New figures show last month’s U.S. military death toll was nearly double that of Iraqi forces. Eighty-one U.S. troops died in March, compared to 44 Iraqi soldiers. March was also the first full month of the crackdown on Baghdad that the Bush administration says the Iraqi military is leading.
Meanwhile, the official count of Iraqi deaths rose 15 percent over February to more than 2,000. At least 600 Iraqis have been killed in the last week. The death toll from last week’s suicide truck bombing in Tal Afar has now risen to make it the single deadliest attack since the U.S.-led invasion. At least 152 people have now been counted dead. The count rose as rescue workers continued to find bodies beneath the rubble. Another 45 people died when Shiite police went on a revenge attack in Sunni areas.
As the toll from violence increases, Republican senator and presidential hopeful John McCain is in Iraq, where he criticized the media for ignoring what he called progress there. McCain spoke after taking a brief walking tour through a section of Baghdad.
Sen. John McCain: “We read every day about suicide bombings, kidnappings, rocket attacks and other terrible acts. And I’m not saying that mission is accomplished, or last throes, or a few dead-enders. But what we don’t read about every day, and what is new since the surge began, is a lot of the good news.”
McCain went on to say his visit to Baghdad is proof Iraq is getting safer, saying: “Never have I been able go out into the city as I was today.” He was accompanied by 100 American troops, three Blackhawk helicopters and two gunships. McCain also wore a bullet-proof vest. Meanwhile in the United States, Democratic Congressmember Charles Rangel defended the Democratic measure to provide further war funding while calling for a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Rep. Charles Rangel: “Ultimately, politically, we have to give him money. But we will constantly remind him that no president in these great United States can continue a war that the people do not support. It’s not going to happen. So as long as he sends back bills, we got to send him back bills.”
Tensions are escalating in the standoff over Iran’s capture of 15 British sailors. On Sunday, hundreds of people demonstrated outside the British Embassy in Tehran, setting off firecrackers that sent up large clouds of smoke. Meanwhile, Iran aired new video of a captured sailor confessing to entering Iranian waters.
Nathan Thomas Summers: “I’d just like to apologize for entering your waters without any permission, and I know it happened back in 2004, and our government promised it would not happen again, and again I would like to apologize for entering your waters.”
The British government has rejected the tape and said the comments were coerced.
Meanwhile, President Bush used his harshest language to date on the standoff, calling the sailors “hostages.”
President Bush “The Iranians must give back the hostages. They’re innocent. They were doing nothing wrong, and they were summarily plucked out of the water. And as I say, it’s inexcusable behavior.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also addressed Iran this weekend, in a speech to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Iran is not just an Israeli problem, it’s not just a problem for the region, Iran is a problem for the world.”
Pelosi was in Israel as part of a congressional delegation to the Middle East. The group also includes Democratic Congressmember Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim member of Congress. The delegation is in Lebanon today before going on to Syria.
The Bush administration has agreed to a trade deal with South Korea following months of talks. Thousands of people rallied in Seoul on Sunday against the agreement. More than 10,000 police officers were deployed.
Choi Soon-young of the Democratic Labor Party: “(The FTA) is a pact to protect the United States, and we’re forced to make a deal. If the two countries reach a bilateral deal in this way, it means we dedicate our people’s life and our country’s future to the United States.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has called for a regional peace conference with Arab leaders. The call comes on the heels of last week’s renewed peace offer from the Arab League. The deal would give Israel full recognition in return for the withdrawal from all of the Occupied Territories and a just solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees. Olmert’s invitation came days after he said Israel would never accept any responsibility for the refugees nor allow even a single Palestinian to return to their homes inside Israel’s borders.
In environmental news, The New York Times reports the U.S. and western Europe are spending billions of dollars to deal with the consequences of global warming while ignoring treaty obligations to pay for those same efforts in poorer countries. The U.S. and western Europe account for emitting two-thirds of carbon dioxide. African countries account for just 3 percent but have been the hardest hit. Spending on environmental recovery and adaptation in the world’s most vulnerable areas has reached just $40 million per year. Meanwhile, a new U.N. report on climate change is set to predict global warming will continue to most severely effect the world’s poorest nations. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global warming could melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by the year 2030 and increase hunger in Africa.
Stephanie Tunmore of Greenpeace International: “Greenpeace research shows that it is technically and economically feasible to half global CO2 emissions by 2050 with a massive uptake of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Governments and policymakers need to listen to what the scientists are telling to act immediately and decisively. We need an energy revolution while there’s still time.”
The chief campaign strategist for President Bush’s re-election has broken with the president on a series of issues including the war in Iraq. In an interview with The New York Times, Matthew Dowd called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Dowd said: “If the American public says they’re done with something, our leaders have to understand what they want. They’re saying, 'Get out of Iraq.'” Dowd said he began having doubts on Iraq even as he was orchestrating the president’s election race against former Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry. Dowd said he later wrote but never submitted an op-ed entitled “Kerry was Right” after Kerry called for an Iraq withdrawal. Dowd said his change of heart was sparked in part by Bush’s refusal to meet the peace activist Cindy Sheehan at his Crawford estate in the summer of 2005. He also cited the expected deployment of his own son to Iraq. Dowd also criticized the president’s renomination of former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton after his rejected confirmation. And he said he was shocked when the president did not immediately fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld following the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. On Sunday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett responded by saying Dowd’s comments should be evaluated in light of his “personal turmoil.”
A Saudi prisoner at Guantanamo Bay has said he was routinely tortured into making a false confession to the bombing of the USS Cole. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri says he also falsely claimed Osama bin Laden had a nuclear bomb, in order to stop the abuse from his U.S. interrogators. Al-Nashiri is one of the Pentagon’s main suspects in the attack.
Meanwhile, new questions are being raised about the imprisonment of the Australian citizen David Hicks following a plea deal that will see him released from jail by the end of this year. Hicks became the first Guantanamo prisoner convicted under the Military Commissions Act. A military jury recommended the maximum sentence of seven years. But on Friday, the Pentagon revealed it had struck a deal that will see Hicks serve a nine-month prison term, most of it in Australia. Under the deal, Hicks is barred from speaking to reporters and must renounce his claim to have suffered abuse in U.S. custody. Hicks has been held for five years. Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union said: “They told us this was one of the world’s worst terrorists, and he got the sentence of a drunken driver.”
Meanwhile, a British prisoner has been freed from Guantanamo after nearly five years. Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi national, was never charged.
The former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik is facing a looming indictment. The Washington Post reports federal prosecutors have told Kerik he is likely to be charged with several felonies including tax evasion and conspiracy to commit wiretapping. Kerik’s nomination could affect the presidential ambitions of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani appointed Kerik as police commissioner and supported his failed nomination to head homeland security. Kerik also became a partner in a security arm of Giuliani’s company, Giuliani Partners.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is being accused of hate speech following comments denouncing bilingual education and balloting. In a speech to the National Federation of Republican Women, Gingrich said bilingual education should be replaced with English and that ballots should no longer be printed in different languages. Gingrich also denounced bilingual education for promoting “the language of living in a ghetto.”
In campaign news, Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has set a quarterly fundraising record. Clinton has raised $26 million since New Year’s Day.
The Washington Post has revealed an unprecedented one-third of nearly four dozen vacant U.S. prosecutor jobs have gone to administration insiders since the start of President Bush’s second term. Ten were former senior aides to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
And at least 13 people have been killed in a tsunami that hit part of the Solomon Islands. The death toll is expected to rise amid reports large waves swept away an entire village.