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Briefs (left)

Britain to Reduce
Troop Strength in Iraq

By Alan Cowell

Britain said Monday that it would reduce its troop strength in Iraq by about 10 percent beginning in May, bringing the level down close to 7,000, the lowest since the war began in 2003.

John Reid, the defense secretary, said the decision reflected the increasing preparedness of Iraqi forces to assume security responsibilities. Speaking to Parliament, he denied that British military planners feared being overstretched by a planned major deployment in Afghanistan in addition to the British presence in southern Iraq.

“There is no connection with Afghanistan,” he said.

In early 2003, Britain contributed about 46,000 troops to the American-led invasion of Iraq. By May 2004, the number of British troops there had fallen to 18,000, and that number has been reduced over time to about 8,000. The latest reduction will be about 800 soldiers.

Reid said in Parliament that the move marked “an indication of the incremental and increasing participation of Iraqi forces in counterterrorism in our operations.” But he suggested that the British withdrawal would not mean handing over the command for counterinsurgency duties.

Hot Material is Discovered
In Icy Comets

By Warren E. Leary

Samples of a comet brought back by the Stardust spacecraft show that at least some of the icy bodies contain a surprising amount of material formed under high heat, scientists reported Monday.

Initial studies of some of the cometary particles returned by Stardust found materials believed formed near the sun in the early history of the solar system and somehow ejected into the cold, distant regions where comets form, they said.

“It’s sort of a big surprise to see such hot materials so far out in the solar system,” Thomas Morgan, NASA program scientist for the mission, said in a televised news conference from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The first results from the $212 million Stardust project are being presented this week at the National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration’s annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in nearby League City, Texas.

Carnage Continues In Baghdad As Four Bodies Are Found In Shiite

By Edward Wong and Robert F. Worth

The bodies of four men who had been shot in the head were found Monday in a Shiite area of eastern Baghdad, near a note scrawled on a piece of cloth that read: “Those are the traitors.”

The corpses were discovered in Sadr City, where at least 46 people had been killed in six car bombs on Sunday, threatening to unleash a wave of sectarian violence similar to the one that followed the bombing of a Shiite shrine last month.

The corpses were found as other spots of violence flared in the capital. An Interior Ministry spokesman said two bombs exploded in Baghdad on Monday, killing one person and wounding 15. A roadside bomb exploded in eastern Baghdad, killing an American soldier, the American military said.

Elsewhere in the city, the trial of Saddam Hussein continued on Monday, and for the second day heard testimony from defendants. Three of Saddam’s co-defendants, all former lower-level Baath Party officials, denied any role in the torture and killings of 148 men and boys from the Shiite village of Dujail in the early 1980s.