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The Buzz

The latest on abortion, marriage, the economy, Iraq and Rwanda

Issue: "George W. Bush: Gut check," April 24, 2004

POLITICS: In only the third prime-time press conference of his presidency, President Bush last week defended U.S. efforts in Iraq and his administration's actions prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Despite a lack of visible progress, he said that Iraq is moving toward self-rule and stood by his June 30 deadline for handing political power over to an Iraqi government. "I fully understand the consequences of what we're doing," he said. "We're changing the world."

With 9/11 and Iraq emerging as major issues in this year's presidential campaign, reporters repeatedly asked Mr. Bush whether he wanted to apologize for not preventing the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Mr. Bush declined: "The person responsible for the attacks was Osama bin Laden" (story, p. 18).

IRAQ: One year after U.S. forces liberated Baghdad, American soldiers marked their deadliest week of combat. U.S. Central Command identified 66 U.S. servicemen-including at least two women-who died in combat during the week ending April 10. More than 90 have died since Shiite and Sunni fanatics ignited an armed insurgency in cities along the Euphrates River. More than 700 Iraqis were killed in the fighting.

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U.S. Marines pulled back from Najaf and Fallujah, the centers of fighting, to allow Shiite members of the Governing Council and the sons of Iraq's three grand ayatollahs time to persuade Shiite strongman Moqtada al-Sadr to relinquish what control his black-garbed gunmen seized in Najaf and nearby Karbala and Kufa. Overnight negotiations could not keep the truce from crumbling as guerrillas fired rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. armored vehicles.

Isolated firefights gave way to widespread fear as kidnappings-including seven civilian workers for Houston-based Halliburton-mounted. Russia sent planes to evacuate workers in Iraq, even as three Japanese abductees were freed. Other countries warned their workers in Iraq to leave as well, and a U.S. security firm working with faith-based groups called on international Christian organizations to evacuate expatriate staff from Iraq. While the warnings may hamper reconstruction efforts, they are likely to redouble U.S. military efforts. That's fine by most Iraqis, even as they are more than ready for the United States to return sovereignty by the June 30 deadline. "We live in a bad neighborhood that is getting better. In the meantime our sovereign government cannot exist without U.S. security forces," said Kurdish Regional Government head Barham Salih (story, p. 22).

ABORTION: Challenges to the partial-birth abortion ban passed by Congress in 2003 continued last week in courtrooms in New York, Omaha, and San Francisco. In New York, neonatal pediatrician Kanwaljeet Anand testified on April 13 that unborn children feel "excruciating pain" during the partial-birth abortion procedures, bolstering a key claim made by backers of the ban. Attorneys from the National Abortion Federation had tried unsuccessfully to block Dr. Anand's testimony (story, p. 24).

AFRICA: Rwandans buried 20 communal coffins bearing the remains of hundreds of family members on April 7 in a state ceremony marking the 1994 genocide where 800,000 were murdered. Post-traumatic hand-wringing by world leaders won't compensate for the bloodletting's lingering aftermath: One-eighth of Rwanda's population is now made up of orphans, half its women are widowed, and mass rapes that accompanied the mass killings left 10 percent of survivors with HIV (story, p. 25).

The fallout may prevent Western leaders from ignoring other African crises. President Bush made a surprise call to Sudan President Omar al-Bashir earlier this month and charged that his government was "complicit in the brutalization of Darfur," a western province where government-backed militias have forced nearly 1 million people from their homes, causing the deaths of as many as 1,000 per week. After Mr. Bush issued a statement on Darfur, the Pentagon announced it was "closely monitoring" the region, and a ceasefire agreement soon followed. Aerial bombardments by Khartoum, however, have continued despite U.S. satellite coverage and other surveillance.

World leaders did not react to carnage in Nigeria, where Muslim fanatics this month have killed more than 1,500 Christians-including at least eight pastors-and burned nearly 200 churches. Nigerian authorities have arrested dozens suspected in the crimes, including Sheik Muhiddeen Abdullahi, a Sudanese businessman who, according to Compass Direct, heads a Saudi-funded charity in the northern city of Kano. Authorities have charged him with directing and funding the attacks on Christians.

MARRIAGE: Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney last week proposed emergency legislation to delay a court-imposed May 17 deadline for the state to begin sanctioning gay weddings. Under the legislation, Gov. Romney could appoint a special counsel to ask the court to delay its ruling as Massachusetts citizens consider a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages. The decision over gay marriages is so important, he said, that "it should be made by the people." Kentucky legislators, meanwhile, approved a constitutional amendment to ban homosexual marriage in that state. The amendment will be on the ballot in November.


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