Former guerrilla wins top job of African National Congress

POLOKWANE, South Africa - Jacob Zuma triumphed at the African National Congress yesterday, parlaying his popularity to win the governing party's top job and put him in line to become the country's next president.

His overwhelming victory - 2,329 votes to President Thabo Mbeki's 1,505 - came despite rape and corruption scandals that had threatened his political career.

Chaos and jubilation erupted as party officials announced the election of Zuma - a former guerrilla leader. Then he and Mbeki, both 65-year-old veterans of the ANC in exile, mounted the stage and embraced.

Zuma had rallied ANC members who wanted a change from Mbeki, who guided post-apartheid South Africa to sustained economic growth over the past few years, but has been accused of moving too slowly to lift millions out of poverty and being too aloof from the grass roots.

Mbeki is a foreign-educated academic who sprinkles his speeches with Shakespeare. Zuma had little formal schooling, was a leader of the exiled ANC's military wing, and, like former President Nelson Mandela, served time at the Robben Island prison.

After Turk raid, angry Kurd

refuses to meet with Condi

BAGHDAD - The president of Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government refused to meet yesterday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, charging that the United States had given Turkey the "green light" to attack separatist Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq.

Kurdish President Massoud Barzani called the attacks "crimes" and said he wouldn't meet with Rice, the first open break between the United States and its allies in Iraqi Kurdistan, one of the few regions of the country that have largely escaped massive sectarian violence.

Turkey has long complained that guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, have been given shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkish fighter jets on Sunday bombed reputed PKK positions, killing at least three people, Kurdish leaders said. Yesterday, about 500 Turkish soldiers moved into northern Iraq, occupying three villages not far from the Turkish border, according to local border guards. No fighting was reported, but Rice's unannounced visit to Baghdad and Kirkuk, a city that's hotly contested between Kurds and Arab Iraqis, spotlighted the growing differences over how to deal with the PKK in northern Iraq.

_ Meanwhile, in Washington, the Pentagon reported that violence continues to decline in much of Iraq, but efforts to shift responsibility to the Iraqi security forces are still lagging, dogged by corruption, administrative shortfalls and sectarian divides.

The Defense Department's quarterly report on progress in Iraq said that, for one thing, the Iraqi Army is losing up to 17 percent of its troops a year because of higher casualty rates, which are two to three times that of coalition forces, as well as desertions.

As of November, 21,000 Iraqi soldiers had been dropped from the rolls this year after going AWOL, the report said.

To stop Gaza rocket fire,

Israel targets rocketeers

JERUSALEM - In a concerted effort to suppress rocket fire from Gaza, Israeli forces killed at least 10 Palestinian militants, eight of them from Islamic Jihad, in 24 hours on Monday and yesterday.

Islamic Jihad vowed vengeance, threatening suicide bombings inside Israel.

In three separate airstrikes, Israel killed a very senior commander, Majed al-Harazin, and his aide, who were traveling together in a car full of explosives.

Palestinians said that they had emerged from hiding a few days ago to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, but had not been allowed to leave, and that Israel might have been able to track them. Israel said Harazin directed Islamic Jihad's rocket attacks.

Later Monday night, Israel hit another car carrying a rocket designer, Karim Dahdouh, on his way to launch rockets, and he and another militant died. Yesterday morning, Israel struck a group of Islamic Jihad militants leaving a mosque in northern Gaza, killing four of them, including another commander, Hussam Abu Habel.

At his funeral yesterday, gunmen fired in the air, accidentally severing a high-voltage power line that fell on the mourners, injuring at least four people.

Thousands of Gazans attended the Islamic Jihad funerals. *

-Daily News wire services