Between 1 million and 2 million people gathered in Karbala yesterday for the conclusion of the Shia pilgrimage. The Independent of London is reporting the final prayers of the festival were different from the days that have gone before. Thousands of young men arrived from the cities of a de facto Shia confederacy which is already taking shape, demanded the establishment of an Islamic state and threatened jihad against American occupiers. In sermons, imam after imam called on Iraqis to take the destiny of the country into their own hands, and the Shia to take their rightful place in deciding how the country should be governed.
White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said yesterday the Bush administration has warned Iran not to interfere with the development of a government of Iraq. The administration is worried that Iran has been sending people into Iraq whose mission is to influence the majority Shiite Muslim population. A senior administration official told The New York Times, “It’s clear we are going to have to step in a little more forcefully.” Special Forces and intelligence officers are trying to identify pro-U.S. clerics in small towns and cities, encouraging them to issue religious edicts, or fatwas, in support of the U.S. occupation.
U.S. marines in the city of Kut near the Iranian border are suppressing anti-American protests by threatening to open fire on the crowds. The Washington Post reports marines yesterday arrested a prominent cleric upon finding a gun in his car. Hundreds of people converged on a contingent of marines and protested. The marines threatened over a loudspeaker to open fire, and the crowd dispersed. A few hours later, a few hundred young men staged a spontaneous human blockade on both sides of a narrow bridge over the Tigris River, trapping several Marine trucks for about half an hour. Meanwhile, the Marines have still not dared to enter the mayor’s office. Shiite Muslim preacher Sayed Abbas Fadhil has proclaimed himself the new mayor and has welcomed into the mayoral compound several hundred young men who are vowing to defend him if the Marines try to remove him by force.
Three marines died yesterday in an accident involving a rocket-propelled grenade near the city of Kut. Earlier this week, an Army soldier was killed south of Baghdad when he fell from a truck.
The London Guardian is reporting the entire Arab world now faces invasion by American television. The U.S. news report called “Iraq and the World” is currently being beamed into Iraq from a U.S. Air Force plane. Norman Pattiz, chair of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors’ Middle East Committee, which is behind the project, he told The Guardian a full-service version of the newscast should be broadcasting 24 hours a day to 22 countries in the Middle East by the end of the year. Dan Rather of CBS, Tom Brokaw of NBC are appearing with their words translated into Arabic. White House officials say the broadcast will also carry PBS’s “NewsHour” and Fox News’ “Special Report” with Brit Hume. Democracy Now! hasn’t yet gotten a request from the White House to air our news program.
Several members of the U.S. media and a U.S. serviceman have been caught attempting to smuggle Iraqi paintings, weapons and other war souvenirs to the United States. The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection said yesterday at least 15 paintings, gold-plated weapons and other items have been seized at airports in Washington, Boston and London last week. Fox News engineer Benjamin James Johnson has been charged with attempting to bring 12 paintings into the U.S. last week. Fox has fired him. Customs officials also discovered a painting in the possession of Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden. The names of the other journalists have not been disclosed. Meanwhile, U.S. troops have arrested fighters of Ahmed Chalabi’s U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress after they were found looting the abandoned homes of former Iraqi government officials.
It’s emerged that British forces detained an Al Jazeera TV correspondent, Mohammad Alsayyed Muhsen, on Sunday in Basra. Two British armored vehicles approached the crew as they were preparing a report, and asked to see their press cards. Muhsen said a British soldier became furious when he read the cards, which were issued from the Iraqi Information Ministry. The British soldier said U.S.-led forces were “dealing only with listed journalists who accompanied coalition forces.” Soldiers pointed weapons at Muhsen, confiscated his camera and said they would not be allowed to work in the area until further notice.
