Friday, February 26, 2010

Powerful earthquake strikes off Japan island of Okinawa

A powerful earthquake has struck in the Pacific Ocean, about 80km (50 miles) off the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.

A tsunami warning was initially issued, but later lifted. There are no reports of major damage or casualties.

The Japan Meteorological Agency gave the strength as 6.9 while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.3.

Japan is often hit by earthquakes. In 1995, a magnitude-7.2 quake in the port city of Kobe killed 6,400 people.

The latest tremor occurred at 0531 on Saturday (2031 GMT on Friday).

BBC News website reader Ivan Brackin, who lives on Yoron Island, said it was the biggest quake he had felt in his 40 years in Japan but there had been no visible effects in his area.

"We're 30 yards [metres] from the sea and no sign of a tsunami," he said.

"I woke up to violent shudders that lasted about six seconds then a pause followed by a couple of sharp jumps. Jumpers are the most dangerous so that sent me under the desk."
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Suicide bombings strike Afghan capital Kabul

The blast happened near a shopping centre in Kabul
At least nine people have died in a series of explosions and gunfire in the Afghan capital, Kabul, officials say.

A suicide bomber detonated his explosives and two other attackers were shot dead, a government official said.

A spokesman for the Taliban said the Islamist rebels claimed responsibility for the attacks, carried out close to a shopping centre and a hotel.

Kabul has been the target of sometimes deadly insurgent attacks, but has been relatively quiet for the past month.

On 18 January, Taliban bombers and gunmen attacked government targets and shopping malls in Kabul, killing 12 people.

Crying and shouting
The BBC's Martin Patience, in Kabul, says the first blast happened at 0630 local time (0200 GMT) on Friday, close to a large shopping centre.

Kabul police official Abdul Ghafor Sayedzada said two explosions happened near the nine-storey Kabul City Center shopping area, close to the Safi Landmark Hotel, the Associated Press reported.

A building in front of the hotel had caught fire, he said.

At least two smaller explosions were heard later along with gunfire.

Officials said two policemen had been killed in the attack, and there were reports of others injured. It was not clear whether any foreigners had been killed.

One eyewitness said that he saw one suicide bomber blowing himself up on the first floor of the hotel.

"I saw foreigners were crying and shouting. It was a very bad situation inside. God help me, otherwise I would be dead," one hotel worker, called Najibullah, said.

Sirens blared across the city and announcement from loudspeakers warned people to stay indoors.

It is not clear what exactly was the target of the attack or who carried it out, our correspondent says.

Although the shopping centre is in the heart of Kabul, our correspondent says the timing of the explosion - in the morning at the start of what is effectively the Afghan weekend - meant few people were likely to be in the area.

The violence comes as Nato and Afghan forces continue Operation Moshtarak, driving Taliban fighters from their strongholds in Helmand province, in the south of Afghanistan.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nationwide Strike Paralyzes Greece

Clashes have broken out between police and protesters in Greece, as up to two million people continue to strike over austerity measures.

Police fired tear gas at a group of some 50 protesters on the edges of the rally.

It is the second general strike in two weeks and coincides with growing anger at the EU's response to the crisis.

More than half-a-million civil servants have reportedly abandoned their posts, leaving the country paralysed.

Trains and ferries have been cancelled, the country's airspace closed to all flights, and tourist attractions closed, leaving travellers stranded.
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bicycle Rigged as Bomb Kills 7 In Afghan Provincial Capital

A few miles away from where Marines battled sporadically with Taliban insurgents hidden in protected bunkers, a bicycle rigged as a bomb exploded in a bazaar here in the capital of Helmand Province, killing 7 people and wounding 14.

The explosion in the center of the city was a terrifying reminder of the continuing vulnerability of civilians in Helmand as American, Afghan and British soldiers waged sporadic gun battles on the 11th day of an offensive against the Taliban stronghold in Marja, a town a few miles away.

Several of those who lost relatives had recently fled Marja for what they believed would be the safety of the provincial capital. Rahmatullah Khan 30, was one of them.

“We actually escaped from Marja, and we thought this place would be safe,” he said. “But what happened, my cousin was killed and my brother had serious injuries inflicted and is now admitted to the emergency hospital.

“This is not a country,” he continued. “Actually this is a hell for us. Every day our people are burning, sometimes killed by I.E.D.’s and sometimes killed by foreign troops and sometimes killed by Taliban,” he said, referring to the homemade bombs that the military calls improvised explosive devices, which are the leading cause of allied casualties.

