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News Briefs

A Complicated Hunt for the Billions Saddam Reportedly Stole


In an era when huge sums of money zip around the globe electronically, Saddam Hussein and members of his government were old-fashioned. They liked cash.

Treasury officials said this week that relatives of Saddam stole nearly $1 billion in currency from Iraq’s central bank shortly before the war, and federal authorities and investigators are focusing on Syria and Jordan, which they say have long been conduits for government funds that Saddam moved secretly out of Iraq.

Syria and Jordan are drawing special scrutiny because both neighbors had extensive business dealings with Iraq, particularly in oil trading, which provided ample opportunities for Saddam to cloak funds. American officials charge that both countries turned a blind eye to the transfer of money by Saddam’s government, which violated U.N. Security Council sanctions, and investigators fear that political leaders and financiers in both nations are unlikely to cooperate with them now in the search for the funds.

Israeli Helicopters Attack And Kill A Hamas Leader In Gaza


Israeli attack helicopters fired missiles that killed a senior Hamas militant driving in Gaza City on Thursday. Three more Palestinians were killed in scattered violence, including one who blew himself up with a car bomb next to an Israeli tank in southern Gaza.

The bloodshed pointed to the challenges facing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who is scheduled to arrive Saturday for talks on putting the latest Middle East peace plan, called the road map, into effect.

The initiative says that Palestinians must halt attacks, and Israel is required to withdraw troops from Palestinian areas, but the fighting has not subsided since the plan was introduced last week.

“As long as the new Palestinian government does not take steps to stop terror, and it hasn’t taken any step until today to stop the terror, Israel will act,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in a taped interview that aired on Thursday night on Israeli television.

He was referring to the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, who took office last week. But Sharon also said he believed Abbas understood that “it is not possible to defeat Israel with terror. I see him as a partner.”

Around midday, a pair of Israeli helicopters fired the missiles that struck Eyad al-Beik, 30, a leading Hamas figure.

U.S. Warns Iran on Nuclear Weapons


The Bush administration on Thursday ratcheted up its verbal assault on Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program as officials prepared to seek international condemnation before a U.N. agency that oversees atomic energy programs.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed that the administration is pushing for a resolution before the U.N.-affiliated International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which oversees the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Last year, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a leading dissident group, presented what it said was evidence that Iran was building a facility for enriching uranium at Natanz, in the south of the country. With assistance from Russia, Iran built a nuclear reactor in the Persian Gulf city of Bushehr.

“The United States has made clear to the International Atomic Energy Agency, to other governments, and to the public that we strongly support a rigorous examination of Iran’s nuclear activities,” Boucher said.