The U.S. death toll in Iraq has now exceeded the known number of deaths in the September 11 attacks. According to the Associated Press, the U.S. toll has reached 2,974 — one more than the official count of those who died in the World Trade Center, Washington and Pennsylvania. The U.S. military is now in its second-deadliest month of the year. Seventy-seven servicemembers have died.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military has detained what it says are four senior Iranian military officials in Baghdad. The Iranians were seized in a raid the military says was aimed at capturing insurgents. U.S. officials did not release any evidence the suspects were involved in attacks. One of the raids targeted the compound of Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who met with President Bush in Washington earlier this month.
And in other news from Iraq, Iraq’s leading Shiite Muslim cleric — Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani — has rejected a U.S.-backed plan to form a political bloc to isolate the anti-occupation Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The plan was disclosed in a leaked White House memo last month. The proposal would have split the United Iraqi Alliance, the dominant party in Iraq’s Parliament.
In Haiti, at least nine people were killed Friday in a U.N. raid on the poor neighborhood of Cité Soleil. It was one of the worst outbreaks of violence Haiti has seen this year. The U.N. force in Haiti says it was targeting armed gangs. Dozens were left injured, including two children.
Cité Soleil resident Alex Surin: "Since 5 o’clock this morning, there has been a lot of shooting by MINUSTAH, a lot of people killed by bullets. People cannot go out to get something to eat because of all the shooting. They are here to kill all of us in Cité Soleil. Lots of people here are still hungry."
In Somalia, the conflict between the internationally recognized government and Islamic fighters who control much of the country has escalated. Islamic fighters are said to be retreating in some areas today after fighting with Ethiopian troops backing the government. On Monday, Ethiopian warplanes attacked the main airport in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held their first formal meeting Saturday since Olmert’s election almost one year ago. Olmert pledged to dismantle a few dozen of the more than 400 Israeli roadblocks across the West Bank. He also promised to release $100 million in tax money owed to the Palestinian government. Israeli officials described the move as conciliatory, but Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti said Israel had not met its minimal obligations.
Mustafa Barghouti: "The meeting was absolutely disappointing. It was much less than many people expected in Sharon. In my opinion, Olmert behaved in a very condescending manner. He is withholding $600 million of our tax money. This is Palestinian money, not Israeli money, and he is now wants to give $100 million only, and he wants to control how they will be spent. This is a condescending, unacceptable behavior."
In Afghanistan, the U.S. military is claiming to have killed the Taliban’s military leader in southern Afghanistan — Akhtar Mohammad Osmani.
U.S. military spokesperson Colonel Thomas Collins: "Mullah Osmani is the highest-ranking Taliban leader that we’ve ever killed. He was the chief of the Taliban military operation, so his death is very significant and will hurt the Taliban’s operations. They will no doubt reconstitute his position. They’ll put somebody else in that role who’ll take a while to get up to speed. But Osmani was an associate of Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar. He had built up relationship with key figures in their terrorist organizations, so replacing him will be very difficult."
A Taliban representative denied the U.S. account and said Osmani is still alive. In one of his last known recorded interviews, Osmani criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Akhtar Mohammad Osmani: "We are not terrorists. America used it as an excuse to attack our country, Afghanistan. But even if their excuse is considered correct for a second, why did they then attack Iraq. The U.S.A. said they have WMDs (weapons of mass destruction). But did they find the WMDs? No, they did not. And they martyred thousands of civilians. But Bush has no answers to all of this bloodshed, and he is now coming up with lame excuses, accusing Saddam of being a cruel dictator. But I say Bush himself is very brutal. He is responsible for the killing of thousands of people."
The U.N. Security Council has approved a resolution imposing sanctions on Iran over its nuclear enrichment program.
Alejandro Wolff, acting U.S. representative to the U.N.: "Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability constitutes a grave threat and demands a clear statement from this council. Today we are placing Iran in the small category of states under Security Council sanctions and sending Iran an unambiguous message that there are serious repercussions to its continued disregard and defiance of this body."
Iran immediately rejected the U.N. measure. Javad Zarif, Iran’s representative to the U.N., said the U.S. and its allies haven’t read Iranian proposals for a negotiated solution.
Javad Zarif, acting Iran representative to the U.N.: "It is now an open secret that their sole objective from the negotiations has always been to impose and then prolong and then perpetuate the suspension of Iran’s rights in line with their arbitrary and fluctuating red lines. Finding solutions has never been even among the objectives."
In other U.N. news, the Security Council approved an unprecedented resolution Saturday condemning attacks on journalists and urging combatants to stop targeting media workers. The resolution is the Security Council’s first to take up attacks on journalists in armed conflict. At least 55 journalists were killed this year, more than half of them in Iraq.
Here in the United States, the Bush administration’s secretary for veterans affairs was forced to backtrack last week after he appeared to endorse reinstating the military draft. On Thursday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson told a news conference society would benefit from bringing back mandatory conscription. Nicholson was responding to a question from a reporter who said the Army attracts a disproportionate number of minorities and poor trying to come out of poverty. The White House immediately dismissed Nicholson’s comments. Nicholson then issued a statement saying he does not support returning to a draft.
Former U.S. Army sergeant and Iraq War resister Ricky Clousing was released from military detention Saturday two weeks before the end of a three-month sentence for going absent without leave. Clousing turned himself in in August after 14 months gone AWOL.
A federal appeals court has suspended a ruling ordering FEMA to resume housing payments to thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The payments were to resume subsidies and subjected to a convoluted application process. But on Friday, an appeals court granted FEMA’s request to put the ruling on hold. Close to 4,200 Katrina families will have to wait until at least February to find out if their payments will return. The temporary housing program expires that same month unless extended by Congress or the White House.
A play featuring the writings of the late American peace activist Rachel Corrie has been silenced —-— for the second time. The Canadian theater company CanStage has announced it’s canceling plans to present the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie" in Toronto. Corrie was 23 years old when she was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in March 2003. Earlier this year, the New York Theatre Workshop drew international headlines when it backed out of an agreement to stage the play. The Theatre Workshop cited complaints about the play’s criticism of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. It appears similar concerns have led to the CanStage decision. In an interview with Variety magazine, CanStage board member Jack Rose admitted he had neither read nor seen the play, but said: "My view was it would provoke a negative reaction in the Jewish community."
In media news, President Bush is coming under intense criticism over his latest appointment to the board overseeing federal funding of public television and radio — the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Last week, the president quietly appointed sitcom producer and Republican supporter Warren Bell. Bell’s appointment came over the objections of several members of the Senate Commerce Committee who had blocked his nomination. Bell has no public broadcast experience and has written for the conservative magazine National Review. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg said: "This appointment by the Bush administration makes it clear that they simply don’t care about the integrity or quality of our public broadcasting system."
In North Carolina, prosecutors have dropped rape charges against the three members of the Duke lacrosse team. Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong says the charges have been dropped because the accuser cannot remember if a penis penetrated her vagina. Nifong is now charging the three defendants with kidnapping and sexual assault. The three Duke team members have proclaimed their innocence.
James Brown — the Godfather of Soul — has died at the age of 73. He died early on Christmas morning as a result of congestive heart failure caused by pneumonia. Over the past 50 years, James Brown revolutionized popular music.
And we are saddened to report the death of Michael Van de Veer. Michael was a leading community radio activist with Kauai Community Radio — KKCR — in Hawaii.