The casualty figure from Thursday’s bombing of the Iraqi parliament has been revised to one, with another 22 people injured. It was the worst attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone since it was erected four years ago. The bombing hit the parliament cafeteria where lawmakers and staff were eating following legislative session. A Sunni lawmaker says the attack means the two-month-old crackdown on Baghdad has failed. Saleh al-Mutlaq said: “The security plan is dead. If they are able to reach inside the parliament, then we should not talk about the security plan anymore.” Outside the Green Zone, many Iraqis discussed the impact of knowing one of Iraq’s most heavily guarded areas could not be protected.
Salam, Baghdad resident: “The news we heard today, in fact it does not shake us or the people in the street, but it makes us laugh. Explosions are now in the most critical places, the parliament, which represents the people. It is a violated place.”
CBS Radio has pulled the plug on the radio host Don Imus. On Thursday, CBS announced it would no longer carry Imus’s syndicated radio broadcast following his racial slurs about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. The announcement came one day after Imus was dropped by MSNBC. Both CBS Radio and MSNBC had initially suspended Imus for two weeks but now say his termination is effective immediately. The announcement follows a week-long campaign led by African-American groups. The public pressure had swayed several corporations to pull their ads from Imus’ broadcast. Hours after the CBS announcement, Imus and the Rutgers women’s basketball team met at the governor’s mansion in New Jersey. Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said they had a productive dialogue, but did not say if the team had forgiven Imus for the remarks.
In the Occupied Territories, the aid group Oxfam is warning the international boycott of the Palestinian government is leading to a “devastating” humanitarian crisis. Donors including the U.S., European Union and Canada stopped funding one year ago after Palestinians elected Hamas to lead parliament. Poverty has increased 30 percent. The number living on less than 50 cents a day has doubled to over one million. Nearly half of Palestinians in the territories do not have enough food to meet their needs. Oxfam’s international director Jeremy Hobbs said: “International aid should be provided impartially on the basis of need, not as a political tool to change the policies of a government.”
Meanwhile in the Gaza Strip, dozens of journalists rallied Thursday for the release of the kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. Johnston is the only Western journalist permanently based in Gaza. An unknown Palestinian militant group seized him last month.
Shadi Al-Kashif, a reporter with the Palestinian Ramatan news agency: “I think we should continue, we should escalate our activities. And those who are talking about themselves as officials here in the Palestinian territories, they should leave their positions if Alan Johnston is still continue between the hands of his kidnappers.”
Meanwhile, the BBC teamed with broadcasters including Al Jazeera, Sky News and CNN to simulcast a televised special highlighting Johnston’s career and pleading for his release.
Reuters camera operator Shams Odeh: “First of all, free Alan. And we’ll continue to say it — free Alan — until the releasing of our colleague, Alan. You know, we welcomed all the foreign press to come to cover the story in Gaza, and we all helped them, all our people helping the foreign journalists. But the rules of the game have changed now. There is a small group that want to change something in Gaza, for the bad things, not for the good things. Kidnapping foreign journalists is a bad thing for the Palestinian people, and for the Palestinians themselves.”
In Zimbabwe, main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has announced plans to negotiate with President Robert Mugabe’s government. Tsvangirai says some 600 opposition activists have been abducted and tortured this year.
Morgan Tsvangirai: “For over a period of a month, the Mugabe regime has sustained a vicious war against the MDC and its supporters. The targeted attacks on, and the attempted assassinations of, the MDC leadership on March 11, 2007, marked the beginning of a systematic program designed to cripple and ultimately destroy all other democratic formations.”
In Turkey, the head of the Turkish military is proposing a cross-border attack into northern Iraq to fight Kurdish rebels stationed there. General Yasar Buyukanit made the call in a rare news conference Thursday.
Turkish General Yasar Buyukanit: “Do we need to have an operation into northern Iraq? There are two aspects to this issue. First, from a military point of view, an operation in northern Iraq must be made. Will there be any benefits? Yes, there will be. The second aspect is political. To make an operation beyond our borders, there must be a political decision.”
In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard is stirring controversy today after calling for a ban on HIV-positive immigrants or refugees from entering the country. Howard said HIV should be compared with tuberculosis, even though tuberculosis is airborne and contagious while HIV is only transmissible.
