Antiwar protests were held around the country on Saturday to call for the end of the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq. In Washington, speakers included congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: "The president has been saying there is no plan. But I’ve offered a 12-point plan, and elements of it have been out there for three full years. Our plan is peace. Our plan is to end the occupation. Our plan is to bring the troops home."
United for Peace and Justice estimated 500,000 took part in the demonstration in Washington. The police gave no official estimate. Thousands also protested in other cities. In Los Angeles, speakers included Marine Sergeant Jason LeMieux, who has served three deployments in Iraq.
Marine Sgt. Jason LeMieux: "It’s over. We lost, and it’s time to bring the troops home before more are killed in a pointless, unwinnable bloodbath. And you’re the ones who are going to make that happen. Thank you."
Another antiwar march is scheduled in Washington on March 17 to mark the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
A day before the protests, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Congress not to pass any resolution opposing the escalation of the war. He said such a resolution "emboldens the enemy and our adversaries." On Sunday, Democratic Senator Joseph Biden responded to Robert Gates.
Sen. Joseph Biden: "It’s not the American people or the United States Congress who are emboldening the enemy. It’s the failed policy of this president, going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely, going to war without enough troops, going to war without enough equipment, and lastly, now sending 17,500 people in the middle of a city of 6.5 million people with bull’s-eyes on their back with no plan."
U.S. and Iraqi forces say they have killed as many as 300 gunmen in Najaf in what has been described as one of Iraq’s deadliest battles in years. The U.S. sent in tanks and aircraft during the 15-hour fight. Two U.S. soldiers died after their helicopter was shot down. Some officials have described the target of the attack as members of an apocalyptic Muslim cult who were planning to disrupt the Shiite holy festival of Ashura.
In Baghdad, five Iraqi schoolgirls died on Sunday when a mortar shell hit their school courtyard. The girls were all between the ages of 12 and 16.
The U.S. Senate has unanimously confirmed Lt. Gen. David Petraeus to become the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. The vote was 81 to zero. Petraeus replaces Army Gen. George Casey, who was removed from his post after he opposed the president’s plan to escalate the war. Casey had said the addition of troops in Iraq could delay "the development of Iraqi security forces and increase anger at the United States in the Arab world."
The Pentagon has admitted it lied about the recent deaths of five U.S. troops in the Iraqi city of Karbala. The military initially said the troops died as they repelled an attack by gunmen disguised as American soldiers. But now the military admits only one soldier died during the initial attack. The four other soldiers were abducted from the base and were later shot to death. The Associated Press described the incident as perhaps the boldest and most sophisticated attack of the war. The gunmen all spoke English, wore U.S. military uniforms, carried American weapons and drove black GMC Suburban vehicles.
Al Jazeera is reporting Turkey’s Parliament recently went into secret session to debate sending troops to invade and occupy Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said Turkey could not remain indifferent to the plight of the Turkmen and Arabs in Kirkuk. On Sunday, Kirkuk was hit with a pair of car bombings. At least 17 people died, and 30 more were injured.
Iran has announced plans to expand its economic and military ties with Iraq. In an interview with The New York Times, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq said Iran plans to begin training Iraqi forces and opening the first Iraqi branch of an Iranian bank.
Meanwhile, President Bush has defended his decision to authorize U.S. forces to kill or capture Iranians found in Iraq.
President Bush: "I made it very clear, as has the secretary, that our policy is going to be to protect our troops in Iraq. It makes sense that if somebody is trying to harm our troops or stop us from achieving our goals or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, that we will stop them."
President Bush’s comments come as Vice President Dick Cheney refused to rule out a U.S. attack on Iran. In an interview with Newsweek, Cheney said, "we haven’t taken any options off the table." Cheney also admitted that the United States is sending a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf in order to send a "strong signal" to Iran. When the Stennis aircraft carrier arrives in the Persian Gulf next month, the United States will have two carrier groups stationed there for the first time since the 2003 Iraq invasion.
