The head of US Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, told Congress on Thursday that "Iraq could move toward civil war" if the raging sectarian violence in Baghdad is not stopped. Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the top priority in the Iraq war is to secure the capital, where factional violence has surged in recent weeks despite efforts by the new Iraqi government to stop the fighting. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has steadfastly refused to call the situation in Iraq a civil war, although he acknowledged Wednesday that the violence is increasing.

The military's top uniformed lawyers, appearing at a Senate hearing Wednesday, criticized key provisions of the proposed US plan for special military courts, affirming that they did not see eye to eye with Bush's political appointees who developed the plan. The lawyers said they worried that weak respect for the rights of US-held prisoners eventually could undermine demands for fair treatment of captured US service personnel.

After 18 days, 15,000 Americans stranded in Lebanon have been evacuated by way of Turkey and Cyprus, and major efforts to move Americans out have ended, the State Department said Wednesday night.

Ford Motor Co. recalled 1.2 million trucks, sport utility vehicles, and vans on Thursday amid concerns of potential engine fires. Ford said its recall of several 1994-2002 models was tied to the speed-control deactivation switch system, which could corrode, overheat, and catch fire. Last year, Ford recalled about 5 million trucks for the same problem. Altogether, this marks one of the biggest recalls in US history.

The National Guard troop deployment, mobilized by President Bush in May to help secure the US-Mexico border, has exceeded its goal of placing 6,000 troops on the line by Aug. 1, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said Wednesday. North Carolina National Guard Sgt. John Burt is one of the 6,200 troops from 30 states who will patrol the Southwest border for the next two years.

The number of new people signing up for unemployment benefits rose by 14,000 last week to 315,000, but still pointed to favorable conditions in the nation's job market, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Activists sued Wednesday to strike down a new Las Vegas law that makes it illegal to feed homeless people in parks. The law violates free-speech, free-assembly, and other rights, says the federal suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. City Council members argue that giving food to the homeless lures them away from public health providers and shelters, like the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada Summer Day Shelter, which offers supplies and beds to the city's poor.

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