Monday, November 20, 2006

US/UK Occupation War Updates: Hussein Lawyers Hail Report on "Flawed Trial"; Death Tolls Mount

Monday November 20, 9:20 PM

Saddam lawyers hail report on 'flawed' trial

Saddam Hussein's defence team has welcomed a report by US-based Human Rights Watch that denounced his trial for crimes against humanity as fundamentally flawed, and called for international action to end the "farce."

"We are pleased with this report. It reiterated what we have said over and over again: This court is unjust and illegal," Saddam's lead Iraqi lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi told AFP on Monday.

"The court, in an unprecedented way, totally deprived us of our right to defend our clients," Dulaimi said.

Jordanian lawyer Ziad Najdawi, also a member of the team, echoed his remarks.

"This report was late but we are nevertheless happy that there are organisations who are aware of the truth and who have taken the side of justice," Najdawi told AFP.

"The report bolsters the position of the defence team and paves the way for international action to put an end to this farce and restore the trial to its right course," Najdawi said.

The 97-page HRW report charged that Saddam's trial over the killing of 148 Shiite villagers from Dujail after an attempt on his life there in 1982 "was marred by so many procedural and substantive flaws that the verdict is unsound".

Saddam and two of his seven co-defendants were sentenced to death by hanging on November 5.

"The proceedings in the Dujail trial were fundamentally unfair," said Nehal Bhuta, who wrote the report.

"The tribunal squandered an important opportunity to deliver credible justice to the people of Iraq. And its imposition of the death penalty after an unfair trial is indefensible," Bhuta added.

Saddam's lawyers urged the international community to emulate HRW and act in a bid to stop the Iraqi High Tribunal from sentencing to death Saddam.

"We urge all human rights group to follow the exemple of Human Rights Watch in condemning and denouncing this court and preventing the implementation of the verdict," Dulaimi said.

"I also call on world leaders, namely Arab leaders, to stop this unfair trial, not in order to save the life of Saddam Hussein but the lives of the Iraqi people and the future of this region," he said.

"The Iraqi government does not care about the interest of the Iraqi people, its only concern is to sentence Saddam to death as quickly as possible," Dulaimi added.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said he expects Saddam to be hanged before the end of the year, despite an appeal process legal experts have said could keep the toppled leader from the gallows for months.

Under Iraqi law, appeals are automatic in death sentence cases.

But Dulaimi told AFP the court has not provided yet the defence team with a written transcript of the verdict.

"We have repeatedly requested a copy of the verdict but so far we have not received it. This is a flagrant violation of our right to appeal and it is a deliberate act," he said.

In Baghdad, an Iraqi official close to the court said that the tribunal had forwarded its ruling to the appeal court on Sunday, setting the appeal process in motion.

The HRW report, based on 10 months of observation and dozens of interviews with judges and lawyers from both sides, echoed defence accusations of Iraqi government intervention.

The court "was undermined from the outset by Iraqi government actions that threatened the independence and perceived impartiality of the court," it said.

"Unless the Iraqi government allows experienced international judges and lawyers to participate directly, it's unlikely the court can fairly conduct other trials."

Saddam is currently also on trial on charges of genocide over the so-called Anfal campaign against the Kurds in the late 1980s that prosecutors say killed 182,000 civilians. AFP

Monday November 20, 10:13 PM

Syrian FM meets Maliki after calling for troop pullout

Syrian Foreign Minister Wallid Muallem, on a landmark visit to Baghdad, is holding talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki after calling for a withdrawal of foreign troops from the violence-wracked country.

Muallem's visit -- the first by a Syrian minister since the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003 -- came amid raging bloodshed that saw nearly 100 people killed across Iraq on Sunday.

In the biggest attack, 22 building workers were blown up by a suicide car bomber in the mainly Shiite city of Hilla south of Baghdad on Monday. Iraqi authorities claim the bomber was Syrian.

An official at Maliki's office said the two leaders were meeting inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. A range of issues, including US charges that Syria has failed to prevent militiants from crossing the border into Iraq to fuel the insurgency, were expected to be discussed.

US and British authorities have charged that Sunni insurgent groups receive aid from Syria to support the insurgency. The US military says Syrians make up the second largest group of foreign fighters entering Iraq after Egyptians.

Muallem was later set to meet President Jalal Talabani.

On the first day of his visit on Sunday, Muallem said that the key reason for the bloodshed was the presence of foreign troops, who have been in Iraq since the March 2003 US-led invasion.

After meeting his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari, he called for a timetable for a withdrawal of US-led troops saying it will help "stabilise Iraq".

Muallem also urged Iraqis to work to rebuild unity, saying Syria "will back the country's political process and is ready to offer all help required in maintaining the unity of Iraq".

Zebari said Muallem's visit would open "a new page in relations between the two countries", adding that Iraq expected "complete relations with Syria".

Earlier this month Muallem said Damascus was ready to engage in a "dialogue" with the United States in a bid to achieve stability in Iraq and the region.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently urged US President George W. Bush to involve Iraq's neighbours Syria and Iran in efforts to stabilise the country.

But violence continued unabated across Iraq.

