suicide vests strapped with explosives,” Welcome said in a statement.Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, marked the Eid al-Adha holiday by calling for God’s help in fighting the insurgency.”We ask God’s blessing to send a strong stroke against the terrorists,” he said, adding that combatting the insurgency would be the top priority of the new government formed after Dec. 15 elections. Sunni Arabs make up the core of the insurgency.The cleric also heads the governing United Iraqi Alliance, a Shiite religious bloc with a strong lead in the elections, according to preliminary results. But the 130 seats of parliament’s 275 seats it is expected to receive will not be enough to avoid forming a coalition government with smaller parties.Al-Hakim said any amendments to Iraq’s new constitution would have to leave provincial governments strong, adding that Shiites would reject efforts to weaken the federalism embodied by the charter, approved in an October referendum.A key Sunni demand is weaker federalism and a stronger central government. The constitution now gives most power – including control over oil profits – to provincial governments. The Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north control nearly all of Iraq’s oil.To win their support, Sunni Arabs were promised they could propose amendments to the constitution in the first four months of the new parliament.But, al-Hakim said: “We do not accept any change in the essence of the constitution. There are forces working to change the constitution, we will stand in the face of those who want to change the essence of the constitution.””We have a group of established principles which we will never give up. Any coalition should be based on these principles,” he said. “The first principle is not to change the essence of the constitution. This constitution was endorsed by the Iraqi people.”There was limited violence Wednesday.Gunmen killed four people, including a former senior member of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party, near Mosul. Jemal Kheder A’bdal was shot near his home, police said. A roadside bomb killed two policemen outside Samarra, north of Baghdad. The U.S. military said seven bodies “with evidence of torture” were found at a sewage plant.”Terrorism is more dangerous than bird flu,” Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told Iraqi reporters. “It targets all, children, women, schools and the public market.”Health officials said measures were being taken to prevent bird flu from entering Iraq from neighboring Turkey, where at least 15 people have been confirmed infected with the deadly H5N1 strain and two have died.Doctors, veterinarians and other health ministry officials met Sunday in northern Iraq’s Kurdish enclave to discuss bird flu, the region’s minister of agriculture said.”A campaign will start on the borders of Turkey and Iran to prevent the importation of any kind of bird,” Shamal Abid Waffal said. “No living birds are allowed to be sold in the markets. Even the frozen birds are not allowed to be taken from one city to another without medical tests.”There have been no reported cases of bird flu in Iraq.”The situation is under control and even if any case of bird flu appears in Iraq, we can control it immediately,’ said Qassem Yahya Allawi, a spokesman for the health ministry.But it remained unclear what steps could be taken in violence-wracked Iraq should an outbreak occur.Iraq’s security forces, numbering about 214,000, are hard pressed fighting the insurgency. There are also about 160,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq with a multinational coalition.Capt. Peter Purrington, a surgeon with the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade, said the unit had the anti-viral drug Tamiflu available, but was not stockpiling it in case of a significant outbreak.In Geneva, WHO said a network of “focal points” had been set up across Iraq, with doctors responsible for surveillance and investigating any possible outbreak.WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said if there is a bird flu outbreak in Iraq, “it will be difficult, but we worked also in other war-torn countries.”Vail, Colorado
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