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Dispatches The Buzz
Iraq's National Assembly met in its first session, six weeks after its members were elected in historic elections in late January, with parliamentary leaders on the verge of forming a unity government. "Dear brothers and sisters, we have great duties to face and stand up to, much honorable Iraqi blood has been shed to attain these goals," said outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Mr. Allawi's likely successor is Shiite Abdel Aziz Hakim. Dressed in the black turban marking a descendant of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, he told the assembly: "We want a constitution that guarantees the rights of all, protects human rights, and respects the Muslim identity of the Iraqi people."
Longtime Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani likely will become Iraq's next president, a move coinciding with the 17th anniversary of Saddam Hussein's poison gas attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja, estimated to have killed 4,000.
As insurgent blasts rocked central Baghdad during the meeting, key U.S. coalition allies made preparations to pull troops from Iraq. Dutch and Ukrainian forces began a scheduled phased pullout on March 14. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he would like to pull over 3,000 troops from southern Iraq by September but later backpedaled on the surprise announcement. The Italian government faces mounting public resentment over deployment after U.S. forces by mistake shot dead an Italian secret service agent two weeks ago.
The Israeli army formally transferred to the Palestinian National Authority control of the city of Jericho on March 16, in the first of numerous handovers to restore control of Gaza and West Bank towns to Palestinians.
Syria said it pulled up to 6,000 troops from Lebanon after nearly a month of street protests demanding its withdrawal. But Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, has vowed to keep its guns to fight Israel rather than confining itself to politics as demanded by President Bush.
President Bush held a press conference to reiterate his intent to reform Social Security despite polls showing the White House may lack the public and political support to do so. He said he would press to change the federal retirement system at home and to spread democracy abroad without much thought to his legacy. "It turns out, in this job you've got a lot on your plate on a regular basis; you don't have much time to sit around and wander, lonely, in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits, 'How do you think my standing will be?'" he said.
The president also announced his appointment of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank. A longtime proponent of regime change in Iraq, Mr. Wolfowitz will likely bring neoconservative principles and fiscal discipline to the aid and development conglomerate.
Congress debated a measure introduced by Terri Schiavo supporters extending the due-process right of habeas corpus-the right to appeal in federal court once state judicial remedies are exhausted-to disabled people who are subject to court-ordered removal of food and water. The bill, authored by Reps. Dave Weldon and Jim Sensenbrenner, aims to help people like Mrs. Schiavo, whose parents have for seven years waged a circular battle in Florida courts. Successful enactment would not halt doctors from following an existing court order to remove Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube March 18. But it could allow her parents to ask a federal judge to stay that order-or to order the tube replaced if it has already been removed (story, p. 26).
After San Francisco Judge Richard Kramer on March 14 tossed out the traditional definition of marriage in California, President Bush on March 16 affirmed his view that judges ought not to be in the business of defining cultural norms. "I believe [this issue] . . . should be decided by the people," he said. "And I think the best way to do so is through the constitutional process." But Amherst College Prof. Hadley Arkes told WORLD the president has undermined his position on marriage by holding out the possibility of "civil unions" (story, p. 22). Judge Kramer found "no rational purpose" for prohibiting same-sex marriage. Opponents in the case head back to court on March 30.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission opened its annual session in Geneva with attention focused on what Commissioner Louise Arbour called its own "sporadic and selective" record on human rights. She singled out Sudan as an unchallenged culprit. But scoldings have never hurt Sudan, which sits on the commission and continues its campaign of genocide against black Africans in its western region of Darfur-prompting the UN to pinpoint the mortality at 180,000 deaths since October 2003, a figure not estimated before. Other experts double the death rate from the two-year war. "Seventy-five percent of villages in Darfur have been burned or abandoned," former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle reports after visiting the region, with "no evidence the Sudanese government is reining in the Janjaweed."