A group calling itself the Armed Vanguards of the Second Muhammad Army vowed to carry out more attacks against all foreigners in Iraq, in a statement broadcast on an Arabic channel on Thursday.

The supposedly Islamist group warned Arab countries not to send troops to occupied Iraq, saying they would not be spared of acts they described as jihad, even if they were Muslim.

At least 24 people were killed in Tuesday’s blast against the world body’s headquarters in Baghdad, including top UN envoy in Iraq Sergio Vieira De Mello. More than 100 others were injured. 

A number of unknown groups have sent written or taped messages to Arab channels claiming responsibility for attacks against occupation forces but these groups have mostly never been heard of again.

UN operations continue

Powell (R) tells Annan US will not
hand over control of Iraq

Despite the warning, the UN said it would resume its operations on Saturday.

Ramiro Lopez Da Silva, the world body’s humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, told reporters outside the shattered headquarters that there would be no mass evacuation of staff from the country.

But in a move likely to spark further tensions between the UN and Washington, US Secretary of State Colin Powell vowed the United States would not hand over power to the world body or any other group.

“The issue of ceding authority is not an issue we discussed," he said.

Powell was speaking following talks with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Thursday.

France, one of the most vocal opponents of the US-British war against Iraq, argued that the United States could not ask nations to make a  troop contribution without relinquishing an element of control.

“To share the burden and the responsibilities in a world of equal and sovereign nations, also means sharing information and authority," Deputy French Ambassador Michel Duclos told the UN Security Council.

For his part, Annan said the UN would not send any “blue helmets” to Iraq, in reference to world body peacekeepers.

The attack against the UN in Baghdad stoked the flames of a debate raging over security in Iraq, with the world body stressing that US occupying forces are ultimately responsible for the situation on the ground and for protecting UN personnel.

UN: US responsible for
security in Iraq

Annan and Powell were discussing options for improving security in Iraq, including the possibility of a new UN resolution.

It was not clear what a new resolution, to be proposed jointly with Britain, would do to address the concerns of some countries, notably India, which has said it would not commit troops to the so-called “stabilisation” forces without a specific UN mandate.

Battlefront 

In related developments, the central office of the US occupying administration in Baghdad was evacuated on Thursday after receiving a bomb threat, said military officials.

An all-clear was declared following a search of the premises.

A US soldier was killed and two others wounded when an explosive device detonated late on Wednesday night, according to military officials.

The latest death brings to 63 the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq in resistance attacks since US President George Bush declared an end to hostilities on 1 May.