More than 60 people were killed early this morning in a series of suicide bombings across Iraq. The largest number of deaths happened in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, where more than 30 were killed as a car bomb detonated near a crowded market. Just north of the city, another bomber killed 30 more people in an attack on an army recruiting center.
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials say that a resistance group kidnapped the governor of the western Sunni province of Al-Anbar where US forces are carrying out what they call "Operation Matador", one of the largest post-Saddam military operations in Iraq. The US admits that it is facing fierce resistance. Over the past several days, at least 14 US troops have been killed in fighting in the west of the country, many of them in guerilla-style ambushes or urban combat.
On Capitol Hill, Congress officially approved more than $80 billion in additional funding for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, boosting the cost of the so-called war on terrror to more than $300 billion since 2001. The Senate approved the measure by a 100-0 vote. The House approved the measure last week. It now goes to President Bush for his signature, which is guaranteed. The legislation represents the fifth such emergency spending package Congress has taken up since September 2001. It also includes sweeping immigration changes, a nearly tenfold increase in the one-time payment for families of troops killed in combat, and money to build the largest embassy in the world in Iraq. But most of the money—more than $70 billion—goes to the military.
Attached to the spending bill was a highly controversial provision on National Identification Cards. Critics blasted the Republicans for tagging it on to the legislation and say that it is unconstitutional and anti-immigrant. The measure requires states to start issuing more uniform driver’s licenses and verify the citizenship or legal status of people getting them. It also toughens asylum laws, authorizes the completion of a fence across the California-Mexican border and provides money to hire more border security agents. Critics say the legislation also encourages bounty hunters to hunt undocumented immigrants and makes asylum seekers get proof from their own government that they are being persecuted. Groups opposing the bill run the gamut of the political spectrum, from the ACLU to Gun Owners of America.
Court-martial proceedings begin today against two US soldiers who refused to fight in Iraq. Navy sailor Pablo Paredes will appear in a military court in San Diego, while Army soldier Kevin Benderman appears before a tribunal in Fort Stewart, Georgia. Yesterday was a national day of action in support of conscientious objectors and war resisters and against military recruitment in schools. Both men face up to a year in prison.
A US appeals court has thrown out a lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney. The suit sought details about Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2001 energy policy task force that formed policy favorable to the industry. The unanimous ruling ordered a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit by the Sierra Club environmental group and the watchgroup Judicial Watch. The dismissal of the case had been expected after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June last year that refused to require that task force records be disclosed. It sent the case back to the appeals court.
Meanwhile, in other Dick Cheney related news, the U.S. Army said on Tuesday it had awarded $72 million in bonuses to Halliburton Co. for logistics work in Iraq. The Army said its so-called Award Fee Board in Iraq had met in March and had agreed to pay Halliburton unit Kellogg Brown and Root bonuses for work it did in support of U.S. forces there. Halliburton was run by Vice President Dick Cheney until he joined the 2000 race for the White House. The company has raked in well over $7 billion under its 2001 logistics contract with the U.S. military.
King Abdullah of Jordan has agreed to pardon Iraqi politician and onetime CIA asset Ahmed Chalabi. For years, Chalabi has faced a 22 year prison sentence in Jordan for fraud after his Petra bank collapsed in 1989 with more than $300million in missing deposits. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani asked the king to resolve the differences between Jordan and Chalabi during a visit to Amman this week.
In Brazil, South American and Arab leaders are holding a historic summit aimed, not so subtly, at reducing US power globally. Officially, the summit is addressing economic issues but has moved quickly into some of the most pressing international conflicts. Yesterday, the gathering criticized the world’s richest countries and Israel and gave support to the Palestinians. In a statement, the two regions demand that Israel disband settlements in Palestinian areas, including "those in East Jerusalem," and retreat to its borders before the 1967 war. They also blasted U.S. economic sanctions against Syria and denounced terrorism. But they assert the right of people "to resist foreign occupation in accordance with the principles of international legality and in compliance with international humanitarian law." At the summit in Brasilia, there are some 9,000 soldiers, 16 heads of state and top officials from 34 South American, Middle Eastern and North African nations.
Now to Afghanistan where a spokesperson for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar says the cleric would reject any offer of amnesty from the Afghan government. This came in response to the head of Afghanistan’s reconciliation commission calling for Mullah Omar and other senior Taliban leaders to be included in a broader amnesty. The Taliban spokesperson said that on Omar’s orders resistance fighters have increased attacks on US forces in recent weeks and will continue these attacks.
Meanwhile, Afghan officials say at least four people have been killed and many injured after police opened fire on an anti-US protest in the east of the country. Hundreds of students rioted in the city of Jalalabad over reports that the Koran was desecrated at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In labor news, United Airlines last night won its bid to end its four employee pension plans, clearing the way for what is being called the largest pension default in corporate history. The airline’s unions denounced the decision by a federal bankruptcy court and vowed they could go on strike against United over the move. Airline industry analysts predict this could spark a chain reaction among other airlines. The four pension plans cover more than 120,000 employees and retirees.
Now to the ongoing battle over John Bolton, President Bush’s nominee for UN ambassador. In an interview with the Associated Press yesterday, Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee said he would now support Bolton. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote Thursday on his nomination. Chafee said he decided to support Bolton because he is President Bush’s choice. Chafee said, "I won’t deny a lot of the information certainly brings great pause, but I fight the administration on so many issues; this is one of those that I’ve been with them on–to appoint their team." A 10-8 party-line vote on the Republican-led panel would send Bolton’s nomination to the full Senate where he is likely to be confirmed. Democrats said they do not plan to try to delay the vote.
And in sports news, the NBA has named Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns the league’s Most Valuable Player, edging out the Miami Heat’s Shaquille O’Neal. Nash has spoken out publicly against the occupation of Iraq. At the 2003 All-Star game, Nash wore a T-shirt that read, "Shoot baskets not people." When questioned about the shirt, Nash said, "I think that war is wrong in 99.9 percent of all cases." He went on to say that the invasion of Iraq "is more about oil than it is about nuclear weapons."
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