Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Associate of Al Qaeda-Linked Fugitive Caught in Baghdad

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

An associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been captured in the Baghdad area, a defense official confirmed to Fox News on Tuesday.

The name of the associate was not released but he was described as a midlevel terrorist operative.

Zarqawi, who is still at large, and his group have been linked to Al Qaeda by the United States -- Zarqawi himself a senior associate of Usama bin Laden.

Zarqawi is believed to have traveled through Iran to Iraq in May and June of 2002 for medical treatment following the collapse of Al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan.

Administration sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had his leg amputated.

The capture of Zarqawi's associate occurred this week, a counterterrorism official said. Zarqawi is among the administration's most-wanted Al Qaeda figures.

Zarqawi ran a training camp in Afghanistan for poisons, and has been linked to efforts in northern Iraq and Europe to produce and employ the biotoxin ricin.

The United States has accused Zarqawi, a Jordanian, of having been the mastermind behind the assassination of American diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman last October.

Before the military action in Iraq began, Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested that Zarqawi's activities were evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Powell also said that Zarqawi's Al Qaeda-linked group was operating inside Baghdad.

In February, Powell testified before the U.N. Security Council that as Baghdad harbored Zarqawi, several of his underlings set up operations in the Iraqi capital to help shift money, supplies and personnel around the country.

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations before the fall of Saddam's regime, Mohamed Al-Douri (search), denied all of Powell's accusations.

Powell charged that after Al Qaeda and Taliban forces were defeated by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Zarqawi founded the camp in northern Iraq to train terrorists in the use of poisons and explosives.

Powell also said in his testimony before the United Nations that Washington, through an intermediary, supplied Baghdad with enough information to shut Zarqawi's operation down multiple times -- but "Zarqawi still remains at large to come and go."

During Zarqawi's stay in Baghdad, several of his associates, affiliated with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, joined him in the city. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad is considered merged with Al Qaeda.

Monday, April 07, 2003

GOP Leaders Pondering a Smaller Tax Cut

By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2003; Page A13

Top GOP congressional leaders have privately discussed shopping a tax cut of roughly $350 billion to members this week, after two Republican senators informed President Bush and Vice President Cheney they will not sign off on a bigger tax cut, according to party officials.

Bush had called for a $726 billion tax cut package, which the House accepted. But the Senate first whittled it to $626 billion, then $613.2 billion. As the costs involved in the war with Iraq became clearer, the Democrats succeeded in whacking the cut to $350 billion. Now the tax cut goes to conference, with the two chambers struggling to reach an agreement over its size.

While Republicans continue to fight for a tax cut of $500 billion or larger, a key House GOP leadership aide said Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) may be forced to talk to House conservatives about a much smaller one. GOP leaders are scrambling to find spending offsets to justify a bigger tax cut, but "we might not be able to pull it off," the aide said, basing his comments on conversations among the speaker's staff late last week.

This pessimistic assessment follows an unpublicized meeting at the White House last Thursday. As budget talks hit a fevered pitch, Bush and Cheney took a break from the war and called over Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to discuss the tax cut with Sens. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), two key holdouts.

Voinovich and Snowe made it clear they would not support a tax cut bigger than $350 billion or any budget resolution that calls for one, according to sources familiar with the meeting -- unless the White House comes up with hard-to-find offsets. White House officials and House GOP leaders thought Snowe might bend to pressure, but two Senate sources said Frist has been telling them for weeks she would not. In the meeting, she refused to back down, the sources said.

In the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-49 majority, Voinovich and Snowe have the power together to bring down the GOP budget if they oppose the tax cut amount because Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) are against it, too. Bush continues to demand his $726 billion plan, including elimination of the tax on stock dividends. Hastert and Frist are pushing a cut around $550 billion, allowing for a scaled-back version of the Bush dividends plan.

Voinovich "has been very insistent that he wants a tax cut of $350 billion," said his spokesman, Scott Milburn. "He thinks it's a reasonable number and provides a good stimulus." Milburn said Voinovich has no plans of backing down.

So, Republicans could be headed for a budget train wreck. A top House GOP aide said several dozen House conservatives have said privately they will vote against any budget that calls for a tax cut under $500 billion. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) has raised the possibility of delaying the adoption of a budget resolution until after the spring recess to allow cooler heads to prevail.

"The speaker . . . does not believe we could pass a tax cut as low as $350 billion," said Hastert spokesman John Feehery.

FOOD BREAK: The bill had everything its sponsors could want: broad support, powerful sponsors, no apparent opposition and a politically appealing message. But it kept getting delayed, sidetracked or trampled by controversial causes. Now its backers are gearing up again -- and hoping for better luck.

The initiative, sponsored by Sens. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), would increase the tax deduction for corporations when they donate food for the needy and extend the deduction to unincorporated businesses -- farmers, restaurants and others -- that do not now qualify for the tax break. The idea is to cover the cost of packaging and distributing the food, thereby encouraging donation instead of destruction.

The bill was passed by the Senate in 2000, only to be wrapped into a broader tax bill and then stripped out as extraneous. Over the next two years, sponsors tried to hitch it to other tax, farm and charity bills, without success.

