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News Briefs

Iraqi Ayatollah Cautiously Acknowledges New Government

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s most powerful Shiite leader, acknowledged the new Iraqi government in a cautious statement Thursday in which he said he hoped it would prove its “competence and decency” but noted that the body had not been formed through legitimate elections.

Sistani also urged the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution that granted Iraqis full sovereignty and did not compromise the government’s power in political, military and security matters.

In addition, he insisted that the new government “seek the elimination of traces of occupation completely.”

In comments on Wednesday, the U.N. special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, said he had “kept in touch with” the ayatollah through the process of selecting the new Iraqi government but said he did not seek his approval for the new government.

One of the country’s Shiite parties, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, released a statement on Wednesday in which party leaders expressed “reservations” about the way in which it said the selection process for the new government had ended with the “marginalization and exclusion” of what it called popular Islamic leaders.

The American-led occupation authority plans to transfer sovereignty on June 30 to the Iraqi interim government, which took shape earlier this week. American officials have warned that violence in Iraq may well increase with the approach of the transfer.

NASA Weighs Robot Mission For Repairing Telescope

Four months after he seemed to doom the Hubble Space Telescope by ending maintenance missions by the space shuttle, NASA’s administrator, Sean O’Keefe, brought brighter news to astronomers on Tuesday by announcing that NASA was seeking proposals for a robotic mission to extend Hubble’s life.

The statement is a compromise between Hubble supporters who would like O’Keefe to reinstate the mission and the initial prospect that an otherwise still useful telescope would be left to die for want of a few parts. Left alone, the telescope will be able to operate for about three more years before the failure of gyroscopes would render it unable to point at the stars.

In a speech to scientists at a meeting here of the American Astronomical Society, O’Keefe stood firm in his decision to cancel the shuttle mission, but said: “Fortunately, there may be other options for extending Hubble’s useful work. Good options that are looking more promising as we’ve examined them more closely. Our confidence is growing that robots can do the job.”