02-19-2017  10:45 pm      •     

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. troops killed six people Monday during a raid on a possible safe house for al-Qaida in Iraq, the military said, while the death toll of American service members in Iraq surpassed 3,000.
The attack occurred near the west Baghdad offices of Saleh al-Mutlaq, a senior Sunni Arab politician of the National Dialogue Front, the U.S military and Iraqi police said. American troops received heavy gunfire and grenade launches from the building, the military said.
Police said the home of Salama al-Khafaji, a former Shiite lawmaker who abandoned her residence after an assassination attempt last year, was also targeted.
The U.S. military said ground forces raided the buildings after learning that the location was a possible safe house for al-Qaida in Iraq. Six people were killed and one person was detained, the military said.
But police described the incident as an airstrike that killed four members of a family and wounded a guard outside al-Khafaji's house. A man at the scene said a guard at al-Mutlaq's office was also killed, but the police could not confirm his account.
AP Television News video showed rubble in the area and what appeared to be a long smear of blood from a body dragged across the floor. Walls in the buildings were pitted with marks apparently from bullets and shrapnel.
The U.S. military said two American soldiers, assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, were killed Sunday in an explosion in Iraq's Diyala province. Their deaths, announced Monday, raised to at least 3,002 the number of Americans killed since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
At least 113 U.S. service members were reported killed in December, the bloodiest month of 2006. The latest announcement brought the toll of U.S. military deaths in Iraq to at least 822 in 2006, according to the AP count.
Despite the U.S. deaths, there was a relative lull in the bombings and assassinations that have threatened to rip Iraq apart along sectarian seams. Police reported finding 12 bodies dumped in Baghdad on Sunday as well as 12 other violent deaths nationwide, both relatively low numbers by recent standards.
Also Sunday, Saddam Hussein was buried in the town where he was born. One day after being executed, the deposed Iraqi leader's body was taken to a U.S. military base in Tikrit, 80 miles north of the capital. He was interred in the nearby village of Ouja, where he was born 69 years ago.
Hundreds of clan members and supporters visited Saddam's grave, which was likely to become a shrine to the fallen leader. Dozens of relatives and other mourners, some of them crying and moaning, attended Saddam's funeral shortly before dawn.
In his New Year's greeting, Bush noted the continuing violence in Iraq.
"Last year, America continued its mission to fight and win the war on terror and promote liberty as an alternative to tyranny and despair," Bush said in the statement wishing Americans a happy new year.
"In the new year, we will remain on the offensive against the enemies of freedom, advance the security of our country and work toward a free and unified Iraq. Defeating terrorists and extremists is the challenge of our time, and we will answer history's call with confidence and fight for liberty without wavering."
A message attributed to deputy al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri congratulated Islamic holy warriors around the world on the feast of Eid al-Adha and on "the defeat of the Americans and their crusader allies in Afghanistan and Iraq."
The message could not immediately be authenticated, but it appeared Monday on two Islamic Web sites known for publishing militant material.
— Associated Press

 

 

 

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All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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