In Iran, more than 20,000 have been killed in a devastating earthquake in the ancient city of Bam. Tens of thousands more were wounded or left homeless. The death toll may rise as high as 40,000. One Iranian official said “There is not a standing building in the city. Bam has turned into a wasteland. Even if a few buildings are standing, you cannot trust to live in them.” Two hospitals collapsed in the earthquake. Injured survivors are being airlifted to hospitals hours away. In Kerman, one 600-bed hospital has 2,000 patients.
The government in Tehran is coming under criticism for being ill-prepared for a major earthquake or the recovery. One Iranian accountant told the Guardian of London “It’s just a disgrace that a rich country like ours with all the revenue from oil and other natural resources is not prepared to deal with an earthquake. I don’t know how many quakes we must have so the government make the buildings earthquake-proof in our country.”
In Tehran, one newspaper estimated over a million would die in the capital city if a similar earthquake hit there because so few buildings are earthquake-proof. An estimated 80 percent of the buildings in the capital are not earthquake proof. The US was among many 20 nations to contribute emergency aid. Agence France Press reported the delivery of U.S. aid marked the first time an American plane has landed in Iran since the Iranian hostage crisis ended in 1981.
In response to the discovery of the country’s first case of mad cow disease, the US Government has expanded its recall of some beef to include eight states: Oregon, California, Nevada, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Idaho and the territory of Guam. It is unclear how much meat was shipped to each of the states. The government claims American beef is still safe to eat. But 26 countries have banned American beef imports. This includes three of the nation’s top beef importers, Japan, Mexico and South Korea. The US Department of Agriculture is also now saying the first US cow infected with mad cow disease was likely imported from Canada two years ago though Canada denies the charge. In Congress, Democrat Gary Ackerman of New York said he will try for the third time to have the Republican-led Congress approve a bill that would prohibit the sale of sick or injured livestock. Ackerman said “I said on the floor of the House that you will rue the day that because of the greed of the industry to make a few extra pennies… the industry would sacrifice the safety of the American people.”
The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. military is preventing tens of thousands of soldiers from leaving the military by issuing what is known as stop-loss orders. The Post reports 40,000 soldiers including 16,000 members of the National Guard and the reserves, have been prevented from retiring even though they were eligible to leave the service this year. One 42-year-old soldier said, “I’m furious. I’m aggravated. I feel violated. I feel used.”
In Thailand, an opposition senator is calling for his country to reconsider keeping troops in Iraq following the death of two Thai soldiers Saturday in the Shiite holy city of Karburla. The soldiers died in a multiple-car bomb and mortar attack that also killed five Bulgarian troops and thirteen Iraqis. Up to 130 people were also injured in the coordinated attack. Agence France Press is reporting that 10 U.S. soldiers have been killed over the past week including three soldiers who were killed on Christmas Eve in a bombing near Samarra and two U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday in Central Iraq. The U.S. death toll in the past four months is more than three times as high as the toll during the previous four months. Meanwhile the U.S. is now offering one millions dollar reward to help secure the capture or killing of the remaining 13 Iraqis on the U.S. top 55 most wanted list.
The London Times is reporting that senior British officials have now confirmed that the British spy agency the MI6 ran a campaign called Operation Mass Appeal to plant stories in the media about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Former US weapons inspectors Scott Ritter said the misninformation campaign began in the late 1990s. Ritter said he personally met with MI6 officers and for a while agreed to take part in the campaign. Ritter said “The aim was to convince the public that Iraq was a far greater threat than it actually was.”
Ex-UK Cabinet Minister Short Tells Blair to Resign
Meanwhile former British cabinet minister Clare Short called on Tony Blair to resign on Sunday because charging he mislead the British people over the war in Iraq. Short, who resigned her cabinet post earlier this year in protest, told SKY TV “If you are going to start getting into deceit when you are going to war and risking human life it has gone too far.”
A new report from the Pentagon shows the government gave private airline companies a total of $1.2 billion this year to fly troops and supplies to Iraq. The arrangement with the airlines was through the Pentagon’s Civil Reserve Air Fleet, a program where private airlines agree to work with the military in war mobilizations. Although the program was set up in 1951, it was only used once before during the first Persian Gulf War.
In Pakistan, police have arrested dozens of people following Thursday’s assassination attempt on president Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The attack killed15 people including two suicide bombers. It marked the second attempt on Musharraf’s life in 11 days.
In the West Bank, the Israeli military is coming under domestic criticism after an unarmed Israeli Jewish protester was shot with live ammunition on Friday. The shooting came during a peaceful demonstration against the massive new wall that Israel is building through much of the West Bank. The young man was shot in both legs and remains hospitalized. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting the shooting marks the first time the Israel army has targeted Israeli Jews with live ammunition during the three-year-old intifada. An American protester was also shot. Meanwhile Israel has sealed off the West Bank and Gaza following a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed four. The bombing, the first such attack in two months, came after Israeli forces killed at least 16 Palestinians in Gaza. In the Rafah refugee camp, Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians. And in Gaza City, five Palestinians died when Israeli gunships assassinated a leader of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.
Berger Wins Guatemalan Presidential Election
In Guatemala, the wealthy conservative Oscar Berger appears to be set to become the country’s next president. Partial results showed Berger beating his opponent Alvaro Colom by a 56 to 44 percent margin.
In Serbia, the Radical Party that is led by the jailed war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj won the general election Sunday with about 28 percent of the vote but failed to win the majority needed to form a government. The BBC reports that three pro-democracy groups are likely to form a coalition to take power.
In Afghanistan, six people died in a suicide bombing near Kabul international airport in the capital city’s worst bombing in six months. The Taliban has taken responsibility for the attack which killed a chief official in the Afghan intelligence service.
Lieberman & Kerry Attacks Dean on Foreign Policy
On the campaign front, Democratic presidential contenders Joe Lieberman and John Kerry charged Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean was too inexperienced in foreign policy making him unlikely to beat Bush in November. Lieberman told reporters in New Hampshire “We’re not going to convince the American people to replace George W. Bush with someone who’s taken repeated impulsive positions and then constantly had to explain what he said.” Dean, who was campaigning in Iowa, responded by saying “You can’t beat George Bush if you behave like the Democrats in Washington are behaving. If we’re going to win, we’re going to have to take the president on because his agenda is not the right agenda for America.”