Back in the United States, new details are emerging in the growing controversy over the White House’s claim to have lost dozens of emails sought in the congressional investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. The Washington Post is reporting a Republican National Committee lawyer now says the RNC is missing at least four years’ worth of emails from senior presidential adviser Karl Rove. Democrats have accused Rove and other aides of improperly using their private RNC email accounts to avoid leaving a paper trail in the attorney firings. On Thursday, Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy blasted the White House claim to have lost the emails.
Patrick Leahy: “They say they have not been preserved. I don’t believe that! Those emails are there; they just don’t want to produce them. We’ll subpoena them if necessary. You can’t erase emails, not today. They’ve gone through too many servers. That’s like saying the dog ate my homework.”
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz is embroiled in a scandal that could see him lose his job. Wolfowitz was found to have ordered a major pay increase and promotion for his longtime companion, Shaha Riza. The World Bank’s staff association is calling on Wolfowitz to resign. On Thursday, Wolfowitz tried to address staff members but was met with chants and boos calling for his departure. Wolfowitz also appeared at an unusual news conference to plead his case.
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz: “I made a mistake for which I am sorry. But let me also ask for some understanding. Not only was this a painful personal dilemma, but I had to deal with it when I was new to this institution and I was trying to navigate in unchartered waters.”
On Capitol Hill, a second female congressmember has announced she’s leaving the Congressional Hispanic Caucus over opposition to its male leadership. Democratic Congressmember Linda Sanchez of California follows her sister, Congressmember Loretta Sanchez, who left earlier this year. Loretta Sanchez has accused caucus chair Joe Baca of calling her “a whore.”
The jailed Palestinian professor Sami al-Arian is claiming to have suffered new abuse at the hands of prison guards. Al-Arian has been transferred from North Carolina to a new prison in Virginia. He recently ended his 60-day hunger strike at the urging of his family. He had lost 53 pounds and become too weak to walk. Earlier today we spoke to Sami al-Arian’s daughter Laila for an update on Sami’s condition.
Laila al-Arian: “On Thursday morning, one day before my father was supposed to have been released from prison after his four-year imprisonment [under his initial plea deal], he was assaulted by racist guards. They took away his legal materials. At one point an officer was stripping my father and asked him, 'Where are you from? Afghanistan?' My father refused to answer the question, but [the guard] kept repeating it several times. And then he finally told my father, 'It doesn't matter where you’re from. If I had my way, you wouldn’t be in prison. I’d put a bullet in your head and get it done with. You’re nothing but a piece of [expletive].’ My father told him, 'Why do you say that? You don't know me.’ The guard replied: 'I know enough about all you guys. You're all pieces of [expletive]. You can go pray to the [expletive] that you pray to.’ My father asked the guard what his name was, he refused to answer. His lieutenant also continued hurling obscenities at my father. He kept squeezing his handcuffs and restraints tighter and tighter 'til my father was numb for four hours from the trip from Petersburg to Alexandria, Virginia. They just kept telling him to shut the [expletive] up, and each time they would tighten his shackles to increase the pain. It's important to say that this same guard who harassed my father yesterday, back in January he told him, ’You’re a terrorist. I can tell by your name.’ So this is clearly a pattern from these guards, and nothing is being done to stop this kind of harassment and abuse.”
Al-Arian remains in jail despite a jury’s failure over a year ago to return a single guilty verdict on any of the 17 charges brought against him. The U.S. government had accused him of being a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He eventually signed a plea deal with the government in exchange for being released and deported. He was scheduled to be released in April. But in January, Judge James Moody Jr. sentenced him to an additional 18 months in jail for refusing to testify before a Virginia grand jury.
In a new development, al-Arian’s prosecutors are now claiming Moody has essentially violated al-Arian’s plea deal. In a brief filed this week, the prosecutors say Moody had no jurisdiction to decide whether al-Arian can be forced to testify in an unrelated case.
And New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has been critically injured in a car crash. Corzine’s injuries include a fractured leg, six broken ribs on both sides and a cracked sternum. He was on his way to Don Imus’ meeting with the Rutgers basketball team. Corzine is expected to be out of the hospital in several weeks.