President Bush made a surprise visit to Baghdad last week to encourage the new Iraqi government and to take measure of it. "One of the reasons I went to Iraq was to be able to sit down with an Iraqi government to determine whether or not they have the will to succeed," he said after returning to Washington. "I've eliminated that uncertainty." The visit coincided with the largest security crackdown in Iraq since the U.S. invasion. With Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hoping to capitalize on the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, coalition forces are making security sweeps and enforcing a tight curfew and gun-control law. Read more.
Michael Gerson, a top aide to President Bush and one of the most influential evangelicals in Washington, is leaving the administration to write and pursue policy work. "He's been one of the president's closest advisers and he's starting a new chapter in his life after serving his country and this president for seven years," said White House spokesman Ken Lisaius. Mr. Gerson began writing speeches for then-Gov. Bush in 1999 and was chief speechwriter for the president from 2001 to 2005. When Mr. Bush began his second term in the White House, he promoted Mr. Gerson to policy and strategic adviser.
In what has become one of the left's premier events, several thousand liberals packed into the Washington, D.C., Hilton last week for the 2006 "Take Back America" conference. The three-day conference included actor Robert Redford, labor leader John Sweeney, and former presidential candidate Gary Hart. Sens. Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Harry Reid also made appearances, but the hard-left crowd had little patience for such establishment Democrats. Read more.
After taking over Mogadishu, Somalia's capital city, Islamic militia groups swept through the remaining strongholds held by secular warlords last week, gaining the upper hand in the war-ravaged country. "We have captured Jowhar and we are now planning to establish a new administration and establish Sharia courts as soon as possible," Sheikh Hassan Dir, one of the Islamic militia commanders, told the AFP news service. Concerned that Islamic leaders in Somalia may be harboring al-Qaeda terrorists, the United States reportedly gave financial assistance to the secular warlords, and now U.S. officials are waiting to see whether the new Islamic leadership will turn militant. Read more.
This time last year, movie theaters were suffering through a slump of historic measure. Nearly every weekend, box-office sales fell short of same-weekend sales from 2004. Things are looking a little better for theaters now: For the third straight weekend since Memorial Day, box-office sales have beaten same-weekend sales from last year (though still not from 2004). For the June 9-11 weekend, Pixar's Cars led the way, bringing in $62.8 million, a solid showing but less spectacular than the openings of such previous Pixar hits as The Incredibles and Finding Nemo. The film itself measures up similarly: Cars is good cartoon entertainment but not top-notch Pixar. Read more.
Federal agents have captured nearly 2,100 illegal immigrants in the last three weeks, according to the Department of Homeland Security. "Operation Return to Sender," the name of the federal crackdown that began on May 26, included 35 fugitive apprehension teams and focused on child molesters, gang members, and immigrants who had previously been deported but then returned. "This is a massive operation," Homeland Security's Marc Raimondi told the Associated Press. "We are watching the country's borders from the inside." The last large-scale sweep was on April 20, when agents apprehended 1,100 illegals.
Using his authority under the 1906 National Antiquities Act, President Bush on June 15 created a national monument that stretches 1,400 miles long and 100 miles wide. The monument is a new marine sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and Mr. Bush's designation extends federal protections for endangered monk seals and other rare species in the area. The sanctuary, the nation's 75th national monument, doesn't have a name yet, but officials say it will eventually be given a native Hawaiian name. "From both a national and global perspective," said Joshua Reichert, who heads the environmental program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, "this really is a landmark conservation event."