South of D-Day beaches, another slaughter is remembered

By JOHN LEICESTER Associated Press
CHAMBOIS, France (AP) — In the spring that followed the terrible battle, the grass grew especially thick and green, fertilized by thousands of corpses that had been plowed into mass graves.
It’s hard now — nearly 75 years later, overlooking wheat fields spotted with blood-red poppies and with skylarks singing overhead — to imagine that it was here in August 1944, on a wide, open plain that soldiers nicknamed “the Corridor of Death,” that Adolf Hitler’s armies in Normandy were all but destroyed, clearing the path for the liberation of Paris.
With the eyes of the world again turning to Normandy this week for the 75th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings that launched the Allied campaign to liberate Europe, a commemoration Tuesday in the small village of Chambois well south of the beaches served as a reminder that D-Day marked only a beginning.
It took many more weeks of vicious fighting to bring the Battle of Normandy to a decisive and bloody conclusion, in mid-August 1944 around the ruins of Chambois and surrounding villages where tens of thousands of German soldiers became trapped in a noose of Allied armor and fire.
Gerard and Paulette Gondouin, teenagers then, but now 90 and 88, respectively, were forever scarred by witnessing the destruction unleashed by Canadian, British, American, Polish and French forces that squeezed and bombarded the encircled Germans, cutting off their routes of escape. Allied planes and artillery rained down death.
Every August, like a ghost, the slaughter comes back to haunt them.
“In the month of August, both of us, we don’t sleep, even at night. We talk, ‘Do you remember this. Do you remember that?'” Gerard Gondouin said.
“And it’s been like that for 75 years,” Paulette Gondouin interjected.
Tens of thousands of German soldiers were killed, injured and captured. Roads became clogged with smashed tanks, other destroyed military hardware and bodies. German losses were so massive that Hitler’s forces in France never recovered. And even in their agony, some German troops sought to leave nothing of use for their enemies.
“They destroyed everything they could: their tanks, their lorries, everything. They killed their horses,” Gerard Gondouin recalled.
After the battle, villagers buried rotting corpses in mass graves — men and farm animals all interred together.
The stench of decay “stuck to us for months,” Paulette Gondouin recalled. “We were afraid of epidemics. It was a very, very, very hot August.”
In the following spring of 1945, “in the fields, the grass was thick and a very deep green,” she added.
German bodies were later dug up from around the village in the 1960s and reburied with others in a cemetery for thousands of dead.
For the Allies, trapping, killing and capturing so many Germans in one place was cause for celebration, a milestone in the Battle of Normandy that had been harder and longer than D-Day planners anticipated.
William Tymchuk, 98, fought with Canadian forces around Chambois and still speaks about the battle with pride. Back in the village for Tuesday’s ceremony and the unveiling of a monument, Tymchuk stood to attention with other World War II veterans, their chests full of medals, as a military band played.
Making a pincer movement with his hands, Tymchuk demonstrated how Allied forces closed in on all sides on the Germans. His piercing blue eyes teared up as he spoke about comrades who never came back from the fighting among Normandy’s thick hedgerows.
“We closed the gap from this side, with the Poles, and the Americans came from the other side,” he said. “It was a very decisive battle.”
“We knew the Germans were retreating … We knew they were on the run. So we tried to close as many roads as we could, to stop their tanks and their armor.”
Before the final escape routes were squeezed shut, thousands of German troops did manage to throw off the noose. Paulette Gondouin recalled how they slipped away under cover of night. Watching from a roadside bank, fighting not to slip down and be squashed, she saw tanks, halftracks, horses and carts and thousands of troops flee, “everything you need to make an army.”
“Every August, I find myself back on that bank,” she said. “It’s a recurrent nightmare. It was atrocious.”
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Follow all the AP’s coverage of D-Day at https://apnews.com/WorldWarII