The U.S. military yesterday admitted children younger than 16 are being held as enemy combatants in the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay. A U.S. military official told the London Guardian the U.S. is holding three boys aged between 13 and 15. The official spoke on condition of anonymity. He would not disclose the children’s nationalities but said they had been brought from Afghanistan this year on suspicion of terrorism. A spokesperson at the base, Lieutenant Corporal Barry Johnson, said the children were moved to a “dedicated juvenile facility” at the camp, where they can socialize with each other and are given “specialist mental health care, in recognition of the difficult circumstances that child combatants go through.” But Johnson said the children will still be held indefinitely without access to lawyers. Amnesty International spokesperson Angela Wright said holding the children is “wholly repugnant and contrary to basic principles of human rights” and violated nearly universally accepted U.N. rules. The United States and Somalia are the only member states of the United Nations that have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The World Health Organization has added Beijing and China’s Shanxi province to a list of places travelers should avoid, as well as Toronto, Canada. Canadian health officials and Toronto’s mayor lashed out against the warning. But the World Health Organization noted people now suffering from SARS in other countries appear to have caught the virus in Toronto, the only city outside Asia to have had deaths associated with the syndrome. Beijing announced four more deaths from the SARS virus and sealed off a major hospital to avoid spread of the disease. A BBC correspondent says there’s a sense of spreading alarm in the Chinese capital with panic buying of rice and salt. In Shanghai, a visiting expert from the World Health Organization, Dr. Wolfgang Peiser, has said he believed there were tens of SARS cases in the city rather than the two confirmed cases being officially reported. Chinese authorities closed Beijing’s schools for two weeks yesterday, a move that will affect up to 1.7 million children.
These other developments in the SARS crisis: Russian airline Aeroflot says it is disinfecting all planes arriving from China, Vietnam, India and Canada. More than 100 representatives from the world’s airlines are holding emergency talks in Bangkok to decide how to tackle the SARS crisis. Police in Australia were given new powers to round up and quarantine suspected SARS victims. Singapore’s prime minister vowed to jail people who violate quarantine laws. Tourism in the region is down, with Hong Kong-based carrier Cathay Pacific cutting nearly half of its flights and Singapore reporting a 70% fall in visitor arrivals. SARS appears to be caused by a new strain of the coronavirus, which may have jumped from animals to humans. Scientists are racing to produce a vaccine.
Envoys from the U.S. and North Korea have begun a second day of face-to-face talks in Beijing about North Korea’s nuclear program. North Korea’s official news agency said the U.S. invasion of Iraq shows that other countries need a strong physical deterrent force to protect themselves. More on that story in a minute.
The Pentagon has acknowledged for the first time that the Bush administration intends to produce — not just research — a thermonuclear bunker-busting bomb to destroy hardened, deeply buried targets, this according to the San Jose Mercury News. The Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator will be a full-power hydrogen bomb that would throw up enormous clouds of radioactive dust, while wreaking large-scale damage and death if used in an urban area. It would be thousands of times more powerful than the conventional bunker busters dropped on Baghdad. Federal officials signed documents in Washington this week to launch a preliminary design contest between Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded train station in central Israel today, injuring 13 and killing a security guard. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen ended their standoff yesterday when Arafat agreed to put Mohammed Dahlan in charge of security. Arafat was under heavy pressure from the U.S. to give Abu Mazen a free hand to choose his Cabinet. Both the prime minister and his choice for security chief are supported by the U.S., Britain and Israel. The U.S. government promised to help implement its so-called roadmap to peace only once the new prime minister was installed.
The Republican Unity group yesterday demanded that Republican Senator Rick Santorum apologize to gay men and lesbians for remarks equating homosexuality with bigamy and incest. Officials of the group include former President Gerald Ford and Mary Cheney, the daughter of the vice president. The group spoke out a day after Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist of Tennessee defended Santorum as a “voice for inclusion and compassion.” The White House has remained silent on the issue. Commenting on a Supreme Court challenge to a Texas law banning consensual sodomy, Santorum told the Associated Press, “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.” After Santorum complained Tuesday that the quote had been taken out of context, the AP released the full text of the interview. Santorum also said, “I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts.”