Iraq reinstates the death penalty

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, on Sunday, paid a surprise visit to the city which has seen a fourth consecutive night of clashes.

Visiting Najaf, a day after extending an olive branch to militia leader Moqtada Sadr’s by inviting him to run in upcoming elections, Mr Allawi made a fresh call for fighters to leave the holy city.

He said: “The outlaws have to lay down their weapons and leave the city’s holy sites including the Imam Ali shrine.”

But as clashes continued into a fifth day, Sadr vowed to fight the “occupation” of Najaf.

“I will defend Najaf until my last drop of blood,” he told a news conference in Najaf’s revered Imam Ali shrine, which has remained a militia stronghold since his spring uprising against foreign troops.

Iraqi police and Sadr’s Mehdi Army have been engaged in continuing and deadly skirmishes in Najaf.

The US military estimates that 500 militiamen are pitted against more than 5,000 US troops, Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard, who have pounded Mehdi positions since the militia twice attacked a police station on Thursday.

Faced with a persistent 16-month insurgency, the caretaker government has reinstated the death penalty for murderers, drug traffickers and those endangering national security.

Mass killings, strikes against vital infrastructure and biological weapons attacks would also be punishable by death, Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim said.

“Yesterday we announced an amnesty. Today the death penalty. Choose one of them,” said spokesman Gurgis Sada.

Capital punishment was legal under the former regime, and many Iraqis have demanded that Saddam Hussein, charged with committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, be executed.

In another development, an Iranian diplomat has been kidnapped in Iraq by Islamic militants.

A statement on Sunday by a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq said it had “detained” Fereydun Jahani “for stirring sectarian strife and for activities outside his diplomatic duties”.

On Monday Iraqi Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi confirmed the diplomat was “alive and well”.

“What we do know is that he is alive and well,” Kharazi said, adding, “we are working on this matter hour by hour.”

The kidnapping has strained relations between Iran and Iraq, after Tehran said it was not prepared to hold serious talks with the US-backed interim government.

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