Trump eases up, makes nice with May before she steps down

By JONATHAN LEMIRE, KEVIN FREKING and JILL LAWLESS Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Making nice at the end, President Donald Trump eased up Tuesday on his frequent criticisms of outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May over her handling of the tortured Brexit deal, declaring that history will remember her fondly if the United Kingdom can successfully leave the European Union.
The latest chapter in the allies’ storied “special relationship” played out as anti-Trump protesters — with the infamous Trump baby balloon bobbing overhead — thronged the streets of nearby central London.
The president’s unexpected compliments for May come just days before she was set to resign the leadership of her party after failing to secure a Brexit deal. She will depart as prime minister once her successor has been chosen.
“I have greatly enjoyed working with you. You are a tremendous professional and a person who loves her country very much,” Trump told May at a news conference near the prime minister’s Downing Street office. But he couldn’t resist a slight dig, evoking the two years of broadsides he had lobbed at her by recalling that he had urged her to sue the EU rather than try to negotiate a departure.
Trump said he would have “sued and settled, maybe, but you never know. She’s probably a better negotiator than I am.” And he added that the deal May came away with was a good one and “perhaps you won’t be given the credit you deserve.”
May voiced hope her successor will be able to achieve Brexit.
“I still believe —I personally believe— that it is in the best interest of the U.K. to leave the European Union with a deal. I believe there is a good deal on the table,” she said. “Obviously, it will be whoever succeeds me as prime minister to take this issue forward. What is paramount, I believe, is delivering on Brexit for the British people.”
Earlier in the day, Trump jokingly suggested that May “stick around” until a new U.S.-U.K. trade deal was brokered. May and her aides chuckled at that.
Trump said Britain and the U.S. would be able to strike a “phenomenal trade deal” once the U.K. had left the EU — music to the ears of pro-Brexit Britons. But, in words sure to alarm those in Britain concerned about Brexit, he said that “everything”— including the National Health Service — would be “on the table” in future trade negotiations.
Most Britons are protective of the state-run NHS, which delivers free health care to all, and many worry that private U.S. health care firms could try to gain access to chunks of it as a condition of a trade deal.
On a separate issue, Trump said he anticipated “no limitations” on the future sharing of intelligence with the U.K. as the U.S. continues to press its longtime ally to ban Chinese company Huawei amid espionage and trade concerns.
Traditionally, U.S. presidents avoid injecting themselves into the domestic politics of other nations. But Trump didn’t hold back — right after claiming that he would not comment on Britain’s internal matters.
He renewed his praise of Conservative lawmaker Boris Johnson, who is campaigning to replace May as Conservative leader, and of another contender, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. He said he’d turned down a requested meeting from Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and took new swipes at one of his most vocal critics, London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Afterward, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and Trump met at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, with Farage tweeting that they’d had a “good meeting.”
Trump previously had voiced support for a “hard Brexit,” which could have a devastating impact on the U.K. economy, according to many experts. That stands in contrast to a previous White House position that the departure should be as painless as possible. Others in the U.K. are pressing for a second referendum that could keep Britain in the EU.
As the pageantry of Trump’s British state visit gave way to politics, an economic meeting between the leaders at St. James’s Palace brought together 10 leading companies — five from the U.K. and five from the United States. CEOs and senior representatives from BAE Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, National Grid, Barclays, Reckitt Benckiser, JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, Goldman Sachs International, Bechtel and Splunk were listed as attending.
While the corporate leaders gathered, protesters began to assemble across London, some of whom had balloon of a crying baby Trump floating in the air near Parliament Square. Leaders of Britain’s main opposition party joined demonstrators at a rally in Trafalgar Square, just up the street from May’s Downing Street office. Also in Trafalgar Square: a 16-foot robotic likeness of Trump seated on a golden toilet.
Trump glossed over the protests, saying he saw “thousands of people in the streets cheering” and waving U.S. and U.K. flags, but just a “very, very small” group of protesters. “There was great love,” he said.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump later toured the Churchill War Rooms, the British government’s underground command center during World War II. Then it was time for a fancy reciprocal dinner that the Trumps hosted at the U.S. ambassador’s residence for Prince Charles, his wife, Camilla, and other dignitaries.
On the menu: Heritage tomatoes with burrata, grilled filet of beef and vanilla ice cream with summer berries.
A day earlier, Trump had lunch with Queen Elizabeth II and tea with Prince Charles before a grand state dinner at Buckingham Palace.
Following Tuesday’s focus on business and trade, Trump will use the next two days to mark the 75th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day landing, likely the last significant commemoration most veterans of the battle will see.
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Associated Press writers Gregory Katz in London and Darlene Superville and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.
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Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Freking at http://twitter.com/@APkfreking

World Bank downgrades its forecast for global economy

By PAUL WISEMAN AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The World Bank on Tuesday downgraded its forecast for the global economy in light of trade conflicts, financial strains and unexpectedly sharp slowdowns in wealthier countries.
The bank, an anti-poverty agency, expects the world economy to grow 2.6% this year. That would be the slowest calendar-year growth since 2016, and it is down from the 2.9% expansion the agency forecast in January.
The World Bank downgraded every major region of the world, though it kept its 2019 forecast for U.S. growth at 2.5%. In the 19 countries that use the euro currency, growth is forecast to slow to 1.2%, down from 1.8% last year and the 1.6% the World Bank expected in January.
Slowed by the Trump administration’s trade war with China, global trade is expected to expand just 2.6% this year, the weakest pace since the 2008 financial crisis.
The Trump administration and Beijing have imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s imports in a clash over China’s aggressive drive to overtake American technological dominance. Their showdown has generated uncertainty for businesses that must decide whether and where to make investments, buy supplies and establish factories.
“We are not pushing the panic button yet,” said Ayhan Kose, a World Bank economist. “But we are sending a message” of a possibly deeper slowdown if trade hostilities persist.
“This is high time for policymakers to find ways to resolve their differences,” Kose said.
China, the world’s second-largest economy after the United States, is forecast to grow 6.2%, which would be its weakest performance since 1990, when it was enduring the aftermath of a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square.
The Japanese economy is predicted to eke out 0.8% growth, same as last year.
Some developing world countries are contending with financial stress. Turkey’s economy is expected to contract 1% and Argentina’s 1.2%.

