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This weekend marked one of the deadliest in Iraq since the US invasion began more than 2 years ago. In 3 days of suicide attacks, more than 150 people have been killed with nearly 300 wounded. The deadliest bombing came on Saturday when at least 98 people were killed and 130 injured in the town of Musayyib, after a suicide bomber blew up a fuel tanker near a crowded marketplace and in front of a Shia mosque. It was one of at least 10 bombings on Saturday. Four more suicide bombs exploded in and around Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 20 people and wounding 19. A group identifying itself as Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed in an internet statement that the bombings were part of a campaign to take control of the capital. So far this month there have been more than 40 suicide attacks, which have claimed 269 lives and wounded 558. 17 of these bombings came in the past 72 hours in the Baghdad area alone.
This comes as 2 new studies are casting serious doubt on President Bush’s claims that the resistance in Iraq is made up of career jihadists who have seized on the opportunity to make Iraq their central front. The two investigations—one by the Saudi Arabian government and the other by an Israeli think tank—have found that the vast majority of foreign fighters in Iraq are not former terrorists and became radicalized by the war itself. Both studies analyzed the backgrounds and motivations of hundreds of foreigners entering Iraq to fight the United States.
Amid the massive violence in Iraq, the Iraqi Special Tribunal set up to try Saddam Hussein announced the first official charges against him. Saddam and three others face charges related to the alleged killings of about 150 Shiites in the Iraqi town of Dujail in 1982. The tribunal’s chief investigating judge said at a news conference in Baghdad that a date for the trial would be set “within days.” Saddam Hussein’s lawyers say they have not been given a single document to investigate and his lead lawyer says he has not seen his client in person since the late 1990s.
One of the leading resistance leaders in Iraq has given a rare interview to the BBC. Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr told the BBC that he supports the ongoing armed resistance against the US occupation. al Sadr said “Resistance is legitimate at all levels be it religious, intellectual and so on. The first person who would acknowledge this is the so-called American President Bush who said 'if my country is occupied, I will fight'.” Al Sadr says “The occupation in itself is a problem. Iraq not being independent is the problem. And the other problems stem from that–from sectarianism to civil war.” Iraq is set to have a new constitution unveiled on August 15, but al Sadr told the BBC he would not play any part in drafting that constitution or take on an official political role as long as the US troops remain.
The Bush administration has been forced to admit that in the months before the Iraqi elections in January, President Bush approved a plan to provide covert support to certain Iraqi candidates and political parties. The admission came in response to Seymour Hersh’s forthcoming piece in The New Yorker magazine where he reports that the administration proceeded with the covert plan over congressional objections. A spokesperson from the National Security Council denied that, saying the administration rescinded the proposal because of congressional opposition. Hersh’s article cites unidentified former military and intelligence officials who said the administration had gone ahead with covert election activities in Iraq that “were conducted by retired CIA officers and other nongovernment personnel, and used funds that were not necessarily appropriated by Congress.” Any clandestine US effort to influence the Iraqi elections would have run counter to Bush’s assertions that the vote would be free and fair. Some of the covert support provided to Iraqi candidates and parties may have come through organizations such as the National Democratic Institute.
Israel has massed thousands of troops along the border of the Gaza Strip and is threatening to invade unless the Palestinian Authority acts to prevent the firing of missiles at Israeli towns. Israeli Prime Minister General Ariel Sharon has instructed his military forces to show no restraint. In Gaza, residents were preparing for Israeli military action, speculating that it might begin when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, leaves after a short visit this week. Israel stopped all movement between the north, center and south of Gaza and prevented men between the ages of 18 and 35 from crossing the border into Egypt. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is in Gaza, made a televised speech over the weekend in which he reiterated his call for a single authority and a single armed force for Palestinians. Abbas said an Israeli invasion would “sabotage everything.”
Meanwhile, Israel has assassinated another Hamas activist in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip. Said Sayam was said to be walking to the home of his father-in-law when he was shot in the chest and the neck. Witnesses said the shots had been fired from an Israeli military watchtower.
The Sunday talk shows this weekend were dominated by the ongoing investigation into the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. One of those at the center of the story, Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper, appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” where he discussed his testimony in front of the Grand Jury. Cooper also has an article piublished last night by Time in which he says that President Bush’s senior advisor, Karl Rove, was the first person to tell Cooper that Valerie Plame was a CIA officer. Cooper said he told that to a grand jury last week and that Rove ended the call by saying “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper wrote that Rove did not disclose Valerie Plame’s name, but told him in July 2003 that information would be declassified that would cast doubt on the credibility of her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson. Cooper wrote, “So did Rove leak Plame’s name to me, or tell me she was covert? No. Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the 'agency' on 'WMD'? Yes,” Cooper continues, “When he said things would be declassified soon, was that itself impermissible? I don’t know. Is any of this a crime? Beats me.” Cooper wrote he had previously told the grand jury he had also discussed Wilson and his wife with Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. He said he asked Libby about Wilson’s wife playing a role in the Niger trip, and Libby replied, “Yeah, I’ve heard that too.” This all raises serious questions about whether several administration officials intentionally misled the public and investigators about the involvement of Libby and Rove. White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said in October 2003 that Rove, Libby and another official had assured him they were uninvolved in the leak.
Newly released documents confirm that the FBI counter-terrorism unit was monitoring activist web sites used by coalitions for organizing protests at the 2004 political conventions in Boston and New York. The documents were released under the Freedom of Information Act in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of civil rights, animal rights and environmental groups. One document from Sept. 4, 2003 addressed to the FBI counterterrorism unit described plans by the group ”RNC Not Welcome” to “disrupt” the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. It also described Internet postings from the United for Peace and Justice coalition which was coordinating worldwide protests at the time.
A federal judge will sentence convicted women’s health clinic bomber Eric Rudolph to the first of four life terms today for deadly bombings in Birmingham and Atlanta. Today he will hear from some of his victims; the first of four such sessions. His Georgia sentencing is set for August 22. That’s when victims of the Atlanta bombings also will have a chance to speak. Under a plea deal that let Rudolph avoid a possible death penalty, Rudolph admitted to an Alabama bombing and the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that killed one woman and injured more than 100.
Former conservative British prime minister Edward Heath died on Sunday of pneumonia. He was 89.