The death toll from a string of attacks across Iraq Wednesday has surpassed fifty, with nearly 200 people wounded. Earlier today eight members of a US-backed Sunni militia were killed in eastern Iraq. The attacks follow the recent withdrawal of some 14,000 US troops, leaving just under 50,000 in Iraq for the first time since the 2003 invasion. The White House, meanwhile, has announced President Obama will give a televised address Tuesday night to mark the end of US combat missions in Iraq, even though US forces will continue to fight.
The ongoing hysteria over a proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero appears to be fueling anti-Muslim attacks both here in New York and nationwide. A New York City taxi driver was stabbed multiple times Tuesday after a drunken passenger determined he is a Muslim. The victim, Ahmed Sharif, was slashed across his face, neck and hands. Sharif says the suspect, Michael Enright, had asked him several questions about his religion, including whether he’s a Muslim and observing Ramadan. Enright recently returned from Afghanistan, where he was filming US troops for a documentary. As he attacked Sharif, Enright is said to have yelled, "Consider this a checkpoint." Enright was arraigned Wednesday on multiple charges including felony attempted murder as a hate crime. Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance told Democracy Now! that from his hospital bed, Sharif had asked her to warn other Muslim drivers to be fearful in the current political climate.
Bhairavi Desai: "The first thing he said to me was we have to get the message out, because we can’t let this escalate, drivers need to protect themselves. He said the environment right now is very serious. There is no doubt in our minds that the fear mongering and the ignorance and the hatred that has been spewing around this Islamic cultural center — which has erroneously been called the 'Ground Zero mosque' — we have no doubt that it’s that hatred that’s risen to the surface and that’s led to this violence. And all of these has-been politicians, you know, who around the country who have been making a bigger issue out of this, that man’s blood is on their hands."
News of the attack came as a new coalition was launched to support the proposed Islamic cultural center. New York Neighbors for American Values is made up of over forty organizations including Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups. Donna Marsh O’Connor, a member of September 11th Families for Peace Tomorrows whose daughter was killed on 9/11, pledged her group’s support.
Donna Marsh O’Connor: "There are many 9/11 family members who, while we understand the pain caused by some family members speaking against this, that we, 100 percent, fully support the Islamic cultural center in New York City two-and-a-half blocks and around the corner from Ground Zero."
Imam Abdur-Rashid of the Islamic and Leadership Council said the controversy around the site is fueling anti-Muslim acts nationwide.
Imam Abdur-Rashid: "There have been attacks on masjids. There have been vandalizations. There have been physical assaults on individuals. This thing is escalating because of the dialogue and because somber minds are not prevailing in this country. And so, we’re concerned about it, but our silence for so long has been our consent, you know, that they can do whatever they want. But we’re not going to be silent no more."
More anti-Muslim incidents are being reported around the country as the mosque controversy grows. On Wednesday, police in Madera, California, said they’re investigating recent vandalism at a local mosque as a hate crime. Signs were left at the Masjid Madera center reading, "No Temple for the God of terrorism at Ground Zero" and "Wake up America, the Enemy is here." The signs were credited to a group calling itself the "American Nationalist Brotherhood." A brick was also thrown at the center last week.
Meanwhile, in Kentucky, local officials have rejected a building permit for a new mosque in the town of Mayfield. A local Somali group had sought to build the mosque, but the Mayfield zoning board rejected the application by claiming there’s insufficient parking space. According to local press reports, cheers broke after the board announced the decision to a packed hearing. The American Civil Liberties Union says it’s monitoring the case to determine if ethnic bias was involved.
Two of President Obama’s top environmental advisers have admitted they were excluded from the decision-making process behind the expansion of offshore drilling earlier this year. In a move criticized by environmentalists, the White House opened large swaths of the Atlantic, Gulf and Alaskan coasts to offshore oil and gas drilling. The move came just weeks before the BP oil spill in the Gulf set off the largest environmental disaster in US history. On Wednesday, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Jane Lubchenco and Council on Environmental Quality chair Nancy Sutley both said they had a limited role in the decision process. Their disclosures came in testimony before the presidential commission investigating the oil disaster. The panel’s co-chair, William Reilly, criticized the White House for ignoring its top environmental officials.
