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Briefs (left)

Pentagon Says Iraqi Forces Are
Improving, But Still Can’t Fight

By David S. Cloud and Eric Schmitt

Iraqi security forces are growing steadily more capable, a Pentagon report made public on Thursday said. But senior American officers say the Iraqis remain at least a year away from being able to take over primary responsibility from American troops for fighting the insurgency.

The report, a quarterly assessment required by Congress of the capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces and police, concludes “there has been steady progress” since June at getting Iraqi units to undertake counterinsurgency operations “with minimal direct support” from American forces.

But a senior American officer in Iraq, while acknowledging that cooperation in combat is improving, said that other shortcomings prevented the Iraqis from operating without the help of American troops.

“Our assessment is that the Iraqi Army will not be ready for autonomous operations for at least another year,” said the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because his views are less optimistic than those of his superiors. “We are very, very effective in combined operations, but that is because we can compensate for their lack of capability in critical areas and provide them with leadership, mobile protected firepower, command and control and logistics that are lacking in their formations and still under development.”

Indian Company to Make Generic
Version of Flu Drug

By Donald G. McNeil Jr.

A major Indian drug company announced Thursday that it would start making a generic version of Tamiflu, the anti-influenza drug that is in critically short supply in the face of a possible epidemic of avian flu.

“Right or wrong, we’re going to commercialize and make oseltamivir,” said Dr. Yusuf K. Hamied, chairman of Cipla of Bombay, using the drug’s generic name and acknowledging that he might face a fight in the Indian courts with Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant that holds the patent.

Although generic manufacturers cannot legally sell the patented drug in the West, all national patent laws, including those of the United States, allow governments to cancel patents during emergencies and either buy generics or force patent holders to license their formulas to rivals.

U.S. Trade Deficit
Continues to Grow

By Vikas Bajaj

The nation’s trade deficit worsened in August, all but erasing a brief improvement in July, the government reported Thursday. Another report showed that import prices surged last month as the cost of oil, natural gas and other energy products jumped after the two severe hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast.

Americans imported $59 billion more in goods and services than they exported in August, up 1.8 percent from July, with the growth largely driven by bigger and more expensive imports of energy commodities, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Exports of airplanes, cars, chemicals and soybeans increased but not enough to offset larger energy imports.

In another report, the U.S Department of Labor said that import prices jumped 2.3 percent in September, the biggest monthly jump since October 1990. Petroleum prices rose 7.3 percent, and natural gas costs soared 28.8 percent in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Prices for imports excluding fuels rose a more modest 0.4 percent.