After Promised Withdrawals, US Occupation of Iraq Could Be Larger than Before “Surge”

The Bush administration has acknowledged it may not order the return of any US troops from Iraq beyond those scheduled for this summer. According to the New York Times, White House officials say when President Bush leaves office, the US occupation in Iraq may even be larger in size than it was right before the so-called troop surge one year ago. Up to 8,000 more troops would remain if “support forces” don’t withdraw with the 20,000 soldiers Bush said last September he would bring home. In Monday’s State of the Union address, Bush mentioned the 20,000 troops but did not announce any new withdrawals.

Bush Asserts Right to Ignore Law Barring Funds for Permanent US Bases in Iraq

The news comes as President Bush has declared he has the right to bypass a new law that prohibits the use of taxpayer money to establish permanent US bases in Iraq. The ban was passed as part of the new National Defense Authorization Act. Hours after signing the bill Monday, Bush issued a signing statement asserting his right to ignore the restriction that bars federal funding “to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing” of US forces or “to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.” Bush’s signing statement also asserted his right to ignore a measure that boosts protection for whistleblowers employed by companies with government contracts. And the statement also objects to the creation of an independent commission on contracting fraud and waste in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US to Increase Baghdad Checkpoints

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the US military has announced plans to increase military checkpoints in Baghdad by 30 percent. The top US commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, says the military will now operate ninety-nine outposts, some of them in new areas.

McCain Wins Florida Primary

In campaign news, Senator John McCain beat Mitt Romney Tuesday in Florida’s Republican primary. McCain received 36 percent of the vote to Romney’s 31 percent. The win positions McCain as the Republican frontrunner heading into Super Tuesday next week with contests in more than twenty states.

Sen. John McCain: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Florida Republicans, for bringing a former Florida resident across the finish line first in, as I have been repeatedly reminded lately, an all-Republican primary.”

Giuliani to Drop Out of GOP Race

Rudolph Giuliani finished a distant third with 15 percent of the Florida vote. Giuliani had staked his candidacy on a strong showing in Florida. He’s widely expected to drop out of the race today and endorse McCain. Speaking to supporters last night in Florida, Giuliani was already referring to his campaign in the past tense.

Rudolph Giuliani: “But in a larger sense, when you run for president of the United States, you also carry people you have met throughout your life, memories of their struggles, their sacrifices and their triumphs. I am the grandson of immigrants. Can’t imagine that they ever thought that their grandson would have run for president of the United States or been mayor of New York City or associate attorney general or United States attorney or maybe even just a lawyer.”

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was fourth at 14 percent. Speaking in St. Louis, Huckabee vowed to stay in the race.

Mike Huckabee: “For those of you that think that I should be discouraged, let me just remind you that going into tonight, we were second in delegate count. And more importantly, we’re playing all nine innings of this ballgame. And even the Cardinals occasionally have a rough inning, but they know how to win championships.”

Clinton Wins Delegate-less Florida Contest

Democratic voters gave Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton a victory in a virtually uncontested race. The Democratic Party had stripped Florida of its delegates as a punishment for moving its primary earlier in the year. We’ll have more on the Florida vote after headlines.

Gitmo Lawyers Endorse Obama; Rep. Waters Backs Clinton

In other campaign news, Senator Barack Obama has picked up an endorsement from a group of eighty volunteer lawyers for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. In a statement, the attorneys say they see Obama as the best candidate to undo the Bush administration’s policies on imprisonment and torture in the so-called war on terror. Meanwhile, Senator Hillary Clinton has received the endorsement of California Congressmember Maxine Waters. Waters is an influential member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

House Approves Economic Stimulus Plan

On Capitol Hill, the House has approved a nearly $150 billion economic stimulus deal agreed to by President Bush and Democratic leaders last week. The measure would give out one-time tax rebates of $600 for individuals, double that for couples. The vote was 385-to-35. At the White House, President Bush urged the Senate to follow the House’s lead.

President Bush: “The temptation is going to be for the Senate to load it up. My concerns is that we need to get this bill out of the Senate and on my desk, so the checks can get in the hands of our consumers, and our businesses can, you know, be assured of the incentives necessary to make investments. Anyway, I do want to thank the Speaker and Leader Boehner for working quickly and working in a bipartisan fashion. This is a very good start.”

