New Pentagon statistics show that the number of attacks in Iraq last month reached their highest daily average since May 2003. The data, which was obtained by Reuters, shows an upward trend in daily attacks in the four months since President Bush decided to escalate the war. During the month of June there was a daily average of 178 attacks against coalition troops, Iraqi security forces, civilians and infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the U.S. air war in Iraq continues. On Saturday a U.S. helicopter struck near the town of Husseiniya north of Baghdad. The U.S. claimed the strike killed six insurgents, but local police and residents said the attack killed 18 civilians and injured 21 more. Television footage showed heaps of rubble of flattened houses as people and rescuers sifted through the debris looking for bodies or injured residents. Six bodies wrapped in blankets could be seen lined up on the ground near the rubble of one of the houses. One elderly resident condemned the U.S. attack.
Neighborhood resident: "This is what the occupation does. The occupation. Look at the forklift trucks. They’ve turned the world upside down. Our relatives have been ripped to pieces. Does God accept this? Does Muhammad accept it? Why, are we heathens? Even Israel hasn’t done anything like this. Israel did not do what America has done to us."
On Sunday, nearly 1,000 Iraqis rallied in Husseiniya to protest the killings.
The safety of Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is in question after one of his top aides was assassinated on Friday in Najaf. Sheikh Abdallah Falk was stabbed to death inside his office, just 40 yards away from Sistani’s home.
In the Iraqi city of Taji, at least five pro-U.S. Sunni leaders were assassinated on Saturday in a suicide bomb during a meeting.
The Bush administration has confirmed Ambassador Ryan Crocker will take part in direct talks with Iran on Tuesday to discuss the security situation in Iraq.
President Bush issued an executive order Friday that will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to resume its use of some severe interrogation methods for questioning detainees in secret prisons overseas. According to The New York Times, the president has given the CIA the authority to proceed with an interrogation program that had been in limbo since the Supreme Court ruled last year that all prisoners in American captivity be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. The president’s order requires that CIA detainees "receive the basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care." But human rights groups condemned Bush’s order, saying it will help reinforce a program of indefinite, incommunicado detention. Physicians for Human Rights criticized Bush for not specifically prohibiting torture techniques used in the past, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, isolation, death threats, use of dogs, stress positions and temperature manipulation.
Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is preparing to introduce two censure resolutions condemning the president. Senator Feingold made the announcement on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Sen. Feingold: "I think we need to do something serious in terms of accountability. And that’s why I will be shortly introducing a censure resolution of the president and the administration, one on their getting us into the war in Iraq and their failure to adequately prepare our military and the misleading statements that have continued throughout the war in Iraq, and the second on this administration’s outrageous attack on the rule of law. All the way from the illegal terrorist surveillance program to their attitude about torture, which we’ve heard a little bit today on this show, this administration has assaulted the Constitution."
Senator Feingold said a historical record of some kind is needed to indicate what has happened in the country under President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend has suggested that the Bush administration would consider direct assaults on Pakistan in an effort to disrupt al-Qaeda hideouts. Townsend appeared on Fox News Sunday and was asked why the U.S. isn’t sending special operations forces and pilotless drones into Pakistan. Townsend said no options are off the table.
Frances Townsend: "President Musharraf has got over 80,000 Pakistani military troops in the FATA, and working with us, they’ve sustained hundreds of casualties in this fight. We’re working with them, but the president’s been clear: Job number one is to protect the American people, and there are no options that are off the table."
Frances Townsend’s comment came as the U.S. director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that he believed Osama bin Laden was living in the tribal region of Pakistan.
In other news from Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf has been dealt a major political setback. On Friday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court reinstated senior judge Iftikhar Chaudhry. The court ruled that Musharraf acted illegally when he suspended Chaudhry from his duties as chief justice in March. The president of the Karachi Bar Association, Iftikhar Javed Qazi, said the court’s decision is a historic moment for the country’s judiciary.
Iftikhar Javed Qazi: "Lawyers have been starving for independence of judiciary since 1947, and this is the first-ever chance when we have got a step ahead towards this direction. This is just a beginning. The restoration of the chief justice of Pakistan to his post is a first step, and we have to go a long way for the independence of judiciary."
In Turkey, the ruling AK Party easily won parliamentary elections held on Sunday, securing another term for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The pro-business, Islamist-rooted party won 341 of the 550 seats in Parliament.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has begun his first trip as special envoy for the Middle East quartet of the U.S., Russia, European Union and U.N. Blair is scheduled to meet with top officials from Israel as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Under the terms of his mandate, Blair is not authorized to talk to Hamas even though Hamas won the last election in the Palestinian territories and controls the Gaza Strip.
Blair’s trip to the Middle East comes just days after Israel released 255 Palestinian prisoners in an attempt to bolster Mahmoud Abbas. The prisoners largely belong to Abbas’s Fatah party. Dismissed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said the release of the prisoners is a trap set by Israel.
Ismail Haniyeh: "We are pleased with the release of any Palestinian prisoner, but we warn against the use of these issues as political bribes and traps set in our path under the guise of Israeli good intentions. We warn against the so-called good intentions of the Israelis."
Israel continues to hold about 11,000 Palestinians in prison.
A Russian environmentalist was beaten to death on Saturday while protesting outside a nuclear waste processing plant in Siberia. According to Russian news reports, a group of 20 people armed with iron bars and baseball bats attacked the protest camp near the nuclear plant. Seven other protesters were injured.
In news from Africa, The New York Times is reporting the Ethiopian government is putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation by blockading emergency food aid and choking off trade to eastern parts of the country. The area affected is home to the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a rebel group that has opposed the current government. One humanitarian official accused Ethiopia of trying to starve out the population. He said, "If something isn’t done on the diplomatic front soon, we’re going to have a government-caused famine on our hands." The official refused to be quoted by name because he feared reprisals against aid workers. The New York Times also reports the U.S.-backed Ethiopian military and its proxy militias have been siphoning off millions of dollars in international food aid and using a U.N. polio eradication program to funnel money to pro-government fighters.
In other news from Ethiopia, the government released 38 opposition members and activists on Friday, four days after they were sentenced to life in prison. The government released the men following an outcry from the international human rights community. Hailu Shawel, the chair of Ethiopia’s Coalition for Unity and Democracy party, was one of the prisoners released.
Hailu Shawel: "We are finally out, but we hope the Ethiopian people also will be out of this mess we are in, and we will change this country for the better. We hope everyone will participate in the next discussion we will have so that all Ethiopia will come together and build a new Ethiopia for everyone."
The opposition members were arrested after the disputed elections in 2005.
In Texas, supporters of death row prisoner Kenneth Foster rallied at the State Capitol on Saturday. Foster is scheduled to be executed on August 30 under a controversial Texas law known as the law of parties. The law imposes the death penalty on anybody involved in a crime where a murder occurred. In Foster’s case, he was driving a car 11 years ago with three passengers. One of the passengers left the car, got into an altercation and shot a man dead. At the time of the shooting, Kenneth Foster was 80 feet away in his car, but he was convicted of murder. Since Foster’s original trial, the other men in the car that night have testified that Foster had no idea a shooting was going to take place.
And India has elected its first female president. Pratibha Patil will be sworn into office on Wednesday.