The Iraqi government is facing a political crisis after five more Cabinet members announced they will start boycotting government meetings. Of Iraq’s 38 ministers, 17 have now either left the government or suspended their participation in it. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government no longer has any members affiliated with Sunni political factions. This is seen as a deep blow to attempts to craft reconciliation among the country’s majority Shiites and minority Sunnis and Kurds. According to the McClatchy newspapers, Iraq’s government is now paralyzed because Maliki is unable to convene a quorum of the council of ministers to approve legislation or take other actions. Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group said the Iraqi government cannot survive all these defections. Hiltermann said, “The Shiites and the Kurds don’t want to cede power to people they don’t trust. But if they don’t, there won’t be reconciliation. Then all we can look forward to is civil war.”
A new public opinion poll, has found that a majority of Iraqis oppose plans to open the country’s oilfields to foreign investment. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they would prefer Iraq’s oil to be developed and produced by Iraqi public-sector companies rather than foreign multinationals. The U.S. government has been pressing Baghdad to pass an oil law by September, but most Iraqis say they do not feel adequately informed about the law. Meanwhile, UPI is reporting a top member of the Iraqi prime minister’s party says the new oil law should be delayed until U.S. occupation forces leave Iraq. Ali al-Adeeb said the Iraq National Oil Company should take the lead in developing and managing Iraq’s discovered but undeveloped oil.
In Utah, hundreds of rescue workers are trying to find six coal miners who are trapped about 1,500 feet below ground. The miners have not been heard from since Monday when a mine shaft collapsed. Officials said there was no indication whether the miners were alive or dead. The non-unionized mine is owned by the Murray Energy Corporation. The Associated Press reported that federal mine inspectors had issued hundreds of safety violation citations against the mine since January 2004 and had ordered the owner to pay nearly $152,000 in penalties.
In news from Washington, President Bush openly ignored Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s assertion that Iran has had a positive influence in Afghanistan. On Sunday, Karzai appeared on CNN and said Iran has “been a helper” in Afghanistan. But on Monday at a joint news conference at the White House, Bush accused Iran of being a destabilizing force in the region. He said, “They’re not a force for good, as far as we can see. They are a destabilizing influence, wherever they are now.” Meanwhile, Karzai acknowledged that the security situation is worsening in Afghanistan, but he claimed the Afghan government is not vulnerable to the Taliban.
Hamid Karzai: “The Taliban do pose dangers to our innocent people, to children going to school, to our clergy, to our teachers, to our engineers, to international aid workers. They’re not posing any threat to the government of Afghanistan. They’re not posing any threat to the institutions of Afghanistan or to the buildup of institutions of Afghanistan. It’s a force that’s defeated. It’s a force that is frustrated.”
Karzai also admitted Afghanistan has failed in its attempts to eradicate poppy production. The Associated Press recently reported Afghanistan will produce another record poppy harvest this year, cementing its status as the world’s near-sole supplier of the heroin source.
Hamid Karzai: “Yes, we do have the problem of poppies and narcotics in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is committed to fighting it, because this evil is first hurting us, and then youth in the rest of the world. So this is for Afghanistan to work against and for the rest of us to work against. We are committed. It will take time. We are realistic about that. But the fight is there.”
President Bush and Hamid Karzai also ruled out making any concessions to free the 21 Korean hostages being held by the Taliban. Meanwhile, here in New York demonstrators gathered at the United Nations on Monday to urge the U.N. to step in to help the hostages.
Peter Jon of the Korean-American Association: “This is not only a matter limited to Koreans; it could happen to anybody, to anyone in the whole world. The whole wide world, including the U.N. and the U.S., have to come together, take it seriously, take immediate and serious action to free those hostages held by Taliban in Afghanistan.”
In news from the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traveled to the West Bank city of Jericho on Monday for a three-hour meeting with Palestinian president and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. It was the first such trip for an Israeli prime minister since the start of the second intifada. Earlier today, Abbas promised Palestinians living in the West Bank that their lives would improve as a result of the talks. Palestinian officials said they received assurances from Olmert that Israel would approve as early as next week the removal of some of the hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and barriers that restrict Palestinian travel in the West Bank.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat: “They both discussed the most fundamental issues that are the basis for the creation of a Palestinian state, and they looked into the expeditious fashion of these negotiations in order to achieve their goal and establishing a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel.”
Hamas leaders have dismissed the talks as an attempt by Israel to prop up Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah.
Meanwhile, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has sharply criticized Israel for curtailing the ability of Palestinians to move within the West Bank. The group said Israel currently maintains 47 checkpoints and bans Palestinian motorists from driving on many highways in the West Bank. B’Tselem said these measures amount to illegal collective punishment.
Presidential candidate Congressman Dennis Kucinich has accused the Bush administration of promoting a reckless and dangerous policy in the Middle East. Kucinich criticized President Bush for signing a new executive order on Lebanon that orders the Treasury Department to freeze the property and interests of people deemed by the administration to be undermining Lebanon’s democratic government. In the executive order, President Bush states: “Syrian meddling in Lebanon constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.” Under the order, anyone who engages in any act — violent or nonviolent — against the government of Lebanon can now have his or her property frozen.
A new report from Human Rights Watch has found the Sri Lankan government is responsible for unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations since the resumption of major hostilities with the Tamil Tigers last year. According to the report, security forces have subjected civilians to indiscriminate attacks and impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid. Some 315,000 people have had to flee their homes due to fighting since August 2006, the vast majority Tamils and Muslims. Human Rights Watch also documented a disturbing rise in abductions and “disappearances” over the past 18 months.
In medical news, a new study by Consumer Reports has found that 16 percent of the U.S. population has no health insurance and that another 24 percent of Americans are living with skeletal health insurance that barely covers their medical needs and leaves them unprepared to pay for major medical expenses. Overall, 49 percent of Americans surveyed said they were “somewhat” to “completely” unprepared to cope with a costly medical emergency over the coming year. The Consumer Reports investigation notes that the nation’s six biggest private health insurers collectively earned nearly $11 billion in profits last year.
In upstate New York, eight peace activists were arrested on Monday after refusing to leave two district offices of Republican Congressman Randy Kuhl. At his office in Bath, protesters submitted a petition signed by 3,000 people urging Kuhl to sign a pledge to vote against further funding of the war in Iraq. The five activists arrested in Bath were charged with criminal trespass after they refused to leave his office. Three more people were arrested at Kuhl’s office in Fairport. Danny Burns of the group Finger Lakes for Peace said the action was inspired by the Occupation Project.
And the Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg has died at the age of 81. He was a Jewish emigre from Nazi-occupied Vienna. He helped begin the field of Holocaust studies with his landmark 1961 study, “The Destruction of the European Jews.”