The top US commander in Iraq projects steep reductions in US military presence there by the end of 2007, The New York Times reported on Sunday. Citing US officials with knowledge of a classified Pentagon briefing, by Gen. George Casey, The Times said that the first cuts would come in September, and, that by the end of the year, the number of US combat brigades in Iraq would fall to five or six from the current level of 14. The brigades have about 3,500 troops each. There are approximately 127,000 troops serving in Iraq and more than 2,500 troops haved died since the start of the invasion.

The US population will reach 300 million this fall according to Census Bureau projections. The estimate is based on annual numbers for births, deaths, and immigration averaged throughout the year. Latinos – both immigrants and US born – accounted for almost half of the population growth last year. White non-Hispanics, who make up two-thirds of the population, accounted for less than one-fifth of the increase. The Census Bureau expects the 300 millionth person to be born or cross the border sometime in October but could not give out a specific date.

The US released 14 Saudi Arabians from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and transferred them to their home country. One was released because it was determined that the detainee was no longer an enemy combatant, while the other Saudis were released after an administrative process determined they could be transferred, the Pentagon said. The releases bring to 310 the number of detainees who have departed Guantánamo. About 450 detainees remain in the military prison, including 120 who are considered eligible for transfer or release.

A 15,500-acre wildfire in Grand Canyon National Park forced officials to close roads and evacuate tourists from the park on Saturday. The fire that was started by a series of lightning strikes was allowed to burn since its discovery in the Kaibab National Forest on June 8. But strong winds pushed the flames into areas without fire lines on Saturday, said Steve Ritchie, a spokesman for the team fighting the fire. It is the second fire in Sedona – some 90 miles from Phoenix – in the past month.

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