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Bush defends contract policy, sends Baker to lobby Europe

By Wire services
Published December 12, 2003

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Thursday defended his policy of barring France, Germany, Russia and other nations from $18.6-billion in U.S.-financed Iraqi reconstruction projects. But despite the anger the policy has aroused in foreign capitals, he said his personal envoy, James Baker, would still meet with the leaders of several of those nations to ask that they forgive debts they are owed by Iraq.

Bush's argument was that only those nations that contributed militarily to the effort in Iraq should reap the benefits of the money Congress approved last month for reconstruction.

"The taxpayers understand why it makes sense for countries that risk lives to participate in the contracts in Iraq," Bush said. "It's very simple. Our people risk their lives. Coalition folks risk their lives, and, therefore, the contracting is going to reflect that."

Administration officials acknowledged that Bush's position had enraged the very nations the administration was now seeking help from, and that Baker, who was appointed as the president's envoy last Friday, faced a more chaotic situation than he had expected. But the officials sought to portray Baker as undeterred.

Baker is to leave Monday from his home in Houston for a five-day, five-nation trip. He is to meet with the administration's chief foreign opponents in the debate over the war with Iraq: Jacques Chirac of France, Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and Vladimir Putin of Russia. Baker will also meet with two allies who supported Bush on the war: Tony Blair of Britain and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy.

Pentagon: Halliburton overcharged U.S. for fuel

WASHINGTON - A Pentagon investigation has found evidence that a subsidiary of the politically connected Halliburton Co. overcharged the government by as much as $61-million for gasoline delivered to Iraq under huge no-bid reconstruction contracts, according to news reports.

The subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, also submitted a proposal for cafeteria services that inflated the cost by $67-million, according to several media outlets who cited unidentified defense officials. The Pentagon rejected that proposal, they said.

Rights group assails use of cluster munitions

WASHINGTON - The U.S. military killed and wounded hundreds of civilians during major combat operations in Iraq through the "misguided" use of ground-launched cluster munitions that deliver dozens of small bomblets or grenades, Human Rights Watch said in a report scheduled for release today.

The group also said that "unsound" targeting practices in 50 airstrikes aimed at Saddam Hussein and other top leaders of his government - all of them unsuccessful - resulted in dozens of other civilian casualties.

"Coalition forces tried to avoid killing Iraqis who weren't taking part in combat," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "But the deaths of hundreds of civilians could have been prevented."

While Human Rights Watch focused primarily on what it considered questionable U.S. military practices, it also cited numerous violations of international law by Iraqi military forces.

Those violations included the use of human shields on the battlefield; the placement of artillery and ammunition in civilian neighborhoods and other "protected places" such as mosques and hospitals; and a "failure to take adequate precautions to protect civilians from the dangers of military operations."

Suicide attack kills U.S. soldier, injures 14

BAGHDAD, Iraq - An American soldier was killed Thursday and 14 others were wounded when suicide attackers detonated a bomb hidden in a truck delivering furniture to a U.S. Army base west of Baghdad, military officials said.

The strike against the headquarters of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Ramadi, about 60 miles west of the capital, was the third suicide bombing against U.S. military facilities this week but the first to cause an American death.

Officials said three attackers were killed inside the truck.

JOURNALISTS INJURED: Two journalists covering the Iraq conflict for Time magazine were wounded in Baghdad Wednesday when a grenade was thrown into the Humvee they were riding in while accompanying U.S. military personnel, representatives of the magazine said Thursday. Photographer James Nachtwey and senior correspondent Michael Weisskopf were in stable condition Thursday and awaiting transfer to Germany. Weisskopf picked up the grenade and threw it part way out of the vehicle, losing his right hand but limiting the injury to the others.

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