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U.S. Captures Palestinian Terrorist as Iraqis Plot Future

The United States hailed the capture of an infamous Palestinian terrorist near Baghdad, but coalition forces still have to find almost all of the fallen Iraqi regime’s top leaders.

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Abu Abbas planned the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

In a raid just south of Baghdad, special forces nabbed Abu Abbas, mastermind of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, the U.S. military said on Wednesday. Although Abbas has renounced violence for years, Washington said the arrest was further proof of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s ties to international terrorism.

Abbas was sentenced in absentia in Italy to life in prison for planning the hijacking of the Italian liner, during which an elderly American Jewish passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, was shot and pushed overboard in a wheelchair.

Only two out of 55 top Iraqi officials on a U.S. wanted list have so far been caught. Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusay, have disappeared, as have most of his aides. U.S. troops have discovered a maze of underground tunnels below the Iraqi capital that may have been used by the regime leaders to flee the coalition advance.

Shi'ites boycott conference

Diverse Iraqi groups meeting at a U.S.-sponsored conference on Tuesday pledged to work for a democratic and federal Iraq. But one of the country’s largest Shi’ite Muslim groups boycotted the event.

Around 80 Iraqis representing Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims, Kurds and even monarchists attended a gathering at a U.S. airbase 375 km (235 miles) southeast of Baghdad near the town of Nassiriya.

According to the Reuters news agency, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress (INC), which sent a representative to the meeting, said there was no formal vote but the meeting agreed a 13-point statement by consensus stating the future government of Iraq should be organized under a democratic, federal system after consultations across Iraq.

They also said the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein should be dissolved and agreed to hold another meeting in 10 days' time, where other Iraqi groups would be invited to begin deliberations on setting up an interim authority.

The conference was not attended by Iraq's largest Shi'ite opposition group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution.

"From the beginning, independence has been our manifesto," Abdelaziz Hakim told Reuters from Iran. "We don't accept a U.S. umbrella or anybody else's."

The exile group Iraqi National Congress sent only a minor official instead of its leader Ahmad Chalabi. Chalabi, though a favorite of many in the U.S. Pentagon despite being absent from the country for more than 20 years, has yet to win over many of his fellow countrymen.

Both British and American officials, led by the interim retired American general Jay Garner, said they wanted the transition of power into Iraqi hands to happen as quickly as possible.

Blair and Schröder meet

British Prime Minister Tony Blair met German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in Hanover on Tuesday evening for their first meeting since the U.S.-led war began on March 20. At a press conference, the two leaders tried to put their disagreement over Iraq behind them by urging for a central role for the United Nations in rebuilding the country.

Schröder und Blair treffen sich in Hannover

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Prime Minister Tony Blair

"It is time now to concentrate on the problems arising out of the new situation and to resolve those problems," said Schröder.

French President Jacques Chirac called U.S. President George Bush on Tuesday for the first time since before the war to say Paris would opt for a "pragmatic" role in the future after angering Bush by opposing military action against Iraq.

Schröder, Blair and Chirac will meet in Athens with other leaders on Wednesday to officially sign off on the eastward enlargement of the European Union. But the summit will likely be overshadowed by Iraq. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will also attend to push for a central U.N. role in the postwar reconstruction of the country.

Compiled by DW-WORLD staff with information from wire services.

Note: Information on troop movements, victims and damage estimates are based on information from parties involved in the war and cannot be independently verified.