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Friday, February 01, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday February 1 2008 - (813)

Friday February 1 2008 edition
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Fears Of Global Fallout From Subprime Debacle
2008-02-01 00:50:29
For a time, the snow-dusted forests ringing the picturesque mill town of Mackenzie, British Columbia, Canada, might as well have been made of gold.

Eager U.S. construction companies scooped up Canadian lumber in record volume during the great American housing boom of the middle of the decade. As prices spiked, sawmills cashed in, spending millions to increase production. They upgraded factories and enticed laborers with salaries upward of $80,000 a year, adding third shifts to pump out wood for McMansions in Miami, Florida, and instant subdivisions in Phoenix, Arizona, 24 hours a day.

The lumber bubble brought to this sleepy town of 4,500 people about 600 miles north of Vancouber a rush of wealth, still easily visible in the freshly minted Ski-Doo snowmobiles and $60,000 pickup trucks, now idle in driveways. "Everybody went out and bought new toys," said Mackenzie's no-nonsense mayor, Stephanie Killam. "Nobody thought it would ever end. They were wrong."

As the ripple effect of the U.S. subprime-mortgage collapse spreads around the world, the boom times for Mackenzie and dozens of other towns built on the legacy of the Canadian lumberjack have come crashing down as fast as you can say "timber". It underscores fears of a broader global fallout from the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble as tens of billions of dollars in losses hit economic interests as diverse as Swiss bankers and Mexican villagers.

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Decline In Western U.S. Snowpack Blamed On Global Warming
2008-02-01 00:49:22
Water suppies in west affected.

The persistent and dramatic decline in the snowpack of many mountains in the West is caused primarily by human-induced global warming and is not the result of natural variability in weather patterns, researchers reported Thursday.

Using data collected over the past 50 years, the scientists confirmed that the mountains are getting more rain and less snow, that the snowpack is breaking up faster and that more rivers are running dry by summer.

The study, published online Thursday by the journal Science, looked at possible causes of the changes - including natural variability in temperatures and precipitation, volcanic activity around the globe and climate change driven by the release of greenhouse gases. The researchers' computer models showed that climate change is clearly the explanation that best fit the data.

"We've known for decades that the hydrology of the West is changing, but for much of that time people said it was because of Mother Nature and that she would return to the old patterns in the future," said lead author Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. "But we have found very clearly that global warming has done it, that it is the mechanism that explains the change and that things will be getting worse."
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China's Inflation Resulting In Higher Prices In U.S.
2008-02-01 00:48:06
China’s latest export is inflation. After falling for years, prices of Chinese goods sold in the United States have risen for the last eight months.

Soaring energy and raw material costs, a falling dollar and new business rules here are forcing Chinese factories to increase the prices of their exports, according to analysts and Western companies doing business in China.

The rise was a modest 2.4 percent over the last year, but even that small amount, combined with higher energy and food costs that also reflect China’s growing demands on global resources, contributed to a rise in inflation in the United States. Inflation in the United States was 4.1 percent in 2007, up from 2.5 percent in 2006.

Because of new cost pressures here, American consumers could see prices increase by as much as 10 percent this year on specific products - including toys, clothing, footwear and other consumer goods - just as the United States faces a possible recession.

In the longer term, higher costs in China could spell the end of an era of ultra-cheap goods, as well as the beginning of China’s rise from the lowest rungs of global manufacturing.

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Moqtada al-Sadr Threatens To End Militia Freeze Unless Attacks On Mahdi Militia Stop
2008-02-01 00:46:02
Senior aides to the powerful Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr Thursday warned the U.S. and the Iraqi government that a six-month freeze on the activities of their militia may not be extended unless the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, takes steps to halt attacks on Sadr's followers.

Sadr's order to his Jaish al-Mahdi militia is regarded as a vital component of the nationwide downturn in violence during the past half year. Fighters loyal to Sadr had been blamed for fueling the sectarian violence that gripped Baghdad and religiously mixed areas to the north and south of the capital. A renewal of their activities could undo much of the recent progress in security on the ground and stir up tensions among Iraq's Shia Muslims.

Speaking to the Guardian from his base in the holy city of Najaf, Sadr's senior spokesman, Salah al-Obeidi, said that gangs of thugs linked to Sadr's Shia political rivals had infiltrated Iraqi security forces and were using the surge as a cover to attack "civilian followers" of the radical cleric.

He said Sadr's supporters and their families in the southern cities of Diwaniya, Kerbala and Samawa had been subject to "the worst kind of human rights abuses, including killings and beatings". "More than 1,000 families have been displaced," said Obeidi.

