The Pentagon is considering plans to send at least 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq. The option is one of three in front of a review panel separate from the Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker. On Monday, President Bush said he would not rule anything out.
President Bush: “I haven’t made any decisions about troop increases or troop decreases, and won’t until I hear from a variety of sources, including our own United States military. As you know, General Pace is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is in the process of evaluating a lot of suggestions from the field and from people involved with the Central Command as well as at the Pentagon, and they will be bringing forth these suggestions and recommendations to me here as quickly as possible. But so, I haven’t—there’s no need to comment on something that may not happen, but if it were to happen, I will tell you the upsides and downside.”
The president spoke in Indonesia, where thousands continued to protest his visit. In Bogor, at least 1,000 protesters broke through a police barricade around the city center.
Iran has invited the presidents of Iraq and Syria for a summit meeting in Tehran. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has accepted the invitation, while Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is also expected to attend. On Monday, Syria and Iraq restored diplomatic ties for the first time since 1982.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, at least two Palestinians were killed and one Israeli critically wounded in violence earlier today. In Gaza City, Israeli bulldozers plowed through Palestinian fields and irrigation systems, destroying land and knocking off power to several neighborhoods. On Monday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour visited Gaza and denounced what she called Israel’s “massive” violation of Palestinian rights.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour: “I came here, first of all, to express my sympathies, my condolences, and to show the concern of the whole of the United Nations for civilians, that—I think this speaks for itself, how exposed and vulnerable they are. There, the violations of human rights, I think, in these territories is massive, from economic and social rights to this vulnerability to this violence that is totally out of control.”
Meanwhile, a new study from the Israeli group Peace Now says nearly 40 percent of Israeli settlements in the West Bank are built on privately owned Palestinian land. Israel’s largest settlement, Ma’ale Adumim, is built on 85 percent private land. Peace Now says the data was leaked by an Israeli official who wanted to expose violations of Palestinian property rights.
In other news from Israel, Israel’s top military general has ordered an investigation into the use of cluster bombs during the Lebanon war. Israel has been widely criticized for targeting civilian areas and firing most cluster bombs during the final days of its invasion. Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz says he gave “explicit” orders not to fire into populated areas. Critics have called for an independent investigation, but Halutz has appointed an Israeli major general to lead the probe.
Meanwhile, residents of many Lebanese villages targeted during the invasion are complaining they’re just starting to receive government aid to rebuild.
Mustafa Alawiyeh, head of the local council in the village Maroun al-Ras: “We just started digging up the rubble (in Maroun al-Ras) that was caused by the Israeli offensive on the village. People are in a lot of trouble, because winter is arriving and every house has been damaged or destroyed. People don’t know what to do and are waiting for the government’s help.”
In Mexico, at least 100,000 people packed Mexico City’s central square Monday to mark the launch of a parallel government led by defeated presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador: “This legitimate government will perform a deep democratic transformation. Our main goal will be the protection of the people’s rights and the defense of Mexican patrimony and national sovereignty.”
Lopez Obrador insists Mexico’s election was stolen, and says his parallel government will be a check on President-elect Felipe Calderon.
Here in the United States, USA Today is reporting the Pentagon has quietly extended a deadline to destroy its arsenal of chemical weapons. The delay comes despite concerns over an increasing risk of accident or theft. The Pentagon’s stockpile includes deadly nerve gases and skin-blistering agents. Under the new plan, the weapons will be destroyed in 2023—11 years after the deadline set by the international Chemical Weapons Convention. Communities near the chemical sites are expressing outrage. Craig Williams, a spokesperson for the Kentucky-based Chemical Weapons Working Group, said: “To intentionally put tens of thousands of Americans at an unnecessary risk by continuing to store these weapons is reprehensible. Not only are they ignoring our international treaty obligations, they are undermining the military’s … obligation to protect U.S. citizens.”
On Capitol Hill, leading Democrats are rejecting a call to reintroduce the military draft. Congressmember Charles Rangel has announced plans to seek mandatory conscription because he believes it would deter politicians from launching wars. But on Monday, several key Democrats, including incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the legislation would not have their support. Rangel is the incoming chair of the House Ways and Means Committee next year. He says low-income Americans and minorities are disproportionately fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Houston, striking janitors are claiming victory in a high-profile labor dispute with major cleaning companies. On Monday, the janitors won their first city-wide union contract. The contract doubles wages, guarantees affordable healthcare and allows paid time off. Last month, 1,700 janitors went on strike after negotiations broke down. More on this story later in the broadcast.
And in Minnesota, six Muslim imams were removed from a US Airways flight Monday and questioned for several hours after they prayed on board. Three of the Imams had stood to perform their nightly prayers as the plane was boarding. Security workers removed the men in handcuffs after they refused demands to leave. One of the imams, Omar Shahin, said the removal was the worst experience of his life.