A new congressional report is casting fresh doubt on the Bush administration’s claims of progress in Iraq. The Government Accountability Office says the Iraqi government has met just three of the 18 benchmarks set by U.S. lawmakers. Overall violence was found to have remained the same. The Iraqi military showed a decrease in the number of units able to operate without U.S. assistance. A government official says he leaked the report to The Washington Post out of concern its conclusions would be watered down in final form.
The Pentagon has disclosed it won’t issue a single, unified proposal to President Bush during next month’s strategy assessment of the Iraq War. Analysts say the move reflects sharp divides within the military brass on the progress of the U.S. occupation. Military commanders will make separate presentations around the same time General David Petraeus appears before Congress. Outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Peter Pace is reportedly planning on recommending a draw-down of troops in Iraq because of strains on the military.
The New York Times is reporting U.S. weapons given to the Iraqi military are ending up in Turkey for use in violent attacks. The Turkish government says serial numbers of weapons seized from Kurdish separatists are the same as those supplied to Iraqi forces.
In other Iraq news, the leading Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his large group of followers to halt armed operations for up to six months. The move comes on the heels of an ongoing gunbattle in Karbala between rival Shiite groups. Dozens have been killed while up to a million have been forced to flee the holy Shiite city.
The U.S. military has apologized for arresting eight Iranian nationals in Iraq. The group includes two diplomats. They were seized in Baghdad, handcuffed and blindfolded. The eight were released after Iraqi officials intervened. The group was part of an official delegation in Iraq to discuss electricity cooperation. On Wednesday, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, called the arrests "regrettable."
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, three Palestinian children were killed Wednesday in an Israeli air attack on Gaza. The Israeli military says it was firing at rocket launchers in the area. The victims were between the ages of 10 and 12.
In Greece, thousands of people gathered outside Parliament Wednesday to protest the government response to a massive forest fire. Sixty-three people have been killed in the blaze so far.
Clianthis Triandafyllidis: "We couldn’t just sit still and let everything happen without doing anything, without any — without doing anything. We just had to do something to show that we disapprove of this. We couldn’t live our life as we used to up to now, because things have changed. This is a big catastrophe that has happened."
It’s widely believed many fires in Greece are started by arsonists working on behalf of land developers.
In Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf has reportedly struck a deal with opposition figures that will see him resign as army chief. The move would allow Musharraf to serve another term as president, if re-elected. In return, the exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto will return to Pakistan and run for her old post.
Bolivia has accused the Bush administration of working to undermine its democratically elected government. On Wednesday, Presidential Minister Juan Ramón de la Quintana said the White House is not cooperating with Bolivia and instead fostering destabilization.
Ramón de la Quintana: "We want to say, in the most respectful, firm and responsible way, that if the United States does not adjust to the policies of the Bolivian government, then the doors are open (to leave). We are not going to permit one day more in which this form of 'cooperation' pollutes our democracy, conspires against the right of our people or offends our national dignity."
Earlier this week, Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera accused the U.S. embassy of financing opposition groups to President Evo Morales.
The actor-comedian Jim Carrey has joined the campaign in support of the Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent 11 of the past 16 years in jail. She was jailed shortly after her National League for Democracy party won 82 percent of the vote in a general election.
Jim Carrey: "Even though she’s compared to a modern-day Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, most people in America still don’t know about Aung San. And let’s face it: The name’s a little difficult to remember. Here’s how I did it: Aung San sounds like 'unsung,' as in unsung hero. Aung San Suu Kyi is truly an unsung hero."
The Burmese military junta is said to have destroyed more than 3,000 villages and forced over a million people to flee their homes.
The fate of death row prisoner Kenneth Foster is down to the wire. Foster is scheduled to be killed by lethal injection tonight for a murder the state of Texas admits he didn’t commit or plan. Eleven years ago, Foster was driving a car with three passengers. One of the passengers left the car, got into an altercation and shot a man dead. The shooter was executed for this crime last year. Kenneth Foster was 80 feet away in his car during the killing. But he was sentenced to die as well under what’s known as the law of parties. The law imposes the death penalty on anybody involved in a crime where a murder occurred. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has not yet released a decision, expected yesterday, on whether to grant clemency. A rejection would leave only Foster’s final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Foster’s execution would make him the third Texas prisoner executed in as many days. On Thursday, John Joe Amador was executed for a 1994 murder-slaying. He maintained his innocence until his death.
In immigration news, the AFL-CIO has teamed with the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to challenge new government rules that would force employers to fire undocumented workers. The new requirements give employers 90 days to fire employees whose Social Security numbers don’t match. The groups says that would threaten American citizens and documented immigrants because of inaccuracies in Social Security Administration records.
In Virginia, state Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation that would bar public colleges and universities from accepting undocumented immigrants. The ban would apply even to those who attended public school and who came to the U.S. at an early age.
A Mexican immigrant rights activist deported earlier this month may be headed back to the United States as a Mexican government envoy. Elvira Arellano has asked Mexican President Felipe Calderon to appoint her "peace and justice ambassador" so she may return to be with her U.S.-born, eight-year-old son. Arellano was deported earlier this month following a year of refuge inside a Chicago church. She was arrested outside a Los Angeles church after arriving to take part in a rally for immigrant rights.
And in economic news, a new study shows income disparities in the United States have widened at a staggering rate. Chief executives of large U.S. corporations earned an average $10.8 million last year. CEOs earned more in one day of work than the average employee earned in an entire year.