Update as of 0800 Eastern Time:
Bottom Line Up Front:
2. US / Iraq SOFA
4. Iraq Haifa Street: Baghdad Bureau Blog
From Fox News (OPEC):
Oil prices fell below $70 a barrel Wednesday in Asia as investors shrugged off a looming OPEC production cut after company forecasts suggested the U.S. may be headed for a severe economic slowdown that crimps crude demand.
Light, sweet crude for December delivery dropped $2.73 to $69.45 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by midday in Singapore.
The November contract expired Tuesday and fell $3.36 to settle at $70.89. Last Thursday, that contract had declined as low as $68.57 a barrel, the lowest since June 2007.
Crude investors have followed equity markets this week, looking for signs on how the U.S. economy will weather the current global financial turmoil. On Tuesday, DuPont Co., Sun Microsystems and Texas Instruments Inc. reported disappointing earnings and bleak forecasts, sending the Dow Jones industrials average down 2.5 percent.
"Oil is now highly correlated with the stock market," said Clarence Chu, a trader with market maker Hudson Capital Energy in Singapore. "People are looking to the Dow for sentiment on the economy."
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which accounts for about 40 percent of global oil supply, has signaled it plans to announce an output quota reduction at an emergency meeting Friday in Vienna.
But investors are skeptical about how much of the cut will be implemented, given the history of OPEC members exceeding their production quotas.
"There should be a short-term boost to prices when they announce a cut on Friday," Chu said. "But OPEC production has always been above their quotas, so there's a credibility problem."
Crude oil is down 52 percent from its peak of $147.27 reached in mid-July.
A stronger dollar this week has also pushed oil prices lower. Investors often buy commodities like crude oil as an inflation hedge when the dollar weakens and sell those investments when the greenback rises.
From CNN (US / Iraq SOFA):
The Iraqi government has unanimously agreed that a security pact with the United States lacks "some necessary amendments," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Tuesday.
Iraqi and U.S. negotiators recently finalized the text of the status-of-forces agreement, which would set the terms for U.S. troops in Iraq after the United Nations mandate on their presence expires at the end of this year. The agreement is now under consideration by the U.S. and Iraqi governments for final approval.
Iraq's Cabinet discussed the draft agreement during its regular session Tuesday. Al-Dabbagh said he called upon the ministers to submit their amendments so they can be included in the negotiations with the Americans.
The Iraqi government spokesman did not say what parts of the agreement the ministers want changed.
A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions, said parts of the agreement could be reopened because of Iraqi objections to the language on jurisdiction for U.S. troops, the troop pullout dates and the conditions for troop pullout.
But Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there was "great reluctance" to make any more changes to the agreement.
"If [Baghdad] were to come up with something we haven't thought of, or identify problems we missed some way, we would have to take that seriously," he said. "So I don't think you slam the door shut. But I would say it's pretty far closed."
The draft status-of-forces agreement, according to a copy obtained by CNN, calls for U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraqi cities and villages by July 30, 2009, and out of the country entirely by December 31, 2011. The agreement allows for an earlier withdrawal or an extension of the U.S. forces' stay in Iraq by agreement of both parties.
It also allows the Iraqi government to ask "the United States government to leave certain forces for training and for support purposes for the Iraqi forces."
Legal jurisdiction over U.S. forces in Iraq has been a sticking point in the negotiation, with the United States preferring that its troops and contractors remain immune from Iraqi law.
Baghdad had sought the power to arrest and try Americans accused of crimes not related to official military operations, plus jurisdiction over troops and contractors who commit major crimes in the course of their duties.
Under the draft agreement, U.S. forces or contractors who commit "major and premeditated murders" while off duty and outside U.S. facilities would fall under Iraqi jurisdiction, according to the copy obtained by CNN
From NY Times (Afghanistan):
The Afghan authorities said on Wednesday that an airstrike by coalition forces killed nine Afghan Army soldiers overnight in what the United States-led coalition said may have been “a case of mistaken identity on both sides.”
Gen. Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said the air strike took place at 2 a.m. in Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan.
The strike killed nine soldiers and wounded three others, one seriously, he said. Other officials in the area said the attack may have been carried out by helicopter gunships.
In a statement, the coalition said a convoy of its troops was returning from an operation and was “involved in multiple engagements” that led to the deaths of the Afghan government troops. “Initial reports from troops on the ground indicate that this may be a case of mistaken identity on both sides,” the statement said.
The statement did not confirm the number of dead or identify the nationality of the force responsible for the airstrike. Most of the airstrikes in the Khost area are carried out by American forces, according to news reports.
Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for American forces in Afghanistan, said the fighting erupted as coalition troops approached an Afghan Army position
In June 2007, American forces called in air support when Afghan police opened fire on them during a hunt for Taliban militants. Seven Afghan police were killed. There have also been reports in recent weeks that Afghan officers have opened fire on coalition troops amid concerns that militants have infiltrated Afghan forces.
The latest incident came as fighting in Afghanistan reached its highest level since the U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001.
In recent years, the Taliban has staged a dramatic revival, claiming responsibility for attacks reaching into Kabul itself. On Monday, a 34-year-old British-South African aid worker was shot to death in Kabul as she walked to work. The Taliban accused her of trying to convert Afghans to Christianity.
From Baghdad Bureau Blog / NY Times (Haifa Street):
Mohammad Raheem looked out the window of his home and showed me where the blast shattered his windows four years ago to the day. The shards went flying through the room where he slept on the floor with his wife and three children between them, he told me.
Mohammad’s face was cut by the glass and so were the legs of his small daughter. He sat down on the simple wooden bench looking shattered by the memory of the blast.
In 1/30th of a second the moment passed. Teba, Mohammad’s nine-year-old daughter, ran from behind her mother, who was listening out of sight in the hall, to her father. I raised my camera in anticipation of human contact.
Mohammad embraced his daughter and was momentarily relieved of the burden of his experience. My gut told me of the intimacy of the moment I had witnessed and I knew I had what my crew and I had spent all day looking for.
Eight hours earlier while I had coffee that morning, I talked to our security adviser about where I might photograph that day.
When war was in full rumble we just planned to cover the worst of conflict on any given day.
Now in 2008, with most of Baghdad open once again due to improved security, the wealth of opportunities makes planning a convoluted task.
It is still unreasonable to risk the life of the Iraqis we must work with in order to properly interact and interpret their country to us, so venturing out requires knowing where you are going.
More to follow:
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