“We actually don’t know what’s going on in our country,” he said. “Why they are fighting? With whom are they fighting? And it is poor people who receive the casualties. They should fight each other. Why are they killing civilians?”

Muhammad Naseem, 26, a mechanic who lost his brother in Tuesday’s explosion in Lashkar Gah, arrived from Marja just before the Marine offensive began. “We thought this place will be safe, but here lies my brother Nazar Muhammad,” Mr. Naseem said.

A NATO service member died in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday when a bomb exploded nearby. A military spokesman said the explosion was unrelated to the offensive under way in Helmand.
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Monday, February 22, 2010

NATO Airstrike Kills at Least 21 Civilians in Afghanistan

Afghan officials say a NATO airstrike has killed at least 21 civilians in southern Afghanistan.

An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman says another 14 people were wounded in the strike Sunday in Uruzgan province.

NATO confirmed that civilians, including women and children, were killed in a strike in the province, but did not provide a casualty toll.

The U.S. commander of the international force, Stanley McChrystal, expressed regret for the incident, saying in a statement that killing or injuring civilians undermines the Afghan people's trust in NATO's mission. Uruzgan is just northeast of Helmand province, where NATO and Afghan forces are engaged in a major operation against Taliban insurgents.

So far, at least 16 civilians, about 120 insurgents and 13 NATO troops, including one who died in a roadside bombing Sunday, have been killed in the week-long offensive.

On Sunday, the head of the U.S. Central Command, responsible for all military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the ongoing offensive in southern Afghanistan is just the start of a long campaign against the Taliban.

General David Petraeus did not predict how long the operation in Marjah would last, but said allied troops will focus on taking away Taliban safe havens over the next 12 to 18 months.

Two other NATO soldiers were killed in a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan Sunday, but a NATO statement said neither casualty was related to the offensive.

In The Hague Sunday, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said he expects nearly 2,000 Dutch troops to leave Afghanistan in August, as scheduled.

Mr. Balkenende made the comment a day after his government collapsed, when a main coalition partner said it could not support extending the Afghan mission.

The controversy over the Dutch deployment follows U.S. requests for NATO allies to commit more troops and resources to the Afghan war effort.

Also Sunday, Fox News reported that police in northwestern Pakistan recently arrested one of the top 10 most wanted Afghan Taliban leaders, Mulvi Kabir. He was the governor of Afghanistan's Nangarhar province before the Taliban was ousted in 2001.

The cable TV channel said information leading to Kabir's capture was obtained from Afghanistan's top Taliban military commander Mullah Baradar, whose arrest in the Pakistani city of Karachi was announced last week.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Powerful quake hits near China-Russia border

An earthquake of magnitude 6.7 hit near the China-Russia border on Thursday, but its epicenter was extremely deep and there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The quake, which occurred at 0113 GMT, was centered midway between the Russian city of Vladivostok and Chongjin, North Korea's third largest city. It struck at a depth of 563 km (350 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center put the coordinates at 42.7 north and 130.9 east. It said there was no danger of a tsunami.

Early estimates put the magnitude at 6.9. The USGS later put the figure at 6.7, a powerful quake but one with effects on the surface likely to be minimized by the extreme depth.

"As far as we know, there have been no reports of damage," an official at China's national seismological bureau told Reuters.

"There have been no reports of any damage here. Everything is calm," a spokesman for Russia's Emergencies Ministry in the Far East city of Vladivostok said by telephone.

"Since the earthquake was 560 km underground, there shouldn't have been much damage," Ham Young-mo at South Korea's National Earthquake Center said.

North Korea's official news agency carried no immediate reports on the quake.


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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dubai narrows down six more suspects in Hamas assassination

Dubai police have narrowed down another six suspects behind the assassination of a Hamas commander last month, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, in addition to the 11 European passport-holders named earlier this week.

The names of the additional six have yet to be released and the actual identities of the other 11 suspects are still in question. Ireland has denied any record of the three suspects named as Irish passport-holders, and at least five Israelis who share the same names as the suspects claim their identities were stolen.

This combination image shows 11 suspects wanted in connection
with the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.


Dubai Police Chief Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim announced on Monday that senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was murdered by an 11-member hit squad of mercenaries carrying European passports.
Tamim said that arrest warrants would be issued soon and while he did not accuse Israel directly, he did say it was possible that "leaders of certain countries gave orders to their intelligence agents."

"We do not rule out Mossad, but when we arrest those suspects we will know who masterminded it. We have not issued arrest warrants yet, but will do so soon," he told a press conference on Monday.

Two Palestinians have already been arrested in connection to the assassination.

