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04/15/03 Ur, Iraq

Top National News Right Now

Iraqis who'll be helping set up a post-war government have agreed to meet again in ten days.

About 80 delegates from various factions in Iraq -- and from groups that have been in exile under Saddam Hussein -- were brought together by the U-S today in the ancient city of Ur.

Opening the conference was retired U-S Lieutenant General Jay Garner -- who's in line to head an interim administration in Iraq.

He pointed to the historic nature of the meeting -- which took place in the traditional birthplace of Abraham.

A White House envoy assured the delegates that the U-S has "absolutely no interest" in ruling Iraq.

But some Iraqis aren't convinced -- and boycotted the meeting in protest of the U-S role.

(Baghdad-AP) -- It's quite a different scene in Baghdad today, compared to the looting that plagued the Iraqi capital just a few days ago.

The looting has just about ended. Iraqi police have increased their own patrols of the city, and volunteers are directing traffic -- as Baghdad takes more steps toward a return to law and order.

In some neighborhoods, groups of Marines are on patrol -- looking for weapons stockpiles and gunmen.

Marines in one section of Baghdad seemed to be relaxed. And they were approached by admiring children. But kids who touched their assault rifles were scolded.

A Marine spokesman says an appeal went out for 150 Iraqi policemen to help keep order -- and as many as a-thousand showed up.

But it's still not completely safe. Marines are urging the people of Baghdad to stay in their homes after dark -- for their own protection.

(Central Command Headquarters, Qatar-AP) -- There's no evidence yet, but the U-S remains convinced there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said at today's Central Command briefing that the coalition is "unwavering" in that belief.

Tests so far at some suspect sites have been negative. Brooks says forces continue using special equipment as they look for buried material that might be related to Iraq's weapons programs. And he says it'll take some time to uncover things "that are deliberately hidden."

U-S officials have said they don't expect to find much evidence of banned weapons until Iraqi civilians no longer are afraid of speaking out.

(Central Command Headquarters, Qatar-AP) -- Many of them aren't fighting anymore -- they just want to talk.

A U-S Central Command spokesman says allied forces have been talking with former commanders of Iraqi regime forces, mostly in eastern, northern and western Iraq. At the daily war briefing, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said many of the commanders have chosen not to fight, but have yet to formally surrender.

Brooks says some of those Iraqi commanders may be taken into custody, while others may have some role in rebuilding the Iraqi military. Brooks says military capability throughout Iraq has been destroyed, and that many Iraqi soldiers have simply walked away from fighting.

(Jerusalem-AP) -- An Israeli military officer and two Israeli workers are dead -- along with two Palestinians -- in the latest round of violence.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, troops from an elite Israeli army unit were surrounding a building where three fugitives were holed-up.

As the three came out of the building, one of them fired a pistol -- killing an Israeli lieutenant and wounding another soldier. The gunman was wounded by Israeli fire, and he later died of those wounds.

Elsewhere, at a truck crossing between Israel and Gaza, the army says a Palestinian opened fire and threw two grenades -- killing two Israeli workers and wounding three others. He was then shot and killed by troops.

(Beijing-AP) -- International health officials say their visits to two Beijing military hospitals today were "cooperative."

The World Health Organization wanted to get into the facilities to check out rumors that the city's military hospitals have unreported cases of SARS. The team is also looking into how authorities in the Chinese capital are dealing with the fatal disease.

China had been downplaying the disease's severity. But it has now said the situation is serious -- and upped the count to more than 14-hundred cases. The disease has killed 64 people in China.

(White House-AP) -- With the war in Iraq winding down, President Bush is making an aggressive push to boost the sluggish economy.

He's using the tax-filing deadline to stress that Americans are overtaxed. He'll also renew his call for a 726 (b) billion dollar package of tax cuts to stimulate the economy and create more jobs. It could be a tough sell. Six in ten Americans say now is not the time for more tax cuts, because they fear it would worsen the deficit. But an Associated Press poll also found half of those questioned say their taxes are too high.

Congress doesn't appear willing to endorse the president's plan. The budget passed by the House included 550 (b) billion dollars worth of cuts. The Senate's package has a ceiling of 350 (b) billion in tax cuts.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the economy hasn't improved enough to afford a smaller tax cut. The administration, meanwhile, is sending more than two dozen officials around the country to plug the president's plan.

(Washington-AP) -- With the midnight federal tax-filing deadline looming, last-minute filers have a couple of ways to go.

Of course, they can line up at the post office. Or they can use the I-R-S Web site to file. It's free. The I-R-S says e-filing is fast and easy.

But if they can't file on time, taxpayers can get an automatic four-month extension by using a special form. I-R-S spokesman Terry Lemons says it can be picked up at the post office or found on the I-R-S Web site.

But it must be filed by midnight -- and taxpayers will owe interest on any amounts not paid by the deadline. Taxpayers can also call toll-free to request extensions.

The I-R-S says about one in four taxpayers wait until the last few days to file their returns.

(Kabul, Afghanistan-AP) -- It's an effort that would make Dr. Jonas Salk himself proud.

The U-N children's agency has kicked off a three-day polio immunization campaign in Afghanistan. UNICEF is hoping to reach every child under the age of five. A spokesman say that would be a "pretty monumental achievement" -- given the nation's lack of infrastructure.

But they're hoping the effort will leave Afghanistan polio-free. The nation had ten reported cases of polio last year. To be declared polio-free, it must go three straight years with a single reported case.

Polio used to be a major problem but has now pretty much disappeared from the planet. UNICEF says Afghanistan is one of the remaining ten nations where polio is endemic.

(Des Moines, Iowa-AP) -- Former United States Olympic Committee President Robert Helmick has died. He was 66.

Helmick had resigned amid conflict of interest allegations.

A hospital spokesperson says Helmick died of cardiac failure at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. Law partner David Claypool said Helmick had a stroke last weekend.

Helmick was U-S-O-C president from 1985 to 1991. He resigned as U-S-O-C president and as a member of the International Olympic Committee in 1991 after he was accused of using his position for personal gain.

A U-S-O-C investigation into accusations of influence peddling by Helmick found no wrongdoing. Helmick said he resigned because the issue was disruptive to the committee.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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