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« on: August 19, 2007, 05:04:58 PM »

 France offers U.S. symbol with Iraq trip

By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer 1 minute ago

BAGHDAD - France's foreign minister paid an unannounced and highly symbolic visit to Baghdad on Sunday the first by a senior French official since the war started and a gesture to the American effort in Iraq after years of icy relations over the U.S.-led invasion. Bernard Kouchner said Paris wanted to "turn the page" and look to the future.

A top American general, meanwhile, said Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard had 50 men training Shiite militiamen in remote camps south of Baghdad.

Kouchner said he was not in Iraq to offer initiatives or proposals but to listen to ideas on how his country might help stop the devastating violence.

"Now we are turning the page. There is a new perspective. We want to talk about the future. Democracy, integrity, sovereignty, reconciliation and stopping the killings. That's my deep aim," Kouchner said in English after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zebari.

"We hope that this visit will herald an increased level of engagement by France with Iraq, a level consistent with the activism of its foreign minister," Zebari said, pointing to Kouchner's humanitarian efforts as the former U.N. administrator for Kosovo and co-founder of the Nobel Prize-winning aid group Doctors Without Borders.

Kouchner drove from the airport in a heavily armored convoy, stopping first at the U.N. compound in the Green Zone at a memorial to victims of the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed U.N. special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 other people. The two men were friends.

Kouchner said he timed his arrival to mark the fourth anniversary of the attack.

Asked at a news conference if the France was now ready to help the Americans who are mired in Iraq, the top French diplomat demurred and said he was on a fact-finding mission.

"We are ready to be useful, but the solution is in the Iraqis hands, not in the French hands," he said, adding "I'm not frightened of the perspective of talking to the Americans."

Kouchner later met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite leader struggling to save his crumbling government, a government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

Kouchner's visit will doubtless be welcomed in Washington, where the Bush administration is facing a Sept. 15 deadline to report to Congress on progress in Iraq as a result of the infusion of 30,000 more U.S. troops in the first half of the year. American public opinion and congressional sentiment is running against the U.S. effort and there are many calls for a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.

Merely stepping onto Iraqi soil was a major symbol of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's efforts to end any lingering U.S.-French animosity over the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Former French President Jacques Chirac's refusal to back the U.S.-led military effort in Iraq led to a new low in France-U.S. ties. France was also vilified in U.S. public opinion, with some Americans boycotting French wines, and french fries taking on the name "freedom fries" in the House of Representatives cafeteria.

Chirac and President Bush eventually reconciled, but Sarkozy's election in May was a fresh start. Sarkozy, nicknamed "Sarko l'Americain" for his admiration of the United States' go-getter spirit, met with Bush before he was elected and again for a casual get-together a week ago at the seaside vacation home of Bush's parents in Kennebunkport, Maine.

In east Baghdad, a mortar barrage slammed into a mainly Shiite neighborhood, killing 12 and wounding 31, police said, and a major battle raged north of the capital where residents of a Shiite city were fighting what police said was a band of al-Qaida in Iraq gunmen.

Hussein Saadon, 56, an owner of a small minibus station, was soaked in blood after he drove four victims of the mortar attack to the hospital. "It fills me with pain and anger to see an attack on such poor area where is no presence of police nor army bases or checkpoints," he said.

Separately, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, whose mission is to block the flow of weapons and fighters into the Baghdad area, said his troops are tracking about 50 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps in their area the first detailed allegation that Iranians have been training fighters within Iraq's borders.

"We know they're here and we target them as well," he said, citing intelligence reports as evidence of their presence.

He declined to be more specific and said no Iranian forces have been arrested in his territory.

"We've got about 50 of those," he said, referring to the Iranian forces. "They go back and forth. There's a porous border."

The military has stepped up allegations against Iran in recent weeks, saying it supplies militants with arms and training to attack U.S. forces.

Iran denies the allegations and says it supports efforts to stop the violence.

The Bush administration is moving toward blacklisting Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a "terrorist" organization, subjecting at least part of the entity to financial sanctions, U.S. officials said this week.

A decision has been made in principle to name elements of the corps a "specially designated global terrorist" group, but internal discussions continue over whether it should cover the entire unit or only the Guard's Al-Quds force, the most elite and covert of Iran's military branches, which has equipped and trained Muslim fighters outside Iran's borders.

Lynch said Sunni and Shiite extremists have become increasingly aggressive this month, trying to influence the debate in Washington before a pivotal progress report on Iraq.

He singled out the Shiite extremists as being behind rising attacks using armor-piercing explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, which he said were largely assembled in Iraq from parts smuggled in from Iran. He also noted a marked increase in Iranian-rockets that have been increasingly effective against U.S. bases.

There has been an overall decrease in attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces, as well as civilians, south of Baghdad, but 46 percent of those were being carried out by Shiite extremists, Lynch said.

"The real difference now is we've got to spend as much time fighting the Shia extremists as Sunni extremists," he said.

France offers U.S. symbol with Iraq trip
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Shammu
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« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2007, 05:07:32 PM »


We can all use this as a good reminder, to pray for our men and women serving in the military.
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