Peace effort falters in Najaf

Iraqi premier, U.S. officers hustled away after visit

Al-Sadr's militia renews attacks

New government seeking arrest of Chalabi, nephew

August 09, 2004|By Edmund Sanders and David Holley | Edmund Sanders and David Holley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NAJAF, Iraq -- Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and top U.S. military officials made an emergency visit to Najaf yesterday in hopes of ending the Shiite insurrection, but their efforts failed and they had to be hustled out of town amid renewed attacks by followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

After arriving on a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter and traveling through the holy city in a convoy of a dozen heavily armored vehicles, Allawi met with regional Iraqi officials and U.S. military commanders in the city center. He demanded that al-Sadr's fighters lay down their weapons, but his plea seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, the interim government issued arrest warrants on counterfeiting charges against former Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi and murder charges against his nephew Salem Chalabi, head of the country's special tribunal.

Ahmad Chalabi, a longtime opposition leader, was a Pentagon favorite in the years leading up to the Iraq war but fell out of favor this spring over allegations that his political faction gave flawed intelligence to U.S. agents and leaked U.S. secrets to Iran. Salem Chalabi has been in charge of the effort to try ousted President Saddam Hussein on war crimes charges.

Both Chalabis denied the charges, saying that they were politically motivated.

Spokesmen for the White House and the State Department said the charges were up to the Iraqis to deal with. Supporters such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz were not available for comment.

Elsewhere, militants claimed to have taken a top Iranian diplomat hostage. A videotape broadcast on an Arabic-language satellite station showed a bearded captive identified as Iran's consul in Karbala, in southern Iraq. The kidnappers accused him of inciting sectarian strife.

Violence continued in other cities as a suicide car bomb exploded northeast of Baghdad this morning in an apparent attempt to assassinate a deputy governor.

Officials said seven policemen were killed and the deputy governor, Aqil Hamid al-Adili, was slightly wounded. Qaiser Hamid, a hospital official in the area, said 13 others were injured.

In clashes yesterday between al-Sadr's supporters and Iraqi and U.S. forces in Baghdad, the Iraqi Health Ministry reported four dead and seven injured. Three others were injured yesterday evening when mortar shells hit a street near the Baghdad Hotel.

In Najaf, Allawi spent an hour at the governor's compound with Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. military officer in Iraq, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, head of the Marine Expeditionary Force, and Najaf Gov. Adnan Zurufi. Allawi urged U.S. and Iraqi security forces to crack down on al-Sadr's militia, and renewed his call for militia members to lay down their weapons and leave the city.

"There is no negotiation with any militia that bears arms against Iraq and the Iraqi people," Allawi told reporters.

Underscoring his get-tough stance, the Iraqi government announced yesterday that it would reinstate the death penalty, including for cases of terrorism. Under the new law, which is not yet in effect, capital punishment may be imposed for "kidnapping, premeditated murder, and murder in a savage way, drug crimes, robbery and stealing by using a weapon, and crimes that harm the national security of Iraq," said Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim.

Asked if the government planned to arrest al-Sadr, Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib, who was traveling with Allawi in Najaf, said, "We'll see."

As the talks continued, al-Sadr's Mahdi Army launched a bold daytime strike against the main Najaf police station, located a half-mile from the governor's compound.

Police called for U.S. assistance, which came in the form of Humvees, helicopters and mortar strikes. Allawi, Casey and Conway returned to a military base on the northern edge of the city and then to Baghdad.

The political turmoil in Iraq increased yesterday with the charges against the Chalabis. Ahmad Chalabi and Allawi have clashed as political rivals.

"I'm going to go back to confront those lies," Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, told CNN, speaking from Tehran, Iran. "There is no case here. I will go back to meet those charges head-on."

The warrant against Ahmad Chalabi reportedly accuses him of counterfeiting old Iraqi dinars. But he told CNN that he was working as head of the Governing Council's Finance Committee to try to stop the circulation of false currency, and that the counterfeit bills had been in the possession of the committee.

"All this was done under the auspices of the Finance Committee to stop the forgeries and to put a stop to the theft," he said. "Without a doubt, I'm being set up."

Word of the investigation against Salem Chalabi in connection with the killing of Haitham Fadhil, a Finance Ministry official who was investigating the Chalabi family, was first reported by the Los Angeles Times last week.

Fadhil, who was fatally shot May 28, had been preparing a report on reclaiming government-owned real estate. According to the source who spoke earlier with the Times, the document concluded that members of the Chalabi family and their political party had illegally seized hundreds of pieces of property after the U.S.-led invasion last year.

"The warrant for me has to do with the fact that apparently I threatened somebody. I have no recollection of ever meeting that person," Salem Chalabi told CNN. "But apparently I threatened somebody who subsequently was killed."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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