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Weekend News Digest

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1 Clashes kill 13 in Baghdad’s Sadr City

By BUSHRA JUHI, Associated Press Writer

2 hours, 20 minutes ago

BAGHDAD – Shiite militants fought U.S. and Iraqi forces around Baghdad’s Shiite district of Sadr City early Saturday despite a call for calm by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr following the assassination of one of his top aides.

At least 13 Shiite militants died in the clashes, which erupted Friday night and tapered off early Saturday, the U.S. military said. Iraqi police reported seven civilians were killed as a result of the fighting between U.S and government troops and al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.

Al-Sadr blamed the Americans and their Iraqi allies for the assassination Friday of one of his top aides, Riyadh al-Nouri, director of his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. Gunmen ambushed al-Nouri as he was returning home from Friday prayers.

The Morning News

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1 General won’t promise more Iraq pullouts

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

5 minutes ago

WASHINGTON – The top U.S. commander in Iraq told Congress Tuesday that hard-won gains in the war zone are too fragile to promise any troop pullouts beyond this summer, holding his ground against impatient Democrats and refusing to commit to more withdrawals before President Bush leaves office in January.

Army Gen. David Petraeus painted a picture of a nation struggling to suppress violence among its own people and to move toward the political reconciliation that Bush said a year ago was the ultimate aim of his new Iraq strategy, which included sending more than 20,000 extra combat troops.

Security is getting better, and Iraq’s own forces are becoming more able, Petraeus said. But he also ticked off a list of reasons for worry, including the threat of a resurgence of Sunni or Shiite extremist violence. He highlighted Iran as a special concern, for its training and equipping of extremists.

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1 22 killed in Sadr City clashes

By SLOBODAN LEKIC, Associated Press Writer

1 hour, 23 minutes ago

BAGHDAD – Iraqi troops backed by U.S. forces battled Shiite fighters in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood in clashes that killed 22 people and wounded dozens despite a cease-fire between the government and the militia, officials said Sunday.

To the north, police said gunmen seized 42 students off a bus near the city of Mosul – al-Qaida’s last major urban stronghold – but later released them unharmed.

The U.S. military said that fighting broke out overnight in Sadr City, a stronghold of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s militants. Officials at two local hospitals said 22 people were killed and 92 wounded. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, did not say whether the casualties were civilians or fighters. U.S. and Iraqi forces released no information about the casualties.

A police officer said that a U.S. Stryker armored personnel carrier was damaged in the fighting, which continued with sporadic exchanges of fire through Sunday morning.

Two armored Humvee vehicles and two trucks belonging to the Iraqi army were also destroyed, said the officer, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

How about that “Surge Success” Betrayus?

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1 Candidates to press Petraeus on Iraq war

By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer

1 minute ago

WASHINGTON – When Army Gen. David Petraeus delivers his assessment of the Iraq war next week, the next commander in chief will weigh in as well.

Republican Sen. John McCain will get a chance to argue that last year’s U.S. troop buildup has been a success and withdrawal would be a mistake. Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama will have an opportunity to ask why the United States is still fighting more than five years after the invasion.

All three presidential contenders serve on Senate panels that will hear and question the top U.S. military commander in Iraq when he testifies Tuesday. McCain and Clinton serve on the Armed Services Committee; Obama is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Tibetans to Bush: Don’t Go to Beijing Olympics — Rally in DC — UPDATED

Please see the update at the end of this diary, with letters to the Chinese people and the world from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

On Monday, March 31, a large group of Tibetans, Americans of Tibetan ancestry, and other American supporters gathered at Lafayette Park outside the White House in Washington, DC to ask President Bush to make a statement for human rights and refused to attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in protest of Chinese government oppression of Tibet.

I have been very moved by the mostly nonviolent struggle of the Tibetans to regain their freedom, and by the strength and compassion shown by the Dalai Lama in urging them to maintain nonviolence at all times. I decided it was important to go and stand in solidarity with them. This is my report on the event.

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1 Hayden: Pakistan border poses danger

By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer

34 minutes ago

WASHINGTON – The situation in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan where al-Qaida has established a safe haven presents a “clear and present danger” to the West, the CIA director said Sunday.

Michael Hayden cited the belief by intelligence agencies that Osama bin Laden is hiding there in arguing that the U.S. has an interest in targeting the border region. If there were another terrorist attack against Americans, Hayden said, it would most certainly originate from that region.

“It’s very clear to us that al-Qaida has been able for the past 18 months or so to establish a safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border area that they have not enjoyed before, and that they’re bringing in operatives into the region for training,” he said.

