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Deadly Month In Iraq

U.S. and Iraqi troops battled foreign fighters near the Syrian border and found the body of Anbar province's missing governor, the highest-ranking Iraqi official kidnapped since the fall of Saddam Hussein, authorities said.

Tuesday's announcement came as the Shiite-dominated parliament reached out to Iraq's disgruntled Sunni Arab minority by offering a role on the committee drafting a new constitution.

But in a development that could affect efforts to get Shiites and Sunnis working together, President Jalal Talabani said Saddam, a Sunni, could be put on trial in the next two months. The former dictator's lawyers said they knew nothing about that.

Foreign extremists are thought to be a small portion of the Sunni-dominated insurgency, although they are blamed for some of the worst bombings and other bloodshed that have killed 765 Iraqis in the month since the new government took power.

Officials said the body of Anbar Gov. Raja Nawaf Farhan al-Mahalawi was found Sunday after troops engaged in a fierce firefight with foreigners holed up in a house in Rawah, a desert village 175 miles northwest of Baghdad.

In other recent developments:

  • An Iraqi single-engine Comp Air 7SL aircraft crashed Monday near the village of Jalula, about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing the four Americans and the Iraqi pilot, said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Fred Wellman. The aircraft, one of seven used by the Iraqi air force for surveillance and personnel transport, had been heading for Jalula from a Kirkuk air base, the military said in a statement.
  • The U.N. Security Council extended the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq on Tuesday, saying it hopes Iraqi forces will soon be able to play a greater role and ultimately assume responsibility for their country's national security. In a unanimously approved statement, the council deplored the campaign of violence against civilians and Iraqi authorities, and re-emphasized earlier calls to member states to prevent the transit of terrorists into Iraq as well as the flow of arms and money to sustain them.
  • Another U.S. operation in the region ended Monday in nearby Haditha after scouring that town for insurgents and local allies of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.
  • U.S. President George W. Bush offered words of reassurance for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's government as it pursued an Iraqi military operation to root out extremists in Baghdad. "What you're seeing is a group of frustrated and desperate people who kill innocent life, and we obviously mourn the loss of every life, but I believe the Iraqi government is plenty capable of dealing with them," Bush said.
  • Iraq's insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi made an audio address to Osama bin Laden on Monday to assure the al Qaeda leader that al-Zarqawi was in good health after being wounded in a fire fight with U.S. troops in Iraq. Calling himself a soldier reporting to his commander, al-Zarqawi tells bin Laden he was only slightly injured in recent battle, denying what he called confusing media reports that he had been gravely wounded, reports CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier. There was no way to confirm that the voice was that of Jordanian-born terror leader al-Zarqawi.
  • Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Tuesday in an interview with CNN that authorities expected to put Saddam Hussein on trial in the next two months. Talabani said that "the court of Iraq will decide the future of Saddam Hussein" and that there was a strong public desire for him to be executed if convicted. CNN said Talabani had said the proceedings would start in the next two months. "Saddam Hussein is a war criminal," Talabani said, noting that he had committed "crimes against Iraqi people" in Kurdistan as well as Shiite areas of southern Iraq and in Baghdad. Noting that he was a lawyer, Talabani said in English that he would have to await the outcome of the trial process "but the Iraqi people from now are starting to ask for executing Saddam Hussein and for sentencing him for death."
  • Iraq's prime minister condemned the arrest of a top Sunni political leader by U.S. troops. The arrest of Abdul-Hamid, his three sons and four guards on Monday was also condemned by Iraq's president and prime minister plus the leaders of Shiite and Sunni Muslim groups. "We condemned as early as possible (the arrest of Abdul-Hamid) ... and from now on we will confront these matters so we can be sure they won't be repeated again in the future," Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told reporters Tuesday. The U.S. military acknowledged it had made a "mistake" by detaining Abdul-Hamid.

    The Baghdad crackdown, Operation Lightning, involves more than 40,000 soldiers. "We have so far achieved good results and rounded up a large number of saboteurs. Some are Iraqis and some are non-Iraqis," al-Jaafari said, but provided no details.

    The battle after which soldiers found the body of the Anbar Province governor killed two Syrians, an Algerian and a Jordanian and wounded two Saudis and a Moroccan, a U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Wes Hayes, said.

    "After questioning the wounded foreign fighters, coalition forces investigated the house and discovered (al-Mahalawi's) body, which had not been shot," Hayes said. An Iraqi government spokesman, Laith Kuba, said the governor apparently was killed by falling rubble. He was chained to a tank of propane.

    Al-Mahalawi was kidnapped May 10 during an offensive by U.S. Marines to clear foreign fighters from a stretch of desert along the border with Syria. His fate had been shrouded in mystery since an announcement by relatives and a government official that he had been released two weeks ago.

    In an effort to calm sectarian tensions worsened by the relentless insurgency, key lawmakers said Tuesday they wanted 13 Sunni Arabs to join a 55-member committee of legislators given the task of drafting Iraq's constitution by mid-August.

    The 13 Sunnis would not have a right to vote, because they were not elected to the 275-member National Assembly, but legislators sought to ease any concerns by offering assurances the panel would make decisions only by consensus.

    Although Sunni Arabs make up 15 percent to 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, there are just 17 Sunni Arabs in parliament, because most did not take part in the historic Jan. 30 election.

    Even though Shiite Arabs and Kurds form a strong overall majority, Sunni Arab support is needed for the constitution because a negative vote in three of Iraq's 18 provinces during a national referendum would block the charter and Sunni Arabs have big majorities in four of them.

    The influential Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the Sunni groups whose support was sought for the committee, said it was "unacceptable" for the 13 not to be able to vote. A spokesman, Abdul-Salam al-Kobeisi, said that would only fuel tensions.

    Another group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said it would wait until a Thursday meeting with committee leaders before making a decision.

    Committee member Khalid al-Atiyah said the 13 should represent provinces where Sunni Arabs have a majority, while chairman Hummam Hammoudi said they would also include tribal and other leaders.

    A comment by Talabani, a Kurd, that Saddam could be tried in two months might upset the delicate balance needed for the constitutional process to succeed.

    Talabani told CNN that Saddam committed crimes against the Kurds and others and "the Iraqi people from now are starting to ask for executing Saddam Hussein."

    Asked when the trial would begin, he said, "Within two months, I think."

    His comments were greeted with surprise from Saddam's lawyers. "I was not informed officially that they are speeding up the trial, but anyway I will check," attorney Khalil al-Dulaimi said.

    Saddam has been charged with crimes against humanity. He has been held at a special U.S.-run facility near Baghdad airport since American soldiers captured him in December 2003.

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