US investigates marine’s fate

The US military said it was “delighted” by the development – al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sunna denied a statement issued in its name, claiming it had carried out its threat to decapitate Lebanese-born Wassef Ali Hassoun, who has been missing since June 21.

“We were suspicious about the initial announcement. We were not convinced about the credibility of the information,” said a senior US military official.

Ansar Al-Sunna denied making the announcement but the fate of Hassoun remained a mystery as the group failed to confirm he was still alive.

In other developments in Iraq:

Violence continued as three people were killed in a foiled suicide car-bombing against an Iraqi national guard station in the town of Baquba

Neighbouring Iran and Syria have called for the rapid departure of foreign troops as Iraqi police said 11 Iraqis were injured by Polish soldiers who fired “indiscriminately” after an attack on one of their patrols. The statement was later rejected by the Poles.

Iraqi Government spokesman Gurgis Sada said the cabinet had approved an amnesty for some Iraqis who had played only minor roles in the insurgency.

As thousands of US soldiers stationed in Iraq celebrated US Independence Day, Democratic US presidential candidate John Kerry said more international assistance is needed for reconstruction efforts, including allowing foreign countries to enter the lucrative oil business.

The militant Shiite cleric whose uprising last April left hundreds dead has pledged to resist “oppression and occupation”, saying the interim Iraqi government is “illegitimate”.

Moqtada al-Sadr made the declaration in a statement distributed by his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, where his al-Mahdi militia battled American troops until a ceasefire last month.

“We pledge to the Iraqi people and the world to continue resisting oppression and occupation to our last drop of blood,” Sadr said. “Resistance is a legitimate right and not a crime to be punished.”

And in another development saboteurs attacked a strategic oil pipeline linking Iraq’s northern and southern fields, further cutting exports that were halved by a hole blown in another pipeline a day before.

The attacks on oil – Iraq’s economic lifeblood – undermine the new Iraqi Government’s attempt to bring about economic recovery and improve the poor living conditions that feed insurgency and political unrest.

An international oil company executive said the attackers had good intelligence.

“They seem to have access to maps and inside information about pumping. They do not want any body to do business in Iraq, and they are succeeding,” he said.

“This will only help oil prices stay high. We must not forget that there are regional powers that prefer seeing Iraqi supplies disrupted.”

Smoke rising hundreds of metres into the air from the pipeline hit in the Hawijat al-Fallujah area could be seen from Baghdad about 80 km to the northeast.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has vowed to defeat saboteurs who have stopped Iraqi oil exports several times this year.

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