Russian Ambassador In Talks With Al-Sadr

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The Russian ambassador to Iraq yesterday flew to Najaf and started talks with leading Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who led the uprising against US forces in central Iraq last year.

Ambassador Vladimir Chamov was making the first ever visit by a Russian envoy to al-Sadr’s office.

Sheikh Jalil al-Nouri, an al-Sadr aide in Najaf, confirmed yesterday that talks had started.

Russia was opposed to the US-led war on Iraq.

Sadr’s aide added yesterday that a delegation of Sunni tribal leaders from the towns of Ramadi and Fallujah in al-Anbar province were expected to meet al-Sadr today.

Al-Nouri added that the meeting with the Russian envoy had nothing to do with al-Sadr’s talks with the delegation of Sunni tribal leaders from al-Anbar.

The cleric, who opposes the US-led occupation of Iraq, has been negotiating between Shia and Sunni groups that have accused each other of killing clerics from each other’s community.

Fallujah and Ramadi are centres of the insurgency in western Iraq.

Meanwhile, a car bomber struck a US military convoy in western Baghdad yesterday.

A senior US diplomat escaped unscathed, a US embassy spokesman said.

Earlier yesterday, a bomber detonated his vehicle near a US military patrol and an Iraqi police station in Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding five puppet Iraqi police, officials said.

Witnesses said a US army Humvee was on fire after the blast and said a US helicopter arrived to evacuate the wounded.

They said three US soldiers were evacuated, but the details could not be confirmed with the US military.

l A British national held without charge for more than eight months by UK forces in southern Iraq has won the right to challenge his detention.

Iraqi-born Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali al-Jedda, who lived in London after gaining asylum, is being held in Basra on suspicion of terrorist activity.

A High Court judge said the case raised ‘very important issues’ and there should be an urgent hearing.

Al-Jedda, 47, was originally seized by US forces and then passed on to the British.

His solicitors Public Interest Lawyers say human rights law is being flouted as he has been interned without charges.

Ministry of Defence lawyers did not oppose the judicial review application but submitted statements to the court claiming Al-Jedda is suspected of membership of a militant group that has launched bomb attacks and smuggled weapons.

The statements added however, there is not enough evidence to allow him to be tried in court.

Al-Jedda has denied all the allegations.

l Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the Taleban claimed responsibility for a bomb blast which struck a US military convoy outside the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, yesterday.

A Taleban spokesman said the bomber targeted three US vehicles and blew himself up in the Mirwais Mina area.

Eight US soldiers were killed in the explosion, the spokesman added.