Five killed in Iraqi Kurds, Islamists clash
TEHRAN: Iraqi Kurdish fighters have clashed with a shadowy armed Islamist group said to be linked to Al Qaeda in fighting which killed at least five people.
An official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) told Reuters from the breakaway enclave of northern Iraq on Monday a group of Ansar al-Islam fighters had attacked one of their checkpoints close to the border with Iran last week.
The Kurds say the group has links to Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network. But the PUK has said it rejected a US offer to help subdue the group by force.
“Three PUK peshmerga (fighters) were killed and the Ansar left two bodies behind,” the PUK official said. “Our commanders say a lot more of them were wounded or even killed, but they took the bodies with them.” The Kurds of northern Iraq broke away from Baghdad rule at the end of the 1991 Gulf War and two factions — thee PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party — have ruled the region since then, protected by UUS-led air patrols.
But the mountain region has been beset with instability and fighting between the main factions, plus attacks by smaller groups.
Now, facing the possibility of more turmoil if the United States decides to take military action to oust President Saddam Hussein, some 500 Ansar al-Islam fighters are a thorn in the Kurds’ side. The group controls mountains above the town of Halabja, the target of a 1988 chemical weapons attack against the Kurds by Saddam’s forces. The Ansar fighters are surrounded on three sides by the PUK with their backs against the border with Iran. —Reuters
Khamenei threatens to use ‘popular force’ against political gridlock
TEHRAN: Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei threatened Monday that he would resort to “popular force” in the event of deadlock between the reformist legislature and executive and the conservative-dominated judiciary, state television said.
“The day when the three branches of government are unable to settle major problems, the supreme guide will, if he deems it necessary, make popular force intervene,” the television quoted Khamenei as saying.
In recent weeks a longstanding gridlock between the branches has come to a head as the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami has sought to use its parliamentary majority to end the judiciary’s stranglehold over its legislative programme. But the last-ditch package of constitutional reforms is prey to veto by the same quasi-judicial watchdog bodies which have binned much of the rest of his reform programme. Khatami’s supporters have threatened to demand a popular referendum, but conservatives also retain control of the security forces, including the basij militia, which is said to number some seven million people. —AFP