Iraqi lawmakers on break, leaving benchmark behind

BAGHDAD - Iraqi legislators suspended parliamentary sessions yesterday for the rest of the month to mark the Muslim religious season - the end of efforts to pass U.S.-backed legislation aimed at achieving national reconciliation this year.

The Sunni speaker of parliament announced the decision to suspend sessions after days of debate over a draft bill that would allow thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to their government jobs. The measure is among the 18 benchmarks set by the United States to encourage reconciliation.

Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said the legislative body would not hold another session until the end of December because many lawmakers would be traveling to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the annual Islamic pilgrimage, or spending time elsewhere with their families. Many lawmakers have residences in neighboring Jordan.

Ulster hardliner Ian Paisley

has kind words for Kennedy

WASHINGTON - Northern Ireland leader Ian Paisley, the Protestant hard-liner who long vilified Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., for his allegiance with Irish Catholics, thanked the lawmaker yesterday for his support of successful peace talks.

Paisley is in Washington with Martin McGuinness, his former enemy and current partner in government, to drum up U.S. investment in Northern Ireland. They planned to meet today with President Bush.

Paisley praised Kennedy's contributions to the peace process; the senator returned the favor. Kennedy called Paisley and McGuinness "an example to the rest of the world . . . trying to reach across differences and hatreds and to try and find common ground."

Angry GOP lawmakers say

pages have own scandals

WASHINGTON - Two Republican House members resigned yesterday from the board supervising teenage pages, accusing a Democratic official of failing to inform them about sexual and criminal activity by at least four youngsters.

The resignations by Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida and Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia echoed the supervision problems that came to light a year ago when Republicans were in charge.

Page board members then said they weren't informed of sexual come-ons to former male pages by ex-Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla. Foley resigned his seat in September 2006, and the scandal helped cost Republicans control of the House.

Pages are high school students who run errands for lawmakers and learn about Congress, while attending high school classes at a congressional school.

Bush aide: Musharraf's acts

were just 'bumps in the road'

WASHINGTON - A senior Bush administration official said yesterday that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's suspension of the constitution and arrests of opponents were "bumps in the road," comments that drew criticism from Democrats.

Richard Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, told senators at a hearing that Pakistan was "the indispensable partner" in the U.S. fight against extremists. He defended the administration's decision to continue U.S. aid to the country as crucial to continuing that fight and ensuring fair elections next month.

Sen. Russ Feingold took issue with Boucher's description of Musharraf's imposition of a state of emergency in early November and his purging of Supreme Court justices just before they were to rule on his re-election's validity. Feingold said they were more than "bumps in the road," calling Musharraf's actions "an attack on democracy."

Boucher later said the U.S. considered Musharraf's actions to be "serious mistakes." But Pakistan now seems "to be heading back in the right direction." *

-Associated Press