It’s been another bloody weekend for U.S. troops in Iraq. At least 12 soldiers died on Saturday, bringing the week’s death toll to at least 31.
In the city of Mosul, an Iraqi journalist was killed on Sunday as the country marked Iraqi Journalists Day — a day set aside to acknowledge the media workers killed during the war. Zeena Shakir Mahmoud was shot to death on her way home from work. She was a Sunni Arab but wrote about women’s affairs for a Kurdish newspaper. Earlier today another Iraqi journalist, Rahim al-Maliki, died in a suicide bombing that killed 12 people. Al-Maliki was an anchor on Iraqiya state television. According to Reporters Without Borders, 184 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the U.S. invasion.
In other Iraq news, the Iraqi High Tribunal has sentenced Ali Hassan al-Majid and two others to death. They were convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for ordering the use chemical weapons against Kurds during the Iran-Iraq War. Al-Majid, who was nicknamed Chemical Ali, was a cousin of former President Saddam Hussein.
In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai’s government has accused U.S. and NATO forces of killing more than 90 civilians over the past 10 days in a series of airstrikes and artillery fire. Meanwhile, a new survey by the Associated Press has determined that more civilians have been killed this year in attacks by the U.S.-led coalition and NATO forces than by militants linked to the Taliban. Karzai accused foreign troops of using extreme and disproportionate force. He warned that the fight against the Taliban could fail unless foreign forces show more restraint. Karzai said: “Innocent people are becoming victims of reckless operations.” Meanwhile, 10 civilians were killed in Pakistan after NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan fired mortars along the border.
In other news from Pakistan, new evidence has emerged suggesting Pakistan is planning to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal. A leading Washington think tank says satellite photos show Pakistan is close to completing a third, previously unknown, plutonium production reactor. David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security said the plant would give Pakistan the ability to build a new generation of lighter, more powerful weapons that can more easily be launched via missiles. Pakistan is believed to already have 50 nuclear weapons. The disclosure comes at a tumultuous time in Pakistan. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid recently wrote that growing opposition to Pakistan’s military dictator — General Pervez Musharraf — could lead to a civil war or the unraveling of the country.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are meeting today for a summit in Egypt one day after Israel agreed to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to Abbas’s emergency government in the West Bank. Israeli government spokesperson Miri Eisin said Israel is prepared to take other steps to back Abbas. Meanwhile, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh addressed Palestinians on Sunday. Earlier this month Haniyeh lost his post as Palestinian prime minister after Abbas dissolved the democratically elected Hamas-led government. Haniyeh accused the United States of providing Abbas’s Fatah forces with money and arms in order to oust Hamas.
In other news from the region, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem is calling on Hamas to secure the release of Gilad Shalit — the Israeli soldier who was captured a year ago today. Hamas officials have said Shalit is alive and being held in proper conditions, but these claims have never been verified. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been barred from visiting him. Hamas has repeatedly demanded Israel release some of the over 10,000 Palestinians prisoners being held in Israel.
Meanwhile, a new video has been broadcast of kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. He is shown wearing what he says is an explosive vest. Johnston was abducted on March 12 in Gaza. In the tape, Johnston says his captors will detonate the vest if force is used to try to free him.
Sunday was a particularly bloody day in Lebanon. Six United Nations peacekeepers died in a car bombing just north of the Israeli border. Three Colombian and two Spanish peacekeepers were among the dead. It’s not known who carried out the attack. Meanwhile, 11 people died after Lebanese troops raided a house in the northern city of Tripoli. The Lebanese army said foreign militants were using the house as a hideout.
More than a dozen countries are meeting in France today to discuss how to stop the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region where over 200,000 people have died. Ahead of the conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the international community has failed the people of Darfur. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ top environmental official has warned that environmental degradation of land and resources in Darfur will make it impossible for many of the more than two million people uprooted by the conflict to return home. Achim Steiner said desertification, soil erosion and shrinking rainfall over past decades meant that much of Darfur could not support its previous human and livestock population. In northern Darfur, the past 80 years have seen a one-third drop in average rainfall, a situation expected to worsen as a result of ongoing climate change.
On Capitol Hill, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman, will testify today about how the EPA handled air quality issues at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 attacks. In the days after the twin towers collapsed, Whitman assured New York City residents the air was safe to breathe. Over the weekend, Whitman claimed that former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani blocked her efforts to force workers at the World Trade Center to wear respirators.
In military news, the number of African Americans joining the armed forces has declined by 38 percent since 2001. Six years ago the military had over 51,000 new black recruits. Last year the number plunged to just 32,000.
Meanwhile, ABC News is reporting the U.S. Army has been forced to pull a television recruitment ad aimed at African-American recruits because it inaccurately claimed the Army can train recruits to become pharmacists. David Work, the former president of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, accused the Army of purposely lying in an attempt to recruit teenagers. A new version of the ad replaces the word “pharmacist” with “health care technician.” The commercial was produced by the advertising agency Casanova Pendrill.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has voted to force automakers to raise fuel efficiency standards for the first time in more than 20 years. The bill calls for all new cars, trucks and SUVs to get an average of 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. Meanwhile, Republican senators stripped sections of the bill that would have required oil and gas companies to spend some of their profits to help research renewable energy sources. Republicans also blocked a proposal to require utility companies to produce 15 percent of their electricity with renewable fuels by 2020.
The Democratic-controlled House has passed a series of funding bills dealing with Venezuela, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. The House voted to spend $10 million to bolster Voice of America broadcasts to Venezuela and Latin America. Venezuela responded by accusing the U.S. of escalating its media campaign against the Chavez government.
The Democrat-controlled House also agreed to give President Bush $46 million to back Cuban dissidents in Cuba. This marks a fivefold jump over last year’s budget. A recent congressional study found previous allocations to Cuban dissidents had been spent on such items as Godiva chocolates and cashmere sweaters.
The House also voted on Friday to prohibit any foreign aid to Saudi Arabia — one of the Bush administration’s closest allies in the Middle East. The vote is largely symbolic since the U.S. sends little aid to the Saudis.
In other news from Capitol Hill, an attempt in the House to close the U.S. military training center once known as the School of the Americas has failed. Forty-two Democrats joined with Republicans to continue funding the Defense Institute for Hemispheric Security Cooperation. Human rights groups have urged Congress to close the school, which has long been linked to human rights atrocities committed in Latin America.
In political news, Vice President Cheney’s daughter Elizabeth has become an adviser to likely Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson. Up until recently, Elizabeth Cheney was a top official in the State Department’s Near East and South Asia department.
Thousands of online radio stations are planning to participate in a National Day of Silence on Tuesday to protest new royalty rate increases that threaten the future of many Internet radio stations. As part of the protest, many radio stations — including Pacifica Radio’s KPFA — plan to shut off their Internet streams for the day. In March the Copyright Royalty Board ordered online radio stations — including non-commercial stations — to pay drastically increased royalty rates for every song. The new rates go into effect July 15th. Some stations will see their rates increase by 1,200 percent. Last week members of the Save Net Radio Coalition urged Congress to pass the Internet Radio Equality Act which would vacate the rate increase and set the royalty rate at the same level paid by satellite radio services.
In New York, a prominent civil rights attorney was arrested and beaten by police officers in Brooklyn after he tried to stop the police from hitting a handcuffed teenager. The attorney, Michael Warren, said a police officer punched him in the head and hit his wife in the jaw. Several city officials have urged the police department to drop charges against Warren and his wife. Warren has been a leading critic of police abuse in New York City.