OPEC to cut output as Iraq flow resumes

VIENNA — Key oil-exporting countries agreed yesterday to cut production by about 7 percent starting in June in an effort to stem a fall in prices and make way for the expected resumption of Iraqi exports this summer.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to reduce output by 2 million barrels a day from what it said was its current total production of 27.4 million barrels a day. A cut by Saudi Arabia, OPEC's biggest producer, will account for more than half of the reduction.

OPEC also said it will consider trimming output further at its next meeting, in Doha, Qatar, on June 11, if that is needed to keep prices in OPEC's target range of $22 to $28 a barrel. Prices soared earlier this year to almost $40 a barrel because of concern over the impending war in Iraq, but they have dropped sharply since early March. Crude oil for June delivery fell 1 cent yesterday, to $26.64 a barrel, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Iraq did not attend the meeting, for the first time since OPEC was founded in Baghdad in 1960. Its embassy in Vienna declined to send a representative, and its former oil minister, Amir Rashid, is on the list of wanted Iraqi officials.

Iraq resumed producing small quantities of oil this week for domestic use, and OPEC pledged to make room for its exports.

U.N. urges clean-up plan for Iraq's environment

GENEVA, Switzerland — Saddam Hussein's rule left Iraq a legacy of environmental problems, including the destruction of ecosystems like the Mesopotamian marshes, and an urgent clean-up plan is needed, a U.N. agency said yesterday.

The United Nations Environment Program, UNEP, also called for prompt surveys of former chemical and biological weapons sites and studies to assess any lasting contamination threat from depleted uranium arms used by U.S.-led forces in the war that ousted the Iraqi president.

"Many environmental problems in Iraq are so alarming that an immediate assessment and a clean-up plan are needed urgently," UNEP official Pekka Haavisto said.

UNEP's first postwar study of the situation said there was likely to be a high risk of inhaling depleted uranium dust with large doses of potentially dangerous radiation within 150 yards of buildings hit by U.S. and British missiles and other weapons.

However, UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said more immediate concerns included water supplies, sewage, the accumulation of urban and dangerous industrial and military waste, and the destruction of ecosystems such as the Mesopotamian marshlands.

Toepfer said efforts were needed to revive the marshes, for centuries home to a unique Arab culture but largely drained under Saddam's rule to feed irrigation projects elsewhere.

Experts: U.S. uses sanctions to settle scores over war

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration appears to be using trade policy to punish countries that did not cooperate in the U.S.-led war on Iraq and reward those who did, trade policy analysts said yesterday.

The administration has demonstrated this by delaying the signing of a free-trade agreement with Chile because that country opposed a second U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to disarm Iraq, said Fred Bergsten, director of the Institute for International Economics, in a speech to the U.S. Asia Pacific Council, a newly formed foreign affairs group.

In contrast, President Bush will sign a free-trade pact with Singapore, which supported the U.S. action, when Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong visits the White House on May 6.

In another example, Australia has jumped to near the front of the list of future U.S. free-trade partners because of its strong support for the war, Bergsten said.

Turkish special forces caught sneaking into northern Iraq

NEW YORK — American forces caught a Turkish special forces team trying to sneak into the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, Time magazine reported yesterday.

The magazine reported that a dozen Turkish soldiers, dressed in civilian clothes and trailing an aid convoy, were detained Wednesday by the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Turkey, worried about its own large Kurdish population and concern about Kurds in northern Iraq making a bid for an independent state, earlier sent military observers to Kirkuk, and threatened to send troops to northern Iraq if Kurdish militiamen don't fully withdraw.

Turkey fought Kurdish guerrillas for 15 years in mainly Kurdish southeastern Turkey.

President says he was a fan of Iraqi information minister

WASHINGTON — Now that the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein appears to be over, even President Bush admits he is a fan of the public relations style of former Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.

"He's my man, he was great," Bush enthused in an interview with NBC's Tom Brokaw yesterday. "Somebody accused us of hiring him and putting him there. He was a classic."

Bush said he had made a point of watching Sahaf, as well as scenes such as the toppling of a huge bronze likeness of Saddam Hussein.

"I did watch some of his clips," he said. "I get a lot of things secondhand, but in the case of the statue or Sahaf, somebody would say, he's getting ready to speak and I'd pop out of a meeting or turn and watch the TV."

Garner grills backyard burgers at Saddam palace in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — Hamburgers, hot dogs and Coca-Cola came to the backyard of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces yesterday as the new man in charge staked out his territory with an American-style barbecue.

Retired U.S. general Jay Garner, head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid, enjoyed a relaxing lunch in the once-gracious palace grounds as giant sculptures of Saddam's head looked on.

Garner and his entourage, winding up a damage-assessment tour of Baghdad and the Kurdish-controlled north, ate food cooked on two oversize grills set up among the rose gardens and orange orchards where Saddam once strolled.

About 100 people attended the barbecue, which followed a meeting with Baghdad academics and community leaders where Garner urged Iraqis to get to work on rebuilding their country.

Asked if he was planning to set up his new headquarters in the palace, one of several presidential homes in the capital, Garner joked: "I rented this from Saddam."

B-52 bombers in England begin returning to U.S. bases

LONDON — B-52 bombers stationed at a British air base during the war in Iraq have begun flying back to America.

Fourteen of the jets have been at the Royal Air Force's Fairford base in Gloucestershire, western England, since early March, flying more than 100 missions to the Persian Gulf.

An Air Force spokesman, said yesterday that six bombers have left and all 14 were expected to be gone within a few days.