The group was responsible for killing Mabhouh in his hotel room on January 20, a slaying that has elicited vows of revenge from the Palestinian militant group.
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Twelve Taliban killed in NATO Offensive


The assault, one of NATO's biggest against the Taliban since the Afghan war began in 2001, is the first test of U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to send 30,000 more troops to seize insurgent-held areas ahead of a planned 2011 troop drawdown.

"There were bombardments in parts of Marjah and as a result 12 Taliban have been killed," Dawud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Helmand, told reporters.

The United States' top military officer on Sunday said the assault on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Afghanistan's Helmand province had got "off to a good start."

"It's actually very difficult to predict (the end)," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a visit to Israel. "We have from a planning standpoint talked about a few weeks, but I don't know that."

The attack started on Saturday with waves of helicopters ferrying troops into Marjah and the nearby Nad Ali district. The next day, U.S. Marines came under intense fire in the heart of Marjah.

NATO rockets killed 12 Afghan civilians on Sunday in the second day of an offensive designed to impose Afghan authority on one of the last big Taliban strongholds in the country's most violent province.

The offensive has been flagged for weeks, to persuade Taliban fighters to leave so the area can be recaptured with minimal damage or loss of civilian life, in the hope that the roughly 100,000 people there will welcome the Afghan administration.
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Friday, February 12, 2010

Iran hacking into broadcasts of at least 3 major news outlets

At least three major international media outlets have accused Tehran of interfering with their broadcasting, while cracking down on foreign programs aired in the Islamic Republic.

The BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America reported jamming that began as Iran marked the 31st anniversary of its Islamic revolution.

"We condemn any jamming of these channels. It contravenes international agreements and is interfering with the free and open flow of international transmissions that are protected by international treaties," the broadcasters said in a joint statement.

"The Iranian authorities are using the same satellite services to broadcast freely around the world including broadcasts in English and Arabic; at the same time they are denying their own people programs coming from the same satellites from the rest of the world," they added.

The United States on Thursday accused Iran of imposing a "near-total information blockade" over the course of the day. The State Department cited evidence that telephone networks had been silenced, SMS messages blocked and that the Internet had been "throttled." The Gmail email system had also been blocked, said sources.

Meanwhile, Iran's supreme leader on Thursday warned the West to stop putting obstacles in his country's path.

State Press TV reported on Friday that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei thanked the tens of millions who gathered to mark the anniversary of the revolution, saying it reflected the nation's strength. "It's time for foreign enemies to wake up and abandon futile efforts to subjugate Iran," he said.

Earlier Thursday, the State Department said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's announcement that the country has succeeded at creating higher levels of uranium enrichment shows its nuclear intentions are "anything but peaceful."

Ahmadinejad said scientists had succeeded at producing a batch of uranium enrichment at a much higher level that it had previously accomplished. The amount was sufficient for running in nuclear power reactors, but still well below the levels needed for weapons grade uranium.

But Iran's nuclear ambitions continue to draw concerns from the United States and European allies who fear Iran is seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons. Iran has rebuffed diplomatic overtures to resolve the issue and is in defiance of UN Security Council demands that it suspend uranium enrichment.






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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pakistani police killed in suicide bomb attack

A suicide bombing killed at least 19 people, including 11 policemen, in Pakistan's tribal region near the Afghan border Wednesday, an official said.

The bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a vehicle carrying the policemen in the tribal district of Khyber along a main highway leading to Afghanistan, said Sajid Khan, an official of the local administration.

According to Khan, eight security personnel from the tribal police, locally called Khasadar Force, and five civilians died on the spot in the bombing, said Khan.

Among those killed was Zarmat Khan, an officer who was recently honored with an award by the government for his efforts against Islamist insurgents.

Six more people - three policemen and three civilians - who were injured in the blast succumbed to their injured at a hospital hours later.

Khyber is plagued with Islamist militancy and has seen several deadly clashes between the Taliban fighters and government forces in the past. The rugged area hosts the main supply route for Western forces stationed in landlocked Afghanistan.






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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Al-Qaida helping Taliban to destabilise Pak Government

Al-Qaida is helping the Pakistani Taliban to "destablise" the government in Islamabad and the US has evidence to suggest that the Osama Bin Laden's outfit is helping them plan attacks inside Pakistan, defence secretary Robert Gates has said.

Gates said the Obama Administration is comfortable with the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

"The al-Qaida is helping the Pakistani Taliban try to destabilise the Pakistani government there. There is evidence that al-Qaida is helping them plan these attacks, the targeting, the training on capabilities, and so on. These threats are all mixed together," he told FOX News.

