At least 65,000 Iraqis have fled their homes in recent weeks as a result of increasing violence and intimidation. The figures provided by the Iraqi government show the rate of displacement has doubled over the past two weeks.
Earlier this week veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent wrote: “I am becoming convinced that [Iraq] will not survive… I have been covering the war ever since it began three years ago and I have never seen the situation so grim.”
On Wednesday at least 25 people died after a car bomb exploded outside a Shiite mosque near Baquba.
The US military has announced the deaths of four more American troops, bringing the US death toll this month to 35 — higher than it was for all of March.
Another high-ranking military official has called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In an interview with CNN, Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq said: “I believe we need a fresh start in the Pentagon.” Batiste’s comments come just days after former Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold published an essay saying Rumsfeld should be replaced. In all, four former senior military officers have called for Rumsfeld’s resignation during the last month.
Telecom giant AT&T is asking a civil liberties group to return documents that allegedly show the company provided detailed records on millions of Americans to the National Security Agency. In February, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit alleging AT&T assisted the NSA in eavesdropping on the phone calls and Internet usage of U.S. citizens without court warrants. A former AT&T technician named Mark Klein leaked the internal company documents that describe how AT&T had a secret room in its San Francisco hub which the NSA used to monitor e-mail messages, Internet phone calls, and other Internet traffic. Klein concluded that the equipment permitted “vacuum-cleaner surveillance” of Internet traffic.
In other news, the BBC is reporting the number of victims suffering medical problems in connection to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center has risen to at least 15,000 people. The US government has been hit with a class-action lawsuit that alleges it offered false assurances to Manhattan residents and workers that the air was safe in the aftermath of the attacks. In a landmark ruling, a New Jersey coroner said this week that a police officer’s death was “directly linked” to his work at Ground Zero after 9/11. The officer, James Zadroga, died in January.
The White House is coming under intense scrutiny after the Washington Post revealed that the administration kept asserting it had uncovered mobile biological labs in Iraq even after a team of Pentagon investigators had concluded no such labs had been found. On May 27, 2003 the Pentagon made its findings available. Two days later President Bush said “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories.” Days later Secretary of State Colin Powell said “We have already discovered mobile biological factories… There is no question in our mind that that’s what their purpose was. Nobody has come up with an alternate purpose that makes sense.” The Bush administration continued with its faulty claim for more than a year.
In Washington, Press Secretary Scott McClellan attempted to spin the controversy of mobile labs by criticizing the press for covering a story based on what he described as rehashed, old information. He called the story “an embarrassment for the media” and irresponsible because the Bush administration has already admitted its pre-war intelligence on Iraq was mistaken. But McClellan could not answer whether the President knew of the Pentagon’s conclusions before he publicly said the trailers were proof Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is now saying neither he nor his aides believed Iraq posed an imminent nuclear threat before the US-led invasion. In an interview with journalist Robert Scheer, Powell said the President was convinced by nuclear claims given to him by Vice President Dick Cheney and the CIA. Powell said: “The CIA was pushing the aluminum tube argument heavily and Cheney went with that instead of what our guys wrote.” Asked about President Bush’s faulty claim that Saddam Hussein attempted to buy nuclear material from Niger in his State of the Union speech, Powell reportedly answered: “It should never have been in the speech… I never believed it.”
Italy is facing a political crisis after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi demanded that his rival Romano Prodi be stripped of his election victory. Prodi narrowly beat Berlusconi in one of Italy’s closest races ever. Prodi has claimed victory but Berlusconi is refusing to concede. He has denounced the election result as fraudulent and is considering issuing a decree to order a partial recount.
In other news from Italy — the country’s Justice Minister has announced he will not seek the extradition of 22 C.I.A. agents connected to the kidnapping of Muslim cleric, Abu Omar, from the streets of Milan. However the CIA agents may still face extradition. The main prosecutor investigating the kidnapping said he would resubmit the extradition request once Italy’s new government is in place.
In the midst of national elections that will bring in a new government, the outgoing Peruvian government has signed a controversial trade agreement with the United States. In Lima Tuesday, leading presidential candidate Ollanta Humala criticized Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo for signing the deal. “We consider Mr. Alejandro Toledo to be using what is legal but not legitimate because it is authoritarian, pretending to visit to witness the singing of the trade agreement. It is not that we are against it,” Humala said. “We are in favor of a trade agreement with the United States and other countries. What we consider to have happened is that this trade agreement has been poorly negotiated.” Humala isn’t the only current presidential candidate to oppose the deal. Former President Alan Garcia, who is in a tight battle to see who will face Humala in a run-off vote, has also come out against the trade pact.
In Chad, rebel groups have launched their deepest attack yet inside the country reaching the outskirts of the capital city of N’Djamena. Fierce fighting was reported earlier today. The rebel group known as the United Front for Change has claimed it now controls 80 percent of the country. But government officials have downplayed the severity of the situation. The attacks come just weeks before the country’s May 3rd election.
And the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr. has died at the age of 81. For the past half century he has been a leading anti-war and civil rights advocated. During the 1960s as chaplain of Yale University he was a leading critic of the Vietnam War and strongly advocated the use of civil disobedience to protest the war. In one of the most celebrated trials of the 1960s he faced charges along with Dr. Benjamin Spock and others of conspiracy to encourage draft evasion. He was also an early supporter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and took part in some of the first Freedom Rides. Courage, he preached over the years, was the first virtue, because '’it makes all other virtues possible.'’ In the 1970s he went on to become a senior minister at the Riverside Church in New York. And in the 1980s he played an instrumental role in the anti-nuclear movement.