Congress has approved nearly $100 billion in war spending through September without a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Thursday’s vote capped months of wrangling that saw President Bush veto an earlier bill setting a nonbinding timetable for withdrawal. In the House, the final vote was 280 to 142. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among Democrats voting against the measure.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “We have lost thousands of Americans. The number is hard to measure, but everyone agrees easily over 100,000 Iraqis. The cost to our reputation and our military readiness is incalculable, but it is huge. We think there needs to be a new direction. We think what we should be talking about here today is a different vision for stability in the Middle East and how our role in Iraq contributes to that.”
Across the aisle, Republican Minority Leader John Boehner broke down as he called on lawmakers to fund the war.
Rep. John Boehner: “I came here to do something, and I think at the top of our list is providing for the safety and security of the American people. That’s at the top of our list. And after 3,000 of our fellow Americans died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to stand up and take them on? When are we going to defeat them? Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, if we don’t do it now, if we don’t have the courage to defeat this enemy, we will long, long regret it.”
The final Senate vote was 80 to 14. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama both voted against the bill.
The measure also includes several domestic provisions sought by Democrats. The minimum wage was increased for the first time in a decade, rising from $5.15 to $7.25 over a two-year period.
Earlier at the White House, President Bush urged lawmakers to approve the money to continue the war. He was later questioned by NBC reporter David Gregory.
David Gregory: “Can you explain why you are still a credible messenger on the war?”
President Bush: “I’m credible because I read the intelligence, David. And it’s abundantly clear in plain terms that if we let up, we’ll be attacked.”
The president also said the U.S. would push for new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear activities.
The call came as the U.S. denied claims a massive display of aircraft in the Gulf Coast is meant to intimidate Iran. The ships are set to conduct a series of drills over the two weeks.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “It’s not intended as a show of force. It patently is a show of force just because that is a lot of ships and clearly a lot of military power. But the intent is pure and simple, an exercise, where we saw the opportunity to take advantage of the confluence of these three ships, two carriers and the MEF, to have the opportunity to exercise together.”
In Iraq, more than 60 people were killed in a series of attacks Thursday. At least 27 died in a suicide bombing on a funeral procession in the city of Fallujah. Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced the deaths of six more U.S. troops. Around 90 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq this month. Last month was the military’s deadliest this year with 104 killed.
Meanwhile in Baghdad, hundreds of residents took to the streets of the Amil district to protest a series of U.S.-led raids and a spike in bombing attacks.
Demonstrator Sayyid Nefea al-Bakhati: “(We are here) to protest against the daily raids in the Amil district, Bayaa and all areas of al-Karkh by U.S. troops, and against the mortar attacks against all areas of al-Karkh. We called on substituting the Peshmerga forces with other army commando forces because they will do their job better. There is no mean of communication.”
In other Iraq news, the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has made a public appearance for the first time in four months. Sadr went into hiding in Iran at the start of the U.S.-led crackdown on Baghdad. Earlier today, Sadr delivered a sermon before thousands of worshipers in the holy city of Najaf and called for a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
In the Occupied Territories, Israel has carried out an airstrike near the Gaza home of the Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Residents say a missile hit a caravan guarding a nearby street. Israel says Haniyeh was not the target of the attack. The strike was one of 11 to hit Gaza over a 24-hour period — the most intense barrage since Israel began attacking last week.
The strikes followed Israel’s arrest of more than 30 officials in the Hamas government.
Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti: “The arrest of the minister in President Abbas’s government, Dr. Nasser al-Shaer, the minister of education, and the destruction of an unlimited number of civil society and charitable institutions, all of this, we consider, as a government, represents an attack and assault on the president, his government and the institutions, the elected institutions of the Palestinian people.”
The arrests have also drawn international criticism.
U.N. Middle East envoy Michael Williams: “What worries me is that in most cases, as I understand it, there haven’t been any charges, let alone trials. That is something that disturbs me, and is something that I want to look at in the coming days and weeks.”
Back on Capitol Hill, Democrats have introduced a measure calling for a no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The vote is scheduled for mid-June.
In media news, staffers at McClatchy Newspapers say the Pentagon has effectively frozen them out over their pre-war coverage questioning the Bush administration’s claims on Iraq. McClatchy’s Pentagon correspondents have not been allowed to travel on the defense secretary’s plane for at least three years. Washington, D.C., bureau chief John Walcott said: “The idea of public officials barring coverage by people they’ve decided they don’t like is at best unprofessional, at worst undemocratic and petty.”
In Mexico, the Los Angeles Times is reporting the Mexican government has expanded its surveillance of telephone calls and emails using money from the U.S. government. The State Department has paid for a new $3 million surveillance system designed by the New York-based company Verint Systems. The funding has raised concerns the monitoring could be shared with U.S. law enforcement. Both U.S. and Mexican officials declined comment on whether intelligence sharing could take place.
And finally, natives of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean have won a new legal victory in their long-term battle to return home. British forces expelled the islanders 40 years ago to make way for a U.S. military base at the archipelago’s largest island, Diego Garcia. The base has been used to launch bombing missions on Iraq and Afghanistan. This week a British court criticized the British government’s “abuse of power” and ruled Chagos inhabitants should be allowed to return to every island except Diego Garcia. The U.S. has long campaigned to deny inhabitants the right to return to any of the 65 islands.
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