In Iraq, a coalition of religious Shiite parties with close ties to Iran have won a majority of seats in Iraq’s new national assembly. Election results released Sunday gave the Shiite coalition backed by the Grand Ayatollah Sistani 48 percent of the vote. The Kurdish bloc came in second with 26 percent of the vote. Although the Shiites fell short of winning 50 percent, the party will end up with a majority due to technical rules about counting seats. The main Shiite and Kurdish parties are seen as Iran’s closest allies in Iraq and they now have control of over 70 percent of Iraq’s national assembly.
The Washington Post reports that an Iraqi government with ties to Iran was the last result the Bush administration wanted after it toppled Saddam Hussein’s government. Middle East analyst Juan Cole told the Washington Post "In terms of regional geopolitics, this is not the outcome that the United States was hoping for." Rami Khouri, an editor of Beirut’s Daily Star added "The idea that the United States would get a quick, stable, prosperous, pro-American and pro-Israel Iraq has not happened." Khouri went on to say "Most of the neoconservative assumptions about what would happen have proven false."
Politicians with backing from Washington fared poorly in the election. Former CIA asset Iyad Allawi is poised to lose his job as interim prime minister after his party came in a distant third with just 14 percent of the vote. The interim Sunni President Ghazi al-Yawir’s coalition only received two percent of the vote. One US backed candidate, Adnan Pachachi, did so poorly that his party won no seats in the National Assembly. Pachachi is the former head of the US-backed Iraqi Governing Council. It was only a year ago that Pachachi was invited by the bush administration to sit with First Lady Laura Bush at the State of the Union.
The final Sunni turnout on election day appears to be far lower than the Bush administration first let on. In the largely Sunni province of Anbar, which includes the city of Fallujah, turnout was just 2 percent. The national assembly will now meet to select a new prime minister and president and begin drafting a constitution.
Meanwhile dozens more Iraqis have died in another bloody weekend. In Baghdad an Iraqi general and two colleagues was assassinated on Sunday. The general was a senior commander of the Iraqi National Guard. On Saturday a car bombing outside a hospital south of Baghdad killed 18 and wounded 25 more. On Friday a suicide car bombing near a Shiite mosque northeast of Baghdad killed 13. That same day a Shiite bakery in the capital was attacked leaving nine dead. In Basra, a top judge was assassinated as he headed to work on Saturday. And at least five US troops died over the weekend. Over 1450 US soldiers have now been killed in Iraq since the invasion 23 months ago.
In other Iraq news, Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill are holding a hearing today to investigate possible abuse of funds in Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority. One witness, Frank Willis, is expected to reveal that US officials gave out millions in cash payments to contractors.
As the Iranian-linked Shiites take control of Iraq, more news has emerged that suggests the Bush administration may be considering attacking Iran. The Washington Post is now reporting that the U.S. has been flying surveillance drones on secret missions over Iran for the past year. The pilot-less planes have been photographing possible nuclear sites and potential weaknesses in Iran’s air defense system. The Post reports the aerial espionage is standard military preparations for an eventual air attack. The drones have been taking off from US military bases inside Iraq. Meanwhile the U.S. intelligence community has reportedly begun conducting a broad review of its intelligence on Iran. A similar review was done on Iraq ahead of the Iraq invasion two years ago.
The Lebanese government has confirmed that former Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri has died in a massive car bombing earlier today in downtown Beirut. Harare was viewed by many as the country’s most prominent politician. The self-made billionaire led Lebanon for most of the period since the civil war ended in 1990. He left office in October after a dispute over Syria’s role in Lebanon. Hariri made his fortunes as personal contractor for Prince Fahd in Saudi Arabia. At least nine others died in the car bombing that occurred in front of the famous St. George Hotel.
In business news, Verizon has reportedly agreed to purchase phone company MCI for nearly $7 billion. The merger comes at a time of great consolidation in the telecommunications industry. There have been five billion-dollar deals since October. In the biggest merger, AT&T recently bought former subsidiary SBC for $16 billion.
In other business news, the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, has agreed to pay $135,000 to settle federal charges that it violated child labor laws in Connecticut, Arkansas and New Hampshire. But as part of the settlement the government has made an unusual arrangement with the store. The government has agreed to give the store 15 days of advance notice ahead of any future investigations into complaints over wages or hours. John Fraser, the Labor Department’s top wage official under former Presidents Bush and Clinton, said the deal gives Wal Mart a special prvilege that no other store has.
Public pressure is building on the Bush administration to release or press charges against a Canadian citizen who has been held at Guantananmo Bay since he was 15 years old. Omar Khadr is the only known Canadian held at the military prison. He has claimed that he been beaten and threatened with rape. Over the weekend the Toronto Star newspaper called on Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin to press the US to try Khadr, who is now 18 years old, or release him.
In political news, former Vermont governor Howard Dean has become the new chair of the Democratic National Committee. During his acceptance speech Dean called for rebuilding of the party and said that Democrats must "recognize that this Party’s strength doesn’t come from the consultants down, it comes from grassroots up."
The chief news executive at CNN, Eason Jordan has resigned. Jordan had been at the center of controversy after he recently suggested that U.S. troops had targeted a dozen journalists who died while working in Iraq. Jordan said "I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise." Jordan made the remarks during an off the record session at the World Economic Forum. No transcript of his exact statements have been released but pressure has grown on Jordan after his comments were picked up by right-wing Internet and commentators. Jordan had worked at CNN for 23 years. Jordan, however, would not be the first to suggest the military has targeted journalists. In Spain the family of the late Jose Couso has filed a lawsuit against the US soldiers who shot him while he was working at the Palestine Hotel. Al Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayoub died when the US bombed the Arab Media Center. In addition US forces bombed newsrooms run by both Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.
In news from Brazil, a 74-year-old American nun named Dorothy Stang was shot dead Saturday in the Amazon rain forest where she had worked for decades with peasants and the landless movement promoting human rights and the environment. She had long fought against the logging of the rain forest and had been the target of many death threats.
Meanwhile Brazilian president Luiz Inacio da Silva and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez are meeting today in Caracas in an effort to form greater ties between the two countries. Chavez is expected to propose further collaboration between the nations’ two state-run oil companies . In addition Venezuela is seeking to buy jet fighters from a Brazilian jet-maker.
And Arthur Miller one of the country’s most acclaimed playwrights has died at the age of 89. Miller is best known for his 1949 play Death of the Salesman and the Crucible from 1953. The Crucible was a dramatization of the Salem witch hunt of the 17th century but it also implicitly articulated Miller’s outrage at McCarthyism. Miller later wrote about the Crucible saying '’I can almost tell what the political situation in a country is when the play is suddenly a hit there. It is either a warning of tyranny on the way or a reminder of tyranny just past.'’ In 1956 Miller made headlines when he refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. After he refused to name names, he was cited for contempt of Congress. At the height of the Vietnam War, Miller said, "It’s me. I’m responsible. I’m paying the taxes that pay for the rope that ties the guy’s hands, and my bucks are paying for the gas that drives the truck."