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A panel of retired police and military officers are recommending the United States begin reducing its troop presence in Iraq because the massive military occupation is conveying an image that the U.S. plans to permanently stay in Iraq. The panel’s head, Gen. James Jones, told the Senate Armed Services Committee: "The force footprint should be adjusted." But Jones also warned against an immediate pullout of troops.
Gen. James Jones: "I think that a precipitous departure which results in a failed state in Iraq will have a significant boost in the numbers of extremists, jihadists, however you want to call it, in the world, who believe that they will have toppled the major power on earth and that all else is possible. And I think it will not only make us less safe, it will make our friends and allies less safe, and the struggle will continue. It will simply be done in different — in other areas."
The panel also recommended the Iraqi police force be dissolved because it has been infiltrated by Shiite militias.
Former Washington, D.C., Police Chief Charles Ramsey: "I have never in 38 years of policing experienced a situation where there was so much negativity around any particular police force. It was unbelievable, the amount of negative comments we got. Whether we were speaking with Iraqi army, with Iraqi police service, it didn’t seem to matter, or community members. There was almost a universal feeling that the national police were highly sectarian, were corrupt, had been accused of having death squads and the like."
Meanwhile, a senior Pentagon official has revealed the number of U.S. troops in Iraq has reached a new high of 168,000. Major General Richard Sherlock said the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq will soon top 170,000 for the first time in the war. The announcement came as seven more U.S. troops died on Thursday.
On Capitol Hill, the Democratic leadership appears set to give up its efforts on setting a deadline for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The Senate is expected to vote on a bill later this month that would call for withdrawal to begin this year, but it would include no language on when the troop withdrawal had to be completed.
A federal judge has struck down a controversial portion of the USA PATRIOT Act. The judge ordered the FBI to stop using national security letters to obtain email and telephone data from private companies without a warrant. The PATRIOT Act gave the FBI the power to demand private information about anyone in the United States without court approval. The law also gagged those who received the national security letter requests from discussing them. U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero said the secrecy provisions are "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values."
New statistics show that the total number of homeowners who got foreclosure notices between April and June hit an all-time high. It marked the third consecutive quarter that a new record has been set. Meanwhile, a new study from ACORN has found that families of color run a disproportionate risk of losing their homes in the still unfolding foreclosure crisis. African-American and Latino homeowners were found to be more than twice as likely to hold a high-cost, subprime loan than were white homeowners. ACORN also found that Southern cities are being particularly hard hit by the housing crisis. ACORN has called for lenders to modify loans to make them more affordable, and for new laws against predatory lending.
The Justice Department is publicly opposing net neutrality, the principle that all Internet sites should be equally accessible to any Web user. On Thursday, the Justice Department sided with the country’s large telecommunications companies and urged the Federal Communications Commission not to adopt net neutrality. Meanwhile, the man who invented the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, told a House subcommittee on Thursday that net neutrality is needed to ensure the growth of an open Internet and for U.S. businesses to remain competitive. He said: "A nondiscriminatory internet provision is very important for a society."
Tension is rising between Syria and Israel after Israeli Air Force jets purportedly entered Syrian airspace. The Syrian army said its air defenses fired on an Israeli warplane after it entered Syria airspace and dropped munitions across the border. Israel has refused to comment. Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told Al Jazeera that Damascus is giving serious consideration to its response. Bilal said: "Syria reserves the right to determine the quality, type, and nature of our response to the Israeli attack."
Mohammad Habash, a member of the Syrian Parliament: "Actually, Israel wants to act the victim role by denying these acts, and this is a game which Israel is good at. They want to show up as victims because Syria promised to respond to those acts."
The Iraqi government has frozen the bank accounts of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq led by Yanar Mohammed. The group has been highly critical of the U.S. occupation and has closely monitored the human rights situation for women in Iraq. It has documented the disappearance of some 4,000 women and girls since the U.S. invasion in early 2003. The group believes most have been trafficked to other countries and forced into prostitution.
In news from Africa, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has announced a new round of peace talks will begin next month between the Sudanese government and rebel groups from Darfur.
Ban Ki-moon: "Mr. Konare and I have decided that the negotiations should begin in Libya on Saturday, October 27, under the lead of the AU-U.N. special envoys, who will continue to work in close coordination with the countries of the region. I urge and expect all parties to declare their serious commitment to cease all hostilities immediately."
The Sudanese government has named Ahmed Haroun, a wanted war criminal, to head a newly formed committee to investigate human rights complaints. In March, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Haroun’s arrest.
In other news from the region, South Africa’s defense minister, Mosiuoa Lekota, has urged the United States to drop its plans to set up an African military command center on the continent. Lekota said the 14 members of the Southern African Development Community have agreed not to host the U.S. AFRICOM initiative or associated troops.
Five peace activists go on trial today in upstate New York on charges of criminal trespass after they took part in a sit-in last night at the office of Republican Congressman Randy Kuhl. The activists refused to leave the office because Kuhl refused to pledge to vote against further funding of the Iraq War. Congressman Kuhl has been subpoenaed to testify at the trial. Kuhl came under criticism himself after the protest, when he told a local newspaper that he has "thought about packing" firearms to fend off protesters.
A new poll by Zogby International has found that 51 percent of Americans want Congress to probe the actions of President Bush and Vice President Cheney before, during and after the 9/11 attacks. The poll also found that 67 percent of respondents feel the 9/11 Commission should have investigated the collapse of the 47-story World Trade Center Building Seven. The poll was sponsored by the website 911truth.org.
And former New York Times reporter Judith Miller has a new job: She has accepted a position at the conservative Manhattan Institute in New York City.