Dozens of Iraqi Shiite and Sunni clerics met in Mecca on Saturday and approved a declaration calling for an end to the sectarian violence. The clerics urged the release of all hostages and a prohibition on the killings of Muslims in iraq. But it remains unclear if the declaration will help stop the civil war raging in Iraq.
The Associated Press reports that October is on pace to be the deadliest month for Iraqis since the AP began tracking deaths in April 2005. October has already become the deadliest month for U.S. forces this year with 86 soldiers dead.
In southern Iraq on Friday, the Mahdi Army seized control of part of the city of Amarah. The Shiite militia engaged in a gun battle with the city’s Shiite-controlled police force. As many as 25 people died. In Baquba, gunmen ambushed a bus full of police recruits, killing 15 and wounding 25. In the Shiite city of Mahmudiyah, Sunni insurgents fired mortar rounds at a crowded market on Saturday killing 32 people. The market was crowded with families buying food for the Islamic holiday of Eid which marks the end of Ramadan.
In Washington, the Bush administration is coming under increasing pressure for its handling of the Iraq war. On Saturday the President met with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and top U.S. commanders including Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. George Casey to discuss Iraq. On Sunday the New York Times reported the Bush administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to address sectarian divisions and assume a larger role in securing the country. Officials said that for the first time Iraq was likely to be asked to disarm militias and create political, economic and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country. Democratic Senator Joe Biden criticized the approach.
Meanwhile a senior U.S. diplomat publicly accused the United States of displaying arrogance and stupidity in Iraq. The State Department official Alberto Fernandez made the comment during an interview conducted in Arabic on Al Jazeera.
The State Department initially claimed Fernandez’s comments were mistranslated. Later Fernandez issued a written apology through the State Department press office. He wrote "I seriously misspoke by using the phrase 'there has been arrogance and stupidity' by the U.S. in Iraq. This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department. I apologize."
The Washington Post is reporting the United States has moved a step closer toward building a new stockpile of nuclear weapons that would last well into the 21st century. Late last week, Bush administration officials announced the start of a multiyear process to repair and replace eight facilities where the nuclear weapons would be developed and assembled. The Bush administration is planning to replace its aging stockpile of warheads with two thousand two hundred new nuclear weapons that would last for decades. The nation’s two nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, are competing to design a new nuclear warhead.
In domestic news, the Washington Post reports that in the past two weeks Democrats have significantly improved their chances of taking control of the Senate after the November mid-term election. Polls now indicate four Republican incumbents — Conrad Burns of Montana, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania — will lose their seats. If the polls are accurate, the control of the Senate will be decided based on the outcome of tight races in Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. The Democrats need to gain six seats to win control of the Senate. Meanwhile the number of Republican House seats at risk has nearly tripled since January. According to the Cook Political Report, 18 Republican seats were considered to be endangered at the start of the year. Now, 48 seats are considered in play. To take back the House, Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats
In other political news, Democratic Senator Barack Obama said Sunday that he is considering running for president in 2008. Up until now, Obama has always said he plans to serve out his full six-year Senate term. No major party has ever nominated an African-American to run for president.
A top Republican lawmaker has asked the Pentagon to remove a team of CNN reporters embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq. Duncan Hunter, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, accused CNN of broadcasting an enemy propaganda film because it aired footage of snipers targeting U.S. soldiers. CNN said the footage was shown in an effort to present the "unvarnished truth" about the Iraq war.
The Pentagon’s Inspector General has concluded that the US military didn’t break any laws when it planted pro-American stories in the Iraqi press. Last year it was revealed that the Pentagon paid a start-up company called the Lincoln Group millions of dollars to plant stories and pay for favorable coverage in the Iraqi press.
In other news about government propaganda, a conservative pundit who was secretly being funded by the U.S. government has agreed to give back part of his pay. In 2003 the Department of Education paid Armstrong Williams $240,000 to help promote the No Child Left Behind Act. Williams went on to write about the act and discuss it in the media without ever disclosing his ties to the government. Williams has now agreed to pay back $34,000 after the Department determined he had been overpaid.
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross has criticized the new U.S. Military Commissions Act because it could weaken protections guaranteed under the Geneva Conventions. The official, Jakob Kellenberger, said the law too broadly defines an enemy combatant, fails to guarantee prisoners the right to a fair trial and fails to explicitly prohibit the use of evidence obtained by coercion.
The Israeli military has admitted for the first time that it fired phosphorus shells at Hezbollah targets during its month-long attack on Lebanon. The phosphorous shells were used despite widespread calls by human rights groups for a worldwide ban on the munitions because they cause undue suffering through severe burns. During the war there were reports that Lebanese victims had suffered serious burns from phosphorous. One doctor reported seeing three corpses entirely shriveled with black and green skin — a phenomenon characteristic of phosphorus injuries.
In other news from Lebanon, a twelve-year-old boy died Sunday in the southern village of Halta after a cluster bomb exploded. The boy died while picking olives with his brother. At least 21 people have died in southern Lebanon from cluster bombs since the Israeli war ended in August.
Meanwhile the Israeli government is threatening to retake full control of the border between Gaza and Egypt. Israel claims weapons are being smuggled across the border. Earlier today Israeli forces shot and killed seven Palestinians in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hunun earlier today. 20 other Palestinians were wounded. Since June, Israel has killed more than 250 Palestinians in Gaza, half of them have been civilians.
In South Korea, thousands rallied on Sunday in Seoul to protest the Bush administration’s hardline policy towards North Korea. The demonstrators blamed the United States for ratcheting up tension that could cause war on the Korean peninsula. They demanded the U.S. broker a peaceful resolution to the North Korea nuclear issue.
The Sudanese government has ordered the top United Nations envoy, Jan Pronk, to leave the country. Pronk has been a vocal critic of the government for committing atrocities in Darfur. Last week Pronk revealed on his personal blog that the Sudanese armed forces had suffered two major defeats with extensive casualties in Darfur in the past six weeks. The Sudanese Foreign Ministry accused Pronk of lying.
The brother of Pat Tillman has spoken out about his brother’s death in Afghanistan and has condemned the Bush administration’s war on terror. Pat Tillman was the star football player who gave up his playing career to fight in Afghanistan. He was killed in a friendly fire incident, but for years the Pentagon lied about the circumstances. His brother Kevin fought with Pat in Afghanistan. In his article posted on the website Truthdig, Tillman wrote "Somehow, the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country. Somehow, this is tolerated. Somehow, nobody is accountable for this." Tillman goes on to write "Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes."
In election news, a number of Green Party candidates are being blocked from taking part in debates. In Washington state, Aaron Dixon was arrested last week after he tried to enter the TV studio hosting a three-way debate between the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian candidates. Meanwhile in New York, the League of Women Voters withdrew its support for two Senatorial debates between Hillary Clinton and Republican challenger John Spencer because Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins was not invited to participate.
President Bush has named the mining executive Richard Stickler the new head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The president gave him a recess appointment after the Senate twice refused to confirm him.
And the U.S. government has blocked one of South Africa’s leading Muslim clerics from entering the United States. Fazlur Rahman Azmi of South Africa arrived in San Francisco on Friday. He was questioned for hours and then forced to leave the country. The Islamic Society of East Bay had invited Azmi to lead prayers at mosques around the Bay Area to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Last week the Department of Homeland prevented another leading Muslim scholar from entering the United States. Kamal Helbawy, the 80-year-old founder of the Muslim Association of Britain, was scheduled to speak in New York at a conference organized by the New York University Law School.