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Monday, January 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Blair defends going into Iraq based on arms intelligence
LONDON Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted yesterday that he was right to take military action based on intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, even though no such weapons have been found.
It would have been "irresponsible not to have acted upon" prewar intelligence that Saddam's regime had weapons of mass destruction," Blair told the BBC.
"... There is something bizarre about the idea that Saddam had these weapons, got rid of them and then never disclosed the fact that he got rid of them," he said.
U.S. firm hired to operate Saddam's TV, radio network
WASHINGTON The Pentagon has awarded a $96 million contract to a U.S. communications-equipment maker to run Saddam Hussein's old television and radio network, now called al-Iraqiya, for the next 12 months.
Harris, based in Melbourne, Fla., also will operate the national newspaper formerly run by Saddam's son Udai, said Howard Lance, chairman of the company.
Under direction of another contractor, Science Applications International, the stations have not drawn viewers and listeners because their content was considered too pro-United States. The day before Saddam was captured last month, 30 Iraqi reporters and producers were fired, and the stations did not get the news of his arrest on the air for almost 24 hours.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, recently voiced concern about the U.S. media program in Iraq.
"We don't want U.S. taxpayers paying $100 million for some new Iraqi government over there to take over," Mark Helmke, a senior aide to Lugar, said last week. "The chairman wants to make sure that the new contract leads to an independent, free press."
Top Shiite cleric reiterates call for direct Iraq elections
The cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, insisted, as he has since November, on direct elections this year that would give the country's majority Shiite population a chance to flex its electoral muscle.
"The planned transitional assembly cannot represent the Iraqis in an ideal manner," he said in statement. "New problems will arise as a result of this that will only worsen the tensions in the political and security situation.
"The ideal mechanism ... is for elections, which a number of experts confirm can be held within coming months with an acceptable degree of credibility and transparency."
Most members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council consider it too early for elections; census figures are out of date and violence is endemic in central Iraq, the Sunni heartland.
Search renewed for missing flier whose jet crashed in 1991
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Military search crews have returned to the site where Navy pilot Michael Scott Speicher's fighter jet crashed almost 13 years ago, while captured Iraqi officials, including Saddam Hussein, are being questioned about the fate of the missing flier.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who has worked to get answers for Speicher's family and friends, said crews are actively looking for the Jacksonville man, whose plane went down Jan. 17, 1991, about 100 miles north of the Saudi Arabian border.
The FA-18 Hornet was the first jet shot down in the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq.
Some believe Speicher, 33, was killed when a surface-to-air missile knocked his fighter jet from the sky.
There was evidence, however, that he ejected from his damaged aircraft.
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