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Allawi expands weapons buy-back in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Monday that a cash-for-arms program in Baghdad's Sadr City would be extended and expanded to other Iraqi cities.

He told Iraq's interim national council that a successful weapons handover could make it easier for the country to organize elections planned for January, and he suggested extending the program to the embattled city of Fallujah.

The weapons collection program got off to a slow start last week. It was extended past its original Friday deadline after the U.S. military said that only about 25 percent of estimated weapons had been turned in following a deal with rebel Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

U.S. officials said that the pace of weapons collection increased over the weekend, although they wouldn't say how many weapons had been turned in.

Meanwhile, in London, in a speech before the House of Commons, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the government is considering a U.S. request to redeploy some British troops from southern Iraq, where they currently are based.

He stressed that though his government received the request on Oct. 10, no decision has been made. Australia said it received a similar request but turned down the Americans.

"The U.S. request is for a limited number of U.K. ground forces to be made available to relieve U.S. forces to allow them in turn to participate in further operations elsewhere in Iraq to maintain the continuing pressure on terrorists," Hoon said.

He didn't say where the British troops would be deployed but said they wouldn't be in Fallujah—the center of the insurgent fighting—or in Baghdad.

But in Baghdad, many Iraqis said they would welcome the British presence as an alternative to the Americans, saying they believe the British have more experience and would treat them better.

"I think that the British have more experience, as they are an old colonial country, as they occupied Iraq, India and other countries," said Doraid Mohammed Ali, 31, who works in a fashion shop. "The news that we were hearing is that they are better than the Americans and they are doing a good job in Basra, but I didn't see it myself."

Hoon dismissed suggestions that the troop consideration was timed to coincide with the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 2.

"We want to make clear that the request is a military request, and although it is linked to elections, it is not linked to the U.S. elections, but with efforts to create the best possible security situation in which to hold the Iraq elections in January," Hoon said.

In Fallujah, the chief negotiator representing the city in peace talks was freed from detention Monday. U.S. officials held Sheik Khaled al-Jumeili for three days following the breakdown of talks with the Iraqi government and insurgents in the city. U.S. officials accused him of representing militants.

After his release in Fallujah, al-Jumeili said he would suspend his participation in the peace talks as a protest against his detention.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent David George contributed to this report.)


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.