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Army: No Plan To Reduce Troop Level Until At Least 2006

The Army announced Thursday it has no plans to greatly reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq until at least next year and possibly not until 2008. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody said Iraq security forces must first continue to improve their ability to fight the insurgency themselves. About 150,000 U.S. troops are currently in Iraq.

725 Anti-War Protests Planned For War Anniversary

Saturday marks the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion. More than 725 anti-war protests and events are scheduled across the country to mark the anniversary. United For Peace and Justice reports this is more than double the number of actions that took place a year ago to mark the first anniversary of the war. One of the largest rallies is expected to take place in Fayetteville, North Carolina outside the military base Fort Bragg. Main sponsors of that protest include Veterans For Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Military Families Speak Out.

Negroponte Leaves Iraq After Nine Months

Meanwhile John Negroponte flew out of Iraq Thursday after serving nine months as the U.S. Ambassador in Baghdad. He will now face confirmation hearings for his new job–national intelligence director.

Bush Expected to Tap Khalilzad to Serve in Baghdad

President Bush is expected to name Zalmay Khalilzad to replace Negroponte as ambassador. Khalilzad has been serving as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Last year he was accused of pressuring opposition candidates to drop out of the Afghan election in order to ensure the victory of the U.S.-backed Hamid Karzai. Zalmay Khalilzad was a leading proponent of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. In 1998 he co-signed a letter to President Clinton sent by the Project for the New American Century calling for regime change in Iraq. Other signers of the letter included Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz.

Ex-Halliburton Manager Arrested on Fraud Charges

A former manager at Halliburton has been arrested and charged with defrauding the government $3.5 million. Jeff Mazon is accused of participating in a scheme to inflate prices charged to the military under a contract Halliburton has to support troop deployment in Iraq. Mazon was arrested Wednesday on 10 felony counts.

Israeli Nuclear Whistleblower Faces Jail Again

In Israel, nuclear whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu was indicted Thursday and could be sent back to jail. He was released last year after spending 18 years in prison. He was jailed for leaking secrets to the Sunday Times of London that proved Israel had a nuclear weapons program. Upon his release last year Israel barred Vanunu from speaking to the international press. He was accused Thursday of violating those restrictions. If convicted he faces two years in jail. Over the past year Vanunu has given a handful of interviews with the international press including Democracy Now. On Thursday he vowed to keep speaking out. "I think it’s my right as a human being to speak to anyone in the world without asking him what is you ID card or what is your passport," said Vanunu. "What I can say to this arrest, I can say to everyone and all that I’m saying is just repeating my story, my political views and the nuclear secrets that had been published 18 years ago."

Senate Rejects Bush’s Proposed Cuts to Medicaid

The Senate approved a $2.6 trillion budget on Thursday. However lawmakers defied President Bush and the Republican leadership by refusing to make proposed cuts to Medicaid, community development grants and school aid. Meanwhile the House passed its own budget Thursday that included more than $20 billion in cuts to Medicaid.

Congress Tackles Steroids

But the main focus on Capitol Hill Thursday was not the budget — but baseball. The House Committee on Government Reform held an 11-hour hearing on steroid use in the Major Leagues. Five retired and active all star players testified, as did Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball. Selig denied steroids was a major problem in baseball. Three of the players–Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmieri–denied ever using steroids and downplayed it as an issue. But the center of attention was on Mark McGwire, one of baseball’s most legendary home run hitters. He repeatedly refused to answer questions on whether he ever used steroids. McGwire’s former teammate, Jose Canseco, recently published a book claiming that he used to personally inject McGwire with steroids when they were teammates. Canseco also wrote in the book that he introduced steroids to the Texas Rangers at a time when the team was owned in part by President Bush. After being traded to the Rangers, Canseco says he helped give the drug to Ranger stars Rafael Palmieri, Juan Gonzales and Pudge Rodriguez. Canseco claims Bush must have known his star players were using steroids. Congress has taken up the issue of steroids in an attempt to force Major League baseball to toughen its policy against the drug which has become very popular among high school athletes.

Bush Names Congressman Rob Portman As Trade Rep

In other news from Washington, President Bush nominated Republican Congressman Rob Portman of Ohio to become the country’s next trade representative. If confirmed Portman will succeed Robert Zoellick. Portman is a close personal friend of the president and served as the presidential campaign’s chief spokesperson in Ohio during the last election.

Study Links Mercury Emissions to Autism

A new scientific study has found a link between mercury released from coal-fired power plants and the increasing number of cases of autism. The study tracked how autism rates rose in certain counties in Texas where mercury emissions were rising. About 48 tons of mercury are released into the air annually in the United States from hundreds of coal-burning plants. Last month the U.S. blocked attempts to launch formal talks on a global treaty to ban mercury which has also been linked to other serious ailments in pregnant women and children.

Ex-Haitian Official Hospitalized After Prison Hunger Strike

In Haiti, the country’s former interior minister has been hospitalized. The official, Jocelerme Privert, has been on a hunger strike from jail for the past two weeks along with Haiti’s former prime minister, Yvon Neptune. The two officials served under the government of ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide. They are among the most prominent supporters of Aristide to have been jailed since the coup a year ago.

U.S. Revokes Visa For Hindu Leader Connected to Gujarat Killings

The State Department has revoked a visa for a leading Hindu nationalist leader from India. The official, Narendra Modi has been accused by human rights groups of doing little to stop the bloody riots in Gujarat that killed up to 2,000 Muslims three years ago. Modi was scheduled to speak at Madison Square Garden and other venues during a tour of the United States.

Ashcroft To Teach At Pat Robertson’s College

And former Attorney General John Ashcroft has a new job. He has been hired as a part-time professor at a Christian university run by television evangelist Pat Robertson. Beginning next month he will teach a course at Regent University on leadership in times of crisis. He will also lecture on national security law.

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