Baghdad's 'Green Zone'

not so safe anymore

BAGHDAD - An explosion by a mortar or rocket wounded five U.S. Embassy contractors yesterday in the heavily fortified Green Zone, fueling concerns that the area is no longer a haven from Iraq's chaos.

The attack came while American-led forces continued to search for three soldiers who've been missing since their two-Humvee patrol was ambushed Saturday in a violent area south of Baghdad. U.S. officials said American forces had seized several suspected insurgents but had found no trace of the missing men.

Three rounds, at least one of which was a 122 mm rocket, landed just before 4 p.m. in the Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy, American military headquarters and most central Iraqi government offices.

* President Bush on Tuesday chose Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the Pentagon's director of operations and a former leader of U.S. military forces in the Middle East, to oversee the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as a war czar.

Hamas gunmen kill

8 Fatah police officers

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Hamas gunmen riddled a Fatah police jeep with gunfire at close range yesterday, killing eight policemen in the most ruthless round yet of factional fighting, pushing the Palestinian unity government closer to collapse.

Gunmen in black ski masks controlled the streets and terrified residents huddled in their homes. Israel, too, was briefly drawn into the battle.

A total of 14 people were killed in yesterday's fighting.

Drexel, New York officials

settle student-loan case

ALBANY, N.Y. - Drexel University in Philadelphia and Capella University, an online college based in Minneapolis, settled student loan steering cases with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday.

Drexel, which said in April it did nothing wrong and vowed to defend its practices, agreed to pay student borrowers the $250,000 it had accepted from a lender in exchange for a listing as the school's "preferred lender," Cuomo said.

Drexel made a deal that paid it one percent of the value of students loans provided by Education Finance Partners, a major college lender, Cuomo said. After Drexel made EFP its exclusive prime lender, EFP did $25 million in loan business with Drexel students. Under the agreement, Drexel received $124,021, with another $126,031 accrued but not yet paid.

Drexel allowed the lender to use its name, logo and mascot in marketing to Drexel students, Cuomo said. In addition, EdAmerica Inc., another lender, operated a telephone call-in center on behalf of Drexel's financial aid office, leaving and students and families unaware they were speaking to employees of a lending company and not the college.

Cuomo said Capella's director of financial aid and some of his employees received gifts, trips, golf accessories and other inducements including consulting fees from Student Loan Xpress, one of the college's preferred lenders at the time.

Study links vitamin use

to prostate cancer deaths

WASHINGTON - There's more worrisome news about vitamins: Taking too many may increase men's risk of dying from prostate cancer.

The study, being published today, doesn't settle the issue. But it is the biggest yet to suggest high-dose multivitamins may harm the prostate, and the latest chapter in the confusing quest to tell whether taking various vitamins really helps a variety of conditions - or is a waste of money, or worse.

Government scientists turned to a study tracking the diet and health of almost 300,000 men. About a third reported taking a daily multivitamin, and 5 percent were heavy users, swallowing the pills more than seven times a week.

Within five years of the study's start, 10,241 men had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, 1,476 had advanced cancer, 179 died.

Heavy multivitamin users were almost twice as likely to get fatal prostate cancer as men who never took the pills, concludes the study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Driver quotes Spector:

'I think I killed somebody'

LOS ANGELES - Phil Spector stepped out of his mansion with a gun in his hand at 5 a.m. four years ago and said, "I think I killed somebody," a chauffeur testified yesterday in the record producer's trial on charges of murdering an actress.

It was the first time that Adriano Desouza, who has told the story to police and grand jurors, gave his account in public.

The chauffeur said he had delivered Spector and actress Lana Clarkson to the home about two hours earlier. He said he first heard a "pow," got out of Spector's car to see what the noise was and then got back into the car. A short time later Spector emerged, Desouza testified.

Spector said, "I think I killed somebody," according to the driver, who testified that he then asked, "What happened, sir?"

The producer responded with a shrug, he said.

Desouza said he looked past Spector into the foyer of his castle-like home in suburban Alhambra. "I saw the legs of the lady," he said. "I stepped inside and I saw the blood on her face."

VA officials voted to give

big bonuses to themselves

WASHINGTON - Nearly two dozen officials who received hefty performance bonuses last year at the Veterans Affairs Department also sat on the boards charged with recommending the payments.

Documents obtained by the Associated Press raise questions of conflicts of interest or appearances of conflicts in connection with the bonuses, some of which went to senior officials involved in crafting a budget that came up $1.3 billion short and jeopardized veterans' health care.

The documents show that 21 of 32 officials who were members of VA performance review boards received more than half a million dollars in payments themselves.

Among them: nearly a dozen senior officials who devised the flawed 2005 budget. Also rewarded was the deputy undersecretary for benefits, who manages a system with severe backlogs of veterans waiting for disability benefits.

Gonzales says ex-deputy

was go-to guy on firings

WASHINGTON - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said yesterday he relied on his resigning deputy more than any other aide to decide which U.S. attorneys should be fired last year.

His comments came less than a day after Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty announced he would resign at the end of the summer - a decision that people familiar with the plans said was hastened by the controversy over the purge of eight prosecutors.

"You have to remember, at the end of the day, the recommendations reflected the views of the deputy attorney general. He signed off on the names," Gonzales told reporters at a National Press Club forum in Washington.

McNulty, reached in San Antonio after Gonzales' remarks, declined to comment.

Homeless-dumping case

settled by California HMO

LOS ANGELES - More than a year after an elderly hospital patient was found wandering a crime-ridden area in a hospital gown and slippers, the nation's largest HMO agreed in a settlement with the city to changes aimed at ending the dumping of homeless patients on streets.

Kaiser Permanente will create new protocols for discharging homeless patients in its chain of hospitals, train staff and allow a retired U.S. district judge to monitor its progress, officials said yesterday. *

- Daily News wire services