December 16 Events in Iraq
Washington. US asks United Nations to send more personnel to Iraq. The US has requested more UN staff in Iraq for the elections scheduled 30 January but Kofi Annan, who is in Washington, remains cautious. The campaign period has opened to more violence and the execution of an Italian national by an armed group.
Iyad Allawi and the US accuse Syria of sheltering fugitive ex-Ba'athists. Premier Iyad Allawi accused Syria of sheltering wanted men, loyalists of Saddam Hussein who are suspected of planning terrorist attacks in Iraq. Syria provides refuge to Hassib al-Rifaï, an ex-intelligence officer, as well as a certain Iyad Akache and (Hassan) Sabaawi, ex-intelligence chief under Saddam Hussein, said Mr. Allawi in an interview with al-Arabiya TV of Dubai. We have asked our Syrian brothers to turn over these wanted men because they are preparing to carry out acts of terrorism in Iraq., he added. General George Casey later repeated the claims and added that ex-Iraqi officials such as Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Hussein's number two man, direct and finance the insurrection in Iraq from Syria with impunity. Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Chaalane accused both Iran and Syria of fomenting violence in Iraq. Terrorists are financed and trained in Syria. Syria has strenuously denied the accusations, saying that the statements on the part of the USA and Iraq are completel baseless.
Amman. Saddam Hussein in good health, says lawyer. A lawyer for Saddam Hussein met with his client and reports that he is in good health, says the legal team defending the Iraq ex-President in a communiqué released in Amman. "One of the defense team's lawyers met with Saddam Hussein today in his prison cell., reads the communiqué, signed by spokesman Ziad al-Khassawanat. The International Committee of the Red Cross had refused to meet with the legal team, following accusations levelled by the team against the organization. At the end of November, the Red Cross had been accused of being a "tool" of the Americans. Meanwhile, Iraqi Justice Minister Malek Dohane al-Hassan has confirmed that the trial of Saddam Hussein would take place long after the elections scheduled for January 30.
Beit-Méry, Lebanon. Italian slain in Iraq was living in Lebanon. Salvatore Santoro, kidnapped and slain by the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Mujahedeen, had been living for several months in Beit-Méry, in a Christian town in the mountains east of Beirut. He was a mysterious person. He'd be around, then he'd disappear. He dressed like a hippy but he drove a metallic green Porche with Spanish plates. That's why we thought he was Spanish., " said one of his neighbors. He didn't work, he spent every morning at home. With his long hair and salt-and-pepper beard, he was very kind; he used to hand out chocolates to the children and he spoke excellent English., said another. Salvatore Santoro was at ease with everyone, spent hours at a café in the middle of that vacation town, and seemed like a man concerned with justice. He spoke about the end of the world with my father. He said he wanted to do justice unto the world and to eliminate poverty., said another neighbor. The landlord of his apartment, which he had rented for six months, said he tried to talk Santoro out of going to Iraq. I'm going on a mission to Iraq, Santoro insisted. The townspeople recognized his face in the video broadcast by Al Jazeera. According to the network, the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Mujahedeen killed Santoro after learning that he supported the Americans.
Koizumi's popularity declines. The popularity of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government has reached its lowest point since Koizumi took office in April 2001 because of the hostility of the Japanese public towards the decision to extend the deployment of Japan's military contingent in Iraq. According to a survey taken by the Jiji Press Agency, the government's approval rating fell to 36%. More than 90% of those surveyed said they were dissatisfied with Mr. Koizumi's justification to extend the deployment.
US trainers disappointed. A unnamed American instructor of Iraqi troops says trainers are disappointed by the shortcomings of their students. According to the source, the Iraqi National Guard are undisciplined, unconcerned about human rights violations, have difficulty using limited force and are likely to launch coup d'etat in the future.
Jordanian terrorist al Zarqawi and his network have been weakend by US military action but has not been "emasculated", says a US military official. General Lance Smith says al Zaraqawi's main lieutenants are no longer "operational." However it is recognized that Zarqawi is still able to get around the country, including Baghdad, and communicates with his lieutanents concerning suicide attacks. Meanwhile combat continues in Fallujah and prevents refugees from returning to their homes. Reconstruction is delayed.