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Britain's Defense Ministry Face Tough Choices On Weapons Cuts
2008-02-01 00:44:19
Ministers and officials in Britain's Ministry of Defense (MoD) are drawing up plans for sweeping cuts and delays in most of country's big weapons projects as they face the biggest crisis in the defense budget since the end of the cold war, according to government and independent sources.

Huge orders for aircraft carriers, ships, fighter jets, and hi-tech vehicles are accumulating at a time when operating costs are rocketing because of grueling military operations and large increases in the cost of fuel, they say. Defense officials say ministers will be confronted with "painful options" next month.

While army chiefs have been fighting for - and belatedly getting - better armored vehicles and helicopters to protect and support their troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more pay for their soldiers, the Royal Navy and RAF insist that past promises for multibillion pound platforms such as new carriers and more Eurofighters must be kept.

The army and marines are so stretched that exercises and what defense sources call "non-essential training" are being scrapped. However, the Ministry of Defense Thursday denied a report that combat training for new recruits bound for Afghanistan is being cut by half.

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Energy Department's Plan For Storing Coal Plants' CO2 Is Scrapped
2008-01-31 17:22:06

The U.S. Energy Department said Wednesday that it would ask for new proposals from companies seeking federal aid for capturing and storing carbon dioxide released by coal-fired power plants, officially shelving the FutureGen Alliance project that the Bush administration had supported for five years.

Michael J. Mudd, chief executive of FutureGen Alliance, said that the Bush administration's decision would set back the timetable for carbon capture and storage technology that is considered essential for meeting targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

"It took four years to get to where we are today," said Mudd, citing financing needs, project design and the preparation of environmental impact statements.

Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell said the administration was dropping the FutureGen Alliance project because costs for the planned 275-megawatt coal-fired plant had risen to $1.8 billion and because of advances in technology. Instead, the department said it would be willing to pay the cost of adding carbon capture and storage technology to new or existing coal plants bigger than 300 megawatts. Sell said that would lead to multiple projects and more sequestration.

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Group Accuses U.S. Overlooking Human Rights Violations In Africa, Pakistan
2008-01-31 17:21:09
The Bush administration is giving lip service to promoting democracy by endorsing suspect elections in Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan while allowing human rights violations in those countries to go unchecked, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

In a scathing report, the organization blamed the United States and Europe for undermining human rights around the world by allowing autocrats to pretend they are democratic simply by holding rigged elections.

The group also said Russia and Jordan were pretending that using the word democracy is enough to claim real democratic credentials, and added that “even China has gotten into the game” as China's President Hu Jintao has called for more democracy within the Communist Party. “Yet that has not stopped him from barring independent political parties, blocking legal efforts to uphold basic rights, and shutting down countless civil society organizations, media outlets and Websites,” the group’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, wrote in the report’s introduction.

In an interview, Roth blamed much of this on the Bush administration’s touting of democracy while still accepting the results of dubious elections. “The Bush administration has chosen democracy instead of human rights,” said Roth.  “They’ve abandoned democratic standards and reduced its requirements to just holding an election.”

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U.S. Senate Delays Economic Stimulus Vote
2008-01-31 17:20:28

Senate Democratic leaders put off an expected showdown over an economic stimulus plan until next week, worrying that the absence of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) and Barack Obama (D-Illinois) could doom efforts to force changes to the package fashioned by House leaders and President Bush.

"I still have two Democratic senators" on the campaign trail, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said on the Senate floor. "Next Tuesday is Super Tuesday, and they're both very busy, as is Sen. [John] McCain. So I probably can't get them back here until Monday, but I need them back."

Reid and other Democratic leaders all but conceded they would not have the 60 votes to replace the $146 billion stimulus plan passed by the House with a version approved by the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday.

The Senate plan includes extensions of unemployment benefits and would give tax rebates to more affluent people, disabled veterans and low-income seniors - groups left out of the House version.

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Second Kenya Legislator Shot Dead
2008-01-31 17:19:14
A second opposition lawmaker was shot dead in Kenya on Thursday in the western town of Eldoret in the volatile Rift Valley region, where tens of thousands of people from President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe have been chased from their homes.

The exact circumstances remained unclear, though early reports were that lawmaker David Kimutai Too was shot by a policeman whose wife was having an affair with him.

Still, the latest violence prompted diplomatic warnings about the increasing risks to the country. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, already on the continent at a meeting of the Africa Union, announced he would travel to Kenya on Friday to try to boost mediation efforts launched by his predecessor, Kofi Annan, wire services reported.

