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The U.S. military says it has launched a major combat operation in the west of Iraq near the Syrian border after resistance fighters made significant gains in recent days and killed at least 13 soldiers in the area in the past week. The Pentagon is calling the action Operation Spear. This comes as the Guardian newspaper reports that the resistance is almost completely in control of the large western city of Ramadi. The US operation reportedly began in the predawn hours today and involves more than 1,000 marines.
Voters in Iran went to the polls today in a hotly contested race for the country’s presidency. Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is considered to be the leading candidate to succeed Mohammad Khatami in what is expected the be the closest presidential election in the country’s history. We’ll get a report from Tehran in just a moment.
Back in this country, Congressmember John Conyers convened the first public hearing on the so-called Downing Street Memo and other recently released British documents that he says show the Bush administration’s "efforts to cook the books on pre-war intelligence." The jam-packed hearing was held in a small basement meeting room in the Capitol because Republicans refused to allow the Democrats to hold an official hearing. After the meeting, Conyers delivered a petition to the White House, signed by more than a half a million Americans calling on President Bush to answer questions on the documents. More than 120 Congressmembers also signed the letter. Later in the program, we are going to play excerpts from that hearing and we’ll be joined by Reginald Keyes, the British man who ran against Tony Blair in the recent elections in the UK. His son was killed in Iraq. Among those who testified yesterday was former US ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson, longtime CIA analyst Ray McGovern and Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed last year in Iraq. This is constitutional lawyer John Bonifaz.
Attorney John Bonifaz, speaking yesterday at the public hearing on the so-called Downing Street Memo. We’ll have much more on this later in the program.
The hearings come as momentum builds in Congress to formally call on President Bush to present a clear exit strategy on Iraq. A New York Times/CBS poll published today shows that only 37 percent of people in the US now say they approve of Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq. That’s down from 45 percent in February. The poll says that a strong and increasing majority of Americans, sixty percent, now believe the US mission in Iraq is going badly. This comes as the Bush administration is launching a major public relations campaign on Iraq that will include a series of radio addresses and appearances outside Washington and a major address on June 28, the one-year anniversary of the so-called transfer of sovereignty in Iraq. Four days before that, he will meet at the White House with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The PR push comes as the U.S. death toll in Iraq has climbed above 1,700.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a House resolution this week calling on Bush to announce an exit strategy from Iraq. Among the sponsors of the resolution is North Carolina Republican Walter Jones, the man behind the effort to change the name of "French fries" to "freedom fries" in the Congressional cafeteria. Among the other sponsors are Republican Ron Paul of Texas and Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has introduced a similar measure in the Senate. Last week the House International Relations Committee voted overwhelmingly to call on the White House to develop and submit a plan to Congress for establishing a stable government and military in Iraq that would "permit a decreased U.S. presence" there. Next week, Representative Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois Democrat, is planning to read on the House floor the names of more than 1,700 US soldiers who have died in Iraq.
Britain’s Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram has admitted that the Bush administration lied to British officials about the use of napalm-type firebombs in Iraq. In a private letter obtained by The Independent newspaper of London, Ingram says the US originally told him they had not used so-called MK77s in Iraq at any time but then writes "I regret to say that I have since discovered that this is not the case and must now correct the position." The MK77 bombs are an evolution of the napalm used in Vietnam and Korea. They carry kerosene-based jet fuel and polystyrene so that the gel sticks to structures and to its victims. The bombs lack stabilizing fins, making them far from precise. Ingram said 30 MK77 firebombs were used by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in the invasion of Iraq between March 31 and April 2, 2003. The Independent said that the revelation raises new questions about allegations that the napalm-like firebombs were used in the US assault on Fallujah last year, charges denied by the US.
Even though calls are increasing to shut down the Guantanamo prison camp, the Pentagon has just announced the prison is expanding. Defense Department officials said yesterday that Halliburton has been given a contract to build a new $30 million detention facility and security fence. The facility is part of a larger contract that could be worth up to $500 million.
The Washington Post has a major piece today exposing how Bush administration officials working behind the scenes have succeeded in weakening key sections of a proposal for joint action on global warming by the G8 group of major industrialized nations ahead of next month’s summit. The paper obtained documents that show that U.S. officials pressed negotiators to drop sections of the report that highlight some problems tied to global warming, warn of more frequent droughts and floods, and commit a specific dollar amount to promoting carbon sequestration in developing countries. One deleted section initially cited "increasingly compelling evidence of climate change, including rising ocean and atmospheric temperatures, retreating ice sheets and glaciers, rising sea levels, and changes to ecosystems." It added, "Inertia in the climate system means that further warming is inevitable. Unless urgent action is taken, there will be a growing risk of adverse effects on economic development, human health and the natural environment, and of irreversible long-term changes to our climate and oceans." Instead, U.S. negotiators substituted a sentence that reads, "Climate change is a serious long term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the globe."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has concluded at least some AIDS drug experiments involving foster children violated federal rules designed to ensure vulnerable youths were protected from the risks of medical research.
In Mississippi, the trial of Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen for the killing of 3 civil rights workers in 1964 was interrupted yesterday after the 80 year old was rushed to a local hospital where he was treated for high blood pressure and breathing problems.
Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said Thursday he will support a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in his state, the only one in the country where it is currently legal.