Iraqi president threatens a "very sharp sword" for insurgents
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iraq’s interim president issued a warning Monday to guerrillas who have killed hundreds of Iraqis, promising to use a “very sharp sword” against anyone threatening the country’s security.
The new Iraqi government has been discussing offering a limited amnesty to militants to put down the insurgency. But it has also been talking increasingly tough about those who keep carrying out attacks.
“Terrorism isn’t just killing and blowing up bombs; whoever threatens the ordinary life of the people is a terrorist,” President Ghazi al-Yawer told reporters. “We have a very sharp sword ready for anyone who threatens the security of this country.”
Al-Yawer’s words appeared carefully chosen, reflecting a classical Arab symbol of might in the sword and threatening militants, some of whom have beheaded hostages, with their own chosen weapon.
In a crackdown Monday night, dozens of Iraqi police fanned out in the capital’s Bab Alsheikh neighborhood, setting off small gunbattles in which one suspect was killed and two were wounded. Hundreds of people were detained. The operation targeted “criminals, kidnappers and looters,” said Hussein Ali Kamal, the deputy interior minister.
Meanwhile, insurgents holding a Filipino truck driver hostage said Monday they had moved him to the place where he would be killed if the Philippines did not agree to remove its troops from Iraq, according to a video and statement read on Al-Jazeera television.
Hostage-taking, car bombs, assassinations and other violence have hindered Iraq’s efforts to rebuild after sanctions and war. The attacks have killed scores of U.S. troops and hundreds of Iraqi civilians in the 15 months since Saddam Hussein’s ouster.
Diplomats moved Monday to help Iraq restore order, with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan choosing Pakistani diplomat Ashraf Jehangir Qazi as the new U.N. envoy to Iraq.
Qazi, the ambassador to Washington, will replace Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was among 22 people killed in the Aug. 19, 2003, bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
In Brussels, Belgium, the European Union foreign ministers pledged to help promote a stable democracy in Iraq by offering economic aid – as soon as security allowed. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari thanked the EU for being the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Iraq but called for more “direct assistance.”
Also Monday, Iraq and France restored diplomatic relations that were severed during the Gulf War. France’s new ambassador to Iraq, Bernard Bajolet, hoisted the French flag atop the embassy for the first time in 13 years.
Al-Yawer, whose post as president is largely ceremonial, said during a news conference that insurgents could no longer wage attacks under the guise of resistance to an occupying power, since the United States transferred sovereignty two weeks ago.
“The occupation is over now,” he said. “We want to tell anyone who wants to threaten the security of this country: ‘Enough.’ I say, ‘Enough. Stop.”‘
Al-Yawer, leader of the Shammar tribe, said the government planned to announce an amnesty soon, and he appealed to militants to seize the opportunity to lay down their weapons, or “there will be the sword.”
Al-Yawer spoke during a meeting with Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan and National Guard Brig. Gen. Muther al-Rashardi, where the men sought to reassure Iraqis they were trying to restore order.
But the new video of Filipino hostage Angelo dela Cruz underscored the continuing violence.
Dela Cruz pleaded with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to withdraw the country’s 51 troops before their scheduled Aug. 20 departure so he wouldn’t be killed, Al-Jazeera said. He also asked that his body be delivered to his country.
The militant group, the Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Waleed Corps, said it had done everything possible to prove it wanted to spare the life of the 46-year-old father of eight, adding that it had given him food and water.
The Philippines government said Monday the kidnappers had extended the deadline hanging over dela Cruz – which was to have expired Sunday night – until Tuesday night.
But the kidnappers’ statement said they were extending the deadline for 24 hours, until Monday night. The reason for the disparity was unclear.
A deadline for two other hostages – Bulgarian truck drivers held by a separate group demanding the release of all Iraqi detainees – expired Saturday morning.