Weekend News Digest

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1 ‘Standing up’ Iraq army looks open-ended

By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent

47 minutes ago

Iraq’s new army is “developing steadily,” with “strong Iraqi leaders out front,” the chief U.S. trainer assured the American people. That was three-plus years ago, the U.S. Army general was David H. Petraeus, and some of those Iraqi officials at the time were busy embezzling more than $1 billion allotted for the new army’s weapons, according to investigators.

The 2004-05 Defense Ministry scandal was just one in an unending series of setbacks in the five-year struggle to “stand up” an Iraqi military and allow hard-pressed U.S. forces to “stand down” from Iraq.

The latest discouraging episode was unfolding this weekend in bloody Basra, the southern city where Iraqi government forces – in their toughest test yet – were still struggling to gain the upper hand in a five-day-old battle with Shiite Muslim militias.

Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, freestanding Iraqi army has seemed always to slip further into the future. In the latest shift, with Petraeus now U.S. commander in Iraq, the Pentagon’s new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when homegrown units will take over security responsibility nationwide, after last year’s reports had forecast a transition in 2008.

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1 China blasts Dalai Lama, Pelosi on Tibet

By CARA ANNA, Associated Press Writer

29 minutes ago

CHENGDU, China – China accused the Dalai Lama on Sunday of stoking Tibetan unrest to sabotage the Beijing Olympics and also berated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying she is ignoring the truth about Tibet.

This month’s violence in Tibet and neighboring provinces has turned into a public relations disaster for China ahead of the August Olympics, which it had been hoping to use to bolster its international image.

The Chinese government said through official media that formerly restive areas were under control and accused the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, of trying to harm China’s image ahead of the summer games.

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1 US deaths in Iraq approach 4,000

By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer

1 hour, 38 minutes ago

BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb killed three American soldiers north of Baghdad on Saturday, pushing the U.S. death toll in the five-year conflict to nearly 4,000.

Also Saturday, Iraqi authorities reported that a U.S. airstrike north of the capital killed six members of a U.S.-backed Sunni group – straining relations with America’s new allies in the fight against al-Qaida.

Two Iraqi civilians also died in the roadside bombing, which occurred as the Americans were patrolling an area northwest of the capital, the U.S. military said in a statement.

Bin Laden Really Does Suck

No, this isn’t a right-wing diary.

Does anyone remember what Bin Laden’s original demand was? We don’t negotiate with terrorists, we just give them what they want.

So now we see him railing against cartoons again, and he is implying that many will pay for these cartoons.

Cartoons? I’m an Irish American, and that has ensured that I have heard every Irish joke going. I have not blown up so much as a mail box over any of them. I’m pretty sure I laughed at most of them, or maybe poked someone in the eye, at worst.

The problems he creates with these kind of threats or worse, is that it becomes maddening for reasonable, rational people to hear. It’s red meat for the war pigs, and you can feel the ground tilt as the unthinking, fearful masses start leaning to the right again.

I used to like the sound of a fiddle, but now that so many are being played like one, I am getting really sick of that sound.

The cost of a fucking audio tape. That’s asymmetrical.

If you listen close enough, you can actually hear Bin Laden laughing right now.

The Morning News

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1 Paulson admits U.S. economy in sharp decline

Reuters

Tue Mar 18, 10:10 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on Tuesday described the economy as being in “sharp decline,” the closest he has come yet to conceding an election-year recession has set in.

Appearing tired after a weekend of helping to broker a fire sale takeover of Wall Street investment bank Bear Stearns to keep it from outright collapse, Paulson pushed back against efforts to have him admit a recession was under way.

“There’s no doubt that the American people know that the economy has turned down sharply. So to me much less important is the label that’s placed on it today. Much more important is what we do about it,” he told NBC’s Today Show.

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1 Tibet protests spread to other provinces

By TINI TRAN, Associated Press Writer

34 minutes ago

BEIJING – Violence in Tibet spilled over into neighboring provinces Sunday where Tibetan protesters defied a Chinese government crackdown. The Dalai Lama warned Tibet faced “cultural genocide” and appealed to the world for help.

Protests against Chinese rule of Tibet were reported in neighboring Sichuan and Qinghai provinces and also in western Gansu province. All are home to sizable Tibetan populations.

The demonstrations come after protests in the Tibetan capital Lhasa escalated into violence Friday, with Buddhist monks and others torching police cars and shops in the fiercest challenge to Beijing’s rule over the region in nearly two decades.

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