In Iraq, the U.S. occupation entered a new phase Sunday as Shiite Iraqis staged an armed uprising against the occupying forces in four cities.
A total of at least 50 Iraqis and 10 U.S. troops died Sunday. Hundreds were injured. The U.S.-led occupying forces lost control of at least one city. Police stations were burned in four others. The resistance continued early today in Basra where dozens of Shiites occupied the governor’s office.
The young Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr called for the uprising after the U.S. shut down one of his newspapers and arrested one of his top aides.
In a statement, Sadr said “Terrorize your enemy, God will reward you well for what pleases him. It is not possible to remain silent in front of their abuse.”
Writing in the London Independent, Robert Fisk says the U.S. occupation of Iraq will become untenable if the Shiite uprising continues.
Fisk writes “The Americans can scarcely contain the Sunni Muslim revolt to the north; they cannot fight another community, this one representing 60 percent of Iraqis.”
Middle East analyst Juan Cole said “So far, about 60% of clashes with Coalition troops had occurred in the Sunni heartland of Iraq. But the violent clashes in Najaf, Baghdad, Amara and Nasiriyah may signal the beginning of a second phase, in which the US faces a two-front war, against both Sunni radicals in the center-north and Shiite militias in the South.” The worst violence Sunday was in the city of Kufa near the Shiite holy city of Najaf and in the section of Baghdad known as Sadr City. In Kufa at least 22 people died and as many as 200 were injured in a three-hour gun battle that began when followers of Sadr and Spanish troops exchanged gun fire. The dead included at least 20 Iraqis, one American and one Salvadoran. In Sadr City, seven U.S. troops were killed as well as 28 Iraqis. Thousands more followers of Sadr protested in Baghdad, Nassiriya and Basra.
The BBC reported the clashes marked the most serious confrontation to date between the occupation forces and members of Iraq’s Shiite majority.
On the Sunni front, U.S. troops have sealed off the Sunni Muslim town of Falluja where four U.S. military contractors were brutally killed last week. The Los Angeles Times reports the U.S. is preparing to launch its largest offensive since the fall of Baghdad. Seven Iraqis and one Marine have already died in early fighting.
On Sunday the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, said on ABC’s “This Week,” that the U.S. may be forced to delay handing over power to Iraqis on June 30 and that the U.S. may be forced to send more troops to quell the violence.
Hints of the uprising that would start on Sunday emerged in the days prior.
On Saturday, 5,000 supporters of Sadr marched through East Baghdad protesting the U.S. for closing down the Al-Hawzah newspaper.
On Friday the Miami Herald reported 20,000 Shiites protested outside the U.S. occupation headquarters in Baghdad marking the largest protest there to date.
A sheik representing Sadr told the crowd “We fought Saddam, and now we’re fighting the Americans. Listen America, Britain and Israel, there’s a man named Muqtada Sadr and he gives resistance fighters their courage.” ’
In other Iraq news, the New York Daily News reported Sunday in a major expose that four soldiers of the New York National Guard tested positive for depleted uranium contamination after returning home from Iraq.
They are the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure from the current Iraq conflict.
Army officials at Fort Dix and Walter Reed Army Medical Center are now rushing to test all returning members of the 442nd. We’ll be talking to three of the soldiers in a few minutes.
A 25,000 word expose in the May issue of Vanity Fair reports that President Bush first asked British Prime Minister Tony Blair to support the removal of Saddam Hussein from power at a private White House dinner nine days after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The source of the article is Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador to Washington who was at the dinner with Blair.
In addition, Vanity Fair reports Blair helped force the U.S. to go to the United Nations because Blair warned that he could be toppled from power if the allies did not do so.
The Associated Press is reporting that the Bush administration has packed the press office of the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority with Republican operatives. Critics say the press office is so partisan that it is seen as an outpost of Bush’s re-election effort.
One of the main goals of the office known as Stratcom has been to shed light on the positive side of the Iraq occupation.
One press release from late March read “Beautification Plan for Baghdad Ready to Begin.” Another statement last month warned, “The Reality is Nothing Like What You See on Television.’’
The office is headed by Dan Senor, a former press secretary for Spencer Abraham, the Michigan Republican who is now Energy secretary. Senor formerly worked with the Carlyle Group.
Meanwhile Rich Galen, the former press secretary of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Vice President Dan Quayle, oversees sending daily news releases directly to media outlets in the U.S.
One former CPA contractor said “Iraq is in danger of costing George W. Bush his presidency and the CPA’s media staff are determined to see that does not happen.”
In a joint television interview, the chair and vice chair of the 9/11 commission indicated Sunday that the panel has gathered evidence that shows the Sept. 11 attacks probably could have been prevented.
The vice chairman Lee Hamilton said “There are a lot of ifs; you can string together a whole bunch of ifs, and if things had broken right in all kinds of different ways, as the governor has identified, and frankly if you’d had a little luck, it probably could have been prevented.”
The chair of the commission Thomas Kean also warned Sunday he could not guarantee the panel’s report will be released before the presidential election because of a protracted White House vetting process.
In related news, the Bush administration reversed itself on Friday and said the 9/11 commission would be allowed to view thousands of classified documents handed over by President Clinton. It is not clear if the commissioners will be allowed to keep copies of the documents or if they will be allowed only to view the papers.
Newsweek is reporting a federal investigation into the bank accounts of the Saudi Embassy in Washington has identified more than $27 million in “suspicious” transactions-including hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Muslim charities, and to clerics and Saudi students who are being scrutinized for possible links to terrorist activity. Riggs Bank of Washington recently dropped the Saudis as a client.
According to Newsweek, the current probe, by the FBI and Treasury Department, is one of the most sensitive financial inquiries now being conducted by the government and is being closely monitored by the White House. The 9/11 commission has also been briefed on developments.
In Britain, TV announcer Anna Richardson has announced that she plans to sue the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, for making unwanted sexual advances towards her. During a pre-recorded television interview in 2000 she charges Schwarzenegger pulled her on to his knee and squeezed her nipple.
Meanwhile the actor has reportedly agreed to undergo training on how to avoid sexual harassment.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has issued a report criticizing the New York and Oakland police for abusing the human rights of antiwar protesters last year. This marks the first time in at least five years that the U.S. was cited in the annual human rights report. Other nations criticized include Indonesia, Burundi, China, Pakistan and Egypt.
Oakland police shot wooden plugs and beanbags at antiwar demonstrators during a protest last year along the city’s docks. During the Feb. 15 antiwar protests of last year, the New York police charged into protesters with horses, beat protesters with batons and indiscriminately fired pepper spray.
Richard Nixon’s former counsel John Dean is charging in a new book out this week that the crimes of President Bush are worse than his previous boss and are grounds for impeachment. Dean served prison time for his role in the Watergate scandal. His new book is titled “Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush.” Dean will be joining us on Democracy Now! on Tuesday.