Many Iraqi civilians are feared dead following a US bombing of the town of Hilla. Witnesses have given conflicting accounts of between eleven to sixty casualties and scores more wounded. The Pentagon says US helicopters were providing air support to Iraqi troops fighting Shia forces as part of the nationwide crackdown on Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. The attack follows another US strike that killed at least five civilians in the town of Tikrit. A relative of the victims said his family members had been burnt beyond recognition.
Relative: "Those are five members from my family whom I should recognize. It was so hard for me to recognize them, as the bodies were charred. This is the American democracy. This is the human rights that Bush has called
At least three homes were hit in the US attack. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, residents are accusing US forces of setting fire to a popular market in the sprawling Shia neighborhood of Sadr City. On Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators took the streets to protest the blaze and the ongoing US-Iraqi fighting with the Mahdi Army. Elsewhere in Baghdad, at least one civilian was killed and another five wounded when a mortar round hit a residential area.
Resident: "What did we do? Where shall we go? We are staying as we are displaced family in this place. We do not know where we shall go now. If we go to the place that we were living in before, we will be killed, and here we have been attacked by mortar shells. Where shall we go? We have children and families. This is unacceptable."
Meanwhile, one of Iraq’s main oil pipelines was blown up Wednesday, leading oil to rise above $107 a barrel. Basra oil exports will be cut by one-third.
The Washington Post is reporting the Bush administration is escalating unilateral military attacks against what it calls al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan amidst concerns Pakistan’s new government will try to limit future US operations. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been a staunch US ally. But his powers will likely be reduced following his party’s overwhelming loss in parliamentary elections last month. Pakistan’s new leaders have suggested they’re open to negotiation with militant groups. US military aircraft have struck three targets over the past two months, killing around forty-five foreign fighters near the Afghan border. But concerns have grown over the risk of civilian casualties. The news comes as two top US envoys are drawing public outcry in Pakistan for a controversial visit. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher have been trying to convince Pakistani leaders to maintain Musharaff’s key support for the so-called war on terror. The trip is seen as a sign of US meddling before Pakistan’s new cabinet has even been named.
In environmental news, the head of the UN’s climate change body is renewing calls for restrictions on carbon emissions to stave off global warming’s effects on the polar ice caps. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chair and Nobel laureate Rajendra Pachauri spoke after new images showed the collapse of a massive chunk of ice in the Antarctic.
Rajendra Pachauri: "There is enough evidence to show that there is accelerated melting of some of these large bodies of ice — West Antarctic ice sheet, the Greenland ice sheet. And as you know, we have in our synthesis report of the IPCC clearly mentioned the possibility of irreversible and abrupt changes, which could be essentially a collapse of some of these large bodies of ice that will result in several meters of increase in sea level.”
The British Antarctic Survey says the area of the Wilkins Ice Shelf is about seven times the size of Manhattan. It began breaking off in late February after being there for perhaps 1,500 years. Scientists say the rest of the Wilkins Ice Shelf is maintained only by narrow beams of thin ice and may collapse entirely.
On the campaign trail, Republican candidate John McCain outlined his foreign policy platform on Wednesday. Speaking in Los Angeles, McCain suggested he would reverse the Bush administration’s isolation of the international community, but renewed his call for a so-called “League of Democracies” that some see as an attempt to sideline the UN. McCain also vowed to continue the US occupation of Iraq, which he called a non-issue.
Sen. John McCain: "The question of Iraq is not presence, my friends, just like it’s not a question of presence in Kuwait or Turkey or South Korea or
Japan or Germany. The question is American casualties. That’s what Americans care about."
In response, a spokesperson for Senator Barack Obama castigated McCain for seeking to continue an “open-ended war.” Senator Hillary Clinton was more conciliatory, saying, “While there is much to praise in Senator McCain’s speech, he and I continue to have a fundamental disagreement on Iraq.”
In other campaign news, Senator Obama’s former pastor has canceled scheduled appearances in Texas set for this weekend. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright has come under heavy criticism from political pundits for linking the attacks of September 11 to US foreign policy in the Middle East and for saying the United States was founded on racism. In a statement, Reverend Wright cited safety concerns for his decision to cancel his appearances.
Here in New York, dozens of protesters marched into the corporate headquarters of Bear Stearns on Wednesday to call for federal assistance to homeowners and protest the investment bank’s recent government-backed bailout. Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve put up $30 billion to help JPMorgan Chase purchase Bear Sterns. Meanwhile, homeowners on the verge of foreclosure and those who have already lost their homes have received little government support. Chanting “Help Main Street, not Wall Street,” demonstrators marched into the lobby of the Bear Stearns office building. Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America head Bruce Marks said protests against investment banks would continue.
Bruce Marks: “We’ve shown them that that’s just the beginning. That’s just the beginning. It’s personal when someone loses their home. Someone has to live with that twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We’re going to make the consequences of their actions personal to them. We will go to their country clubs. We will go into their neighborhoods. We will educate their children on what their parents do, because they should be ashamed.”
The protesters are demanding a moratorium on foreclosures and that banks roll back interest rate increases.
The former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay has announced he’s leaving the US military. Colonel Morris Davis resigned from the Guantanamo military commissions in October, saying the system had become "politicized" and he could no longer be effective.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected calls to ease the stranglehold on the Gaza Strip and negotiate with Hamas. On Wednesday, Olmert said he is prepared to allow a limited number of humanitarian shipments, but nothing more. Israel has been accused of practicing collective punishment in Gaza. Meanwhile, Olmert also suggested a renewed military confrontation with Hamas could lie ahead.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "Hamas is an obstacle. It is not an insurmountable obstacle. It can be overcome. When and how is a different question. I don’t think that I want to go into details here, but I say and I want to repeat what I said before: we are not talking with Hamas, and we are not going to compromise with someone that is consistently shooting rockets on the heads of Israelis. We will deal with Hamas in other ways, and these ways will be very painful."
Israel has rejected Hamas offers for a ceasefire based on an Israeli withdrawal to its 1967 borders.
And the Pentagon has suspended a $300 million contract with an arms supplier found to have been supplying decades-old ammunition to Afghanistan. AEY Incorporated has sent forty-year-old munitions to the Afghan government. It’s also been accused of supplying gun cartridges bought in China in apparent violation of US laws. The military canceled the contract only after it received queries from the New York Times on AEY’s activities.