Al Jazeera has broadcast new video of three of the four abducted members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. The silent, 25-second footage carried a superimposed date of February 28th — one week ago today. British citizen Norman Kember and Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden were shown. US citizen Tom Fox, of Virginia, was not on the tape. According to Al Jazeera, the men asked their governments to work for their release. The hostages were last seen all together in a video released January 28th dated one week earlier. This weekend, the 100-day anniversary of their abduction was marked with vigils around the world. The Peacemakers’ kidnappers initially threatened to kill them unless all prisoners in US and Iraqi detention centers were released.
In other Iraq news, Britain’s top military commander in Iraq has announced plans to withdraw nearly all of its soldiers by the summer of 2008. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Lieutenant General Nick Houghton said phased withdrawals would begin within weeks. However, Houghton said the pullout is ultimately contingent on Iraqi lawmakers forming a national coalition government and the US and British governments judging the Iraqi military ready to handle security. There are currently 8,000 British troops in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the head of the Iraqi army’s Baghdad division was killed Monday when his vehicle came under attack. Major General Mubdar Hatim Hazya al-Dulaimi is one of the highest-ranking Iraqi military officials to lose their lives in insurgent violence. A US military commander who oversaw the US military contingent in Baghdad last year said of the General’s death: “It could be a blow that takes a long time to overcome.” The incident was one of several Monday that left more than 20 people dead and 50 injured around Iraq. In the day’s worst attack, five children were among seven people killed in a bombing in a crowded market in the town of Baqubah. Another 17 people were injured.
In comments the Los Angeles Times calls “among the frankest and bleakest public assessments of the Iraq situation by a high-level American official,” U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has warned of a full-blown civil war. Referring to the recent bombing of a Shiite shrine in Sammara, Khalilzad said: “If another incident [occurs], Iraq is really vulnerable to it at this time.” Khalilzad went on to say: “We have opened the Pandora’s box and the question is, what is the way forward?” His comments come just days after General Peter Pace, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said things were “going very, very well” in Iraq.
Here in Britain, the Guardian of London is reporting the government has admitted aircraft thought to be used for the CIA’s transfer of detainees has landed at local military airfields. The practice, known as “extraordinary rendition”, has raised public outcry across Europe over the use of its territory to transfer detainees who face torture. After months of silence on the issue, the British government disclosed the CIA landed 14 times at two bases between October 2003 and May 2004.
In other news, the United States has dismissed the possibility of reaching a compromise in the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran has been in talks to move its nuclear enrichment activities to Russia. The US announced its stance after U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei said a deal between Moscow and Tehran could prevent Iran’s referral to the UN Security Council.
Meanwhile, UN Ambassador John Bolton has escalated talk of a possible US attack on Iran. The Guardian of London reported Monday Bolton issued the threat at a meeting with British parliamentarians last week. According to one participant, Bolton said: “They must know everything is on the table and they must understand what that means. We can hit different points along the line. You only have to take out one part of their nuclear operation to take the whole thing down.” At a speech at the annual gathering of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee this Sunday, Bolton said the US must be prepared to: “use all the tools at our disposal to stop the threat that the Iranian regime poses.”
In the Occupied Territories, five Palestinians were killed Monday in an Israeli air strike on Gaza City. The attack killed two members of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad and three bystanders. Two of those killed were children, aged 8 and 15 years old. An uncle of one of the dead, who lived nearby, also died of a heart attack. Another eight people were wounded.
Meanwhile, in Israel, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz defended Israel’s policy of targeted killings and warned any Hamas leader could be hit. Mofaz said: “If Hamas, a terror organization that doesn’t recognize agreements with us and isn’t willing to renounce violence, presents us with the challenge of having to confront a terror organization, then no one there will be immune.” Refering to Hamas’ prime-minister designate, Mofaz went on to say: “Not just Ismail Haniyeh. No one will be immune.”
In military news, the US army has announced a new review of the death of former football star turned US Ranger Pat Tillman. Tillman made headlines when he quit the NFL to fight after the Sept. 11 attacks. He died while serving in Afghanistan in April 2004. The military initially mislead his family into believing he was killed in battle when in fact he was killed by US troops. Tillman’s death has already been probed on three separate occasions. The probes have only resulted in light punishment for some of his fellow soldiers. The new probes will focus on both the details of his shooting and allegations the Army covered up crucial facts after he was killed. A military spokesperson said earlier investigations had produced enough evidence to warrant possible charges of negligent homicide.
In South Dakota, Governor Mike Rounds has signed legislation to ban all abortions in the state, unless they’re performed to save the life of the woman. Rounds said he expects a lengthy court battle over the new law. The measure comes as a similar effort is moving ahead in the state of Mississippi.
In other news, the Supreme Court has ruled military recruiting must be allowed on college campuses that accept federal funding. In a unanimous ruling, Justices rejected a free-speech challenge from law schools that said they shouldn’t be forced to accept recruitment so long as the military maintains a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay men and lesbian. The schools maintain the policy is discriminatory.
At the Hague, a former Croatian Serb leader jailed for crimes against humanity has committed suicide. Milan Babic was serving a 13-year sentence after admitting to suppressing the non-Serb population in Croatia’s Krajina region. Once an ally of Slobodan Milosovic, Babic testified against the former Yugoslav President at his ongoing trial.
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has accused the United States of blackmail for withdrawing $300,000 dollars in grants. Morales said his country was told last week it is no longer considered a partner in the so-called war on terrorism.
Morales won the presidency in December with more popular support than any Bolivian president in decades. He has drawn opposition from the Bush administration for his pledge to nationalize the country’s vast natural gas reserves and his opposition to the U.S.-funded eradication of the coca crop.
In New York, Cindy Sheehan and three other women were arrested at an anti-war protest Monday. Sheehan and the others were part of a march of US and Iraqi women at the headquarters of the United Nations. The group attempted to deliver a petition signed by close to 70,000 people calling on the withdrawal of all troops and foreign fighters from Iraq. They were arrested for criminal trespassing and resisting arrest.
In other news, a group of environmental and civil rights groups has asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate whether victims of Hurricane Katrina and workers employed in Gulf Coast reconstruction are being adequately treated by the US government and federal contractors. Monique Harden, co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights in New Orleans, said: “Six months have passed, and these communities still look like the hurricane hit yesterday.”
And in Los Angeles, a group of urban farmers say they’ve won a court order to delay their eviction from land they’ve tended for over thirty years. Tenants of the South Central Farm are battling the city and a local real estate developer who plans to build commercial property on the land. The 14-acre property hosts the largest urban farm in the United States. 350 families use the farm to grow a multitude of crops. The stay will be in effect until at least next Monday. In a statement released on their website, www.SouthCentralFarmers.com, the group said: “To our knowledge, we can only be guaranteed to stall the eviction for days. This week will be critical in the history and fate of the farm. The farmers have been keeping up this fight for three years, but its victory is in the hands of the people.”