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, who has accused Kibaki of stealing this country's Dec. 27 presidential election, immediately cast Too's killing as a political assassination aimed at weakening his party's majority in parliament.

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Commentary: By The Numbers
2008-01-31 02:46:30
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by John Cory and appeared on the website edition for Wednesday, January 30, 2008. Mr. Cory is a Vietnam veteran. He received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with V device, 1969 - 1970. His commentary follows:

By the numbers we count the fallen
And all the syllables that kill
And all the lies that bury hearts
And make our breathing still
And cold.

By the numbers we mourn the fallen
In this whirlwind of war and lie
Where one tear is too many
And a thousand not enough
For each one that has to die
Because -


- John Cory

While the high school heathers of the press corps rush to generate in-depth analysis of the hairstyle and cleavage of candidates or who looks presidential as opposed to who acts presidential, the real issues get shuttled aside in polls and punditry and primary politico-image management.

At some point there will be one of those staged affairs where they take questions from the audience, the everyday folk - the voters. So let me step up to the microphone and ask a question:

When does 9/11 + 935 = 3,941?

When lies kill.

Nine hundred thirty-five false statements (lies) moved this nation into a war that has resulted in 3,941 deaths so far.

The folks who see profit and growth in the numbers of veterans of this war - the health care insurers - know an opportunity when they see one. In her December 2007 report, Emily Berry for American Medical News gives us a tour by the numbers:

There have been 30,000 troops wounded in action; 39,000 have been diagnosed with PTSD; 84,000 vets suffer a mental health disorder; 229,000 veterans have sought VA care, and 1.4 million troops (active duty and reserves) have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan so far. Estimates run between $350 billion to $700 billion needed for lifetime care and benefits for veterans.

And now, making the rounds in Washington is a plan that has become known as "The Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007" which reaches out to the pharmaceutical industry to partner with the Department of Defense to use the drug Propranalol to treat symptoms of PTSD even before a soldier succumbs to full-blown PTSD. An ounce of prevention, after all, is worth funding for experimentation, I mean research. A numb soldier is a happy soldier.

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Commentary: Entering Sector D
2008-01-31 02:45:37
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Washington Post staff writer Henry Allen and appears in the Post's edition for Thursday, January 31, 2008. Mr. Allen's commentary follows:

There's something about the word "disembowel." Or "depravity," or "disfigurement" - about so many words that begin with the letter "d." Divorce, destitution, doubt, drugs, dirt, dwindle. So many of them are on our lips just now - though not "disembowel," and we should be thankful for that much. Once more, as a nation, we have entered Sector D.

As in: debacle, depression, debt and debauchery.

Which is to say: mission unaccomplished in Iraq, world stock markets on tumble-dry, subprime mortgages imploding, Britney Spears. 

People watch their houses plummet in value and say: "We'll just have to make do."

Do. D. Do as in doom, which is mood spelled backward, as in the national mood that dotes on rising global temperatures, falling test scores, and death from diseases such as mutant tuberculosis strewn across the continent by defiant airplane passengers.

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Chinese Fight To Get Home In Worst Blizzard In 50 Years
2008-01-31 02:44:43
Crowds of frantic Chinese fought for seats Wednesday on the few trains leaving southern China, where the worst winter storms in half a century have crippled the nation's transport system during its busiest travel season.

One desperate mob stormed a city bus in the main southern city of Guangzhou, mistakenly thinking it was taking passengers to the day's last departing trains. They pried open doors and elbowed their way inside as helpless police yelled, "It's not going to the station!"

Train service was returning to normal on Thursday, thinning the massive crowds that have been waiting to go home for next week's Lunar New Year - a holiday that is as important in China as Christmas is in the West. For millions of migrant workers, the festival that begins Feb. 7 is their only vacation from dreary jobs in factories that feed the world's ravenous appetite for DVD players, laptops, shoes and other goods.

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese have been stranded over the past days because of the blizzard, but the Railway Ministry said Thursday service had basically returned to normal on the Guangzhou to Beijing line, and extra trains were being put on the schedule.

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U.S. Homeowner Credit Evaporates
2008-02-01 00:49:57
Countrywide and others tell thousands of homeowners that they can no longer borrow against their credit lines as the companies tighten standards.

Tens of thousands of homeowners with home equity lines of credit are getting a rude surprise: They've been told by their lender that they can no longer take money out on their credit lines because sinking home prices have put them "upside down" on their mortgages.

Countrywide Financial Corp. sent letters to 122,000 customers last week telling them they could no longer borrow against their credit lines because the total debt on the home exceeded the market value of the property. The lender says it is using computer modeling to determine which of its customers would have their cash spigot shut off.

