In Iraq, the country’s new parliament ended two months of deadlock and elected Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani to serve in the mostly ceremonial post of Iraqi president. A Shiite and Sunni were named as his two deputies. The three will serve on the presidency council. Tomorrow they are expected to name Shiite Ibrahim al-Jafaari to be prime minister. Jafaari–who is seen as a conservative Islamist–will then have two weeks to try to put together a government. The Iraqi Parliament is still deadlocked over who should head the coveted oil and defense ministries. For the Kurds, the election of Talabani marks a historic occasion. For decades Talabani has been one of the most prominent Kurdish leaders. At the age of 18 he joined the central committee of the Kurdish Democratic Party. In 1975 he helped found a rival political party — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Two years ago the United States appointed him to the Iraq Governing Council.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice announced Tuesday that Zalmay Khalilzad has been officially nominated to replace John Negroponte as ambassador to Iraq. Khalilzad has been serving as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. He was a leading backer of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and has close ties to neo-conservatives in Washington. In 1998 he co-signed a letter to President Clinton sent by the Project for the New American Century calling for regime change in Iraq. Other signers of the letter included Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz.
In Iraq, the International Red Cross is demanding the U.S. investigate a prison riot at Camp Bucca where the U.S. is holding 6,000 prisoners. The military initially claimed no riot took place but the Red Cross had representatives inside the jail who witnessed U.S. troops shooting rubber bullets. The U.S. later admitted 12 prisoners and four guards were injured in the incident. But Iraqi sources have put the total number of injured as high as 100.
This comes as Reuters is reporting that harsh CIA interrogations may have played a role in the deaths of several detainees in Iraq. Up until now only one death directly tied to the CIA has been identified but newly released memos indicate at least three other detainees died in CIA custody.
Meanwhile in the Iraqi city of Mosul, U.S. forces shot and wounded a television cameraman working for CBS News. The soldiers claimed they mistook his video camera for a gun. The man is an Iraqi-born freelancer working for the network. The shooting comes nearly a month to the day after US forces opened fire at a car carrying Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena. She survived the shooting but a senior Italian intelligence officer died.
House Majority Leader Tom Delay is in the news again. Both the New York Times and Washington Post have front-page exposes that could lead to new ethics investigations. The Washington Post reports that Delay took a six-day trip to Moscow in 1997 that may have been secretly funded by Russian businesses with ties to the Russian government. Officially the trip was paid for by a mysterious company registered in the Bahamas. House rules bar lawmakers from taking trips paid for by foreign agents.
And the New York Times reports that Tom Delay’s wife and daughter have been paid more than $500,000 since 2001 by Delay’s political action committee. Campaign finance experts say it is not uncommon for relatives to be paid but the sums paid to Delay’s family were unusually generous.
Meanwhile Tom Delay and a fellow Republican lawmaker are coming under criticism for recent statements they made about the judiciary. Last week Tom Delay said that judges who ruled against Terri Schiavo’s family would have to “answer for their behavior.” Days later fellow Republican Senator Tom Cornyn said that there may be a link between courthouse violence and activist judges. Cornyn said, “I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception…where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people… engage in violence.” The New York Times criticized both Delay and Cornyn in an editorial today. The paper wrote “It was appalling when the House majority leader threatened political retribution against judges who did not toe his extremist political line. But when a second important Republican stands up and excuses murderous violence against judges as an understandable reaction to their decisions, then it is time to get really scared.”
The head of the nation’s nuclear weapons programs has proposed that Congress approve funds to study the feasibility of building of new nuclear warheads. This according to a report in the Washington Post. Linton Brooks, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration said that the current Cold War stockpile is inadequate technically and militarily. Brooks said the warheads could be developed without the need of any nuclear tests–which are illegal under international treaties. Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association warned that Brooks is “trying to dress up a new nuclear weapons program in nice clothing.”
In Maryland, the state legislature approved a bill Tuesday targeting Wal-Mart that requires all organizations with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits. Wal-Mart — the country’s largest employer — is not named in the bill but is believed to be the only company that would be affected.
The vote comes as Wal-Mart is staging a massive public relations campaign to improve the company’s image. This week Wal-Mart invited 50 journalists to Arkansas to attend a so-called media conference On Tuesday, one company spokesperson urged reporters to clear their minds of previous articles about the company and “start with a clean slate.” Company CEO Lee Scott claimed Wal-Mart is helping to raise the standard of living for low- income customers by offering steep discounts. He also defended the company’s wages and benefits. Scott said “Wal-Mart is great for America.”
The PR blitz comes as critics of Wal-Mart are stepping up their own campaigns. The New York Times is reporting that a new coalition of about 50 groups — including unions, environmentalists, community organizations, state lawmakers and academics — is planning the first coordinated assault against the company’s business practices. Groups involve include the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and the National Partnership for Women and Families. Also on Tuesday, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union announced the launch of its new website at wakeupwalmart dot com.
In education news, Connecticut is preparing to become the first state to file a legal challenge to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday the federal lawsuit will contend the law is illegal and unconstitutional because it requires states and communities to spend millions more than the federal government provides for test development and school reform programs.
In New Mexico, doctors have upgraded the condition of the man who was tied up and dragged by a truck on Easter Sunday. The Mexican-born Fausto Arellano lost about 50 percent of his skin after he was dragged for two-thirds of a mile down a paved road in Gallup New Mexico. Doctors have upgraded his condition from critical to serious. But police have not been able to talk to Arellano because he remains under heavy sedation. In court earlier this week, John Talamante, of Gallup, plead not guilty on charges in connection to the incident.
Monaco’s Prince Rainier has died at the age of 81. He was Europe’s longest-reigning monarch.
And the Nobel Prize winning writer Saul Bellow has died at the age of 89. He was the first novelist to win the National Book Award three times. The writer Philip Roth Tuesday, “The backbone of 20th-century American literature has been provided by two novelists — William Faulkner and Saul Bellow. Together they are the Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain of the 20th century.”