A suicide bomber struck a Shiite mosque in Baghdad earlier today, killing at least ten people. The attack comes as the Iraqi capital is under one of the biggest security crackdowns since the start of the invasion.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced Thursday the US death toll in Iraq has now reached 2500. The milestone was reached on the same day the Iraq war was the subject of intense debate in both Houses of Congress. In the Senate, lawmakers voted ninety-three to six against a measure to withdraw US troops by the end of the year. The measure was introduced by Republicans who claimed to be acting upon a proposal by Senator John Kerry. Five Democrats — Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Barbara Boxer of California, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts joined Kerry in voting for withdrawal. The House is expected to vote on its own Iraq resolution today. On Thursday, Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert urged lawmakers to support the measure.
Democrats have accused Republicans of constraining debate by focusing the measure on the so-called war on terror rather than the Iraq war. House rules also prevent Democrats from proposing amendments or alternative resolutions. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voiced the Democrats’ concerns.
Meanwhile, a leading Iraqi official has asked the US for a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops. The government says Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi made the request during a meeting with President Bush Tuesday. In a statement, President Jalal Talabani said he supported Hashimi’s demand. The Bush administration has firmly rejected calls for a timetable for withdrawal.
In Somalia, the UN’s top official for emergency aid is warning ongoing fighting between Islamic militants and US-backed warlords is augmenting an already dire humanitarian crisis. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland: “We are seeking humanitarian access to Mogadishu, which we do not have at the moment, which we have not had for a long time. There is a quarter of a million internally displaced in Mogadishu. It’s the only capital on Earth where we do not have international humanitarian assistance at the moment.”
In Mexico, thousands of striking teachers converged in the center of the city of Oaxaca Thursday. The teachers are in the third week of a strike demanding higher wages and more funding for Mexico’s education system. The gathering came just one day after a police raid that teachers say killed two of their members and a third child. In response, the teachers said they would now call for the resignation of state governor Ulises Ruiz.
In the Occupied Territories, Hamas is renewing calls for a ceasefire with Israel. The overture comes just days after Hamas called off its previous ceasefire following the deadly bombing of a Gaza beach that Palestinians and human rights groups have blamed on Israel. Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad: “From the beginning of this government we repeated many times that we are ready to accept a cease fire from both sides and that the Israeli side should stop all their operations and the aggressions in the West Bank and Gaza. But there are no signals or indications from the Israeli side that they are ready to accept this. We hope that this time they can accept it and we can start a new situation.”
In Brussels, protesters with Amnesty International gathered outside a meeting of European leaders to demonstrate against what they called European complicity in CIA backed torture. A recent Council of Europe report concluded that 14 European countries have been involved in or complicit in secret CIA operations since the Sept. 11th attacks.
Back in the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled the Constitution does not require prosecutors to forfeit evidence obtained through so-called “no knock” illegal searches. The five to four vote will strengthen police’s abilities to enter residences without announcing themselves first. The court ruled the social costs of throwing out illegally-obtained evidence outweighed the benefits of protecting previous safeguards. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote: “The majority’s 'substantial social costs' argument is an argument against the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary principle itself. And it is an argument that this Court, until now, has consistently rejected.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has launched a lawsuit demanding the Pentagon turn over information it’s collected on anti-war groups. In December, NBC News revealed the existence of a secret Pentagon database to track intelligence gathered inside the United States including information on anti-war protests and rallies. The database included information on counter-military recruiting meetings held at a Quaker House in Florida and anti-nuclear protests staged in Nebraska. The ACLU has already filed suit against the FBI for spying on peace groups.
In New Orleans, officials have announced plans to tear down much of the city’s public housing units. The units suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Katrina. Rebuilding plans call for much of the public housing to be replaced by mixed-income units. The move will greatly reduce the number of available public housing units in New Orleans. Just 1,000 of the more than 5,000 families who lived in public housing have been able to return to their homes since Katrina struck last August. Curtis Muhammad, a housing advocate with the People’s Organizing Committee, criticized the plan, saying: “These are the people who were left in New Orleans to die, who were locked up in the Superdome and the Convention Center [and now] the government wants to get rid of any housing for them.”
And today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Soweto Uprising. On June Sixteenth, 1976, hundreds of black South African schoolchildren rose up to protest the compulsory teaching of the Afrikaans language. State security forces killed at least 23 people, the first of hundreds to die in an uprising that spread across the country in what became a pivotal event for the anti-apartheid struggle. The anniversary was marked earlier today with a march through central Soweto led by President Thabo Mbeki. Thousands of marchers followed the same route taken by demonstrators thirty years ago. They passed a memorial honoring the slain activist Hector Peterson. He was 13 years old when he was killed by South African police, making him the first and youngest student to die in the Soweto Uprising. A picture showing a comrade carrying away Peterson’s dead body went on to become a world-wide symbol of the anti-aprtheid struggle. Earlier this week, Nelson Mandela reflected on Peterson’s death.