Private security guards kill two Iraqi Christian women

BAGHDAD - Guards in a private security convoy opened fire on a car at an intersection in central Baghdad yesterday, killing two Christian women before speeding away, police said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said the Unity Resources Group, Australian-owned and based in Dubai, had apologized after guards in four SUVs fired on a car carrying the two women, killing them instantly.

Khalaf said the government and the company are investigating and that initial findings showed the guards fired 19 bullets after the car drifted too close to the convoy.

"They apologized and said they are ready to meet all the legal commitments," he said.

Unity Resources Group, which has operated in Iraq since 2004, employs security professionals from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Also yesterday:

_ In Washington, the State Department vowed to hold contractors accountable for delays and construction problems with the Vatican-size U.S. Embassy compound in Iraq, saying it would not pay for "a turkey."

The embassy was to be completed last month but now might not open for business until well into 2008. It will also cost nearly $150 million more than its original $600 million price tag.

_ And the Government Accountability Office reported that the Bush administration's program to help provide essential services to the Iraqi people is marred by a lack of "overarching direction" in Washington and corruption and a lack of skills in Iraq.

The congressional watchdog agency recommended that Congress require a new coordination plan before it approves the administration's request for hundreds of millions of dollars to help deliver essential services, such as oil and electricity.

_ Also, top Army leaders said they plan to add 74,000 soldiers by 2010, two years sooner than originally planned, to relieve the strain on forces stretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Britain's decision to bring half of its 5,000 soldiers home from Iraq by spring is the latest blow to the U.S.-led coalition. The alliance is crumbling, and fast: excluding Americans, the multinational force was once 50,000 strong - by mid-2008, it will be down to 7,000.

With an eye on Taiwan,

China promotes 4 generals

BEIJING - China has promoted at least four generals with experience in planning for war over Taiwan ahead of a major political meeting next week at which the Communist Party has said it will adopt a new strategy to stop the self-governing island from moving toward independence.

Experts say these appointments are not designed specifically to threaten Taiwan but are part of China's overall military development where a top priority is enforcing the mainland's claim of sovereignty over the island if necessary.

The president of Taiwan, Chen Shui-bian, has angered the mainland with his plan to hold a referendum on whether the island should rejoin the United Nations under the name of Taiwan rather than its official title, the Republic of China. Taiwan lost its United Nations seat to China in 1971.

Kurd eyed as terrorist

fights return to Iraq

OSLO, Norway - The founder of the Iraqi extremist group Ansar al-Islam appealed yesterday to Norway's Supreme Court to overturn an order to expel him from the Scandanavian country as a threat to national security.

Two lower courts had upheld a government order to expel Kurdish leader Mullah Krekar, a refugee in Norway since 1991. Norway's highest court will now review the grounds for the order, which also strips Krekar of his refugee status, visa rights and all related benefits. It also will assess whether he is a threat to national security.

Krekar, born Najm al-Din Faraj Ahmad, founded Ansar al-Islam which is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and others. The mostly Kurdish Sunni extremist group is tied to al Qaeda in Iraq and suspected in suicide bombings of coalition forces in Iraq.

_ In Istanbul yesterday, Turkey took a step toward cross-border military action in Iraq, as a council of the country's top political and military leaders issued a statement allowing troops to cross into Iraq to eliminate separatist Kurdish rebel camps in the mountainous northern region.

Turkey's move toward military action comes in the face of strong opposition by the United States, which is anxious to maintain peace in that area, one of the rare regions of stability in conflict-torn Iraq.

Catholic police chaplain

guilty in 'Dirty War' deaths

LA PLATA, Argentina - A Catholic priest accused in a series of deaths and kidnappings during Argentina's Dirty War was convicted yesterday and sentenced to life in prison.

Former police chaplain Christian von Wernich was found guilty of being a "co-participant" with police in seven homicides, 31 torture cases and 42 kidnappings during the 1976-83 military dictatorship.

Dozens of spectators cheered inside the packed courtroom including headscarved members of a rights group that has been trying for 30 years to learn the fate of sons and daughters who disappeared during a crackdown on dissent.

"At last, at last! My God, it's a conviction!" said Tati Almeyda, of the group, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. "We never thought we'd see this day. Justice has been served." *

-Daily News wire services