Now the charity bill is back before the Senate, shorn of "faith-based" provisions that stymied it in the last Congress, and headed for passage. House leaders have indicated support.

THE WEEK AHEAD: The hottest action on the Hill this week will take place behind closed doors, when congressional leaders hash out a final budget resolution and a supplemental bill to fund the Iraq war. The House and Senate are expected to quickly approve about $80 billion for the war, homeland defense and aid to U.S. allies. Bush wants the bill on his desk by Friday. Staff writer Helen Dewar contributed to this column.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Allies Close In on Baghdad; U.S. Black Hawk Shot Down

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

As ground fighting intensified on the road to Baghdad early Thursday, a U.S. Army helicopter was shot down in southern Iraq, killing seven of the 11 soldiers onboard.

Pentagon officials said the chopper was downed by small-arms fire near Karbala, the site of fierce fighting between the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and Iraqi troops, including Republican Guard forces.

The other four soldiers on the Black Hawk were wounded and rescued, officials said.

• Map: The War in Iraq

The Black Hawk was the second U.S. helicopter to go down in combat. An Army Apache assault helicopter went down March 24 during an assault on Republican Guard forces; its two pilots were captured by Iraqis.

The UH-60 Black Hawk is one of the Army's main utility and troop transport helicopters.

Meanwhile, ground forces closed in on the Iraqi capital, with some American units reportedly just 15 miles away and others about 30 miles out. U.S. forces wiped out one Republican Guard division and nearly destroyed another as they geared up for an all-out assault on the Iraqi capital.

"Our guys are able to see the skyline. That's how close we've gotten," a senior military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Also Thursday morning, a huge explosion was reported again in the capital; a pair of explosions was heard by witnesses after nightfall Wednesday.

Thousands of Marines who had protected the U.S. Army's eastern flank along the Euphrates River turned sharply east, joining other Marine forces moving quickly along the Tigris River southeast of Baghdad.

At the same time, Army troops southwest of Baghdad moved to within 20 miles of the city, said a senior military official in Washington.

Along the way, some Iraqi soldiers shed their uniforms for plain robes, and smiling civilians proffered the troops Iraqi-brand cigarettes.

"It feels better going north," said Marine Cpl. John Edwards of Clovis, N.M. "The sooner we do it, the sooner we go home."

The Baghdad division of Saddam Hussein's vaunted Republican Guard has been wiped out, and senior Defense officials told Fox News that the Medina Division was "almost completely destroyed as well."

"The Medina and Baghdad divisions are no longer credible forces," Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said at the Pentagon. "There's clearly command and control evident," but "effective command and control and effective maneuvers are not as evident."

Food, fuel and medicine for exhausted U.S. troops arrived in northern Iraq from Turkey.

The Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera announced early Thursday that Iraq was expelling one of its reporters from Baghdad and barring another from reporting. In protest, the station suspended "the work of all its correspondents in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, while maintaining the broadcasting of live and recorded images received from its office in Baghdad," an Al-Jazeera statement said.

Late Wednesday night, rescued American prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old Army supply clerk, arrived at a U.S. air base in southwestern Germany on a C-17 transport plane for treatment at a U.S. military medical center. Her condition was not disclosed, but U.S. officials in Kuwait said she was believed to have broken legs, a broken arm and at least one gunshot wound.

The Defense Department announced that 11 bodies were found during the special forces rescue operation in Nasiriyah. DNA tests are being conducted to determine if any were Americans.

Meanwhile, ground forces from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and the First Marine Expeditionary Corps penetrated the Iraqi capital's "red zone," destroying the Baghdad division as they crossed the Tigris River. The "red zone" is where U.S. officials say Iraqi resistance will be most tenacious, and where Saddam has reportedly authorized his troops to use chemical weapons.

Lead U.S. infantry units donned their chemical suits after capturing a bridge 40 miles southwest of Baghdad. Some Marines began adding their protective boots to the suits they already wear, and Marine helicopter pilots were advised for the first time to be ready to don chemical suits at a moment's notice.

U.S. officials warned that a cornered Saddam might resort to unleashing his worst weapons. "There may be a trigger line where the regime deems [a] sufficient threat to use weapons of mass destruction," said U.S. Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks.

McChrystal warned that it would be a "grave mistake" for Iraqi troops to use chemical weapons.

Evidence was found in the Kurdish-controlled regions of northern Iraq that the Islamic militant group Ansar Al Islam was working on three types of chlorine gas and ricin and has ties to Al Qaeda, U.S. officials told Fox News.

Officials said that between 75 and 150 Al Qaeda members have been captured or killed in northern Iraq in recent days.

U.S. sources told Fox News that documents and equipment were found in the rubble of an Ansar facility that had been built into a cliff near Sargat. The material was described as "a cookbook and kitchen" for chemical weapons. Other items included latex gloves, ampules of penicillin, a freezer and lab equipment. Sources said additional tests are planned.

Two suspected Al Qaeda members escaped into Iran, according to officials, but surrendered to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Iran has said it will hand over captured Ansar members.

