US soldier killed in Iraq, UN urged to return
( 2004-01-13 10:10) (Agencies)
A U.S. soldier was killed by a bomb in Baghdad on Monday and American forces shot dead seven armed looters, while Spain and the Iraqi Governing Council urged the United Nations to return to help Iraq.
"We would like (the United Nations) to have a real presence here," Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio, whose country sent troops to Iraq as part of U.S.-led forces, said in Baghdad.
The U.S. military said the soldier was killed when the bomb exploded beside a U.S. convoy in the capital. Two other soldiers were hurt. All three belonged to the U.S. 1st Armored Division.
The bombing brought to 343 the number of U.S. soldiers killed by hostile action in Iraq since American-led forces invaded in March to topple Saddam Hussein.
The U.S. military, which blames Saddam supporters and foreign Islamic militants for guerrilla attacks since Saddam was ousted in April, said its troops killed seven men in a gun battle with an armed gang trying to steal fuel from a pipeline.
The incident occurred near the town of Samarra in Iraq's so-called Sunni Muslim "triangle" where most of the guerrilla attacks occur. Saddam, a Sunni, had strongholds in the central area that includes Baghdad.
A U.S. military spokesman, Sergeant Robert Cargie, said the gang of about 40 had between 10 and 15 trucks. "Three fuel trucks and one transport truck were destroyed," he said.
FUEL SMUGGLING CAUSES SHORTAGES
U.S. Governor Paul Bremer's administration in Baghdad says rampant fuel smuggling has contributed to chronic shortages in a country endowed with the world's second-biggest oil reserves.
In Ramadi, another town in the Sunni triangle, U.S. soldiers shot and wounded six Iraqi civilians in response to a bomb attack on their convoy, residents said.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said after talks with Palacio the U.S.-backed Governing Council wanted the United Nations to help oversee the U.S. plan to hand sovereignty back to an Iraqi government by the end of June.
"We have called on the U.N. General Assembly and the Security Council to return to supervise and monitor...the constitutional and electoral process," Zebari said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said he still considers the security situation in Iraq too precarious to risk allowing staff to return.
In October, U.N. international staff were pulled out after two suicide bombings at its headquarters, one of which killed 22 people, and an upsurge in attacks against humanitarian targets.
IRAQIS TO MEET ANNAN
A Governing Council delegation is due to meet Annan in New York on January 19.
Under the U.S. plan, regional caucuses will select a transitional Iraqi assembly by the end of May and the assembly will select an interim government to take over sovereignty by the end of June. Full elections will follow in 2005.
Iraq's most senior Shi'ite Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has demanded the transitional assembly should be directly elected and warned of increased political tensions and violence if polls are not held within months.
Shi'ites make up the majority of Iraq's population and were repressed during Saddam's three decades of iron rule.
The U.S. plan is also running into problems over a pledge of autonomy to Kurds.
Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Sunni country that is concerned at the rising power of Shi'ites in southern Iraq, warned against any plan to split Iraq into ethnic Kurdish, Sunni or Shi'ite Muslim territories.
"The partitioning of Iraq...will have dangerous consequences on all of us," said Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal.
Washington has started moving fresh troops into Iraq through a U.S. air base in NATO-member Turkey and pulling out those who have completed their deployment, a Turkish official said.
Nearly all the some 123,000 U.S. troops in Iraq will be sent home by the end of May and replaced by 110,000 or more new ones.
A study published by the U.S. Army War College said the Iraq invasion was an "unnecessary preventive war of choice" that had robbed resources and attention from the more critical fight against al Qaeda in a hopeless U.S. quest for absolute security.
Pentagon officials said the study's author Jeffrey Record was entitled to his opinion, but reiterated U.S. President Bush's view Iraq was the "central front" in the war on terror.
Staff at the College, an academic institute run by the Army, produce analyzes of military and national security issues and are encouraged to take a critical look at policies.
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