The move by Countrywide, the nation's largest mortgage company, is part of a pullback by lenders nationwide on home equity loans, which are often used to finance home improvements and consumer spending. Such loans, also known as second mortgages, were widely available until six months ago, when delinquencies and foreclosures began to soar. Now, with new evidence of sinking home values, many lenders are requiring that homeowners maintain a much larger percentage of equity in their homes as a cushion against financial problems.
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One-On-One, Clinton, Obama Take Aim At Republicans
2008-02-01 00:49:01
Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama met for debate Thursday, sitting side by side in Los Angeles and sharing a night of smiles, friendly eye-catching and gentle banter. Cordial as the encounter was, the candidates’ did not mask their own divisions, even as they previewed the attacks one of them will ultimately make against a Republican rival.

It was almost as if the battle was to see which of them could out-nice the other.

At the end of the nearly two-hour encounter, as the audience of Democrats and Hollywood celebrities rose to its feet at the Kodak Theater, Obama held Clinton’s chair as she rose. The two rivals, almost hugging, held each others’ elbows and whispered in one another’s ear, offering a striking image that captured the tenor of the debate.

“When we started off we had eight candidates on this stage, we are now down to two,” said Obama. “I think one of us two will end up being the next president of the United States.”

Gone were the sharp and sometimes personal attacks that have characterized a year’s worth of debates, particularly a combative session last week in South Carolina, which both sides conceded had tarnished their images.

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Mexican Farmers Protest U.S. Trade Pact
2008-02-01 00:46:45
Led by a column of tractors, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown Mexico City on Thursday to protest recent trade openings that removed the last tariff protections for ancestral Mexican crops like corn and beans.

Chanting "Without corn, the country doesn't exist!" farmers and farm activists from across the nation demanded the Mexican government renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, to reinstate protection for basic crops.

Farmers here say the can't compete with bigger U.S. farms which receive more government support. Under the terms of NAFTA, Mexico got a 15-year protection period to improve its farms, but that phase-in period ended Jan. 1, and Mexican farms - mostly tiny plots of 12 acres or less - still lag behind.

"The truth is, we can't compete, that is why we're demonstrating ... because we're really getting hit hard," said Telespor Andrade, 44, a weather-beaten farmer from central Mexico who grows corn and beans on about 7 acres of land.

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Ferry Rescue As Storms Sweep Across Britain
2008-02-01 00:45:32
Helicopters and lifeboats were involved in a sea rescue Thursday night after 19 people were stranded on a ferry adrift in "horrendous" weather on the Irish Sea, as forcasters warned that high winds and blizzards will spread across the country Friday.

Three helicopters - two from the RAF and one from the coastguard - were scrambled after the Riverdance, a roll-on-roll-off ferry, was struck by a freak wave eight miles west of Fleetwood.

The stricken vessel was listing at 60 degrees after its cargo shifted amid heavy seas and high winds. Emergency workers feared that the ship, carrying a cargo of transport vehicles, was likely to capsize, but rescue efforts were hampered by "appalling" weather conditions.

Two all-weather rescue boats from the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) were assisting with the operation, providing lighting for the airlift and standing by in case further assistance was required.

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There's Votes In Them Thar Hills! - Candidates Head To California
2008-01-31 17:22:19

Democratic and Republican presidential contenders focused on California Thursday as they geared up for the most critical day of the campaign: next week's "Super Tuesday" primaries and caucuses in two dozen states.

A day after two key withdrawals narrowed the field for both parties, the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois)  reported raising $32 million in January, a remarkable amount that helps position him for a bruising primary battle ahead with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York). 

On the Republican side, the candidates touted endorsements in hopes of gaining an edge before the Feb. 5 contests.

Following a debate last night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Sen. John McCain Thursday picked up the endorsement of California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hailed the Arizona senator and Vietnam war veteran as "a great American hero and an extraordinary leader."

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New U.S. Border I.D. Rules Begin
2008-01-31 17:21:38
Motorists passed easily through border checkpoints Thursday as tougher identification standards for U.S. and Canadian citizens went into effect without the backups and confusion some travelers had feared.

People entering the country will no longer be allowed to simply declare to immigration officers at border crossings that they are citizens. Instead, those 19 and older will have to show proof of citizenship - a passport, trusted traveler card or a birth certificate and government-issued I.D. such as a driver's license.

Customs officials said delays were minimal across the country and that most motorists had the documentation they needed.

"Very much business as usual," U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Kelly Klundt said in an e-mail.

