In Najaf, U.S. tanks and Iraqi troops have moved within 200 yards of the Imam Ali shrine and encircled the holy site occupied by Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. Iraq’s Defense Minister warned that Iraqi National Guardsmen would soon move in to seize the mosque. At a press conference he said “We are in the last hours. This evening, Iraqi forces will reach the doors of the shrine and control it and appeal to the Mehdi Army to throw down their weapons. If they do not, we will wipe them out.” Today marks the 20th day of fighting in Najaf.
In Baghdad, convoys carrying Iraq’s interim environment and education ministers came under attack today in separate apparent assassination attempts. They both survived but five of their bodyguards were killed.
Today the U.S. will try four detainees at Guantanamo Bay in the first military trials conducted by the U.S. since World War II. The proceedings have been condemned as fundamentally unfair by defense attorneys and human rights groups. Secret evidence will be allowed and appeals will go to a panel selected by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Human rights group and the media have been invited to attend the hearings but no one will be allowed to record the proceedings.
The Army is set to release a new report on the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal that charges leadership failures at the highest levels of the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff and military command in Iraq contributed to an environment in which detainees were abused in Iraqi prisons. This according to a report in the New York Times. The same investigation has also found that un-muzzled military police dogs were used to frighten detained Iraqi teenagers as young as 15 at Abu Ghraib. Dog handlers reportedly told investigators the procedure was sanctioned by top military intelligence officers. Meanwhile U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick is expected to plead guilty at a pretrial hearing today to one of the charges against him for abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib.
On the campaign front, President Bush yesterday refused to specifically denounce controversial ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that question John Kerry’s military service in Vietnam. Instead Bush called for an end to all independent-funded or so-called 527 ads. Meanwhile new links between the Swift Boat Veterans and the Bush campaign have emerged. The Dallas Morning News reports the chief funder of the Swift Boat Veterans, Bob Perry is co-hosting a fundraiser in New York next where President Bush, Karl Rove, and Tom DeLay are all scheduled to attend.
In Israel, a legal team from the Justice Ministry has said the government should consider applying the Geneva Convention to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Fourth Geneva Convention governs the treatment of civilians in occupied territories. According to Haaretz, the legal team made the recommendation in response to the International Court of Justice’s ruling against Israel’s construction of a 400-mile wall in the West Bank. If Israel adopted the Geneva Conventions it would mark the first time the country has acknowledged the West Bank and Gaza to be occupied territories.
Meanwhile the Associated Press is reporting Israeli forces today swept up more than 300 Palestinians in Nablus. The detentions occurred after Israeli tanks surrounded the Askar refugee camp and ordered all Palestinian males to go to a school for questioning.
Iran is dismissing allegations by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that it is working to develop missiles capable of reaching the United States. Meanwhile tension remains high between Iran and Israel. Last week, Iran warned it would preemptively attack Israel or US forces in the region to prevent an attack on its nuclear sites. Iran says its nuclear activity is solely for peaceful purposes. Iran’s Defense Minister said last week that the U.S. is not the only country that can claim the right to carry out preemptive attacks. Meanwhile prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz has called for international law to be changed to allow Israel or the U.S. to preemptively strike Iran to stop its nuclear program if needed.
The U.S. has begun flying a military C-130 airplane near Cuba in order to broadcast the US-funded station TV Marti into Cuba. The Bush administration claims the TV broadcasts are needed to help “speed up a democratic transition in Cuba.” The military planes allow the US to broadcast the propaganda network into Cuba and to circumvent the country’s electronic jamming system.
In New York, a federal judge yesterday refused to allow the ANSWER coalition and the National Council of Arab Americans to hold an antiwar rally on Saturday in Central Park. Today United For Peace and Justice will head to court in an attempt to overturn the city’s rejection of their request to hold a Central Park rally on Sunday, one day ahead of the start of the Republican National Convention.