The Canadian government has apologized to Maher Arar and agreed to pay him about $9 million. Arar is the Canadian citizen who was seized by U.S. officials during a stopover flight in New York in 2002. He was secretly sent to Syria as part of the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program. In Syria, Arar was held for almost a year in a grave-like cell. He was repeatedly tortured. He was released without ever being charged with a crime. Last year, the Canadian government determined Maher Arar was innocent. On Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an official apology to Maher Arar and his family.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: "On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to apologize to you, Monia Mazigh (Arar’s wife), and your family for any role Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002 and 2003."
Maher Arar said he was proud to be a Canadian but admitted he is still suffering from the ordeal.
Maher Arar: "There is no amount of money that will compensate me for what myself and my family have gone through."
Last week, the Bush administration announced that it is keeping Arar on a terrorist watch list despite requests from the Canadian government to remove him.
In Israel, at least three people have died after a suicide bomber blew himself up earlier today in a bakery in the southern resort city of Eilat. The attack marked the first suicide bombing in Israel since April and the first-ever suicide attack in Eilat. The Palestinian groups Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades both claimed responsibility for the attack.
About 30 Palestinians died over the weekend in Gaza and the West Bank in the bloodiest Palestinian infighting since Hamas won power a year ago. On Sunday, officials from Fatah and Hamas agreed to hold peace talks in Mecca.
The Bush administration is expected to inform Congress today that Israel may have violated agreements with the United States when it fired U.S.-supplied cluster munitions into civilian areas in southern Lebanon last summer. The New York Times reports officials at the Pentagon and State Department are divided over whether Israel should be sanctioned for its use of the cluster bombs. Israel has already acknowledged it fired thousands of American cluster munitions, but it denied violating agreements that prohibit their use in civilian areas.
The Russian government is denouncing U.S. plans to set up a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The Pentagon wants to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar tracking system in the Czech Republic. Russia criticized what it described as a substantial reconfiguration of the American military presence in Europe.
In Ireland, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army has agreed for the first time to recognize the legitimacy of the police force and criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. The decision overturned a century of opposition to any British policing presence in Ireland. The move by Sinn Fein is expected to put pressure on Unionists to enter a power-sharing government. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said this marks a new phase of the struggle for the republican movement.
Sunday’s vote by Sinn Fein came just weeks after the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland revealed that unionist death squads had once operated virtually as surrogates of the police in Northern Ireland.
The Housing Authority of New Orleans is asking a prominent attorney to stop speaking to the media and to remove statements he made that appear in several online videos. The attorney, Bill Quigley, has been representing low-income tenants who oppose government plans to demolish four large public housing developments. Quigley denounced the letter an infringement on his First Amendment rights. The Housing Authority of New Orleans also threatened to haul Quigley in front of the state’s Bar Association’s disciplinary board if he did not agree to stop discussing the case. Quigley has repeatedly criticized Katrina recovery policies. He said, "You might as well put up a sign that says, 'Poor people, do not enter.'"
In media news, the columnist and best-selling author Molly Ivins has been hospitalized again in her ongoing battle with breast cancer. She was first diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and has successfully fought it off several times. Her sister said the cancer has come back with a vengeance and has spread through her body.
Father Robert Drinan has died at the age of 86. In 1970, he ran for Congress on an antiwar platform. He won and became the first Roman Catholic priest to serve in Congress. In 1973, Drinan introduced the first resolution to impeach President Nixon. Drinan felt Nixon should be impeached not over the Watergate scandal, but the secret bombing of Cambodia.
And in California, about 500 people gathered on Saturday for a memorial for the jazz musician and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane, who died earlier this month at the age of 69. The service was held at the Sai Anantam Ashram, the spiritual retreat where Coltrane had taught and lived for the past 15 years. Alice Coltrane was recently interviewed on Pacifica Radio for a documentary about her husband, John Coltrane.
Alice Coltrane: "Music is so wonderful, so powerful. Music is utilized for healing. Music makes people forget their pain, their troubles. Music is used in practically every religious service all over the world. Music is utilized in worshiping God. And it is a powerful, nearly invisible force that reaches into the hearts of people — not only the intellect and the intelligence, but to reach into the heart and spirit, and that’s where good is taking place."