Accessibility links

US, Iraqi Troops Poised to Strike in Najaf - 2004-08-24

Iraqi forces in Najaf have taken up positions near the holy shrine that Shi'ite militants have occupied for nearly three weeks. Two Iraqi ministers escape assassination attempts in Baghdad. Iraqi insurgents have released an American journalist they held hostage but another group holding an Italian journalist has threatened to kill him if Italy does not pull out its troops. Correspondent Laurie Kassman sums up the day's events.

Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said that his troops are ready to attack if Moqtada al-Sadr's fighters do not give up and leave the holy Imam Ali Shrine in central Najaf. He said that the radical cleric faces death or prison if he does not surrender.

A spokesman for Moqtada al-Sadr says they are ready for negotiations to end the three-week-old crisis. But he accused the government of trying to trick them into surrendering. Previous efforts to find a compromise have ended in a stalemate.

Explosions continue to shake Najaf. Skirmishes between al-Sadr militants and U.S. and Iraqi forces have turned daily routines for Najaf residents into hazardous experiences. The toll of dead and wounded among the civilian population is rising every day.

Elsewhere in Iraq, the environment and education ministers narrowly escaped assassination attempts Tuesday morning in Baghdad but their bodyguards and a suicide bomber were killed in the two attacks.

In other news, the lawyer for an American soldier on trial for abusing Iraqi prisoners has called on the court to order top military intelligence commanders to testify.

Lawyer Paul Bergrin says his client, Sergeant Javal Davis, was just following orders while on duty at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. Mr. Bergrin says top ranking military intelligence officers condoned and encouraged the abuses.

"What I did in the courtroom is I proved that there were memorandums and visits from the highest level of the United States government in this case which condone, not condemn, the interrogation techniques that were used," he said.

An independent commission set up by the Pentagon supports that claim, saying responsibility goes higher than seven low-ranking soldiers now on trial.

"There was direct responsibility for those activities on the part of the commanders on the scene up to the brigade level because they did not adequately supervise what was going on at Abu Ghraib," said James Schlesinger, chairman of the special panel. "In addition, there was indirect responsibility at higher levels in that the weaknesses at Abu Ghraib were well known and that corrective action could have been taken and should have been taken. We believe there is personal and institutional responsibility right up the chain of command as far as Washington is concerned."

The sharply critical commission report calls the situation at Abu Ghraib prison chaotic. Still, the commission says the abuses, described as sadistic, were not policy but rather the freelance work of a few.