Army General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are heading to Capitol Hill today to update Congress on the war in Iraq. Petraeus is expected to claim that security has improved in Iraq but that troop levels should remain at the pre-surge level of 130,000.
Their appearance before Congress comes while about 1,000 US and Iraqi forces are engaged in fierce fighting in Baghdad against Shiite militias linked to Muqtada al-Sadr. On Monday, hundreds of Iraqis fled their homes in Sadr City to escape the fighting, which has killed more than thirty Iraqis since Sunday. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has warned Sadr that he would be banned from participating in elections unless his militia is disbanded.
Meanwhile, eight Iraqis have reportedly died in Basra following a US air strike. Television footage showed rescue workers pulling bodies from the rubble of a house that had been completely destroyed. Relatives wailed in grief as children picked through the rubble.
The Guardian newspaper reports it has obtained a controversial draft agreement between the US and Iraqi governments that would allow for an open-ended US military presence in Iraq. The draft strategic framework is intended to replace the existing UN mandate. It authorizes the US to "conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security" without time limit. Iraqi critics point out that the agreement contains no limits on numbers of US forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries.
Meanwhile, the State Department is defending its decision to renew a contract with the mercenary firm Blackwater without the prior approval of the Iraqi government. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters, "It’s fundamentally a decision for us to take, about how we protect our people."
In news from Washington, President Bush has announced he will soon ask Congress to approve a trade agreement with Colombia. Bush said the need for this deal is too urgent to delay.
President Bush: "This agreement will advance America’s national security interests in a critical region. It will strengthen a courageous ally in our hemisphere. It will help America’s economy and America’s workers at a vital time. It deserves bipartisan support from the United States Congress."
Once the trade deal is submitted to Congress, legislators have ninety business days to approve or reject it. Labor unions and human rights organizations have been pushing Congress to reject the treaty, in part because Colombia has the highest rate of killings of trade unionists in the world. According to Human Rights Watch, seventeen trade unionists have been killed in Colombia in the first three months of this year. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both publicly opposed the deal. But it was revealed last week that Clinton’s top strategist had been hired by the Colombian government to lobby for the trade deal. The adviser, Mark Penn, CEO of the lobbying firm Burson-Marsteller, stepped down from his post after it was disclosed that he had personally met with Colombia’s ambassador.
Plans for the Department of Homeland Security to launch a new satellite surveillance system is coming under new criticism on Capitol Hill. Last week, Secretary Michael Chertoff said the satellite surveillance system would be soon ready to go. But now the Wall Street Journal reports Democrats are threatening to shut down the program unless the department does more to address privacy concerns. The satellite program is designed to provide federal, state and local officials with extensive access to spy satellite imagery to assist with emergency response and other domestic security needs. But critics say the Bush administration hasn’t created legal safeguards to ensure that the program won’t be used for domestic spying.
A new report from Human Rights Watch concludes the CIA has transferred at least fourteen prisoners to Jordan for interrogation and torture since 2001. The rights group says Jordan served as a proxy jailer and interrogator for the CIA from 2001 until at least 2004. During this period, no other country is believed to have held as many prisoners as Jordan.
An Israeli energy newsletter has revealed Israel is secretly buying oil from Iran despite an official boycott. The newsletter EnergiaNews reports Israeli companies get around the boycott by having the oil delivered to European ports, where it is then bought by Israelis. The oil is then imported into Israel by the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company, which keeps its oil sources secret.
Meanwhile, police in Israel have shut down a Jerusalem radio station whose stated mission was to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. During a raid on Monday, police confiscated the station’s equipment and detained eight workers. Israeli officials accused RAM FM of broadcasting without a permit. The station broadcasts in Jerusalem and Ramallah. It was started a year ago by a South African Jewish businessman who modeled it after a South African station which was set up in apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.
In Britain, the Times of London reports a spy working for a counterintelligence company recently infiltrated a direct action environmental group that targets the aviation industry. The man, Toby Kendall, joined the group Plane Stupid claiming he was deeply concerned by the impact of the aviation industry on climate change. In fact, Kendall was working for C2I Intelligence, a counterintelligence company run by former special forces officers. The Times of London reports members of Plane Stupid began to question Kendall’s identity in part because of his habit of wearing a Palestinian scarf with his Armani jeans and designer shirt.
The Associated Press reports the International Olympic Committee is considering scrapping the international leg of the Olympic torch relay as a result of a series of pro-Tibet protests. On Monday, officials in Paris were forced to extinguish the Olympic flame and carry it by bus when protesters tried to seize it. Wang Hui of the Beijing Organizing Committee criticized the ongoing protests.
Wang Hui: "For those few separatists who attempt to sabotage and destroy the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay, we express our strong condemnation. The Olympic flame belongs to the people around the world, so the behavior of a few separatists would not gain sympathy from people and will cause strong criticism and is doomed to fail."
Khoury Souhail, the president of the International Olympic Committee in Lebanon said the Olympic games should be free from politics.
Khoury Souhail: "I think the problem of Tibet in China is an internal problem. I am against to manage the problem of politics with sport. Sport is our game, it is the game for the athletes, it’s a game for the organizers, it’s a game for Beijing, it’s a game for all the Olympic — or movement in the world. I think it’s better to keep this problem clear."
Meanwhile, police in San Francisco are preparing for possible disruptions when the Olympic torch stops in the city today. San Francisco is the only North American stop of the Olympic torch relay. On Monday, three pro-Tibet activists climbed the cables of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and unfurled a banner reading "One World, One Dream: Free Tibet." Tibet is also becoming an issue in the US presidential race. On Monday, Senator Hillary Clinton called on President Bush to boycott the Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing.
On Monday, Rwanda commemorated fourteen years after the 1994 slaughter of some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutus. President Paul Kagame attended a ceremony at a church in which 3,000 people were massacred. Speakers included Andre Kamana, a survivor of the genocide.
Andre Kamana: "It is important to continue to remember our people who have been killed in the genocide. Until now, we do not know where many are buried. In the last two months we have found more than a hundred bodies with the help of the people released by the Gacaca courts. This is good for their families and for the other families waiting to find their people."
And Abe Osheroff has died at the age of ninety-two. He was a lifelong political activist and one of the last remaining survivors of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the 3,000 American volunteers who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Abe Osheroff’s activism began during the Great Depression, when he helped evicted tenants, and his activism continued to his final years. In 2006, he took part in a twenty-seven-hour sit-in at Senator Maria Cantwell’s office. This is an excerpt from his 1974 film Dreams and Nightmares.
Abe Osheroff: "My name is Abe Osheroff. I’m a carpenter and also a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. In 1937, I went to fight in Spain because I believed that unless fascism was stopped there it would lead to disaster. That estimate proved to be tragically correct."