Trump administration halts cruises to Cuba under new rules

By MATTHEW LEE and MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Tuesday ended the most popular forms of U.S. travel to Cuba, banning cruise ships and a heavily used category of educational travel in an attempt to cut off cash to the island’s communist government.
Cruise travel from the U.S. to Cuba began in May 2016 during President Barack Obama’s opening with the island. It has become the most popular form of U.S. leisure travel to the island, bringing 142,721 people in the first four months of the year, a more than 300% increase over the same period last year. For travelers confused about the thicket of federal regulations governing travel to Cuba, cruises offered a simple, one-stop, guaranteed-legal way to travel.
That now appears to be over.
“Cruise ships as well as recreational and pleasure vessels are prohibited from departing the U.S. on temporary sojourn to Cuba effective tomorrow,” the Commerce Department said in a statement to The Associated Press.
The new restrictions are part of a broader effort by the administration of President Donald Trump to roll back the Obama-era efforts to restore normal relations between the United States and Cuba, which drew sharp criticism from the more hardline elements of the Cuban-American community and their allies in Congress.
Treasury said the sanctions would take effect on Wednesday after they are published in the Federal Register.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who declared Cuba part of a “troika of tyranny ” along with Nicaragua and Venezuela as he outlined plans for sanctions in November, said the new policy is intended to deny the Cuban government a vital source of revenue.
“The Administration has advanced the President’s Cuba policy by ending ‘veiled tourism’ to Cuba and imposing restrictions on vessels,” Bolton said on Twitter. “We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime’s access to U.S. dollars.”
The Cuban government imposed food rationing last month as a result of tightened U.S. sanctions and a drop in subsidized oil and other aid from Venezuela. For the Cuban government, cruise travel generated many millions of dollars a year in docking fees and payments for on-shore excursions, although those figures were never made public. Cuba also has become the most-requested destination for many South Florida-based cruise lines.
“The Trump administration deserves tremendous credit for holding accountable the Cuban regime,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said. “The United States must use all tools available under U.S. law to counter the Cuban regime’s deceitful activities to undermine U.S. policy.”
The new restrictions take effect Wednesday, but the government said it will allow anyone who has already paid for the trip to go ahead with it. But the process going forward for passengers isn’t clear.
Cruise lines carrying passengers booked before Tuesday have been hoping that they could request specific federal permits to complete their trips to Cuba, said Pedro Freyre, a Miami-based attorney who represents Carnival and three other major cruise lines.
“For now, it’s prohibited unless the cruise lines requests a specific license,” Freyre said. He said cruise lines had been trying to determine “if there’s any opening there to at least complete trips that have been booked and passengers that have made travel plans.”
Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement that it was scrutinizing the new rules and consulting with lawyers and trade experts.
“We are closely monitoring these recent developments and any resulting impact to cruise travel to Cuba,” Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement. “We will communicate to our guests and travel partners as additional information becomes available.”
Shore excursions from cruise ships tend to be organized by the cruise lines in cooperation with Cuban government tour agency Havanatur. A smaller number hire private tour guides or drivers of restored classic cars who wait outside Havana’s cruise docks.
“This affects all of us,” said William Mártinez, 58, a Cuban-born American who lived in Florida for 46 years but returned five years ago to drive a classic car for tourists. “It’s inhuman, the sanctions that they’re putting on Cuba.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the measures are a response to what it calls Cuba’s “destabilizing role” in the Western Hemisphere, including support for the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
“This administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime,” Mnuchin said. “These actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”
Along with the cruise ships, the U.S. will also now ban most private planes and boats from stopping in the island.
Cruises have become more popular than flights for leisure travelers to Cuba — nearly 30,000 more came by cruise ship than flights this year. The figures exclude Cuban-born Americans visiting family on the island.
“I’ve been dying to come to Cuba forever, to see the cars, the buildings,” said Maria Garcia, a 46-year-old teacher from Puerto Rico who arrived in Havana Tuesday morning on a Norwegian cruise line. “I could do it with this cruise … Trump needs to understand that people should come to this country, to enjoy and get to know its culture, just like we would do in any other part of the world.”
Commercial airline flights appear to be unaffected by the new measures and travel for university groups, academic research, journalism and professional meetings will continue to be allowed.
Collin Laverty, head of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the largest Cuba travel companies in the U.S., called the new measures “political grandstanding aimed at Florida in the run up to the 2020 elections.”
“It’s also terrible for U.S. companies that are providing employment and paying taxes in the US and creating an economic footprint on the island,” he said.
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Weissenstein reported from Havana, Cuba. Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez in Havana; Adriana Gomez-Licon in Miami and Ben Fox in Washington also contributed to this report.

