In Iraq, the number of civilians killed soared last month to the highest level since before the start of the so-called U.S. surge in February. Government records show nearly 2,000 Iraqi civilians died in May. The death toll was nearly 30 percent higher than in April. At least 174 Iraqi soldiers and police officers were also killed in the same period.
Meanwhile, 14 U.S. soldiers have died during the first three days of June. All but one of the soldiers were killed in roadside bombings. The number of U.S. troops killed during the war is now approaching 3,500. May was the third deadliest month of the war for U.S. forces with 127 troop deaths reported.
Concern is growing that a new front could open in the Iraq War. Turkish forces shelled a mountainous region of northern Iraq on Sunday and moved tanks to the Iraqi border. Turkey said the target of the shelling was fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the PKK.
In other Iraq news, Reporters Without Borders is calling for the establishment of a special Iraqi police unit to investigate the killings of journalists. Twelve journalists were killed in May, making it the deadliest month of the war for media workers. On Thursday, an Iraqi cameraman working for the Associated Press named Saif Fakhry was shot and killed in Baghdad. Earlier in the 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.
The Democratic presidential candidates met last night for a debate in New Hampshire. Former Senator John Edwards accused Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama of failing to offer strong leadership to end the war.
John Edwards: “I said throughout the lead-up to this vote that I was against a funding bill that did not have a timetable for withdrawal, that it was critical for the Congress to stand firm. They were given a mandate by the American people. And others on this stage — Chris Dodd spoke out very loudly and clearly, but I want to finish this — but others did not, others were quiet. They went quietly to the floor of the Senate, cast the right vote, but there is a difference between leadership and legislating.”
Both Obama and Clinton rejected the criticism from Edwards.
Sen. Barack Obama: “I think it is important to lead, and I think, John, the fact is I opposed the Iraq War from the start. So you were about four-and-a-half years late on leadership on this issue.”
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “I think it’s important particularly to point out this is George Bush’s war. He is responsible for this war. He started the war, he mismanaged the war, he escalated the war, and he refuses to end the war.”
Former Senator Mike Gravel said the Democrats are complicit in the Iraq War, as well. Congressman Dennis Kucinich said Congress has the power to end the war now by simply cutting off the funding. After the debate, Senator Chris Dodd criticized CNN for giving far more time to Senators Obama and Clinton. Obama spoke for 16 minutes. Dodd, Kucinich, Gravel and Senator Joe Biden were each given less than nine minutes.
While the Democrats debated the war, the man who commanded U.S.-led coalition forces during the first year of the war says the U.S. can forget about winning in Iraq. In his first interview since retirement, Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez told Agence France-Presse: “I think if we do the right things politically and economically with the right Iraqi leadership we could still salvage at least a stalemate, if you will — not a stalemate but at least stave off defeat.” Sanchez is the highest-ranking former military leader yet to suggest the Bush administration has fallen short in Iraq.
A U.S. warship has shelled a village in northern Somalia, marking at least the third U.S. strike in Somalia this year. U.S. officials said the target of the attacks was a base run by Islamic militants. The shelling came five months after U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia and toppled the Union of Islamic Courts. Meanwhile, Somalia’s transitional prime minister, Ali Mohammed Ghedi, has survived an attempt on his life. On Sunday a suicide car bomber crashed into the gates of the prime minister’s estate. Ghedi was unhurt in the blast, but it killed six of his bodyguards and a local student.
In Lebanon, fighting between Lebanese troops and Islamic militants has spread to the southern part of the country. For the past two weeks, Lebanese forces have been shelling the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in the north in its fight against the group Fatah al-Islam. Local residents said the fighting extended to the southern Palestinian refugee camp Ein al-Hilweh on Sunday after the army ignored a deadline set by a local militant group for lifting the siege on Nahr al-Bared. Aid groups have warned that refugees inside Nahr al-Bared are facing severe shortages of food, water and medicine. This is Amnesty International’s Neil Sammonds.
Neil Sammonds: “Amnesty International is very concerned about the innocent Palestinians who have been killed, injured, displaced and subjected to cruel and inhumane conditions during the two weeks of this conflict. Currently we are particularly concerned about the fate and conditions of thousands of the civilians who remain inside Nahr el-Bared now. Among these we have many hundreds of handicapped people, of elderly people and women and children.”
