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News Briefs II

Congress Authorizes Military Aid to Iraqi Opposition

The Washington Post

A decision by Congress to authorize $97 million in U.S. military aid to the beleaguered Iraqi opposition has rekindled dreams among exile leaders and former U.S. policy-makers of an American-backed war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, despite fears within the Clinton administration that the operation would be a fiasco.

With an enthusiastic bipartisan endorsement on Capitol Hill, the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 envisions an opposition army trained, equipped and financed by Washington that as early as next year would capture lightly defended areas in southern and western Iraq, encourage mass defections from Saddam Hussein's military and ultimately bring down his government.

"In a combat situation, Saddam's control over the forces would collapse," said Ahmed Chalabi, president of the opposition Iraqi National Congress, which is vying for the funds. "We can attract large numbers from the Iraqi army."

First, the plan faces overwhelming odds within the Clinton administration, which must approve the spending. Officials say they have no intention of providing the opposition with "draw down" military aid-arms, vehicles and other materiel from existing Pentagon stocks. One government military expert derided the entire plan as "idiocy" and compared the enterprise to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

But proponents and opponents alike say the legislation adds a volatile new dimension to the debate about how best to oppose Saddam Hussein now that support for economic sanctions in place since the end of the Persian Gulf War appears to be eroding on the U.N. Security Council and Iraq has ceased cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors.

Prairie Dogs Show Sophisticated Social Behavior

Los Angeles Times

Scientists are still learning about the nuances of prairie dog behavior. They have a highly organized social system. Dog towns are broken into wards, containing several coteries, or family units. Family members greet with a "kiss," a robust teeth-clacking that allows them to identify each other.

Housing developers could learn much from the prairie dog's burrow construction. At the top of the burrow a sentinel stands on the high mound, serving as a lookout. Just inside is a listening post, cut into the side of the tunnel, providing a safe place to listen for predators lurking above. Deep in the burrow's labyrinth are birthing chambers, storage rooms, sleeping quarters, a toilet, tunnels to other burrows and several escape hatches.

But it is the complex language of prairie dogs that sets them apart. Professor Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University records the dogs' alarm yips and uses a computer to analyze the sounds. To his surprise, Slobodchikoff discovered a sophisticated language.

"These animals can form concepts about species and predators and have knowledge of hunting styles," he said. "That implies they have a fairly high cognitive ability."