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In the first forum organized by the two parties, Senator John Kerry accused President Bush last night of making a "colossal error" by invading Iraq. Bush defended the attack and charged he was making the country and world safer. Kerry attacked Bush for not focusing on Osama Bin Laden, for spending hundreds of billions in Iraq and for ignoring the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. Bush accused Kerry of sending mixed messages to the American public, the troops and world community on major issues including Iraq.
An estimated 3,000 U.S. troops have attacked the central Iraqi city of Samarra in a major offensive against the Iraqi resistance. An embedded reporter with CNN described the event as "the definitive battle for Samarra." U.S. forces say they killed at least 94 people in an attempt to wrest control of the city.
The attack came hours after a series of car bombs ripped through Baghdad killing over 40 people including three dozen children. The Los Angeles Times reports the children had flooded to the scene after the first car bombing went off near a ceremony marking the opening of a new sewage center. The children were reportedly picking through the debris, waving to television cameras and talking with the U.S. troops who were giving out candy. Then a second car bomb went off. Then a third. The attacks came just two days after the Iraqi school year had begun. The BBC reported that after the car bombings, U.S. forces came in by helicopter but cared for their own wounded soldiers before the Iraqi children. Thursday’s bombing capped a deadly month for Iraqis. Agence France Press put the month’s death toll at 585.
Meanwhile Iraqi president Ghazi al-Yawir has criticized the U.S. for relying so heavily on air attacks in Fallujah, Sadr City and elsewhere. The Los Angeles Times reports the Iraqi president drew a parallel between U.S. tactics in Iraq and Israel actions in the Palestinian territories and said the Iraqi people view the strikes as "collective punishment" against them.
The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. government and a representative of President Bush’s reelection campaign were "heavily involved" in drafting Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s speech before the U.S. Congress last week. Unnamed administration officials told the Post that Dan Senor sent Allawi recommended phrases and helped him rehearse the speech. Senor is the former spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority during the official U.S. occupation of Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the British Foreign Service also reportedly helped Allawi with the text and delivery of the speech.
In Gaza, Palestinians have suffered one of their bloodiest days since the second intifada began four years ago. 40 Palestinians and five Israelis died yesterday after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered a major offensive in the Gaza Strip. Today Sharon ordered 100 more Israeli tanks to enter Gaza in an operation codenamed "Days of Penitence." Haaretz is reporting the military has seized a large strip of northern Gaza near the Israeli border to create a six mile buffer zone. The paper said the plan was reminiscent of the Israeli security zone created on seized Lebanese land after the 1982 invasion. Israel has defended the assault saying it was needed to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israeli towns and settlements. On Wednesday two Israeli children were killed by a rocket attack.
In elections news, two state senators from the battleground state of Ohio have called for the resignation of Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. State Senator Teresa Fedor accused the Republican official of attempting to cook the vote. Up until Wednesday Blackwell had threatened not to accept voter registration forms that were not printed on paper with 80-pound card stock. The senators also accused Blackwell of misinforming ex-felons of their voting rights and of refusing to clarify how many voters have been purged from Ohio’s voter registration rolls. Blackwell served as an electoral expert for Bush and Cheney during the 2000 recount in Florida.
In other election news, the state of Florida is threatening to keep more than 17,000 newly registered voters from the voters rolls because their registration forms were incomplete. The nonpartisan America’s Families United is attempting to contact the 17,000 people before Monday’s registration deadlines. The group has sued Duval County to hand over a list of the disqualified voters.
The House Ethics Committee has determined Republican Congressman Tom DeLay improperly tried to promise favors to another member of Congress in order to win his vote. The panel said Delay, pressured fellow Republican Nick Smith to vote for last year’s Medicare bill and in return Delay offered to endorse Smith’s son in an upcoming primary. Although the panel said DeLay likely broke House rules it did not recommend any further action on the mater.
In Nebraska, the director of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint with the state police alleging that he was harassed by two troopers after he screened a film critical of the USA Patriot Act. After the screening of the film Unconstitutional one of the troopers approached Tim Butz and told him that he "shouldn’t come out to these small towns and scare people and stir things up."
And a U.S. judge has ordered the FBI to hand over its remaining secret files on singer John Lennon to Professor Jonathan Wiener who has been fighting for 21 years to obtain the full documents. The government has already released all but 10 pages of the file, but it claims releasing the files would pose a national security risk.