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Powell: U.S. forces to enter Iraqi 'no-go zones'

Plan would stabilize nation for January elections

Secretary of State Colin Powell on CNN's "Late Edition" on Sunday.
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U.S. warplanes and tanks target insurgents in Falluja.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military will move into insurgent-heavy "no-go zones" in Iraq to clear the way for legitimate elections in January, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday.

The Bush administration is hoping free elections will help stabilize the country and build a sense of legitimacy for the new government.

But administration officials have acknowledged that continued violence in many parts of the country could make voting dangerous or perhaps even impossible in some areas.

"Our goal is to move right through the fall season, improve security throughout the country, and have the elections as scheduled at the end of January of 2005," Powell said, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition."

"That's [interim Iraqi] Prime Minister [Ayad] Allawi's goal, and all of our efforts are being directed toward that end," he said.

"The major thrust of our political and military and diplomatic efforts over the next several months will be to make sure there are no no-go zones," he added. The "no-go zones" are largely avoided by U.S.-led forces.

Powell said the military is putting together plans to "return these zones to government control." (Full story)

Last week Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld commented, "Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great. Well, that's -- so be it. Nothing's perfect in life. So you have an election that's not quite perfect."

But Powell's deputy Richard Armitage later said Iraq elections must be "open to all citizens" and that partial elections were not being considered.

Iraqi general arrested

The man chosen to lead the Iraqi National Guard in a province in the so-called Sunni triangle has been arrested by U.S. forces on the suspicion that he has ties to insurgent fighters, a U.S. Army spokesman said.

Gen. Talib Abed Ghayib Najm was named to head the National Guard in the Diyala province just two weeks ago, and had not yet been confirmed by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, the spokesman for the U.S. Army's First Infantry Division said.

Najm was in U.S. custody Sunday.

Also on Sunday, two rockets landed in Baghdad's al-Karrada neighborhood near Kahraman Square, killing one person and wounding three others, an Interior Ministry official told CNN.

Col. Adnan Abdul Rahman said the explosion's impact also destroyed two cars and shattered windows of nearby shops.

On Saturday, seven people were killed and 10 injured following a U.S. military airstrike in Falluja, local hospital officials said.

The airstrike was aimed at the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi terror network, according to a multinational forces statement.

Al-Zarqawi is one of the most wanted terror suspects in Iraq.

"Intelligence sources indicated that approximately 10 terrorists were meeting at this location to plan operations targeting innocent Iraqi civilians and multinational forces," the statement said.

Earlier Saturday, seven Iraqis were killed in various military operations in Falluja as coalition forces carried out strikes against the al-Zarqawi network.

In a separate airstrike Saturday, coalition forces struck a "known terrorist meeting site" of the al-Zarqawi terror network in central Falluja, which intelligence sources said was used to carry out attacks against Iraqi citizens and multinational forces.

There was disputed information on casualties with coalition forces claiming no civilian injuries and local hospital officials claiming an undetermined number of civilians wounded.

U.S. officials said the strike was meant to deliver a blow to the terror network and was carried out in an area where there were few, if any, civilians.

Blair working to free Bigley

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Sunday his government was doing everything it "properly and legitimately" could to secure the release of a Briton taken hostage in Iraq.

But he warned against raising "false hopes" that kidnappers would free construction worker Kenneth Bigley, and gave no indication the government had shifted from its refusal to negotiate with the hostage takers.

Bigley, 62, and two American colleagues were kidnapped from their quarters in Baghdad on September 16. The two Americans have been killed by their captors. (Full story)

An Islamist Web site posted claims that Bigley had been killed, but the claims could not be verified and were discredited by British authorities. (Full story)

In another kidnapping incident, gunmen seized six Egyptian telecommunication workers Friday, Iraqi officials said. (Full story)

Other developments

  • Two car bombs struck an Iraqi National Guard base Sunday on a road between Falluja and Baghdad. Initial reports from the U.S. military said there were Iraqi and U.S. casualties, but details were not immediately known.
  • A U.S. soldier was sentenced to 25 years confinement for the murder of an Iraqi National Guard soldier in May, coalition military officials said in a news release Saturday. Spc. Federico Merida pleaded guilty and was also given a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank.

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