As part of the compromise, House Democrats agreed to Bush’s refusal to expand funding for food stamps and unemployment benefits. Senate Democrats are advancing a competing proposal that includes a thirteen-week benefit extension. They may also add other amendments on food stamps and heating assistance. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed Bush’s call for Senate approval, calling the measure a bipartisan victory.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Many Americans in the middle class are living paycheck to paycheck. They’re feeling — they have a struggle with the cost of — rising cost of groceries, of gasoline, of healthcare. The list goes on. Today, Congress acted in a way that is directly relevant to their lives, and we hope that the Senate will follow suit.”

The Senate vote is expected later this week.

House, Senate Extend Surveillance Law to Continue Immunity Debate

In other news from Washington, the House and Senate have approved a fifteen-day extension of the expiring surveillance law. Lawmakers say they need the extra time to resolve a dispute over a White House-backed plan that would immunize telecom companies that aided the warrantless spying on US citizens.

Annan Opens Mediation Efforts in Kenya

In Kenya, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has launched a new mediation effort to resolve Kenya’s ongoing post-election crisis. More than 900 people have been killed in the aftermath of a disputed election last month.

Kofi Annan: “We are confident that the issues can be resolved within a year and the immediate political issues be resolved — what we are describing as short-term issues be resolved within four weeks.”

At least a dozen people were killed Tuesday following the assassination of a parliament member with the opposition Orange Democratic Movement.

Afghan Women Gather for Release of US Aid Worker

In Afghanistan, several hundred women gathered Tuesday to call for the release of a female American aid worker kidnapped in the city of Kandahar. Cindy Mizzel was seized at gunpoint on Saturday. Rona Tareen of the Kandahar women’s affairs department called on the abductors to release her.

Rona Tareen: “Our gathering today is to show our support for the American lady who has been abducted in our town. We want the tribal leaders and the government officials to do their best to secure her immediate release. Abduction of women is against Afghani culture and against Islamic values.”

Latinos Hold HIV/AIDS Summit in D.C.

Hundreds of Latinos from the US, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are gathering in Washington, D.C. for what’s being called the nation’s first-ever Latino summit on HIV/AIDS. California Democrat Hilda Solis said one aim of the meeting is to spread awareness and provide more public support for those living with HIV/AIDS.

Rep. Hilda Solis: "Wherever we find a growing population of Latinos and others, we need to shout out and say that we are going to do everything in our power to bring about more funding, more services, more competency in care for the Latino community."

Government figures show the rate of HIV/AIDS diagnosis for Latinos is three times that for whites.

Methodists Want Delegates to Vote on Bush Presidential Library

A group of Methodists across the country have launched a new effort to stop President Bush from establishing his presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Opponents say the library should be voted on by hundreds of delegates at a conference of the regional jurisdiction that owns the school. But school officials say they can ignore the delegate vote, because they already have approval of a ten-person board. Officials with President Bush’s foundation, including his brother Marvin Bush, have said the library would further the goals of the Bush White House and would be answerable only to the foundation, not the university. Opponents say they’ve already collected more than 11,000 signatures against the library and have the support of around 35 percent of the delegate vote.

Vermont Lawmakers Seek National Guard Withdrawal from Iraq

In Vermont, state legislators are preparing to introduce a measure calling on Governor Jim Douglas to reclaim authority over the Vermont National Guard and bring them home from Iraq. Supporters say states should have the right to refuse deployments in Iraq, because President Bush’s initially proclaimed mission to seek weapons of mass destruction is no longer valid.

UN Security Council Drops Gaza Resolution After US Opposition

And at the UN, the Security Council has ended efforts to adopt a statement on the crisis in the Gaza Strip after the Bush administration said it wouldn’t support it. The US was the lone country on the fifteen-member council to oppose the measure. The resolution condemned both Israeli and Palestinian attacks, as well as Israel’s blockade of food, fuel and medical supplies. But the US says the measure didn’t go far enough in focusing on Palestinian rocket fire.

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