'The Dagger Is Clearly Pointed'

The battering of the Republican Guard's Medina division is significant because that unit is an armored division; the Baghdad division didn't have such armor. One senior official described this as "the first step in taking down defenses outside Baghdad."

"We managed to take the divisions south of Baghdad from 50 percent to 20 percent of their original strength," the official said, adding that happened before the attack on the Medina division.

Still posing a threat is the Adnan division, a mechanized armor division, which has moved to the west side of Baghdad. Adnan is still believed to be above 50 percent of its original strength, but coalition airstrikes took out a brigade of its armor Tuesday night.

Another division, the armored al Nida division, which is located southeast of Baghdad, also is getting "hit hard … a heavy pounding," the official said. U.S. Marines heading north could encounter al Nida fighters, but U.S. officials believe their constant air campaign should further soften the resistance.

The Baghdad Division was destroyed while trying to guard the city of Kut.

"They're in trouble … they're under serious attack right now," Brooks said during a U.S. Central Command briefing in Doha, Qatar.

"The dagger is clearly pointed at the heart of the regime right now and it will remain there until it's [the regime] gone," Brooks said. "That dagger does remain pointed and it remains further in our control."

En route to Baghdad, U.S. forces seized a bridge over the Tigris and swept past battered Republican Guard units in Karbala. Marine helicopter pilots were advised to be ready to don chemical suits quickly if needed after crossing the Tigris.

The Army's 3rd Infantry Division seized a bridge over the Euphrates River at Mussayib, about 40 miles southeast of Baghdad, as it advanced through the Karbala Gap. The bridge, taken with little or no resistance from Iraqi forces, had been rigged with explosives, but engineers defused them.

American troops took a key bridge in the town of Numaniyah without a fight. Many Iraqi soldiers surrendered and others traded their Iraqi army uniforms for civilian clothes. U.S. Marines recovered Iraqi gas masks, mortar ammunition and rifles.

U.S. B-52s dropped six 1,000-pound cluster bombs on an Iraqi tank column moving toward American troops in central Iraq. It marked the first time in combat history that the armor-busting, sensor-fused CBU-105 Wind Corrected Munitions Dispensers were used in an attack.

"This is certainly a decisive engagement in which we are now just beginning with the Republican Guard," said British Air Marshal Brian Burridge.

Working Toward a Synchronized Attack

Eventually, the U.S.-led forces intend to launch a synchronized attack on Baghdad with the infantry, the Marines and the Air Force.

"Synchronicity is a very strong doctrine of the United States Army," said Central Command spokesman Navy Capt. Frank Thorp. "To synchronize the different battles on the field provides that tactical surprise."

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed al-Sahhaf said reports of a coalition breakthrough on that front are "illusions."

Brooks said two other Republican Guard divisions were engaged around Karbala and that coalition forces had seized control of a dam on Lake al-Milh.

U.S. forces also fought the Republican Guard's Medina and Nebuchadnezzar divisions, and attacked positions north of Karbala, where 2,000 fedayeen loyalists and Baath Party members were reportedly hunkered down.

At least 20 Iraqis were reported killed and an unknown number taken prisoner.

"The battle is being waged and we are doing well," Thorp said. "We have moved beyond where the Republican Guard is and beyond where the popularly known red line is."

Farther south, the northbound highway out of Nasiriyah was full of coalition military convoys. Marines staged a nighttime raid there earlier and found Iraqis had abandoned a huge, walled police compound.

"The noose is starting to tighten around Baghdad," said Sgt. Jeff Lanter.

Coalition officials said more Iraqi civilians are helping allied forces.

An "increasing numbers of the Iraqi people are aware of what's going on," Clark said. "I think they're getting a better sense that this regime is coming closer to an end."

POW Rescued

Lynch was freed after nine days in Iraqi hands when U.S. commandoes stormed the hospital in Nasiriyah where she was being held. She was listed as missing March 23 along with 11 other U.S. soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company, based at Fort Bliss, Texas, after an ambush near Nasiriyah.

Following an intelligence tip about Lynch's whereabouts, U.S. special operations forces made their way behind Iraqi lines and seized Lynch from the Saddam Hospital under cover of darkness late Tuesday, American officials said.

Two of the 11 bodies found in the hospital during the rescue were in a morgue, while the nine others were in a grave area in the community, Brooks said. U.S. forces were led to the graves by someone taken into custody.

Brooks said ammunition, mortars, maps and a terrain model were found at the hospital, along with "other things that made it very clear it was being used as a military command post."

Separately, the Navy said two pilots were rescued after their F-14 Tomcat crashed in southern Iraq.

The International Red Cross said some its staff members saw the bodies of dozens of people at a town south of Baghdad where Iraqi officials claim U.S. helicopters attacked a residential neighborhood. At least 280 injured people were being treated at a hospital in Hillah.

Central Command is looking into an allegation that coalition aircraft mistakenly bombed a Red Crescent maternity hospital in Baghdad.

Fox News' Bret Baier, Carl Cameron, Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.