An explosion rocked the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad
on Thursday close to the building where Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki and visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were
holding a joint news conference.
According to some reporters who scrambled to the scene, a big
crater scarred the earth crater less than 50 meters away from the
The conference's live broadcast on al-Jazeera TV caught Ban
understandably taken aback and seemingly shocked by the blast as
small chips of debris floating down from the ceiling.
An Interior Ministry source confirmed the blast had come from a
mortar round that landed in the Green Zone, although casualties
Without commenting on the blast, Ban recovered his composure
quickly and fielded one further question before leaving the
meeting. Ban said during the conference that his meeting with
Maliki had been very good and pledged full UN support to the
The surprise visit by Ban came as more violence unfolded in
Iraq. Three US soldiers were reported killed as rival Shi'ite
gunmen clashed in Basra, Iraq's second city whose oil fields
provide much of the country's wealth.
US forces also revealed the capture of a senior aide to radical
anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr related to the killing of five
American soldiers in the holy city of Kerbala last January.
Ban's trip was the first to Iraq by a UN chief since his
predecessor, Kofi Annan, visited in November 2005. The United
Nations's Iraq operations have been severely curtailed following
the withdrawal of its international staffers in October 2003 after
its headquarters were attacked. The top UN envoy to Iraq, Sergio
Vieira de Mello, was among 22 people killed in the truck bombing in
Baghdad in August 2003.
An Iraqi government source revealed that talks between Ban and
Maliki would focus on the International Compact with Iraq that Ban
unveiled last week. The Compact is a five-year reconstruction plan,
touted by Ban as a "tool for unlocking Iraq's own potential".
The Compact, overseen by over 80 countries, lays out targets for
Iraq to hit over the next five years, including annual economic
goals. It further lists essential legislation the government should
pass by the end of 2007.
Contacts with insurgents
Officials in Washington are pushing for a political solution to
the sectarian violence devastating Iraq, reiterating the newest
US-backed security crackdown in Baghdad is only a temporary measure
to give the Iraqi government room to operate.
Saad Yousif al-Muttalibi, International Affairs Director at the
National Dialogue and Reconciliation Ministry, announced on
Thursday that the government was involved in talks with several
important Sunni insurgent groups that could lead to an alliance
aimed at ousting al-Qaeda from Iraq.
"We've already established links and contacts with major
insurgent groups," Muttalibi told the BBC in an interview.
The Iraqi government has previously maintained sporadic contacts
with insurgent groups in the past but the precondition that US
troops withdraw immediately has always capsized any attempt at
(China Daily via agencies, Xinhua News Agency March 23,