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Iraq

In historic trip to Iraq, Iranian envoy pledges secure border

By wire services
Published May 18, 2005

BAGHDAD - Iran's foreign minister made a historic trip to Baghdad on Tuesday, pledging to secure his country's borders to stop militants from entering Iraq and saying the "situation would have been much worse" if Tehran were actually supporting the insurgency as the United States has claimed.

Iranian envoy Kamal Kharrazi's trip was the highest-level visit by an official from any of Iraq's six neighboring countries since Saddam Hussein's ouster two years ago.

Kharrazi, who held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on a day of deepening sectarian violence, vowed that his country was committed to supporting Iraq's political and economic reconstruction and would do all it could to improve security conditions.

"We believe securing the borders between the two countries means security to the Islamic Republic of Iran," Kharrazi said.

Zebari said militants have infiltrated from Iran into Iraq "but we are not saying that they are approved by the Iranian government."

New British Defense Secretary John Reid also visited Iraq on Tuesday, traveling to Baghdad and Basra on his first foreign trip. The stream of visitors is aimed at shoring up the new Iraqi leadership caught in a surge of violence that has killed more than 470 people since the government was announced April 28.

Ties between neighboring Iraq and Iran improved after the ouster of Hussein, who led an eight-year war against Iran during the 1980s in which more than 1-million people died. Relations remained cool after that war, with Iran supporting anti-Hussein groups and the former Iraqi leader hosting the Mujahedeen Khalq, an Iranian militia that fought the Shiite religious regime in Tehran.

But since the U.S.-led invasion swept Hussein from power, Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim community has risen to power and worked to build close ties with Iran.

Iran, however, has been accused of supporting insurgents in Iraq to destabilize reconstruction efforts by the United States, which regards Tehran as a terror sponsor bent on producing nuclear weapons. Iran denies both claims.

The Iranian envoy's visit comes at a time of spiraling violence fueled by foreign extremists and rival groups of Sunnis and Shiites.

U.S. troops backed by helicopters battled scores of insurgents holed up in two houses in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. Mosul police commander Lt. Gen. Ahmad Mohammed Khalaf said 20 militants were killed when U.S. aircraft destroyed the buildings, but the American military said it was unaware of any casualties.

Three Islamic clerics - a Shiite and two Sunnis - were shot and killed in Baghdad, police said Tuesday, a day after Iraq's prime minister vowed to use an "iron fist" to end sectarian violence.

Another 17 Iraqis were killed Tuesday: two Iraqi officials in separate Baghdad driveby shootings, six truck drivers delivering supplies to U.S. forces north of the capital, a former member of Hussein's Baath Party and his three grown sons, three Mosul police officers and two soldiers in Baghdad.

An American soldier was killed and a second was wounded when a roadside bomb struck their patrol near Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. At least 1,622 U.S. military members have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Reservist convicted in prison scandal sentenced

FORT HOOD, Texas - An Army reservist who appeared in several of the most infamous abuse photos taken by guards at Abu Ghraib prison was sentenced Tuesday to six months in prison for her role in the scandal that rocked the U.S. military's image at home and abroad.

The sentence for Spc. Sabrina Harman came a day after she was convicted on six of the seven counts she faced for mistreating detainees at the Baghdad lockup in late 2003. She faced a maximum of five years in prison, though prosecutors asked the jury to give her three years.

With credit for time served, Harman's actual sentence will be just more than four months.

Harman, 27, of Lorton, Va., was the second U.S. soldier tried and convicted in the scandal.

During Tuesday's sentencing hearing, she tearfully apologized for mistreating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

"As a soldier and military police officer, I failed my duties and failed my mission to protect and defend," Harman said, her voice cracking.

Panel studies mishandling of oil-for-food program

UNITED NATIONS - A U.S. Senate subcommittee sought to tie together the complex threads of Saddam Hussein's manipulations under the U.N. oil-for-food program in a hearing Tuesday, detailing how illicit Iraqi oil was sold to peddle influence and made its way to market - sometimes in the United States.

The daylong hearing in Washington was reviewing three major reports from the subcommittee of the U.S. Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, which studied in great detail how Hussein made billions of dollars in illegal oil sales despite U.N. sanctions imposed in 1991 after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Committee investigators argue that politicians from France, Britain and Russia were involved, as was a Texas-based oil company, Bayoil. And often, the United States and other members of the U.N. Security Council looked the other way.

"On the one hand, the United States was at the U.N. trying to stop Iraq from imposing illegal surcharges on oil-for-food contacts," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said. "On the other hand, the U.S. ignored red flags that some U.S. companies might be paying those same illegal surcharges."

The oil-for-food program, which ran in 1996-2003, was designed to let Hussein's government sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods to help the Iraqi people cope with crippling U.N. sanctions.

But Hussein peddled influence by awarding favored politicians, journalists and others vouchers for oil that could then be resold at a profit.

He also smuggled oil to Turkey, Jordan and Syria outside the program, often with the explicit approval of the United States and the rest of the Security Council.

[Last modified May 18, 2005, 00:51:10]


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