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Iraqi video describes luring female bombers

BAGHDAD: A woman accused of helping recruit dozens of female suicide bombers looked into the camera and described the process: trolling society for likely candidates and then patiently converting the women from troubled souls into deadly attackers. The accounts were in a video released yesterday by Iraqi police. In a separate prison interview with the Associated Press, with interrogators nearby, the woman said she was part of a plot in which young women were raped and then sent to her for matronly advice. She said she would try to persuade the victims to become suicide bombers as their only escape from the shame and to reclaim their honor. The suspect, 50-year-old Samira Ahmed Jassim - who said her code name was "the Mother of Believers" - has given unusual firsthand descriptions of the possible workings behind last year's spike in attacks by female bombers. The Iraqi military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said the suspect had recruited more than 80 women willing to carry out attacks and admitted masterminding 28 bombings in different areas. Female suicide bombers attempted or successfully carried out 32 attacks last year, compared with eight in 2007, according to U.S. military figures.

U.S. suffers setbacks in Afghanistan efforts

MOSCOW: The U.S.-led campaign against the Taliban suffered two logistical blows yesterday as the president of Kyrgyzstan announced that he had shut a U.S. air base in his country and insurgents in Pakistan blew up a bridge, disrupting the main U.S. supply route into Afghanistan. The developments were the latest reminders of the vulnerability of the long and complex transportation system on which the 60,000 U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan depend for fuel, ammunition, construction materials and a great deal more. Kyrgyzstan's president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, made his announcement in Moscow, not in his capital, shortly after the Russian government reportedly agreed to lend Kyrgyzstan $2 billion, write off $180 million in debt and add $150 million in aid. Manas Air Base is the main transit point through which U.S. troops fly into and out of Afghanistan. As such, it is vital to plans to send 30,000 more American troops to stabilize Afghanistan.

Holder sworn in, vows new era at Justice Dept.

WASHINGTON: On Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s first day on the job, he signaled a clean break with the policies of the Bush administration and promised to hold Wall Street accountable if any major financial institutions engaged in fraud that contributed to the global financial crisis. Vice President Joe Biden swore in President Barack Obama's choice - the first African-American to hold the post - in a ceremony yesterday before dignitaries and department employees. The lanky, 58-year-old former prosecutor, federal judge and deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration vowed to begin a new era at the Justice Department, which was racked by Bush administration scandals over politically motivated hirings and firings.

NASA delays shuttle launch to test valves

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. : NASA delayed next week's launch of the space shuttle Discovery while it runs tests to determine whether newly installed valves would cause serious damage if they broke during liftoff. The launch will take place no sooner than Feb. 19, seven days after the shuttle was originally scheduled to take off on a space station construction mission. The delay is needed to make certain that Discovery can fly safely with the valves that control the flow of gaseous hydrogen into the external fuel tank, said NASA's space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier.

Kennedy Center offers crisis planning to arts

WASHINGTON : With the nation's nonprofit arts organizations suffering in the dismal economy, the stalwart John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is offering crisis consulting to see them through. The arts are not at the top of many lawmakers' lists for a federal bailout. So Michael Kaiser, the Kennedy Center's president, announced an unprecedented Arts in Crisis initiative yesterday to offer free assistance to performing arts managers across the country. He said his team could devote significant time and up to $500,000 in expenses to provide emergency planning for fundraising, budgeting, marketing or other strategies as box office revenues decline and donations and endowments run dry.

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