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News Briefs

Turkey Lawmakers Open Airspace For Strikes on Iraq

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- ANKARA, TURKEY

After months of national debate, a sharply divided Parliament authorized the government Thursday to open Turkey’s airspace for U.S.-led military strikes on Iraq, giving this NATO-member country a minimal role in the effort to oust Saddam Hussein.

The decision was expected to yield considerable benefit for the bombing campaign that was begun hours earlier. A senior military official in Washington said the overflight rights would make it easier for U.S. warplanes to fly into Iraqi airspace undetected and attack northern Iraq, preventing Saddam from concentrating all his military might to deter forces advancing from the south and west.

In the same vote, Parliament approved a government plan to send two Turkish army brigades to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to protect Turkey’s interests there. In doing so, lawmakers ignored warnings by the Bush administration that such an incursion could lead to clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces.

Parliament’s action did little to heal a rift with Washington. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed the vote granting airspace rights, but said the United States remained “opposed to unilateral action by Turkey or by any party in northern Iraq.”

Experts Debate Whether Man on Videotape Was Saddam

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

So was that Saddam Hussein? Or was it his secret “double” who appeared on TV to mock the U.S. president as “the criminal little Bush” shortly after the war began in Iraq?

Experts at the Pentagon, the CIA, the State Department and other U.S. agencies scrambled Thursday to analyze the mustachioed man’s earlobes, his thick glasses, his voice and speech patterns, his mouth movements, the folds of his military uniform, the way he sat, even his badly dyed hair.

“It’s still an open question,” a U.S. intelligence official said Thursday night. “There’s doubt. We just don’t know.”

U.S. officials say Saddam has trained and used eight doubles over the years to impersonate him at public events and other occasions where he fears there could be an assassination attempt. They said it might take several days to determine if Saddam really appeared on the tape.

Iraq’s state-run television network broadcast what it said was Saddam giving a rambling speech early Thursday, shortly after U.S. forces attacked a suburban Baghdad residence where the CIA believed the Iraqi leader, his sons, and his chief aides were hiding.

U.S. officials said they weren’t sure whether Saddam had survived the barrage of cruise missiles and 2,000-pound “bunker buster” bombs. The tape isn’t proof, since Saddam could have recorded it before the assault.

Investigators Hope Flight Recorder Sheds Light on Shuttle Breakup

THE WASHINGTON POST

NASA officials said Thursday that the exterior of the flight data recorder that was recovered Wednesday near Hemphill, Texas, is in remarkably good condition -- raising hopes that its contents will provide clues to the cause of the fiery breakup of the space shuttle Columbia on Feb. 1.

NASA engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston spent the day poring over the black metal box -- which looks much like a VCR with wires dangling from the back -- and began devising a protocol for extracting vital information on the aerodynamic pressure, temperature and vibrations aboard the orbiter during its final minutes.

“The good thing was that it was recovered fully intact,” said Glenn Mahone, NASA’s assistant administrator for public affairs. “We, like the (investigative) board, are excited and ready to see what the recorder is ready to reveal, if anything.”

Tyrone Woodyard, a spokesman for the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, said that “The box looks like it’s in pretty good condition from the outside, but we’re concerned that it went through an intense heating process as it came back. We hope it didn’t sustain any significant heat damage. Everyone is cautiously optimistic this will provide us with some key information.”

NASA officials said they won’t know until late next week at the earliest whether engineers are successful in retrieving data from the recorder’s tape. On Thursday engineers cleaned the instrument, but rather than playing it back normally, they intend to develop a special testing scheme for salvaging the data.

Rescuers Save Man On Edge of Niagara Precipice

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- NEW YORK

There was a moment when Kevin Caffery, at the controls of the rescue helicopter, locked eyes with the man desperately struggling to keep from being swept over Niagara Falls. “My partner and I were sure this poor guy was going over,” said Caffery, a captain in the Erie County Sheriff’s Department.

And then, incredibly, as the man slipped, he was able to grab onto yet another rock in the icy water. He was only a foot from the edge of the falls and pleading, “Please, please don’t lose me,” when he was saved.

The 48-year-old man, whom authorities declined to identify, had slid down an icy slope into the water. He was reported to be in stable condition Thursday at the Niagara Falls Medical Center, where he was being treated for severe hypothermia.

After the rescue, which took almost two hours Wednesday night, many of the 50 people who participated in the effort hugged each other and cheered.