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Iraqi parliament returns from summer break

Parliament reconvened Tuesday after a monthlong summer break but took up none of the key benchmark legislation demanded by Washington ahead of a report to Congress on progress in Iraq. Meanwhile, an appeals court upheld death sentences imposed against “Chemical Ali” al-Majid and two other Saddam Hussein lieutenants.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Parliament reconvened Tuesday after a monthlong summer break but took up none of the key benchmark legislation demanded by Washington ahead of a report to Congress on progress in Iraq.

An appeals court, meanwhile, upheld death sentences imposed against “Chemical Ali” al-Majid and two other Saddam Hussein lieutenants convicted of crimes against humanity for their roles a massacre of Kurds, a judge said.

Al-Majid, Saddam’s cousin and former defense minister, gained the nickname “Chemical Ali” after poison gas attacks on Kurdish towns in the 1980s.

The Iraqi High Tribunal upheld his death sentence in a majority decision, as well as those of former defense minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, a former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces, appellate court judge Munir Hadad told The Associated Press. Under Iraqi law they must now be executed within the next 30 days.

Petraeus report looms
Parliament in July shrugged off calls from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to cancel or shorten the traditional summer pause, saying after putting the break off for a month that there was no point waiting any longer for the premier to deliver the legislation.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are due in Washington to report to Congress next week on progress in Iraq since the introduction of 30,000 more American troops, including whether advances are being made toward national reconciliation.

While parliament was in recess, al-Maliki tried to break the impasse with major Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders in a high-level meeting just over a week ago. It brought al-Maliki together fellow Shiite Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the head of the northern autonomous Kurdish region Massoud Barzani and President Jalal Talabani, who is also a Kurd.

They said they agreed in principle on some issues that the U.S. has set as benchmarks for progress, among them holding provincial elections, releasing prisoners held without charge and changing the law preventing many former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party from holding government jobs and elected office.

But no details were released and committees must hash out final versions of legislation to be presented to parliament. Iraqi officials have announced similar deals in the past, only to have them fall apart.

On Monday, however, al-Maliki said the de-Baathification draft law — one of the U.S.’s 18 benchmarks — was ready and would be soon be taken to parliament.

“I believe that the parliament ... will approve it,” he said.

The session opened with 158 members of 275 present — enough for a quorum, but deputy parliament speaker Khaled al-Attiyah told the AP that it has not yet received the de-Baathification draft law for discussion. He added, however, that he expects it will be received soon.

Still, he said he did not expect to parliament to begin discussing another key draft law — on oil revenue sharing — before mid-September. The measure has been in the hands of a constitutional committee for months and has not emerged in parliament for a vote.

Despite decree, militia attacks continue
Elsewhere Tuesday, the U.S. military said despite anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s declaration last week of a “freeze” on his Mahdi Army militia activities, there have been 11 attacks in Baghdad since Thursday.

“Among the 11 attacks attributed to criminal militia members are 107mm rocket attacks impacting coalition outposts and residential Baghdad neighborhoods, small arms attacks, the use of the deadly explosively formed projectiles, and one complex attack requiring detailed coordination and planning,” the military said.

In a separate statement, the military said it appears that many “honorable members” of the Mahdi Army are refraining from attacks but that breakaway elements were still fighting.

“A few attacks on coalition forces and innocent Iraqis have continued from areas clearly associated with militia extremists, involving weapons provided by Iran like explosively formed projectiles and rockets,” the military said. “Our assumption is that these groups are not honoring Sadr’s orders and thus will not be subject to the restraint we have observed for those who are responding to Sadr’s orders.”

The Iraqi news agency NINA reported that al-Sadr has told al-Maliki that if all detained Mahdi Army men are not released by Tuesday, he will “use all military and political means” in response.

Although al-Sadr’s main office in Najaf denied the report, Karbala Gov. Aqil al-Khazali said 55 people who had been detained during the violence a week ago had been found innocent and released.

Engineers kidnapped
To the south, downtown Basra was calm after British soldiers abandoned their last outpost there on Monday, leaving the country’s second-largest city largely in the hands of Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

The British base at the city’s airport, however, came under fire from some “light indirect fire” from mortars, but they caused no damage or injuries, said British spokesman Maj. Mike Shearer.

The U.S. military said that in a single raid on Monday, U.S. Special Forces and Iraqi soldiers had captured 46 al-Qaida in Iraq suspects in the northwestern city of Rabiah, breaking up a suspected terrorist cell.

“One of the targeted terrorists is believed to be linked to a brutal attack in Mosul that resulted in the death of seven Iraqi police, while another detainee is suspected of having financial ties with Syrian intelligence to support the insurgency,” the military said. The soldiers searched five buildings and confiscated bomb-making materials and a box of heavy machine-gun ammunition, among other items.

In eastern Baghdad, eight engineers and technicians from the Electricity Ministry were on their way out of town Monday to a training session when they were kidnapped by unknown gunmen, said Aziz Al-Shamari, the ministry’s director of media relations. A few hours later, their relatives identified their bullet-riddled bodies in a hospital, he said.