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Signs of the Times for Fri, 31 Mar 2006

Compiled by Daily Star staff
Friday, March 31, 2006
Iran refused Thursday to comply with a UN Security Council demand to freeze uranium enrichment, defying a call by major world powers to curb its nuclear program or face isolation. Iran struck the defiant stance as foreign ministers of the Security Council's permanent members plus Germany met in Berlin to chart their next moves in the standoff.

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BBC News
Russia has warned it will not support any attempts to use force to resolve the stand-off over Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that "exclusively political methods should be used".

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By Joseph Cirincione
Posted March 27, 2006
I used to think that the Bush administration wasn't seriously considering a military strike on Iran, because it would only accelerate Iran's nuclear program. But what we're seeing and hearing on Iran today seems awfully familiar. That may be because some U.S. officials have already decided they want to hit Iran hard.

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Comment: This guy is living in a dream-world if he thinks any of his proposals for openness and putting the information on the table will ever happen under this administration. It is the most secretive in history, keeping everything under lock and key.

Cirincione just doesn't get the depth of the problem. Does it occur to him that fomenting strife between Sunni and Shi'ite in Iraq and promoting the idea that Iran is behind the Shi'ites could have been the strategy to justify war on Iran? How much of what has passed for "civil war" in Iraq has been the work of false flag operations meant to create that impression?

Iraq has been a set-up from the beginning. Yes, part of the story is that the oil dons in the Bush administration wanted to get their hands on Iraq's oil fields. But the other part of the story is that Irasel has had as its strategic obective for over twenty years the dismemberment of the Arab world. Chaos in the Middle East is their goal.

By Edward Wong The New York Times
MARCH 30, 2006
In the face of growing pressure from the Bush administration for him to step down, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari of Iraq on Wednesday vigorously asserted his right to stay in office and warned the Americans against undue interference in Iraq's political process.

Jaafari also defended his recent political alliance with the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, now the prime minister's most powerful backer, saying in an interview that Sadr and his thousands-strong militia were a fact of life in Iraq and needed to be accepted into mainstream politics.

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Fri Mar 31, 2006 08:36 AM ET
By Mariam Karouny
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A leading Iraqi Shi'ite cleric on Friday demanded the United States sack its envoy, heading a push for a unity government, accusing him of siding with fellow Sunni Muslims in the sectarian conflict gripping the country.Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yacoubi's call at Friday prayers came as political leaders held their latest round of negotiations to form a new government, months after parliamentary elections in December, as sectarian bloodshed rises.

In a sermon read out at mosques for Friday prayers, Yacoubi said Washington had underestimated the conflict between Shi'ites and the once dominant Sunni Arab minority, which many fear threatens to trigger a civil war.

"By this, they are either misled by reports, which lack objectivity and credibility, submitted to the United States by their sectarian ambassador to Iraq ... or they are denying this fact," Yacoubi said in the message, later issued as a statement.

"It (the United States) should not yield to terrorist blackmail and should not be deluded or misled by spiteful sectarians. It should replace its ambassador to Iraq if it wants to protect itself from further failures."


After the imam of Baghdad's Rahman mosque read that line, worshippers chanted "Allahu Akbar" -- God is Greatest.

Iraq's political leaders held their latest round of talks on forming a new government on Friday, under mounting pressure at home and from the United States to form a government of national unity to end the sectarian violence and avert civil war.

Afghan-born ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the highest ranking Muslim in the U.S. administration has spearheaded urgent U.S. efforts to press politicians to agree on a government embracing Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds to avert a sectarian civil war.

The Shi'ite-Sunni bloodshed has worsened dramatically since a major Shi'ite shrine in the city of Samarra was bombed on February 22, sparking a wave of violence and poisoning the political atmosphere during the crucial negotiations.

Hundreds have died since and more than 30,000 people have fled their homes as Shi'ite and Sunni militias seek to cleanse their neighbourhoods.

Yacoubi is the spiritual guide for the Fadhila party, one of the smaller but still influential components of the dominant Islamist Alliance bloc. He is not part of the senior clerical council around Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf.

Nonetheless, Shi'ite politicians said his comments reflected widespread disenchantment among them with the ambassador.

"It's a very good statement," one senior official in the Alliance, not from Fadhila, said of Yacoubi's sermon.

Khalilzad, who has been in Iraq 10 months, has been criticised by Shi'ite leaders, who openly resent his championing of efforts to tempt Sunnis away from armed revolt into a coalition government.

Yacoubi said: "The American ambassador and the tyrants of the Arab states are giving political support to those parties who provide political cover for the terrorists."


Alliance leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim accused Khalilzad last month of provoking the Samarra bombing by making remarks critical of "sectarian" tendencies among the Shi'ite leadership.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has also criticised U.S. "interference" this week in Iraq's political process. Jaafari's nomination to a second term by the Alliance is a major sticking point in talks with Sunnis and ethnic Kurds on a government.

Shi'ite politicians say Khalilzad has delivered messages from U.S. President George W. Bush to both Hakim and Sistani in the past week urging them to drop Jaafari, whose nomination was secured with the support of Iranian-backed cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

U.S. diplomats deny taking sides in the issue.

Khalilzad is now planning talks with Iran, Washington's old enemy in the region, to try to ease the crisis in Iraq. The United States accuses Shi'ite Iran of fomenting violence.

Politicians have been debating how to form a new government since parliamentary elections in December, but appear to have made little real progress.

There is also haggling over a Sunni demand for a security veto and the issue of who gets what job remains wide open.

By Andy McSmith
The Indepedent
31 March 2006
Almost 6,700 Britons have needed hospital treatment in Iraq since the invasion three years ago - almost as many as the total number of British troops still stationed there. About 4,000 were sufficiently injured or ill to be sent home to Britain.

The figures include soldiers and civilians injured in accidents or taken ill, or who have suffered psychological problems, as well as those injured in fighting. They were posted on the Ministry of Defence website yesterday, on the day that MPs dispersed for their Easter break, after months of criticism directed at the Government for refusing to give details about the "forgotten" British casualties.

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