William Reilly: "I’m disappointed that a policy to expand so significantly the area of offshore oil and gas would not have involved direct consultation with the CEQ [Council on Environmental Quality] chair."
Seventy-two dead bodies have been found on a Mexican ranch near the US border in what’s being described as the single deadliest attack of Mexico’s drug war. A wounded survivor told police the killers had identified themselves as members of a notorious drug gang called the Zelas. The head of Mexico’s National Security Council, Alejandro Poiré Romero, said the victims were undocumented immigrants from several Latin American countries.
Alejandro Poiré Romero: "Yesterday, the marines repelled an aggression by alleged organized criminals during an operation in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, where seventy-two people were found dead — fifty-eight men and fourteen women. And according preliminary information that needs to be confirmed, they could be illegal immigrants of several nationalities, including El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador and Brazil."
The Pakistani government has ordered the evacuation of three towns in southern Sindh province as surging floodwaters threaten more devastation. The towns have a combined population of around 400,000. The UN meanwhile is estimating some 800,000 Pakistanis are now entirely cut off by the floods and can only be reached by air.
In Somalia, at least six people were killed and twenty-five people injured Wednesday in fighting between African Union-backed Somali forces and Islamic fighters. The clashes follow Tuesday’s hotel suicide bombing in Mogadishu that killed thirty-eight people, including eight members of the Somali parliament.
The ousted former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is renewing criticism of the Obama administration’s support for his successor, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. Speaking to Democracy Now! en Español/in Spanish, Zelaya said US backing for Lobo is subverting Honduran democracy.
Manuel Zelaya: "If the United States were not protecting Lobo and protecting those responsible for murders and crimes that are committed in Honduras, it would be much easier to deal with Lobo and the group that is running the country. But with US support, it is almost impossible to communicate with them, because they are opposed to my return and opposed to the establishment of a democratic system of competition. They do not want to compete. They simply want to impose their ideas on Honduras."
In other Honduras news, the dead body of Honduran journalist Israel Zelaya Diaz was found this week with three gunshots to the head. Diaz is believed to be the tenth journalist killed in Honduras this year. Dozens of Honduran journalists have been threatened or attacked since Zelaya was overthrown in June 2009.
Sweden’s top prosecutor has announced plans to continue investigating the co-founder of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks despite clearing him of rape charges last week. Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Julian Assange on Friday but dropped the case the following day. On Wednesday, Swedish prosecutor Eva Finné said she may bring other charges against Assange.
Eva Finné: "I have decided to drop the case that was originally called rape. I looked into the matter. I said earlier that I don’t suspect rape, and I looked into the matter to see if I can suspect any other crime. But my decision is that I don’t suspect any crime in that matter. I’m going to tell the investigator to contact the suspect’s lawyer, and then they decide when it’s possible to hold an interrogation."
Assange has vehemently denied the accusations and said they’re a part of a campaign to discredit his organization.
WikiLeaks meanwhile has carried through on a vow to publish a CIA memo. The three-page report from earlier this year discusses the potential of the US being seen as an "exporter of terrorism" should US nationals commit terrorist acts abroad.
Former Republican National Committee chair and George W. Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman has publicly revealed that he’s gay. Mehlman spearheaded Bush’s 2004 reelection. He went on to head the Republican Party between 2005 and 2007 as it pushed several anti-gay initiatives. In an interview with The Atlantic magazine, Mehlman said he decided to come out of the closet in part to help campaign for gay marriage.
A new study says over half of babies living in poverty are being raised by mothers who suffer bouts of mild to severe depression. The Washington, DC-based Urban Institute says the high rate of depression among low-income mothers could affect their children’s development. One in nine infants in poverty with mothers that have severe depression are typically breastfed less than other infants. Just 30 percent of low-income mothers suffering from depression said they had received medical help.