WASHINGTON

U.S. expands military force in Iraq

The United States is expanding its military force in Iraq to the highest level of the war — even higher than during the initial invasion in March 2003 — in order to bolster security in advance of next month’s national elections in January.

The 12,000-troop increase is to last only until March, but it says much about the strength and resiliency of an insurgency that U.S. military planners did not foresee when Baghdad was toppled in April 2003. Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, deputy operations director of the Joint Staff, told reporters yesterday that the American force will expand from 138,000 troops today to about 150,000 by January.

The previous high for the U.S. force in Iraq was 148,000 on May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared that major combat operations were over and most soldiers thought the war had been won. The initial invasion force included thousands of sailors on ships in the Persian Gulf and other waters, plus tens of thousands in Kuwait and other surrounding countries. The expansion in Iraq will be achieved by sending about 1,500 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., this month and by extending the combat tours of about 10,400 troops already in Iraq.

 

KIEV, Ukraine

Ukraine gov’t receives no-confidence vote

Ukraine’s parliament brought down the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych with a no-confidence motion yesterday in a show of the opposition’s strength in the country’s spiraling political crisis.

Yanukovych and his opposition rival Viktor Yushchenko, who both claim the presidency after a Nov. 21 run-off vote, sat down for talks yesterday in the presence of European mediators and outgoing President Leonid Kuchma in an attempt to work out a resolution.

Earlier, Kuchma called for an entirely new election to be held. A new vote would bring in more candidates.

Yanukovych was declared the winner of the run-off by the election commission, but Yushchenko has insisted he won and was robbed of victory by widespread fraud. Hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters have set up tent camps on Kiev’s main avenue and blockaded official buildings, paralyzing the capital for 10 days.

 

RAMALLAH, West Bank

Imprisoned leader to run for president of PA

Jailed Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti declared his candidacy for president yesterday, a stunning last-minute reversal that shook up Palestinian politics ahead of the Jan. 9 vote for Yasser Arafat’s replacement.

Adding to the uncertainty, the militant group Hamas said it would boycott the election. It was the first sign of open divisions between the interim Palestinian leadership and the Islamic opposition group since Arafat’s death Nov. 11.

The moves injected drama into what has been a smooth transition of power. Before yesterday, interim leader Mahmoud Abbas managed to win pledges of unity — if not outright support — from the disparate Palestinian factions and seemed a shoo-in to win the presidency. The fiery, charismatic Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in an Israeli prison for his role in deadly attacks, is far more popular among young Palestinians than the staid Abbas.

 

CONCORD, N.H.

GOP leader indicted in phone jamming plot

President Bush’s former New England campaign chairman was indicted yesterday on charges he took part in the jamming of the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote phone lines on Election Day 2002. James Tobin, 44, stepped down Oct. 15 after the Democrats accused him of involvement. At the time, he called the allegations “without merit.”

In 2002, six phone lines run by the Democrats and the Manchester firefighters’ union were tied up for 1 1/2 hours by 800 computer-generated hang-up calls.

Federal prosecutors said Tobin and other Republicans hired a company to make the calls to disrupt the organizations’ get-out-the-vote efforts.

Tobin was charged with conspiracy to commit telephone harassment and aiding and abetting of telephone harassment. He could get up to five years in prison.

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