Iraqi leaders hold first meeting on nation's future
Powell: No U.S. war plan for Iraq's neighbors
UR, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi opposition leaders and U.S. officials on Tuesday held the first of several meetings aimed at charting Iraq's future just days after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the regime of President Saddam Hussein.
Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite leaders gathered at an air base in the southern Iraqi town of Ur, near a 4,000-year-old ziggurat (observatory).
In what a U.S. official called the "first vote of the free Iraq," delegates decided to meet again in 10 days to discuss concrete proposals for building a post-Saddam government.
According to a 13-point statement released later by U.S. Central Command, delegates agreed to work toward a democratic, federal system "not based on communal identity" that will be "built on respect for diversity, including respect for the role of women." (U.S. statement)
The conference, however, was not without controversy.
Before the session, Shiite protesters in nearby Nasiriya vented their anger over possibly not having a voice in the debate. And several leading anti-Saddam groups, including the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, boycotted the gathering.
The Bush administration did not release the names of meeting invitees, but U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the conference a "fairly large gathering of individuals" who represent "the views of those who have been struggling outside as well as those who are now free inside" Iraq. (Full story)
Powell, who held a news conference in Washington Tuesday, also said the United States has concerns about two of Iraq's neighbors -- Syria and Iran -- but that "there is no war plan" to attack other countries.
The White House accuses Syria of producing chemical weapons, harboring senior members of Saddam's regime and supporting terrorism. (Full story)
Syrian officials have vehemently denied the allegations.
"It's not about whether the accusations are true or not," said Imad Moustapha, Syria's deputy ambassador to the United States.
"What they want to do is ... keep on repeating them day in, day out, every day, every day, and some people will eventually end up believing them."
Powell acknowledged the Bush administration had "concerns" with Syria as well as Iran. But he said there were no plans for another war.
"There is no list" of U.S. enemies in line for military action, Powell said. "There is no war plan right now to go attack someone else -- either for the purpose of overthrowing their leadership or for the purpose of imposing democratic values."
British Foreign Jack Straw on Tuesday also said Syria has "important questions" to answer. (Full story)
"Iraq was a unique case," Powell told reporters at the Foreign Press Center in Washington. "It wasn't just a matter of a dictator being there; it was a dictator terrorizing his people ... [and] beyond that, invading his neighbors, threatening the whole world with weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorist activities."
The focus of military activity in Iraq has begun to shift to locating senior members of Saddam's regime, searching key facilities and restoring order.
"Our victory in Iraq is certain, but it is not complete," President Bush said during a White House event Tuesday. "Centralized power of the dictator has ended. Yet in parts of Iraq, desperate and dangerous elements remain."
Meanwhile, U.S. military sources Tuesday stepped back from claims made a day earlier that coalition troops had found 11 mobile chemical and biological laboratories buried south of Baghdad.
The 11 cargo containers were filled with new laboratory equipment apparently intended to make conventional weapons, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Monte Gonzalez, the head of the team brought in to examine them.
• There were no reports of combat in Iraq Tuesday, but parts of the Iraqi capital remained unsettled nearly a week after Saddam's government collapsed, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said control of a few cities is contested. "Our forces are now going back to the smaller cities and towns they initially bypassed, to deal with any regime forces that may remain," Rumsfeld said.
• In northern Iraq, U.S. troops shut down a pipeline Rumsfeld said was supplying oil to Syria in violation of U.N. sanctions. "I cannot assure you that all illegal oil flowing from Iraq into Syria is shut off," Rumsfeld said. "I just hope it is."
• Washington has amended U.S. passport restrictions in Iraq, making it easier for humanitarian and other service workers to travel there to help the Iraqi people, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Tuesday. The decision affects those conducting U.S.-funded humanitarian activities, personnel of the United Nations, U.S. government workers or contractors on official assignment, and people conducting humanitarian activities subject to a specific license issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
• The former head of Saddam's feared Mukhabbarat intelligence service, Farouk Hijazi, is in the Syrian capital of Damascus, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Hijazi is suspected of involvement in the unsuccessful plot by Iraqi intelligence to kill former President George H.W. Bush in Kuwait in 1993.
• A U.S. Marine from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was shot and killed Monday night after being mistaken for an enemy soldier, U.S. Central Command said Tuesday. The incident is being investigated and the name of the Marine is being withheld pending notification of relatives.
• Bush spoke by telephone Tuesday with French President Jacques Chirac, the first conversation between the two leaders since the beginning of the war in Iraq. France adamantly opposed the military action. During the call, which Chirac initiated, the French president told Bush that he wanted to play a "pragmatic role in reconstruction events in Iraq," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. (Full story)
• About 30 Iraqi and world experts will meet at the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's headquarters in Paris, France, to evaluate the extent of looting in Iraqi museums and how to preserve Iraq's cultural heritage. U.S. Central Command acknowledged a "void in security," saying the U.S. military failed to anticipate "the riches of Iraq would be looted by the Iraqi people." (Full story)
• Doctors and nurses have begun returning to Baghdad hospitals not damaged by looters, an official with the International Committee of the Red Cross said Tuesday. Health-care workers could not get to hospitals during fighting in the Iraqi capital, and some facilities remain without electricity, running water and supplies.
• An Iraqi on the CIA payroll used a hidden video camera to tape a Nasiriya hospital, information that helped U.S. forces rescue wounded Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch on April 1, sources told CNN. The hospital also served as an Iraqi military post. (Full story)
• U.S. Special Forces found 80 SA-2 or SA-3 surface-to-air missiles hidden in a ravine in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said at Tuesday's Central Command briefing. The U.S. Army V Corps also found a weapons cache with 91 cases of TNT and plastic explosives, six homemade bombs and 23 cases of rocket-propelled grenades as well as 10 smaller caches of ammunition and weapons.
• Coalition forces will continue "direct-action" missions to search key facilities and locate senior members of Saddam's regime, Brooks said, adding that rewards will be offered for information leading to these officials' capture. Troops are also on the lookout for people looking to launch suicide attacks.
• After a night of coalition airstrikes and tank fire, a massive column of U.S. Army V Corps armored vehicles and troops, including the 4th Infantry Division, rolled into the Iraqi capital Tuesday. The Army units will take over from the Marines the duty of guarding Baghdad.
• U.S. Marines on Tuesday looked for "unauthorized weapons" and people "not friendly to the United States" in a search at a Baghdad hotel that is a home base for about 2,000 international journalists, military sources told CNN. (Full story)
• The FBI has arrested the son of a former Iraqi diplomat on espionage charges. Raed Rokan Al-Anbuke, the son of the former deputy permanent representative to the Iraqi Mission for the United Nations, is charged with acting "as an agent of the Iraqi Intelligence Service," a statement from the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York said. (Full story)
CNN Correspondents Christiane Amanpour, Jim Clancy, Michael Holmes, Tom Mintier, Nic Robertson and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.
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