The U.S. assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah has entered its second day. Thousands of U.S. forces are now inside the Sunni city and are approaching the city’s center. They have been engaged in some of the fiercest urban warfare seen to date in Iraq.
The number of casualties in the attack codenamed Phantom Fury is unknown. The US military has claimed it killed 41 Iraqi fighters. Doctors in Fallujah say at least 15 Iraqis have been killed including some civilians. Two Marines drowned when their humvee crashed into the Euphrates. Hundreds of homes have already been destroyed. The US troops have cut electricity to the city and most houses are without running water. Food shortages are already emerging because stores have been closed for days.
Witnesses inside the city told the Los Angeles Times the U.S. has bombed Fallujah’s main first aid clinic. Over the past four days, the US has destroyed one hospital, taken over a second hospital and destroyed a medical supplies storage center.
The attack on Fallujah has been widely condemned inside Iraq. One of the country’s major Sunni political parties, the Iraqi Islamic Party, announced today that it is pulling out of the interim Iraqi government in protest of the US invasion of Fallujah. And the influential Sunni group, Association of Muslim Scholars, issued an edict warning Iraqi soldiers not to take part in the invasion. The edict read in part “Beware of being deceived that you are fighting terrorists from outside the country, because by God you are fighting the townspeople and targeting its men, women and children and history will record every drop of blood you spill in oppressing the people of your nation.” Shiite leader Moqtada al Sadr has also called on Iraqis not to fight alongside the U.S.
The Knight Ridder news agency is reporting at least 200 Iraqi troops have already gone AWOL instead of taking part in the US-led invasion of Fallujah. Meanwhile the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi yesterday flew to a US military base near Fallujah to rally Iraqi soldiers. He told them, “Your job is to arrest the killers but if you kill them, then so be it.”
While the heaviest fighting is in Fallujah, violence is still occurring throughout Iraq. In Baghdad on Monday, car bombs hit two Christian churches as well as outside a hospital. At least eight people died in the attacks. Earlier today a massive car bombing hit Baquba killing up to 45 Iraqis.
This news from France: Doctors are reporting that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s condition has worsened overnight and that this coma has deepened. This comes as tension grows between Arafat’s wife, Suha, and other Palestinian leaders. Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, ex-Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and the speaker of Palestinian Legislative Assembly, Rawhi Fattuh, arrived in Paris from Ramallah late on Monday. But it remains unclear if they will be allowed to see Arafat.
The Bush administration was handed another setback by the courts yesterday in how it is waging its so-called war on terror. A federal judge ruled it was unlawful for the US to try prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay using military tribunals. The judge ruled the detainees must be treated as prisoners of war and protected under conditions laid out in the Geneva Conventions. Michael Ratner, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “The refusal of the Bush Administration to apply the Geneva Conventions was a legal and moral outrage.”
Meanwhile The Daily Mail in London is reporting that Tony Blair’s government has been stunned after one of his most trusted former aides publicly said that the war in Iraq was illegal. Sir Stephen Wall, who served as Blair’s top expert on Europe, said he regretted keeping silent on his concerns before the invasion. Wall said, “We have to be firm in our adherence to that rule of law, even if it sometimes means parting company with the United States.”
A new Associated Press has shown that despite President Bush’s victory last week, the majority of voters disagree with major portions of Bush’s priorities for the next four years. The vast majority said Bush should cut the country’s enormous deficit rather than slash taxes. The majority also said they back the nomination of Supreme Court judges who would preserve abortion rights. And more than a quarter of the voters polled said Iraq should be the country’s top priority. Only 2 percent said reforming the country’s tax code was a top priority. For the past week backers of the Bush administration have attempted to describe last week’s election as a major victory for Bush that gave the president a political mandate. In fact, it was one of the closest presidential races of the past century. The election would have turned if only 70,000 Bush supporters in Ohio had switched to John Kerry. Bush won by 24 electoral votes, the second closest electoral margin since 1916. Only the 2000 race was closer. And while losing, John Kerry received more votes than any previous winning presidential candidate ever has–including Presidents Clinton and Reagan.
In other election news, former Vermont governor Howard Dean is considering a bid to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
In voting news, the Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear two cases that would have challenged the legality of states stripping felons of the right to vote. It is estimated that nearly 4 million people have been stripped of their right to vote including some 1.3 million African American men.
In business news, the Justice Department and the Security & Exchange Commission have launched investigations into the drug company Merck. In September the company pulled its popular painkiller Vioxx from the shelves because it increased the risk of heart attacks. News reports since then indicate the company knew four years ago the drug was dangerous but did not tell consumers or regulators.
In other business news, Halliburton has acknowledged for the first time that it may have paid out millions of dollars in bribes to Nigerian officials in order to win a lucrative national gas project. Many of the bribes were given while Vice President Dick Cheney headed the company.
In environmental news, a new study on climate change in the Arctic shows that polar bears may go extinct by the end of the century due to global warming. The study is the work of over 300 scientists who have conducted the most comprehensive assessment of Arctic climate change over the past four years. The scientists determined the Arctic has warmed 10 times as fast as the world as a whole. Robert Corell, a senior fellow at the American Meteorological Society, said, “The Arctic is really warming now. These areas provide a bellwether of what’s coming to planet Earth.”
And the Pacifica network has named producer and media veteran Roy Campanella, II as the new general manager of KPFA in Berkeley. Campanella will succeed interim KPFA General Manager Jim Bennett.