Hospital sources in the western Iraqi city of Falluja say that at least 15 people were killed in a joint US-Iraqi attack. According to witnesses, US artillery bombarded several districts in the city, before US warplanes opened fire.
This follows a weekend in Iraq that saw a sharp escalation of violence and killings. Some estimates put the number of dead at more than 100. Sunday was marked by guns battles, car bombs and attacks from US helicopter gunships. The Iraqi Health Ministry said the worst fate was suffered in the Iraqi capital, where at least 37 people were killed and in Tal Afar near the Syrian border where some 51 people are confirmed dead. As has been the case from the beginning, Iraqi civilians have paid the heaviest price.
In one of the heaviest barrages in Baghdad in recent months, the capital suffered at least seven car bombs, and insurgents fired a dozen mortar bombs or rockets around the so-called Green Zone compound housing Iraq’s interim government and the US embassy. South of Baghdad, three Polish soldiers were killed and three wounded when they were attacked near Hilla.
In the western city of Ramadi, US tanks and helicopters fired on a residential district, killing 10 Iraqis, including women and children. The widespread violence comes as US forces began a nationwide offensive the Pentagon has said is aimed at securing the country for January’s planned elections. The unelected Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told British newspapers over the weekend that some of the worst hit towns may not be able to vote in the elections but that they would take place without those voters.
One of the most terrifying incidents of the weekend came Sunday when a US helicopter opened fire on a crowd milling around an abandoned Bradley armored vehicle that the Pentagon says had been attacked. At least 13 people were killed in the US helicopter attack on the crowd and children are among the dead. The US strikes also killed a journalist from the Arab TV network al Arabiya. The network broadcast harrowing footage of its correspondent, Mazen al-Tumeisi, reporting from the scene when he is hit by shrapnel. He doubles over and his blood splatters on the camera lens as he screams, “I’m a journalist. I’m dying, I’m dying.”
Tumeisi is a Palestinian who has lived in Iraq for a number of years. He is the 6th Arab journalist to be killed by US troops since the fall of Baghdad last year. More than 30 journalists have been killed since the invasion began. A US military spokesperson said US troops fired on the Bradley “for the safety of the people around it.” Another spokesperson said the strike was necessary to prevent looting of the vehicle. Two other journalists, including a Reuters cameraman were injured in the strike.
The fate of the four aid workers abducted last week in Iraq remains unclear. No video or photos has emerged of the two Italians and two Iraqis who were taken in broad daylight from their Baghdad office last week. The two Italian women and the Iraqi man work for the Italian aid organization, a Bridge to Baghdad. The Iraqi woman works for another Italian aid organization. On Sunday, a second group claimed responsibility for the abduction and threatened to kill the 4 hostages if Italy did not withdraw its 3,500 troops from Iraq. The Italian government has said it will not pull its forces out and will not negotiate despite pleas from aid organizations and human rights groups for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government to do so. The group that has taken responsibility calls itself the Islamic Jihad Organization in Iraq. A Bridge to Baghdad and dozens of other groups working in Iraq have signed a joint appeal to the kidnappers to release the 4 hostages, saying they are not enemies of Iraq and are opponents of the occupation.
A US court martial in Baghdad sentenced a soldier to eight months in jail for maltreating and conspiring to maltreat Iraqi detainees. Specialist Armin J Cruz had confessed to forcing three naked inmates at Abu Ghraib jail to crawl along a floor before making them simulate sex acts. Cruz was spotted in a photo taken during abuses committed in October. He is the eighth American soldier to be charged over the abuses but the first from military intelligence. The jail sentence was four months short of the maximum term. Cruz is filing an appeal against the sentence.
In another court case in Iraq, the man once in charge of organizing the trial of Saddam Hussein, was in court himself on Saturday, facing two-month-old allegations that he was involved in the murder of the director general of Iraq’s Finance Ministry.
Reporters were barred from viewing Salem Chalabi’s appearance. An hour after he met with the judge, he was released on bond after authorities concluded he did not pull the trigger in the death. The chief investigative judge said Chalabi is still under investigation on suspicion he paid to have the official murdered. He added that the murder case will continue.
