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The Guardian of London is reporting the Bush administration is planning what sources call a "last big push" to win the war in Iraq. Rather than face growing calls for a phased withdrawal, the administration is considering adding up to 20,000 new US troops on the ground. The White House plan is said to be affecting how the Iraq Study Group is conducting its own deliberations on how to advise the President. A former senior administration official said President Bush believes achieving US goals in Iraq is "a matter of political will." The official added the Iraq Study Group and "last push" strategy are intended to give Republicans "political time and space" to recover from their election loss in time for the 2008 presidential race. The official concluded: "What they’re going to say is: lower the goals, forget about the democracy crap, put more resources in, do it."
The news comes one day after the commander of US forces in the Middle East testified against both a withdrawal and an increase of US troops in Iraq. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday, General John Abizaid was questioned by Arizona Senator John McCain.
Sen. John McCain: "I respect you enourmously. I appreciate your service. I regret deeply that you seem to think that the status quo and the rate of progress we are making is acceptable. I think most Americans do not."
Gen. John Abizaid: "Well Senator, I agree with you. The status quo is not acceptable and I do not believe what I’m saying today is the status quo. I am saying we must significantly increase our ability to help the Iraqi army by putting more American troops with Iraqi units and military transition teams to speed the amount of training that is done, to speed the amount of heavy weapons that get there and to speed the ability of Iraqi troops to deploy."
In other Capitol Hill testimony Wednesday, a key Democratic congressmember called for direct negotiations with North Korea. Congressmember Tom Lantos is expected to head the House International Relations Committee when Democrats take over Congress in January.
Rep. Tom Lantos: " Hard-liners lodged in the office of the Vice-President and the Defense Department must not be given a veto. Ambassador Hill must also make a stopover in Pyongyang on his way back from the six-party talks — not to negotiate a new and separate deal, but rather to demonstrate to Pyongyang our peaceful intent."
Also Wednesday, the Senate heard testimony al Qaeda’s strength and influence in Afghanistan is on the rise. CIA Director Michael Hayden said US troops will be needed in Afghanistan for at least a decade to ensure the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not overthrown.
A US Army specialist has become the first of five suspects to plead guilty in the rape of a young Iraqi teenager and the killing of her and her family. On Wednesday, the soldier, Specialist James Barker, described how he and three others carried out the rape of the girl, fourteen year old Abeer Kassem Hamza al-Janabi, in the village of Mahmoudiya. Barker said Sgt. Paul Cortez held the girl to the ground while her parents and young sister were shot dead in the next room. The soldiers later burned Abeer Kassem Hamza al-Janabi’s body in an effort to cover up the crime. Barker will be spared the death penalty in return for his testimony.
In another case Wednesday, a Marine private who pleaded guilty to taking part in the murder of an Iraqi civilian was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. The marine, Private First Class John Jodka, is the youngest and lowest ranked of the seven charged for the murder of Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania. The marines shot Awad after pulling him from his home last April. They initially tried to cover up the slaying by placing a rifle at the scene to give the appearance Awad was an insurgent.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, incumbent Joseph Kabila has been declared winner of the country’s presidential elections. It was Congo’s first presidential election in forty years. Kabila’s opponent, former rebel leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba, is refusing to concede the race.
In Pakistan, lawmakers have voted to remove rape from the jurisdiction of Islamic law and put it under the civil penal code. Women’s rights groups have long campaigned for the change. Under the Islamic laws, rape victims are liable to prosecution for adultery unless they can produce four male witnesses. Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz hailed the measure as a historic change.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz: "This is part of a process through which women will get their rights. This will help to lessen to a great extent the unfair and illegal treatment meted out to women. But we are fully aware of the fact that we still have a lot more to do."
While an alliance of Islamic parties opposed the change, at least one party said the measure doesn’t go far enough. The Pakistan People’s Party is calling on parliament to repeal all Islamic laws it calls "anti-women and discriminatory."
Meanwhile in Turkey, an Arab delegation to a European Union conference on the role of women in society said foreign occupation was hampering the movement for women’s equality in Arab countries.
Palestinian Deputy Minister for Women’s Affairs Salwa Hudeib: "In the end there are basic rights under international law to protect women and generally and to protect people under occupation. But with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict the world remains silent to please Israel, which is unjust and not balanced. We have called in our speech on the international community, the United Nations, the Quartet and everyone who affects decision-making in the Middle East to protect Palestinians, and Palestinian women and children."
The delegation’s comments come on the heels of a report this week from a UN panel formed to improve relations between Muslim and Western societies. The panel — called the Alliance of Civilizations — concluded the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the driving force behind tensions between Muslims and the West. The report concludes: "The Israeli-Palestinian issue has taken on a symbolic value that colors cross cultural and political relations ... well beyond its limited geographic scope." Overall, the report argued the Israel-Palestinian conflict is one example of why global divisions should not be seen in terms of a "Clash of Civilizations" but rather geo-political conflicts. The reports’ authors include Nobel Peace Prize-winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami.
In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today his government is nearing the "final step" in developing its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad did not provide details. He’s already announced Iran will celebrate its "right to nuclear technology" by the end of the Iranian year in March. His comments come two days after an unidentified senior US official told the Reuters news agency the Bush administration would be open to bombing North Korea and Iran. The official said: "We, the United States, and others who might be threatened by these developments will have to look at how to respond and inevitably I think people will have to look at the question of pre-emption."
Here in the United States, Senator Trent Lott was voted back into the ranks of the Republican leadership in Congress Wednesday with his election as Senate Minority whip. The position is the Republicans second-highest in Congress. The vote comes nearly four years after Lott was forced to resign as Senate majority leader after making what many considered racially insensitive remarks. The comments came at a 100th birthday celebration for the late former Senator Strom Thurmond in which Lott endorsed Thurmond’s run for president in 1948. Thurmond ran his campaign on a pro-segregation, anti-civil rights platform. One of the slogans for his campaign was Segregation Forever. These were Lott’s remarks.
Sen. Trent Lott, December 5th 2002: "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either."
Lott’s return is already coming under criticism. Democratic Congressmemebr Melvin Watt, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said: "For many African Americans the sting of Trent Lott’s hurtful words are unlikely to expire anytime soon." When asked Wednesday whether he had any further comments to make about the 1948 Presidential race, Senator Lott replied: "No, no, not at all."
In Louisiana, a state court official has argued for overturning the murder conviction of a former Black Panther who has been held in solitary confinement for more than thirty years. Herman Wallace and two others are known as the Angola Three. Prisoners rights’ groups believe they’ve been held in solitary confinement at Louisiana’s Angola prison because of their involvement with the Black Panthers.
In Nevada, the town of Pahrump has passed an ordinance that makes English the official language, restricts the display of foreign flags and denies benefits to undocumented workers. The American Civil Liberties Union is already vowing to challenge the measure in court.
And finally, an internal governmental audit has found that nearly all the money earmarked for "democracy promotion" in Cuba over the last decade has been spent without proper oversight. The Government Accountability Office says some seventy-four million dollars in contracts from the U.S. Agency for International Development have been prone to waste and fraud. In one case, a Miami-based group that won a contract to provide humanitarian assistance to Cuba spent the money on goods including video games, cashmere sweaters and a gas chainsaw. Arizona Republican Congressmember Jeff Flake, who backed the audit, said the findings suggest the Bush and Clinton administrations used the programs to curry favor with right-wing Cuban exile groups.
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