The Iraqi cabinet has approved a pact that will allow 150,000 US troops to stay in Iraq for another three years. The draft Status of Forces Agreement must still be approved by the Iraqi parliament and then ratified by Iraq’s three-member presidential council. In addition to setting a withdrawal date for 2011, the deal puts some restrictions on US combat operations in Iraq starting January 1 and requires a US military pullback from urban areas by June 30. The pact is still opposed by some Sunni groups and the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has called for armed resistance against any agreement that allowed a continued US presence in Iraq. Iraqi government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh said the pact is the “best possible, available option.”
Ali Al-Dabbagh: “The forces will withdraw on June 30, 2009 from cities and districts to bases agreed upon by Iraq and the US administration. This date is not liable to change according to the situation on ground. The date is definite and final."
In other Iraq news, the Associated Press reports top Justice Department prosecutors are reviewing a draft indictment against six Blackwater security guards who opened fire in a crowded Baghdad square more than a year ago killing seventeen Iraqi civilians. Senior Justice Department officials are said to be considering manslaughter and assault charges against the guards.
World leaders gathered in Washington Saturday to discuss plans to combat the global economic crisis. Leaders of twenty countries acknowledged that a failure of market oversight in countries like the United States had precipitated the financial crisis, but the leaders put off most major decisions for another summit to be held after Barack Obama takes office.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: "We are agreed on the need for major reform of the international financial system, and it’s necessary to give confidence that we are cleaning up the system, based on the principles of transparency and accountability, better regulation integrity and international cooperation. We will consider the detailed proposals in detail at our next meeting before the end of April. This includes proposals to establish colleges of regulators, improved accounting standards, better disclosure of toxic assets, and reform of the credit rating agencies."
In other economic news, the number of bankruptcy filings has increased sharply. Over 108,000 bankruptcy claims were filed in October, a 34 percent increase over October 2007. The New York Times reports bankruptcy filings are increasing most rapidly in states where real estate values skyrocketed and then crashed, including Nevada, California and Florida.
In his first television interview since the election, President-elect Barack Obama said Sunday he plans to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay and rebuild the nation’s moral stature. His comments came in an interview with Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes.
Steve Kroft: "There are a number of different things that you could do early on pertaining to executive orders."
Barack Obama: "Right."
Kroft: "One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by US troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?"
Obama: "Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture, and I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world."
During the 60 Minutes interview, Obama confirmed that he had met last week with his former rival Senator Hillary Clinton. Speculation is growing that Obama may pick Clinton to be his Secretary of State. The New York Times reports Obama’s advisers have begun reviewing former President Bill Clinton’s finances and activities to see whether they would preclude the appointment of Sen. Clinton.
Meanwhile, President-elect Obama has named more former Clinton administration officials to top posts. Obama has reportedly picked Gregory Craig to be his White House counsel. Craig served as President Bill Clinton’s lead attorney during the 1998 impeachment proceedings. Obama’s transition team has also named Ronald Klain to be chief of staff to Vice President-elect Joseph Biden. Klain previously served as Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff and as a lobbyist. Klain’s lobbying clients have included the failed mortgage giant Fannie Mae, the media giant Time Warner, and the Coalition for Asbestos Resolution, a business group that sought government help resolving asbestos lawsuits.
Israel temporarily opened a border crossing with Gaza today to allow a limited supply of humanitarian aid to reach the territory. Thirty trucks, including eleven from the United Nations, were allowed to travel into Gaza. On Friday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency announced it had run out of food and was unable to replenish storage facilities because of the Israeli blockade. The UN provides food aid to 750,000 Palestinians. Israel says the blockade is needed because Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets at nearby Israeli towns.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has offered to provide security for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, if he agrees to peace talks. Karzai said he would resist international pressure to hand Omar over to US authorities. Karzai’s comment comes after weeks of speculation that negotiations are already underway between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Over 100,000 people took part in nationwide protests Saturday to show support for same-sex marriage. The protests occurred eleven days after California voters narrowly passed Proposition 8, which outlawed previously legal same-sex ceremonies in the state. Some of the largest protests occurred in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Phoenix, Chicago and Austin, Texas. The New York Times described the protests as one of the nation’s largest displays of support for gay rights.
In Long Island, New York, more than 500 people gathered on Saturday for the funeral of an Ecuadorean immigrant who was taunted and stabbed to death in Patchogue, New York. Marcelo Lucero died last week after being attacked and stabbed to death. He was thirty-seven years old. Police say Lucero was targeted because he was Latino. Police have arrested seven young white men on gang assault charges. One of them, Jeffrey Conroy, has also been charged with first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime. Police say Conroy fatally wounded Lucero by plunging a knife into his chest. On Friday night, hundreds gathered for an outside memorial for Marcelo Lucero. Speakers included immigrant rights activist Carlos Rodas.
Carlos Rodas: "Tonight is a night in which the entire Hispanic community comes together to lament the violent death of one of our own community members, a Latino, an Ecuadorean, who like many of us leaves our country filled with many great hopes and dreams to this great country in search of the American dream." (Video Courtesy of Matthew Hegedus)
In Southern California, three devastating wildfires have burned over 35,000 acres and destroyed over 700 homes. Fire Department officials say firefighters may need until midweek to bring the wildfires under control.
And the Rev. Abraham Woods has died at the age of eighty. The civil rights activist led the first lunch counter sit-ins in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama and helped to mobilize the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic March on Washington.