USAID has begun circulating a confidential report on Iraq that found attacks on military and civilian targets have escalated sharply in 2004 prompting fears of what it termed the "Balkanization" of the country. This according to the Financial Times. The report found that the number of high intensity attacks more than doubled from December to January from just over 300 to nearly 650. Some of the increased violence is attributed to rising ethnic tensions between Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis.
On Thursday in Iraq, a convoy carrying the US commander of in the Middle East General John Abizaid came under attack. He was not injured.
In other news from Iraq, The United Nations has opted to support calls of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s for direct one-person one-vote elections. The announcement came after a UN diplomat with Sistani in Najaf. The diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi said the Shiite leader "is insistent on holding the elections and we are with him on this 100 percent because elections are the best means to enable any people to set up a state that serves their interest."
The Knight Ridder news agency is reporting that Donald Rumseld and Pentagon has become eager to pass the responsibilities in Iraq to the State Department. One senior administration official said "Iraq is now a contaminated environment and Rumsfeld and his people want out. They can’t wait for July 1 when the CPA turns into the U.S. Embassy and the whole mess they have made becomes Colin Powell’s."
And Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the former U.S. interim administrator in Iraq, has said that a U.S. military presence in Iraq should last "the next few decades." This according to a report in the publication Congress Daily.
In what is seen as a blow to the Bush administration, the Senate Intelligence Committee said Thursday that it planned to investigate whether White House officials exaggerated the Iraq threat or pressured analysts to tailor their assessments of Baghdad’s weapons programs to bolster the case for war. This according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The White House had sought the inquiry to be confined to the performance of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The committee will also examine the role played by the Pentagon’s secretive Office of Special Plans and the Iraqi National Congress.
The White House is coming under criticism from Democrats and union leaders for praising the loss of US jobs to other countries. Last week Gregory Mankiw, the president’s chief economic adviser, said "Outsourcing is a growing phenomenon, but it’s something that we should realize is probably a plus for the economy in the long run." And this week the White House released a report to Congress that concluded the movement of U.S. factory jobs and white-collar work to other countries will be part of a positive transformation that will enrich the U.S. economy over time, even if it causes short-term pain and dislocation. Presidential candidate John Edwards said of the Bush administration, "These people. What planet do they live on? They are so out of touch."
The New York Times is reporting that the Bush administration may support Israel’s proposal to unilaterally withdraw from parts of Gaza and the West Bank. Such a move could end any negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.
Meanwhile Israel announced on Thursday that it would not go before the International Court of Justice to defend its building of a massive blockade wall through the West Bank. Israel claims that it does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction in the matter.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential race on Wednesday, is expected to endorse Sen. John Kerry today at a campaign stop in Wisconsin.
A 26-year-old member of the Washington state National Guard has been detained on suspicion that he attempted to contact members of Al Qaeda over the internet in order to sell information about military weapons. The suspect was identified as Ryan Anderson who the government said converted to Islam a few years ago. The BBC is reporting that it is unclear what information Anderson could have provided to Al Qaeda. Anderson is not of a senior rank and not thought to have had access to highly sensitive information.
On Thursday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said the world could be headed for destruction if it does not stop the spread of atomic weapons technology. He wrote "The supply network will grow, making it easier to acquire nuclear weapon expertise and materials. Eventually, inevitably, terrorists will gain access to such materials and technology, if not actual weapons. If the world does not change course, we risk self-destruction."
In other nuclear news the Iranian government has acknowledged that it possesses a design for a far more advanced high-speed centrifuge to enrich uranium than it previously revealed to the International Atomic Energy Agency. This according to a report in the New York Times.
A new report issued by the General Accounting Office has determined that Pentagon contractors owe the government owe at least $3 billion in back taxes. Under federal law the government could have levied fines of $100 million on these contractors last year. Instead the government collected just under $700,000. ?
Agence France Press is reporting that former Chechen president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev has died after a bomb attack on his car.
In San Francisco, city officials defied state law and married dozens of same sex couples on Thursday. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued the licenses in an attempt to challenge California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The first couple married was 81-year-old Del Martin and 79-year-old Phyllis Lyon. The women had lived together for the past 51 years.