Iraq’s infant mortality rate has soared by 150 percent since 1990 according to a new report by the charity Save the Children. One in eight Iraqi children now die of disease or violence before the age of five. In 2005 alone, 122,000 Iraqi children died before reaching their fifth birthday. Save the Children said Iraq’s child-survival ranking is now the lowest in the world.
In other Iraq news, the country is facing a potential political crisis. Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi has announced he will lead a withdrawal of Sunni politicians from the Cabinet and Parliament if changes are not made to Iraq’s constitution by May 15. Experts say the move could be a potentially devastating blow to reconciliation efforts within Iraq.
Meanwhile, at least 68 people died in Iraq on Monday, including 13 in a pair of attacks in Ramadi. Earlier today, a powerful car bomb exploded in the Shiite city of Kufa. Sixteen people died. Another 70 were wounded.
The Iraqi newspaper Azzaman is reporting today that the residents of the Baghdad neighborhood al-Adhamiya have vowed to destroy the wall that was built by U.S. forces to isolate the Sunni area from nearby neighborhoods. Residents of the area described the structure as the "wall of occupation." On Friday, a member of the 82nd Airborne was shot by a sniper while inspecting the wall in Baghdad. The soldier is in stable condition.
In Kansas, the death toll from last week’s tornado in the town of Greensburg has reached nine. Governor Kathleen Sebelius said the town is devastated.
Kathleen Sebelius: "There really are no businesses, very few residences, no school, no hospital. The community is pretty well gone."
Governor Sebelius said recovery efforts have been hampered because much of the state’s National Guard personnel and equipment is in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kansas lacks about half the large equipment it could use for recovery efforts and debris removal, including dump trucks and front loaders. More than 20 percent of its Humvees and all but four its helicopters were sent to Iraq. Kansas now has about 1,000 Guard troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and on the Mexican border. Sebelius said Kansas can’t borrow equipment from other states because much of their equipment is in Iraq, as well. Kansas has been forced to hire private contractors to help clear debris.
A new survey conducted by The Hill newspaper has found the majority of Democratic presidential candidates back increasing the size of the military. Last month, Senator Barack Obama called for an increase in Pentagon spending and an extra 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 marines. Senators Hillary Clinton and Joseph Biden and former Senator John Edwards have also backed building a larger military. The Hill reports that only two Democratic candidates — New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Congressman Dennis Kucinich — are openly discussing cutting the Pentagon’s budget.
Amnesty International has accused China and Russia of supplying arms to Sudan that are being used to attack civilians in Darfur, in breach of a U.N. arms embargo. Amnesty has also accused two close U.S. allies — Kuwait and Saudi Arabia — of supplying arms. Over 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur in recent years. Meanwhile, on Monday, officials from the United Nations and African Union met the head of the Arab League to discuss Darfur.
Jan Eliasson, U.N. special envoy for Darfur: "Practically everyone we have talked to has said there is no military solution. And if they say there is no military solution, then there is only one logical conclusion, namely that there has to be a political settlement. So we would now hope to see all of the movements. We still have work to do in that respect, but hope that they will also be coming to those negotiations in good faith and be preparing themselves for real negotiations."
The New York Times is reporting the U.S. oil company Chevron is preparing to pay up to $30 million in fines for illegally paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein for access to Iraq’s oil before the U.S. invasion in 2003. The penalty, which is still being negotiated, would be the largest so far in the United States in connection with investigations of companies involved in the oil-for-food scandal. It appears Chevron began paying Iraq kickbacks in August 2000. At the time, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a member of Chevron’s board and led its public policy committee, which oversaw areas of potential political concerns for the company.
Pressure is increasing on Paul Wolfowitz to resign as head of the World Bank. A high-level World Bank ethics panel has determined that Wolfowitz broke bank rules by arranging a pay package and promotion for his girlfriend. On Monday, one of Wolfowitz’s closest aides, Kevin Kellems, resigned. The New York Times reports European governments are trying to reach a deal with the Bush administration where Wolfowitz would soon resign and the U.S. would be allowed to pick the bank’s next chief.
