USA

In major policy reversal, the Bush administration plans to expand help for Iraqi opposition groups to include military training, news reports said. Reuters news agency quoted an Iraqi opposition source in London as saying the administration offered to provide military training at a meeting with the Iraqi National Congress and other groups opposed to Saddam Hussein's rule. The Los Angeles Times reported that the White House will ask Congress soon to OK training for as many as 10,000 Iraqis.

An independent commission to examine intelligence failures in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as a wide range of other factors, moved a step closer to reality Tuesday as the Senate voted 90-8 to set up such a panel. The proposal was approved as an amendment to a bill creating a Department of Homeland Security, just days after the Bush administration dropped its opposition. Testimony this week during joint hearings by the House and Senate intelligence committees fueled calls for a broader inquiry.

But President Bush will veto homeland security legislation unless it contains expanded powers to hire and fire workers at the new department, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reminded lawmakers Wednesday. The warning came as Senate Democrats said that with the support of Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) of Rhode Island, they had enough votes to pass the measure without the personnel flexibility provisions.

Federal Reserve policymakers, as expected, held key interest rates steady at their meeting Tuesday, although two board members indicated they had voted for an immediate new cut. That increased the likelihood of a future trim, analysts said. The split decision sent a jittery stock market into a spin. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 189 points to 7,683.13, its lowest level since October 1, 1998.

The federal death penalty was found unconstitutional by a federal judge in Montpelier, Vt., in the second such ruling in as many months. US District Judge William Sessions found the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act doesn't include provisions for grand juries to play a role in deciding whether capital punishment is warranted. Prosecutors have used them in response to a June US Supreme Court ruling. In July, a New York judge declared the death penalty unconstitutional due to evidence that innocent people have been executed.

A hurricane watch was in effect from Cameron, La., to Pascagoula, Miss., as tropical storm Isidore approached. Forecasters warned of up to 20 inches of rain in southeastern states.

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