In Somalia, Islamic fighters have abandoned the capital Mogadishu after heavy clashes with Ethiopian forces backing Somalia’s government. Over the past week more than 800 people have been wounded and thousands displaced. The U.N. is warning of an impending humanitarian crisis as fighting has forced the suspension of aid flights into Somalia. On Wednesday, the African Union called for the withdrawal of Ethiopian and all foreign forces.
Here in the United States, memorial plans are underway for former President Gerald Ford. Ford’s body will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol beginning Saturday, followed by a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral three days later. On Wednesday, President Bush paid tribute to Ford.
President Bush: "Americans will always admire Gerald Ford’s unflinching performance of duty and the honorable conduct of his administration and the great rectitude of the man himself. We mourn the loss of such a leader. In our 38th president, we’ll always have a special place in our nation’s memory."
Meanwhile, a newly published interview that had been embargoed until after his death reveals Ford opposed the Iraq War. Speaking to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in July 2004, Ford said he "very strongly" disagreed with the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, which he called "a big mistake" and unrelated to the national security of the United States.
In Iraq, the U.S. military announced the deaths of seven U.S. servicemembers Wednesday. Eighty-seven U.S. troops have been killed this month — the second-deadliest for the U.S. occupation this year.
In other Iraq news, thousands of people demonstrated in Najaf Wednesday against the U.S. military’s killing of a top deputy to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The deputy, Sahib al-Amiri, was shot dead in an early morning raid. The Pentagon says Amiri was responsible for scores of bombings against U.S. and Iraqi forces. But aides said al-Amiri ran an educational organization for orphans and impoverished children and was never involved in illegal activity. Amiri’s 19-year-old son Karrar said he found his father dead on the roof of their home with four gunshot wounds.
Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein released a letter Wednesday that is being called his farewell to the Iraqi people. Hussein has lost an appeal of his conviction for crimes against humanity and is set to be executed within the next month. The letter urges Iraqis not to hate the citizens of the countries who invaded Iraq — just their leaders. Hussein’s attorneys say he wrote the letter on November 5, the day he was convicted for the killing of more than 100 Shiites in the town of Dujail in 1982.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinian officials are denying a report Egypt has transferred thousands of weapons to forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with Israel’s cooperation. An Israeli official told the Haaretz newspaper the Israeli military helped coordinate the delivery of more than 2,000 rifles and two million bullets into Gaza. The weapons transfer was reportedly negotiated during Abbas’ meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert earlier this week. Israeli public radio is also reporting a second delivery is scheduled to reach Abbas’ forces in the West Bank within the next few days.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government’s plan to build a new settlement inside the West Bank has drawn rare criticism from the Bush administration. On Wednesday, the State Department said the new settlement would violate existing agreements and harm future peace negotiations. Israeli officials say the settlement will house up to 100 families who lived in the Gaza Strip until Israel withdrew settlements there last year. Israel had pledged to freeze new settlement activity under the U.S.-backed road map. Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad criticized Israel’s recent pledge to resume strikes inside the Gaza Strip.
Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad: "We think that the threats of the prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, come as a constant policy for the Israeli government to continue their aggression against our people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but I confer that there is an agreement. It is an agreement for a ceasefire. It was approved by all Palestinian factions and also by the government, and we still believe that this agreement is alive, and both sides should respect this agreement because it is interest for our people, and also we have approved as a Palestinian faction that we should work together, and when we want to react, we will react together."
In Argentina, the Supreme Court has ordered banks to repay the life savings of thousands of people locked out during Argentina’s economic collapse of five years ago. At the time, the Argentine government froze U.S. dollar accounts and forcibly converted them to devalued pesos. On Wednesday, the court upheld the government’s right to freeze the accounts but said account holders must be paid back at the current exchange rate.
Back in the United States, months after her resignation from Bush administration, former Interior Secretary Gayle Norton has taken a new job with the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell. Norton resigned in March shortly after her department was linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. She will serve as a key legal adviser to Shell’s operations on public lands in the western United States. Norton’s Interior Department routinely dealt with Shell on issues including drilling in environmentally sensitive areas.
Former senator and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards has entered the 2008 presidential race — one day earlier than he intended. On Wednesday, Edwards’ campaign inadvertently posted the news of his candidacy during a test run on its website. Edwards had intended to make the announcement today during a speech in the 9th Ward district of New Orleans.
And the body of the late Godfather of Soul James Brown will lie in repose today at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Fans will be able to file past Brown’s casket starting at 1 p.m. Eastern time. A horse-drawn carriage will take Brown’s body through Harlem this morning to begin three days of wakes, remembrances and a funeral. Brown died Christmas morning at the age of 73.