Amid rising levels of violence and service-member deaths, the US military has admitted its plan to control Baghdad has failed. On Thursday, the Pentagon said violence in the capital has increased by 22 percent in just the last three weeks. This month’s US death toll has reached seventy-three. In what the New York Times calls “one of the most somber assessments of the war by American commanders”, Major General William Caldwell called the current situation “disheartening” and said the US will re-think its strategy.
Despite the announcement the US military will go back to the drawing board, the New York Times reports senior American military officials who have discussed the Baghdad operation say they have no fundamental reworking of the plan in mind.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting the Iraqi government has ordered its Health Ministry to stop disclosing figures on civilian deaths. A confidential memo from the top UN official in Iraq says the order threatens to disrupt international efforts to gain an accurate measure of the scale of violence in Iraq. The move comes on the heels of a new study last week that said an estimated 650,000 people have died since the US-led invasion three years ago.
In an update on a story we’ve been following, a federal judge has rejected the bid of an American citizen facing the death penalty in Iraq to prevent the US military from handing him over to Iraqi forces. Mohammad Munaf was sentenced to death last week on charges of kidnapping of three Romanian journalists. Munaf was unable to hear or challenge the evidence against him. His lawyers say the judge had been prepared to dismiss the case until two US military officials intervened and told the judge to hand him the death penalty. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said he had no authority to intervene in the case because Munaf is currently being held by coalition forces and not just the U.S. military. It’s widely believed Munaf is being held in a U.S.-run prison. You can go to our website democracynow.org for our interview with Mohammad Munaf’s attorney on Tuesday’s show.
Meanwhile, pressure is growing on the Iraqi government from all sides. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made the rare move of meeting with Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and leading anti-US Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Speaking to reporters, Sadr indicated he’d be open to dropping his opposition to a recent law that would allow the formation of autonomous regions in Iraq.
In other news, the State Department says it’s told the Israeli government the US is concerned over new visa restrictions that are preventing Palestinian-Americans from visiting the Occupied Territories. Scores of Palestinian-American academics and business figures have complained Israel is stopping them from traveling to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In a letter this week to academic and civil society members worldwide, the Presidents of Palestinian Universities write: “We call on you to support appropriate collective action against this dangerous policy… that threatens to empty the Occupied Palestinian Territory of its educated classes.”
In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has renewed calls for unconditional negotiations to resolve the standoff over his country’s nuclear activities.
The UN’s top official for the Middle East peace process has criticized Israel for its ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip. The official, Alvaro de Sotto, addressed the UN Secuirty Council on Thursday.
In other news, Hezbollah is being accused of using cluster munitions during Israel’s recent invasion of Lebanon. Human Rights Watch says Hezbollah’s cluster strikes caused at least one death and twelve injuries in Israeli towns. Israel has already been accused of dropping more than one million cluster bombs on Lebanon, most within the final days of its invasion. This is Human Rights Watch Executive Director Stephen Goose.
In Mexico, the Senate voted Thursday to reject the dismissal of Oaxaca 's state government. The demand has been at the heart of an ongoing teachers strike in Oaxaca that has also called for better conditions and increased wages. The teachers want the government to fire state Govenor Ulises Ruiz. The Senate vote comes one day after another teacher was killed in the latest attack on Oxaca's protesters. The teacher, Fernando Hernandez, is at least the eighth person killed in the standoff with the state government.
Here in the United States, the Bush administration has indicated it may ignore a Congressional request to include the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in next year’s budget for defense spending. According to Defense News, that’s one of two dozen provisions President Bush says he might not abide by in a signing statement attached to this week’s Defense Authorization Act. Funding for the wars have come through emergency supplementals or “bridge funding” that critics say are more difficult to scrutinize. The latest defense budget signing statement is one of a record number issued during the President’s administration. Bush also signed off on the possibility of ignoring requirements to provide a response plan for dealing with unexploded munitions and studying the accuracy of current methods to assess the safety of the US nuclear stockpile.
In other news from Washington, a federal judge has ordered the Bush administration to release records on who has visited Vice President Dick Cheney. The Washington Post took the request to court after being denied by the Secret Service earlier this year. The Bush administration has argued releasing the records would compromise Cheney’s ability to do his job. The court ruling comes one month after a similar lawsuit led to the release of records showing two key figures in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal held more than one hundred meetings inside the Bush White House.
In California, the election campaign of a Republican congressional candidate is being cited as the possible source of a letter aimed at discouraging Latinos to vote. State investigators say they’re looking into whether supporters of Orange County Republican Tan Nguyen are behind a message that falsely claims it’s a crime for immigrants to vote. The letter is written in Spanish and warns immigrants of jail or deportation if they vote next month. Nguyen has run on an openly anti-immigration platform. Investigators say they’ve tracked down where the letters were printed and how they were financed, but did not provide further details.
In environmental news, the US space agency — NASA — says it’s recorded the largest hole in the ozone over Antarctica on record. Government scientists say the size of the hole now exceeds the size of North America. The development comes as the UN top’s environmental official has issued a new plea for increased efforts to curb global warming. The official, Executive Director of the UN Environment Program Achim Steiner, spoke Thursday in Beijing.
Achim Steiner’s comments ahead of next month’s summit meeting of environmental ministers in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
In Virginia, up to two thousand people held a demonstration Thursday at a fundraiser for Republican Senator George Allen attended by President Bush.
And finally, Congressional Quarterly is reporting embattled Republican Congressmember Jerry Lewis of California has fired sixty investigators who took part in probes of government fraud and corruption. Lewis is chair of House Appropriations, one of the most powerful committees in Congress. He’s been under investigation for his ties to a lobbyist linked to jailed former Congressmember Randy “Duke” Cunningham and for how he helped oversee an annual $900 billion dollars in Congressional spending. A former FBI agent says Lewis’ firings have stalled dozens of ongoing investigations of waste and abuse.