© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2003
VIENNA, Austria -- High levels of radioactivity are normal at Iraq's main nuclear research center, the U.N. nuclear agency said Friday, deflating speculation U.S. Marines might have found evidence of a weapons program at the site.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said he asked the United States to secure the Tuwaitha nuclear complex as a precaution. But ElBaradei said high radiation readings there were normal, suggesting the "off the charts" readings the Marines reported this week were nothing unusual.
"Until our inspectors return to Iraq, the U.S. has responsibility for maintaining security at this important storage facility," ElBaradei said, adding that he had received assurances from Washington the complex would be protected.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- President Vladimir Putin said Friday he welcomed the fall of Saddam Hussein, but called the U.S.-led war in Iraq illegitimate and a threat to international law.
Speaking after a summit with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac, Putin signaled Russia was ready to cooperate with U.S.-led coalition forces on reconstruction, saying Moscow would consider writing off Baghdad's debts. But Putin criticized the United States for failing to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which he said was the only justification for war.
"Even in the most acute moment of the fight for its survival, the Iraqi regime did not use such (weapons)," Putin said. "If in the last moment of its existence it did not use them, it means they do not exist."
Putin, Schroeder and Chirac said the United Nations should be given a leading role in Iraq.
"The task of restoring the political, economic and social system of Iraq is enormous," Chirac said. "Only the United Nations has the legitimacy to do that."
KUWAIT CITY -- A U.S. envoy will meet with more than 100 Iraqi opposition leaders next week in a first step toward forming a government that would take power after an interim period of U.S. administration, military officials said Friday.
The envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, who was instrumental in the series of conferences that produced an interim post-Taliban government in Afghanistan, will attempt a similar accomplishment with Iraq's fragmented opposition.
Capt. Frank Thorp of U.S. Central Command said a preliminary meeting was scheduled for Tuesday in Nasiriyah, Iraq, where Ahmad Chalabi, a prominent opponent of Saddam Hussein's regime, has spent the past week.
"This will allow initial discussions of the principles on which the future Iraqi self-government system could be based," Thorp said. "This is only the first step of many, many steps to be taken."
TEHRAN, Iran -- About 200 Iraqis stormed their embassy in the Iranian capital Friday, smashing photographs of Saddam Hussein and shouting against the missing Iraqi leader and the possibility the United States would run the government that replaces him.
Police said no Iraqi diplomats have been in the building in central Tehran since Thursday. About a dozen police were guarding the embassy Friday, too few to hold back the angry crowd.
"No Saddam! No U.S. puppet regime! We want freedom!" the crowd chanted as it smashed windows, furniture and portraits.
"We are destroying some properties at the embassy because they represent evil," said one of the Iraqis, Adibeh Tabrizi. "We will take care of the building and we will not damage it, but we are destroying any sign of the criminal regime."
Police reinforcements arrived 40 minutes later, sealed the compound and made about 60 arrests.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- The USS Portland, the first Navy ship to return from the war in Iraq, steamed into port Friday to patriotic music and throngs of people cheering in the fog and rain.
Hundreds of families clutching bouquets, American flags, cameras and umbrellas welcomed back the 320 sailors from a three-month mission to deliver equipment and about 300 Marines to Kuwait.
The Portland left Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base on Jan. 12 after crew members were given two days' notice they were deploying. The 553-foot ship returned early because a high-pressure turbine needed repair, the Navy said.
A Web site that pokes fun at Saddam Hussein's minister of information became such a hit its operators had to temporarily pull the plug Friday as they scrambled for more powerful computers.
To help pay for the upgrades, the site will sell T-shirts, mugs and barbecue aprons featuring choice quotes from Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who maintained with a straight face that Iraqi troops were routing the Americans even as U.S. tanks busted through Baghdad.
The site, WeLoveTheIraqiInformationMinister.com, features quotes and obviously doctored photos showing al-Sahhaf boasting of the Confederacy's successes during the Civil War and Darth Vader's victories in the Star Wars movies.