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Monday, February 21, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Iraq Notebook

U.S. Marines clamp down on Ramadi

BAGHDAD, Iraq. — U.S. Marines stepped up operations in Ramadi yesterday, part of an effort to clamp down on insurgent strongholds as Iraqis tried to determine the shape of their new government.

Marines set up checkpoints, began inspecting vehicles and imposed a curfew on Ramadi, capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province where Iraq's insurgents have been most active. The Marines set up similar security measures in nearby villages along the Euphrates River.

A Marine spokesman downplayed comparisons to the assault on the neighboring town of Fallujah in November, when more than 50 Marines and thousands of insurgents were killed in an intense battle to expel guerrilla fighters.

The operation "is designed to be more proactive as opposed to reactive," said 1st. Lt. Nathan Braden, with the First Marine Expeditionary Force. "The extremists from Fallujah are not taking hold in Ramadi. The insurgency in Ramadi seems to be more criminal in nature."

Ramadi residents said the Marine positions around the town had frightened locals, who closed shops and offices, and emboldened insurgents, who could be seen running through the streets with AK47s and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.

"The citizens think that maybe this is part of an American plan to attack the city," said Saad Sayadh, 40, a regional official reached by phone.

Iraqi orphan "adopts" U.S. officer

MAUSTON, Wis. — When Capt. Scott Southworth took his soldiers to a Baghdad orphanage in 2003 to befriend the children, a small boy with cerebral palsy immediately returned the favor, crawling across the floor to sit next to him.

More than a year later, Southworth made a return trip to Iraq and brought 11-year-old Ala'a to Mauston, where Southworth now works as Juneau County district attorney.

Southworth, 32, who is single, knew the alternative for Ala'a was life in a government orphanage with little chance of adequate medical care or an education.

Iraqi law won't allow Southworth to adopt Ala'a, but he was able to bring the boy to Wisconsin last month under a "humanitarian parole" that lets him make sure the boy, who must use a wheelchair and can't fully use his arms, gets medical care and goes to school.

Ala'a isn't eligible for Southworth's health insurance, but Wisconsin doctors have promised to provide free care.

"He will be staying with me," said Southworth. "Ala'a really adopted me."

Magazine reports secret peace talks

WASHINGTON — U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers are conducting secret peace talks with some of Iraq's Sunni insurgents, Time magazine reported yesterday, citing Pentagon and other sources.

The Bush administration has said it would not negotiate with Iraqi fighters and there is no authorized dialogue. But the U.S. is having "back-channel" communications with certain insurgents, Time said.

The magazine cited a secret meeting between two members of the U.S. military and an Iraqi negotiator who is a former member of Saddam Hussein's regime and the senior representative of what he called the nationalist insurgency. "We are ready to work with you," the man said, according to Time.

Time said several Iraqi insurgent leaders — but none aligned with Jordanian militant Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, who is blamed for much of the current violence — have become open to negotiating.

Sen. Clinton opposes withdrawal timetable

WASHINGTON — Setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would offer a "green light" to the insurgency there and could undermine the fledgling Iraqi government, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday.

"I think it would be a mistake," she said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "We don't want to send a signal to the insurgents, to the terrorists, that we are going to be out of here at some date certain.

"I think that would be like a green light to go ahead and just bide your time," the New York Democrat said.

The Bush administration has declined to set any timetable for a U.S. withdrawal.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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