19:44 Baghdad. US State Department says 13.9 million will vote. 13.9 million voters have registered to vote in the January 30 elections, says the US Department of State.
18:52 Baghdad. Al Khalissi: Foreign debt incurred by Saddam Hussein should be cancelled. Ayatollah Mahdi Al Khalissi, leader of the National Iraqi Foundation Congress, says foreign debt incurred under Saddam Hussein must be cancelled and not reduced. Al Khalissi insisted that at cancellation of 90% of the debt was not acceptable, because it would legitimize the contracts made by Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime.
17:11 London. Companion of Santoro says he converted to Islam. The companion of Salvatore Santoro, Madeleine Gerard, told journalists that Santoro had converted to Islam two years ago. He began reading the Koran, encouraged by a Lebanese woman with whom he was infatuated. He left London on Christmas 2000. Gerard says he became a religious fanatic and believed that God ordered him to care for Iraqi children.
17:08 Rome. Italian NGO association president confirms that Santoro was not an aid worker.
16:32 Latifiya, two Iraqi National Guardsmen killed. Rebels ambushed a National Guard vehicle, killing two and wounding three. The vehicle was on the Latifiya-Mahmudiya highway, south of Baghdad. The rebel commando escaped.
16:08 London. Executed Italian hostage, brother and companion talk to the press. Ciro Santoro says his brother, Salvatore, has resided in Spain for years and is very wealthy. Magdalene Gerard says she was Santoro's companion for 16 years.
15:40 Sueira. Ambush south of Baghdad, three policemen killed. Rebels opened fire on a police vehicle on the Baghdad-Basrah highway in Sueira, 50 km south of Baghdad. Three Basrah policemen were killed.
14:28 Karbala. Bomb kills 10. At least 10 are dead in a bombing in Karbala. The bomb went off in front of the offices of a consellor to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani at the tomb of Imam Ali. Eight civilians and two mosque guards were killed.
12:40 Baghdad. Kidnapped Italian photographed by Iraqi reporter. An Iraqi reporter took several pictures of Salvatore Santoro, as well as his passport, credit card and Lebanese residency permit.
12:00 Baghdad. Blast rocks downtown area. A column of smoke was seen rising from the site of an explosion in Baghdad. No reports of damage or casualties.
11:16 Baghdad. Iraqi tribunal prepares for trial of Saddam Hussein's lieutenants. An Iraqi special tribunal says that pre-trial hearings in the presence of international observers are underway for Saddam Hussein's lieutenants. Saddam is said to appear in court next week.
11:11 Baghdad. Message from Bin Laden. Tape of message from Bin Laden praises attack on US Consulate in Jeddah.
11:00 Baghdad. Santoro said to be kidnapped and slain at checkpoint on the highway between Baghdad and Ramadi.
10:23 Baghdad. Visa for Iraq delivered to slain Italian in Beirut. According to sources in Lebanon, Santoro arrived in that country after transiting Syria.
08:18 Baghdad. Telecommunications chief assassinated. A group of armed men has assassinated the director of the Iraqi State Postal and Telecommunications authority, Qassem Mihaoui, as well as his bodyguard.
08:04 Baghdad. Arab daily shuts down. The Arabic tabloid "Asharq al-Awsat" has closed down due to threats to its staff from unidentified individuals claiming to be Islamic resistance fighters. However the paper will continue to be published. According to Houda Jassem, the closing was decided after one of its reporters was kidnapped in front of his home and warned that the editorial offices would be blown up unless it retracted a story that Omar Hadid, a rebel leader, was related to Hamed Hadid, the al Jazeera Bureau Chief. Asharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned newspaper, had printed a story saying that intelligence sources had confirmed that al Jazeera Baghdad Bureau Chief Hamed Hadid was the brother of rebel leader Omar Hadid.