Overnight the US unleashed a large air attack on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in some of the heaviest bombing since the US first attacked the Sunni stronghold three weeks ago. AC-130 gunships pounded the city and shells rocked the city for hours. The number of people killed are unknown. But the Guardian of London reports residents said fighting was the worst since a truce was called two weeks ago. Al Jazeera aired images of the bombardment around the world. One cleric quoted on the network said the US was targeting ordinary civilians and that they were trying to destroy everything in the city. US officials are saying they were only acting defensively and that it could take six to eight weeks to gain full control of the city.
Meanwhile Spain has pulled all of its troop out of the Shiite holy city of Najaf and the country’s new prime minister said Tuesday that all Spanish troops would be out of Iraq by May 27.
115 U.S. soldiers have now died in combat so far this month — that’s the same number killed during the actual invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile the Associated Press is now estimating 1,200 Iraqis have been killed so far in April. Ted Koppel, host of ABC’s Nightline, has announced that the program will abandon its typical programming on Friday and dedicate the show to the soldiers killed in Iraq. Koppel plans to spend the entire show simply reading the names of those soldiers killed in combat so far.
The United Nations special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi warned against more attacks. He said “Unless this standoff is brought to a resolution through peaceful means, there is great risk of a very bloody confrontation… the consequences of such bloodshed could be dramatic and long-lasting.” Meanwhile Brahimi met with the Security Council Tuesday and said an Iraqi caretaker government could be named by the end of May, a month ahead of the so-called handover of soveignty from the United States.
The White House is insisting that no recording or transcript be made of the comments by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney when they meet together with the 9/11 commission on Thursday morning at the White House. And only one member of the 10-person panel will be allowed to take notes. Bush and Cheney will also be joined by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and another lawyer from the counsel’s office.
The Supreme Court will hear two cases today to determine whether the White House can detain US citizens indefinitely without ever have to press charges or allowing the citizen a chance to appeal their detainment in court. The cases involve two U.S. citizens who have been held as enemy combatants, Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi. On Tuesday the high court appeared to back the Bush administration’s assertion that it has executive privilege not to make public meeting notes from an energy task force assembled by Vice President Dick Cheney. We will be hearing excerpts from the arguments later in the show.
In Thailand police have clashed with a group identified as Islamic militants leaving 112 people dead. At least 30 died in a raid on a mosque. The incidents took place in southern Thailand near the border with Malaysia.
The Los Angeles Times reports Secretary of State Colin Powell met Tuesday with Qatar’s foreign minister for “intense discussions” about the government-funded Al Jazeera satellite TV station. The discussions are expected to last several more days. Powell said on Monday that Al Jazeera’s news coverage has intruded on relations between the US and Qatar, one of Washington’s closest military allies in the Gulf. The Times reports the Pentagon has been systematically monitoring the station and compiling its objection to the reporting especially its coverage in Iraq. State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher claimed the issue is not about media freedom. He said Al Jazeera has crossed from reporting to “screaming 'Fire!' in a crowded theater.” During the recent seige on Falluja, Al Jazeera was the only broadcast outlet inside the city during a time when the US killed up to 600 Iraqis. Their images of dead Iraqis were broadcast throughout the world. A spokesperson from the network said “We are not involved in politics and try to report what is happening on the ground. We give ample space to various points of view on any issue.”
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister traveled to New York on Monday to criticize the US media for demonizing Saudi Arabia charging that critics of the kingdom are only aiding extremists who want to overthrow the monarch. In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Prince Saud Al-Faisal said “”It is ironic that those who most vociferously attack Saudi Arabia are unwittingly serving the purposes of al-Qaeda.” The prince cited by name several recent books on Saudi Arabia as problematic including Craig Unger’s “House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties” and Robert Baer’s “Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Its Soul for Saudi Crude.” He claimed the criticisms of Saudi Arabia in the books were “irresponsibly vicious.”
The United Nations has announced that the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei will visit Israel later this year marking his first visit to the country in six years. He will be there to promote nuclear non-proliferation and a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. Last week Israel’s nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu called on ElBaradei to come to Israel to inspect Israel’s nuclear site at Dimona.