The Iraqi government has announced a series of controversial new measures in its crackdown on Baghdad. Tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis have been told to leave homes Iraq says are being occupied illegally. The Iraqi government also says it will eavesdrop on phone calls and open mail at will. Military forces will be authorized to break into any homes and cars judged to be dangerous. Iraq also says it will close its borders with Iran and Syria, increase military checkpoints and extend Baghdad’s military curfew.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is claiming the Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has fled to Iran ahead of the crackdown. Sadr’s aides are denying the claim.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the House opened debate Tuesday on its version of the nonbinding measure opposing President Bush’s plan to escalate the Iraq War. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led Democratic voices supporting the measure.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “No more blank checks for President Bush on Iraq. Our taxpayer dollars must go to protect our troops, to keep our promises to our veterans and to keep America safe. In light of the facts, President Bush’s escalation proposal will not make America safer, will not make our military stronger and will not make the region more stable, and it will not have my support.”
A similar measure was held up in the Senate last week when Republicans blocked further debate. Democrats enjoy a wider majority in the House and expect to pass the measure on Friday. Across the aisle, Republican Minority Whip Roy Blunt criticized the Democratic proposal.
Minority Whip Roy Blunt: “It’s hard to imagine a group less capable of making tactical decisions about specific troop deployment than 535 members of Congress. The resolution today is about the exact number of troops. Will the one tomorrow be a vote about which block in Baghdad to target or which car to stop?”
As discussion continues in the House today, a newly leaked memo has revealed how some Republican congressmembers are trying to approach the debate. In a letter to fellow Republicans, Congressmembers John Shadegg and Peter Hoekstra urge their House colleagues to avoid debating the Iraq War and instead focus on “radical Islamists.” The Republican congressmembers write: “The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose.”
As the House debate continues, Vermont has become the first state to pass a resolution calling for a troop withdrawal from Iraq. On Tuesday, lawmakers in the Vermont state Legislature’s House and Senate approved measures calling for the immediate and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Vermont has lost more soldiers per capita than any other state in the nation.
Meanwhile in Iowa, the Iowa state Senate has approved a measure opposing the troop escalation in Iraq.
In Lebanon, tens of thousands of people rallied in Beirut today to mark the second anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The rally comes one day after a pair of bus bombings in a largely Christian area outside of Beirut. Three people died, and at least 20 were wounded. On Tuesday, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora condemned the attack.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora: “They killed Rafik al-Hariri and his companions, and continued their string of criminal and sabotage acts, the last of which was the assassination of MP and Minister Pierre Gemayel and not least the crime today in the Metn area which killed and injured innocent Lebanese civilians.”
In Iran, at least 11 people have been reported killed in a bombing near the city of Zahedan. The attack was said to have targeted members of the Iranian military. The Iranian government has previously accused the U.S. and Britain of supporting rebel groups in southeastern Iran.
The European Union is holding a vote today on whether to endorse a report accusing several European governments of complicity in the CIA’s practice of extraordinary rendition. The report says several governments were silent despite knowing the CIA was holding prisoners on European soil before sending them off to possible torture. Terry Davis, secretary general of Europe’s largest human rights body, the Council of Europe, urged lawmakers to endorse the report.
Terry Davis: “These extraordinary renditions, these secret detentions, I mean, we know they’ve taken place. The argument is where they have taken place. President Bush says they have taken place. And they are breaches, they are abuses, they are violations of existing human rights obligations of European governments. The European Convention on Human Rights prohibits such abuses. Now the issue is not to extend the convention. That is not necessary. We have a perfectly adequate provision. What we need to do is to implement it, to make it effective.”
Several European governments are attempting to water down the report before it is adopted. Human Rights Watch spokesperson Reed Brody urged Parliament members to resist the pressure.
Reed Brody: “A weak report would show that Europe is not serious with distancing itself from these illegal CIA activities. A weak report would show that Europe is very strong when it comes to criticizing abuses in the Sudan or in China, but not if these abuses are taking place in Europe.”
The Bush administration is moving toward normalizing relations with North Korea following Tuesday’s agreement over North Korea’s nuclear program. North Korea has agreed to freeze the reactor at the heart of its nuclear program and allow international inspections. The White House has pledged bilateral talks and steps toward removing North Korea from the list of states sponsoring terrorism. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed the deal on Tuesday.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “This is a reasonable way to go about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a reasonable way to turn back a nuclear program in North Korea that began — and I want to just emphasize that most people believe — as much as 30 years ago, maybe even more. So when you talk about what this administration has done in six years, just keep that in mind.”
In Ecuador, Congress has approved President Rafael Correa’s request for a referendum on whether to rewrite the constitution through popular assembly. The move comes following weeks of protest urging support for Correa’s plan. Polls show more than three-quarters of Ecuadoreans back the referendum call.
Back in the United States, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney entered the presidential race Tuesday, announcing he would seek the Republican nomination. Romney’s choice to kick off his campaign from the Henry Ford Museum outside Detroit was immediately criticized due to Ford’s history of anti-Semitism. National Jewish Democratic Council executive director Ira Forman said, “Romney has been traveling the country talking about inclusiveness and understanding of people from all walks of life. Yet he chooses to kick (off) his presidential campaign on the former estate of a well-known and outspoken anti-Semite and xenophobe.”
In other news, a former CIA contractor has been sentenced to more than eight years in prison over the beating death of an Afghan prisoner. The contractor, David Passaro, was convicted for abusing Abu Wali with his fists and a flashlight. Wali, a young farmer, died the next day. He had voluntarily turned himself in to a U.S. military base after hearing he was suspected of involvement in rocket attacks. During the trial, Passaro’s defense team made unsuccessful attempts to subpoena senior U.S. officials in an effort to prove the beatings were implicitly authorized at the highest level.
In other CIA news, former CIA Executive Director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo has been charged in connection with the bribery scandal that sent Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham to jail. On Tuesday, Foggo was charged with fraud and other offenses in his alleged efforts to steer contracts toward a San Diego defense contractor. Foggo was the CIA’s third highest official until his resignation in May. The contractor, Brent Wilkes, has also been charged.
Defense attorneys for Lewis “Scooter” Libby have announced they won’t be calling Libby or Vice President Dick Cheney to the stand. Libby is accused of lying to investigators and a grand jury during the investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The announcement paves the way for Libby’s lawyers to wrap up their defense as early as today.
Back on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats have introduced a measure that would restore habeas corpus to all prisoners in U.S. custody. Prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and other U.S. facilities lost their right to challenge their detentions under the Military Commissions Act passed last year. The new Democratic measure is called the “Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007.” The bill would also limit the definition of an “enemy combatant” to mean only those participating in direct hostilities against the U.S. in a combat zone or who took part in the 9/11 attacks.
And in military news, new figures show the Pentagon has increased waivers to military recruits with criminal backgrounds by 65 percent in the last three years. More than 8,000 waivers were issued last year, up from less than 5,000 in 2003. The waiver increase came as the total number of recruits declined. The sharpest rise came in serious misdemeanors. Congressmember Martin Meehan, the chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, said: “The data is crystal clear; our armed forces are under incredible strain, and the only way that they can fill their recruiting quotas is by lowering their standards.”