WASHINGTON

U.S. lowering troop level in Baghdad

The first big test of security gains linked to the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq is at hand.

The military has started to reverse the 30,000-strong troop increase and commanders are hoping the drop in insurgent and sectarian violence in recent months won’t prove fleeting.

The current total of 20 combat brigades is shrinking to 19 as the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, operating in volatile Diyala province, leaves. The U.S. command in Baghdad announced on yesterday that the brigade had begun heading home to Fort Hood, Texas.

Between January and July the force is to shrink further to 15 brigades. The total number of U.S. troops will likely go from 167,000 now to 140,000-145,000 by July.

As the U.S. troop reductions proceed, it should become clear whether the so-called “surge” strategy that increased the U.S. troop presence in and around Baghdad resulted in any lasting gains against sectarianism.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Seven killed at Fatah rally

A rally of more than 250,000 Fatah supporters ended in mayhem yesterday, with Hamas police opening fire and protesters hurling rocks or running for cover. Seven civilians were killed and dozens were wounded in the violence between Palestinian factions.

The demonstration in a Gaza City square, marking the Nov. 11, 2004 death of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, posed the strongest challenge to Hamas rule in Gaza since the Islamic militant group seized the impoverished territory by force in June.

BEIJING

Chinese gov’t creates database of Olympic reporters

The Chinese government has created profiles on thousands of foreign journalists coming to report on next summer’s Beijing Olympics and is gathering information on thousands more to put into a database, a top official said in comments published yesterday.

The profiles appeared to undermine promises made by Chinese leaders in 2001, when they were bidding for the Games, that the event would lead to greater media freedoms.

The database with information on the 28,000 foreign journalists expected for the Olympics would be a reference for interview subjects, designed to protect them from being tricked or blackmailed by “fake reporters,” Liu Binjie, minister of the General Administration of Press and Publication said.

PHILADELPHIA

Att’y: American teen chatted with Finnish killer

A teenager who admitted plotting a school attack near Philadelphia had communicated online about the Columbine massacre with a teenage outcast who killed eight people and himself in a high school shooting in Finland, the Pennsylvania boy’s attorney said yesterday.

But the teen was “horrified” when he found out about the Finnish attack and said he never would have suspected him of following through with a violent act, the attorney said.

Finnish police said material seized from the computer of Pekka-Eric Auvinen suggests the 18-year-old had communicated online with Dillon Cossey, 14, who was arrested in October on suspicion of preparing an attack at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in suburban Philadelphia.

– Compiled from Daily wire reports

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