The United States was a dealt a blow to its efforts in shaping the post June 30th Iraqi government when its pick for president refused to take the position earlier today after being selected by the Iraqi Governing Council. The U.S. had been heavily lobbying for former Iraqi foreign minister Adnan Pachachi to fill the largely symbolic seat. On Monday the head of the US occupation, Paul Bremer, forced the council to delay a vote when it appeared Pachachi didn’t have enough votes. The London Independent reported Bremer threatened to veto any vote by the governing council if it did not select Pachachi. Earlier today the council, under U.S. pressure, picked Pachachi, only for him to say no to the job. Then the council picked his main opponent, another Sunni, Ghazi al-Yawar, a tribal leader who also sits on the Governing Council. In his first news conference as president Yawar called on the UN to give Iraq full sovereignty after the so-called June 30th handover.
As the Council was negotiating inside the Green Zone, a massive car bomb exploded nearby outside the Baghdad office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Up to 25 people died. Meanwhile in the northern city of Beiji another car bomb exploded near a U.S. military base killing 11 Iraqis and wounding at least two dozen.
On Friday the Council picked Ayad Allawi, a former Baathist who has ties to the CIA and Saudi intelligence, to be prime minister. Allawi fled Iraq in the 1970s and went on to help form one of the leading Iraqi exile groups, the Iraqi National Accord. The group comprises mostly former Baathists and former top Iraqi military leaders. The Guardian of London reports that the selection of Allawi shows that the UN process to select an Iraqi leader had largely collapsed, placing the decision in the hands of the former U.S.-backed exile groups that dominate the governing council. On Friday, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan claimed Allawi had “broad support among the Iraqi people.” But a poll in February found less than one percent of the population favored him to be their national leader. Allawi, who is related to Ahmed Chalabi by marriage, has claimed ties have been found between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, although most Iraqi experts claim no such ties have been found. He told the Daily Telegraph last year “We are uncovering evidence all the time of Saddam’s involvement with al-Qaida… he had contact with those responsible for the September 11 attacks.” Allawi charged that he had evidence that hijacker Muhammad Atta trained for his mission in Baghdad with support from the Iraqi intelligence service. Allawi has also admitted that he personally passed on the now disputed intelligence to the British spy agency MI6 that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes. And British journalist Dilip Hero reported that Allawi’s group the INA was largely funded by the head of Saudi Arabia’s foreign intelligence Prince Turki ibn Faisal and that Allawi helped Saudi intelligence establish the anti-Baghdad radio station Voice of Free Iraq.
In Saudi Arabia, 22 people were killed over the weekend after armed men took over a complex housing mostly foreign oil workers. 13 foreigners died in the initial attack, the others died when Saudi commandos raided the complex in an attempt to end the 25- hour siege. Somehow three of the four hostage takers escaped. One survivor said it appeared the Saudi police allowed them to flee after they threatened to blow up the building. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks which have already had an effect on international oil markets. In Toyko the price of crude oil jumped 2 percent. This comes at a time that Saudi Arabia has vowed to increase output in an attempt to stabilize the cost of oil.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting Israeli forces killed a total of 111 Palestinians during May — the highest monthly death toll in two years. Meanwhile the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has launched an appeal to raise over $16 million to help repair damage to the Rafah refugee camp where Israeli forces have recently demolished over 350 homes including 24 over the weekend. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights estimates 5,000 people in Rafah have been left homeless over the past two weeks.
Time Magazine is reporting it has obtained an email from an Army Corps of Engineers official in March 2003 that indicates Vice President Dick Cheney directly approved the massive no-bid contract for reconstruction in Iraq that went to Halliburton, the company Cheney headed before becoming vice president. Time’s report directly contradicts former public statements by Cheney. Last September he appeared on Meet the Press and told Tim Russert, “As Vice President, I have absolutely no influence of, involvement of, knowledge of in any way, shape or form of contracts led by the Corps of Engineers or anybody else in the Federal Government.”
Ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide arrived in South Africa Monday where he plans to live in temporary exile. On Sunday as he left Jamaica, where he had been staying, he told reporters “There is one elected president of Haiti and it’s me… (South Africa) will now be our temporary home until we are back in Haiti.”
The Washington Post is reporting the Army is now conducting 91 investigations into abuse of civilians and prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile USA Today is reporting that of the 37 detainees who have died in U.S. custody, about a third were “shot, strangled or beaten by U.S. personnel before they died.” And the Army has also announced that it has begun investigating reports that a number of US troops have assaulted and stole money from Iraqi civilians during patrols, raids and house searches.
A Chilean court has stripped Gen. Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution, paving the way for his trial on human rights charges committed during his dictatorship between 1973 and 1990.
On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators marched in Hong Kong to mark the upcoming15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings of pre-democracy activists which took place on June 4, 1989. The march came as news spread that three prominent pro-democracy radio hosts had quit their jobs and fled Hong Kong apparently under pressure from China. The group Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor accused China of threatening the lives of the journalists. One of the hosts told the New York Times “As long as I keep my mouth shut and don’t talk to you, I’m safe.” Meanwhile in mainland China police have reportedly been placing large numbers of democracy advocates under house arrest in preparation for the anniversary on Friday of the Tiananmen Square killings.
On Monday, North Korea accused the Bush administration of making up reports about the country’s nuclear weapons program as a pretext for war just as Washington did with Iraq before the U.S. invasion. The United States has said North Korea has admitted operating a secret enriched uranium- based nuclear weapons program. But North Korea denies making any such admission. North Korea’s official news agency wrote in a commentary “Having worked out a plan to launch a new war on the Korean peninsula in the wake of that in Iraq, the U.S. is building up in advance public opinion about fictitious development of 'enriched uranium'”
And Time magazine reports President Bush has a new item in the White House to show off to visitors — Saddam Hussein’s former handgun that was captured along with the Iraqi president last December. Time reports Bush displays the gun to select visitors. One visitor told Time “He really liked showing it off. He was really proud of it.” But questions have arisen on the web that Bush may be violating D.C. and federal laws regulating firearms including D.C.’s ban on handguns and restrictions on possessing a firearm in a federal facility.