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Congress’ chief auditor has issued a scathing report warning Iraq’s political and security situation is bleak. The Government Accountability Office report found Iraq had successfully met only three of 18 benchmarks set by Congress. Overall, Iraq has failed to meet 11 of the U.S. benchmarks and had partially met four of the goals. David Walker, comptroller of the GAO, presented his findings on Tuesday.
David Walker: "As of August 30th, 2007, the Iraqi government had met three, partially met four, and did not meet 11 of the 18 benchmarks. Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend the $10 billion in reconstruction funds it has allocated."
The original GAO report painted an even harsher picture of Iraq, but the findings were partially rewritten under pressure from the White House.
Residents of the Iraqi city of Basra are continuing to celebrate following the withdrawal of British forces from the Basra Palace. Britain is expected to fully leave Basra as early as next month. British Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Sanders predicted violence in Basra would decrease after the troop withdrawal.
Lt. Col. Patrick Sanders: "By and large — and I’m reasonably optimistic here — I hope that by removing ourselves from Basra, quite a lot of the focus of violence, which is directed at us — over 90 percent of the attacks are against British forces — then Basra will become a calmer and less violent place."
British journalist Patrick Cockburn reports that even after four years in Basra, the British military controlled few parts of the city. Security has now been handed over to the Iraqi security forces, which is largely controlled by Shiite militias. Cockburn describes Britain’s effort in Basra as one of the most futile campaigns ever fought by the British Army.
Talk about a U.S. attack on Iran appears to be growing louder in Washington. There are reports that Vice President Dick Cheney’s office has issued instructions to conservative think tanks to start a drumbeat for attacking Iran. On Monday, the American Enterprise Institute is hosting two events related to Iran. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is giving a speech on how the war on terrorism should be viewed as "a world war that pits civilization against terrorists and their state sponsors who wish to impose a new dark age." Later in the day former CIA Director Jim Woolsey and others will meet to discuss a new book by longtime Iran hawk Michael Ledeen titled "The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction." The Heritage Foundation recently hosted an inter-agency Bush administration war game attempting to anticipate Iranian responses to a U.S. bombing campaign. Meanwhile, The Sunday Times of London has reported the Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive air strikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days. The main source of the article was an official at another conservative Washington think tank, the Nixon Center.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has declared a state of emergency in the wake of Hurricane Felix. The Category 5 storm made landfall on Tuesday. It damaged 5,000 homes and left 30,000 people homeless. Meanwhile, on the Pacific coast Hurricane Henriette hit the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico. This marks the first time since record keeping began that two hurricanes made landfall on the same day, and 2007 has become the first year ever in which two Category 5 hurricanes made landfall. Many scientists say there is a direct correlation between the stronger storms and the increased sea surface temperatures caused by global warming.
In Greece, about 2,000 demonstrators marched through Athens on Tuesday to protest the government’s handling of the country’s unprecedented forest fires. The fires killed over 60 people, left thousands homeless, destroyed whole villages and turned thousands of acres of forest to ashes. Many Greeks believe the fires were set by rogue developers trying to make way for new construction in forest land. Environmental campaigners have also said there might be a connection between the fires and global warming.
Greek protester Koralia Koralli: "The citizens have to develop an environmental conscience, because we are convinced the politicians don’t have one. If they did, they would have taken swift measures so this catastrophe would not happen."
Scientists have predicted subtropic zones, such as south Greece and the American Southwest, will become hotter, drier, and more likely to suffer drought as global warming intensifies.
In the West Bank, Palestinians in the town of Bil’in celebrated on Tuesday following the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to reroute part of Israel’s 425-mile wall through the West Bank. For nearly three years, Palestinian activists have staged weekly protests against the wall because it divides the town and cuts it off from nearby farming land.
Bil’in protest leader Rateb Abu Rahma: "The decision of the Israeli high court today means a lot to us, the fruit of our two-and-a-half-year struggle. It was a continuous struggle in the village of Bil’in. Today we reap the fruits of that struggle."
The attorney for the Palestinian villagers, Michael Sfard, hailed the high court ruling.
Michael Sfard: "The Israeli Supreme Court has accepted all of the arguments that the Bil’in village has introduced. The court has accepted that the route of the wall that goes on the lands of the village of Bil’in was not decided according to security needs, but according to the desire to expand the illegal settlement of Modi’in Illit. That was the decision of the court."
Jewish settlers criticized the court, saying it would jeopardize their security. This is Avraham, a resident of the Modi’in Illit settlement near Bil’in.
Avraham: "The Jewish people have to first and foremost worry about the Jews, and here there’s a feeling that they’re worrying about the Arabs. That’s a difficult feeling that’s accompanying us on this day with this ruling. And this ruling hurts us a lot."
In campaign news, former Republican Senator Fred Thompson is expected to officially announce his entry into the Republican presidential race on Thursday. Earlier this week, in an interview on Fox News, Thompson warned that a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would result in the entire region obtaining nuclear weapons. Thompson did not describe how this would actually happen. Currently Israel is the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons.
In other political news, Sen. Larry Craig is reportedly reconsidering his decision to resign after his arrest in a Minnesota airport sex sting. On Saturday Craig said he intends to resign at the end of the month, but a spokesperson said last night that he may still fight for his Senate seat.
A demonstration is scheduled this morning at DePaul University in Chicago to protest the school’s denial of tenure to Professors Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee. Students are also criticizing DePaul’s last-minute decision to cancel Finkelstein’s classes for this semester. Before the rally, Finkelstein is expected to meet with students who had signed up to take his two courses, "Freedom and Empowerment" and "Equality and Social Justice." Finkelstein has said DePaul’s decision to deny him tenure was a result of political opposition to his speaking out about the Israel-Palestine conflict. For years Finkelstein has been one of the most prominent critics of Israel in American academia.
Here in New York, the city’s first public Arabic school opened on Tuesday under police guard. Sixty sixth-graders attended the first day of classes at the Khalil Gibran International Academy. The school is one of 200 small schools in the city specializing in foreign language, but no other such school has faced so much opposition and media criticism. In recent months, the school’s founding principal was forced to resign, and the school’s location was moved. Opponents of the school have attempted to portray the Arabic language school as a breeding ground for terrorists.
In other news from New York, some of the city’s taxi drivers have begun a two-day strike to protest new rules requiring all cabs to have global positioning systems and touch-screen monitors that will let passengers pay by credit card. Some cabbies fear the GPS systems could be used to track their movements and that they could get stuck paying hefty fees for credit card processing.