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US, Iraqi Troops Begin Baghdad Offensive

US and Iraqi forces have begun what’s being described as a massive security crackdown in Baghdad. More than two thousand troops entered Sunni areas in an overnight raid.

5th US Helicopter Reportedly Downed in Iraq

The incursion comes as the Pentagon says its now investigating reports of another US military helicopter crash. If confirmed, the crash would be the fifth by a US helicopter in the past three weeks.

US Death Toll Hits 4-Month High

Meanwhile new figures show the recent stretch has been the deadliest for US troops since the US invasion. At least 333 troops have been killed over the past four months — more than any over the same period since the war began.

Pentagon Releases Video UK Tank Bombing

In other Iraq news, the Pentagon has reversed its decision to prevent the release of videotape showing a U.S. pilot mistakenly bombing a British tank convoy in the early days of the war. The video was taken from the cockpit of the US jet. A 25-year-old British soldier named Matty Hull died in the bombing. The Pentagon’s reversal comes after the video was released by Britain’s Sun newspaper. The Bush administration initially classified the video in an attempt to prevent its broadcast or use in court.

4 Arrested in Iranian Diplomat Kidnapping

Meanwhile four Iraqis have been arrested in the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat in Baghdad. The diplomat — Jalal Sharafi — was seized by gunmen wearing uniforms of a special Iraqi unit under US direction. Iran says it holds the US responsible.

Iranian Vice President Rahim Mashaei: "It is evident that these actions are not beneficial for the people of Iraq, the people of this region, and certainly not for world peace. We must endeavour to put an end to this. The main problem is the current occupation, and there are no possibilities of us reaching any positive conclusions with the current circumstances."

The Pentagon is denying Iranian accusations of involvement.

Palestinians Protest Excavation Near Al-Aqsa Mosque

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, new tensions are flaring over an Israeli excavation near Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque. Palestinians are warning a limited ceasefire will unravel if Israel damages the compound housing Islam’s third holiest shrine.

Raif Nijem, chair of the Al Aqsa Mosque Restoration Committee: "We were astonished by noticing that some bulldozers, Israeli bulldozers, came to the Bab al Magharibah, al Magharbah gate, and they started to demolish the approach road and two rooms there. Which are near al Boraq Mosque. And this will lead to danger to al Aqsa building itself. We have advised the Israeli authorities in Jerusalem last week and several times before that they should not touch this road."

The Israeli government says its searching for artifacts and won’t cause any damage.

Palestinian Leaders Meet in Mecca of In-fighting

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have opened talks in Mecca over defusing internal fighting between the two main Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. The talks come as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would meet this month with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "The meeting will take place on the 19th the trilateral meeting initiated by secretary Rice is significant and I have enormous respect for the desires and energy secretary Rice invests in pushing the process of negotiations with the Palestinians."

US Rejects Secret Detention Ban

In France, nearly sixty countries signed a treaty Tuesday banning secret detention. The United States was not one of them. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack refused to comment on whether US rejection was linked to its program of sending prisoners to secret jails overseas. Other governments to reject the treaty include Germany, Spain, Britain and Italy.

New Command for US Military Operations in Africa

The Bush administration has announced a new US military command for Africa. Africa Command — or AFRICOM — will oversee military operations across fifty-three African countries. Control over US military operations there has previously been divided between three commands.

Ex-Iraq Occupation Head Questioned on Missing Billions

Here in the United States, hearings began Tuesday in what Democrats say will be a lengthy probe into corruption and mismanagement by the US occupation authority in Iraq. Former occupation head Paul Bremer was questioned on nearly nine billion dollars in missing Iraqi oil revenue. The funds were handed to Iraqis and US contractors in cash — often in packages of one hundred dollar bills. House Oversight and Government Reform chair Henry Waxman says the Bush administration has blocked the appearance of the new reconstruction coordinator in Iraq — retired ambassador Timothy Carney.

Judiciary Committee Probes Attorney Dismissals

Meanwhile in the Senate, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday into the Bush administration’s controversial dismissal of several federal prosecutors. The attorney firings — and their replacements — have raised allegations the Bush administration is interfering with the judicial system. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty admitted a federal prosecutor in Arkansas was replaced to make way for a former Republican National Committee research director and aide to presidential advisor Karl Rove. At least eleven US attorneys have been forced out under an obscure provision in the USA Patriot Act that allows the U.S. attorney general to name replacements without Senate confirmation. The dismissals include San Diego US Attorney Carol Lam. She oversaw the corruption prosecution against the jailed former Republican Congressmember Duke Cunningham. Senate Judiciary committee member Charles Schumer of New York said: "Even the hiring and firing of our top federal prosecutors has become infused and corrupted with political, rather than prudent, considerations."

Wal-Mart Loses Bid to Dismiss Sex-Discrimination Case

The retail giant Wal-Mart has lost an effort to dismiss the largest class-action employment discrimination case in US history. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that Wal-Mart face a lawsuit alleging discrimination against female employees. Taking the case to trial could expose Wal-Mart to paying billions in damages. Wal-Mart is lobbying against a class-action suit and wants each case tried individually.

House to Vote on Non-Binding Opposition to Iraq Escalation

Back on Capitol Hill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced House Democrats will proceed with a vote on a non-binding resolution opposing President Bush’s plan to escalate the war in Iraq. The announcement comes one day after Republicans blocked a similar resolution in the Senate. The House vote is expected next week.

Videographer Becomes Longest-Jailed Journalist in US History

And finally, a California videographer has become the longest-incarcerated journalist in US history. Josh Wolf has been jailed since August 1st. It’s his second time in prison over his refusal to hand over video of a 2005 protest. In San Francisco, dozens of supporters rallied outside City Hall Tuesday to call for Wolf’s release. Today is Wolf’s 169th day in jail.

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