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Security Council agrees to extend mandate for U.S.-led forces in Iraq

From wire reports

BAGHDAD, Iraq – 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

The 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.

The battle 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.

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.

The U.S. military said a Marine was killed Monday in a firefight near the restive city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

President 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 at a Rose Garden news conference.

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.

At the U.N., the Security Council approved extending the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force at the urging of Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who said Iraqi troops and police cannot yet defend the country against the insurgency.

“We in Iraq still face a destructive campaign of terror and violence that aims at derailing the political process and undoing the progress that has been achieved so far,” Zebari said.

A council resolution on June 8, 2004, authorized the force to stay in Iraq at the request of the interim government – but the former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, asked the council to review the mandate in a year, or at the request of the transitional government formed in late April following the Jan. 30 elections.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson said the U.S.-led force won’t leave “until the Iraqis can meet the serious security challenges they face.”

The multinational force has trained and equipped 165,000 Iraqi soldiers and police, but more needs to be done so Iraqi forces can take control of the country’s security and gain the confidence of the Iraqi people, she said.

In an effort to calm sectarian tensions worsened by the relentless insurgency, key Iraqi 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.

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