Fierce fighting is continuing for a fifth day in Iraq between backers of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and U.S. forces in Najaf. Sadr said today “I will defend Najaf until my last drop of blood.” On Friday, the U.S. military announced it had killed 300 supporters of Sadr in some of the bloodiest clashes since the fall of Baghdad. On Sunday, the unelected prime minister Iyad Allawi visited Najaf and called on Sadr to withdraw. But Sadr refused Allawi’s request. Meanwhile in Baquba, a car bomb today killed six Iraqis and injured 16.
A three-judge panel in Iraq yesterday ordered the arrest of former U.S. ally Ahmad Chalabi and his nephew Salem Chalabi. Ahmad Chalabi, who had close ties to Vice President Dick Cheney and the Pentagon, was charged with counterfeiting old Iraqi dinars. On Sunday Chalabi spoke to CNN from Tehran and said he would return to Iraq to respond to the fraud charges. This is not Chalabi’s first run-in with the law. In 1992 he was convicted in Jordan for bank fraud in a scandal that lose the Jordanian government hundreds of millions of dollars. He remains a wanted man in Jordan.
His nephew, Salem, has been charged with murder in connection with the assassination of a top official from the Iraqi Finance Ministry. Salem is heading up Iraq’s special tribunal trying former president Saddam Hussein for war crimes. He has also denied the charges against him.
Meanwhile, the new unelected government also yesterday reimposed the death penalty for capital crimes including murder, kidnapping, endangering national security and distributing drug. It is not to clear if the order will retroactively apply to Saddam Hussein.
Allawi Orders Al-Jazeera Office Shut
On Saturday, Prime Minister Allawi ordered Al Jazeera’s office in Baghdad to be shut down for one month. He accused it of being a threat to national security by inciting the Iraqi resistance. The station’s Baghdad’s bureau has been ordered shut before, first by Saddam Hussein in 2002, later by the Iraq’s Governing Council.
Iraq’s Interior Minister said the closure was intended to give the station a chance to readjust their policy against Iraq. He said “They have been showing a lot of crimes and criminals on TV, and they transfer a bad picture about Iraq and about Iraqis and encourage criminals to increase their activities. We want to protect our people.”
The order came a day after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld discussed Al Jazeera before the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. He said “it has been a terribly damaging thing to have what Al-Jazeera and Al- Arabiyah have done to our country in the Middle East. They have persuaded an enormous fraction of the people that we’re there as an occupying force, which is a lie.”
For the first time in U.S. history, international election monitors will come to the country in November to monitor the presidential election. The U.S. State Department has invited the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to send a team to monitor the November elections. The State Department invitation comes after 13 House Democrats requested UN election monitors to guard against irregularities and voting rights abuses like those that occurred during the 2000 presidential election.
In other election news, independent candidate Ralph Nader has failed to make the ballot in California after failing to gather the needed 153,000 signatures by Friday. Nader’s campaign coordinator in California told the Associated Press that the campaign will now try to convince Green Party members in California to dump David Cobb as their nominee and substitute Nader.
In Venezuela, Reuters is reporting hundreds of thousands of supporters of Hugo Chavez rallied in Caracas yesterday, one week ahead of the August 15 recall vote which will determine if Chavez remains in office.
Pakistani intelligence sources are accusing the Bush administration of undermining its fight against Al Qaeda by leaking the name of a recently detained Al Qaeda member to the press while the man was still working as an undercover double agent. The name of computer expert Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan first appeared in the press last week. Unnamed US officials leaked his name to the press in an attempt of the Bush administration to defend the heightened terror threat level.
What the US didn’t reveal was that Khan had been working under cover to help authorities track Al Qaeda members in Britain and the United States. Once his name appeared in the press, the British police had to hastily round up suspects that had been in contact with Khan. At least five wanted men went on the run as soon as Khan’s arrest become public. A security expert at Jane’s Defense told Reuters “The whole thing smacks of either incompetence or worse. You have to ask: what are they doing compromising a deep mole within al Qaeda, when it’s so difficult to get these guys in there in the first place?” The expert went on to say “Running agents within a terrorist organization is the Holy Grail of intelligence agencies. And to have it blown is a major setback which negates months and years of work, which may be difficult to recover.”
George Bush may be the first president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 to end his term with a higher unemployment rate than when he began. This prediction from the New York Times came after the Labor Department reported Friday that only 32,000 jobs were jobs created in July. The total was about 90 percent lower than the projected 240,000 jobs.
Nearly 9 million people have lost employer-backed health insurance over the last three years according to a new study by the Washington-based Center for Studying Health System Change. The overall percentage of the U.S. population without insurance did not rise significantly but many of the people who lost employer coverage appear to have moved to public coverage under Medicaid and other programs.
In Japan, an accident at a nuclear power plant has killed at least four people and hospitalized 10 more. Officials say a steam leak occurred at the plant but they insisted no radiation was leaked. Japan relies on nuclear power for about 30 percent of its electricity.
Israeli radio is reporting that Prime Minister Gen. Ariel Sharon has shelved his plans to illegally build more than 1,300 new homes in the West Bank after the plan came under criticism by the Bush administration.
And if the country’s billionaires could select the president, Bloomberg News is reporting President Bush would easily win. According to Bloomberg, nearly four times as many billionaires have contributed to Bush’s candidacy than to Kerry’s. Bush has received donations from a total of 131 billionaires including Bill Gates of Microsoft. John Kerry has received the backing of 31 billionaires. Donald Trump was one of six billionaires to give to both campaigns.
Raymond Luc Levasseur Released from Prison
And Raymond Luc Levasseur has been released from prison after 20 years. He was a founding member of the anti-imperialist United Freedom Front and the Sam Melville/Jonathan Jackson group. Levasseur and the Ohio 7 were linked to 22 bombings in the late 1970s and early 1980s including offices of South African Airways, Mobil Oil and Honeywell as well as many military installations. Advocates for political prisoners have long called for his release. Levasseur is now scheduled to live at a halfway house in Maine until his formal release on Nov. 4.