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US and Iraqi negotiators have agreed to a possible withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 and for a reduction in the presence of US forces in Iraqi cities by the end of next year. The agreements come as part of a US-Iraqi security deal to replace the UN mandate that expires in December. But the deal would also allow the US to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq after 2011 for so-called supporting roles including military training. No timetable has been reached for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq. Iraq’s chief negotiator, Mohammed al-Haj Hamoud, said, "They have both agreed to 2011. If the Iraqi government at that time decides it is necessary to keep the American forces longer, they can do so." The Bush administration called the withdrawal timetables “aspirational goals” rather than fixed dates. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent Thursday in Baghdad in negotiations.
Condoleezza Rice: "We have had very good discussions on a number of other issues, including the strategic framework agreement. It is an important agreement to allow Iraq and the United States to continue the cooperation that we’ve begun to lay a foundation for future cooperation."
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Baghdad and Washington are close to finalizing the deal.
Hoshyar Zebari: "We had a very good meeting with Secretary Rice. We discussed a number of regional Iraqi internal issues, and also we discussed the strategic framework agreement, that there has been a great deal of progress, in fact. Secretary Rice meeting this morning with Prime Minister was positive, and we are very close to finalize this important agreement."
Several issues remain unresolved, including whether US troops will be subject to Iraqi law if accused of committing crimes. The New York Times reports it is also unclear whether the accord will allow for the US to build permanent military bases in Iraq and what role the United States would play in providing air and naval support for Iraq.
A major electronic voting company has acknowledged its voting system contains a critical programming error that can cause votes to be dropped and lost. The company, Premier Election Solutions, formerly known as Diebold, said the problem has been part of its software for ten years but was only recently identified. The flawed software is on both touchscreen and optical scan voting machines made by Premier, which supplies voting machines to thirty-four states.
In Texas, a federal judge delayed the execution of Jeffery Wood yesterday, pending an evaluation to determine if Wood is competent enough to be able to understand why he is to be put to death. Jeffery Wood was to have been executed last night for being an accomplice in a 1996 convenience store robbery. Wood was sitting in a truck outside when the clerk was shot and killed. The man who pulled the trigger was executed six years ago, but Wood was given a death sentence for the same crime under the Texas law of parties.
In campaign news, speculation is intensifying over who Senator Barack Obama will pick to be his running mate. On Thursday, Obama announced that he has decided on a vice-presidential candidate but declined to provide a name. Obama said, "I want somebody who’s independent, somebody who can push against my preconceived notions and challenge me so we have got a robust debate in the White House." Obama is expected to announce his decision today or tomorrow by sending a text message to his supporters.
In other campaign news, Senator Obama has begun airing a new television ad criticizing John McCain for failing to remember how many homes he and his wife own. During an interview with the website Politico, McCain was asked about his multiple homes.
Sen. McCain: "I think — I’ll have my staff get to you. It’s condominiums where — I’ll have them get to you."
McCain’s staff says the Arizona senator and his wife own four homes: two in Arizona, one in California and one in Virginia. But it is reported the McCains actually own at least seven properties worth around $14 million. McCain’s comments come just days after he said the threshold for considering someone rich is $5 million.
In Pakistan, the death toll from Thursday’s massive suicide bombing has reached at least seventy. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside Pakistan’s largest arms and ammunition factory. The bombing was the deadliest attack by the Taliban since they began hitting Pakistani government sites more than eighteen months ago. A Taliban spokesperson called the arms facility "a killer factory where arms are being produced to kill our women and children.” The Taliban said the attack was in response to Pakistan’s decision to launch a major military campaign in the Banjur tribal area. Over the past three weeks, more than 200,000 Pakistanis in the region have been forced to flee their homes because of the fighting.
The Washington Post reports the Bush administration has announced plans to implement a controversial regulation designed to protect doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who object to abortion or birth control from being forced to deliver services that violate their personal beliefs. The rule empowers federal health officials to pull funding from nearly 600,000 hospitals, clinics, health plans, doctors’ offices and other entities if they do not accommodate employees who refuse to participate in care they find objectionable on personal, moral or religious grounds. Women’s health advocates and family planning advocates condemned the regulation, saying it could create sweeping obstacles to a variety of health services, including abortion, family planning, end-of-life care and possibly a wide range of scientific research.
An Iraqi cameraman working for Reuters has been released after being held for twenty-six days without charge by the US military. Ali al-Mashhadani had been detained twice before by US forces, at one time being held for five months, but no charge has ever been made against him.
The trial of a former Marine accused of voluntary manslaughter and assault while serving in Iraq began yesterday. Jose Luis Nazario, Jr. is charged with killing unarmed Iraqi detainees in Fallujah. If found guilty, he could face up to ten years in jail. Nazario is the first civilian to be tried under a federal law that allows the prosecution of former military service members for war crimes.
And in China, two activists with Students for a Free Tibet staged what they called their "lucky eight" protest against the human rights situation in China during the Olympics. One of the activists, Ginger Cassidy, spoke to reporters in Beijing.
Ginger Cassidy: "We’re here to stand in solidarity with the people of Tibet. Armed with human dignity and nonviolent tactics, they’re going up against one of the largest propaganda and military machines in the world, China, who’s been trying dissolve any dissent in this country. We have organized over eight nonviolent direct actions here while we’ve been in China, successfully. We call it our lucky eights."