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Iraqi authorities have begun counting votes a day after the nation held parliamentary elections for only the second time since the 2003 US invasion. On Sunday, thirty-eight people died and eighty were wounded in election day attacks. Despite the threat of violence, voter turnout was higher than expected. Analysts say it could take weeks, if not months, before a new government is formed, because no political party is expected to win an outright majority. Some Sunni politicians boycotted the election after a Shi’ite-led panel barred around 500 candidates from running due to alleged links to Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath party. President Obama praised the Iraqi vote.
President Obama: "By any measure, this was an important milestone in Iraqi history. Dozens of parties and coalitions fielded thousands of parliamentary candidates — men and women. Ballots were cast at some 50,000 voting booths. And in a strong turnout, millions of Iraqis exercised their right to vote with enthusiasm and optimism. Today’s voting makes it clear that the future of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq."
A British soldier who refused to return for a second tour of duty in Afghanistan has been sentenced to nine months in military prison. Twenty-seven-year-old Lance Corporal Joe Glenton served seven months in Afghanistan. After he returned, he began openly speaking out against the war.
Joe Glenton: "I came back feeling quite ashamed. I felt I couldn’t see what we’d achieved by being there, and I felt very disillusioned. And I think that disillusionment isn’t isolated to me. A lot of my colleagues who are serving now, and some of them are in Afghanistan and Iraq, are equally disillusioned. There is discontent in the ranks, which is a very scary thing for the services."
In news from Africa, the New York Times reports the US is helping the Somali government prepare a major offensive to take the capital of Mogadishu from Islamist militants. Over the past six months, Somalia has farmed out young men to Djibouti, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Sudan for military instruction, and most are now back in the capital, waiting to fight. So far, most of the US military assistance to the Somali government has been focused on training, but a US official told the Times he expects US covert forces will get involved in the offensive. The official said, “What you’re likely to see is air strikes and Special Ops moving in, hitting and getting out."
In Nigeria, hundreds of people, including many women and children, have reportedly died in religious fighting in the city of Jos. Acting Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered security forces to hunt down those behind the attack. The city of Jos lies at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and predominantly Christian south. The BBC put the death toll at 500. Another 200 people died in Jos in January.
Vice President Joe Biden is arriving in Israel today, one day after the Palestinians agreed to indirect talks with Israel for the first time since the Israeli assault on Gaza. Biden is the most senior US official to visit Israel since President Obama took office in January 2009. Earlier today, Israel approved the construction of 112 new homes in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank despite a partial moratorium on such construction. The Israeli group Peace Now criticized the new project, saying it would "widen the gap with the Palestinians and the two-state solution, which risks becoming obsolete." The Palestinians have warned that further settlement growth threatened the peace process and future talks. US Special Envoy George Mitchell praised the resumption of the talks.
George Mitchell: "We look forward to what we hope will be a credible, serious, constructive process that will accomplish the objective which we all share: comprehensive peace in the Middle East."
A top Israeli military official has arrived in the United States, where he is expected to be met by a series of protests. Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff for the IDF, is attending a Friends of the IDF fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan on Tuesday. Groups planning to protest outside the fundraiser include Jews Say No, American Jews for a Just Peace, and Jewish Voice for Peace.
The New York Times reports the federal government has given more than $107 billion to companies which are also doing business with Iran despite a ban on US companies trading with Iran. An analysis of federal records and company reports reveals that seventy-four companies have done business with both the US government and Iran since 2000. The list includes Halliburton, Shell, BP, Caterpillar and Exxon Mobil. Many of the companies skirted the law by setting up foreign subsidiaries.
Voters in Iceland have rejected a plan to pay $5.3 billion to Britain and the Netherlands to reimburse customers of a failed Icelandic internet bank. Ninety-three percent of Icelandic voters opposed spending the money. The $5.3 billion owed represents more than 40 percent of Iceland’s gross domestic product. Britain has warned Iceland that it risks becoming an international pariah if it does not pay the money back, and the IMF is delaying a bailout package for Iceland. But Icelandic voters overwhelmingly rejected the threats from the international community.
