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British Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced a partial withdrawal of British forces from Iraq. Blair says 1,600 troops will be pulled within the next few months with another 500 possibly in the summer. The announcement comes as Vice President Dick Cheney said today, “the American people will not support a policy of retreat.” Cheney was speaking aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier near Tokyo. The British pullout follows the Bush administration’s decision last month to send at least 21,000 more troops to Iraq.
In Iraq today, a car bombing in the city of Najaf has killed at least eight people.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has fired a government official who demanded an inquiry into allegations two members of the Shiite-led police force raped a Sunni woman during the massive security crackdown on Baghdad. The official, Ahmed Samarrai, headed the Sunni religious authority. The alleged victim claimed she was raped after being detained over the weekend. Maliki initially backed an investigation but later dismissed the charges and accused the woman of spreading propaganda.
Meanwhile, a U.S. soldier pleaded guilty Tuesday to the rape of an Iraqi teenager and the murder of her and her family. The soldier, Sergeant Paul Cortez, will avoid the death sentence. He’s the second American servicemember to plead guilty in the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Kassem Hamza al-Janabi and the killing of her two parents and five-year-old sister in the town of Mahmoudiya last March. Cortez could face life in prison without parole. Three others still face charges.
Iran has renewed calls for unconditional talks over its nuclear program as a U.N. deadline to suspend uranium enrichment expires today. On Tuesday, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said Iran would be prepared to give security guarantees if offered unconditional negotiations. The Bush administration has refused to sit down with Iran until Iran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment.
Meanwhile, the administration rejected a suggestion from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that both Iran and the U.S. agree to mutually close their nuclear facilities. Ahmadinejad said, “If they say that we should close down our fuel production facilities to resume talks, we say fine, but those who enter talks with us should also close down their nuclear fuel production facilities.” At the White House, Press Secretary Tony Snow dismissed the comments as a “false offer.”
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow: “The fact is that we are perfectly happy to help Iran acquire civilian nuclear power. We are not, however — and the international community has made it clear that Iran should not be in a position to develop or possess nuclear weapons. So that, kind of — that is a false offer, because the position of the international community is clear.”
In Europe, leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic have announced they’re likely to accept a request to host parts of the Bush administration’s so-called anti-missile defense system. The plans have set off a wave of protest in both countries.
Jan Tamas of the Czech Anti-Bases Movement: “Representatives of our government have shown us again that they don’t care about public opinion at all. It is the opinion of tens of thousands of people who want a referendum, who have expressed their opposition to the plans by the American government to build a radar base here. It reminds me of the situation in November 1989 when the (Communist) government did not take into consideration public opinion and was doing whatever they wished.”
Under the current proposal, Poland would host a battery holding up to 10 ballistic missiles. The Czech Republic would host a radar facility. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Russian government also raised its objections to the plan.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov: “We are seriously concerned about the plan for the U.S. anti-missile system in Europe, and we are concerned about an emerging crisis related to a conventional arms treaty in Europe. NATO enlargement (in Europe) is clearly not helping develop trust in relations between countries.”
In Israel, Israeli police say they thwarted a major atrocity Tuesday with the arrest of a would-be suicide bomber in Tel Aviv. The accused bomber was arrested along with several other suspects. An Israeli bomb disposal official said a cache of explosives was uncovered in a dumpster.
Unidentified Israeli bomb disposal official: “It is a medium-size bag. I guess if this bag would explode, we would have tremendous amount of casualties.”
Back in the United States, a federal appeals court has sided with the Bush administration’s policy Guantanamo prisoners cannot challenge their indefinite detention in U.S. courts. The two-to-one decision upholds the Military Commissions Act passed last year. Lawyers for Guantanamo prisoners are promising to take the case before the Supreme Court, which has twice now ruled in their favor.
In Washington, Retired Admiral Mike McConnell was sworn in Tuesday as the director for national intelligence. McConnell spoke at a White House ceremony with President Bush.
National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell: “This is an opportunity and privilege of a lifetime. Mr. President, I am humbled by your trust and most encouraged by your continued commitment to the ongoing transformation to the intelligence community to not only serve you better, but to better serve our national leadership in the future.”
McConnell is a former director of the National Security Agency. Most recently he oversaw defense programs at the defense and intelligence contractor giant Booz Allen.
In other news from Washington, Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota has been released from hospital care to a rehabilitation facility. Johnson was hospitalized in December with bleeding in his brain. His recovery could decide who controls the Senate. If he were to resign or die, the Republican governor of South Dakota, Mike Rounds, would be able to pick a Republican to replace him, thus giving Republicans Senate control.
The tobacco industry is celebrating a major legal victory today after the Supreme Court reversed a nearly $80 million judgement against Philip Morris and set limits on how jurors can assess penalties against big corporations. In a five-to-four ruling, the court ruled an Oregon jury had been granted improper leeway in deciding damages in a case that found Philip Morris had endangered the lives of smokers.
A New York man accused of funding anti-U.S. insurgents has also been a major donor for the Republican Party. The suspect, Abdul Alishtari, also known as Michael Mixon, has pleaded not guilty to accepting payment to transfer more than $150,000 to a training camp in Afghanistan. Campaign records show Alishtari donated some $15,000 to Republicans over three years. His resume says he’s been named a National Republican Congressional Committee “Inner Circle Member for Life” and a member of the “White House Business Advisory Committee.”
The Bush administration is promising swift action following the disclosure the U.S. Army’s top medical facility is in a state of major decay. A Washington Post investigation this week revealed the Walter Reed Army Medical Center has turned into what is called a “virtual town of desperation and dysfunction.” The paper reports finding hospital rooms infested with mouse droppings, cockroaches, stained carpets, rodents and black mold. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said President Bush only heard of the problems after they were detailed in The Washington Post. Snow said he does not know why Bush didn’t hear of them during several visits during his time in office.
And a new audit has found widespread inaccuracy in how the government collects statistics on terrorism. The Justice Department inspector general says hundreds of completely unrelated cases have helped inflate numbers on offenses and prosecutions. Offenses including drug trafficking, marriage fraud and immigration violations were among those wrongly included. Just two of 26 collections of statistics were found to be accurate. The Bush administration has previously cited the statistics in efforts to provide evidence of successes in prosecuting terrorism cases.