The New York Times is reporting the U.S. military has begun secretly supplying arms, ammunition and cash to Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq in an effort to fight al-Qaeda. Some of the Sunni groups are suspected of having carried out deadly attacks on American troops and have strong ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. Critics of the strategy say it could amount to the U.S. arming both sides in a civil war. The United States has already spent more than $15 billion in building up Iraq’s largely Shiite army and police force.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced he will not renominate Gen. Peter Pace to be chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When Peter Pace steps down at the end of September, he will become the shortest-serving chair since Gen. Maxwell Taylor in 1964 during the early years of the Vietnam War. Gates predicted a reconfirmation hearing for Pace before Congress would have been contentious.
Robert Gates: “I am no stranger to contentious confirmations, and I do not shrink from them. However, I have decided that at this moment in our history, our men and women in uniform and General Pace himself would not be well served by a divisive ordeal in selecting the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
Robert Gates has nominated Navy Admiral Michael Mullen to be the next chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen has predicted the war on terror will go on for a generation. He said earlier this year: “The enemy now is basically evil and fundamentally hates everything we are — the democratic principles for which we stand … This war is going to go on for a long time. It’s a generational war.” Mullen’s nomination comes as The Washington Post reports the U.S. military is envisioning keeping a force of over 40,000 troops in Iraq for years, if not decades, to come. In recent weeks, Bush administration officials have said the U.S. might maintain a military presence in Iraq like it has in South Korea, where it has kept troops since the end of the Korean War 54 years ago.
In other Iraq news, six Iraqi prisoners died on Saturday when mortar fire hit the U.S.-run Bucca prison. The U.S. is holding 16,000 Iraqi prisoners at Bucca. In Mahmoudiya, a suicide bomb blew up part of a main highway bridge south of Baghdad on Sunday. Several U.S. soldiers guarding the bridge were injured.
In eastern Baghdad, local witnesses have reported U.S. warplanes fired shells and flares on houses in a largely Shiite neighborhood. Four houses were burned in the attack. Residents also said U.S. forces raided an office of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and shot dead four men. One eyewitness accused the U.S. troops of attacking a Shiite mosque.
Iraqi eyewitness: “They (U.S. troops) gathered in front of the mosque. People were praying when the U.S. soldiers opened fire on them. Some fell down, others were arrested, and many were killed. The reason was unknown.”
Tension remains high on the border of Iraq and Turkey. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry has accused Turkey of intensively shelling Kurdish areas in northern Iraq. The shelling reportedly caused wide fires and large amounts of damage. Meanwhile, four Turkish soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb 45 miles north of the border.
Another journalist has been murdered in Iraq. On Thursday, Sahar al-Haydari was assassinated by unknown gunmen in Mosul. Haydari worked for Voices of Iraq, the National Iraqi News Agency and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Iraq. Prior to Thursday she had received 13 death threats. Mosul is now considered to be the second most dangerous city in the world for journalists, behind Baghdad. A group linked to al-Qaeda called Ansar al-Sunna has claimed responsibility for her killing.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate is preparing to vote today on a no-confidence resolution on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales has been widely criticized for his role in the politicization of the Justice Department, the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, for authorizing warrantless domestic surveillance and for his role in justifying the use of torture. On Sunday, White House spokesperson Tony Snow said that the vote would have no effect on President Bush’s confidence in Gonzales.
The Senate vote comes as another Justice Department scandal appears to be on the horizon. The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration has increasingly emphasized partisan political ties over expertise in recent years in selecting immigration judges who decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of immigrants. At least one-third of the immigration judges appointed by the Justice Department since 2004 have had Republican connections or have been administration insiders, and half lacked experience in immigration law. All of the appointments were made by Alberto Gonzales or former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
In academic news, DePaul University has denied tenure to political science professor Norman Finkelstein, one of the most prominent critics of Israel in American academia. The Political Science Department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recommended tenure for Finkelstein, but the college’s dean and the University Board on Promotion and Tenure recommended against it. Finkelstein’s fight for tenure became national news in part because Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz publicly lobbied against him receiving tenure. Finkelstein said: “I met the standards of tenure DePaul required, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the political opposition to my speaking out on the Israel-Palestine conflict.” Supporters of Finkelstein included Raul Hilberg, the dean of Holocaust historians. Hilberg said this weekend: “I have a sinking feeling about the damage this will do to academic freedom.”
