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Briefs (left)

Iraq Leader Faults
U.S. Timetable Plans

By Sabrina Tavernise

Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki put himself at odds on Wednesday with the American government that backs him, distancing himself from the American notion of a timetable for stabilizing Iraq and criticizing an American-backed raid on a Shiite militia enclave.

Speaking in Baghdad just hours before President Bush held a news conference in Washington, al-Maliki tailored his remarks to a domestic audience, reassuring the millions of Shiites who form his power base that he would not bend to pressure by the American government over how to conduct internal Iraqi affairs.

His comments stood in stark contrast to the message given on Tuesday by the top two U.S. officials in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who said the timetable for political measures had been accepted by the Iraqi government.

The remarks pointed to a widening schism between the Shiite-led Iraqi government and the Americans who support it.

As the violence here increases and midterm elections in the United States approach, al-Maliki has come under pressure from the Bush administration to step up efforts to control the violence.

Bush, Signing Bill For Border
Fence, Urges Wider Overhaul

By David Stout

President Bush signed into law on Thursday a bill providing for construction of 700 miles of added fencing along the Southwestern border, calling the legislation “an important step toward immigration reform.”

The new law is what most House Republicans wanted. But it is not what Senate Republicans or Bush originally envisioned, and at the signing, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, the president repeated his call for a far more extensive revamping of immigration law.

A broader measure, approved by the Senate last spring, would have not only enhanced border security but also provided for a guest worker program and the possibility of eventual citizenship for many illegal immigrants already in the country.

But that bill was successfully resisted by House Republicans, who feared a voter backlash against anything that smacked of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Those lawmakers portrayed the Senate bill as embracing just that, no matter what the measure’s backers, including Bush, said to the contrary.

Afghan Orders Investigation
Into Bombing by NATO

By Abdul Waheed Wafa

President Hamid Karzai on Thursday issued a presidential decree directing a team of tribal elders and Afghan officials to investigate a NATO bombing Tuesday night in southern Afghanistan that local officials said killed dozens of civilians.

Khalid Pashtoon, an Afghan member of Parliament from the area of the attack, said that villagers told him more than 50 civilians died during the NATO airstrike in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province. A spokesman for the country’s Interior Ministry said that 40 civilians were killed.

If even the lower number proves correct, Tuesday’s attack would be the largest civilian death toll in an airstrike since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Karzai also said in a statement about the attack that it would be discussed on Monday at a meeting of the Policy Action Group, where Karzai and his ministers meet with NATO military commanders and foreign diplomats.