Momentum is growing in Latin America to form an alternative to the U.S.-controlled World Bank. Venezuela and Argentina have already pledged more than one billion dollars to start the Banco del Sur, or Bank of the South. Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay have all expressed support for the bank.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva: "We’re meeting all the ministers to discuss what’s the goal of this bank. Is it a bank for financing? Is it a bank to develop the region? How will each country participate? In what way will we participate? So to create a bank, it’s necessary for us to have sustainability in the idea. It’s important for it to be a financial institution of much credibility and, for that, we need to resolve all political divergence that may exist about the bank."
Last week Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Venezuela would pull out of the World Bank and IMF.
Hugo Chavez: "We don’t need to go to Washington, not to the IMF, nor to the World Bank, nor to anything. I want to formalize the exit of Venezuela from the World Bank, from the IMF and from all of that. We don’t need anymore to have a governor or a representative there. No, let’s get out. We don’t even want to be there, and they return our money to us because now they owe us. They need to return our money to us, because they owe us."
In Los Angeles, two high-ranking police department commanders have been reassigned over their role in the police department’s violent crushing of a lawful immigrants’ rights rally last week. Police dressed in riot gear fired 240 rounds of rubber bullets and tear gas. Officers were seen on video clubbing protesters and journalists with batons. Overall, 10 people, including seven journalists, were taken to hospitals with injuries. On Sunday, L.A. Police Chief William Bratton took 60 members of the police department’s elite Metropolitan Division’s B Platoon off the street.
In news from Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee has asked a former Justice Department civil rights chief to answer accusations that he was a central figure in a broad Republican strategy to suppress the votes of minority voters. Former Justice Department civil rights lawyers have alleged that the official, Bradley Schlozman, led a legal campaign aimed at making it harder for poor African Americans, who tend to vote for Democrats, to meet voting requirements.
In media news, the Canadian company Thomson Corporation is in talks to buy the British news organization Reuters for nearly $18 billion. If the deal goes through, the merger would result in the world’s largest news and financial data company.
Investigative reporter Tim Shorrock of Salon.com has revealed that former CIA Director George Tenet has made at least $2.3 million since he left the agency by working for four corporations that are directly profiting from the so-called war on terror and the war in Iraq. Tenet did not disclose any of his corporate ties in his new book, "At the Center of the Storm." Tenet sits on the board of directors of L-1 Identity Solutions, a major supplier of biometric identification software used by the U.S. to monitor terrorists and insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tenet is also a member of an advisory board for Analysis Corporation, which is designing terrorist watch lists for the government. Tenet also serves on the boards of two other government contractors, Guidance Software and Kinetic.
In Wisconsin, a former Marine recruiter has been sentenced to one year in jail and three years on probation after he was accused of sexually assaulting two high school girls that he met at their school during a recruiting trip. A 17-year-old girl said the marine, Donny Rage, groped her in his recruiting office and attempted to have sex with her at a party. One of the victims said, "He had a gun in his room and he was forcefully telling me what to do and forcefully telling me how to do different things. I was scared and I felt I didn’t have the right to leave the room." Last week Rage pleaded guilty to one charge of false imprisonment. Prosecutors agreed to drop seven other charges as part of a plea deal.
A new report from Amnesty International has revealed that Native American women are more than two-and-a-half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the United States in general. Studies show that one in three Native American women will be raped during their lifetime. Amnesty said many rape cases are never prosecuted because there is confusion regarding tribal and county jurisdiction. It is estimated that 86 percent of rapes against Native women are committed by non-Native men, but tribal councils have no jurisdiction over non-Native offenders even if the crime takes place on tribal lands.
And students at Harvard University have entered their sixth day of a hunger strike in support of a living wage and better working conditions for security officers at the school. About 11 students from the Student Labor Action Movement began the hunger strike in an effort to pressure the university to intervene in negotiations between the security officers and their employer, AlliedBarton, which is one of the nation’s largest contract security personnel companies.
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