Tense Standoffs In Baghdad

American Army soldiers arrest an Iraqi man demonstrating in central Baghdad, Oct. 7, 2003. About 2,000 former employees of the Iraqi intelligence service demanded pay and their old jobs back.
AP
Large portions of Baghdad were in turmoil Tuesday after attackers fired an explosive into the Foreign Ministry compound, former intelligence officers demanding back pay or jobs hurled paving stones at American forces and U.S. soldiers confronted a big demonstration of Shiite Muslims.

There were no known injuries in any of the incidents, but traffic in the center of the capital was at a near standstill. Streets around the Foreign Ministry and Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace — headquarters of the U.S.-lead Coalition Provisional Authority — were blocked by U.S. soldiers in armored vehicles and Iraqi police. The compounds are about a half-mile apart.

Witness Hussein Amin said the mortar shell or rocket-propelled grenade fired at the ministry compound landed near the office of Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and broke windows. Zebari was not there. Workers in the compound came streaming out and Iraqi guards fired rifles in the air.

Security was already tight in the palace area because of demonstration Tuesday by about 2,000 former employees of the Iraqi intelligence service who are demanding they get their old jobs back.

The intelligence officers have been protesting weekly to demand pay or jobs. After the protest, paving stones littered the street near the palace and the strands of concertina wire that provide security in the area had been flattened by the protesters.

In southwest Baghdad, U.S. soldiers in about 20 Humvees with two helicopters overhead confronted some 600 demonstrators at a Shiite Muslim mosque, with protesters claiming the Americans had illegally detained their imam. The military said it was checking on the arrest allegations.

In other developments:

  • Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with lawmakers from his ruling party Tuesday to rally support for dispatching Turkish soldiers to Iraq, a move intended to help U.S. operations there and mend ties with Washington. Government spokesman Cemil Cicek said a parliamentary vote could come as early as Tuesday.
  • House Republicans' $86.7 billion proposal for Iraq and Afghanistan includes money President Bush wants for an Iraqi witness protection program but drops funds he sought for that country's traffic police and ZIP codes.
  • A secret, unpublished section of the spending package was reported last week to include $600 million for the so-far fruitless weapons search. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. who chairs a key appropriations panel, says the amount is around what's been reported. But an aide said later the senator based his statement on news reports, not the legislation.
  • The single tube of botulinum found in an Iraqi scientist's home, which the British and U.S. governments cited as evidence of Iraqi intent to manufacture biological weapons, was hidden there ten years ago, Kay said Sunday.
  • The White House is highlighting areas where it says Iraq is moving ahead. Americans just back from reconstruction jobs in Iraq describe a country where schools and banks are open, courts are functioning and power stations are finally turning out enough electricity for the whole nation.
  • The United States said it would weigh suggested changes to its draft Security Council resolution, which has been criticized for not giving the United Nations a larger role in rebuilding postwar Iraq.

    The U.S. envoy said no further consultations were scheduled after Monday's meeting of the 15-member U.N. Security Council ended with little progress on bridging divisions over how and when to hand over power to the Iraqis.

    "We've reached a time to take a brief pause for everybody to digest what had been said and see how it affected our thinking," said John Negroponte, who is also the president of the council for October and schedules council meetings.

    Diplomats said the council spent Monday's session questioning the United States over the revised resolution — presented last week — that seeks to create a broad multinational force to secure Iraq. It also would give the United Nations a limited role in the transfer of power to the Iraqis after a popular government is elected in Baghdad.

    The United States presented the initial draft in August and brought back the revised version last week.

    The U.S. draft resolution on Iraq asks both the United Nations and the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to help the Governing Council adopt a constitution, hold elections and train civil servants. It endorses a step-by-step transfer of authority to an Iraqi interim administration but sets no timetable.

    The United States wants its hand-picked Iraqi Governing Council to adopt a constitution, hopefully within six months, then hold elections six months after that. Power would be relinquished only after an elected government is installed, according to the U.S. plan.

    U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week ruled out a U.N. political role as long as American and British forces are running Iraq. Annan wants the United States to hand over sovereignty within five months to an Iraqi provisional government.

    The tense confrontations Tuesday between soldiers and protesters echoes incidents over the weekend, when ex-soldiers rioted repeatedly outside a U.S. Army base in central Baghdad, demanding promised one-time payments of $40.

    Two protesters were killed in a Saturday incident when they were fired on by soldiers and Iraqi police. U.S. officials said Saturday was the last day of the payment program, and all eligible former soldiers had been paid.

    Similar disturbances were reported between ex-soldiers and British forces in Basra in the far south of the country over the weekend.

    North of Baghdad, in the important oil refining town of Baiji, remnants of the Fedayeen Saddam militia attack U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police for two days. One resident reportedly died after being shot in the crossfire. Two Turkish fuel tankers were hit with explosives and burned.

    A leader of the Iraqi resistance who met with a reporter from the Los Angeles Times claims the insurgence is getting stronger, gaining weapons and money. "The American Army will feel that Vietnam was just a playground by comparison," the man, calling himself "Commander A" said.