U.S. forces have killed 43 Iraqis in intense fighting Monday night outside of the holy city of Najaf. The battle came as 200 U.S. forces made their first deployment inside Najaf where they moved into a base formerly occupied by Spanish troops who have now entirely pulled out of the holy city.
Fighting continued in Fallujah as well where eight Iraqis and one Marine died Monday. US helicopter gunships also leveled a 60-ft mosque minaret in Fallujah. The military claimed it was being used as a firing platform by the Iraqi resistance. Because of the intense fighting, the U.S. have delayed plans to start joint patrols with Iraqi troops.
And in Baghdad two US troops died and five were wounded in Baghdad when a building they were searching for chemical munitions blew up. Four humvees parked outside were destroyed in the blast. Iraqis said the complex housed a cosmetics factory.
In Britain, 52 former British diplomats have taken the unprecedented move of writing Prime Minister Tony Blair an open letter condemning his close alliance with President Bush and the “doomed” Middle East policy of the United States. The diplomats wrote to Blair that they had “watched with deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close cooperation with the United States.” The letter also criticized the Bush administration’s new stance backing the existence of illegal Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank.
A defense consultant has found that one in four US troops killed in combat might still be alive if the US had properly equipped them with armor. This according to a report in Newsweek. The report noted that 142 coalition soldiers have died since the invasion from land mines or similar devices. Another 48 died from rocket propelled grenade attacks. Almost all of the dead were inside unprotected vehicles. Under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s lighter-is-better doctrine, the US left most of its armored tanks back in the US relying on unprotected vehicles such as Humvees. The Los Angeles Times reports so many Marines have been wounded recently that there is a backlog awaiting Purple Hearts
The Bush administration is asking the Supreme Court today to allow it to keep private the records of Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force which developed the administration’s energy policies in 2001. Three years ago the groups Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club sued for the right to make public the notes from the group’s meetings but the Bush administration has refused to despite orders from lower federal judges.
The Justice Department is opening a criminal investigation into charges that Republican staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee improperly spied on their Democratic counterparts by illegally accessing 4,000 internal memos on the computers of Democrats. Some of the memos were then released to conservative media organizations. The Justice Department hasn’t confirmed the investigation, but Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont announced Monday that Justice has assigned US attorney David Kelley of New York to oversee the investigation.
On the campaign front, the Kerry and Bush camps clashed Monday over the military record of the two candidates during the Vietnam War. The Republicans have launched a series of attacks on Kerry over the last week questioning whether he earned all three of his Purple Hearts during his two terms in Vietnam. On Monday he was accused of tossing away his service medals to protest the war in 1971. Kerry has long said he threw away ribbons but never his metals. The issue reentered the headlines Monday when ABC News broadcast a 1971 interview that shows Kerry claiming he threw away his medals as well but Kerry said he used the phrases ribbons and medals interchangeably. Kerry responded to the attacks Monday by saying, “This comes from a president who can’t even show or prove that he showed up for duty in the National Guard. And I’m not going to stand for it.” Later in the day Vice President Dick Cheney, who never served in the military, said in a speech at Westminister College in Missouri, “The senator from Massachusetts has given us ample grounds to doubt the judgment and the attitude he brings to bear on vital issues of national security.” The speech was not well received by everyone at the school. The president of the college Fletcher Lamkin took the unusual step in sending a campus-wide letter expressing his displeasure with the partisan tone of the speech. Lamkin wrote that he was “surprised and disappointed that Mr. Cheney chose to step off the high ground and resort to Kerry-bashing for a large portion of his speech.”
The three Japanese citizens who were held hostage for a week in Iraq are now being billed $7,000 each to cover expenses for their return home. The three hostages have been widely criticized in Japan and have been accused of acting recklessly by going to Iraq. One of the hostages traveled to Iraq to study the effects of depleted uranium.
In Afghanistan, human rights groups are condemning the country for carrying out the first state execution since the fall of the Taliban more than two years ago. It emerged today that a former military commander was shot in the head at a jail outside Kabul last week after he was convicted of murder. Amnesty International says the man [[[ Abdullah Shah ]]] was denied basic standards of fairness. The group said it feared the once-powerful commander might have been executed out to remove a key witness to human rights abuses carried out by several commanders now in power. Amnesty has urged Afghanistan to ban judicial executions.
Chinese officials have barred voters in Hong Kong from electing a chief executive in 2007. The Los Angeles Times said the decision was a “crushing blow to pro-democracy advocates in the territory.”
Jordanian state TV aired a videotape Monday of four men in custody who said they were part of an Al Qaida plot to attack the US embassy and other targets with chemical weapons. A Jordanian commentator said the plot could have killed up to 80,000 people.
Secret Service agents paid a visit to Prosser, Washington on Friday to interview a 15-year-old student over the content of recent antiwar drawings he made for a high school art class. One drawing depicted President Bush as a devil launching a missile with the caption “End the war — on terrorism.” The Secret Service was contacted after school officials notified the local police about the content of the drawings.
In South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki was sworn in today for a second term as the country celebrated Freedom Day marking 10 years since the election of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid.