Five young Iraqi girls, including one infant, are among the latest victims of US military operations in Iraq. The girls were killed Tuesday as they hid in a home in Ramadi. The US military says troops targeted the home with tanks and machine guns after coming under fire from insurgents. They later discovered the girls bodies as well as that of a suspected insurgent believed to have run inside. Meanwhile, at least twenty-four people have been killed in violence today. At least two people were killed and several injured when a roadside bomb exploded near a bus station in Baghdad. In Baqouba, two women were killed in a US airstrike.
The New York Times is reporting the Bush administration is expressing growing doubts about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. In a classified memo, national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley writes: "The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action." A member of the Bush administration deliberately released the memo.
Its publication comes as Maliki is in Jordan today for a summit with President Bush that is drawing controversy in Iraq. Politicians linked to the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have announced their boycotting the Iraqi parliament because of the meeting. Falih Hassan, a member of parliament who previously supported Maliki’s government, said: "Bush is a criminal who killed a lot of Iraqis and we do not want him to interfere in Iraq’s affairs. The Iraqi government should negotiate with the U.N. Security Council, not with the leader of the country that is occupying Iraq."
Meanwhile at the UN, the Security Council voted Tuesday to extend the mandate of the US-led force in Iraq until the end of next year. In another development, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for an international peace conference that would include all of Iraq’s feuding groups. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan: "We can play a role but of course the security is a major constraint. The security in Iraq today is a major constraint. If one were to work out an arrangement where one can get all the Iraqi political parties together somewhere outside Iraq as we did in Afghanistan, the U.N. can play the role it normally plays."
President Bush arrived in Latvia Tuesday for a NATO summit. In a speech in the capital Riga, the president again dismissed calls for a withdrawal from Iraq.
President Bush: "We’ll continue to be flexible, and we’ll make the changes necessary to succeed. But there is one thing I’m not going to do, I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete. The battles in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a struggle between moderation and extremism, that is unfolding across the broader Middle East."
President Bush also repeated his position the US will not negotiate with Iran until it abandons nuclear activities. Meanwhile in Iraq, Pentagon spokesperson Major General William Caldwell was dismissive when asked whether the violence in Iraq can be seen as a civil war.
Major General William Caldwell: "We don’t see somebody competing for control of the country here at all. What we see is a country that is still functioning and still has duly elected representatives in charge who are able to give instructions and orders to their security forces who are responsive to them. Again, challenges, we still find them in the police forces and we deal with them as we find them and keep moving forward. It has progressively gotten better down there not worse in the security forces but we do have plenty of ways still to go. I mean its like we said last week this isn’t a sprint. We are in a marathon."
Back at the NATO Summit, the London Daily Telegraph is reporting the Pakistani government is urging NATO countries to accept defeat in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s foreign minister has reportedly told counterparts the Taliban is winning the war and that NATO is bound to lose. Pakistan has also called for negotiating with the Taliban towards a new coalition government that could exclude Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
In Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz met with Egyptian officials today for talks on a prisoner exchange with the Hamas-led Palestinian government. The negotiations have reportedly hit an impasse over the number of Palestinian prisoners Israel will release in return for Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier. In the Occupied Territories, the mother of a Palestinian prisoner called on both sides to reach an agreement.
Um Hatem, mother of Palestinian prisoner: "God will release my son and her son, and all the prisoners. We want reconciliation between the two nations, that’s what we want. We don’t want more suffering. We do not want suffering; we want peace. We want them to release our sons."
Meanwhile, Israel’s truce with the Hamas-led government in Gaza is now in its fourth day. On Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz dismissed calls to extend the ceasefire to the West Bank.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz: "The basic understanding is that we are talkng about a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip only. We are operating in the West Bank in order to prevent attacks against Israeli settlements and against attempts to carry out attacks inside Israel and therefore all of the operations being carried out in this area is legitimate and defensive, prevention and therefore, when we reach some sort of understanding about stopping the terrorist attacks that happen here, we will reconsider the way in which Israeli forces operate."
In Europe, a new report by the European Parliament has concluded eleven European countries "cooperated actively or passively" with the secret CIA practice known as extraordinary rendition. The investigation found more than twelve hundred CIA flights went through European airspace or landed at one of its airports. The report echoes the earlier conclusions of an inquiry by the Council of Europe — Europe’s top human rights body. While that report was based mostly on news reports and other public information, European Parliament investigators obtained records of a meeting of European and NATO foreign ministers from December of last year. The records show the participants — including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — acknowledged the CIA transferred prisoners and operated secret prisons on European soil.
In Mexico, the parliament was the site of a major scuffle Tuesday as rival lawmakers fought over a protest against this week’s inauguration of president-elect Felipe Calderon. Lawmakers threw chairs and exchanged punches when one group aligned with defeated presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador tried to take the podium where Calderon is due to be sworn in. Lopez Obrador’s supporters have vowed to prevent Calderon’s inauguration amid allegations he stole Mexico’s elections with massive fraud. Official results show Calderon won the election by less than one percentage point.
Meanwhile, Calderón is coming under intense criticism for his pick to oversee internal security. On Tuesday, Calderon announced the appointment of Francisco Ramírez Acuña as Interior Secretary. Acuna is widely blamed for the detention and mistreatment of scores of protesters two years ago in Jalisco, where he served as state governor. Many analysts say the appointment could signal the Calderon government intends to deal with the Oaxaca uprising with repression. In an interview with the Financial Times, Tamara Taraciuk of Human Rights Watch said: "This appointment sends a terrible signal both to the domestic and international communities."
In Bolivia, Bolivia’s Senate has approved a landmark measure to distribute idle or illegally-held land to the poor. The agrarian reform bill came under heavy opposition from senators tied to wealthy landowners. But the opposition splintered after weeks of protest from landless Indians who marched on the capitol La Paz. Bolivian President Evo Morales addressed them at a rally on Tuesday.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: "The productive farms will be respected, but there is land that is unproductive, there are people that illegally monopolize thousands of hectares of land. In the dictatorships sometimes political powers would take advantage of disadvantaged people. These lands, with the help of the State–will be given back to the people that have no land."
The land reform bill was already approved by Bolivia’s lower house earlier this month but needed Senate approval to come into law.
In Cuba, President Fidel Castro released a statement Tuesday announcing he will not attend celebrations this week for his eightieth birthday. Castro says his doctors told him he is not ready for public events as continues to recover from intestinal surgery.
Here in the United States, Democratic Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has announced she’s passed over Congressmember Alcee Hastings to chair the House Intelligence Committee. Hastings was considered next in line for the post when the new Democratically controlled Congress convenes in January. But he was dogged by ethics questions. In the 1980s, Hastings was the subject of a bribery investigation when he served as a federal judge. He was ultimately removed from the bench though he was eventually acquitted of criminal charges. Hastings is the Democrats’ number two on the Intelligence Committee and was supported by the Congressional Black Caucus.