New questions about Iraq’s sovereignty are being raised after British forces attacked an Iraqi jail on Monday because they believed two detained British commandos were inside. British troops opened fire on the jail in Basra and used six armored vehicles to smash down the jail’s walls as helicopter gunships flew overhead. The provincial governor of Basra described the British assault as "barbaric, savage and irresponsible." The Associated Press reported 150 prisoners escaped during the siege. As the British raided the prison, Iraqis started attacking the British vehicles with firebombs and rockets. One of the British armored fighting vehicles was set ablaze. Photos showed a British soldier on fire climbing out of the hatch and jumping to the ground, as a crowd pelted him. An Iraqi official said that the British soldiers were arrested after they had fired at an Iraqi police officer. At the time the British soldiers were undercover and dressed as Iraqis. After the prison was breached in Basra, the two soldiers were found not to be in the jail but in a nearby house. The British Army attempted to downplay the incident claiming that the men were released after negotiations. The government said it feared for the lives of the British commandos after discovering they had been handed to "militia elements". The British attack on the Iraqi jail came one day after British forces arrested three members of the Shiite Mahdi Army.
Also in Basra, an Iraqi reporter working for the New York Times was found shot dead on Monday. The reporter — Fakher Haider — had been handcuffed and taken away from his home Sunday night by four masked men. Last week a 28-year-old Iraqi reporter for the newspaper As-Saffir, was kidnapped in the northern city of Mosul. Police found her body the next morning with a single bullet wound to the head.
In other news from Iraq, the Independent of London is reporting one billion dollars has been stolen from the Defense Ministry. The Iraqi government is expected to issue an arrest warrant for Hazem al-Shaalan, the former Defence Minister. Al-Shaalan served under the U.S.-backed Ayad Allawi.
U.S. officials announced today a suicide car bomber had attacked a U.S. diplomatic convoy killing four Americans. The military said a State Department agent died along with three employees of the North Carolina-based company Blackwater USA. Three State Department employees have now died in Iraq since June of 2004. Fighting elsewhere in Iraq left at least 24 dead on Monday.
A federal commission on voting is recommending all voters be required to show a drivers license or a state issued ID card in order to vote by the year 2010. On Monday, the commission–headed by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker–issued a series of recommended reforms of the nation’s voting system. Other suggestions included requiring paper verification of votes on electronic machines; for states rather than local jurisdictions supervise voter registration; and for the political parties to hold four regional presidential primaries following the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries. The photo ID provision is causing the most alarm. Spencer Overton, who served on the Carter-Baker Commission, said he dissented from the voter ID provisions. Overton said "The Commission’s proposal is so excessive that it would prevent eligible voters from proving their identity with even a valid U.S. passport or a U.S. military photo ID card." Two others commissioners opposed the measure including former Senator Tom Dashchle. Critics say it will prevent many people from voting. According to the Washington Post 12 percent of the voting-age population does not have a driver’s license, and those without identification tend disproportionately to be people of color, the elderly and the poor
In New Orleans, the city’s mayor Ray Nagin has suspended a plan to allow residents to begin returning home. The decision was made as another storm–Rita–was heading toward the Gulf Coast. The Times Picayune reported that state officials are preparing to move 13,000 Katrina evacuees from the southwest Louisiana coast to get out of the way from the storm. Portions of the Florida Keys have already been evacuated.
In Mississippi, the state’s Attorney General Jim Hood has sued five private insurance companies, saying adjusters are trying to trick Hurricane Katrina survivors out of millions of dollars in homeowner claims. Insurance companies are offering property owners $3,000 in immediate living expenses if they sign a waiver that says all of the damage to their property was caused by flooding, which is not covered in homeowners’ policies.
In Washington, the White House’s top federal procurement officer was arrested Monday on charges of making false statements and obstructing a federal investigation into his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Until last week David Safavian was the head of Procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget. He is a former official with the General Services Administration. The Justice Department accuses him of aiding an unnamed Washington D.C. lobbyist to acquire government-controlled property and that he took a golf trip to Scotland with the lobbyist. While Jack Abramoff is not mentioned by name, sources in Washington have said he is the unnamed lobbyist referenced in the criminal complaint. This marks the first criminal complaint filed against a government official in the ongoing corruption probe related to Abramoff’s activities in Washington.
In other news from Capitol Hill, at least 30 activists associated with the national disability rights group ADAPT were arrested Monday for refusing to leave House and Senate offices. They were protesting Congressional plans to slow the growth of Medicaid spending by $10 billion over the next five years. On Sunday about 100 protesters–most of them in wheelchairs–rallied outside Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s Washington home.
In business news, two former bosses of manufacturer Tyco were sentenced Monday to up to 25 years in prison for stealing more than $150 million.
In New York, police broke up a rally featuring Cindy Sheehan and arrested the rally’s organizer. The police claimed the protest organizers did not have a sound permit. Sheehan has been touring the country since ending her protest outside President Bush’s estate. She plans to be in Washington on Saturday for the national anti-war protest.
And Simon Wiesenthal has died at the age of 96. After surviving the Holocaust he spent decades tracking down Nazi war criminals. Through his work, he said, some 1,100 Nazi war criminals were brought to justice.