As Iraq entered its fourth year under US occupation Sunday, anti-war protests were held around the world. Tens of thousands of people took the streets in cities across the US, Canada, Asia, Europe and Australia. In Iraq, protesters demonstrated in Basra and Baghdad to protest the ongoing U.S. occupation.
The third anniversary brought no end to the continuing violence that has gripped Iraq. At least 45 people have been found dead since Sunday.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi has said he believes Iraq is in the midst of a civil war. In an interview with the BBC, Allawi said: “We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.”
In other Iraq news, video footage shot by a young Iraqi journalism student has led to the investigation of close to a dozen US marines for committing possible war crimes. The video was taken after a roadside bomb killed one US marine in Haditha. US troops then raided homes in the area, killing 15 civilians. The Pentagon initially blamed their deaths on the roadside bomb attack that killed the soldier. But an investigation was opened a few months later when a Time magazine reporter gave the videotape to the military. The video shows the victims lying in their bullet-ridden homes. Three children were killed.
Meanwhile, Iraqi police have accused US troops of murdering 11 civilians in a raid just last week. According to an Iraqi police report obtained by the Knight Ridder news agency, the villagers were killed after US troops herded them into one room of a house near the city of Balad. The dead included two young children, a 6-month-old infant and an elderly woman. The report says the troops burned three vehicles, killed the villagers’ animals and blew up the house. A local police commander said all the victims were found handcuffed with gunshot wounds to the head.
The New York Times has revealed new details of systematic prison abuse carried out by a special US military unit based out of Baghdad’s airport. According to the Times, Task Force 6-26 regularly beat Iraqi detainees, spit in their faces and used them as shooting targets during paintball games at the base, known as Camp Nama. The prisoners were denied access to lawyers or relatives and held for weeks without charge. The abuses continued despite warnings from Army investigators beginning in August 2003 — and even after the Abu Ghraib scandal was made public less than a year later. The unit reportedly kept a motto that said: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has compared the current situation to the aftermath of the Second World War. In an op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post, Rumsfeld wrote: “Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis.”
Meanwhile, a former US military general has called on Rumsfeld to resign. Writing in Sunday’s New York Times, former Major General Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training Iraqi troops after the US invasion, wrote: “[Rumsfeld] has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq.”
In other news, former President Jimmy Carter has labeled what he calls Israel’s: “colonization of Palestine” as the “preeminent obstacle to peace.” Writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Carter said Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has prevented a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians — regardless of whether they were under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas or Hamas. Carter also questioned Israel’s offers to the Palestinians during the years of Oslo peace process, saying at best they amounted to withdrawing only a small number of the over 220,000 settlers in the West Bank. Carter went on to write that Israel’s continuing control of Gaza’s borders and airspace makes the area a “nonviable economic and political entity”, while future prospects for the West Bank remain “equally dismal.”
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez lobbed the latest of his rhetorical attacks on President Bush Sunday. “The worst thing that has existed on this planet is called George W. Bush,” Chavez said. “May God liberate the world of this threat because he is an assassin, mentally ill, a man who is psychologically sick and personally, he is a coward.”
Chavez’s remarks came in response to the Bush administration’s latest National Security Strategy, released last week. The document described Chavez as: “a demagogue awash in oil money [who] is undermining democracy and seeking to destabilize the region.”
In the United States, US News & World Report has revealed the Bush administration attempted to add another component to its warrantless spy program in the days after the 9/11 attacks: physical searches. According to the magazine, the Bush administration argued for the right to conduct warrantless physical searches on the same grounds it’s claimed for its domestic spy program. The White House has argued it was granted this authority under the Congressional measure authorizing the use of force to respond to the 9/11 attacks. A government official said FBI Director Robert Mueller objected to the warrantless physical searches, “not only because of the blowback issue but also because of the legal and constitutional questions raised by warrantless physical searches.” Thomas Nelson, an Oregon attorney representing a terror suspect said he believes he was subjected to the searches. He said his attempts to inquire under the Freedom of Information act have been rebuffed by the National Security Agency.
In other news, Knight Ridder is reporting a Pentagon intelligence agency hired a contractor linked to imprisoned former Congressmember Randy “Duke” Cunningham to monitor religious groups, schools, and other locations around the country. The company, MZM Incorporated, was hired to provide support to the Pentagon’s Joint Counter-Intelligence Field Activity, or CIFA. According to its contract, MZM was to “assist the government in identifying and procuring data” on maps, as well as “airports, ports, dams, churches/mosques/synagogues, schools (and) power plants.” The company also received three contracts to provide undisclosed “intelligence services” directly to the White House. MZM became embroiled in Cunningham’s extensive corruption scandal when it was revealed the company’s founder, Mitchell Wade, bought Cunningham’s home at a $700,000 loss. MZM, which has received millions of dollars in federal contracts, is the focus of an ongoing criminal investigation.
And in New York, the New York Police Department has released new internal memos that show police commanders recommended the continued use of covert surveillance, psychological operations and what they called “proactive arrests.” The memos were released after a judge ruled they were relevant to a lawsuit brought by 16 people arrested at an animal rights demonstration outside the World Economic Forum in 2002. The memos include details of how police officers infiltrated political gatherings and monitored the behavior of peace groups. Police have also encouraged “undercover officers to distribute misinformation within the crowds” — a tactic that was disavowed thirty years ago.