The stalemate over Iraq’s new constitution has intensified, as lawmakers failed for a third time to reach any agreement on the document. For more than a week, the major division over the constitution has served as a symbol of miscalculation on the part of the Bush administration, which had predicted the document would be done on time. The constitutional debates came to a halt after some senior Shiite leaders said they would bypass their Sunni counterparts, as well as Iraqi lawmakers, and send the document directly to Iraqi voters for their approval. The moves by the Shiites to ignore the Sunnis’ request for changes to the draft sparked threats from the Sunnis that they would urge their people to reject the document when it goes before voters in a national referendum in October. The major division right now centers around the attempts by some powerful Shiite factions to establish a provincial confederation in southern Iraq that would lay special claim to that region’s oil resources, reducing the Sunni Arab share.
As the debate over the constitution rages on, bloodshed continues to dominate the news coming out of the country. Over the past 2 days some 100 Iraqis have been killed, a significant number of them in fighting among various religious factions. The fighting has spurred radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr to appear in public after his offices were hit by gunmen. Sadr and his Mehdi Army, have popular support in Iraq’s poor central provinces and are opposed to a federated Iraq putting Sadr as the same side of the majority of Sunnis. On Thursday, al Sadr’s supporters clashed with pro-constitution Shias of the Badr group, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. al Sadr accused him of being responsible for the attacks.
Meanwhile, Iraqi president Jalal Talabani also escaped an assassination attempt in which eight of his bodyguards were killed and 15 injured. This comes as Iraqi police found the bodies of 36 men near the Iranian border who were reportedly handcuffed and executed.
In the United States, Cindy Sheehan has spent her second night back at Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas and announced she will take her vigil on the road next month, following President Bush in Washington. She said she would launch a bus tour from Crawford starting on September 1 that will converge on Washington, on September 24 in time for the major antiwar rally planned for that day. On Thursday, the American Friends Service Committee presented Sheehan with the boots of her son Casey who was killed in Iraq. His boots have been part of a traveling memorial to soldiers killed in Iraq called “Eyes Wide Open.” Mark Andersen of the American Friends Service Committee presented the boots to Sheehan.
Meanwhile, Cindy Sheehan is striking back at the smear campaign being waged against her by several powerful media personalities and the Bush administration. She directly confronted those who claim that her son would be against what she is doing.
As Sheehan settles in at Camp Casey 2, which is closer to President Bush’s property than her original location, prowar activists are making their way to Crawford for a rally on Saturday. Sheehan and other antiwar military families have invited prowar families of soldiers killed in Iraq to share a meal with them this weekend. One of those parents has challenged Sheehan to a debate, while others have set up a new site called “Camp Reality.” Meanwhile, the Rev. Al Sharpton has announced he will travel to Crawford this weekend for a prayer service on Sunday.
Now back to the Middle East. Israeli forces have raided a Tulkarm refugee camp killing five Palestinians, three of them unarmed teenagers. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of sabotaging prospects for peace, while Palestinian fighters in Gaza fired rockets into Israel in retaliation. Witnesses said three of the dead were unarmed teenagers and two were fighters, one from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed faction of the Fatah movement, and the other from Islamic Jihad. The killings come as Israel finished scrapping all 21 settlements in Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank this week.
Librarians have begun a landmark challenge to a controversial clause of the USA Patriot Act ?that demands information about library patrons’ borrowing records. The lawsuit was filed ?against U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut by an unnamed library and the American Civil Liberties Union. The suit was filed on August 9 and made public by the ACLU on Thursday. It calls the FBI’s order to produce library records “unconstitutional on its face” and said a gag order preventing public discussion of the lawsuit is an unlawful restraint on speech. Critical ?details of the lawsuit were blacked out on the ACLU’s Web site in compliance with the gag order. The library is thought to be based in Connecticut since the lawsuit was filed there with the participation of the Connecticut branch of the ACLU.
Two Democratic senators are calling on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts to explain before his confirmation hearings why he continued to judge a lawsuit against the Bush administration while being interviewed to be a justice. In that case, Roberts ruled in favor of the Bush administration on a case that said the Bush administration could deny Guantanamo prisoners constitutional rights they would theoretically have in US courts. Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin wrote a letter to Roberts, saying Roberts’ answers will determine whether they bring the issue up at his confirmation hearings beginning Sept. 6.
Meanwhile, with a little over a week to go before the start of Roberts’ confirmation hearings, there is still controversy over the White House refusal to release all of existing documents on Roberts. According to the Washington Post, one file withheld deals with the Iran- contra affair. It was a draft memo from Roberts to his bosses with a heading referring to the establishment of the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office. The office was one of the ways the Reagan administration circumvented the Boland amendments, which prohibited U.S. intelligence agencies from giving money to the Contras. The office was used to funnel large amounts of money to the death squads.
Meanwhile, the civil rights group People for the American Way has officially called on US Senators not to confirm Roberts, The group issued a statement saying “A review of John Roberts’ record and the tens of thousands of pages of documents so far released by the Administration show that confirming John Roberts would endanger much of the progress made by the nation in civil rights over the past half-century.”
A top Italian Red Cross official has told the newspaper la Stampa that Italy’s Red Cross treated four wounded Iraqi resistance fighters with the knowledge of the Italian government last year and hid them from U.S. forces in exchange for the freedom of two kidnapped aid workers. Maurizio Scelli, the outgoing chief of the Italian Red Cross, told the paper that he kept the deal secret from U.S. officials, complying with what he called “a nonnegotiable condition” imposed by Iraqi mediators who helped him secure the release of Italians Simona Pari and Simona Torretta. They were abducted in Baghdad last Sept. 7 and freed Sept. 28. The official is quoted as saying “The mediators asked us to save the lives of four alleged terrorists wanted by the Americans who were wounded in combat. We hid them and brought them to Red Cross doctors, who operated on them.” According to his account, the Red Cross took the wounded fighters to a Baghdad hospital in a jeep and an ambulance, smuggling them through two U.S. checkpoints under blankets and boxes of medicines. Also as part of the deal, four Iraqi children with leukemia were brought to Italy for treatment. Scelli said he informed Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government of the deal and of the decision to hide it from the United States. The Italian government neither confirmed nor denied the report but did try to distance itself from the Red Cross.
JP MorganChase bank has launched an investigation after sending a credit card offer addressed to the name “Palestinian Bomber” to a Palestinian-American man. Sami Habbas received the unsolicited letter from the credit card arm of the bank. He says that when he telephoned the company to complain, two operators who took his call referred to him as “Mr Bomber”. The bank says the information on the letter was obtained from a list purchased by Chase from a vendor.
A federal commission voted Thursday to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center — the crown jewel of U.S. military hospitals. The closure comes as part of the Pentagon’s sweeping proposal to restructure bases across the country.