Major rallies were held in Washington, London, Tel Aviv this weekend to protest 40 years of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In Tel Aviv, thousands of Israeli peace activists and Palestinians marched to mark the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War when Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank have lived under Israeli military occupation ever since. This is Israeli peace activist Dr. Dalit Baum.
Dr. Dalit Baum: “Well, we have organized here a very, very wide coalition of organizations from all different spectrums of Israeli political left, and we are going to march in Tel Aviv in order to remind people that this is 40 years to the ’67 war and the occupation of the territories in the West Bank and Gaza and the Golan Heights, and we are thinking that we need to walk around town — this very quiet, very, very content city — and remind people that the occupation goes on, and it needs to stop.”
Meanwhile, organizers said more than 5,000 people rallied against the occupation in Washington, and more than 20,000 people marched in London.
In Gaza, at least six Palestinians have died since Saturday in fighting between Fatah and Hamas. It was the deadliest internal fighting in Gaza in about a month. Earlier today, gunmen attacked the home of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. There were no reports of casualties.
Meanwhile, international press groups are criticizing Palestinian militants from Islamic Jihad for storming an Israeli border checkpoint in a vehicle designed to look like a truck carrying journalists.
Simon McGregor-Wood, head of the Foreign Press Association: “This is a disaster for legitimate working journalists who work very hard with the Israeli authorities to import these vehicles so they can offer protection to journalists in hostile environments. Yesterday’s incident will undermine that whole process and will make any journalist traveling in a real armored vehicle in a conflict area worthy of the suspicion of the Israeli army or whomever else.”
In news from Africa, new details have emerged about how the CIA is closely working with Sudan in the so-called war on terror despite the Sudanese government’s role in the mass killings in Darfur. According to the Los Angeles Times, Sudan has been sending spies into Iraq to gather intelligence on insurgents for the CIA. In Somalia, Sudan has helped the United States cultivate contacts with the Islamic Courts Union and other militias in an effort to locate al-Qaeda suspects hiding there. Sudan has also provided extensive cooperation in counterterrorism operations, acting on U.S. requests to detain suspects as they pass through Khartoum. Many human rights advocates have criticized the Bush administration’s decision to work with Sudan at a time when it is accused of killing tens of thousands of civilians in Darfur. Two years ago, the Los Angeles Times revealed that the CIA sent an executive jet to Sudan to fly the country’s intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Salah Abdallah Gosh, to Washington for meetings with officials at agency headquarters.
In other news from Africa, about a thousand anti-corporate globalization and anti-poverty campaigners have gathered in Mali to hold a forum to counter the G8 meeting. The people’s summit was aimed at tackling debt, food security and immigration problems, as well as the creation of an alternative to the World Bank. This is Makafing Konate from the group Coalition of African Alternatives on Debt and Development.
Makafing Konate: “(Today what is launched by the participants of this forum is that) today, our states must have agriculture development. If we have to go to the global market, we must guarantee our farmers they’ll be able to produce at competitive costs. This means that our states should be able to help our farmers.’’
An alliance of trade unions have charged that some of the official merchandise for the 2008 Olympics in China has been made by Chinese children as young as 12 years old. The report by the Playfair Alliance also highlights alleged labor rights violations at four factories, including forced overtime, poor health and safety conditions, and workers being instructed to lie about wages and conditions to outside inspectors.
And here in New York, domestic workers marched on Saturday to call for state lawmakers to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. This bill would set a minimum wage of $12 for caregivers, and require employers to provide health insurance or pay an additional $2 an hour. It would also guarantee days off, vacation time and other worker standards.
Carolyn de Leon, from the group Domestic Workers United: “We are completely [inaudible] about the abuse and unsure whether we’re going to have a job from week to week. This must stop. Two hundred thousand of us support families here and abroad, and we need to be protected. We need job security. We need healthcare. We need overtime pay. And most of all, we need our labor to be respected and recognized, so that slavery once and for all will be abolished.”
Saturday’s march came a month after federal prosecutors arrested a Long Island couple for essentially enslaving their domestic workers.