U.S. links slain al Qaeda big

to kidnap of Monitor reporter

BAGHDAD - U.S.-led forces killed a top al Qaeda in Iraq figure linked to kidnappings of a Christian Science Monitor reporter and other Westerners, the military said yesterday, as mourners gathered at the slain terrorist's home in a Sunni insurgent stronghold north of Baghdad.

The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, said a rocket attack on the Green Zone killed four Asian contractors yesterday, the third straight day that extremists fired rockets or mortars at the U.S.-controlled area.

The U.S. announcement of the death of al Qaeda propagandist Muharib Abdul-Latif al-Jubouri came after days of conflicting reports from the Iraqi government that the top leaders of the terror group and its front organization - the Islamic State of Iraq - had been killed.

At least 52 people were killed or found dead in Iraq yesterday, including four in mortar attacks in different parts of Baghdad and two in a parked-car bombing that also wounded more than 30 in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.

In reversal of policy, Condi

meets with Syrian diplomat

SHARM El-SHEIK, Egypt - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met yesterday with her Syrian counterpart in the first high-level diplomatic contact between Washington and Damascus in more than two years.

The 30-minute meeting with Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, came in the middle of two days of international talks on Iraq in which the Bush administration is seeking the help of Iraq's neighbors, and countries around the world, to quell the violence there and relieve Iraq's enormous debt.

Rice also tried, but failed, to speak with her counterpart from Iran, a country that the United States has no diplomatic relations with and that it has sought to isolate and contain.

The events confirm a significant, if unstated, change in approach for the Bush White House to handling relations in the Middle East, analysts throughout the region said. Washington is asking for help, even from foes it has spurned in the past.

In Washington yesterday, President Bush's top aides sat down with Democrats on Capitol Hill to discuss the Iraq war in the first serious overture by both sides to cooperate.

Both sides came armed with ideas and notebooks and talked for some 45 minutes. They agreed to meet again early next week and not to divulge details to outsiders in the spirit of cooperation.

Irish government won't let teen

travel to England for abortion

DUBLIN - A government agency has no right to prevent a 17-year-old girl from traveling to England to have her brain-damaged fetus aborted, her lawyer argued yesterday.

Abortion is illegal in this predominantly Catholic country, but an estimated 7,000 women each year evade the ban by traveling to England, where the practice was legalized in 1967.

The girl, identified in court only as "Miss D," is four months pregnant with a fetus that was diagnosed last month with a rare deformity. Her legal team says it will be born with only part of its brain and skull - and die within three days.

A court in March ordered Miss D removed from her mother's care and placed under the legal guardianship of the government's Health Service Executive, which opposes her wish to go to England for an abortion.

The trial continues tomorrow as more lawyers weigh in.

Remote-control bomb kills

bus driver, wounds 29 people

KABUL - A remote-control bomb hit an Afghan army bus in Kabul yesterday, killing the driver and wounding 22 soldiers and seven civilians, officials said.

The bomb was placed in a cart on the side of the road and exploded when the bus passed by, said Ali Riza, an Afghan National Army officer at the scene.

Sardar Mohammad, an eyewitness, said that the explosion sent the bus crashing into a wall.

Cannabis Legalize League

out of its league in Moscow

MOSCOW - An application to hold a march to legalize marijuana in Moscow at the weekend will be refused, the Moscow security chief said yesterday.

The Cannabis Legalize League has submitted an application to hold a 'hemp march' tomorrow in Moscow, where even possession of cannabis for personal use is illegal, to the Moscow City administration, Nikolai Kulikov said.

"After consideration, the event organizers received an official refusal as the march would represent the propaganda of narcotics and is in breach of Russian laws," Kulikov said.

The event takes place on the first Saturday of May and is part of the Global Marijuana March, which has been held in over 400 cities around the world since 1999, promoting cannabis culture as a personal lifestyle choice. *

-Daily News wire services