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News Briefs

A Prewar Assessment On Iraq Saw Chance Of Strong Divisions

By Douglas Jehl and David E. Sanger

The New York Times WASHINGTON -- The same intelligence unit that produced a gloomy report in July about the prospect of growing instability in Iraq warned the Bush administration about the potential costly consequences of an American-led invasion two months before the war began, government officals said Monday.

The estimate came in two classified reports prepared for President Bush in January 2003 by the National Intelligence Council, an independent group that advises the director of central intelligence. The assessments predicted that an American-led invasion of Iraq would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict.

One of the reports also warned of a possible insurgency against the new Iraqi government or American-led forces, saying that rogue elements from Saddam Hussein’s government could work with existing terrorist groups or act independently to wage guerrilla warfare, the officials said. The assessments also said a war would increase sympathy across the Islamic world for some terrorist objectives, at least in the short run, the officials said.

The contents of the two assessments had not been previously disclosed. They were described by the officials after two weeks in which the White House has tried to minimize the council’s latest report, which was prepared this summer and read by senior officials early this month.

Virgin To Offer Space Flights

By Heather Timmons

The New York Times LONDON

Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin Group, announced on Monday that he would offer travelers the chance to go to the edge of space beginning in 2007, for $190,000 a ticket.

Joining with Burt Rutan, the aircraft designer, and Paul G. Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Branson will form a company called Virgin Galactic to offer suborbital flights into space. During the three-hour trip, passengers will be able to view the earth from 80 miles up, experience weightlessness for around four minutes, and perhaps have a cocktail.

The first ship will be called the VSS Enterprise. A Web site for Virgin Galactic said the company expected to start taking deposits next year. Virgin said it expected 3,000 passengers to sign up for the pilot program.

“I’ve dreamt about it since I was a child,” Branson said in a phone interview, referring to his interest in space travel.

Analysts and aviation experts predict that space tourism could become a lucrative commercial niche in the future; the cost of government programs prohibits all but the extremely wealthy from traveling into space. So far, only two businessmen have done so, paying $20 million apiece for the privilege.

Scientists Begin Campaign To Oppose Bush Policies

By Kenneth Chang

The New York Times -- While Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews and other rock stars sing on a “Vote for Change” concert tour, another disgruntled group -- this one of scientists -- will crisscross the well-worn landscape of battleground states over the next month, giving lectures that will argue that the Bush administration has ignored and misused science.

The group, Scientists and Engineers for Change, another addition to the flood of so-called 527 advocacy groups that have filled this year’s election discourse, announced its existence and plans on Monday in a telephone news conference. At least 25 scientists will give talks in 10 contested states: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Among the headlining lecturers are 10 Nobel Prize winners, including Dr. Douglas D. Osheroff, a professor of physics at Stanford; Dr. Peter C. Agre, a professor of biological chemistry at Johns Hopkins; and Dr. Harold Varmus, former director of the National Institutes of Health.

Compared with more prominent 527s, like MoveOn PAC and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the scientists’ group will operate on a modest budget of $100,000, which will mainly pay for lecturers’ travel expenses.

7 Palestinians Killed In 5 Attacks

By Greg Myre

The New York Times JERUSALEM

Seven Palestinians were killed in scattered violence on Monday that included an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip and an incursion by soldiers into a West Bank refugee camp.

Palestinian gunmen in Gaza City abducted an Israeli Arab working for CNN, the network reported. The gunmen stopped a taxi carrying a CNN crew and seized Riad Ali, a producer, said Ben Wedeman, a correspondent for the network who was present.

“We had no indication that this was going to happen,” Wedeman said on CNN. “They just asked, ’Which one of you is Riad?’ and that was it.”

No group claimed responsibility, and it was not clear who was behind the kidnapping, or why the kidnappers had singled out Ali.

Gaza has grown increasingly lawless and has had a rash of kidnappings in recent months. Most of the abductions have been related to internal Palestinian fighting, and the victims have been held only a few hours and released unharmed.

Israel has also been hitting hard at Palestinian factions in Gaza, and a missile strike on Monday killed one Palestinian militant and wounded three others while they where traveling in a vehicle near the southern town of Khan Younis, Palestinian witnesses and hospital officials said.

The attack killed Ali al-Shaer, a member of the Popular Resistance Committees, a faction behind many attacks in Gaza. The main target was Muhammad Abu Nsair, who is responsible for mortar and bomb attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, Israeli security officials said.