USA

Former Secretary of State James Baker was expected to depart for a mission as President Bush's special envoy on behalf of Iraqi reconstruction as the Monitor went to press. Baker is scheduled to meet heads of state of France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Britain, and perhaps others, to seek relief of Iraq's $120 billion in debt. Paris is his first stop, where he also will meet the interim Iraqi government's finance minister and central bank governor. On a later trip, Baker is expected to visit the Persian Gulf and Asia.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage assumed responsibility from Colin Powell as the latter was scheduled to undergo surgery for prostate cancer at Walter Reed Medical Center Monday. Powell is expected to be hospitalized for several days before going home to recuperate. He will then resume work on a "reduced schedule," according to State Department spokesman Adam Ereli, who described the surgery as a "routine intervention" that was scheduled several weeks ago.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear Vice President Dick Cheney's case for keeping his energy task force papers secret. The high court said Cheney's Justice Department lawyers could present detailed arguments on why he should not have to comply with a lower court judge's order to hand over details of White House contacts with representatives of the energy industry. Two groups, the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, sued in 2001 to find out the names and positions of members of the energy task force headed by the vice president.

The nation's murder rate rose slightly in the first half of the year despite a 3.1 percent drop in overall violent crime, the FBI reported. It said there were 1.1 percent more murders during the first six months of 2003, compared with the same period a year earlier - the only category of violent crime to show an increase from January to June. The biggest increase was in the Northeast, where there were 4.3 percent more murders than a year ago. There were also more homicides in the South and West, with only the Midwest showing a decrease. The Midwest rate dropped 1.9 percent.

Former US Sen. William Roth Jr. (R), who died Sunday in Wilmington, Del., is credited with a popular retirement account that bears his name. Roth served five terms in the Senate before his defeat in 2000 by former Gov. Tom Carper (D). Colleagues credited Roth (l.) with a keen interest in foreign relations and with fighting against wasteful government spending. His passing followed by less than a week that of former Sen. Paul Simon (D) of Illinois. The latter was hailed at a memorial service Sunday.

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