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Violence Rising In Much Of Iraq, Pentagon Says

Violence increased throughout much of Iraq in recent months, despite a security crackdown in Baghdad that at least temporarily reduced sectarian killings there, according to a quarterly assessment of security conditions issued Wednesday by the Pentagon.

The report, which analyzed data from February through early May, said it was too early to say whether the security effort in Baghdad would achieve lasting security gains. And it described in more detail than officials had previously how security conditions in other parts of the country had worsened when U.S. and Iraqi forces shifted in large numbers into the capital.

“The aggregate level of violence in Iraq remained relatively unchanged during this reporting period,” the report said. “Violence has decreased” in Baghdad and in Anbar province, which have long been the country’s most violent areas, “but has increased in most provinces, particularly in outlying areas around Baghdad and in Nineva and Diyala provinces.” Attacks have also increased in Basra province in the south, because of fighting between rival Shiite militants, some of whom fled Baghdad because of the security crackdown, it added.

Although precise data are not included in the report, attacks on civilians and Iraqi and U.S. troops increased by two percent from the previous quarter, the report said. The average number of attacks has exceeded 1,000 per week since the beginning of this year through early May, the highest level since the U.S. invasion in 2003, it said.

Lab Head Explains DNA Report In Duke Case

The prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case had nothing to do with a laboratory’s decision to not say in a report that tests had found DNA from at least four unknown men on the body and underwear of a stripper who accused the students of gang rape, the lab director said Wednesday.

The testimony was given on the second day of an ethics trial of the prosecutor, Michael B. Nifong. Some of the most serious charges, which could result in Nifong’s disbarment, involve a reported agreement between him and the lab director to exclude the DNA information from the report last year.

Brian W. Meehan, director of the laboratory, DNA Security, said it was his decision alone not to refer to the unidentified male DNA in a report. Meehan, a witness for the state agency prosecuting the case, said Nifong had asked for a report on identifiable male DNA and did not limit what else he could write in the report.

“Nifong never directed what should be in or out of the report,” Meehan said, other than its main purpose of showing DNA matches to known males, like a match with 98 percent certainty between one suspect and false fingernails found in the suspect’s trash can. The report also said no other DNA from the woman matched lacrosse players.

The chairman of the three-member panel hearing the case, F. Lane Williamson, repeatedly pressed Meehan, asking whether the evidence of contact with at least four unidentified males would have been important in deciding the case if it had gone to trial.

Gasoline Pushed Up Producer Prices In May

A double-digit jump in the price of gasoline pushed inflation at the wholesale level up in May, but tame increases for most other goods suggested that price increases were largely contained and businesses would not react by raising prices.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the Producer Price Index, a national survey of prices before they reach retail buyers, accelerated 0.9 percent in May, from 0.7 percent in April. From May 2006 to May 2007, they rose 4.1 percent.

But the gains in wholesale inflation were not as great as the numbers might suggest, economists said. The core level of producer inflation, which excludes food and energy costs, rose by a relatively mild 0.2 percent, a sign that inflation had been contained last month.

“The thing to notice is that core Producer Price Index has been almost flat for three straight months,” Kevin Harris, chief economist with Informa Global Markets, said. “There’s very little evidence that producers are pushing prices forward from the intermediate level to the consumer. They’re just not doing it, and that is a definite shift.”

House Votes To Bolster Database On Gun Buyers

The House voted Wednesday to close a loophole in gun control laws that allowed the Virginia Tech gunman to buy firearms even though he had been committed to a mental hospital. The Senate is likely to follow suit, marking the first time since 1996 that Congress has approved a measure strengthening gun control.

The bill’s approval, on a voice vote, came on the same day as the release of a report President Bush ordered after the shootings in April at Virginia Tech, in which a student killed 32 people and himself. The Cabinet agencies that wrote the report found that schools, doctors and the police were not fully aware of what information could legally be shared in a web of confusing and overlapping privacy laws.

The House bill would provide grant money for states to update the national database that gun dealers use for background checks on prospective buyers. The update would add more criminal records and mental health information to the database.

One of the sponsors of the bill was Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat who has led other efforts to tighten gun control laws.

Two co-sponsors were her ideological opposites: Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who supports gun rights, and Rep. John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served on the board of the National Rifle Association. Both the NRA and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence supported the measure.