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March 18th, 2012
04:34 AM ET

SOTU Early Bird for March 18th

It's early, and State of the Union is bringing you the best of the morning headlines to go with your cup of coffee.

On our radar: Looking ahead to Puerto Rico and Illinois, Rick Santorum hopes to maintain the momentum he picked up in Mississippi and Alabama earlier this week; rising tensions in Afghanistan amid last weekend's shooting spree; and President Obama hits the campaign trail as Republicans continue their slog toward the Tampa convention.

Check out what we're reading, and be sure to watch our interview with presidential candidate Rick Santorum and Afghanistan's Amb. to the United States, Eklil Hakimi. State of the Union airs today at 9am/12pm ET.

2012 / SANTOURUM / POLITICS

A Passionate Persona Forged in a Brutal Defeat

The voters to whom [Santorum] is appealing this year — mainly conservatives and evangelical Christians — are the same core voters he appealed to in Pennsylvania. But in 2006, they were a minority in the state’s general election; now they dominate the Republican primaries. And they are drawn to Mr. Santorum’s moral certitude, his fire-and-brimstone passion, his pugilistic posture of never giving up and never giving in.

All Odds Aside, G.O.P. Girding for Floor Fight

For the first time in a generation, Republicans are preparing for the possibility that their presidential nomination could be decided at their national convention rather than on the campaign trail, a prospect that would upend one of the rituals of modern politics.

Santorum on Romney: 'You can't trust him to tell the truth'

Rick Santorum assailed rival Mitt Romney on the stump in Missouri Saturday, proclaiming the former Massachusetts governor untrustworthy for what he said was past support of government-run health care.

“He put forward the bill that was the model for Obamacare – and then advocated that at the federal level. And then denied that he did it,” Santorum told a packed room at a police station in Ballwin. “Not only was his policy bad, you can’t trust him to tell the truth about what he advocated. Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t give the most important issue away in this election.”

AFGHANISTAN/IRAQ/MIDEAST

Gulf Widens Between U.S. and a More Volatile Karzai

The Americans in Afghanistan are “demons.”

[...] Such harsh talk may sound as if it comes from the Taliban, but those are all remarks either made personally by the United States’ increasingly hostile ally here, President Hamid Karzai, or issued by his office in recent days and weeks.

The strongest such outburst came Friday. “Let’s pray for God to rescue us from these two demons,” Mr. Karzai said, apparently holding back tears at a meeting with relatives of the massacre victims, and clearly referring to the United States and the Taliban in the same breath. “There are two demons in our country now.”

Suspect in Afghanistan shootings had fallen on hard times

The U.S. Army sergeant suspected in the deadly shooting rampage that left 16 Afghan civilians dead had been passed over for promotion and appeared to face mounting financial troubles on the eve of his last deployment to Afghanistan, according to accounts from neighbors and his wife's blog.

‘One of the best guys I ever worked with'

As Afghan massacre suspect Staff Sgt. Robert Bales sat alone in a cell at the high-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on Saturday, a divergent portrait of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier emerged.

Classmates and neighbors from suburban Cincinnati remembered him as a “happy-go-lucky” high school football player who took care of a special-needs child and watched out for troublemakers in the neighborhood.

Afghan shooting suspect showed different side in Iraq

The man identified Friday by sources as the U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians betrayed no animosity toward civilians in a different war zone, according to an account posted on the U.S. Army's website that describes a firefight in Iraq in January 2007.

"I've never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day, for the simple fact that we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us," says Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who was then a team leader in 1st Platoon, C Company. "I think that's the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm's way like that."

Questions abound 1 week after U.S. soldier allegedly kills Afghan civilians

Afghans continued to grieve, and continued to fume, as a new day dawned on Sunday, exactly one week after a U.S. soldier - described by some who knew him as "happy" and a "nice guy" - allegedly went house to house, shooting dead 16 villagers.
Much to the villagers' disgust, decorated combat veteran Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is more than 7,000 miles away from where he is suspected of single-handedly carrying out the grisly attack.

American held captive for 9 months turned over to U.S. Embassy in Iraq

An American said to have been held captive for months was turned over Saturday to the U.S. Embassy, a United Nations spokeswoman said.

US, Israel agree Iran abandoned nuclear bomb

US and Israeli intelligence agencies mostly agree that Iran has not restarted its development of a nuclear bomb, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

According to the report, the assessment among top US officials is that Iran has not yet decided to pursue a nuclear weapon, a conclusion which was established based on intelligence analyses.

Explosions rock Syrian capital

Deadly explosions rocked parts of Damascus on Saturday with some of the targets being Syrian government facilities, witnesses and state television reported.

At least 27 people were killed and 97 others were wounded in two blasts, state TV reported, quoting Syrian Health Minister Wael Halki.

IN OTHER NEWS

Scores Arrested as the Police Clear Zuccotti Park

Scores of Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested on Saturday night as police officers swept Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan and closed it.

The operation occurred after hundreds of people had gathered in the financial district to observe the founding of Occupy Wall Street six months ago. Earlier, protesters had embarked upon a winding march, after which police officers made initial arrests of about a dozen people near the park.

Global economy on recovery path, risks remain: IMF chief

The global economy has stepped back from the brink of danger and signs of stabilization are emerging from the euro zone and the United States, but high debt levels in developed markets and rising oil prices are key risks ahead, the IMF said on Sunday.
"The global economy may be on a path to recovery, but there is not a great deal of room for maneuver and no room for policy mistakes," International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, said in a speech in Beijing.

Qaddafi regime's intel chief captured

Mauritania said Saturday it arrested former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi, who was one of the most prominent figures from the ousted regime of Muammar Qaddafi and is wanted by the International Criminal Court.

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