At least 113 people have died since May 20, and about 25,000 Palestinians refugees have fled the Nahr al-Bared camp due to worsening humanitarian conditions.
Military records show that the Saudi man who committed suicide last week at Guantanamo was a veteran of the Saudi army who had trained with U.S. forces. The man, Abdul Rahman Ma’ath Thafir al-Amri, had been held at Guantanamo for over five years. U.S. officials say he was first detained in Afghanistan while fighting with the Taliban. The New York Times reports al-Amri had been involved in several hunger strikes. His weight dropped from about 150 pounds to only 88 pounds. He is the fourth prisoner at Guantanamo to have committed suicide.
In New York, federal and state law enforcement officials say they have disrupted a plot to blow up JFK International Airport. Three men were detained over the weekend in New York and in the Caribbean island of Trinidad. The suspects include a former cargo worker at the airport and a former lawmaker from the South American nation of Guyana. Officials said the men — along with a government informant — conducted surveillance of the airport, but the men never obtained any explosives. It is unclear as to what role the informant played. He was a convicted drug dealer who agreed to infiltrate the group in exchange for a lighter sentence.
In media news, Rupert Murdoch is scheduled to meet today with the Bancroft family to discuss his interest in buying The Wall Street Journal and its parent company, Dow Jones. The Observer newspaper of London reports some reporters at the Journal may stage a walk-out if Murdoch buys the paper. Murdoch’s News Corp. is already one of the world’s largest media companies. Its holdings include the TV network Fox, the book publisher Harper Collins, the New York Post, MySpace.com, The Weekly Standard and scores of other media companies.
The war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor has begun in The Hague for his role in the civil war in Sierra Leone. Taylor has been indicted on 11 charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of international humanitarian law.
Stephen Rapp, chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone: “The event of Charles Taylor coming to trial, as well as his arrest and his transfer to Liberia and on to the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2006, was historic, because it represented an effort by the international community by the countries of West Africa, particularly Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone, to establish the principle that no one, not even a leader, not even a chief of state, is above the law.”
Charles Taylor boycotted the opening of the trial, saying he did not believe he would receive a fair trial.
In Germany, mass protests have already begun ahead of this week’s G8 meeting of the world’s richest nations. On Saturday, as many as 80,000 demonstrators filled the streets of Rostock. The march was peaceful, but after it ended, bloody clashes broke out between police and some protesters. Demonstrators accused police of using excessive force and provoking the street fights. At least 128 protesters were arrested. Protest organizers said over 500 demonstrators had been injured. Police said over 400 officers were also hurt.
Tim Laumeyer, a spokesperson for the protesters: “The people are scared of the police and what will happen now. We had more than 500 injured demonstrators, and there are fears that some police units will do their own thing again or that the police will not stick to their de-escalation tactic, and people are afraid of that. And so I don’t think that we shall be seeing riot scenes to the same extent in the next few days.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of activist organizations and NGOs from the around the globe are gathering in Germany for the G8 conference.
Walden Bello, of Focus on the Global South: “The G8 must go into history now. We do not need the G8. What we really need are truly international people’s organizations to be able to meet the challenges of these times.”
Oxfam’s Max Lawson criticized how the G8 nations deal with Africa.
Max Lawson: “What we want to demonstrate is that the G8 are gambling with lives of millions of Africans. Two years ago, they made promises at their summit in Gleneagles in Scotland to increase aid to Africa. Two years later, countries like Germany, Italy, France, they have just not delivered on those promises, and that means they are gambling away lives of millions of women and children, desperately poor in Africa, who need this money from rich countries.”
President Bush’s proposal for a new climate change strategy that rejects setting mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions has also been criticized ahead of the G8 meeting.
Michael Frein, of the Justice Now Campaign: “What Bush is trying to achieve with his initiative is to gain time. He is distracting people by saying, ’You’re all invited, and we will then talk about specific issues.’ In fact, he is perfectly able to talk about specific issues. There is a United Nations process where just that is being negotiated, and he doesn’t want to participate in it.”
Meanwhile, China has unveiled its first national plan for climate change. China said it intends to reduce its energy by a fifth before 2010, but that it would not make sacrifices at the expense of economic development. China said it would not commit to any caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Many analysts believe China could overtake the U.S. this year as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. China said rich countries were responsible for most of the greenhouse gases produced over the past century and had an “unshirkable responsibility” to do more to tackle the problem.