Trump says GOP would be ‘foolish’ to block Mexico tariffs

By LISA MASCARO, LUIS ALONSO LUGO and DARLENE SUPERVILLE Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump declared on Tuesday that fellow Republicans would be “foolish” to block the tariffs he’s threatening on Mexican imports, but GOP senators fearing a new trade war were considering action and grilling his administration lawyers behind closed doors.
Republicans are deeply concerned that Trump’s proposed 5% tariffs on all imports from Mexico would spike U.S. consumers’ costs , harm the economy and imperil a major pending US-Mexico-Canada trade deal. Mexico is concerned as well, and top officials are in Washington working to stave off the threatened trade taxes.
If Congress should vote against the tariffs it would be a stiff rebuke to Trump, much like its earlier effort to reject money to build a long, impregnable border wall. But many on Capitol Hill remain hopeful talks this week between U.S. and Mexican officials will ease Trump away from the tariffs he’s said will start next Monday.
“We’re going to see if we can do something,” Trump said during a press conference in London on the second day of his state visit to Britain.
“But I think it’s more likely that the tariffs go on,” he said. He also doubted Republicans in Congress would muster the votes against him. “If they do, it’s foolish.”
Mexico seemed much more optimistic about a resolution.
“By what we have seen so far, we will be able to reach an agreement,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said during a news conference at Mexico’s Embassy in Washington. “That is why I think the imposition of tariffs can be avoided.”
Ebrard arrived in Washington over the weekend as Mexico launched a diplomatic counteroffensive and fresh negotiations. On Tuesday, Mexico’s trade negotiator Jesus Seade was meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and Ebrard will meet Wednesday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Republican senators are hopeful those talks will prevent the tariffs. But if negotiations should fail, the lawmakers warn they may have no choice but to take action in Congress to stop Trump.
GOP Sen. Rob Portman said Tuesday on CNBC that if the tariffs do go into effect next Monday as planned, “I do think Congress is likely to have a vote.”
Portman was among those on Capitol Hill who worry the tariffs will derail the long-promised United-States-Mexico-Canada trade deal— a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement that Trump campaigned against. The senator warned that Trump was “endangering” passage of his favored USMCA.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Finance Committee, told reporters Tuesday the tariffs make passage of USMCA “more difficult.”
Questions remain, though, and senators invited Pat Philbin from the White House counsel’s office and Steve Engel from the Department of Justice to their weekly lunch Tuesday to hear more about the administration’s legal rationale for the tariffs.
Trump has indicated he will rely on the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to slap the tariffs on Mexican goods, a national emergency executive action he can take without congressional approval.
But lawmakers say if the president invokes a national emergency, they can vote on a resolution to disapprove. That’s what happened earlier this year when lawmakers, stunned by Trump’s claim of executive power, tried to block him from taking funds for the border wall with Mexico. Congress voted to disapprove of Trump’s actions, but the president vetoed the resolution.
Yet it’s unclear if Trump will, in fact, use the national emergency declaration or if opponents of the tariffs might resort to other legislative tools to block him.
“There’s some disagreement even among Republicans,” Grassley said. “We’d better get a legal answer.”
While many Republicans who voted against Trump earlier this year actually supported his ultimate goal of building the border wall — but were uneasy with his executive reach to do it — the president doesn’t have anywhere near the same backing for the tariffs.
In this case, Trump is using the tariffs as leverage against Mexico in his long-running battle to reduce illegal immigration.
Democrats — and some Republicans — doubt the tariffs will ever take effect. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that “Trump has a habit of talking tough and then retreating.”
Trump claimed “millions of people” are entering the U.S. through Mexico and criticized congressional Democrats for not passing new laws. He said, “Mexico should not allow millions of people to try and enter our country.”
It is unclear what more Mexico can do — and what would be enough — to satisfy Trump because the United States has not presented concrete benchmarks to assess whether the U.S. ally is sufficiently stemming the migrant flow from Central America.
Mexico calls the potential tariffs hurtful to the economies of both countries and useless to slow the northbound flow of Central American migrants.
“We need to put our heads together and try to come up with a solution,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said Monday.
The tariff threat comes just as the administration has been pushing for passage of the USMCA trade accord. Mexico and Canada already have started the process of ratifying through their own legislatures.
On Monday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross met with Mexican Economy Minister Graciela Marquez, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue hosted his Mexican counterpart, Victor Villalobos.
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Associated Press writer Padmananda Rama contributed.
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Luis Alonso Lugo on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/luisalonsolugo

In the eye of the storm, Baghdad’s Green Zone remains sealed

By BASSEM MROUE Associated Press
BAGHDAD (AP) — Baghdad’s Green Zone has been a barometer for tension and conflict in Iraq for nearly two decades.
The 4-square mile (10-square kilometer) heavily guarded strip on the banks of the Tigris River was known as “Little America” following the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. It then became a hated symbol of the country’s inequality, fueling the perception among Iraqis that their government is out of touch.
The sealed-off area, with its palm trees and monuments, is home to the gigantic U.S. Embassy in Iraq, one of the largest diplomatic missions in the world. It has also been home to successive Iraqi governments and is off limits to most Iraqis.
Various attempts and promises by the Iraqi government to open the area to traffic over the past years have failed to materialize, because of persistent security concerns.
Here’s a look at the Green Zone, past and present:
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BEFORE THE INVASION
Although not visible, security was always tight around the area, as Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace complex was located inside. So were the homes of some of Iraq’s top government officials. The road leading to the presidential palace had been closed for decades before the war.
The zone is also home to important Baghdad landmarks including the “Victory Arch” — a 40-meter (131-feet) tall arch of two swords held by bronze casts of Saddam’s hands to commemorate the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. The area is also home to the Monument of the Unknown Soldier, Baghdad’s famous clock tower and the renowned Rasheed Hotel, where entering guests had to tread over a mosaic of former U.S. President George Bush placed on the floor after the 1991 Gulf War.
Every year in July, Iraq’s army held a massive parade marking the 1968 coup that brought Saddam’s Arab Socialist Baath Party to power and ruled the country until the U.S. invasion in 2003.
The first strike by the U.S.-led coalition in the early hours of March 20, 2003 struck Saddam’s Republican Palace inside what later came to be known as the Green Zone.
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THE GREEN ZONE POST INVASION
The area was seized by U.S. military forces in April 2003 in some of the heaviest fighting as American troops swept into Baghdad. The neighborhood became home for the Coalition Provisional Authority, a transitional government established following the invasion.
The first step taken to set up the area was taken by Jay Garner, who at the time headed the reconstruction team and set up its headquarters at Saddam Hussein’s main palace.
The official name under the interim government was the International Zone, but the name Green Zone, al-Mintaqa al-Khadraa in Arabic, was more commonly used, because the area was safer than the rest of Baghdad, where explosions, kidnappings, sectarian killings and shootings soon became common. Blast walls and checkpoints were soon set up, and only people with special cards could enter.
Despite the blast walls, Shiite militiamen in eastern neighborhoods of the city commonly fired rockets into the Green Zone. Suicide attacks repeatedly struck at its gates, killing hundreds of people, including Americans.
At the height of the attacks, men reaching the gates of the area had to open their jackets and raise their shirts so that the guards knew they were not wearing explosive belts. Vehicles were thoroughly searched and bomb-sniffing dogs deployed.
One of the biggest security breaches occurred in April 2007, when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the cafeteria of the parliament building, killing eight people including three legislators.
In April 2016, supporters of populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr launched an anti-government protest, angrily scaling up the blast walls, tearing down some of the Green Zone’s walls and stormed the parliament building in a major escalation of a political crisis that had simmered for months.
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“LITTLE AMERICA”
During America’s military occupation of Iraq, parts of the Green Zone were referred to by some as “little America” because of the U.S. troops deployed around it, and American brands available inside. At one point, the Green Zone had at least seven bars, including a Thursday night disco, a sports bar, a British pub, a rooftop bar run by General Electric and a bare-bones trailer-tavern operated by the contractor Bechtel.
Then, the plushest tavern was the CIA’s watering hole, known as the “OGA bar.” OGA stands for “Other Government Agency,” the CIA’s low-key moniker. The OGA bar had a dance floor with a revolving mirrored disco ball and a game room. It opened to outsiders by invitation only.
There was also the Green Zone Cafe, a tent erected in the parking lot of a former gas station. On a typical evening, one could see U.S. soldiers smoking from 4-foot-tall hookahs and security contractors laughing over beers, their machine guns by their sides.
A tiny back room at the cafe also held the green zone’s chief liquor store, where bottles of whiskey, vodka and wine were sold at approximately double the price charged outside the green zone’s blast walls.
The sealed-off zone also boasted gyms, a pizza parlor and a makeshift casino that had a glorified game room.
Its name was adapted for the 2010 Matt Damon action thriller “Green Zone,” about a U.S. army officer hunting for weapons of mass destruction.
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ALL IN THE PAST?
There has been talk for years that restrictions would be lifted in the Green Zone, first by then-Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in 2015.
In March, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi removed thousands of grey cement blast walls, easing the snarling traffic around Baghdad, and public access to the “Victory Arch” was restored.
The U.N. envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, told a U.N. Security Council meeting earlier this month that “very soon the Green Zone will no longer exist.”
Only a few days earlier, a rocket was fired into the Green Zone, landing less than a mile from the sprawling U.S. Embassy.
Eager to show the war-scarred nation is returning to normal, Abdul-Mahdi is now promising to open it to the public on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the upcoming holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“Once the area is fully opened, all Iraq will be green,” said Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamid Kadhim.

Pompeo: Humanitarian aid plan for Iran “unproblematic”

By DAVID RISING Associated Press
BERLIN (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that Washington will not stand in the way of a system that Europeans are developing to shield companies dealing with Iran from American sanctions, so long as the focus is on providing humanitarian and other permitted goods.
Pompeo, making his first visit to Germany as secretary of state, said the U.S. does not take issue with the development of the system known as INSTEX, so long as it deals with the trade of goods not subject to sanctions, as the Europeans contend it will.
“We’ve been pretty clear about trade with Iran — there are items that are sanctioned and there are items that are not,” Pompeo told reporters after meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at a government villa in suburban Berlin.
“When we think about INSTEX, if it’s aimed at facilitating the movement of goods that are authorized to move, it’s unproblematic,” he said.
Since withdrawing unilaterally from the landmark 2015 deal with Iran that offered economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, the U.S. has been at odds with the other nations involved that have been trying to keep the deal alive — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China.
As the U.S. has increased sanctions and companies have been pulling business out of Iran, the Europeans have been developing INSTEX, a complicated barter-type system to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran and so evade possible U.S. sanctions.
The system is not yet up and running, but they hope to have it functioning by this summer.
Maas emphasized that even though the U.S. is no longer party to the Iran agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, its goal is the same.
“We both agree that Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons,” Maas said. “It’s no secret that we differ on how to achieve that.”
In other comments, Pompeo praised Germany for granting asylum to Chinese dissidents and reiterated Washington’s position that China’s telecommunications giant Huawei should be excluded from helping develop 5G networks in Germany and elsewhere due to security risks.
He said the U.S. worries that sensitive data could “end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party” and that in the case of Huawei, “it is not possible to mitigate” the risks.
He suggested that if countries do use Huawei in their 5G systems, they could find themselves shut off from American information.
There is a “risk that we will have to change our behavior in light of the fact that we can’t permit private citizen data from the United States or national security data from the United States to go across networks that we don’t … view as trusted,” Pompeo said.
Maas reiterated that Germany was not prepared to exclude any company from bidding but said any firm that could not meet security standards would be rejected.
The U.S. has also been critical of Germany for going ahead with a joint project with Russia to build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would take Russian natural gas directly to Germany under the Baltic, arguing it is a security issue because it would increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.
Pompeo refused to comment, however, on whether the U.S. was prepared to sanction German companies involved in the project.
“We never discuss sanctions before we roll them out,” he said.
Following the meeting with Maas, Pompeo held brief talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had just returned from a trip to the U.S. to give a commencement speech at Harvard.
In a speech that echoed her past criticisms of President Donald Trump without directly naming him, Merkel told Harvard graduates Thursday that they should “tear down walls of ignorance” and reject isolationism as they tackle global problems. Merkel also said leaders should not “describe lies as truth and truth as lies.”
Before Friday’s meeting, Merkel said she and Pompeo would discuss how to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and “how we prevent other aggressive actions by Iran.” She stressed the importance of decades of German-U.S. friendship — a theme echoed by Pompeo, who said “Germany is a great, important partner and ally of the United States.” They took no questions.
Pompeo was traveling from Berlin to Switzerland, which has long represented Washington’s interests in Tehran.
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Geir Moulson contributed to this story.

Protesters in Iran, Iraq burn Israel, US flags on ‘Quds Day’

By AMIR VAHDAT Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians in the capital Tehran set fire to effigies of U.S. President Donald Trump, while in the Iraqi capital, Iran-backed militiamen marched over a large Israeli flag as part of rallies Friday marking Quds, or Jerusalem Day. The annual protests come as the Trump administration tries to market its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
Held each year on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, Iran has marked Quds Day since the start of its 1979 Islamic Revolution by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem, and Iran says the day is an occasion to express support for the Palestinians.
Israel views Iran as its archenemy in the Mideast. Iran does not recognize Israel and supports the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
This year’s protests took place as the White House is promoting the June 25-26 meeting in the Gulf state of Bahrain as the first phase of its Mideast peace plan. That plan, whose specifics have yet to be released, supposedly includes large-scale investment and infrastructure work in the Palestinian territories, much of it funded by wealthy Arab countries. The plan’s political vision has not been outlined, but glimpses of the plan suggest it sidelines or ignores the longstanding goal of independence and has already been rejected by Palestinian leaders and much of the Arab world.
Palestinian leaders say they won’t attend the summit in Bahrain. American officials say the Bahrain conference will not include the core political issues of the conflict: borders of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees or Israeli security demands.
As rallies began across the Iranian capital, demonstrators set fire to American and Israeli flags, as well as effigies of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The rallies all headed to Tehran University, where the ceremony ended at Friday’s noon prayers. Similar rallies took place in 950 cities and towns across the country.
Many high-ranking Iranian officials attending the rally in Tehran, including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Both men derided the Trump administration’s so-called “Deal of the Century” peace plan, saying it would end in failure.
During the rally in Tehran, Zarif said: “It is unfortunate that some Arab leaders have this illusion that if they stand beside Netanyahu, they can reach their goals.” The remarks were carried by a Telegram channel affiliated with Iran’s state TV.
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said police in the western province of Kordestan had blocked a terrorist operation ahead of the Quds Day rally in Sanandaj city. Three alleged militants were arrested, though the report did not specify where they were captured or their affiliation.
In Iraq, hundreds of Shiite militiamen held a military parade on Palestine Street in central Baghdad, some of them setting fire to Israeli and U.S. flags.
“The people in our region and the world are harassed by Trump’s and the United States’ polices, which are trying to dominate the will of the people. Today, there is a broad rejection of Trump’s decision to annex Jerusalem and consider it the capital of Israel,” said Moin al-Kazemi, leader of the Iranian-backed Badr movement.
The rally was organized by Iranian-backed militias collectively known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Militiamen in uniform marched with yellow flags, escorted by Iraqi federal police cars. “We will pray in Quds,” read some of the banners.
In the Syrian capital Damascus, a few hundred Syrians and Palestinians marked Quds Day by marching from the Hamidiyeh bazar in the old city to the landmark Umayyad Mosque, some of them shouting anti-Israel slogans and waving Syrian and Palestinian flags.
“No to the deal of the century,” a banner read. “Our Palestinian people and the freemen of the Arab nation will thwart the deal of the century.”
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Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Albert Aji in Damascus contributed reporting.

