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Rice: Syria Stirring Up Iraq Woes

In an angry indictment, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday broadened U.S. accusations that Syria was contributing to violent insurgencies in Iraq.

After a meeting with Iraq's planning minister, Barham Salih, Rice again accused Syria of supporting terror. To that she added an allegation that Syria may also be providing financial support for insurgents as well as "allowing its territory to be used to organize terrorist attacks against innocent Iraqis."

Her harsh contentions that Syria is stirring up trouble in Iraq came as thousands of Shiites stomped on American flags painted on roads outside mosques in a show of anger over the U.S. presence in Iraq, while Sunni leaders called Friday for a closure of places of worship to protest the sectarian violence many fear may erupt into civil war.

An American soldier was killed in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad, the military said. At least 1,628 U.S. military members have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In an effort to curb the daily violence, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he will travel to Damascus to appeal in person for the government to take stronger steps to block insurgents from entering Iraq via Syria. Al-Jaafari and American officials blame foreign fighters for plotting many of the attacks.

For months, the State Department has complained that Syria was not guarding its borders to prevent infiltration of fighters into Iraq. "We are concerned in particular about Syrian behavior on its own border," she said Friday.

In other recent developments:

  • The U.S. military condemned on Friday the publication of photographs showing Saddam Hussein in his prison cell, including of him only his underwear. Friday's publication in Britain's mass circulation tabloid newspaper, the Sun, has angered U.S. military officials, who launched an immediate investigation into who took and provided the photographs of the former Iraqi dictator. The paper splashed across its front page a photo of Saddam standing in his white underwear while folding what appeared to be brown pair of trousers.
  • Laura Bush is showing her independent side and contradicting the White House. Newsweek magazine should not be solely blamed for deadly protests in the Middle East, the first lady said Friday. And her husband should have been interrupted to be told about an airplane scare that sent her hurrying for cover in an underground bunker. Her candid remarks came at the outset of a trip to the Middle East.
  • Britain formally declined a request from the families of soldiers killed in Iraq for a public inquiry into the legality of the war there, a letter made public Friday showed. Lawyers for the Treasury wrote to the ten families' lawyers that their contention that the European Convention on Human Rights obliged the government to set up an independent inquiry was "fundamentally misconceived."
  • The U.S. Army suspended recruiting efforts Friday after reported excesses by recruiters trying to make up for a shortfall in new soldiers. The one-day suspension was to allow commanders to emphasize ethical conduct and "refocus our entire force on who we are as an institution," said Maj. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, the chief of Army recruiting, to reporters at the Pentagon. Army officials said the stand-down would affect almost all 7,500 recruiters at 1,700 stations around the United States. Rochelle said the daylong halt could cost the service access to 1,000 potential recruits.
  • A U.S soldier has been killed in a vehicle accident caused by roadside bomb attack north of Baghdad. A military statement says the soldier, from First Corps Support Command, was attacked during a patrol at about midnight Friday, 12 miles north of Baghdad. The soldier was evacuated to a nearby medical facility where he was pronounced dead.
  • Thousands of supporters of a radical Shiite cleric demonstrated against the U.S.-led occupation Friday, setting off a gun battle with a provincial governor's security guards. About 6,000 protesters, many waving Islam's holy book, the Quran, over their heads, demonstrated in Nasiriyah, Kufa and the holy Shiite city of Najaf, according to Associated Press reporters at the different scenes.
  • In Nasiriyah, al-Sadr supporters clashed with guards at the headquarters of Dhi Qar provincial governor, Aziz Abed Alwan. The fighting broke out before noon as about 2,000 members of al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Amy marched toward the cleric's local office, which is near the governor's headquarters. Armed men guarding the headquarters shot toward the crowd in an apparent bid to disperse it, prompting retaliatory fire from al-Sadr supporters. An official from Nasiriyah General Hospital, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said four policemen and four civilians were wounded. Another nine al-Sadr supporters were injured, said Sheik al-Khafaji, an official at al-Sadr's Nasiriyah office.
  • In the predominantly southern cities of Kufa and Najaf, al-Sadr followers painted American and Israeli flags on most streets near mosques before stepping on them. "Down, down Israel; down, down USA," chanted protesters following midday prayers at a Kufa mosque.
  • Rice said Syria was supporting Palestinian rejectionists who were trying to undercut cooperation with Israel on a projected withdrawal from Gaza.

    "This is a historic but difficult time, and neighbors must do everything that they can to support the process in Iraq," she said at a joint news conference with Salih.

    At the same time, Rice said the Bush administration would do "anything that we can" to support the Iraqi government.

    But she stressed that the United States was restricted to a supportive role since Iraq had a sovereign and democratically elected government.

    Rice went to Iraq last weekend and her deputy, Robert Zoellick, has been there twice recently.

    But Rice dismissed any suggestion the United States was taking a more hands-on approach in the affairs of the frail Iraqi government and deepening U.S. involvement in running the country.

    "These are decisions that Iraqis are taking," Rice said, "and I want to be very clear that this is an Iraqi process."

    Salih, meanwhile, said "undeniably, we have a challenging transition" from a country that long lacked democracy and freedom.

    "Possibly, one has to accept that there are difficulties in this transition," he said.

    But he said "it pales in comparison to what we had to endure under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein."

    Salih, a Kurdish leader and a favorite of the United States, said Saddam may be about to be placed on trial after 17 months in detention.

    The minister said the chief justice of the special tribunal in charge of prosecution in Baghdad had told him that "within the next few months Saddam Hussein could be brought before the court."

    After a long search, U.S. forces captured Saddam in December 2003 hiding in a concealed hole in the ground near his hometown of Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad.