The movement of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has withdrawn from the Iraqi government to press its demand for a withdrawal of U.S. troops. The Sadr movement controls six Cabinet posts and a quarter of the parliamentary seats in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite Alliance. The pullout follows one of Iraq’s bloodiest weekends in months. McClatchy newspapers is reporting nearly 300 people were killed in violence around Iraq Saturday. Thirty-six died in a car bomb attack in Karbala. The explosion tore through a busy marketplace, leaving scores of bodies and wounding more than 160 people.
Meanwhile, the number of prisoners in U.S. jails in Iraq has now reached 18,000. More than 1,000 have been jailed in the past month. The average stay in prison is now at one year with more than 8,000 staying for longer.
Among the prisoners is the Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein. He has now spent more than a year in a jail. The U.S. military has held him without charge.
In other Iraq news, a new study from Iraq’s Health Ministry has found close to 70 percent of Baghdad schoolchildren are showing symptoms of trauma-related stress. The symptoms include stuttering and bed wetting. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported last week many Iraqi children are forced to pass dead bodies on the street as they walk to school.
A leading Iraqi doctor who co-authored a study on Iraq’s death toll since the U.S. invasion has been barred from entering the United States. Riyadh Lafta was set to give a talk at the University of Washington on the growing rise in cancer rates among Iraqi children. U.S. immigration officials ignored Lafta’s visa request a half-dozen times before finally turning him down. Lafta will still make the speech — he’s been invited to speak at Simon Fraser University in Canada.
In the Gaza Strip, a previously unknown Palestinian group is claiming to have executed the kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston. Johnston has been missing for over a month. The group calls itself the Tawhid and Jihad Brigade. Its claim could not be verified.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat: “I hope that Mr. Johnston is alive. I think, as I said, the last thing Palestinian people need at this hour of difficulty, at this overloaded luggage of complexities, is to see such despicable acts of abducting foreign journalists and others continue. This is the only thing that this is doing is destroying us as Palestinians, destroying the just cause of the Palestinian peoples.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli army has suspended a military commander following the release of video showing his soldiers using Palestinians as human shields. The incident took place in the West Bank city of Nablus last week. The video was taken by Sam Neil of the Research Journalism Initiative.
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has suffered a new setback in his fight to keep his job. On Sunday, the World Bank’s top oversight committee endorsed a statement saying it had “grave concern” about the bank’s credibility and morale. Wolfowitz was found to have ordered a major pay increase and promotion for his longtime companion, Shaha Riza. The World Bank’s staff association has already called for Wolfowitz to step down. The oversight committee consists of dozens of world finance ministers and leaders of other international organizations. In response, Wolfowitz held a news conference Sunday and vowed to stay on.
Paul Wolfowitz: “The board is looking at it. I’m not going to pre-empt what they’re doing by getting into a discussion of it here.”
Venezelua has announced it’s paid off its remaining debt to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “This last payment pays off the debt that was almost $3 billion in 1998. We also had a large debt with the IMF. Venezuela had its hands tied. I can tell you today that we don’t owe a cent of debt to either the IMF or to the World Bank.”
Chavez made the announcement as Venezuela marked the fifth anniversary of his return to office after a failed coup. Thousands of people took the streets of Caracas.
Government supporter Josefina Penalver: “Today, this march is a celebration. It’s not a commemoration, but a celebration of the return of the constitutional course, of the people who took to the streets, the revolt of a people who took to the streets for their constitutional course to be restored to them, to look for their hope, which is President Chavez.”
In privacy news, the Education Department is considering shutting down a national database of student borrowers following the disclosure several lending companies may have improperly used it for marketing information. The database contains more than 60 million records including Social Security numbers, email addresses, phone numbers and mailing addresses.
In new developments in the attorney firings controversy, the Albuquerque Journal is reporting former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was fired after Republican Senator Pete Domenici made a direct appeal to the White House. Domenici reportedly complained directly to President Bush after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told him only the president could authorize a dismissal.
The news comes as Gonzales is set to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. In an opening statement released in advance, Gonzales says he has “nothing to hide.” But Gonzales indicates he may not be able to provide definite answers on the extent of his role in the firings. Gonzales says he deliberately did not review transcripts of his own meetings so as not to influence his testimony. He continues, “As a result, I may be somewhat limited when it comes to providing you with all of the facts that you may desire.”
And a group of former U.S. military leaders are calling on the Bush administration to cut emissions of greenhouse gas. In a new report, 11 retired generals and admirals say the U.S. should reverse its opposition to global treaties regulating emission levels. The authors include former Army Chief of Staff Gordon Sullivan and former Central Command Commander Anthony Zinni.