Nearly 150 people were killed across Iraq Tuesday in one of its worst days of violence in several weeks. At least 70 were killed in an attack outside Baghdad University. Most of the victims were female students. Four U.S. troops were also killed in Mosul. The violence came as the United Nations made its announcement more than 34,000 civilians died in Iraq last year.
Gianni Magazzeni, chief U.N. human rights official in Iraq: “The civilian population remains the main victim of the prevailing security situation. Law enforcement agencies do not provide effective protection to the population of Iraq, and increasingly miliitias and criminal gangs act in collusion with or have infiltrated the security forces.”
Meanwhile, President Bush continued to promote his plan to send another 21,000 troops to Iraq. In an interview with PBS, Bush explained his reasons for escalating the war.
President Bush: “I’m frustrated at times about Iraq because I understand the consequences of failure. I want the Iraqis to succeed for our own sake. This is a war, part of a broader war, and that if we fail in Iraq, there is a better likelihood that the enemy comes and hurts us here. And so, I am frustrated with the progress. If you were to take it and put me in an opinion poll and said do I approve of Iraq, I’d be one of those that said, 'No, I don't approve of what’s taking place in Iraq.’”
President Bush says he will proceed with the escalation no matter the result of an impending vote in Congress on whether to support the White House plan. Senate Democrats are expected to announce a resolution by Thursday with the House soon to follow.
As thousands of troops prepare for Iraq, more could also be on the way to Afghanistan. Military officials are seeking additional troops amid reports violence has reached its highest level since the U.S. invasion. The New York Times reports today cross-border attacks from Pakistan have tripled since the fall. Suicide bombings increased 400 percent last year while roadside bombs more than doubled. On a visit to Kabul on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said a troop increase is possible.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “I have been concerned, in the short time I have been in this position, to ensure that the success that we have had in Afghanistan together remain a success and not been challenged. I think it is important for us to take the initiative in dealing with the security threats that we act together on this, and if the commanders in the field believe that more forces are required to do that, then I would be strongly inclined to recommend that to the president.”
A top Interior Department official is under scrutiny after it was revealed she knew oil and gas companies had avoided billions of dollars in payments two years earlier than she recently claimed. The case centers around the disclosure a bureaucratic error allowed offshore drilling companies to avoid paying royalties for extracting oil and gas from public waters. In September, Minerals Management Service Director Johnnie Burton said she was informed of the matter just last year. But Burton has now admitted she was told three years ago. An independent investigation says the government could have collected nearly $1 billion in just the last three years.
A top Pentagon official has apologized after urging U.S. corporations to boycott law firms whose attorneys represent prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. In a radio interview last week, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Charles “Cully” Stimson said companies might wish to shun firms that represent “the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001.” In a letter to The Washington Post, Stimson said those comments do not reflect his core beliefs. The Pentagon also disavowed Stimson’s remarks. The apology came after groups including the American Bar Association and the deans of more than 130 law schools issued harsh condemnations.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has given a new reason why Guantanamo prisoners have not been brought to trial. In an interview with the Associated Press, Gonzales said prisoners have not been tried because of numerous legal challenges from their lawyers. In response, Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner said: “We’ve been trying for five years to get the majority of the detainees in federal court. They’ve resisted from the first day they took people to Guantanamo.”
In news from Washington, Democatic Senator Barack Obama has moved a step closer to the 2008 presidential race. In a video posted on his website Tuesday, the junior senator from Illinois said he is forming an exploratory committee toward a bid that could make him the nation’s first black president.
Sen. Barack Obama: “For the next several weeks, I am going to talk with people from around the country, listening and learning more about the challenges we face as a nation, the opportunities that lie before us, and the role that a presidential campaign might play in bringing our country together. And on February 10th, at the end of these decisions and in my home state of Illinois, I’ll share my plans with my friends, neighbors and fellow Americans.”
New York Senator Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her candidacy in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani indicated he’s preparing to seek the Republican presidential nomination.
Rudy Giuliani: “We are seeing how much money we can raise, how many people we can put together. We are studying the issues. We are spending lots of time studying the issues that exist now and the issues that you think might exist two years from now and determine you can make a big difference. And we’ll decide some time this year.”
Giuliani was speaking to the Foreign Press Association in Rome. Giuliani’s campaign suffered a possible setback this month when leaked campaign documents suggested he might drop out of the race due to insurmountable personal and political concerns.
In Spain, an arrest warrant has been reissued for three U.S. soldiers connected to the killing of Spanish TV cameraman Jose Couso in Iraq. Couso was one of two journalists killed in April 2003 when the U.S. military opened fire on Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel. The new warrant came after the Spanish Supreme Court overturned an earlier ruling dismissing charges against the soldiers. The U.S. government did not respond to the previous arrest warrants nor to requests to provide statements from the soldiers.
In U.N. news, two people have been charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection to the U.N.’s oil-for-food program in Iraq. On Tuesday, federal prosecutors unsealed indictments against former oil-for-food director Benon Sevan and Ephraim Nadler, the brother-in-law of former Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The oil-for-food program allowed the Iraqi government to use oil revenue to buy humanitarian goods while it was under international sanctions. U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq says the U.N. will cooperate.
U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq: “We have yet to actually see the formal indictment. So I would wait until we have that to have any details on that. Obviously what we have been urging is for all parties to cooperate with authorities on this matter, and the secretary general today did reiterate that we would continue to cooperate as we can.”
Sevan is charged with receiving $160,000 from the Iraqi government. His lawyer says the charges are baseless. Other critics have argued the charges linked to U.N. officials are a fraction of the billions of dollars Saddam Hussein received through key U.S. allies Turkey and Jordan with the Bush administration’s full cooperation.
In Israel, the head of the Israel Defense Forces has resigned after an internal review criticized his handling of Israel’s attack on Lebanon last summer. Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz had also come under criticism after it was revealed he sold tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock within the first hours of the war.
And in new developments in the military tribunal of First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, the judge in the case has ruled Watada’s defense won’t be able to present evidence challenging the legality of the war nor explain Watada’s motive to resist deploying to Iraq. Watada faces up to six years in prison. He is the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment orders to Iraq.