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Dispatches The Buzz

Iraq A majority of Americans continue to believe the war in Iraq is "worth it." The Gallup results released on April 1 track with two other major polls showing 55 percent of Americans support the war. The tepid affirmation comes as Americans in Iraq closed out one of their most deadly months yet.

Extra security did not protect four civilian contractors from ambush in Fallujah, a hotbed of anti-American resentment 35 miles west of Baghdad. At the same time five U.S. Marines were killed when their vehicle rolled over a bomb near Fallujah, where Marines have recently redoubled raids to cure Sunni Triangle terrorism. An Iraqi mob torched two SUVs belonging to the contractors and cheered as the charred bodies of four men were dragged from the vehicles. Later, two of the bodies were hanged from a bridge over the Euphrates River. Men and boys cheered as one body was ripped apart. Middle East satellite networks beamed the images throughout the region. The four men worked for North Carolina-based Blackwater Security and were in Iraq to protect food shipments under a U.S. government contract.

"The people who pulled those bodies out and engaged in this attack against the contractors are not people we are here to help," said Dan Senor, deputy director for coalition operations. At a commissioning service on April 1 for 500 Iraqi police officers, U.S. administrator Paul Bremer told the cadets: "You have put to shame the human jackals who defiled the streets of Fallujah." The coalition's military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, promised a response to Fallujah area attacks that is "deliberate, precise, and overwhelming." He confirmed that attacks on Americans in Iraq were up, 27 a day in the last week of March, compared to an average of 15-18 in recent months.

Iraqi violence reached a new level of brutality just as most Iraqis prepared to celebrate the country's Liberation Day on April 9, when U.S. forces one year ago took control of Baghdad and Iraqis moved into Firdos Square to help pull down a prominent statue of Saddam Hussein. But attacks on civilian workers -- including those that killed four Southern Baptist missionaries last month and two other Americans -- aren't slowing the pace of reconstruction work overall (see story, p. 18), as civilian laborers race the clock to begin rebuilding Iraq before the June 30 handover.

Uzbekistan Terrorist violence hit Uzbekistan for the first time since the Central Asian nation became a U.S. ally after 9/11. Uzbekistan has hosted hundreds of American troops at a base near the Afghan border since the war on terror began. On April 1 Uzbek authorities closed all border crossings, including the Friendship Bridge, a well-used opening for humanitarian operations into Afghanistan, after a string of attacks they blame on al-Qaeda. At least 44 people have been killed in the last week's violence, including clashes with suspected terrorists and three suicide bombings in Tashkent and the Silk Road city of Bukhara. On April 1 a female suicide bomber blew herself up in Bukhara, killing one male bystander. Officials in Tashkent, the capital, believe the attacks are related to an upsurge in al-Qaeda's activities.

On the other side of Afghanistan, militants linked to Osama bin Laden killed two Pakistani hostages at the end of a 12-day battle between 500 al-Qaeda fighters and 5,000 Pakistani troops that left more than 100 people dead. The area is heating up as 2,000 Marines began arriving in Afghanistan in a stepped-up mission to crush Taliban-led insurgents and flush out al-Qaeda fugitives.

Gay Marriage The Georgia House voted last week to amend the state constitution to ban homosexual marriage. The Georgia Senate had already approved an amendment, so the matter will go to Georgia voters this fall. The state already outlaws gay marriage, but pro-family lawmakers said the amendment is needed to prevent activist out-of-state judges from allowing gay marriage. "We cannot let judges in Boston, or officials in San Francisco, define marriage for the people of Georgia," said Rep. Bill Hembree.

Legislative maneuvering in Massachusetts, meanwhile, led to a constitutional amendment that would outlaw same-sex marriages -- but allow civil unions for homosexuals. One legislator compared the placing of such an amendment on the ballot to forcing citizens to vote for both John Kerry and George W. Bush (story, p. 23).

Human Rights

The Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in a case that pits human-rights activists against the Bush administration and the nation's foreign-policy establishment. The case involves a 200-year-old law, the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreigners to sue foreign governments (and multinational corporations) in U.S. civil courts. Activists say the law gives those persecuted overseas, including Christians in Sudan and democracy activists in China, their day in court. The Bush administration says the result is foreign policy by lawsuit (story, p. 25).

Presidential politics In an attempt to keep oil prices high throughout the spring, representatives from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting in Vienna last week agreed to cut oil production by 4 percent. The decision, if adhered to, will reduce output by 1 million barrels per day and continue to put upward pressure on gasoline prices. OPEC nations pump about a third of the world's oil.

Rising prices at the pump became a major campaign issue last week, as Democratic challenger John Kerry blamed President Bush for gas prices hitting $1.80 per gallon in most places. Sen. Kerry proposes temporarily suspending contributions to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a move that the Bush administration said would undermine national security and have a negligible effect on prices. Republicans also began a series of ads implying that if Sen. Kerry had his way, prices would go from bad to worse. The ads make the point that the Massachusetts Democrat once supported a 50-cent-per-gallon gas tax (story, p. 27).