April 19, 2005 in Nation/World

Iraqis seek insurgents but find no hostages

Hadi Mizban Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Iraqi police watch a pipeline fire after an explosion near Beiji on Monday.
(Full-size photo)

Saddam ‘is a criminal’

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The largest political bloc in Iraq’s new government demanded the execution of Saddam Hussein if the ousted leader is convicted of war crimes, and said Monday that President Jalal Talabani should step down if he is not prepared to sign the death warrant.

“This is something that cannot be discussed at all,” said Ali al-Dabagh, a spokesman for the clergy-led United Iraqi Alliance, which holds 140 seats in Iraq’s 275-member National Assembly. “We feel he is a criminal. He is the No. 1 criminal in the world. He is a murderer.”

Talabani, a former Kurdish rebel leader, told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday that signing a death warrant for Saddam would be contrary to his beliefs as a human rights advocate and opponent of capital punishment.

Saddam and his top lieutenants will be tried before the Iraqi Special Tribunal established in late 2003. National security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie earlier said Saddam could go on trial by year’s end.

The death penalty was reintroduced in Iraq in August 2004 for crimes including murder, endangering national security and drug trafficking. It is meant to be temporary in the effort to stamp out the country’s insurgency.

Saddam was captured north of Baghdad in December 2003 and has been in custody with several of his top aides at a U.S.-guarded detention facility near Baghdad’s international airport.

He spends his days in a 10-by-13-foot cell and “seems to be enjoying himself” reading books, al-Rubaie said.

“He chooses every day books, from hundreds of choices – literature, fiction, not political stuff,” al-Rubaie said.

Saddam was allowed to watch a recording of the election of the presidency council, and continues to write what al-Rubaie called “rubbishy” poetry.

Associated Press

MADAIN, Iraq – Hundreds of Iraqi security forces launched an operation Monday to root out Sunni insurgents at the tip of Iraq’s “Triangle of Death,” finding weapons and car bombs but no hostages despite reports that up to 100 Shiites may have been seized.

In Baghdad, gunmen ambushed a senior Defense Ministry adviser as he drove home late Monday, killing him and his son, the Interior Ministry said. Officials identified the man as Maj. Gen. Adnan al-Qaraghulli.

Iraqi forces fanned through the dusty streets of Madain and took positions on rooftops in the town south of Baghdad, while Sunni leaders dismissed the reports of a hostage crisis as a hoax.

The U.S. military, whose forces only stood by in case they were needed, called the operation in Madain a significant step forward in the training of Iraqi forces, which is key to America’s exit strategy in the two-year-old war.

Madain is an agricultural town of about 1,000 families, evenly divided between Shiites and Sunnis, located at the northern edge of a region considered a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency. When an AP photographer joined hundreds of police entering the town Monday, they met no resistance and found no hostages.

“The city is now under full control,” interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s office said, adding that 10 suspected insurgents were arrested and large amounts of weapons seized.

National Security Minister Qassim Dawoud pledged Monday to “chase down terror everywhere” and said forces had discovered bomb-making equipment in Madain.

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