On Capitol Hill, leaders of the Out of Iraq Caucus have reversed course and pledged not to block a $124 billion spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Up until yesterday, California Democrats Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, Diane Watson and Barbara Lee had criticized the supplemental spending bill for not going far enough to stop the war. Congresswoman Barbara Lee said, “I have struggled with this decision, but I finally decided that, while I cannot betray my conscience, I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war.” The legislation sets a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by Aug. 31, 2008, and establishes readiness standards for the deployment of combat troops. Maxine Waters said she would stop encouraging antiwar Democrats to oppose House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan. On Thursday, the leaders of the Out of Iraq Caucus held a backroom meeting with Democratic Party leaders. Speaker Pelosi made a final plea to the group, asking it to deliver at least four votes when the roll is called. The members promised 10 votes. Political analysts predict Pelosi now has enough support to have the bill passed. President Bush, however, has threatened to veto the bill. On Wednesday, he said Congress should pass a war-funding bill without restrictions.
A newly declassified U.S. government report has revealed that half of the U.S. deaths in Iraq have been caused by explosives seized from old Iraqi military depots that have been left largely unguarded since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Over 3,200 U.S. soldiers have died since the war began four years ago.
Meanwhile, Newsweek is reporting the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will reach a record 173,000 by July.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to Baghdad on Thursday. During a joint news conference, Iraq’s prime minister said Ban Ki-moon’s visit showed the city was “on the road to stability.” Minutes later, the news conference was interrupted. A rocket exploded just 50 yards away from their meeting. Ban Ki-moon cringed and ducked at the sound of the blast.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zaubai has been hospitalized after being injured in a suicide bomber attack in central Baghdad. Police said at least two people were killed and 10 others wounded in the attack.
The Guardian newspaper is reporting the Bush administration is scrambling to prevent Turkey from attacking Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Iraq. U.S. officials fear such an attack would open up a third front in the battle to save Iraq from disintegration. Turkish sources said special forces operations have already begun in northern Iraq to target fighters connected to the PKK, or the Kurdish Workers’ Party. This would not be the first time Turkey has invaded northern Iraq. Ten years ago, Turkey sent 40,000 troops into Iraq, but there has been no large-scale Turkish intervention since the U.S. invasion four years ago. The U.S. has vowed to crack down on the PKK, but Turkey accuses the U.S. of playing a double game in northern Iraq. Officials say the CIA is covertly funding and arming the PKK’s sister organization, the Iran-based Kurdistan Free Life Party, to destabilize the Iranian government.
In political news, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth have revealed that she has been diagnosed with cancer again. But John Edwards said the campaign would go on.
John Edwards: “We have been confronted with these kinds of traumas and struggles already in our lives, and we know from our previous experience you have a choice: You can go cower in the corner and hide, or you can be tough and go out there and stand up for what you believe in. Both of us are committed to the cause. We’re committed to changing this country that we love so much, and we have no intention of cowering in the corner.”
Elizabeth Edwards was first diagnosed with breast cancer in the final weeks of the 2004 campaign. She underwent several months of radiation and chemotherapy. This week, doctors found the cancer had returned and that it had spread to her bones. Doctors say her cancer is inoperable.
The New York Times is reporting the Bush administration has rejected calls from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. During his first weeks in office, Gates argued in private to move the detainees held at Guantanamo to inside the United States. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reportedly also joined Gates in calling for Guantanamo to be closed. Their arguments were rejected by President Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International is urging the United to abandon plans to try Guantanamo prisoners before military tribunals. Amnesty asked other nations not to contribute any evidence for use at the trials, because the group says the trials do not meet international standards of fairness.
The Army has admitted it has been undercounting the number of soldiers going AWOL. Up until yesterday, the Army had been claiming about 2,300 soldiers had deserted last year. But the actual number is nearly 3,200. The number of soldiers gone AWOL last year jumped by 27 percent over 2005. The new figures were released two days after National Public Radio revealed that the Army had been inaccurately reporting desertion figures. Overall, the Army estimates about 22,500 soldiers have deserted since fiscal year 2000. And the actual number is even higher, because the Army’s data does not reflect deserters from the National Guard or the Reserves.
John Bolton, the former top U.S. diplomat, has revealed that the Bush administration deliberately resisted calls for an immediate ceasefire during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon last summer, because it wanted to give Israel more time to carry out military strikes. Bolton, who at the time was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.S. decided to join efforts to end the conflict only when it was clear Israel’s campaign wasn’t working. Bolton told the BBC he was “damned proud of what we did” to prevent an early ceasefire. Bolton also said the U.S. was deeply disappointed at Israel’s failure to remove the threat from Hezbollah. More than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and 43 Israeli civilians died in the war. Israel also lost 116 soldiers. The total number of Hezbollah fighters killed is unknown.
Israeli border guards have been caught on camera beating a 17-year-old Palestinian student in a West Bank village near Nablus. The incident was filmed by a local resident on Wednesday. The beating occurred after the Israeli guards questioned and detained three Palestinian youths who had just left school. This is Bassem Eid, the head of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.
Bassem Eid: “I think that beating Palestinians today has become as a kind of a disease among the Israeli soldiers and border police and even the Israeli regular police. Our organization almost received a lot of complaints from Palestinians, not even only children, but even elder people, women that has been beaten at the checkpoints by the Israelis.”
And the Indian government has awarded Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai its top international award for her contribution toward peace and for her fight against environmental degradation. In 2004, Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize. She spoke yesterday in New Delhi.
Wangari Maathai: “In order to live in peace with each other, we need to govern justly and fairly, respect the rule of law, respect human rights and give voice to the majority and the minorities as well. This is more likely to pre-empt many of the conflicts and the root causes that causes them.”