In what is being described as an act of growing defiance of White House demands, the Iraqi government has ordered an end to the US-blockade over Sadr City. Checkpoints came down late Tuesday following an order from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki. US officials appeared taken aback by the announcement but later said it resulted from a meeting between Maliki, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and General George Casey. But the New York Times reports Maliki’s office made the announcement just twenty minutes after that meeting began —–making it likely the Iraqi Prime Minister took the decision on his own. Maliki’s aides told the Associated Press he’s exerting more authority by exploiting growing American dissatisfaction with the Iraq war during the election season. Checkpoints had surrounded Sadr City since a US airstrike killed at least six people last week. The military says it’s looking for a captured soldier. But Fatah Al-Sheik, spokesperson for the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said the US is seeking an excuse to infiltrate an anti-occupation stronghold.
Fatah Al-Sheik, spokesperson for the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr: "What Sadr City went through is another lie, similar to what the American government did when it said that there were weapons of mass destruction (in Iraq) and occupied Iraq. This time, it has another excuse, the abducted soldier, or abducted American in Sadr City. This is not true. There is no abducted American soldier but this is just an attempt to hit the city or infiltrate it."
The end of the blockade came hours after local residents held a massive general strike.
Sadr City resident: "It is a peaceful city, there are no Al Qaeda members here and no terrorists. Why do they impose this siege on us? It has caused a hike in prices. So, we staged this protest to lift the siege by peaceful means and we will go on until the siege is lifted and we urge the government to support us."
In other Iraq news, the New York Times reports top US military officials are warning Iraq is headed towards chaos. A classified United States Central Command color-code chart shows sectarian violence is headed far away from the side of the chart representing "peace" and much closer to a red zone labeled "chaos." The briefing cites intelligence describing "urban areas experiencing 'ethnic cleansing' campaigns to consolidate control" and "violence at all-time high, spreading geographically." The news comes as CBS News reports Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has told close advisors the situation in Iraq is "nearly out of control."
In the Occupied Territories, at least six Palestinians were killed and more than thirty people wounded today in an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip. The injured include a woman and an eleven year-old boy. It was one of Israel’s largest military assaults since re-invading Gaza last June.
In other news from the region, Hezbollah has announced it’s entered into what it calls "serious" talks for a prisoner exchange with Israel. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nazrallah made the announcement Tuesday in Lebanon.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah: "These are serious negotiations and the delegate appointed by the U.N. Secretary-General is conducting this mission and is meeting a Hezbollah delegation and also on the other side Israelis concerned with this matter. The negotiations are ongoing and we have reached the stage of exchanging ideas or more accurately exchanging conditions."
North Korea said Tuesday it’s agreed to return to six-party talks over its nuclear program. President Bush welcomed the announcement at the White House.
President Bush: "We’ll be sending teams to the region to work with our partners to make sure that the current United Nations Security Council resolution is enforced, but also to make sure that the talks are effective; that we achieve the results we want, which is a North Korea that abandons her nuclear weapons programs and her nuclear weapons in a verifiable fashion in return for a better way forward for her people."
In Pakistan, the US government is facing growing accusations it oversaw a deadly missile strike that killed at least eighty people near the Afghan border. The Pakistani government says it carried out the attack but there are reports it came from a U.S. Predator drone. On Tuesday, more than 15,000 people gathered in the town of Khar in protest. Pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Faqir Mohammad addressed the crowd.
Maulana Faqir Mohammad: "People from any corner of the world who dare come here are forced to run away. The British came and hit the dust. The Russians had to beat a retreat. Now America has come; it will be disgraced. Inshallah (God willing) I am telling you that it is going to face defeat very very soon."
The protesters say Monday’s strike killed innocent students at a religious school. The Pakistani government claims members of Al Qaida used the building as a meeting place.
In Nicaragua, the Bush administration has issued one of its harshest warnings to date over the outcome of Sunday’s presidential elections. The administration is now threatening economic sanctions if Nicaraguans elect frontrunner and Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. In an interview with the Nicuraguan newspaper La Prensa, embassy spokesperson Kristin Stewart says: "If a foreign government has a relationship with terrorist organizations, like the Sandinistas did in the past; U.S. law permits us to apply sanctions… Again, it will be necessary to revise our policies if Ortega wins."
Here in the United States, Democratic Senator and former Presidential nominee John Kerry has stirred a new war of words with the White House just one week before the mid-term election. The spat began Monday when Kerry spoke at a rally in California.
Sen. John Kerry: "We’re here to talk about education, but I want to say something before, you know education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq."
Kerry now claims he made a botched joke and intended to mean if students didn’t study they would end up like President Bush and get the nation stuck in Iraq. But Republicans seized on the comments and said Kerry owes US troops an apology. President Bush spoke in Georgia on Tuesday.
President Bush: "The members of the United States military are plenty smart. And they are plenty brave. And the Senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology."
After a barrage of Republican criticism, Kerry remained defiant.
Sen. John Kerry: "I apologize to no one for my criticism of the president and of his broken policy. If anyone owes our troops in the fields an apology, it is the president and his failed team and a Republican majority in the Congress that has been willing to stamp–rubber-stamp–policies that have done injury to our troops and their families."
At least one Democrat has rebuked Kerry for his remarks. Bruce Braley, a Democratic Congresssional candidate in Iowa, has cancelled a campaign appearance with Kerry for later this week.
In other news, a media watchdog group has revealed nearly one hundred advertisers have forbid their ads from running on Air America radio programs. The order is made in an internal memo from ABC Radio Networks released by Media Matters for America. In a message to Air America affiliates, the memo lists dozens of companies that insist that: "NONE of their commercials air during AIR AMERICA programming." The advertisers include Bank of America, Exxon Mobil, Federal Express, General Electric, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and the U.S. Navy.
In other media news, the Arabic satellite network Al-Jazeera has announced the launch of its English-language channel. Al-Jazeera Internernational will launch two weeks from today, on November 15th. It’s billed as the first global English-language news network based in the Middle East.
In Kentucky, the US military has apparently ignored a pledge to discharge an Iraq war resister in return for his surrender. The soldier, Kyle Snyder, fled to Canada last year rather than return to Iraq. He turned himself into Fort Knox on Tuesday. Snyder’s lawyer says he gave himself up on condition he’d be released. But military officials have apparently ordered him back to his original unit where his outcome will be decided.
And in South Africa, former apartheid president P.W. Botha has died at the age of ninety. Botha vigorously defended the apartheid system which lead to the jailing of tens of thousands of people. He never repented or apologized for his actions and resisted attempts to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
P.W. Botha: "I am not going to repent. I am not going to ask for forgiveness. What I did, I did for my country."
In a statement, Nelson Mandela, who spent 11 of his 27 years in prison under Botha’s rule, described him as a "symbol of apartheid", but said he took steps towards an "eventual peacefully negotiated settlement" in South Africa.