Police recovered 14 corpses from the southern outskirts of Baghdad of men, reported to be Sunni Arabs, kidnapped, tortured and killed execution-style, a security source said.

He said the men were from the village of Arab Jubur and were "kidnapped last night as a retaliation" for car bombings in the largely Shiite Al-Mashtel neighbourhood of Baghdad on Sunday that left at least 10 people dead.

"We are expecting some more bodies as reports are that many Sunni Arabs were kidnapped from their homes in Arab Jubur last night by militiamen."

The kidnapping and killing was the latest example of tit-for-tat sectarian bloodletting that has left thousands dead in and around Baghdad since it was unleashed in February.

On Sunday another 45 corpses were found in Baghdad in similar conditions, while at least 54 people were killed in a series of attacks across Iraq.

In the deadliest bombing, a suicide car bomber posing as a contractor lured a group of building workers and then blew himself up in the centre of Hilla, killing 22.

The bomber was a Syrian, according to state television Al-Iraqiya, and was aided by two Egyptians and an Iraqi.

Also on Sunday, gunmen kidnapped Iraq's deputy health minister Ammar al-Assafar, a Shiite, from his home in a Sunni district of Baghdad.

His was the most high profile abduction since Sunni MP Taisheer al-Mashhadani was kidnapped on July 1, allegedly by Shiite militiamen. She was later released.

Assafar's seizure also comes after the kidnapping of five Westerners in southern Iraq on Thursday and the mass abduction of dozens of men from a Baghdad ministry building last week.

The British military said on Monday that security forces continued their hunt for the five Westerners -- four US citizens and an Austrian -- kidnapped by militiamen disguised as police near the Kuwaiti border as they escorted a vehicle convoy.

The US military announced the death of two more servicemen in Iraq, taking its losses since the invasion to 2,861, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures.

It also said that security forces raided a mosque in Baghdad's Shiite bastion of Sadr City which was allegedly used as a cell to kidnap and torture Iraqi civilians and soldiers. AFP

Tuesday November 21, 5:24 AM

Iraq president to visit Iran as another 78 killed

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is to fly to Iran this weekend for talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, aides said, as bombers and death squads claimed another 78 lives across Iraq.

"The president will go to Iran this weekend and meet the Iranian president. The two will discuss a range of issues including the current situation in Iraq," a source close to the president said.

An MP for the main Shiite bloc which leads the government confirmed that Talabani was scheduled to travel to Iran on Saturday.

"He is going to Iran because he was invited a long time ago by the Iranian president himself," Bassem Sharif said, referring to reports in the Iranian official media earlier this month of an impending visit.

Sharif added that there was a possibility that President Bashar al-Assad of Iran's regional ally Syria might join the Tehran talks, following a landmark visit to Baghdad this week by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

But Talabani's spokesman Hiwa Othman denied that such a summit was in the pipeline.

"There is no such three-way summit in Tehran and our president is looking forward to meet his Syrian counterpart in Damascus at some point of time," Othman told AFP.

But other government officials said that the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iraq and Syria, broken off more than a quarter of a century ago, was in the offing and that an announcement might be made before Muallem wraps up his visit Tuesday.

The ousted regime of Saddam Hussein broke off diplomatic relations with Syria in 1980 in protest at its support for Iran in its eight-year war with Iraq that broke out that year.

The talk of a meeting between Talabani and his Iranian and Syrian counterparts comes amid growing pressure on the US administration to review its coldshouldering of the two Iraqi neighbours.

Washington expressed scepticism Monday that the weekend talks would lead to progress on the ground.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said senior Iraqi and Iranian officials had met in the past, "and we haven't seen much by way of follow-up on it. The problem is not what they say, the problem is what they do," he said.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told Muallem that Iraq would not be a proxy battleground for Syria and the United States to settle their differences.

"If Syria or any other state has differences with the United States, it's their own business," Maliki told reporters during a joint news conference with Muallem, the first Syrian minister to visit Baghdad since the US-led invasion of 2003.

"It should settle these differences, but not at our cost."

Muallem denied Syria wanted to see instability grip its eastern neighbour.

"Danger to Iraq is danger for the entire region," he said.

Muallem's visit comes amid US charges that Syria has failed to prevent militants from crossing the border into Iraq to fuel the insurgency.

US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said that up to 70 foreign fighters were entering Iraq by crossing the Syrian border and 20 percent of those fighters captured in Iraq were Syrians.

On Sunday, Iraqi authorities announced that a suicide bomber who attacked building labourers in the Shiite city of Hilla just south of the capital and killed 22 people was a Syrian.

The violence continued unabated Monday with insurgents setting their sights on Iraq's beleaguered government.

A Shiite deputy health minister, Hakim al-Zamili, said he escaped an assassination bid in which gunmen killed two of his bodyguards.

Fellow Shiite official Mohammed Abbas al-Oraibi, a minister without portfolio, emerged unscathed from a roadside bombing against his convoy on the outskirts of the capital, one of his aides told AFP.

In other violence on Monday, 78 people were killed or found murdered, officials said.

Police said they found 60 bodies in and around Baghdad of men kidnapped, tortured and killed execution style in apparent sectarian attacks.

