Shortly after announcing he had been killed in an air strike, the US military displayed images Thursday of the body of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — Iraq’s most wanted man. The pictures showed Zarqawi with visible cuts and bruises to his face. The Iraqi and U.S. governments say Zarqawi was killed when U.S. fighter planes dropped a pair of 500 pound bombs on a safehouse outside of the town of Baquba. To many Zarqawi was the face of the Iraqi resistance. He was accused of carrying out countless bombings, murders and other acts of violence including the beheading of hostages in Iraq.
In Washington, President Bush hailed Zarqawi’s death.
News of Zarqawi’s death was also welcomed by many Iraqis. This is Imad Kadhim, a resident of Baghdad.
Minutes after Zarqawi’s death was announced, the Iraq government said it had finally agreed on appointees to fill positions in charge of interior, defense and national security.
Meanwhile, at least 31 people were killed Thursday in three separate bombings across Iraq. In the day’s worst violence, 13 people were killed in an attack at a Baghdad fruit market. The Iraqi government has imposed a daytime vehicle ban in Baghdad in anticipation of violent retaliation for Zarqawi’s death.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have finalized a budget agreement that will provide $65.8 billion dollars for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The budget agreement comes as a new poll shows a record 59 percent of Americans believe going to war against Iraq was a “mistake.”
In the Occupied Territories, an Israeli air strike killed a senior member of the Hamas government and three bodyguards Thursday. The government official, Interior Ministry general director Jamal Abu Samhadana, was also a member of the Popular Resistance Committees. He had been accused of plotting attacks inside Israel.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration has cancelled international talks that were expected to lead to emergency payments of salaries for Palestinian workers. Thousands of Palestinian government employees have gone without pay following an international aid-freeze on the Hamas-led government. A European diplomat told the Independent of London the cancellation is stoking fears the US government is committed to “regime change” in the Occupied Territories.
In Bolivia, the government’s plan to redistribute thousands of acres of seized land is being resisted by landowners. This week, landowners in Santa Cruz burnt down the homes of peasants who had come to occupy seized land.
The government has vowed to continue with the land distribution.
The CIA’s covert operation to finance Somali warlords fighting against Islamic militants is coming under harsh internal criticism. According to the New York Times, several US government officials say the operation has backfired and empowered the Islamic groups it intends to weaken. According to the officials, agents have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars directly into the warlord’s hands from the CIA’s station in Nairobi, Kenya. The State Department’s political officer was reassigned to Chad after he sent a cable criticizing the operation. Critics say the payments have motivated Islamic militants to launch pre-emptive attacks against expected US-backed offensives. The revelation comes at a time of increased fighting between the two sides. This week, Islamic militias announced they have seized control of the capital of Mogadishu. The warlords had controlled the city for the past 15 years.
On Capitol Hill, a bill to hand over limited self-governance to native Hawaiians failed to advance in the Senate Thursday — effectively ending its hopes for this session of Congress. The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act would have granted 400,000 people of native Hawaiian ancestry a new role in overseeing resources and lands on the Hawaiian islands. Supporters of the bill said it was necessary to redress injustices stemming from the US government’s overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893.
Thursday’s vote came a day after two dozen native Hawaiian activists occupied the second of floor of Iolani Palace — the historic monarchial residence in Honolulu’s capitol district. The activists chanted, sang, waved signs and hung upside-down state flags. The demonstrators said Congress has failed to grant the issue of Hawaiian self-government adequate attention. Several also said they opposed the Senate bill because it did not grant native Hawaiians enough independence from the U.S. government.
In another vote Thursday, the Senate rejected a measure to eliminate the estate tax. The vote marks a significant defeat for the Bush administration and several leading Republicans. A study carried out by the Joint Committee on Taxation had estimated the cost of repealing the estate tax could have topped $1 trillion dollars.
Meanwhile in the House, lawmakers passed the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act, known as the COPE bill. The controversial telecommunications legislation would permit phone and cable companies to operate Internet and other digital communications service as private networks, free of policy safeguards or governmental oversight. The bill would effectively end what is known as “net neutrality” which is the concept that that everyone, everywhere, should have free, universal and non-discriminatory access to the Internet. The bill would also cut back the obligation of cable TV companies to devote channels to public access and fund the facilities to run them. And the COPE bill would replace local cable franchises with national franchises.
In Virginia, the state Supreme Court ordered a new trial Thursday for a convict who had been sent to death row after jurors ruled he is not mentally retarded. The inmate, Daryl Atkins, was convicted of robbing and shooting a US Airforce pilot in 1996. Atkins’ case drew headlines four years ago when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor that executing mentally retarded people is unconstitutionally cruel.
And in another death row case in the state, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine delayed the execution of a convicted killer just hours before he was to be put to death. The convict, Percy Walton, was given a six-month reprieve to allow an independent evaluation of his mental condition.
In Ohio, the state’s top electoral official is being accused of trying to fix the upcoming November elections. Democrats and voter-registration groups charge Secretary of State Ken Blackwell has drafted draconian rules that could easily lead to penalties against people who register voters. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — known as ACORN — says the rules are so vague the group has cut back its voter-registration efforts while lawyers review the new guidelines. Democrats say Blackwell is attempting to prevent black, low-income and Democratic voters from voting in his upcoming gubernatorial race against Democratic Congressmember Ted Strickland.
And Tom Delay, the former House majority leader indicted on corruption charges, officially retires from Congress today. Delay bid farewell Thursday with a defiant speech on the House floor. In his twenty-two minute address, Delay attacked “liberalism” and defended “partisanship.” In closing, he said: “I exit, as always, stage right.” Delay resigned in April following months of political turmoil that included his criminal indictment, corruption probes and guilty pleas by two key members of his staff. Delay’s speech came on the same day an independent study said his former chief of staff, Susan Hirshchmman, was one of the two top recipients of privately-funded travel among congressional staff over a five year period. .
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