Newly disclosed records show violence has increased in key areas across Afghanistan this year. According to the Wall Street Journal, confidential U.N. maps list a worsened security climate in 16 Afghan districts in the north and east between March and October. The situation remains dire in the south, where most of the fighting between the U.S.-led NATO force and militants has taken place. Just two districts that were deemed high risk in March were later given a better rating.
The Afghan government meanwhile is condemning a U.S.-led NATO night raid that killed two people in the capital of Kabul. U.S. officials say NATO forces targeted a building based on credible intelligence on militant activity. But the Afghan government says two security guards were killed without provocation after foreign troops surrounded the compound. Afghan presidential spokesperson Waheed Omer criticized the attack.
Waheed Omer: "This was an irresponsible way of dealing with an issue within the Kabul city, and that was clearly conveyed and that was discussed yesterday between us, our security council, and the commander of NATO and other colleagues from international community yesterday."
In Iraq, at least 19 people were killed and 45 wounded in a pair of suicide bombings in the western city of Ramadi. The attack struck a government compound where relatives of state workers killed in a previous bombing had gathered to receive compensation.
In other Iraq news, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is vowing that the Iraqi government won’t extend a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. In his first interview since negotiating an end to Iraq’s long-term parliamentary gridlock, Maliki told the Wall Street Journal, "This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed." Maliki added that the timetable could be changed if Iraq and the U.S. reach a new Status of Forces Agreement, which would require parliamentary approval.
Incumbent Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo remains under international pressure to leave office after refusing to concede disputed elections last month. A delegation of heads of state from Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde is traveling to the Ivory Coast today to deliver an ultimatum for Gbagbo to leave office or face removal by force. Opposition leader Alassane Ouattara has been widely recognized as the winner of the election, but Gbagbo claims the vote was rigged. Gbagbo’s security forces have been accused of orchestrating some 200 deaths, hundreds of arrests, dozens of cases of disappearances and torture in recent weeks. Gbagbo has hired prominent lobbyist Lanny Davis to represent him in Washington. A former White House special counsel under President Clinton, Davis’s recent clients include Ecuadorian Guinea dictator Teodoro Obiang as well as key supporters of the 2009 coup in Honduras. In a recent interview with CNN International, Davis was questioned about his pledge to drop Gbagbo as a client if there’s credible proof of human rights abuses under Gbagbo’s watch.
Hala Gorani: "Have you read the U.N. findings that they have substantiated that arbitrary arrests have been committed, torture, dozens of cases of torture, ill treatment and enforced disappearances of people over the past one week? Does that not constitute proof? I’m just asking if you believe in that report."
Lanny Davis: "Does it constitute proof for you when you read a U.N. report?"
Hala Gorani: "No, I’m asking you if it constitutes proof for you."
Lanny Davis: "I’m not sure who’s" —
Hala Gorani: "What more would you need in order to be convinced that, potentially?"
Lanny Davis: "I’m not sure who’s doing the interviewing. I would take very seriously that U.N. report. I’d like to — I’ve read it. I’d like to see the substantiation. I’d like to see who wrote it. I know that there have been U.N. reports concerning Israel that have been completely discredited as biased. I’d like to know who’s writing the report. And I certainly take it very seriously. If that report is true, of course I could not defend atrocities and human rights abuses."
Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have begun marking the second anniversary of the U.S.-backed three-week Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip. The assault, dubbed "Operation Cast Lead," by the Israeli military left over 1,400 Palestinians dead and many more wounded. On Monday, a group of children took part in a march through Gaza. The director of a children’s charity, Munir Barakat, said the assault has left psychological damage.
Munir Barakat: "The anniversary of the cruel aggression will not ease in the children’s memories. In their playtime and their everyday lives, it occupies their minds every minute."
The anniversary comes days after the Hamas government announced it would continue to honor an informal ceasefire with Israel. Last week Israel launched a number of attacks on Gaza after militants fired rockets.
Meanwhile in Israel, the prominent peace activist Jonathan Pollak has been sentenced to three months in prison for taking part in a bicycle rally against the Israeli blockade on Gaza three years ago. Pollak is a founder of the group Anarchists against the Wall, which works with Palestinians to hold frequent protests in the West Bank. Pollak was convicted for taking part in a critical mass bike ride through Tel Aviv. Supporters say Pollak is being targeted for his political involvement.
Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is under scrutiny over ties to a firm alleged to have defrauded vulnerable homeowners in foreclosure. Huckabee, who also works as a commentator on Fox News, has appeared in commercials advertising a petition to recall President Obama’s signature healthcare law. The petition, called "Repeal It Now," is sponsored by the political action group Restore America’s Voice, or RAV. According to Think Progress, RAV’s campaign is run by a firm called the 949 Group. 949’s owner, Derek Oberholtzer, runs several companies, including a firm that offers distressed homeowners assistance in modifying loans or halting foreclosures. But according to consumer reports, a Federal Trade Commission suit, and a complaint from the Idaho attorney general, Oberholtzer’s company billed numerous customers up to $1,000 without ever taking action on their case.
And a new analysis shows nearly 100 bailed-out U.S. banks are in danger of collapse despite an infusion of taxpayer aid. The Wall Street Journal reports 98 banks are at risk of failing even after receiving a total of $4.2 billion in government cash. Seven bailed-out banks have already collapsed at a cost of over $2.7 billion. According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration has begun monitoring the board meetings of nearly 20 banks that have repeatedly failed to pay back sums under the terms of their taxpayer rescue.