Honduras president, others targets of DEA investigation

By CLAUDIA TORRENS and CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. federal court documents show Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and some of his closest advisers were among the targets of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation.
A document filed by prosecutors on Tuesday in the Southern District of New York mentions Hernández as part of a group of individuals investigated by the DEA since about 2013 for participating “in large-scale drug-trafficking and money laundering activities relating to the importation of cocaine into the United States”.
Hernández was elected president of Honduras in late 2013.
The document is a July 2015 application to the court to compel Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL to give investigators email header information, but not emails’ content, for a number of accounts. Two of the accounts are believed to be of Hernández, the documents says.
There is no indication charges have been brought against Hernández.
Also included in the request are the email accounts of the president’s sister Hilda Hernández, his adviser Ebal Díaz and his security minister Julián Pacheco Tinoco. Hilda Hernández, who helped manage the finances of the president’s political party and his presidential campaign, died in a December 2015 helicopter crash. The request also named four members of the wealthy and politically-connected Rosenthal family.
Yani Rosenthal, a former national lawmaker and presidential candidate, pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court in 2017 for money laundering for the Cachiros drug trafficking organization.
The new court filing is part of the pre-trial motions in the case of Hernandez’s brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, who was arrested in 2018 in Miami and accused of scheming for years to bring tons of cocaine into the country. His trial is expected to start in September.
A spokesman for the Southern District of New York said on Thursday the court’s response to the application for email header information is not public information. He declined to comment further.
The document filed Tuesday raises the possibility that the DEA has email data for Honduras’ president and members of his inner circle dating to 2015.
Messages left for Díaz, who is Hernández’s de facto spokesman, were not immediately returned. Pacheco could not be immediately reached, but the government has previously denied allegations against him.
Pacheco has been dogged by allegations of his links to drug traffickers since at least 2017 when a leader of Honduras’ Cachiros cartel testified in another case in New York about his ties to drug traffickers.
Pacheco had served under Hernández’s predecessor, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, as the government’s chief of investigation and intelligence. Lobo’s son Fabio was sentenced to 24 years in a U.S. prison in 2017 for drug trafficking.
In another document filed Tuesday in Tony Hernández’s case, prosecutors said “the charges against the defendant arise out of a long-term investigation of politically connected drug trafficking in Honduras” that began in 2013.
On Thursday, a DEA spokeswoman referred questions asked by The Associated Press to the Southern District of New York.
The U.S. government has been a staunch supporter of Hernández’s government, pouring millions of dollars into security cooperation because Honduras is a key transshipment point for cocaine headed to the U.S. from South America.
Hernández had especially curried favor with Gen. John Kelly who had led the U.S. military’s Southern Command and later became President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. Kelly advocated for continued U.S. support of Hernández’s government, noting their contributions to the war on drugs and progress in combatting corruption.
When Hernández’s already controversial re-election was marred by irregularities in late 2017, the U.S. government congratulated him while the opposition was still contesting the vote count.
With Hondurans filling the ranks of several large migrant caravans during the past year, the U.S. has continued to support Hernández while pressuring his government to stem the immigration flow.
Many Honduran migrants encountered making the journey to the U.S. border during the past year have referenced government corruption among their reasons for leaving. Thousands of doctors and teachers have been marching through the streets of Honduras’ capital for three weeks against presidential decrees they say would lead to massive public sector layoffs. On Thursday, a massive march led to clashes with police who fired tear gas against some protesters’ rocks.
Retired history professor Dana Frank, whose recent book “The Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup” details the country’s recent political turmoil said the documents confirm the U.S. government has known about drug trafficking activities linked to Hernández for years.
“Why have U.S. officials — from the State Department to the White House to the Southern Command — continued for years now to celebrate, and pour security funding into, a government whose very topmost officials and security figures it has known were drug traffickers?” Frank said. “This evidence underscores the vast hypocrisy of U.S. policy, which backs a known drug trafficker and his police and military cronies, while claiming to do so in the name of fighting crime and drugs.”
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Torrens reported from New York and Sherman from Mexico City. Associated Press Martha Mendoza contributed to this report from San Jose.

