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Bush tries to shore up Iraq war effort

CRAWFORD, Texas, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. President George Bush headed to Salt Lake City Monday to address the VFW convention, beginning a new campaign to shore up support for the war in Iraq.

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"Terrorists in foreign lands still hope to attack our country," the president told the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "The lesson of Sept. 11, 2001, is that we must confront threats before they fully materialize."

The speech is the first in a series in which Bush will remind the country of the catastrophic terror attacks, and will suggest the war in Iraq is similar to other long conflicts, such as World War II.

The president last sought public support in a nationally broadcast speech to soldiers in North Carolina in June.

The issue has followed Bush into his five-week vacation in Crawford, Texas, where dozens of anti-war demonstrators have set up a makeshift camp near his ranch.

Hundreds of white crosses commemorating U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq are now planted just outside his property, and the demonstrators drew support Sunday from folk singer Joan Baez, CNN reported.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Aug. 5-7 found 54 percent of citizens thought the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake.

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So far, more than 1,800 U.S. troops have died in the conflict.


Iraq grapples with constitution

BAGHDAD, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Iraq's draft constitution, which creates a loose federation, is unlikely to be accepted by the Sunni Muslim minority, a published report said.

The draft was sent to the National Assembly after Kurdish and Shiite delegates accepted it. The constitutional committee voted on the document just before a Monday deadline.

Ali Debagh, a Shiite member of the committee, told The Washington Post that he realizes that Sunnis will probably reject the proposal in a referendum scheduled for October.

"We gave a choice -- whoever doesn't want federalism can opt not to practice it," he said. "We depended upon democracy in writing the constitution and will depend upon it in the referendum."

The draft recognizes the Kurdish autonomous region in the north and allows Shiites to set up a similar entity that would include about half of Iraq. The document also recognizes Iraq as an Islamic state.

"If you abandon the principle of consensus, you abandon the basis on which you're forming the constitution," said Sunni delegate Sadoun Zubaidi.


Last Israeli settlers leaving Gaza

NETZARIM, Gaza, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- The last Jewish settlers moved peacefully out of the Gaza Strip Monday after carrying the Torah scrolls down the main street of Netzarim.

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Netzarim was the last of 21 settlements to be evacuated, The Washington Post reported. Residents held a final prayer service before marching out with the scrolls and a large Menorah from the synagogue's roof.

At the service, residents vowed to return.

"I am not desolate, I am not without hope," Shlomit Ziv, a middle-school teacher, told the Post. "The eternal people, the Jewish people have gone through very, very bad times. But we're here now with a state, a beautiful state that sometimes makes mistakes."

The residents were directed by some 2,500 Israeli soldiers onto buses to be transported to Jerusalem for prayer at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, after which they will be transferred to another settlement near the city of Nablus in the heart of the West Bank.

The move was strongly criticized by Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who said the same factors that led to dismantling the Gaza settlements eventually will force similar action in the West Bank, Palestinian Radio reported.

Erekat said the Israeli government made commitments to Washington not to transfer the settlers from Gaza to the West Bank.

Beginning Tuesday, the Army will be overseeing the evacuation of four small settlements on the West Bank.

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Bogus invites drive huge counterfeit sweep

NEWARK, N.J., Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Federal agents in New Jersey rounded up a group of suspects in a large counterfeiting sweep by using counterfeit wedding invitations.

Indictments released Monday in Newark and Los Angeles named 87 individuals as participants in the smuggling of counterfeit money and cigarettes.

Investigators have seized $3.3 million in counterfeit currency, counterfeit cigarettes valued at $2 million, 36,000 ecstasy pills and almost one-half a kilo of methamphetamine during the three-year operation.

A total of 59 people were arrested over the weekend, including those who showed up to celebrate the "wedding" of an undercover FBI agent.

Two defendants were also charged with conspiracy to engage in arms trafficking. They allegedly negotiated a deal with undercover agents for imported weapons but failed to deliver after the agents wired a $50,000 down payment to an offshore account.

"This organization had its hands in a slew of global criminal enterprises," said U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie of the District of New Jersey in Newark. "It's activities, however, were stopped cold by this undercover operation, and that is a tribute to the abilities of all of the law enforcement (involved)."

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