In rebel attacks at least 16 others were killed in shootings and bombings, including popular satirist and broadcaster Walid Hassan, whose weekly show "Caricature" on Iraq's Al-Sharqiya channel poked fun at the sectarian politics gripping the country.

Two more US servicemen died in Iraq, the military said, taking its losses since the invasion to 2,861, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures.

Monday November 20, 10:15 AM

Opponents criticise British spending in 'war on terror': report

British opposition parties have criticised the government for its spending in the so-called "war on terror", The Daily Telegraph has reported.

In addition to spending of around one billion pounds (1.89 billion dollars, 1.48 billion euros) in Afghanistan, where Britain has deployed 5,600 soldiers, and five billion pounds in Iraq, where there are around 7,100 British troops, the government has pledged nearly an extra billion pounds recently.

"Money that might have been spent on assisting the poorest countries has been squandered in illegal military action against Iraq," Menzies Campbell, the leader of Britain's third-largest political party, the Liberal Democrats, told the newspaper.

Blair, currently on a trip to Pakistan, on Sunday pledged to more than double British aid to Pakistan to support President Pervez Musharraf's "programme of enlightened moderation" to 480 million pounds over the next three years.

He is also expected, according to the Telegraph, to highlight on Monday the fact that Britain is pumping 500 million pounds into redeveloping Afghanistan.

Finally, finance minister Gordon Brown on a visit to Iraq on Saturday unveiled 100 million pounds of aid for the war-torn country over the next three years.

The figures may provide fresh ammunition for opponents of the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the wider "war on terror", just days after Blair's "slip of the tongue" in an interview on Iraq.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera's new English channel on Friday, interviewer David Frost suggested that the intervention in Iraq had "so far been pretty much of a disaster".

Blair agreed that it had before quickly explaining the reasons for the growing sectarian violence. His official spokesman said on Saturday that it was a "straightforward slip of the tongue".

The comments were seized on, however, by the British media and the anti-war opposition parties on the day that it emerged that one of Blair's ministers had reportedly said the Iraq war was his "biggest mistake in foreign affairs". AFP

Monday November 20, 11:41 PM

Blair says Afghanistan at heart of world security

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has put Afghanistan at the heart of the global "war on terror", telling British troops their desert battles here would decide the future of world security.

Blair held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the capital Kabul after flying into Britain's main base in volatile southern Afghanistan to underline the importance of the NATO-led force's fight against the Taliban.

"Here on this extraordinary piece of desert is where the future of world security in the early 21st century is going to be played out," Blair told several hundred troops at Camp Bastion in restive Helmand province on Monday.

Despite recent resistance from Taliban fighters in the south, which has cost 36 British lives this year, he said they would overcome through their "determination, courage and absolute will."

"When you defeat them, you are defeating them not just on behalf of the people of Afghanistan but our country, Britain, and the wider world," added Blair, who arrived in the cockpit of a Royal Air Force Hercules transport plane.

As troops in desert fatigues clamoured to have photographs taken with Blair, Sgt Chris Hunter from the Royal Marines told him: "I think a point that needs to be made back home is that the lads want to be here."

Blair was whisked to Kabul by the Hercules and then a US Air Force Black Hawk helicopter for talks with Hamid Karzai at his presidential palace, and recommitted Britain to the Afghan leader's reform and reconstruction programme.

"We came to Afghanistan because it was obvious that the problem in Afghanistan had become a problem for the world. We have got to stay committed for our own security, not just for the sake of the Afghan people," he told a joint news conference with Karzai.

But he increased the pressure on NATO members ahead of a summit in Latvia this month, urging allies to re-engage with Afghanistan by acknowledging the progress made since the Taliban were ousted by US-led forces in late 2001.

The Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

"Now is the right time to bring into sharp focus the need to stay with the Afghans as they make their journey to progress, and rediscover in ourselves the belief and vision that took us here and that should keep us here until the job is done."

Karzai highlighted progress in the conflict-scarred country's economy and said he was sure the international community would "stay with us until we are firmly on our own feet."

Asked whether NATO allies had lost focus because of the increased violence, Blair accepted that recent Taliban resistance had been stronger than expected over the summer but said Britain and the west were committed.

Blair praised the work of Karzai's government over the last five years and contrasted his visit Monday with his previous trip to Afghanistan in January 2002 when he met officials in a disused Russian airbase hangar.

The British commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), General David Richards, accepted that Taliban activity had increased earlier this year but said the tide had now turned against them.

"Today there is a different atmospheric about the place. We know the Taliban are concerned and we are on the rise," he said.

Blair's visit comes after a two-day trip to neighbouring Pakistan, where his talks with President Pervez Musharraf focused heavily on countering Islamic extremism and solving Afghanistan's problems.

Pakistan's military leader called for massive investment in development in Afghanistan along the lines of the US Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War Two.

Britain has about 5,500 troops in Afghanistan -- the second-largest contingent in the 37-nation, 31,000-strong ISAF force set up to bring stability to the troubled country and aid reconstruction.

Blair later flew back to Islamabad on a military plane before transferring to a chartered British Airways jet for the flight back to Britain.

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