A ceasefire has begun in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf ending three weeks of fighting between the U.S. military and backers of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr. The country’s leading Shiite religious leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, arrived in Najaf with over 10,000 supporters yesterday to meet with Sadr. Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army to disarm and hand over the keys to the holy shrine. As part of the ceasefire agreement the US agreed to pull its troops out of Najaf. In addition. Sadr was guaranteed the right to participate in Iraqi politics even though he was charged by the US occupation authorities with murder.
Meanwhile the Iraqi Health Ministry reported 110 people were killed and 500 were wounded in Najaf and Kufa yesterday. At least 27 Iraqis died in Kufa when mortars slammed into the city’s main mosque. Another 20 people died when a Shiite crowd marching to Najaf came under fire.
President Bush has admitted for the first time that he has mismanaged the handling of Iraq after the fall of Baghdad. In a rare admission of a mistake, he told the New York Times that he had made a "miscalculation of what the conditions would be’’ in postwar Iraq. Since he appeared aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 under a banner that read "Mission Accomplished" 828 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq — six times as many as the number killed during so-called major combat operations. In addition more U.S. soldiers have now died in 2004 than all of last year in Iraq.
In other Iraq news, members of the Iraqi resistance are suspected of sabotaging 20 oil pipelines in southern Iraq cutting exports from the region by half. According to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, there have now been over 100 attacks on Iraqi pipelines since June 2003 when the organization began running the website Iraq Pipeline Watch.
In Iraq, an Italian journalist who disappeared last week has reportedly been executed. Enzo Baldoni was shown yesterday in video footage broadcast on Al-Jazeera being held by a group calling itself "The Islamic Army in Iraq." The group had said they could not guarantee Baldoni’s safety unless Italy announced plan to withdraw its troops from Iraq. Italian President Silvio Berlusconi condemned the killing but said he would not consider withdrawing Italian troops.
For the third year in a row the number of people living in poverty or without health care has increased. The official poverty rate rose from 12.1 to 12.5 percent and the number of people living in poverty increased by 1.3 million. There are now nearly 36 million living in poverty and 45 million without health insurance. Child poverty also increased, and women’s income in relation to that of men dropped from 2002 to 2003.
Actor Danny Glover was arrested Wednesday during a protest on the steps of the Sudanese embassy in Washington in an effort to highlight the Sudanese government’s complicity in the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region. The embassy closed its doors this Monday after weeks of protests and arrests.
Russian officials are now saying that at least one of two simultaneous plane crashes on Tuesday was caused by a "terrorist act." Traces of explosives were found amid the debris of one of the planes. An Islamic group claimed responsibility for the crashes in a web site statement released. In addition investigators are also checking the identities of two Chechen female passengers whose bodies have been the only ones on the plane not claimed by relatives.
For the second time in three, a federal judge ruled a ban on late term abortions is unconstitutional. The New York-based judge criticized the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act for not containing an exception to protect a woman’s health.
For the first time, former Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet could be brought to trial for the death of thousands of people in 1970s. Chile’s Supreme Court yesterday stripped Pinochet of immunity from prosecution. More than 3,000 people were killed for political reasons under Pinochet’s rule after he led a bloody coup overthrowing democratically-elected president Salvador Allende.
And media giant Clear Channel which is known for sponsoring pro-war rallies is holding a pro-heterosexuality rally this weekend. In Raleigh, North Carolina, the Bob and Showgram show is holding what its calling a Straight is Great rally on Saturday.