Smar McCarthy, Icelandic voter: "I think that what’s happened is that people have said that they are not willing to accept being put into any sort of debt slavery. People want to have a fair and equitable result from this entire crisis."
The nation’s official unemployment remained at 9.7 percent last month as 36,000 more jobs were eliminated. The latest jobs report shows that four percent of the population has been without work for twenty-seven weeks or more. The unemployment rate for African American workers remains at 15.8 percent. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attempted to put a positive spin on the jobs figures.
Sen. Harry Reid: "Today is a big day in America. Only 36,000 people lost their jobs today, which is really good.”
Aides to Harry Reid defended his comments, pointing out that some analysts had predicted more than 36,000 jobs would be lost in February.
In news from Capitol Hill, Democratic Congressman Eric Massa of New York has announced he will resign today amid allegations that he sexually harassed a male staffer. Massa was elected to the House in 2008. Meanwhile, seven-term Democratic Congressman William Delahunt of Massachusetts has announced he will not seek reelection.
More details have emerged about John Patrick Bedell, the thirty-six-year-old California man who opened fire last week outside the Pentagon. Bedell wounded two police officers before being shot to death. Bedell’s father said Patrick showed symptoms of a mental disorder, approaching paranoid schizophrenia. In an audio recording archived online, Bedell rails against government encroachment on private property and the monetary system.
John Patrick Bedell: "When the government can control how private property is used, and especially when the government controls the monetary system that is used to exchange private property, the government has the mechanisms and the motivation to control individuals to the smallest detail. To prevent themselves from being enslaved, the powerful masters of our existing governments use every means at their disposal, including bribery, theft and murder, to control those governments, which are imperfect institutions operated by imperfect individuals."
A judge in Texas has ruled the death penalty to be unconstitutional because it can be assumed that innocent people have been executed. State district judge Kevin Fine’s ruling has set off a firestorm in Texas, which has executed far more prisoners than any other state since 1976. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott called Fine’s ruling one of "unabashed judicial activism."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has filed a misconduct complaint against police officers in the Nevada city of Henderson after seven Muslim men were detained for praying in public. The men had stopped at a shopping center at sunset to pray in the parking lot. One of the men used his cell phone to videotape the police officer explaining why they were being detained.
Muslim Man: "You, knowing that we’re just Muslims here praying..."
Police Officer: "But I don’t know that."
Muslim Man: "Well, we are praying. You know there’s a Muslim prayer. Is that enough for you to say that it’s a suspicious activity?"
Police Officer: "Well, that’s why I’m checking it out."
Muslim Man: "So you think it is?"
Police Officer: "Do I think it is? I think that somebody out there called us and said, 'Hey, check this out.' Did I see you guys praying? No. Do I know what you were saying. I mean, I don’t know if you guys repeat the same thing or if you’re actually over there going, 'I hope I don't kill a police officer today.’ I don’t know that you’re not saying that."
The Daily Californian newspaper reports some student protesters remain in jail after being arrested on Thursday during the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education. About 140 protesters were arrested in Oakland for blocking traffic on Interstate Highways 880 and 980. Most of the protesters were released on Friday, but those facing arraignment remained in jail over the weekend. Among those arrested were the journalists Brandon Jourdan and David Martinez, who documented the police beating some of the protesters. Most of the protesters arrested on Thursday in Oakland were charged with unlawful assembly and obstruction of a public street. Some were also charged with resisting arrest.
And Kathryn Bigelow has become the first woman in history to win the best director award at the Oscars. Bigelow’s film The Hurt Locker won a total of six Oscars, including best picture and best original screenplay. Meanwhile, The Cove won the Oscar for best documentary. The film exposes bloody dolphin hunting in a Japanese fishing town. Geoffrey Fletcher became the first African American to win an Oscar for best writing. He won best adapted screenplay for the film Precious. Meanwhile, Mo’Nique won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role as Mary Jones in Precious. Mo’Nique is only the fifth black woman to win an acting Oscar. In her acceptance speech, she cited Hattie McDaniel, who won the same honor for Gone with the Wind seventy years ago. Hattie McDaniel was the first Academy Award ever given to a black performer.