In a major overhaul of leadership in Iraq, most of Washington’s top civil administrators in Baghdad are being sent home. Retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner is expected to leave within the next two weeks. Barbara Bodine, who has been in charge of reconstruction for the Baghdad region, will be leaving within the next day or two. Others expected to leave soon include Margaret Tutwiler, who was in charge of overall communications; Tim Carney, who’s been overseeing Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Minerals; David Dunford, a senior Foreign Service specialist on the Middle East; and John Limbert, the ambassador to Mauritania. This all comes as State Department veteran Paul Bremer arrived in Basra today to become the new top administrator in charge of rebuilding Iraq. He was formerly with Kissinger Associates.
The BBC reports that Iraqis have become increasingly frustrated that their lives remain in chaos more than a month after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled. Several Baghdad neighborhoods still lack electricity and running water. Rubbish is piled up in the streets. And many shopkeepers are reportedly too afraid of looters to reopen their businesses. There is a lack of security. Ministries are not working properly, and salaries are not being paid.
We’re going to turn now to Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! producer, who is in Baghdad. Just before the program, we received this short report.
Sharif Abdel Kouddous: “The situation in Baghdad over the last few days seems to have grown more and more tense. The looting and violence continues. There are buildings on fire around the city. And at night, you can hear the crackle of gunfire and emergency. Carjackings are very common. The day before yesterday, one of my colleagues was in a car about a few hundred meters down the street from the Sheraton Hotel where we are staying. He watched as five men, two of them armed with pistols, swarmed around the car and directly in front of him. He saw one man point his gun inside the driver’s seat window and fire six shots at the driver. This was at about 2:30 p.m. and happened only a couple of streets down from where a U.S. Army tank and a few soldiers were stationed. So it seems no place is safe in the city. Also yesterday, the telephone exchange building on Rasheed Street was on fire. This was at about 1:00 in the afternoon. I rushed over there after seeing” —
And at that moment as we were receiving the report from Sharif, his report cut off. We are going to turn back to the news headlines now and see if we can get him on the line. Sharif Abdel Kouddous, reporting from Baghdad.
A new report by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization says Iraq's agricultural system is on the brink of collapse, raising fears that many of Iraq’s 24 million people will go hungry this summer. According to the London Observer, government warehouses that would have served as the main suppliers of seeds, fertilizers and pesticide sprays have been looted, particularly in the center and south of the country.
The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations and is planning to head home after finding no proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, this according to a report in The Washington Post.
Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, the most prominent leader among Iraq’s majority Shia Muslims, has crossed into Iraq for the first time after 23 years of exile. He told an ecstatic rally of up to 100,000 supporters in Basra that Iraq must have a totally independent government.
Doctors in Iraq fear that hundreds of Iraqis may be suffering from radiation poisoning following the widespread looting of the country’s nuclear facilities, this according to the London Telegraph. Many residents in villages close to the huge Tuwaitha nuclear facility about seven miles south of Baghdad were showing signs of radiation illness last week, including rashes, acute vomiting and severe nosebleeds. Alarmed by the report, the International Atomic Energy Agency last week sent a letter to reiterate earlier demands that the U.S. grant the agency access to Iraq’s nuclear sites, but so far there has been no response.
The Bush administration took a step toward developing a new generation of nuclear weapons Friday when the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a bill that would lift a 10-year ban on researching small atomic bombs. The bill also provides $15.5 million in funding for research on a large hydrogen bunker buster bomb called the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a bomb which would be at least six times more powerful than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Israel must ease restrictions and hardships on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. The comments were made during a joint news conference with Palestine’s new Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. Powell is in the Middle East to promote support for the U.S.-backed plan for Middle East peace. But Powell left Israel today without gaining any firm commitment from Israel to the plan. Meanwhile, the Israeli army reimposed a full closure of the Gaza Strip late yesterday, because of “security considerations,” less than 24 hours after lifting restrictions to coincide with Powell’s visit. On Friday, Israeli troops raided the offices of the International Solidarity Movement. Two international activists were arrested and will be deported. We’ll have more on that story in a few minutes.
This news just in from Chechnya: At least 30 people were killed today, dozens more injured, after a trailer loaded with explosives rammed into a government building. The BBC reports the attack in the northern town of Znamenskoye is being blamed on Chechen rebels who are fighting for independence from Moscow.
International monitors have left Indonesia’s western province of Aceh ahead of a possible military attack against rebels. The Indonesian government has demanded the Free Aceh movement abandon their independence campaign, lay down their arms and start talks on local autonomy. Six hundred more Indonesian troops are expected to arrive in Aceh shortly to join thousands of soldiers already in the province. The Indonesian military has killed thousands in Aceh over the last years.
Michael Powell, chair of the Federal Communications Commission, is expected to propose an increase in the U.S. television cap from 35% to 45% when he presents a draft of new media ownership rules to his fellow commissioners today, this according to the Financial Times. The existing cap prevents one company from reaching more than 35% of the U.S. national television audience. Increasing the cap would allow large television networks to buy more local stations. It would also eliminate the need for Viacom, which owns CBS, and Fox to divest stations because they currently are in breach of the cap. On June 2, the FCC’s five commissioners will vote on Powell’s proposals.
This news from London: Clare Short resigned this morning from Tony Blair’s Cabinet. The international development secretary accused Blair of breaching assurances he made to her about the need for a legitimate Iraqi government organized under a U.N. mandate.
And FBI investigators now suspect that the anthrax-filled letters sent to politicians and media figures in 2001 may have been prepared underwater using equipment investigators have discovered in a Maryland pond, this according to The Washington Post. The find represents the first physical evidence to surface in the case, and it strengthens the growing belief that the attacks were carried out by someone with possible links with the U.S. biodefense establishment. The pond, on the outskirts of Washington, is eight miles from Fort Detrick, the headquarters of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. No suspects have been named so far in the investigation, but the Attorney General John Ashcroft has named Steven Hatfill as a “person of interest” in the inquiry. The Washington Post noted that Hatfill is a former Fort Detrick employee on bioterrorism. He also had a postgraduate diploma in diving and underwater medicine from a South African naval training institute. In fact, he trained in South Africa under apartheid. Hatfill has vigorously denied any involvement and has accused the FBI of ruining his life by leaking its suspicions to the press.