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Dear Abby site nears its 2-millionth message

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 16, 2003

WASHINGTON -- When the anthrax attacks stopped Operation Dear Abby from forwarding wishes to U.S. troops, the Pentagon set up an Internet site to keep the messages coming.

As the war in Iraq winds down, the site ( is about to mark its 2-millionth message.

"It means the world to them," said Jeanne Phillips, who writes the Dear Abby column in newspapers. "I've been told by military people that it's very depressing being away. Knowing that somebody is thinking of them means a great deal to them. It boosts their morale."

The site is known as Operation Dear Phillips' mother, Pauline Phillips, who wrote as Abigail Van Buren, began the campaign in 1967 during the Vietnam War to have Americans send holiday greetings to the men and women in the U.S. armed forces.

The site is receiving 20,000 to 30,000 messages a day during the Iraq war, up from the usual 2,000 to 3,000, said Navy Cmdr. Rudy Brewington.

U.N. delays entry of foreign staff

GENEVA -- The United Nations delayed the return of its first foreign staff to Iraq on Tuesday, though the U.N. Children's Fund said it would move ahead with plans for a convoy of trucks with water for southern Iraq.

About 30 staff members were to begin re-establishing a permanent presence with a mission to assess humanitarian needs in the north, but the flight from Cyprus was delayed for a second day to wait for air corridor clearance from coalition forces, said Elizabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The group was to prepare to distribute food, restore water and electricity, ensure health care services, clear mines and help people forced from their homes by fighting, Byrs said.

Though some 3,500 Iraqi U.N. employees remain in the country, foreign staff left before the war began. About 700 U.N. international staff are waiting for clearance to return as soon as the body decides it is safe.

A spokesman for UNICEF said the group was sending a convoy of 12 trucks with 5,500 cans of clean water, primarily for hospital and health centers. The convoy was the first cross-border shipment from Iran, said spokesman Damien Personnaz.

The water is headed for the Faw peninsula, Personnaz said. The peninsula is about 30 miles from the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr.

TV documentary Friday to focus on rescued POW

LOS ANGELES -- While NBC rushes to develop a TV movie about the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in Iraq, A&E is turning to one of its strengths, documentaries, to tell the story.

The cable network has scheduled a special, Saving Private Lynch, for 9 p.m. Eastern on Friday. The hourlong program will explore what happened to Lynch and try to place her ordeal in historical context.

Lynch's story is now familiar: The 19-year-old U.S. Army private was taken prisoner March 23 when her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, was ambushed near Nasiriyah. She was held for nine days before Special Forces troops, acting on a tip from an Iraqi citizen, found and rescued her.

In addition to retracing Lynch's ordeal, the A&E special will also tell the story of her roommate, Pfc. Lori Piestewa, the first female U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. The show will feature interviews with Lynch's family and Sen. John McCain, who was a POW in Vietnam for several years.

Italy considers sending reconstruction aid

ROME -- The Italian government asked Parliament on Tuesday to authorize the deployment of up to 3,000 people to Iraq, including military police officers and relief workers, to help restore order and provide humanitarian assistance.

The proposal, outlined by Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, was expected to be endorsed by the legislature, where Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives have a solid majority.

"We can't allow the aftermath of the war to make more victims than war itself," Frattini said.

13th, 14th journalists die covering war

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- An Argentine freelance camerawoman died Tuesday of injuries from a car crash outside the Iraqi capital, which instantly killed a colleague.

Veronica Cabrera, 28, was the only woman among 14 journalists killed while covering the war in Iraq.

Cabrera and TV reporter Mario Podesta were riding with a convoy of journalists trying to get to Baghdad before nightfall Monday when a tire exploded on their vehicle, causing it to roll several times, the Foreign Ministry said.

PETA says Al-Jazeera rejected gory ad

NEW YORK -- A vegetarian activist group says the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera is willing to run graphic footage of human war victims but won't accept its commercial showing bloody animals.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said Monday that it offered to pay the network $10,000 to run its 30-second Arabic-dubbed spot, but was refused. Al-Jazeera said it's still possible the ad may run.

The ad shows cows hanging upside down in a slaughterhouse after their throats had been slit, goats being killed and a chicken thrown violently at a box. It hasn't aired on any television network.

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