21 people still missing from sunken tour boat in Hungary

By PABLO GORONDI and HYUNG-JIN KIM Associated Press
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Rescue crews were gearing up Thursday to raise a sightseeing boat from the bottom of the Danube River in the heart of the Hungarian capital of Budapest, as search teams scoured the waters for 21 people still missing after the vessel, packed with South Korean tourists, collided with a larger cruise ship and sank.
Seven people are confirmed dead and seven have been rescued, all of them South Koreans, Hungarian officials said. Hungary’s state TV reported that all those rescued have been released from the hospital except one who is being treated for broken ribs.
Officials said preparations to bring up the 70-year-old boat, which was built in the former Soviet Union, could take days.
Police, who launched a criminal investigation into the incident, said late Thursday that they had detained and questioned the Ukrainian captain of the larger vessel.
The 64-year-old man is suspected of endangering water transport leading to a deadly mass accident. In line with Hungarian laws, the suspect was identified only as Yuriy C., referencing his first name and the initial letter of his last name. Police proposed the arrest of the Odessa resident, described earlier by police as an experienced sailor.
So far, only seven of the 35 people onboard, that included 33 South Koreans, are known to have survived the incident near the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. Seven others are confirmed dead and 21 remain missing.
A South Korean group on a package tour of Europe — including 30 tourists, two guides and a photographer— were on an hour-long sightseeing tour of Budapest when their boat collided with a Viking cruise ship during a downpour Wednesday evening.
Nineteen South Koreans and two Hungarian crew members — the captain and his assistant — remain missing.
A map released by Hungarian police showed the locations and times the seven bodies were recovered, with one body found nearly 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) downstream, nearly 2-½ hours after the collision.
“Those contributing to the search will continue to do everything possible … along the full Hungarian stretch of the Danube’s coasts in the interests of the locating the missing persons,” Budapest police said in a statement, adding that the river was flowing at speeds of 9-11 kilometers (5.6-6.8 miles) per hour.
A crisis management team from the South Korean government arrived in Budapest late Thursday, as well as representatives from the South Korean tourist agency which organized the ill-fated trip.
“The most important emphasis of our government is the protection of Korean nationals overseas,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary Oh Sai Juengh said upon his arrival in Budapest.
The sunken boat was located early Thursday near the Margit Bridge, not far from the neo-Gothic Parliament building on the riverbank.
Video released by Hungarian police showed the sightseeing boat, identified as the Hableany (Mermaid), traveling closely side by side and in the same direction as a German-built Viking cruise ship as they approached the bridge Wednesday night.
The Hableany then appeared to steer slightly to its left, into the path of the 135-meter (443-feet) long cruise ship, which continued to sail on at the same speed. The two collided and the sightseeing boat was then seen tipping on its side between the bridge’s two supports.
“As the Viking comes into contact with (the Hableany), it overturns it and in about seven seconds, as it turn on its side, it sinks,” Police Col. Adrian Pal said.
Pal said it’s unclear what caused the Hableany to steer into the path of the Viking. He said several people aboard the Hableany fell into the water after the collision. The South Korean government said none of those on board was wearing a life jacket.
Police said rescue operations were hampered by the rain and the fast flow of the rising Danube. The search for the 21 missing extended far downstream, even into Serbia, where the Danube goes after leaving Hungary.
The river, which is 450 meters (500 yards) wide at the point of the accident, was fast-flowing and rising as heavy rain continued in the city. Water temperatures were about 10 to 12 degrees Celsius (50-53 Fahrenheit).
Hajoregiszter.hu, a local ship-tracking website, lists the Hableany as having been built in 1949 in the former Soviet Union. The Viking Sigyn was built this year, according to cruisemapper.com.
CCTV footage recorded on Wednesday night showed that the river was busy with boats of different sizes traveling in both directions.
Budapest has enjoyed a boom in overseas tourism in recent years. Long-haul flights from as far away as Dubai and Beijing increasingly fly visitors from Asia and the Middle East to the Hungarian capital, a relatively affordable but history-rich European destination.
Earlier, the news website Index.hu said one of those rescued was found near the Petofi Bridge, about 3 kilometers (2 miles) south of Parliament.
Police have questioned the Ukrainian captain of the Viking ship, but no details have been released. Authorities said both vessels’ captains are experienced, with many years of service with their companies. South Korean officials said the tourists were not wearing life jackets.
Relatives and a team of 25 official rescue workers were on their way from South Korea to Budapest Thursday. The team of fire, navy and coast guard workers includes some who had been involved in rescue operations for the 2014 South Korean ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people — one of the country’s worst maritime accidents.
Seoul’s presidential Blue House said President Moon Jae-in has called Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to discuss rescue operations. Moon thanked Orban for the Hungarian government’s rescue efforts, and requested further support for efforts to find the missing, treat the survivors and recover bodies.
The Blue House said Orban told Moon that more than 200 divers and medical staff are involved in the rescue efforts and that officials are planning to locate and hoist the ship.
Employees from the South Korean Embassy in Budapest were assisting Hungarian officials in identifying those rescued and the deceased.
Budapest’s Disaster Management Office Chief Col Zsolt Gabor Palotai said the Hungarian army is setting up a pontoon near the capsized ship’s wreck and divers will go into the Danube from there.
The Very Good Tour agency said the tourists left South Korea on May 25 and were supposed to return June 1.
Most of them were family groups, and they included a 6-year-old girl. Her status wasn’t immediately clear but she didn’t appear on a list of survivors provided by the tour agency.
Senior agency official Lee Sang-moo disclosed the identities of the seven rescued South Koreans — six women and one man, aged between 31 and 66. The company is arranging for family members of the tourists to travel to Hungary as soon as possible.
The Hableany is described on the sightseeing company’s website as “one of the smallest members of the fleet.” It has two decks and a capacity for 60 people, or 45 for sightseeing cruises.
Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for the Panorama Deck boating company, said the Hableany was on a “routine city sightseeing trip” when the accident happened. He told state television that he had no information about any technical problems with the boat, which he said was serviced regularly.
The Margit Bridge connects the two halves of the city, Buda and Pest, with a large recreational island in the middle of the Danube. It is the bridge just north of the famous Chain Bridge, a suspension bridge originally built in the 19th century that, like the Parliament, is a major tourist draw in the heart of the city.
Index.hu reported that other riverboats shined spotlights into the water to aid with the search, and that a film crew operating on the Liberty Bridge farther down the river directed its lighting equipment toward the Danube to assist.
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Hyung-jin Kim reported from Seoul, South Korea. Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Bangkok and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.