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Pentagon, citing cost overruns, makes shift on a fighter

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that he was replacing the general in charge of the Pentagon’s largest weapons program — the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — and withholding $614 million in award fees from the contractor, Lockheed Martin.

The surprise announcement came from a Pentagon chief who has sought to impose accountability across the department’s senior leadership and who himself had promoted plans for the new plane last year in persuading Congress to kill the more expensive F-22 fighter jet. But a special Pentagon review team since warned of possibly billions of dollars in cost overruns on the plane, and Gates announced that he was restructuring the program and requiring the company to cover some of the extra costs.

Gates disclosed the reshuffling on the F-35 program as he released the Pentagon’s proposed $708.3 billion spending package for the fiscal year 2011.

After a dramatic first year in which the Obama administration killed the F-22 and other expensive weapons programs, the Pentagon presented a new budget that includes a $14.8 billion increase over the current spending totals. Perhaps more important in the long term, the proposed spending plan represents a consolidation of Gates’ desire to add money to try to win today’s wars rather than spending as much on future weaponry.

­—Christopher Drew and Thom Shanker,
The New York Times

Iran, with opposition protests continuing, executes more prisoners

Iran experts have said that the government hastily ordered the executions last week of Arash Rahmanipour, 19, and Mohammad-Reza Ali-Zamani, 37, another political prisoner, to intimidate the opposition and to silence the protests that have persisted since the disputed June 12 presidential elections.

With the government’s opponents planning another large demonstration Feb. 11, the country is bracing for another wave of executions. At least nine other prisoners have been charged with the capital crime of moharebeh, which means waging war against God.

“The executions are clearly a sign of the government’s frustration to end the protests,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a group based in the United States. “There are fears that the government might engage in the kind of cleansing that it did between 1980 and 1988, when it executed more than 3,000 political prisoners.”

­­—Nazila Fathi, The New York Times

Bomber kills 38 pilgrims on outskirts of Baghdad

BAGHDAD­­ — A woman who veiled her explosives in a black robe struck a column of Shiite pilgrims on the outskirts of Baghdad on Monday in a suicide attack that Iraqi officials had predicted but could not stop.

The attack — coming a week after four enormous bombings in Baghdad using vehicles driven by suicide bombers — killed at least 38 people and wounded scores more along a major roadway in an industrial district on the northern edge of Baghdad, according to officials.

The bombing occurred despite what officials had pledged would be intensified security for the annual pilgrimage to Shiite Islam’s holiest shrine in Iraq, underscoring the ability of insurgents to outmaneuver the country’s security forces, seemingly at will.

­—Steven Lee Myers, The New York Times