Study: 655,000 Iraqis Dead Since US-led Invasion

A new medical study says the number of Iraqi deaths since the US-led invasion has reached more than 655,000. The study was carried out by many of the same researchers behind the Johns Hopkins University survey that put the death toll at 100,000 two years ago. Researchers based their findings on interviews with a random sampling of households taken in clusters across Iraq. The newest survey yielded the same estimate of immediate post-invasion deaths as the first one. Attacks from US-led coalition forces accounted for thirty percent of the reported deaths. The actual number of dead could be higher. The 655,000 figure represents an estimate of "excess deaths" — people who wouldn’t have died had the US not invaded.

The study is already coming under criticism. Anthony Cordesman, an analyst with the Center for Strategic & International Studies said the researchers were playing politics ahead of the November mid-term elections. In response, University of Michigan professor and Middle East scholar Juan Cole wrote: "Is he saying that 18,000 households from all over Iraq conspired to lie to Johns Hopkins University researchers for the purpose of defeating Republicans in US elections this November?".

North Korea Warns of Further Tests

In other news, North Korea is warning increased US pressure over its reported nuclear test would be considered an act of war and could lead to further tests. In a statement Wednesday, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said its ready "for both dialogue and confrontation." The warning comes as the United Nations Security Council continues to debate a draft resolution of sanctions proposed by the US. The US wants sanctions under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which means they would be mandatory and ultimately enforceable by military means.

  • UN Ambassador John Bolton: "We have provided in the text a clear humanitarian exemption for the sanctions and we’ve designed the text as we’ve circulated it, to go after North Korea’s programmes of weapons of mass destruction."

China has reportedly cancelled leave for troops along part of its border with North Korea and South Korean forces have been ordered to stay on high alert.

Strike Leaders, Government Reach Tentative Agreement in Oaxaca Standoff

In Mexico, leaders of a group of striking teachers say they’ve reached a tentative agreement that could end a lengthy standoff with the government. Under the deal, the state would remove blockades from Oaxaca’s downtown and raise teacher’s salaries for the first time in six years. The protesters have reportedly dropped a key demand for the immediate resignation of state Governor Ulises Ruiz. A spokesperson for the teachers said they’ll continue to seek Ruiz’s departure even if his resignation does not come as part of an agreement.

Thousands Attend Funeral of Slain Russian Journalist

In Moscow, thousands of people gathered Tuesday for the funeral of the journalist and human rights advocate Anna Politkovskaya. Politkovskaya was shot dead as she returned home to her apartment on Saturday. She was a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and the Chechen war.

  • Unidentified mourner: "Of course we are experiencing limitless grief. I think this is the main sensation we are feeling now. Such a character, she was. Anna Politkovskaya could be called a conscience of the nation.

The murder has brought international condemnation and renewed scrutiny on freedom of the press in Russia. Many believe Politkovskaya was killed for her outspoken opposition to President Vladimir Putin. On Tuesday, Putin dismissed her political activity as a motive in the killing.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin: "I would like to underline that whoever committed this crime, and whatever their motives, we should assess this crime, repulsive by its nature. Certainly it should not remain unpunished. The motives could be very different, indeed this journalist was a sharp critic of current power in Russia but journalists should understand and experts know that the level of her influence on political life in the country was insignificant, she was more known in media circles and in human rights circles, in the west, but I repeat that the influence on the political life in the country was minimal."

Mortar Attack Ignites Massive Explosion at US Ammo Depot

Back in Iraq, a massive fire at a US ammunition depot in Baghdad is still smoldering today following a mortar attack from insurgent groups. The bombing set off a series of explosions from tank and artillery shells that could be heard for several miles. No injuries were reported.

UN Rights Chief: Sudan Knew of Impending Attacks on Darfur Villages

This news from Darfur — the UN’s top human rights official is calling for an investigation into Sudan’s role in a series of attacks that may have killed several hundred people since August. The attacks have targeted some forty-seven villages in Darfur. Witnesses have described massive looting and indiscriminate shooting by raiding militias. On Tuesday, UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour said Sudanese officials almost certainly had prior knowledge of the attacks.

India Enacts New Law Against Child Labor

In India, a new law barring child labor has gone into effect. The law bans children from working in restaurants, hotels, resorts and private homes. The official number of child laborers in India is twelve million but it’s estimated to be as high as sixty million.

  • Bihar State Deputy Sushil Modi: "The people need to be sensitized to the fact that the new law against child labour is in force now. This will raise awareness that employing a child under 14 years of age, whether it be as a domestic help or as a help in roadside eateries, is a punishable offence and will attract penalties and other legal actions."

Critics of the law say it will not solve the problem of child labor and want the government to take a more active role in reducing poverty.

Hastert Deflects Foley Scrutiny Onto Staff

Here in the United States, Republican House speaker Dennis Hastert continues to face questions over his handling of the Mark Foley scandal. Hastert has been scrutinized over when he and his staff first heard allegations of Foley’s inappropriate contact with congressional pages. On Tuesday, Hastert was quick to deflect attention onto his staff.

  • House Speaker Dennis Hastert: "They’ll be under oath. Then, we’ll find out. If they did cover something up then they should not continue to have their jobs. But I didn’t think anybody, at any time, in my office did anything wrong. I found out about these revelations last Friday. That was the first information that I had about it."

Gitmo Laywer Accuses Pentagon of Covering Up Detainee Abuse

A US military lawyer is accusing the Pentagon of a massive cover-up in an investigation that cleared soldiers of abusing the Guantanamo detainee David Hicks. Hicks is an Australian citizen who was captured in Afghanistan over four years ago. His attorney, Major Michael Mori, says investigators ignored evidence including corroborating testimony from four Guantanamo prisoners. Hicks has alleged he was regularly beaten by guards at the prison and by US soldiers in Afghanistan.

Court Upholds $13K Fine on Humanitarian Visitor to Iraq

In Seattle, a US appeals court has upheld the fining of a man who delivered medicines to Iraq while it was under a US-led embargo. On Tuesday, the court ruled the government was right to fine Bertram Sacks more than thirteen thousand dollars for making the trips. Sacks visited Iraq nine times starting in 1996, delivering medicines banned under sanctions overseen by Britain and the United States.

Blair Govt. Wins Ruling to Hold Al Jazeera Memo Trial in Secret

And finally, in Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government has won a motion to hold a secret trial for two men accused of leaking a memo detailing a conversation in which President Bush reportedly says he wants to bomb the headquarters of the Arabic television network Al Jazeera in Doha. The memo was revealed a year ago next month. David Keogh, a former civil servant, and Leo O’Connor, a former parliamentary researcher, are charged with leaking the memo in violation of the Official Secrets Act. On Monday, a British judge sided with the government’s argument that publicly disclosing the memo’s contents would harm British national security because it would have a "detrimental impact" on "diplomatic and political relations" with the US. Mark Stephens, the chief lawyer for al-Jazeera, said: "The bottom line is that there is no national security involvement [in the case]. What is being protected from us is evidence of a war crime." The secret trial is expected to start in April.


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