At least 25 people have been killed and more than 50 wounded in a suicide bombing in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Ten police officers are among the dead. Meanwhile in Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi forces are continuing a series of raids following the abduction of five British contractors.
And hundreds of people marched through Sadr City today carrying the coffins of two victims of a U.S. airstrike. The victims were said to be an elderly couple who were bombed as they slept on the roof of their home.
The Bush administration has announced it expects to maintain a massive troop presence in Iraq as it has in South Korea since the Korean War. The U.S. currently has 30,000 troops in South Korea in a presence dating back more than 50 years. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the U.S. would remain in Iraq as it has in South Korea — what he called “a force of stability.”
In other Iraq news, at least three Iraqi journalists have been killed in the last week. National Iraqi News Agency correspondent Abdul Rahman al-Isawi was dragged from his home and shot. Nazar Abdul Wahid, a reporter with the Aswat al-Iraq news agency, was shot outside a hotel. And newspaper editor Mahmoud Hakim Mustafa was shot dead near his home in northern Iraq. Their deaths bring this month’s toll for journalists in Iraq to nine, equaling the worst monthly total of the Iraq War.
In Afghanistan, five U.S. troops were among seven killed when their helicopter went down during clashes with Taliban fighters.
NATO spokesperson Major John Thomas: “Last night a little after 9:00 p.m. local time, a Chinook helicopter went down in Helmand province near Kajaki area. There were seven people on board. They were all ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) soldiers. All of them died in the crash.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israel has dismissed the prospect of a truce with Palestinian militants and continued its bombing attacks on Gaza. On Wednesday, two Hamas militants were killed in an Israeli strike. Meanwhile, the quartet of Middle East peace mediators urged support for the ceasefire at a meeting in Berlin.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “Looking ahead, the quartet discussed the calendar for the coming months to support and encourage progress on the bilateral and regional tracks. The quartet principals agree to meet in the region in turn with the Israelis and Palestinians to review progress and discuss the way forward. The quartet also agreed to meet in the region with members of the Arab League to follow up on the Arab peace initiative and efforts to advance the regional track.”
The appeal came as Israeli forces carried out what is being described as an extrajudicial execution in the middle of a crowded Palestinian street. Witnesses say undercover Israeli troops ambushed an off-duty Palestinian security officer in broad daylight in Ramallah. The officer, Mohamed Abdul Halim, was shot 24 times. Halim was reportedly carrying a weapon but never attempted to open fire. Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti was present on the scene and had shots fired at his vehicle.
At the United Nations, the Security Council has voted to establish a special court to prosecute the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Five of the 15 Security Council members abstained from the vote. The U.S. backed the measure in a move widely seen as a challenge to Syria.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad: “We have heard many voices warn of the risk to peace and stability in Lebanon. In the days ahead, we urge all parties to act responsibility and abide by their obligations to support Lebanon’s sovereignty and political independence.”
The court’s establishment has highlighted Lebanon’s internal divisions. Members of Hariri’s coalition have voiced support while pro-Syrian politicians say the proceedings will be controlled by the White House. Members of the Hezbollah-led opposition coalition have said they back a tribunal but have warned against imposing it through unilateral action.
A Saudi Arabian prisoner at Guantanamo Bay has been found dead in his cell in what the Pentagon is calling an apparent suicide. The unidentified captive’s death comes nearly one year after the suicides of three other Guantanamo prisoners. Further details have not been released.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against a Boeing Company subsidiary for allegedly helping the CIA transport three captives to overseas prisons where they were tortured. The suit was filed on behalf of the three prisoners. The ACLU says Jeppesen International Trip Planning has been a main provider of flight and logistical support services for the secret CIA program of jailing and transporting prisoners known as “extraordinary rendition.” Jeppesen is said to have aided at least 15 aircraft for a total of 70 rendition flights. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said: “American corporations should not be profiting from a CIA rendition program that is unlawful and contrary to core American values. Corporations that choose to participate in such activity can and should be held legally accountable.”
Meanwhile, the ACLU has also brought a new challenge on behalf of the German citizen Khalid El-Masri. Masri was held and tortured for five months in a secret CIA jail in Afghanistan after being kidnapped in Macedonia. A lawsuit against the CIA has been dismissed twice on the grounds it could reveal so-called “state secrets.” The ACLU is now asking the Supreme Court to review the case.
President Bush has asked Congress to double U.S. spending on the global AIDS crisis to $30 billion over five years. The president spoke Wednesday from the White House.
President Bush: “This money will be spent wisely through the establishment of partnership compacts with host nations. These compacts would ensure that U.S. funds support programs that have the greatest possible impact and are sustainable for the future. America will work with governments, the private sector, and faith- and community-based organizations around the world to meet measurable goals: to support treatment for nearly 2.5 million people, to prevent more than 12 million new infections, and to support care for 12 million people, including more than five million orphans and vulnerable children.”
While the request drew praise, some advocacy groups offered criticism the U.S. is both underspending and maintaining a misdirected emphasis on abstinence education. The Health Global Access Group says the U.S. would need to spend at least $50 billion to keep a promise for universal access to treatment for HIV victims. The administration is also extending its controversial requirement that one-third of HIV-prevention spending go to promoting abstinence before marriage. Jodi Jacobson of the Centre for Health and Gender Equity said: “No amount of money will make up for the ideologically driven prevention policies now promoted by [the U.S.].”
American food exporters have signed a new round of trade deals with the Cuban government. More than 100 companies and 25 states are taking part in the deal. The sales are allowed under an exception to the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
James Sumner, head of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council: “It’s a tremendous relationship that we have. Cuba is a very important market to us. We feel we’re doing each other very well. We’re helping your consumers, you’re helping our industry–and we recognize that when the embargo is lifted, which we hope is very soon, that these purchases will be much greater and help all of our people even more. So you’ve been a good friend. Thank you for all of your support.”
The Justice Department has announced it’s expanding its internal investigation to look into whether senior officials hired applicants based on their Republican ties. The new probe will look into hirings in the Civil Rights Division, which oversees voting rights.
The news comes as the Los Angeles Times reports a former federal prosecutor could have lost his job because he stood up for voting rights for Native Americans. Republican Tom Heffelfinger resigned last year after 15 years as the U.S. attorney for Minnesota. His name appeared on the list of attorneys in danger of losing their jobs just three months after he challenged a state directive that would have barred tribal ID cards as a valid form of voting identification. Native voters in the Minnesota area have turned out in relatively large numbers and are known to generally vote Democratic. In testimony last week, former Justice Department liaison Monica Goodling said Heffelfinger’s superiors had criticized him for spending “an excessive amount of time” on Native American issues.
And finally, a new study shows rulings on asylum cases face wide disparities depending on factors including the location of the court and background of the judges. The study looked at 140,000 rulings on cases involving the 15 countries that have produced the most asylum seekers. In one court in Miami, Colombians had a nearly nine in 10 chance of winning asylum from one judge while just a 5 percent chance from another. Chinese asylum seekers had a 76 percent success rate in a court in Orlando while just a 7 percent chance in Atlanta. Female immigration judges were also found to approve asylum requests at a 44 percent higher rate than male judges. Georgetown professor and study author Philip Schrag said: “It is very disturbing that these decisions can mean life or death, and they seem to a large extent to be the result of a clerk’s random assignment of a case to a particular judge.”