In Iraq, the bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine has set off a wave of sectarian violence that is rekindling fears of an escalated civil war. At least 60 people have been killed since the Askariya shrine was attacked Wednesday. The dead include Al-Aarabiya TV reporter Atwar Bahjat and two members of her crew. Three Sunni imams have also been reported killed. Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite Iraqi Vice-President, said: “This is as 9/11 in the United States.” USA Today is reporting at least 90 Sunni mosques came under attack in violent reprisals. In Basra, about 10 foreign prisoners were removed from a local jail and executed. In Baghdad, the offices of the Iraqi Islamic Party — the country’s largest Sunni group —- were attacked. Iraqi Islam Party head Tareq Al-Hashimi said: “The Iraqi Islamic party consider the attacks on mosques and the party buildings as historical crimes that demand an official stand from all (Iraqis) and to put an end to these crimes, confronting the perpetrators before it will be too late for that. We are calling on demonstrators to show self— restraint and not to be drawn behind a sectarian tension in which there will be no winner or a loser.”
In others news, a new study from the group Human Rights First has found that nearly 100 prisoners in US custody have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last three and a half years. At least 34 deaths were due to suspected or confirmed homicides. Another 11 deaths were deemed suspicious and up to twelve deaths were caused by lethal torture. The report found that most deaths went un-punished. The report comes one week after a set of new photographs were released showing prisoner abuse at the US-run Abu Ghraib.
In Nigeria, 100 people have reportedly been killed and thousands displaced in fighting sparked by continuing protests against cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. The BBC is reporting that groups of Christians wielding clubs and machetes rampaged through northern communities Wednesday attacking any members of the Muslim community they could find. Police officials reported that 11,000 people, mostly Muslims from the north, have fled their homes in fear of the violence.
Meanwhile, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is threatening to kill nine foreign oil workers taken captive Saturday. The workers include three US citizens. The kidnappings came just days after military raids reportedly targeted local villages. Rebel attacks on oil installations have cut back Nigeria’s oil exports by one-fifth, and forced foreign oil company Royal Dutch Shell to suspend its operations in the Niger Delta.
This news on Afghanistan — the head of Canada’s contingent to the NATO force in the country said foreign troops will be there for “years and years.” Major General Michel Gauthier made the comments in an interview published in the Guardian of London today. The non-US contingent is set to increase to 16,000 troops in the coming months, in addition to the 20,000 US troops currently there.
This news on Haiti — In his first major public remarks since winning this month’s national elections, Haitian president-elect Rene Preval said ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide would be welcome to return home. He said: “My position is simple on President Aristide and any other citizen who wants to come to Haiti. Article 41 of the Haitian Constitution says that no Haitian needs a visa to enter or leave the country.” Preval has reportedly been warned by several foreign government’s against Aristide’s return. On Wednesday, US State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli said: “Aristide is from the past. We’re looking to the future.”
In South Dakota, state legislators voted Wednesday to ban all abortions unless they’re performed to save the life of the woman. The New York Times notes the law makes South Dakota “the first state in 14 years to start a direct legal attack on Roe v. Wade.” Some abortion opponents said the vote was motivated by recent changes to the Supreme Court, with two Bush nominees — John Roberts and Samuel Alito — having been appointed in recent months.
In other news, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has reversed his claim that the Pentagon has stopped planting news stories in the Iraqi media. Rumsfeld had made the claim on two separate occasions Friday. But on Tuesday, Rumsfeld said: “I don’t have knowledge as to whether it’s been stopped. I do have knowledge it was put under review. I was correctly informed. And I just misstated the facts.”
And Lawrence Summers has announced he will step down as President of Harvard University at the end of the academic year. Summers created a firestorm one year ago for suggesting women have less innate scientific ability than men. Early in his tenure, Summers clashed with several black studies professors, including Cornell West, who ended up leaving the university. Pressure on Summers to resign intensified after Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences passed a no-confidence vote last March. Another no confidence vote had been scheduled for next week. Summers has a history of making controversial statements. In 1991, while working for the World Bank, Summers wrote an infamous memo that advocated exporting the pollution of industrialized countries to the Third World, which he called: “underpolluted.”