The commander of US forces in the Middle East Gen. John Abizaid asked Monday for two new combat brigades–or up to 10,000 more US troops–to help fight the growing resistance in Iraq. There are currently 135,000 American troops in Iraq. While announcing the need for more troops, Abizaid said the Iraqi security forces had been a “great disappointment.” There have been reports of US-trained Iraqi troops refusing to fight against the Iraqi resistance and even troops who quit the army to join the resistance.
Up to 3,000 U.S. soldiers are now massed outside the Shiite’s holiest city in Iraq, Najaf, where the Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr has been holed up. On Monday Sadr pulled back his militia from controlling government buildings in Najaf, Karbala and Kufa. A U.S. commander said “My intent is to destroy Sadr’s militia, absolutely destroy it. And then to capture or kill Sadr. That is our mission. We’re just waiting to be unleashed.” A U.S. attack on the holy city of Najaf could inflame anti-U.S. sentiment among the Shiite community. The Iranian newspaper Baztab is reporting that the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has warned the occupying forces not to attack the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Sistani, who is the most influential Shiite in Iraq, said if such an attack occurred the religious leadership of the Shiites would fight to its last breath. In Baghdad earlier today US troops arrested a representative of Sadr in a central Baghdad hotel.
In Fallujah, fighting has decreased but continues. Earlier today the Associated Press reported a U.S. Apache helicopter crashed outside Fallujah. Witnesses said it was hit by a rocket from the ground. There was no immediate word on casualties. U.S. officials Monday claimed they had fought a clean war in Fallujah despite reports that the majority of the 600 Iraqis killed were women, children and the elderly. At a press conference Monday an Iraqi reporter asked the US military about the images of children being killed in Fallujah that were broadcast on Al Jazeera, General Kimmitt didn’t deny the charge but said “Change the channel to a legitimate, authoritative, honest news station.”
Meanwhile Monday saw a spike in kidnappings and disappearances. Among the missing were two U.S. soldiers and six U.S. employees of the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root. Another KBR hostage was taken over the weekend. Three Czech journalists also were reported missing. Three Russians and five Ukranians who were taken hostage yesterday were released earlier today. The three Japanese civilians taken last week remain hostage. The Los Angeles Times reports the Halliburton has suspended some convoys delivering supplies to troops because of safety concerns raising the risk that troops could suffer from a lack food and water.
On the campaign front, Senator John Kerry criticized President Bush’s plan to hand over power in Iraq on June 30 because it remains unclear who would take power. Kerry also said he would replace Paul Bremer, the American who is overseeing the occupation, with a special United Nations envoy in an attempt to “de-Americanize” the occupation.
The Los Angeles Times reports that US ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, has emerged as the top candidate to become the American envoy to Iraq. During the 1980s he served as ambassador to Hondurus during the height of the Iran-Contra affair.
The New York Times is reporting the Justice Department made efforts Monday to persuade the 9/11 commission to rewrite a new report that portrays Attorney General John Ashcroft as being uninterested in counterterrorism issues in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks. F.B.I.'s former counterterrorism chief, Dale Watson, reportedly told the commission that he fell off his chair when he learned that Ashcroft had failed to list combating terrorism as one of the department's priorities in a March 2001 department-wide memo. Ashcroft, is scheduled to testify before the commission Tuesday afternoon. The 9/11 commission is also expected to issue a report criticizing the FBI for missing a series of clues that suggested Al Qaeda was preparing an attack within U.S. borders.
Tonight President Bush is scheduled to hold his first prime time press conference since just before the Iraq invasion. It is only the third prime time press conference of his administration and just his 12th press conference overall.
Palestinian leader are warning the Bush administration that it would be torpedoing the peace process if it allowed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to keep control of settlements in the West Bank. Sharon is expected to meet with national Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in Washington today and with Bush on Wednesday.
And New York-based Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti has been released from jail nearly two years after he was detained by U.S. immigration officials. We will have more on this later in the show.