Iraq Execution: Iraq's government says it has executed two close aides of former president Saddam Hussein for their roles in the killing of 148 Iraqi Shi'ites in the village of Dujail in 1982.
An Iraqi spokesman (Ali al-Dabbagh) confirmed that Saddam's half brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, and the former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, were hanged before dawn today (Monday).
Officials say Barzan's head was severed from his body during the hanging in what they called a "rare case" and an "act of God".
Barzan's son-in-law reacted angrily to the news in an interview with an Arabic television network (al-Jazeera). He cursed Iraqi Shi'ites with a sectarian insult and accused them of seeking revenge against Sunni Muslims.
The executions come two weeks after Saddam was hanged (December 30th) for the Dujail killings in a chaotic scene that has drawn international criticism.
Iraq Reaction: Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has criticized his government counterparts for going ahead with the executions of two of Saddam Hussein's former aides.
Hashimi, a Sunni Muslim, says the hangings undermine government efforts to promote reconciliation between Iraq's sectarian groups.
He told a British television network (Sky News) today that he hoped the lives of Saddam and his two aides could have been spared in order to encourage more participation in Iraq's political process.
In other reaction, a Russian news agency (Interfax) quotes the country's Foreign Ministry as saying the latest executions will not contribute to stability in Iraq.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says his government has asked the U.S. military to release five Iranians detained by American forces if they are found not guilty of aiding Iraq's insurgency.
Zebari says the Iranians detained last Thursday in the northern city of Irbil were working in a liaison office that provided consular services to residents. He says the office is being upgraded to a consulate.
The U.S. military says investigators have found that the detainees have ties to an Iranian Revolutionary Guards unit that provides weapons and training to militants in Iraq. Tehran says the five Iranians are diplomats engaged in legal activities.
Zebari said Sunday (on the U.S. television network CNN), any foreign intervention in Iraq aimed at killing Iraqis or helping insurgents should be stopped by Iraqi and coalition forces.
Bush – Iraq:
President Bush has acknowledged that his administration's decisions have contributed to instability in Iraq.
In an interview with the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes" broadcast Sunday, Mr. Bush said history will find ways the United States could have done things better in Iraq.
But Mr. Bush stood by his decision to remove former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush called Saddam "a significant source of instability."
Mr. Bush added that he believes the Iraqi people owe the American people a "huge debt of gratitude" and he believes most Iraqis are grateful U.S. forces removed Saddam.
In the interview, Mr. Bush also said failure in Iraq would empower Iran, calling the Islamic Republic "a significant threat to world peace."
He said U.S. forces would deal with any Iranians in Iraq that are found to be harming U.S. or Iraqi citizens.
US – Mieast:
Israeli media say U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have agreed to hold a three-way summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Secretary Rice and Mr. Olmert met today (Monday) in Jerusalem to discuss ways of reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
No details of the talks were formally released, but Israeli reports say the two agreed to meet Mr. Abbas in the near future. Mr. Olmert held his first formal meeting as Israeli leader with Mr. Abbas last month (on December 23rd).
Secretary Rice promised Mr. Abbas in a meeting on Sunday that the U.S. will deepen its efforts to advance the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Rice is due in Egypt today on the next stage of her regional tour, which will take her later to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. She also met with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman on Sunday.
ASEAN Summit: Leaders of 16 Asia-Pacific counsties have pledged to speed up economic intergration, and have called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapon programs.
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