- BAGHDAD -- The new Iraq was
on a knife-edge last night as violence and political instability confronted
the regime of Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister.
- In Basra, a British soldier was killed yesterday and
several others wounded. Land Rovers were set on fire in clashes with the
militia of the Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr, which now controls city's major
- The world oil price climbed to a new high of $44.97 (£24.44)
a barrel as oil facilities were targeted by the same militia and Iraq stopped
pumping oil in its strategic southern oil fields.
- In the Shia holy city of Najaf there were fierce clashes
for a fifth day running between US soldiers and Sadr insurgents who have
vowed to fight to the death. The fighting has claimed 360 lives since Thursday,
according to the US military.
- In Baghdad a curfew was imposed on Sadr City because
of intense fighting between Sadr's militia and US forces, and in Baquba
seven people were killed and 17 wounded, including the assistant governor
of Diyala province, in a suicide car bomb attack as he left his house in
the village of Balad Ruz.
- Meanwhile, moves against Ahmed Chalabi, the man once
seen as the most likely prime minister of a post-Saddam Iraq, were denounced
as politically motivated. Mr Chalabi has been accused of counterfeiting,
while his nephew, Salem Chalabi, the head of the tribunal trying Saddam,
is wanted for murder.
- The crisis across the country was being met with a determined
new stand by Mr Allawi.
- His administration approved, in principle, attacks on
the compound containing the holy Shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, which the
US military yesterday said was being used as a base for attacks by insurgents
loyal to Sadr. Almost 4,000 US and Iraqi forces confronted about 2,000
militia dug in around and at the holy sites in the heart of Najaf, which
since Thursday has become the focal point of the new Iraqi state's efforts
to defeat a 15-month-old insurgency.
- The day after Mr Allawi warned on a visit to the city
that there would be "no negotiations or truce" with leaders of
the armed rebellion, an equally uncompromising Sadr declared: "I will
continue fighting. I will remain in Najaf until the last drop of my blood
has been spilled."
- Mr Allawi's government ordered a nightly, 14-hour curfew
in the mainly Shia Baghdad suburb of Sadr City, scene of repeated engagements
between US forces and gunmen loyal to the cleric since the fighting began
in Najaf last week.
- As US and Iraqi forces fought to clear sections of Najaf's
ancient cemetery of gunmen and weapons, seven Iraqi policemen were killed
when an early morning roadside bomb exploded close to the home of the Assistant
Governor of Diyala in a separate attack in the village of Balad Ruz, just
east of Baghdad. Hakil Hamid Barias was wounded and evacuated.
- A senior military official yesterday stood by the so-far
uncorroborated and contested death toll for the fighting in Najaf issued
by the US Marines last Friday and said that 360 insurgents had now been
killed since the fighting began. The official said that five US troops
and at least four Iraqi National Guardsmen had also been killed but gave
no estimate of possible civilian casualties.
- The official added that the governor of Najaf, Adnan
al-Zurufi who met Mr Allawi on Sunday, "has given us approval to conduct
operations in and around the [Imam Ali] shrine. We have elected at this
point not conduct operations there, although we are prepared to do so at
a moment's notice."
- He said that around 2,000 US Marines, supported by US
Calvary units and 1,800 Iraqi National Guards (ING) and police were now
massed at the city. The official said US and Iraqi forces had been moving
into the cemetery to clear an area but "as they pull back the Mehdi
militia will come back into the cemetery and continue to launch attacks.
The primary objective right now is to take additional ground from these
- The official insisted that by using the holy sites -
including the mosque at its heart - as a base, the insurgents had forfeited
the sites' protection under international law. Nevertheless according to
some military sources here, senior US officers remain highly aware of the
incalculable sensitivities that an all-out assault on the holy sites would
inflame, posing an acute dilemma on how to defeat the insurgents without
provoking an international storm of protest throughout the Muslim world.
- Meanwhile by some accounts, the growing projection of
Mr Allawi as a strong leader could yet be boosted by the arrest warrants
issued at the weekend against Mr Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National
Congress and the interim Prime Minister's long-time rival in the ranks
of opposition to Saddam Hussein, and Mr Chalabi's nephew Salem, the official
administering the tribunal due to try Saddam Hussein.
- Both men - who are not in Iraq at present - rejected
the charges. Ahmed Chalabi said that he "could easily prove that these
charges are untrue and I intend to defend myself and clear my name".
Salem Chalabi suggested that the charges had been "trumped up by Baathists"
anxious to undermine the trial of Saddam Hussein.
- © 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=549831