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U.S. Consumer Spending Declines
2008-01-31 17:20:41

U.S. consumer spending slowed in December and inflation continued to rise, the government said Thursday, leaving the Federal Reserve little leeway as it ponders policy decisions in the months ahead.

Spending by consumers, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation’s economic growth, rose by an anemic 0.2 percent in December after jumping 1 percent in November. Adjusted for inflation, spending was flat for the month.

Economists have predicted a significant downturn in spending as consumers grapple with record-high oil and food prices. The report from the Commerce Department reinforces the disappointing holiday sales figures that leading retail chains released in the last few weeks.

“With the labor market weakening and housing remaining a huge weight, the pace of consumer spending growth ought to remain painfully slow in the months ahead,” wrote Joshua Shapiro, an economist at MFR, a research firm.

As spending slows, prices continue to rise, a combination that has some economists suggesting the United States could face a period of stagflation. A closely watched gauge of inflation ticked up last month, to a 2.2 percent annual rate; that figure, the core personal consumption expenditures deflator, excludes prices of food and energy.

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Top Al-Qaeda Commander Killed In Pakistan
2008-01-31 17:19:56

Abu Laith al-Libi, one of al-Qaeda's most senior commanders, was killed in Pakistan Monday, Western officials said Thursday.

The officials declined to comment on whether Libi's death was related to a reported U.S. missile strike, launched from an unmanned Predator aircraft, that killed at least a dozen people Monday in Pakistan's North Waziristan region.

Libi used a nom de guerre and his true name is not known. He had been identified by U.S. officials as the mastermind of the 2007 bombing of the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan, during a visit by Vice President Cheney. Cheney was not injured, but 23 people were killed in the attack.

Libi fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan and was jailed by Saudi Arabian officials for two years for covert activities there. He was also believed to have organized an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Libyan ruler Moammar Gaddafi in the mid-1990s.

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Tainted Drugs Linked To Maker Of Abortion Pill
2008-01-31 02:46:47
A huge state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical company that exports to dozens of countries, including the United States, is at the center of a nationwide drug scandal after nearly 200 Chinese cancer patients were paralyzed or otherwise harmed last summer by contaminated leukemia drugs.

Chinese drug regulators have accused the manufacturer of the tainted drugs of a cover-up and have closed the factory that produced them. In December, China’s Food and Drug Administration said that the Shanghai police had begun a criminal investigation and that two officials, including the head of the plant, had been detained.

The drug maker, Shanghai Hualian, is the sole supplier to the United States of the abortion pill, mifepristone, known as RU-486. It is made at a factory different from the one that produced the tainted cancer drugs, about an hour’s drive away.

The United States Food and Drug Administration declined to answer questions about Shanghai Hualian, because of security concerns stemming from the sometimes violent opposition to abortion. But in a statement, the agency said the RU-486 plant had passed an F.D.A. inspection in May. “F.D.A. is not aware of any evidence to suggest the issue that occurred at the leukemia drug facility is linked in any way with the facility that manufactures the mifepristone,” said the statement.

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FBI In Subprime Crackdown
2008-01-31 02:46:11
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating 14 companies for possible accounting fraud and insider trading offenses related to subprime mortgages.

The development, another sign of fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis, comes as light regulation of the industry - in particular mortgage brokers - has been blamed for mis-selling and abuse of mortgage products.

The Securities and Exchange Commission already has about three dozen different investigations into a range of subprime-related issues.

Bill Carter, an FBI spokesman, said the agency had been working "very closely" with the SEC, with some of the latest investigations moving "in parallel". He declined to name the companies involved.

The number of mortgage fraud cases opened by the FBI jumped to 1,210 in fiscal 2007 from 436 in fiscal 2003, the agency said.

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U.S. Commanders In Iraq Favor Pause In Troop Cuts
2008-01-31 02:45:18
Senior U.S. military commanders here say they want to freeze troop reductions starting this summer for at least a month, making it more likely that the next administration will inherit as many troops in Iraq as there were before President Bush announced a "surge" of forces a year ago.

There are about 155,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, with about 5,000 leaving every month; the proposed freeze would go into effect in July, when troops levels reach around 130,000. Although violence is dropping in Iraq, commanders say they want to halt withdrawals to assess whether they can control the situation with fewer troops.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, will probably argue for what the military calls an operational "pause" at his next round of congressional testimony, expected in early April, said another senior U.S. military official here in Baghdad. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and top military officers have said they would like to see continued withdrawals throughout this year, but Bush has indicated he is likely to be guided by Petraeus's views.

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