An 30,000 Shiite Iraqis took to the streets of Basra Thursday demanding direct election. The crowds chanted "No, no USA. Yes, yes for elections" "and "No to America! We’re coming to you, Sistani!" Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani is the powerful Shiite cleric who has opposed the U.S. plans to form an indirectly elected interim government. Sistani has called for a truly democratic election where he wants all of the Iraqi people to be able to vote on the future of the Iraqi government A close representative of Sistani told Abu Dhabi TV that if the U.S. rejects the call for open elections, Sistani would issue a fatwa that would greatly deprive the U.S-led governing council of legitimacy in the eyes of Shiite Iraqis. The BBC is reporting that the second most powerful Shiite cleric, Hojat Al-Islam Ali Abdulhakim Alsafi has written a letter to the U.S. and British questioning whether the proposed transition plan had more to do with US elections than Iraqi interests.
Meanwhile, the U.S. head of the occupation, Paul Bremer, rushed back to Washington to discuss how to save the American plan to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government by July 1. Bremer is expected to meet with President Bush today and withUnited Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on Monday.
The Washington Post reports the White House is now reaching out to the United Nations with hopes that the world body can play a role in the transfer of power. And as a sign the U.S. is reaching out to other nations on the UN Security Council, administration officials said Thursday the U.S. may reverse itself and allow France, Germany and Russian to bid on Iraqi reconstruction contracts.
In others news from Iraq, the Associated Press is reporting that three foreign contractors with Halliburton subsidiary Kellog, Brown and Root died in Iraq earlier this week when their convoy came under attack.
New poll figures coming out of Iowa that former Vermont governor Howard Dean, Senators John Kerry and John Edwards and Congressman Richard Gephardt are in a virtually four-way dead heat three days before the state’s caucus.
The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. aerospace and energy industries stand to reap billions of dollars in contracts if the country proceeds with president Bush’s new space plans. Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Halliburton, are among the companies who may profit most. The Post notes that in 2000 a Halliburton scientific advisor wrote an article for the Oil & Gas Journal about the importance of exploring Mars. Halliburton is hoping to develop new drilling techniques on Mars that could then be used to improve oil drilling on Earth.
The Israel government is warning Hamas that it will soon resume assassination attempts on the group’s top leaders including its spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin.
Despite international pressure, the U.S. has decided not to release three teenagers who have been detained at Guantanamo Bay for over a year. Doctors estimate the boys are between 13 and 15 years old. They are among 660 prisoners who have been held at the military base. None of the men face charges or have been given an opportunity to appeal their detention. Only one of the 660 has had any contact with family members. Some have now been held for two years.
Former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean is preparing to publish a new book in April titled "Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush" According to the Hartford Courant, the book "argues that the White House’s distortions on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction may involve impeachable offenses."
In Afghanistan, Agence France Press is reporting that the government has reversed itself and is once again banning the broadcast of women singers on state tv. On Monday the state network made history when it broadcast images of the popular artist Salma singing. Such images hadn’t been broadcast in Afghanistan since 1992. But now the tv network has reinstated a ban after the Supreme Court complained about the broadcast. The head of the network said "Current circumstances are not suitable to air women singing."
Mexico is asking the International Court of Justice in the Hague to order the retrial of 52 Mexican citizens who are on death row in the United States. Mexico charges the United States violated a treaty guaranteeing that foreigners arrested in the U.S. have access to representatives of their government.
In Iran, officials have raised the official death toll to last month’s earthquake to 41,000.
CBS Bars PETA, MoveOn Ads From Super Bowl
CBS is refusing to sell ad time during the Super Bowl to two organizations, MoveOn and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals because the network claimed it did not accept advocacy advertising. MoveOn recently held a contest called "Bush in 30 Seconds" that asked for fillmakers to make a 30-second anti-Bush ad. More than 1100 videos were submitted. MoveOn planned to show the winning ad during the Super Bowl. PETA was planning to broadcast an ad that charged eating meat can cause impotence.
In Mexico, riot police opened fire recently on locals in the indigenous town of Tlalnepantla Morelos, Mexico. The people of Tlalnepantla, south of Mexico City, had declared themselves "autonomous" and seized the town hall after refusing to recognize the mayor since November. After months of deadlock, armed riot police stormed the town earlier this week leaving at least two dead and dozens of people missing and wounded. Democracy Now! speaks with Greg Berger, a documentary filmmaker living in the state of Morelos in Mexico.