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News Briefs

U.S. Adds $200 Million For Emergency Food Aid

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The humanitarian crisis in Iraq has so far been less severe than anticipated, but the United States is nonetheless committing an additional $200 million in cash for emergency food aid to Iraq, U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Andrew Natsios said Wednesday.

“There are pockets of need in Iraq, but we are not facing a massive humanitarian crisis,” Natsios said.

His announcement of additional funds for food aid came a day after committees in both houses of Congress put forth bills giving President Bush more money than he had requested for Iraqi relief, but specified that the roughly $2.5 billion effort should be managed by the State Department -- not the Pentagon.

“We’d like Natsios to do all the reconstruction,” John Scofield, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday. “The Congress said in a bipartisan fashion that the most proper purveyor of foreign assistance is the secretary of State.”

The administration’s proposal called for giving all the funds to the Pentagon, “further drawing our Armed Forces into long-term nation building, a mission that would degrade their capacities to fight wars,” Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, said in a statement, adding: “Bottom line -- reconstruction is a civilian role.”

The White House disputed that decision Wednesday.

“We disagree with the committees about whether it should be the State Department or the Defense Department that should be authorized to expend the funds,” presidential spokesman Ari Flesicher said, saying Bush believes that since the military is in charge of security on the ground, it could most effectively deliver aid. “And that is an issue that we’ll take up with the House and the Senate when it comes to the floor.”

Qualcomm Bill Asking for Wireless Contract Draws Criticism

LOS ANGELES TIMES

As Congress begins debate Thursday on a massive bill to fund war and reconstruction efforts in Iraq, Qualcomm Inc. is making what some call an unseemly demand that its wireless technology be used to build a phone network there after the conflict ends.

The San Diego company was behind last week’s controversial call by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., to require the Bush administration to favor Qualcomm’s CDMA technology over a rival wireless technology that is much more popular in Europe and the Middle East when it hands out billions of dollars worth of reconstruction contracts.

The company’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering underscores its struggle to maintain CDMA’s worldwide market share at 12.4 percent. To some, Qualcomm’s efforts in Washington amounted to little more than a grab for post-war riches in a war-scarred country more concerned about food and water than cell phones.

“The timing was in very poor taste,” said analyst Philip Redman at the Gartner Inc. research company in Stamford, Conn. “It appears they’re starting to show some desperation as they look at their shrinking market share.”

While CDMA is strong in the United States and South Korea, he said, “Qualcomm is becoming a niche player with a niche technology.”

Its CDMA chip business also suffered a setback Wednesday on news that its biggest chip customer, Samsung Electronics Co., is expected to start this month to ship handsets using its own semiconductors. Qualcomm stock dropped $1.77, or 4.9 percent, to $34.18 in NASDAQ trading. Qualcomm would not comment on its role in urging Issa to introduce a bill last week mandating the use of CDMA, short for code division multiple access, in postwar Iraq. Issa has defended the bill, saying it raises important issues about whether the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars spent on reconstruction will benefit American companies. He said this week that he doesn’t expect the bill to pass, though he hopes to get a preference for U.S. products included in the overall appropriations measure.

Evidence Against Syria Called Into Question

NEWSDAY -- WASHINGTON

The CIA has no credible evidence that the government of Syria has had a role in the shipment of night-vision goggles and other military equipment to Iraq, according to an administration official familiar with U.S. intelligence in the region.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last Friday suggested that Syria was responsible for the shipment to Iraq of defense-related goods, including the goggles, and warned that the United States considered “such trafficking as hostile acts and would hold the Syrian government accountable.” Syria quickly denied the accusation.

And the administration official Wednesday said that while military goods, including goggles, have been smuggled through Syria into Iraq for many years, “It’s not necessarily with the knowledge, consent or approval of the Syrian government.”

“It’s not a new phenomenon,” he said, “and it’s not clear it has the Syrian government’s imprimatur.”

At the same time, he said, military goods also have been shipped into Iraq, in violation of United Nations sanctions, from border countries much more aligned with the U.S. government, including Turkey and Jordan.

A spokesman in Rumsfeld’s office said Wednesday, “I’m going to leave his comments stand where they are.”

While there is no love lost between Syria and Iraq, which are ruled by competing Baath parties, the Syrian government has denounced the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as “blatant aggression.”

Rumsfeld’s accusation was followed Sunday by a warning by Secretary of State Colin Powell that Damascus was facing a critical choice and should abandon its support of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In an apparent response to one or both administration officials, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad complained in an interview published Wednesday in Austria’s Der Standard newspaper that U.S. officials “are used to imposing their opinions on others.”