More than 140 people are dead in violence around Iraq. On Wednesday, 70 were killed in three separate bombings in Baghdad, including 50 in a gas station fuel-bomb attack. Another 60 people were wounded in the blast.
Meanwhile, the largest Sunni Arab bloc has announced its departure from the Iraqi government. The Iraqi Accordance Front’s withdrawal leaves only two Sunnis in the 40-member Cabinet of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The group linked its departure to what it called the failings of Maliki’s government.
Another conviction has come down in the group murder of an Iraqi civilian by U.S. marines in the town of Hamdania last year. Corporal Marshall Magincalda has been found guilty of conspiracy to murder, larceny and housebreaking, but acquitted of premeditated murder. The victim, Hashim Ibrahim Awad, was dragged from his home, shot, and then planted with a weapon to make it appear he was planning an attack. Six other servicemembers have been convicted in the case.
In other Iraq news, a new report shows the U.S. government cannot account for some 190,000 weapons issued to Iraq’s security forces. The weapons were handed out in 2004 and 2005.
On Capitol Hill, the Democrat-controlled House has voted to extend a federal health insurance program to cover an additional five million children. The bill expands funding of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP, by $47 billion over five years. The increase would be paid for by a 45-cent tax increase on packs of cigarettes. The final vote was 225 to 204. The Senate is expected to follow suit as early as today, setting off a showdown with the White House. President Bush has vowed to veto the bill because he says it will encourage government involvement in healthcare.
Senior White House adviser Karl Rove is set to rebuke a subpoena today to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. On Wednesday, committee chair Senator Patrick Leahy said Rove won’t be appearing. President Bush has invoked executive privilege to prevent senior aides including Rove from testifying.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared before Congress Wednesday in a hearing into the alleged cover-up of the battlefield death of the Army Ranger and former professional football player Pat Tillman. The military initially said Tillman was killed by Taliban fighters but later conceded he died by friendly fire. Rumsfeld denied a cover-up under questioning from Democratic Congressmember Dennis Kucinich. Donald Rumsfeld: “I have not been involved in any cover-up whatsoever, and I don’t believe there is an individual at this table who I know well and observed at close quarters in very difficult situations who had any role in a cover-up on this matter.” Congressmember Dennis Kucinich: “Thank you for acquitting yourself — I was speaking about the Department of Defense.” It was Rumsfeld’s first appearance before Congress since he stepped down at the Pentagon last year. The hearing comes one day after the former head of the Army Special Operations Command — Retired Lieutenant General Philip Kensinger — was censured for lying about Tillman’s death. Kensinger refused to testify at Wednesday’s hearing. Six other officers have received reprimands, but critics say blame could reach all the way to Rumsfeld. Just last week, newly revealed documents showed Army medical examiners tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether Tillman was deliberately shot.
In Minneapolis, the death toll from Wednesday’s bridge collapse over the Mississippi River has reached at least nine. Twenty people are reported missing.
Minneapolis Fire Chief Jim Clack: “We know that there was at least 50 vehicles, probably much more than that, on the bridge at the time of the collapse. We transported over 60 people to area hospitals. That number we expect to go up. At this point we have seven confirmed fatalities, and we expect that number to go up, as well.”
The cause of the collapse has not been determined, but officials have ruled out foul play.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continues her Mideast tour with stops in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Rice is pushing for new talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that exclude the democratically elected Hamas government. On Wednesday, Rice said the Bush administration would continue to isolate Hamas but denied worsening the humanitarian crisis in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “We are not going to abandon the people of Gaza to Hamas. In fact, our efforts to make certain that humanitarian assistance can get to Gaza will continue and, as need be, intensify, because we know that there are a lot of innocent Palestinians who are living in Gaza under these conditions.”
Hamas says any agreements with Israel and the U.S. hinge on reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah government. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Hamas adviser Ahmed Yusef called on the U.S. to include Hamas in talks or realize any agreements would require its approval. Israel has previously rejected Hamas’ call for a long-term ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlements to internationally recognized borders. In Gaza, local resident Hatem Hmoud said Palestinians have few expectations for Rice’s visit.
Hatem Hmoud: “Every time she comes to the Middle East, there is nothing but trouble. We’re used to it. Whether on the Palestinian level or on the Arab level, if there is anything she wants to offer, it needs to be clear and should not have any hidden agendas, so that the Palestinian people can get their full rights.”
Amnesty International is calling on the Mexican government to investigate a slew of human rights abuses in the state crackdown on the popular uprising in Oaxaca. Striking teachers have led a more than year-long campaign against the state governor, Ulises Ruiz. Amnesty says it’s found many cases of state-sanctioned torture of imprisoned protesters. Activists have also accused state police of more than a dozen extrajudicial killings. Speaking from Mexico City, Amnesty International Director Irene Khan called for a probe into Ruiz’s government. After meeting with Khan, Ruiz dismissed Amnesty’s findings and said the group had collaborated with his opponents in the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, or APPO.
Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruiz : “We do not share views with Amnesty International’s report, and we let them know. Those who write the report for Amnesty International are councilors for the APPO.”
Amnesty’s Irene Khan had this response.
Amnesty International Director Irene Khan: “The report was not written by APPO. Amnesty International’s reports are written by Amnesty International’s own researchers, and for the governor to make an allegation like that is totally irresponsible. He has no evidence to show, to prove that. He does not take our recommendation seriously, and he is simply finding an excuse not take our recommendations.”
In Russia, relatives of victims of the 2004 Beslan school siege are claiming newly released video footage proves Russian authorities have covered up the circumstances around the bloody end to the crisis. Some 333 people, half of them children, were killed when Russian security forces stormed a school seized by Chechen separatists. Russia has claimed a bomb planted by the separatists caused the deaths. But relatives say new video from an investigator proves the theory that Russian troops fired grenades into the school before the bombs went off. The video shows large blasts and sustained gunfire, followed by rising smoke from the building.
Susanna Dudiyeva of the Beslan Mothers’ Committee: “We got the tape by chance. It was posted to us. For a long time we have been trying to determine and to clarify the nature of the very first explosion, and this tape proves that the explosions happened outside the building.”
On the campaign trail, Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama has announced he would attack areas in Pakistan with or without approval of the Pakistani government. Obama outlined his view in a speech Wednesday in Washington.
Senator Barack Obama: “Now, I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear: There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.”
Obama’s stance comes a week after he drew flak from rival candidate Senator Hillary Clinton for his foreign policy views. Clinton had criticized Obama for saying he would meet with leaders of Iran, Syria and North Korea, if elected.
Two men allegedly sent on a CIA flight to secret overseas prisons where they were tortured have joined a lawsuit accusing a Boeing subsidiary of taking part in their ordeal. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the original suit in May on behalf of three other former 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. Joining the suit are Iraqi citizen Bisher al-Rawi and Yemeni citizen Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah. Rawi spent four years in U.S. captivity after he was kidnapped in Gambia. Basmillah spent nearly two years in U.S. prisons, where he says he tried to commit suicide three times.
And the retail giant Wal-Mart is facing new allegations of unlawful labor practices. Newsweek magazine reports Wal-Mart has been using some 19,000 teenagers to work as unpaid baggers at its stores in Mexico. The youths receive no payment from Wal-Mart and rely entirely on tips from customers. Wal-Mart officially describes the youths as “volunteers.”