In nearly simultaneous strikes Sunday, a pair of suicide bombers set off explosives during Muslim holiday celebrations inside two buildings housing offices of the main Kurdish parties in northern Iraq, killing at least 67 people and wounding more than 200.
The blasts killed senior members of the two parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which are among the best-organized and most staunch U.S. allies in Iraq. Both groups supported the invasion that toppled President Saddam Hussein and put their large militias at the service of U.S. commanders.
The blasts are believed to be the first major strikes in Iraq in which the assailants strapped explosives to their bodies. Most suicide bombings in Iraq have involved explosives packed into cars or trucks.
The dead included the deputy prime minister of the Kurdish north. The KDP regional director for Erbil, the city’s mayor and his deputy, and the chief of police also were killed. The PUK dead included the top representative for Erbil.
In the attacks on Sunday, the bombs were synchronized to detonate at 10:30 a.m., when large crowds gathered at both headquarters and pressed into the small auditoriums as people wound in a large line to greet the dignitaries.
Senior administration officials said over the weekend that President Bush will establish a bipartisan commission in the next few days to examine American intelligence operations, including what is being described as a study of possible misjudgments about Iraq’s unconventional weapons.
The president’s decision came after a week of rising pressure on the White House from both Democrats and many ranking Republicans to deal with what the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee has called “egregious” errors that overstated Iraq’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and made the country appear far closer to developing nuclear weapons than it actually was.
Mr. Bush’s agreement to set up a commission to study the Iraq intelligence failures was first reported Sunday by The Washington Post.
The pressure to establish the commission intensified after David Kay, the former chief weapons inspector, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that “it turns out we were all wrong, probably,” about the perceived Iraqi threat, which was the administration’s basic justification for the war.
The commission will not report back until after the November elections. Some former officials who have been approached about taking part say they believe it may take 18 months or more to reach its conclusions.
The draft of the executive order specifically orders the commission to compare intelligence about Iraq with what was found on the ground there. But it is not clear whether the commission will decide to delve into issues beyond how the intelligence was gathered, and specifically how it was used. In the case of Iraq, that could put the commission into the midst of the politically charged question of whether the most dire-sounding possibilities were de-emphasized by Bush administration officials to build a national and international consensus on the need to take military action. The White House has denied any such effort to filter the intelligence.
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reports that Bush aides have learned through hard experience that admitting error only projects weakness and invites more abuse. Conversely, by postponing an acknowledgment — possibly beyond Election Day — the White House is generating a fog of uncertainty around Kay’s stark findings, and potentially softening a harsh public judgment.
Former Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said “They aren’t giving up…They all prefer to retreat under a mist of controversy rather than say, ’I’m sorry, this was wrong.
More than one-third of Iran’s Parliament resigned Sunday to protest a sweeping ban on candidates running in the parliamentary election later this month. The defiant move threatened to plunge Iran’s political system into chaos.
One by one, angry lawmakers who have held a three-week sit-in at the huge Parliament building, marched up to the podium and handed their resignations to the speaker. In an emotional statement read aloud during the session of Parliament on Sunday and broadcast live across the nation on Iranian radio, the members who resigned accused powerful conservatives of seeking to impose a religious dictatorship like that of the Taliban.
The mass resignation coincided with what was supposed to be a day of national celebration, the 25th anniversary of the return to Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini from exile in France.
The resignations came a day after the president announced that his negotiations with senior religious officials had failed to resolve the crisis.
At least 244 people were trampled to death and hundreds more hurt Sunday under the crush of worshippers in one of the deadliest disasters during the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Democratic Sen. John Kerry on Saturday rejected charges his votes in the U.S. Senate were influenced by campaign contributions, saying he had spent his whole career battling special interests.
Speaking to reporters after accepting the endorsement of Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Kerry said he would put his record up against any of the Democratic candidates seeking the chance to run against President Bush in November.
Michigan holds a primary next Saturday. Kerry is now making a seven-state campaign swing in advance of the Democratic contests on Tuesday.
But the reports that he had accepted thousands of dollars in contributions from lobbyists dogged him through the day, which he began in Missouri before a boisterous rally, launching his own attack on Bush for allowing “lobbyists and special interests” to influence White House policy.
Criticizing Kerry, Dean told reporters in Tucson: “It turns out we’ve got more than one Republican in the Democratic race. I’ve already said I thought (retired Gen.) Wes Clark was a Republican and now apparently John Kerry has the same financing habits.”
Meanwhile, according to a MSNBC/Reuters Zogby poll released on Sunday John Kerry holds wide leads in Missouri and Arizona and a narrow lead in Oklahoma and has moved into a virtual tie in South Carolina two days before key presidential contests in those states.
The surging Kerry, showing no signs of slowing down after kicking off the Democratic race with back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, held a 29-point lead in Missouri, the biggest prize in Tuesday’s round of seven state contests.
The senator from Massachusetts also held a 12-point lead over retired Gen. Wesley Clark in Arizona in the latest three-day tracking poll, although Clark had trimmed 9 points off his lead there in the last two days.
Kerry, however, moved past Clark in Oklahoma to grab a 2-point lead. He also gained ground in a seesawing race in South Carolina and now trails John Edwards by only 1 point in a state where Edwards is counting on a win.
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) said this weekend she supports the massive barrier that Israel calls a security fence. She said the barrier is outside the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the court should immediately recuse itself from the case.
“This fence is a legitimate response by a sovereign nation to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks,” Clinton told reporters at a press conference outside United Nations headquarters.
Surrounded by Jewish leaders and former New York City mayor Ed Koch, Clinton issued rare praise for the Bush administration for opposing the court’s decision to review the legality of the fence.
She also lauded Israel for building the fence, which she described as a restrained, defensive measure against terrorism. Critics of the massive barrier call it the “Apartheid Wall.”
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu appealed to a U.S. court to allow apartheid victims’ claims for compensation from foreign companies to proceed, the Sunday Independent newspaper reported. The South African government, fearing a loss of foreign investments, has opposed the multibillion-dollar lawsuits filed against major companies in U.S. courts.
BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan resigned Friday after a judicial inquiry repudiated his reporting that the government “sexed up” intelligence on Iraq . He is the third BBC resignation prompted by the harsh criticism.
The controversy has sent a chill through British media, with senior journalists warning it could impede tough investigative reporting.
In a statement, Gilligan apologized for mistakes in his May 2003 story and said his departure was at his “own initiative.”
Gilligan said “I love the BBC and I am resigning because I want to protect it. I accept my part in the crisis which has befallen the organization. But a greater part has been played by the unbalanced judgments” of senior judge Lord Hutton.
Hutton said the BBC was wrong when it quoted an anonymous source as saying officials had inflated intelligence to justify war.
Besides Gilligan, the BBC’s two top officials-BBC chairman Gavyn Davies and director general Greg Dyke -also resigned this week and the BBC apologized to the government after the inquiry.