In Iraq, legislators have largely agreed to a new government by approving Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari picks for cabinet members. Several posts however remain vacant — including the head of the oil and defense ministries. According to the BBC, Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmed Chalabi will become deputy prime minister. He will also serve as the acting oil minister until a permanent selection is made. Chalabi was closely linked to the Bush administration up until last year.
Today’s legislative session in Baghdad began with a moment of silence for Lamiya Abed Khaduri. On Wednesday she became the first member of Iraq’s National Assembly to be assassinated. Gunmen shot her dead as she was standing at the doorstep to her home. Meanwhile the U.S. military has admitted the ability of the Iraqi resistance to wage attacks has not diminished at all over the past year. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers said, "In terms of incidents, it’s right about where it was a year ago." The U.S. reported the number of attacks decreased shortly after the January elections, but recent weeks have seen a surge in violence.
Newly revealed government statistics show that a record number of international terrorist attacks occurred last year. And more people died because of terrorism than in any recent year besides 2001. The Bush administration released the figures on Wednesday just weeks after the State Department said it would stop issuing country-by-country figures in its annual review of global terrorism. At a press conference, administration officials urged reporters not to compare this year’s terrorism numbers with previous ones. They claimed that the threefold increase in the number of attacks was simply a result of changes in methodology. Democratic critics charged that the Bush administration was attempting to hide evidence that raised questions on the success of the so-called war on terror. Both Iraq and Afghanistan saw a surge in violent attacks last year.
Meanwhile the Bush administration on Wednesday described a number of countries — including Cuba — as nations that embraced terrorism. Philip Zelikow, the interim director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center said, "Unfortunately, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, and in particular, Iran continued to embrace terrorism as an instrument of national policy. Most worrisome is that these countries also have the capabilities to manufacture weapons of mass destruction and other destabilizing technologies that could fall into the hands of terrorists."
In Washington, the Republican-led Congress has passed more legislation Wednesday that attempts to limit the ability for women to have abortions. By a 270 to 157 vote, the House made it a federal crime for adults to help women under the age of 18 to cross state lines in order to have an abortion without the consent of the woman’s parents. Violators could face a $100,000 fine and a year in jail. 54 Democrats joined with Republicans in supporting the measure. The Senate is expected to take up the bill this spring or early this summer. According to NARAL, 33 states have some form of parental notification law that restricts access to abortion.
Also on Capitol Hill, the Republican House leadership announced it would rescind changes to ethics rules that appeared to have been made to protect House Majority Leader Tom Delay. The ethics commission is now expected to meet for the first time in four months in order to investigate a series of new allegations that Delay has broken house ethics rules. Earlier this week it was exposed that DeLay allowed a registered foreign agent and a lobbyist to pay for overseas trips. House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Wednesday that he expects the commission to clear Delay’s name. USA Today reported earlier this week that the Republican members of the ethics commission may all face a potential conflict of interest in investigating DeLay — all five members have received campaign donations in recent years from Delay’s political action committee. Since 1997 DeLay has been admonished by the ethics committee five times — that’s more than any other member of the House.
In Mexico — the presidential candidacy of populist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador received an unexpected boost Wednesday when Mexico’s Attorney General resigned. Just last week the Attorney General filed charges against Lopez Obrador that could have blocked him from running even though he was winning in all of the polls. On Sunday up to a million protesters gathered in Mexico City to demand Lopez Obrador be allowed to run in next year’s presidential election.
This news from the Middle East — Israeli settlers are continuing their protests against Ariel Sharon’s plan to vacate all Jewish settlements in Gaza. On Wednesday tens of thousands of Israelis protested in Neve Dekalim — the largest settlement in Gaza. Protest organizer had hoped the total number of demonstrators would top 100,000 but only about 40,000 people showed up.
Meanwhile Israel is seeking permission from Congress to buy 100 guided bunker busting bombs from Lockheed Martin. The bunker busters are designed to penetrate underground command centers or weapons facilities. Analysts say Israel could use the bombs in an attack on Iran. Congress has 30 days to decide whether to allow the sale to go ahead. According to news reports Israel is seeking non-nuclear bunker busters. However the nuclear version of the bunker buster is also in the news this week. A Congressionally-mandated study released Wednesday found that an earth penetrating nuclear bunker buster could cause more than a million deaths from radioactive debris. The Bush administration has asked Congress to spend over $8 million on researching the bomb.
On Wednesday, President Bush called for the construction of new nuclear power plants as part of his plan to ease the country’s dependence on foreign energy. He also proposed building oil refineries on closed military bases and increasing the number of tax credits for hybrid vehicles. Tonight the president plans to hold his first prime-time news conference in over a year in order to push his energy and social security plans.
At the United Nations, the Bush administration has officially opposed the reappointment of the U.N.'s top nuclear inspector. Mohamed ElBaradei received the support of all other 34 nations on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The U.S. opposition has essentially blocked ElBaradei's reappointment for now since the board usually acts by consensus. The Bush administration has openly squared off with ElBaradei since he accurately doubted that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program.
In Haiti, police shot dead at least five protesters Wednesday during a demonstration calling for the return of ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Reuters reported that police officers — many wearing black masks over their faces — fired at demonstrators during the march in Port-au-Prince. The Haitian police claimed the dead were not protesters but bandits who had attacked the police. But protesters and eyewitnesses disputed the police account and said police fired at them without provocation.
In the African country of Togo, the country’s leading opposition politician declared himself president yesterday, saying that Sunday’s election was rigged. Emmanuel Bob Akitani called on his supporters to continue protesting. The son of the country’s longtime dictator had earlier declared victory.
In Sudan, the AP is reporting that NATO allies agreed to hold talks with the African Union on providing logistical help to the union’s peacekeeping force in Darfur. Marc Lacey of the New York Times is reporting as well that Hartford Courant’s freelance photographer in Darfur, Brad Clift, has been arrested in Darfur. Clift reported by cell phone that he was arrested for photographing the camp for displaced people in Nyala.
In business news, the food services giant Sodexho has agreed to pay out $80 million to thousands of its African-American employees. This marks one of the largest corporate settlements ever in a racial discrimination case. In a lawsuit, African-American employees of the company had accused the company of denying them promotions because of their race and for fostering a segregated work environment. Court documents showed that in 2000, there were no African-Americans holding any of the company’s top corporate positions. Sodexho provides food services to more than 6,000 businesses and organizations, including hospitals, cruise ships and universities.
In Chicago, the city’s police department is being called on to open up its files dealing with the infiltration of a Quaker group three years ago. City police infiltrated meetings of the American Friends Service Committee ahead of a November 2002 protest. On Wednesday the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition in federal court seeking the police files.
And Congressman John Conyers and five other Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee has called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate the New York Police Department’s conduct during the Republican National Convention. During the convention police arrested 1800 people. So far of the cases that have run their course, 90 percent of those arrested have had their charges dropped or they have been acquitted. In addition law enforcement officials have been founded tampering with video evidence in at least one case.