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The latest news on health insurance, Iraq-prewar intelligence, war, Congress- Palestine, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan, Africa advocacy, Libby trial and select Op-Eds.

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Iraq-war. Signs of security plan seen in Iraq – “U.S. and Iraqi troops handed out candy in a Sunni neighborhood, guarded a midtown hospital and swept through a heavily Shiite enclave as Iraqis reacted with skepticism to the first signs of a security plan billed by some as a last-chance effort to secure the Iraqi capital.” Iraq, U.S. Advised To Avoid Offensive Against Militiamen: Maliki’s Influence Seen in Report– “Iraqi and U.S. forces should not launch a military offensive against the militias — most of them Shiite — that are a major source of turmoil in Iraq, but should instead rely on nonviolent steps to bring militiamen into the political fold, according to an Iraqi report that draws largely on the views of prominent Shiite politicians.”Iraqi insurgents offer peace in return for US concessions – “For the first time, one of Iraq’s principal insurgent groups has set out the terms of a ceasefire that would allow American and British forces to leave the country they invaded almost four years ago.”

Iraq-Congress. On Iraq rebuke, House aims for concise, direct approach – “The House of Representatives next week will confront President Bush with a short, straightforward resolution expressing opposition to his plan to boost troop levels in Iraq”. House Democrats Reach Accord on Debate Over War Resolution – “House Democrats agreed to debate a straightforward, nonbinding resolution that rejects President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, but they will also allow Republicans to bring their own war-related measure to the floor.” Democrats Set House Debate to Rebuke Bush Over Iraq Policy – “Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other party leaders met privately for more than an hour with other Democratic lawmakers. They sought to reassure Democrats that the symbolic, nonbinding resolution devised to rebuke Mr. Bush was a first step – but not a final one – toward asserting Congressional powers on Iraq.”

Iraq-prewar intelligence. Probe faults Pentagon’s `alternative’ intelligence – “A special unit run by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s top policy aide inappropriately produced “alternative” prewar intelligence reports on Iraq that wrongly concluded Saddam Hussein’s regime had cooperated with Al Qaeda,” Pentagon aide’s prewar work faulted – “A Pentagon official who was a prime architect of Bush administration policies that led to the Iraq war presented policymakers with allegations of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda that did not accurately reflect the views of U.S. intelligence agencies.” Official’s Key Report On Iraq Is Faulted – “Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included “reporting of dubious quality or reliability” that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community.”

Iran. Iran’s Leader Warns the U.S. About Carrying Out Any Attack – “Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned the United States that Iran would retaliate against American interests worldwide if it was attacked.” Iran’s top leader has fighting words for U.S. – “Speaking to a gathering of air force commanders, Khamenei said, “The enemy knows well that any invasion would be followed by a comprehensive reaction to the invaders and their interests all over the world.”

North Korea. North Korea Nuke Talks Resume With Hope – “Six-nation talks on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program resumed Thursday, buoyed by signs that North Korea is ready to return to serious negotiations.”

Afghanistan. Bombing campaign intensifies in Afghanistan – “The Pentagon is ramping up its bombing campaign in Afghanistan as it plans a major offensive against the resurgent Taliban in the spring. Close-air-support missions flown by U.S. Air Force pilots increased nearly 80% in the first five weeks of 2007 compared with the same period last year,” General wants more troops in Afghanistan – “The new American commander of NATO presented a revised list of military requirements for Afghanistan that includes a request for more combat troops for the country’s restive southern provinces.”

Sudan. Frist Joins Evangelist Graham on Trip to South Sudan– “He had traveled to the group’s far-flung health clinics before to operate on patients who, he granted, often had no idea who he was. The mission this time was a meeting with leaders of the semiautonomous region that only recently emerged from one of the bloodiest and longest-running civil wars on the continent.”

Africa advocacy. New Advocacy Group Aims To Point Up Atrocities in Africa – “Veteran Africa activists, frustrated by the slow response from Su
dan’s government to international demands to ease the plight of refugees in Darfur, are regrouping to take their fight to the next level. A new group, calling itself Enough, has joined the growing list of non-governmental peacemaking organizations. Its aim is to tap into the grass-roots awareness and sense of rage generated by the Darfur crisis and create a social and political network that can identify potential wide-scale atrocities, particularly in Africa, and stop them before they occur.”

Palestine. Palestinians Reach Deal on a Government– “It remained unclear whether the new government will meet conditions laid down by Israel and international donors to fully restore funding to the Palestinian Authority that they cut off after Hamas’s victory in January 2006 parliamentary elections.” Accord Is Signed by Palestinians to Stop Feuding– “The main rival Palestinian factions agreed late Thursday to form a government of national unity aimed at ending a wave of violence between them and an international boycott.”

Libby trial. Russert tells jury he never told Libby of CIA agent – “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert testified that he never gave former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby information about the wife of a Bush administration war critic, directly contradicting the premise of Libby’s defense of perjury charges.” Prosecution Rests Case In Libby’s Perjury Trial – “Prosecutors rested their case in the perjury trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, completing a methodical portrait of a top-tier presidential aide who they say diligently scrambled to defend the White House against an early critic of the Iraq war and then lied to investigators about what he had done.”

Health insurance. Wal-Mart, Union Join Forces on Health Care : Alliance’s Goal Is to Improve Coverage – “Two once-implacable foes in the business world found common ground, at least for a few minutes, as they publicly pledged to work together for the first time to fix what they called the nation’s health-care crisis by 2012. At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Wal-Mart chief executive H. Lee Scott sat at one end of a table and vowed to put aside differences to “drive this debate forward.” On the other end was Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and frequent Wal-Mart critic, declaring he had made a “tough choice” in the goal to improve coverage.”

Op-Ed. Budget Games That Hurt Children (E. J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post) – “The cutbacks in health coverage for lower-income working families are among the most egregious of the president’s fiscal choices. And it’s not just Democrats who are saying so.”

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