In Washington hundreds of thousands of women on Sunday demonstrated in support of abortion rights. Organizers put the crowd size at 1.15 million people which would make it the largest demonstration in Washington in the country’s history. We’ll have more on the historic rally in a few minutes.
In Iraq, intense fighting continued over the weekend. Scores of Iraqis were killed including four school children in Baghdad. The U.S. delayed plans to launch another heavy attack on Fallujah but an invasion of the holy city of Najaf appears imminent. Suicide boat bombers killed three U.S. soldiers and disrupted the flow of oil from southern Iraq. And three more nations in the U.S-led coalition hint that they will soon pull out of Iraq.
In Najaf a U.S. general warned Sunday U.S. troops will soon be sent into the Shiite holy city to crush cleric Muqtada Sadr. Brigadier General Mark Hertling said, "We’re going to drive this guy Sadr into the dirt. Either he tells his militia to put down their arms, form a political party and fight with ideas not guns, or he’s going to find a lot of them killed." The U.S. has vowed that if they enter Najaf they will avoid attacking sacred sites. But the head of the US occupation Paul Bremer accused Sadr of stockpiling heavy weaponry in mosques and schools in Najaf. The UN Envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi warned against going into Najaf. He said "Sending the tanks hauling into a place like this is not the right thing to do, and I think the Americans know that extremely well now."
Meanwhile the U.S. announced on Sunday it would hold off waging another large offensive against the Sunni city of Falluja. Late last week a senior U.S. officer warned that the U.S. was going to turn Falluja into "a killing field in a couple of days." Instead the U.S. announced it would conduct joint patrols with the US-trained Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. But one captain in the Iraqi force warned the joint patrols will not likely work. He told the Boston Globe '’If people see us walking with the Marines, the mujahideen ’will do one of two things. Either they will wait for us at our homes and shoot us. Or they will shoot us when we're with the Marines. We want the Marines to leave and let us take care of the city."
Iraq’s two main offshore oil terminals in the Persian Gulf were nearly blown up Saturday by suicide boat bombers in an attack reminiscent of the USS Cole. Three U.S. soldiers were killed when they attempted to foil the attack. The bombing shut down one oil platform for two days leading to the loss of $110 million in revenue. The Guardian of London reported it was the most serious attack on the Iraqi oil industry to date and marked the first time the Iraqi resistance used suicide boat bombers.
U.S. Kills Four Children in Baghdad
In Baghdad, U.S. forces shot dead four Iraqi children. According to eyewitnesses, a U.S. Humvee came under attack prompting the US troops to start shooting randomly. Four children, all aged 12, were hit. In Karbala, the motorcade of the visiting Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov came under fire on Sunday. No one was reported injured. AL Jazeera is reporting at least 40 Iraqis died on Saturday and another 10 on Sunday in separate incidents across the country. One U.S. helicopter strike killed up to 25 Iraqis in an attack south of Fallujah.
The Washington Post reports that Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi may have no role in the Iraqi government after June 30 when the US hands over some power to a new still-to-be-determined Iraqi government. Chalabi, a former Iraqi exile, has close ties to the CIA, Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney but has never built a popular base in Iraq.
Meanwhile the Knight Ridder news agency is reporting that Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress may have broken U.S. law by using taxpayer funds to lobby for the US to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. The General Accounting Office of Congress has launched a probe to determine if U.S. taxpayers essentially paid to have themselves persuaded that it was necessary to invade Iraq. Between 1998 and 2003, the U.S. gave the INC at least $18 million.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has acknowledged that Norway, the Netherlands and El Salvador will likely pull their troops from Iraq on June 30. Earlier this month, Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic announced they would pull out their troops. Meanwhile the BBC reports Britain is now considering sending 2,000 more troops to Iraq in part to make up for the 1,300 soldiers being pulled out by Spain. Britain currently has 7,500 troops in Iraq, roughly 17 times fewer troops than the U.S.
Meanwhile in Washington, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Sunday that the U.S. needs to send between 20,000 and 60,000 more troops to Iraq.
The Associated Press has found that Saudi Arabia secretly played a major role in the US invasion of Iraq. The US managed the air campaign against Iraq from Saudi Arabia where the US used at least three air bases. Thousands of U.S. special forces staged attacks from Saudi Arabia. And the Saudis provided tens of millions of dollars in cheap fuel to the US forces. Saudi Arabia’s role in the war had been kept secret in part because the war was widely opposed by the general Saudi population. The U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War has been cited by Osama Bin Laden as a key reason why he began to wage jihad against the U.S.
A new poll by the University of Maryland has found that 45 percent of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq and 57 percent believe Hussein gave substantial support to Al Qaeda.
In Denmark the country’s defense minister, Svend Aage Jensby resigned on Friday, after lawmakers questioned whether the military intelligence agency had provided accurate reports on whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
In the West Bank, Israeli forces killed least eight Palestinians over the weekend bringing the Palestinian death toll to 30 since Israel assassinated Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi a week ago Saturday. On Sunday, an Israeli border policeman was killed and three others were wounded. the Palestinian group Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades said it carried out the attack to avenge the assassination of Rantisi.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting Palestinian surgeon Dr. Mahmoud al Zahar is the man Hamas has secretly appointed to take over the group following the assassination of Rantisi. Hamas has not publicly named Rantisi’s successor fearing he will become a target for assassination. Rantisi took over Hamas in March following the assassination of the Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Al Zahar is based in Gaza and is one of the few remaining founders of Hamas. He is seen as one of the movement’s ideological leaders and has been targeted by Israel before. In September Israeli F-16s bombed his home killing his son and bodyguard.
The Scripps Howard News Service has found that at least 1.6 million voters went to the polls during the 2000 election here in the United States only to cast a ballot for president that was not registered. Florida’s problems drew the most attention where 178,000 ballots were not counted but Scripps Howard found seven other states had a higher percentage of un-counted ballots. They were Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wyoming.
On Friday President Bush lifted most trade sanctions on Libya opening the door for U.S. oil companies to begin working in Libya for the first time in 18 years. The Wall Street Journal reports ConocoPhillips, Hess and Marathon Oil have all begun taking initial steps to get back into Libya.
In Washington, the Bush administration will appear in court today in an attempt to block FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds from testifying in a lawsuit filed by relatives and survivors of Sept. 11. Edmonds was hired after Sept. 11 by the FBI to translate pre-9/11 intelligence gathered by the agency. She has publicly said on Democracy Now and other media outlets that the U.S. had considerable evidence that Al Qaida was planning to strike the US with airplanes. The Justice Department is expected to cite laws regarding state secrets in order to gag the Turkish-American translator. The Bush administration claims her evidence "would cause serious damage to the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States".