The U.S. is continuing a major assault in western Iraq. At least 3,500 U.S. troops are taking part in two separate offensives. Operation River Gate was launched at the start of the holy month of Ramadan. It marks the biggest U.S. offensive in western Iraq this year. Blasts from U.S. warplanes and helicopters lit up the sky during the fighting. 42 Iraqis were reportedly killed today. Meanwhile at least five U.S. troops have died since Monday.
Col. Stephen Davis, commander of Marine Regimental Combat Team 2, is warning residents in western Iraq that the U.S. will be there for a while. He told a crowd of Iraqis “We’re not going anywhere… Some of you are concerned about the attack helicopters and mortar fire from the base. I will tell you this: those are the sounds of peace.”
Meanwhile under pressure from the United Nations and United States, the Shiite-led Iraqi government has reversed last-minute changes that it made to the rules for the October 15th vote on the constitution. On Sunday the parliament had made changes that would have made it nearly impossible for the Sunni minority to defeat the charter at the polls.
In Washington, President Bush held a daytime press conference on Monday and spent most of the time defending his selection of Harriet Miers as his nominee to the Supreme Court. The selection of Miers has been widely criticized by conservatives because so little is known about her personal politics. She has never served as a judge. Miers Is “On The Extreme End of the Anti-Choice Movement” Later in the press conference, President Bush said he did not recall ever sitting down with Miers to discuss her view on abortion. But a former colleague of Miers’ says her stance on abortion is clear. Lorlee Bartos–who ran Miers 1989 campaign for Dallas City Council–said “She is on the extreme end of the anti-choice movement. I think Harriet’s belief was pretty strongly felt. I suspect she is of the same cloth as the president.”
At the same press conference President Bush was questioned about the ongoing investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. On Sunday, ABC News host George Stephanopoulos said his sources told him that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were involved in the discussions about Plame. Meanwhile the Washington Post has reported special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may be planning to bring criminal conspiracy charges against White House officials, possibly Karl Rove and Lewis Libby. On Tuesday Bush refused to answer whether he had discussed the case with Rove or Libby.
For the second time in two months a prominent conservative television host has called for the assassination of a foreign leader. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said the U.S. should consider assassinating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if he fails to help the United States with the war in Iraq. That was Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. In August, teleevangelist Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Venezulean President Hugo Chavez during a broadcast of his show the 700 Club.
On news about Hurricane Katrina, the New York Times is reporting that the vast majority of those killed in the hurricane remain unnamed. Of the 972 deaths confirmed in Louisiana, the state has made the names of only 32 victims public. This is in stark contrast to Mississippi where 221 people have been confirmed dead and all but 25 have been identified. Critics said this has prevented the public from having a personal connection to those killed in the storm.
Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office is being asked to investigate whether minority-owned businesses have been given a fair opportunity to compete for Hurricane Katrina reconstruction contracts. Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine and Congressman Donald Manzullo and Illinois R-Ill., called for the investigation on Tuesday. So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded $1.6 billion in contracts. But less than 2 percent of the contracts have gone to minority-owned business. This despite the fact that the region has a higher percentage of blacks and minority-owned businesses than other areas of the country. Following the hurricane, the Bush administration waived government contracting rules that required at least five percent of government contracts to go to minority-owned businesses. Rules forcing contractors to pay prevailing wages have also been waived. Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce said “What they’re basically saying to the minority in New Orleans is, ’We’ll make it harder for you to find a job. And if you do, we’ll make sure you get paid less.’”
Meanwhile in Iraq, Corpwatch is reporting that tens of thousands of low-wage Asian laborers are traveling to Iraq to work for U.S. military contractors such as Halliburton. Monthly salaries usually range from $200 to $1000–far less than the salaries paid to U.S. contractors. Many of the workers are coming from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. CorpWatch reports they frequently sleep in crowded trailers and wait outside in line in 100 degree plus heat to eat “slop.” Many are said to lack adequate medical care and put in hard labor seven days a week, 10 hours or more a day, for little or no overtime pay. They are also often unprotected from the ongoing fighting. When U.S. contractors slip on helmets and bulletproof vests, the Asian laborers are frequently shielded only by the shirts on their backs. The number of Asian laborers killed since the war began is unknown.
This news from Iran–the Iran Student News Association has just released a new photo showing the hanging of two gay teenagers, ages 18 and 17. Independent journalist Doug Ireland reports the boys were charged with rape but that they were actually the victims of an increasing crackdown on the country’s gay population. Prior to their execution the boys were held in prison for over a year and tortured. Ireland reports this anti-gay crackdown is part of the crusade against “moral corruption” promised by Iran’s newly-elected President Ahmadinejad in his election campaign. Last month Ireland interviewed a 22-year-old gay Iranian man who is seeking asylum in Turkey. While in Iranian police custody, he was beaten and tortured, threatened with death, and lashed 100 times
And in news from Iraq, Reporters Without Borders is marking the start of Ramadan by calling for the United States to release five detained journalists all of whom are working for foreign press outlets. Abdel Amir Younes Hussein, a cameraman with CBS News, has been held since April 5th. Journalist Ammar Daham Naef Khalaf who works for Agence France-presse has been detained since April 11th. Cameramen Samer Mohamed Noor and Ali Omar Abrahem Al Mashadani, of the British press agency Reuters, have been held since June 4 and August 8, respectively. Correspondent Hameed Majed of Al-Arabiya, has been detained since September 15. Reporters without Borders said all of the journalists have been denied access to a lawyer, and the right to receive a visit from their families or their employers.
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