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Powell Visits Iraqi Massacre Site

Secretary of State Colin Powell visited a mass grave Monday to highlight perhaps the single biggest human-rights abuse of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime — the chemical weapons murder of some 5,000 people in March 1988.

Powell flew here from Baghdad to take part in the formal dedication of a memorial and museum to commemorate those who lost their lives in Halabja 15 years ago.

Powell traveled in a military C-130 transport aircraft to Kirkuk, then transferred to a helicopter, flying over dusty plains and barren hills to get to this Kurdish-dominated town.

The Halabja massacre has been cited repeatedly by President Bush as an example of Saddam's brutality.

It was here that Saddam took revenge on the population for its perceived backing of Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, bombing them with deadly gas.

Many of those attending the ceremony lost seven to 10 family members in the slaughter.

In other recent developments:

  • Three masked gunmen assassinated the police chief of Khaldiya, a town in the dangerous Sunni Triangle, the chief's driver said.
  • The publication of a full report on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction has been indefinitely postponed after inspectors found no evidence that any such weapons exist, reports the Times of London.
  • CNN war correspondent Christiane Amanpour told CNBC her network "was intimidated" by the Bush administration and Fox News, which "put a climate of fear and self-censorship," according to USA Today.
  • An American soldier was killed Monday in a grenade attack in Baghdad. On Sunday, insurgents killed a U.S. soldier and wounded three outside the troubled city of Fallujah. Since major combat was declared over in May, 156 American soldiers have died in Iraq. As of Saturday, the Pentagon reported 1,224 wounded in action and 316 wounded outside of combat.
  • U.S. troops kept up the pressure on the resistance fighters in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit on Monday with raids on houses and the arrest of five men suspected of helping to finance attacks against the American-led occupation force.
  • Five prominent Iraqis who are part of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council for Iraq reportedly want the Council to have more power. The Washington Post reports the five - who all opposed Saddam when he was in power - believe the Council should assume the powers of a sovereign government until a new constitution is written. That's far beyond what the U.S. has proposed.
  • Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry says the Bush administration's Iraqi strategy is backfiring. "The $87 billion is the price tag for their arrogance and their miscalculations and that's continuing," said Kerry.

    Amid the rising U.S. casualty count in Iraq and continuing attacks and other resistance, the Bush administration is facing criticism for its postwar strategy. Democratic presidential candidates and others have said too little planning was done on how to rebuild the country and how to pay for it.

    The White House says it will soon ask Congress to approve the $87 billion for military and reconstruction activities both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with the bulk of the request earmarked for Iraq. That too has come under intense scrutiny in Congress.

    Asked during a broadcast interview if that would be the final such request, Vice President Dick Cheney replied: "I can't say that. It's all we think we'll need for the foreseeable future, for this year."

    On CBS' "Face the Nation," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wouldn't go even that far. He said consultations are under way with lawmakers, and how long the $87 billion will last has not been determined.

    "It's a process that's being handled by the president and the Office of Management and Budget," Rumsfeld said. "I think that after those consultations with Congress, we'll have the answer to your question."

    "I think it's important to let the people who are engaging in that process define it."

    Cheney defended the request.

    "What's the cost if we don't act? What's the cost if we do nothing? What's the cost if we don't succeed with respect to our current operation in Iraq?" he asked. "I think that's far higher than getting the job done right here."

    Despite doubts being aired about increasingly about the U.S. role in postwar Iraq, and the lack of international help, Cheney said the occupation is seeing "major success, major progress."

    "We've achieved already, when you consider we've only been there about four months, a great deal, and we're well on our way to achieving our objectives," he said.

    Most believe at least the military part of the $87 billion request will be approved even as lawmakers promise it will be greeted with tough questions.

    "I intend to examine carefully what the president is asking for, what it will go for, how the money's going to be spent," Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., a Democratic presidential candidate, said during a broadcast interview.

    "We need to support the troops, and we're going to support the troops. Exactly what amount that will take is a question that we've got to examine carefully."

    Some Democrats have suggested that some of the recently enacted Bush-backed tax cuts be rolled back to help pay for the $87 billion.

    On Sunday in Baghdad, Powell spent 12 hours in talks with the team of American officials guiding Iraq in the postwar period and with the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

    He also attended a Baghdad City Council meeting, met with Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and joined the U.S. administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, at a joint news conference.

    Powell described impressive moves toward self-government and seemed invigorated by what he heard as he made his rounds.

    "There is vibrancy to this effort, a vibrancy that I attribute to the winds of freedom that are now blowing through this land," he said after the city council meeting.

    He said the United States is committed to having Iraqis run their government, but wants to cede power after a "deliberative process" rather than the early transfer advocated by some fellow members of the U.N. Security Council. France has pressed for seating a provisional government within a month.

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