"It's a syndicate. And (the United States is) trying to help the Pakistanis understand that if any of the three of these, or others such as the Haqqani network, are successful, it redounds to the benefit of the others. So we've got to attack this problem as a whole, rather than piecemeal," Gates said.

Gates said though he has no idea where the top al-Qaida leaders including Osama bin Laden are, but there could be opportunities once Pakistan forces start operation in the region and they start to move around.

"I think that the actions that the Pakistani government is taking in South Waziristan, one of positive -- on of the many positive aspects of that have been flushing some of these guys out of South Waziristan. And the minute they begin to move around, then there are some opportunities," Gates said.






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Man 'buried under rubble for four weeks' found alive in Haiti

A man who has been pulled alive from the rubble of a marketplace in Port-au-Prince may have been trapped there since the devastating earthquake struck the Haitian capital 28 days ago.

The 28-year-old, identified as Evans Muncie, was found under the remains of the Croix Bossal market where he sold rice. He had not been seen since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake levelled the city on January 12, killing over 200,000 people.

Mr. Muncie was discovered by people who had been digging at the marketplace. He was taken to an American field hospital in Port-au-Prince where he was treated for severe dehydration and malnutrition.

Doctors said Mr. Muncie was much disorientated and at times thought he was still under the rubble while he was being treated at the tent hospital.

It could not be confirmed exactly how long Mr Muncie was trapped but his family said he had been missing since January 12.

Dr Mike Connelly told CNN, the American news network: "He was emaciated. He hadn't had anything in quite some time. He had open wounds that were festering on both of his feet."

According to CNN, Mr. Muncie told doctors that somebody in a white coat had occasionally brought him water; however it is not known whether he had been hallucinating.

He also said he could hear bulldozers around him working to demolish damaged buildings while he lay underneath the rubble near by.

Dr Connelly said Mr. Muncie must have had access to water to have survived the entire four weeks trapped under a building.

The US network showed photographs of Mr.Muncie being treated by doctors.

Despite the Haitian Government calling for an end to search and rescue operations on January 23, survivors continued to be pulled from the rubble in the following days.

On January 27, 16-year-old Daline Etienne was rescued from beneath the debris of her house; 15 days after the earthquake had forced the building to collapse on top of her.

The rescue of the teenager, who appeared in relatively good health, was deemed a miracle.







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Monday, February 8, 2010

Iran to step up uranium enrichment

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a ceremony to introduce the domestically produced Simorq propulsion system, for rockets to carry satellites into space, during a ceremony in Tehran February 3, 2010

Iran's president on Sunday ordered his atomic agency to significantly enrich the country's stockpile of uranium, angering Western nations who want to the Islamic republic to halt its nuclear program.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad maintained, however, that Iran was also still willing to follow a U.N. plan to export its uranium abroad for further enrichment. Refining uranium produces nuclear fuel for a power plant but if carried out far enough can create material for a weapon.

The mixed messages from Tehran have infuriated the U.S. and its European allies, who claim Iran is only stalling for time as it attempts to build a nuclear weapon. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for the international community to pressure Iran into abandoning its nuclear program.

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said: "Today's statement shows that farce is being played out just like we have seen in the past, that the outstretched hand of the international community has not only not been taken but pushed back."

By announcing that Iran would enrich the fuel on its own, Ahmadinejad appeared to reject the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency's deal — even though he had seemed to endorse it just days earlier.

Iran wants to enrich its stockpile of uranium to 20 percent, up from 3.5 percent, to power a research reactor to produce medical isotopes. But the international community has demanded a halt to all enrichment activity because the same process is used to produce weapons-grade material.

While material for a nuclear weapon is enriched to a level of 90 percent, just getting its stockpile to the 20 percent mark is a major step for the country's nuclear program.









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Friday, February 5, 2010

Taiwanese military orders German helicopters

Taiwan's US-made F-16 fighter jets release flares during war games

Taiwan's military will buy up to 20 helicopters from a German manufacturer, it was confirmed today, days after Beijing lashed out at a multibillion-dollar US arms deal with the island.

China has yet to respond to news of the agreement, thought to be the first European sale to Taiwan's armed forces since the early 90s.

Taiwan's defense ministry spokesman Martin Yu said the island would buy EC-225 search-and-rescue helicopters. The $111m contract with Eurocopter, a subsidiary of EADS, is for three helicopters, with an option to buy up to 17 more.

The move could fray Sino-European ties, already under strain over trade and currency issues. Yesterday China filed a complaint to the World Trade Organization over the EU's anti-dumping tariffs on shoes.

