Thousands of U.S. troops have launched a major attack on the Iraqi city of Najaf, one of the holiest cities in the Muslim world. Shortly after dawn, U.S. tanks moved into the city center to block off roads to the holy Imam Ali Shrine, where the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali, is buried.
Helicopter gunships flew overhead. Warplanes bombed portions of the massive Shiite cemetary where some backers of cleric Moqtada Al Sadr are stationed. Thick black smoke poured into the sky. Thousands of residents in Najaf have fled the city to escape the fighting which has raged on for the past week. Agence France Press is reporting the downtown area looks like a ghost city.
The New York Times estimates the U.S. has tripled the number of troops around Najaf to about 5,000. A U.S military spokesperson told the press "Major operations to destroy the militia have begun." Sadr told his followers "I hope that you keep fighting even if you see me detained or martyred."
In Basra and Baghdad, thousands of Shiite Iraqis took to the streets to protest the U.S. attack on Najaf. Shiites around the world are warning the U.S. against directly attacking the holy shrine. One Shiite cleric in Los Angeles said "Any attack on that city will destroy America’s future in Iraq completely. It will completely discredit America and make it the new tyrant in the eyes of Shias worldwide."
U.S. forces have also attacked the Shiite city of Kut reportedly killing 72 people over the past 24 hours. Agence France Press is reporting that across Iraq 165 people have been killed and nearly 600 wounded over the past 24 hours.
In other Iraq news, the former head of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program has told the BBC that Iraq abandoned its plans to develop nuclear weapons in 1991.
The Washington Post published today a major 3,000 word front-page story examining how the paper downplayed critics of the Iraq war before the U.S. attacked lat year. Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks revealed how in October 2002 editors killed a piece of his titled "Doubts" that outlined how many senior Pentagon officials were reluctant about plans to attack Iraq. Ricks also added "The paper was not front-paging stuff. Administration assertions were on the front page. Things that challenged the administration were on A18 on Sunday or A24 on Monday. There was an attitude among editors: Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?"
Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. admitted mistakes were made. He said "we were so focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing that we were not giving the same play to people who said it wouldn’t be a good idea to go to war and were questioning the administration’s rationale."
Federal prosecutors indicated yesterday that enemy combatant Yaser Esam Hamdi may soon be released. The U.S.-born citizen has been held since 2001. He has never been charged with a crime and has been held largely incommunicado without access to an attorney because President Bush deemed him to be an enemy combatant.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled that as a U.S. citizen, Hamdi can not be held indefinitely without access to the U.S. legal system. Yesterday Hamdi’s attorneys and federal prosecutors made the surprise announcement that they were negotiating terms for his release. Part of the deal may call on Hamdi to renounce his citizenship, move to Saudi Arabia, and promise not to sue the U.S. government.
The US Army announced yesterday that Pentagon auditors have found that Halliburton cannot properly document more than $1.8 billion worth of work done in Iraq and Kuwait. The Pentagon is now threatening to withhold about $600 million in payments to the company which was one headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. And the Financial Times reports that Senator John Kerry’s campaign signaled yesterday its intention on placing the controversy surrounding Halliburton as a central theme of its bid for the White House.
On the campaign, front, Senator Kerry vowed yesterday in Nevada to revise last year’s Medicare law to allow the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. Yesterday Kerry received the endorsement of the 3-million member Alliance for Retired Americans.
The Washington Post is reporting that a Republican-linked group called People of Color United has begun buying radio ads on black radio stations attacking Senator Kerry as "rich, white and wishy-washy." The ads also attack Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry for boasting of her African roots.
One ad states "His wife says she’s an African American. While technically true, I don’t believe a white woman, raised in Africa, surrounded by servants, qualifies." A Kerry spokesperson criticized the ad saying "First a group of right-wing Swift boat veterans began smearing John Kerry’s military service, and now another group has resorted to playing racial politics."
The ads are largely funded by a white Republican named Patrick Rooney who founded the firm Medical Savings Insurance which specializes in the type of medical savings accounts created by Bush’s 2003 Medicare prescription drug legislation.
The New York Times is reporting that Senate Democrats are suggesting they will not block Congressman Porter Goss’s nomination as CIA chief because such a move could backfire politically.
Sudanese president Omar Hassan met with tribal leaders from Darfur this week and asked them to help bring stability to the region. This comes as Human Rights Watch reports that Janjaweed militias continue to rape women and girls in the western Darfur region. Meanwhile, UN medical experts say there is the threat of a Hepatitis outbreak in the Darfur refugee camps. 22 people have died already and the disease is spreading quickly because of poor sanitation in the camps.
And in New York, two groups filed suit yesterday to gain access for a mass demonstration on the great lawn of Central Park just before the Republican National Convention in New York City. The National Council of Arab Americans and the ANSWER Coalition are being represented by the National Lawyer’s Guild in their bid to reverse the city’s refusal to grant access to the lawn for a protest on Aug. 28. Meanwhile the group United For Peace and Justice has also announced plans to sue the city over denying them a permit for an Aug. 29 protest in the city."