Iraq Cleric: No Election Stalling

carosuel, Dorm Room Diet, a book by Daphne Oz
A leading Shiite member of Iraq's Governing Council on Sunday demanded no more "stalling" on arranging for elections to rule this country once the U.S.-led occupation ends June 30.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army announced the arrest of two Iraqi policemen for alleged links to the insurgency.

A roadside bomb Sunday killed an Iraqi near Mosul. A bomb south of Fallujah exploded Sunday as a U.S. Army convoy was passing, witnesses said, but there was no report from the U.S. command on casualties.

In Tokyo, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said a report on the recent U.N. mission to Iraq would be released Monday in New York with the group's findings on ways to establish an Iraqi government to take power from the U.S.-run coalition at the end of June.

Annan said last week that the mission concluded that Shiite demands for elections to choose a provisional legislature before June 30 were impossible. However, Annan did not outline any alternatives for choosing the new leadership.

The United States had wanted legislators chosen by 18 regional caucuses, an idea which has lost support among Iraqis. With the caucus plan virtually dead, the Americans now prefer to hand power to an expanded and reformed Governing Council.

In other developments:

  • Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday guerrilla attacks in Iraq suggest insurgents are trying to create strife among Iraqis to frustrate U.S. interests there, but it's not working. Some attacks aim to foster interethnic and inter-religious conflict, others are strikes against new security services, with the apparent aim of dissuading Iraqis from joining.
  • The international Red Cross visited Saddam Hussein in jail for the first time, and the ousted dictator wrote a letter to his family that will be delivered once the United States confirms it does not contain any hidden messages to his followers. "Having declared Saddam Hussein to be a prisoner of war, the Pentagon is complying with the Third Geneva Convention by allowing the International Red Cross to visit him," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk.
  • One Iraqi translator was killed and at least four U.S. troops were wounded Saturday in one of several scattered incidents in central Iraq.
  • Al Qaeda was behind last year's assassination of a leading Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqr al-Hakim, his brother said in remarks published Saturday. Al Qaada "wants to ignite sectarian conflict," Abdel Aziz al-Hakim told the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat in an interview. "We (in the Iraqi Governing Council) have intelligence proving that they are heading in this direction." Ayatollah al-Hakim was the leader of the largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. He was killed by a car bomb as he left a mosque in the city of Najaf on Aug. 31. The blast killed 124 other people. Abdel Aziz al-Hakim now leads SCIRI and is a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council.
  • The New York Times reports in its Saturday editions that the most active terrorist network inside Iraq appears to be operating mostly apart from Al Qaeda. The newspaper cites senior American officials as saying trhere ;may be a significant divide between the groups.
  • Saturday's Times also says the CIA has acknowledged that it didn't give the U.N. information about 21 of the 105 sites in Iraq singled out by American intelligence before the war as the most highly suspected of housing illicit weapons. The newspaper points out that the acknowledgment, in a Jan. 20 letter to Senator Carl Levin (D, Mich), contradicts public statements before the war by top Bush administration officials.
  • About 150 troops left northern Japan for Kuwait on Saturday to join Japanese forces already engaged in a humanitarian mission to help rebuild Iraq. The departing troops were the largest ground contingent yet mobilized for a controversial operation that will involve 1,000 Japanese military personnel, including air and naval forces.
  • The death of a British weapons inspector was ruled a suicide by a judge who investigated the political storm over intelligence on Iraqi weapons. But some skeptics are questioning that verdict, arguing that it's unlikely government scientist David Kelly bled to death from a self-inflicted cut to his wrist.

    Some leading Shiite politicians are still insisting on early elections. But other key Shiite figures have signaled they might accept a limited delay in elections if the government that takes office June 30 has only limited powers and will arrange a national vote as soon as possible.

    In an interview broadcast Sunday by Al-Jazeera television, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite cleric and Governing Council member, said the coalition should have begun planning for elections months ago.

    Al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, wanted guarantees that "there'll be no more stalling as was the case in the past."

    There were about eight months. This was a good time when preparations for elections could have been made."

    Shiites, believed to comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, are anxious for a quick vote to transfer their numerical superiority into political power after decades of suppression by the Sunni Muslim minority. Sunnis fear a quick vote will further marginalize their community, closely identified with Saddam Hussein's regime.

    The Shiites fear that an appointed government might try to postpone elections indefinitely to keep itself in power.

    The United States is keen to meet the June 30 deadline to deprive the Democrats of an election issue in the November presidential election.

    However, the American blueprint was thrown into doubt when the country's most prominent Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, objected to U.S. plans to choose a new legislature in caucuses and instead demanded elections.

    The transfer of power will mean a formal end to the U.S.-led occupation, even though U.S. and international troops will remain in Iraq. But Washington hopes that a new Iraqi government will take the steam out of the insurgency once Iraqis regain control of their own country.

    On Sunday, the U.S. military announced that American soldiers had arrested a pair of Iraqi policemen suspected of membership in Saddam Hussein Fedayeen militia, the ousted dictator's private army. Fedayeen members are believed behind many of the attacks against U.S. soldiers.

    The two police officers were arrested Saturday, according to Maj. Josslyn Aberle, spokeswoman of the 4th Infantry Division. They were apprehended after two Iraqis believed to have orchestrated riots in Beiji in October surrendered and gave interrogators the names of the policemen.

    Elsewhere, insurgents in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, posted leaflets on walls around the town overnight announcing formation of an alternative Iraqi government..

    "All the powers of evil...won't be able to muffle the sounds of our guns," read the posters, which were dated Feb. 11 and distributed by a little known group called the Iraq Liberation Front.

    In Baghdad, a Sunni Muslim cleric, Sheik Dhamer al-Dhari, was killed by gunmen while walking near his mosque, the Association of Muslim Scholars said. Al-Dhari's half brother is secretary-general of the association, which issued a statement last week cautioning against hasty elections.

    His killing is seen as another sign of growing tensions between different religious and political groups in Iraq as they jostle for power and influence in the run up to the June 30 handover of power.