Annan urges Iraqi reconciliation

U.N. chief makes push in a surprise first visit to Bagdad since invasion


BAGHDAD, IRAQ -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived unexpectedly in Iraq on his first visit since the invasion, calling for national reconciliation in the country.

Meanwhile, a Baathist Web site that had earlier reported the death of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the most senior Baathist leader still on the run, apologized yesterday and said that he was, in fact, still alive.

Annan referred to the need to curb violence - both in Iraq and neighboring Jordan, where suicide bombings Wednesday killed at least 57 people in three hotels in the capital, Amman. Al-Qaida in Iraq, which has carried out scores of attacks in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the bombings in Jordan.

"Even those who are at a distance feel the pain and the misery that is being inflicted on families and innocent civilians," Annan said. "This behavior, this terrorism, this brutal behavior is absolutely unacceptable."

United Nations operations in Iraq were scaled down sharply after a truck bomber attacked the world body's headquarters at the Canal Hotel on Aug. 19, 2003. The attack killed 23 people, including the top U.N. envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Annan said he had come to promote "reconciliation" ahead of Iraq's crucial election in December, one that could determine whether Iraq slides into civil war or manages to steer a course toward a more peaceful future. As Annan's schedule of meetings got under way, a car rigged with explosives detonated near a market in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, killing eight, police Lt. Col. Hassan Chaloub said.

"The idea is that reconciliation is absolutely essential in Iraq," said Annan, whose visit came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew to Baghdad bearing a similar message.

On the Baathist Web site, there was no immediate explanation for the contradictory statements, which left a question mark over the fate of al-Douri, 63, ranked as the King of Clubs in the most-wanted deck of cards issued by the U.S. military after the invasion.

The U.S. military and the Iraqi government said they had no information on the whereabouts or well-being of al-Douri, who is regarded as one of the top financiers and organizers of the Baathist wing of Iraq's insurgency.

The statement announcing that al-Douri had "made an appointment with his creator" was sent first to Agence France-Presse on Friday and then posted on a Baathist Web site early yesterday. In the evening, the statement was removed and a new one appeared declaring that "al-Douri is alive and well."

"We apologize to all brothers and sisters," the statement said. "We found out a little while ago from our brother Salah al-Mukhtar that this news has no truth at all and the mujahid [holy warrior] Izzat al-Douri is fine."

Al-Mukhtar is a former Iraqi envoy who runs the Web site on which Baathist statements are posted.

Liz Sly writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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