Chalabi was first charged in the murder in July, at the same time his uncle, Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, was charged with dealing in counterfeit Iraqi currency. At the time, both men were out of the country. Chalabi’s role in directing Saddam’s trial had been controversial, primarily because of his uncle’s position as head of the INC, which will be among the political parties vying for power in any upcoming Iraqi elections.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mixed up al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein twice in a speech on Friday about the so-called war on terror. In a speech to the National Press Club on the eve of the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Rumsfeld began by saying the world just before the attacks was not as serene as some people now suggest. He said: “The leader of the opposition Northern Alliance, Masood, lay dead, his murder ordered by Saddam Hussein, by Osama bin Laden, Taliban’s co-conspirator.” He was referring to Ahmad Shah Masood who was in opposition to the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan and was killed by al Qaeda two days before the Sept. 11 attacks. Later in responding to a question, Rumsfeld again confused Saddam and bin Laden in a discourse about how U.S. and coalition actions had made it more difficult for terrorists to operate. He said: “Saddam Hussein, if he’s alive, is spending a whale of a lot of time trying to not get caught. And we’ve not seen him on a video since 2001.” Rumsfeld continued: “Now, he’s got to be busy. Why is he busy? It’s because of the pressure that’s being put on him,” he added. The moderator later asked Rumsfeld if he had meant bin Laden, and the defense secretary replied: “I did. I meant we haven’t seen Osama bin Laden.”
Meanwhile, this news from another country under US occupation. The Pentagon said today that US forces killed 22 suspected Taleban and al-Qaeda militants in a gun battle in southern Afghanistan. This comes as Afghanistan was rocked by violence this weekend. Hundreds of demonstrators in the western city of Herat ransacked and burned at least four United Nations office compounds after the central government removed the governor, Ismail Khan. At least seven people were killed and at least 60 wounded. Local doctors said many of the injured were civilian demonstrators suffering from gunshot wounds. Two national army soldiers and some 15 American soldiers were reported to have been wounded. The violence was a major blow to the central government, which had sent in 1,000 soldiers and hundreds of national police to secure the area for the arrival of the new governor from Kabul. According to the BBC, about 50 UN staff and aid workers are preparing to leave the city.
Throughout the weekend, there were memorial services in New York and across the globe commemorating the anniversary of September 11. A number of groups across the country also had vigils calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq. Meanwhile, a new US government study shows that the environmental devastation in New York may result in more deaths than the attacks themselves. An official US government report released on Friday says that up to 400,000 New Yorkers breathed in the most toxic polluting cloud ever recorded after the twin towers were brought down on September 11, 2001, but no proper effort has been made to find out how their health has been affected. The report says the Bush administration suppressed evidence of increasing danger and officially announced that the air around the felled buildings was “safe to breathe”. Another report reveals that it has since failed at least a dozen times to correct its assurances, even when it became clear that people were becoming sick.
The 10-year federal ban on assault weapons expires today. That means firearms like AK-47s, Uzis and TEC-9s can now be legally purchased. The 1994 ban, signed by President Clinton, outlawed 19 types of military-style assault weapons. A clause directed that the ban expire unless Congress specifically reauthorized it, which it did not. Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry blasted President Bush today, saying: “He chose his powerful friends in the gun lobby over the police officers and the families he promised to protect.” Republican leaders in Congress said last week they have no plans to renew the 1994 ban on 19 types of military-style assault weapons, even as some law enforcement officials encouraged them to keep the prohibition alive. A Bush-Cheney campaign spokesperson said John Kerry has spent his 20-year Senate career fighting against Second Amendment rights.
US Airways, the nation’s seventh largest airline, filed for bankruptcy protection Sunday for the second time in two years. The company’s president vowed to continue restructuring the airline into a low-cost carrier during the bankruptcy process. The Chapter 11 filing in US Bankruptcy Court in Virginia came after US Airways was unable to obtain $800 million in annual cost cuts from its workers’ unions that the airline said it needed to stay afloat.