Hundreds of thousands rallied around the world Saturday to call for President Bush to bring troops home from Iraq. In Washington DC, between one and three hundred thousand gathered for the city’s largest anti-war demonstration since the Vietnam War. Thousands more marched in London, Copenhagen, Damascus, Helsinki, Paris, Rome, Seoul, Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities and towns.
In Iraq, at least 30 people have died over the past two days in a series of car bombings and shootings. Earlier today a suicide car bombing killed at least seven in front of the oil ministry in Baghdad.
Fighting has also broken out between U.S. forces and Shiites connected to Moqtada al-Sadr. U.S. forces killed 8 members of the Shiite Mehdi Army. Meanwhile in Kirkuk, US forces raided one of Sadr’s offices. Last week British forces clashed with Shiite militiamen in Basra. In the Sunni city of Duluiyah, U.S. forces shot dead a City Council member and a police captain after they reportedly fired shots at American troops.
And an Iraqi journalist with the radio station Radio Nineveh has been shot dead by gunmen in Mosul. 72 journalists have now died in Iraq since the U.S. invasion, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The Saudi government is warning that the deteriorating situation in Iraq could lead to the destablization of the entire Middle East. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said he is concerned the possible break-up of Iraq “will draw the countries of the region into conflict”. Saudi Arabia has long feared Iran’s influence on Iraq would grow as the Shiite gain more political and economic power. Prince Saud said the Bush administration ignored warnings from Saudi Arabia before the war of the consequences of the Iraq invasion. He said, “It is frustrating to see something that is clearly going to happen, and you are not listened to by a friend, and soon harm comes out of it. It hurts.”
In other news from Iraq — three U.S. army personnel have told Human Rights Watch that Army troops in Iraq routinely beat and tortured Iraqi detainees at a base in central Iraq. In one incident, a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee’s leg with a baseball bat. Soldiers also applied chemical substances to detainees’ skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold. The soldiers said mistreatment was ordered by Military Intelligence personnel as an interrogation tactic, but was also used to “relieve stress.”
Human Rights Watch has also revealed that hundreds of prisoners were abandoned in New Orleans Parish Prison during Hurricane Katrina. Flood water rose to chest-high levels in the cells. Prisoners were given no food for days. Some inmates from the section of the prison known as Templeman III said they saw bodies floating in the floodwaters as they were evacuated from the prison on September 1–four days after the storm hit. It remains to be seen how many prisoners may have died. According to Human Rights Watch, over 500 prisoners are missing from the list of people evacuated from the jail.
Longtime Puerto Rican nationalist leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios has died after being shot by FBI agents. The 72-year-old Ojeda Rios had been living underground for 15 years. The FBI claimed Ojeda Rios fired first but independence activists accused the FBI of assassinating him. The shooting occurred Friday after FBI agents surrounded a house where he was staying. According to an autoposy, Rios bled to death after being shot with a single bullet. Officials didn’t enter his home until Saturday, many hours after he was shot. Ojeda Rios was wanted in connection with a $7 million bank robbery in 1983 in Connecticut. For the past four decades Ojeda Rios had been a leading figure in the fight for Puerto Rican independence and against U.S. colonial rule. The shooting occurred on the national holiday of “Grito de Lares” which commemorates an1868 Puerto Rican uprising against Spanish colonial rule. We’ll have more on this later in the show.
On Capitol Hill, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Securities and Exchange Commission are both investigating whether the top ranking Republican Senator — Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist — engaged in inside trading. Frist’s family owns the Hospital Corporation of America, HCA, the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain. In June he instructed the trustee managing his blind trust to sell off all of his stock in the company. Two weeks later the stock’s value dropped 15 percent after HCA issued a disappointing earnings report. Last week the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics named Frist one of the most 13 corrupt lawmakers in Congress.
Israel has resumed carrying out bombing raids in Gaza less than a month after the last Jewish settlers left the region. Over the weekend Israeli air strikes killed two members of Hamas and two members of Islamic Jihad including a top commander. Last night Israeli helicopters bombed parts of Gaza City, Rafah and Khan Yunis. Some 250 Palestinians were also detained in the West Bank. Israel said the bombing raids were needed to stop Palestinian rocket attacks. On Sunday Hamas announced a halt to Gaza-based attacks on Israel. The increasing violence in Gaza came on the same weekend that joint Israeli-Palestinian peace rallies were held in Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Ramallah.
A new Congressional-mandated study has determined that President George Bush is seen as a greater threat than Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in several Arab nations including Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. The Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy warned that “America’s image and reputation abroad could hardly be worse.” The study found that televised images of US policy choices — such as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the invasion of Iraq — reverberate across the Arab media and will “long haunt the image of the United States.” The report, which has not been released yet, said that in much of the world the United States is viewed as “less a beacon of hope than a dangerous force to be countered.”
In Lebanon, a prominent journalist is in critical condition after a bomb exploded in her car last night. May Chidiac–who anchors the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation — suffered serious wounds to her arms and legs. The Christian-owned media company is one of the leading anti-Syrian media outlets in Lebanon.