The arms deal could also affect Beijing's relations with Taipei, which have improved markedly since President Ma Ying-jeou took office on a platform of improving ties two years ago.

However, others believe that China could remain silent or issue only a muted response if it is satisfied that the helicopters are not for military tasks.

The Taiwanese defense ministry said it was not an arms order and the EC-225 is a civilian model. But the Taiwanese armed forces have bought non-military helicopters in the past and customized them with equipment suited to military models.

Defense News, which first reported the sale, said the contract would be signed within a few days.

China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to questions on the helicopter sale.
Calls to the Taiwan Affairs Office rang unanswered.

China hit back unusually hard following last week's announcement of the US's $6.4bn arms package, which includes Patriot missiles, naval minesweepers and Black Hawk helicopters. It warned of plans to impose sanctions on US firms that sell weapons to Taiwan and said it was "unavoidable" that co-operation on wider issues would be affected.






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13 dead as Pakistan bus, hospital bombed

The wounded from the first attack were being treated at the scene of the second blast

Two bombs exploded in Pakistan’s largest city Friday, one outside a hospital treating casualties from the first attack. At least 12 people were killed and more than 50 wounded.

The first blast targeted a bus carrying Shiite Muslim worshipers, most of them women and children.

Twelve people were killed in the attack, and 49 were injured, officials said.

The second bomb two hours later wounded several more people outside the entrance to the emergency ward at Jinnah Hospital, witness Imran Ahmad said.

Karachi has a history of religious violence and has been tense in recent weeks due to deadly clashes between rival political parties.

In late December, a bomb killed 44 Shiites attending a procession in the city, sparking riots.







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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pakistan Arrests 35 in U.S. Soldier’s Deaths

Dozens of school girls were injured in Wednesday's blast in North-West Frontier Province

Pakistani officials said Thursday they have arrested 35 suspects as part of their investigation into a bombing that killed three American soldiers and four Pakistanis on Wednesday in northwest Pakistan.

“They are all locals,” said the duty officer at the police station in the town of Balambat, where the bombing occurred, in the Lower Dir district.

The police made 30 arrests and five were made by members of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, according to a senior official in the North-West Frontier Province.

“We are questioning them in an effort to trace those who orchestrated the suicide attack,” a police official, Naeem Khan, told The Associated Press. He added that police investigators believe the explosion was caused by a car bomber rather than a roadside bomb with a remote detonator.

Three of the Pakistani victims were schoolgirls, and two American soldiers also were wounded by the blast. The soldiers were part of a Special Operations team that has been training Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps in counterinsurgency techniques.








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Monday, February 1, 2010

54 killed as suicide bomber targets Shiite pilgrims in Iraq

A female suicide bomber detonated a vest rigged with explosives among a crowd of Shiite Muslim pilgrims Monday in northeast Baghdad, killing 54 people and wounding 109, the latest in a string of attacks that have unnerved the city as pivotal elections loom next month.

The bomber hid the explosives under her voluminous black abaya, or cloak, and detonated them among pilgrims gathered at a hospitality tent in the neighborhood of Bab al Shams. The dead included five women employed to search female pilgrims for bombs, police said.

Taxi driver Ahmad Najem, 30, who witnessed the attack, described seeing a huge fireball erupt from the tent, followed by the wails of the injured.

"I saw the bodies of women and children, and bags and slippers strewn all around in pools of blood," said Najem, who joined in helping evacuate people.

The pilgrims were among hundreds of thousands walking to the shrine city of Karbala to mark Arbaeen, the end of a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, a 7th century figure revered by Shiites. Traditionally, residents set up hospitality tents to serve refreshments to the pilgrims.

Such public displays of Shiite religiosity were banned during Saddam Hussein's rule. Since his fall from power in 2003, millions have been making the journey on foot to the Karbala shrine. Just as regularly, insurgents have attacked them along the way, and Monday's bombing echoed one a year earlier in which a suicide attacker killed 40 pilgrims, at a hospitality tent.

But a recent pilgrimage had gone off almost without incident, drawing boasts from the government that the security forces were in full control.

Monday's bombing was the bloodiest of the year, and was the fifth suicide attack in Baghdad in a week. It coincided with widespread fear that insurgent groups are gearing up for a major onslaught in the weeks before the March 7 national elections.

A dramatic deterioration in security could affect the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq, set to take place by the end of August.

American commanders have said they intend to assess things after the elections and decide whether to send home an estimated 65,000 combat troops, leaving a force of about 50,000 in Iraq.





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