Offensive continues; leader asked to resign

By Associated press
Published October 3, 2005

QAIM, Iraq - U.S. troops battled insurgents holed up in houses and driving explosives-laden vehicles in a second town near the Syrian border Sunday, killing 28 in an expansion of their 2-day-old offensive chasing al-Qaida fighters along the Euphrates River valley, the military said.

The move into Karabilah widened the sweep launched a day earlier by 1,000 Marines, soldiers and sailors, starting with nearby Sadah, a tiny village about 8 miles from the Syrian border.

Most of the militants appeared to have slipped out of Sadah before the force moved in, and hundreds of the village's residents fled into Syria ahead of the assault.

There was "virtually no opposition" in Sadah, said the Marine commander in western Anbar province, Col. Stephen W. Davis.

At least 28 militants were killed in fighting Sunday, Davis said, bringing the two-day toll among insurgents to 36. There have been no serious U.S. casualties in the operation, he said.

Even as the fighting continued, political differences among Iraqi leaders deepened ahead of the crucial Oct. 15 national vote on a new constitution.

Iraq's Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, called on the Shiite prime minister to step down over accusations he is monopolizing power in the government and ignoring his Kurdish coalition partners' demands, a spokesman for Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said.

Talabani, who called for Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's resignation, has previously accused Jaafari's Shiite bloc of monopolizing power in the government and refusing to move ahead on a key issue for Kurds, the resettlement of Kurds in the northern city of Kirkuk.

He has made indirect threats to withdraw from the coalition if Kurdish demands are not met - a step that could bring down the government.

Jawad al-Maliki, a Shiite legislator and a leader in Jaafari's Dawaa party, denounced the call.

"They should have asked us for that in a legal way, and then we will have discussions," he said. "It is not beneficial for Iraq, especially during this period of time because the country is heading to a referendum and elections."

Sunni Arab leaders, meanwhile, cried foul when the Shiite-dominated Parliament passed new rulings on the referendum that will make it more difficult for Sunnis to defeat the constitution at the polls.

Previous rules stated that the constitution is defeated if two-thirds of voters in three provinces reject it, a threshold Sunnis are capable of meeting.

The Parliament's decision raised the bar: Two-thirds of registered voters must reject it, rather than two-thirds of those who actually cast ballots.

"The fraud has begun right from now," said Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni politician.