The day-to-day commander of U.S. troops in Iraq is recommending the Pentagon maintain its increased troop levels for at least another year. The proposal would mean 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq through February of 2008. The New York Times reports Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno made the confidential assessment to the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus. Petraeus has yet to issue his own recommendation. The news comes as the Pentagon has announced it’s approved a request to send another 2,200 military police to Iraq. The increase comes on top of the 21,500 combat troops and 2,400 support troops ordered by President Bush earlier this year. The Pentagon says it needs the additional military police to handle an anticipated rise in Iraqi prisoners during the crackdown on Baghdad.
Meanwhile in Washington, Democrats are meeting today over a plan that would require the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the fall of next year. The plan calls for an earlier timetable if the Iraqi government fails to meet security goals.
President Bush is in Brazil today for the first stop of his Latin America tour. On Wednesday, the president explained his hopes for the trip.
President Bush: “You know, oftentimes people really don’t understand the United States, and my trip is really to explain to people that we believe in education for all, we believe in human rights and human dignity. We believe in prosperity. And the people of this country have been very generous with their help and support to people.”
After Brazil, the president will touch down in Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. In Colombia, thousands of people turned out Wednesday for a protest ahead of Bush’s visit. Demonstrators burned American flags and scuffled with police. Several protests are expected throughout Latin America during President Bush’s six-day tour.
Iran has rejected a new European Union request that it take a “time out” from nuclear activity to avoid international sanctions.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency: “We don’t find any technical or legal grounds for it. And after all, we have said that we cannot start negotiations with preconditions. This is not legal, and this is not justified. It’s not fair. We can immediately start, and we invite them to immediately sit down at the negotiating table, and all issues could be discussed with the parties concerned. We have not even limited the parties concerned.”
On Capitol Hill, King Abdullah of Jordan continued his visit to the U.S. Wednesday with an address before a joint session of Congress. Abdullah called on the U.S. to support Palestinian self-determination.
King Abdullah: “Sixty years of Palestinian dispossession, 40 years under occupation, a stop-and-go peace process — all this has left a bitter legacy of disappointment and despair on all sides. It is time to create a new and different legacy, one that begins right now.”
King Adbullah says the U.S. should back the Saudi peace plan advanced by the Arab states. The proposal calls for recognition of Israel in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.
In the Senate, Democrats have announced they’re planning to subpoena five senior Justice Department officials as part of the investigation into the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys. Those called to testify will likely include the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico has hired a defense attorney as the scandal unfolds. His choice has raised eyebrows. Domenici’s new lawyer is K. Lee Blalack. Blalack represented the jailed former Republican Congressmember Randy “Duke” Cunningham in his corruption case. Cunningham’s prosecutor, Carol Lam of San Diego, was among the eight U.S. attorneys to lose their jobs. Some have speculated Lam was ousted as punishment for leading the case against Cunningham.
In Vermont, nearly 30 towns have passed a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The measure says the administration misled the country into the invasion of Iraq and violated the Constitution. The resolution comes on the heels of last month’s call by Vermont’s Legislature for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
The Bush administration has given a new contract to the private military contractor DynCorp. On Wednesday, the State Department announced DynCorp has been hired to help equip and support the international peacekeeping force in Somalia. The $10 million deal means the U.S. can maintain its role in Somalia without committing combat troops.
The European Union is meeting today to decide on its emission proposals for the next negotiating round of the Kyoto accords. The EU says it would agree to reduce emissions to 30 percent of 1990 levels if other countries join in. Former Vice President Al Gore was in Brussels Wednesday to urge the EU to take the lead.
Al Gore: “The European Union has such an important and critical leadership role to play and I am trying to get my country to change its policies, but in the meantime the European Union is absolutely key to helping the world make the change it must.”
Back in the United States, a reading of the play “The Vagina Monologues” has led to the suspension of three female high school students in upstate New York. The students at John Jay High were suspended for including the word “vagina” in their performance. One of the students was supposed to serve her suspension Wednesday but was told it has been postponed pending a review. Another of the three, Megan Reback, said: “What did we do that was so wrong? We were insubordinate, but the reason we were insubordinate was that we talked about our body.”
In Massachusetts, around 100 young children were left without their parents this week after a massive immigration raid on a leather-goods factory employing undocumented workers. Immigration officials say more than 300 were detained, most of them women. The company, Michael Bianco Incorporated, has been accused of employing workers in sweatshop-like conditions. Pregnant workers and some other workers with children have been released.
And women around the world are gathering to mark International Women’s Day. In the Philippines, hundreds of women rallied in Manila against a recent anti-terrorism law. Riot police blocked them from marching on the presidential palace. In Bangladesh, women’s groups took part in rallies in Dhaka. In the Occupied Territories, hundreds of Palestinian women were joined by Palestinian men for a march on an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank city of Nablus. The women-led march called for the release of prisoners from Israeli jails and the lifting of the international boycott on the Palestinian government. And in Spain, 500 women have gathered for a summit of African and Spanish female leaders in Madrid. Attendees include Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the Kenyan Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai.