A new study of the civilian death toll since the U.S. invasion of Iraq has put the number of Iraqi deaths at 151,000. The World Health Organization and the Iraqi government arrived at the figures from door-to-door surveys at nearly 10,000 homes. The figure is far lower than a 2006 Johns Hopkins University study that estimated 600,000 Iraqi deaths. Despite the difference, researchers concluded their findings still show “a massive death toll in the wake of the 2003 invasion.” The new study also dwarfs other estimates, including President Bush’s estimate of 30,000 Iraqi deaths in December 2005.
Meanwhile in Iraq, the U.S. military has launched a massive bombing campaign on southern Baghdad. U.S. warplanes have dropped more than 40,000 pounds of bombs over the past two days. The U.S. says it’s targeting al-Qaeda strongholds in the village of Arab Jabour. The bombing comes two days into a nationwide military offensive dubbed “Phantom Phoenix.” At least nine U.S. troops have been killed in Diyala Province since the campaign began.
The only military officer charged in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal has had his one conviction dismissed. Lt. Col. Steven Jordan was cleared last year of allegations he personally abused prisoners and trained other soldiers convicted of mistreatment. He was found guilty on one count of disobeying command by speaking about the ongoing probe when he was ordered not to. But this week Major General Richard Rowe dismissed that conviction. Jordan once faced up to sixteen years in prison.
The private military firm Blackwater Worldwide is facing new allegations of unlawful activity in Iraq, this time for dropping a heavily restricted riot-control gas on a crowded Baghdad checkpoint in May 2005. According to the New York Times, the release of the CS gas by a Blackwater helicopter and armored vehicle temporarily blinded drivers, pedestrians and at least ten American soldiers. Blackwater is already under scrutiny for a mass shooting in Baghdad that killed seventeen Iraqis last September. Military witnesses say Blackwater personnel appeared to release the gas as a way to clear a traffic jam that was blocking their route. The gas is only authorized for use in dangerous situations. Its effects include burning and watering eyes, skin irritation, coughing and breathing difficulties, nausea and vomiting. Blackwater says it reported the incident to the U.S. embassy and that the case was investigated. But U.S. officials could not confirm that an investigation occurred.
The Pentagon has announced it plans to propose sending an additional 3,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. More than 26,000 U.S. service members are currently deployed. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been urging NATO allies to boost their commitments but has failed to win any pledges for more troops.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, President Bush is in the West Bank today for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Bush met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday, the first of his three-day trip. Speaking alongside Olmert in Jerusalem, Bush said he will push Israel to remove scattered settlement outposts but reiterated his endorsement of Israel’s plan to retain its large West Bank settlement blocs.
President Bush: “He understands he has an obligation to protect Israel. He also understands that he’s got to be circumspect — reasonable about how he does it, so that innocent people don’t suffer. He just gave you the answer on the settlements. In terms of outposts, yeah, they ought to go. Look, I mean, we’ve been talking about it for four years. The agreement was — get rid of outposts, illegal outposts, and they ought to go.”
Palestinian negotiators have called the settlement blocs the main obstacle to peace.
The former CIA official who ordered the destruction of videotapes documenting prisoner interrogations has reportedly said he won’t testify before Congress without a grant of immunity. Jose Rodriguez was head of the CIA’s clandestine service when he ordered the tapes’ destruction in November 2005. He was subpoenaed last month.
Newly declassified documents have provided more evidence the Johnson administration faked the Gulf of Tonkin incident to escalate the Vietnam War. The alleged 1964 attack on U.S. warships by North Vietnamese was used as a pretext to increase bombing and troop deployments in Vietnam. But a report from the National Security Agency concludes “no attack happened that night.”
Cuba is marking the forty-ninth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, the victorious uprising against the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship. Thousands of people gathered in Havana at a rally organized by the Union of Communist Youths.
Cesar Martinez Gonzalez: “Today we strongly reaffirm more than ever: Viva Fidel, Viva Raul, Viva the fatherland.”
Cuban President Fidel Castro was absent from the celebrations, as he continues to be sidelined by illness.
In campaign news, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is reportedly set to announce today he’s withdrawing from the Democratic presidential race. Richardson placed fourth in back-to-back contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Meanwhile, candidates were back on the campaign trail on Wednesday, one day after Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain won in New Hampshire. Speaking on NBC’s Today Show, Clinton talked about her widely reported display of emotion when she was asked about the personal toll of running a campaign.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “I don’t get up every morning to go out and make a great speech, shake a million hands and then go to bed at night and say good for you. I go out to say, 'What can I do for you? How can I make your country what it should be?' When the woman said to me, 'How do you do that?' I really felt touched by that, and I think we did connect in a very personal level.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Barack Obama vowed to rebound from his second-place finish in New Hampshire as the Democratic primaries move on to South Carolina, Michigan and Nevada. Obama spoke at a rally in New Jersey.
Sen. Barack Obama: “My voice is a little hoarse. My eyes are a little bleary. My back is a little sore. But my spirit is strong. And I am ready to bring about change in America. How about you?”
Obama has picked up the endorsement of Nevada’s Culinary Workers Union, with some 60,000 members.
Here in New York, a new principal has been hired at the city’s first public Arabic-language school, five months after its founding principal was forced to resign. Holly Reichert began her new term at Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn on Wednesday. Her predecessor, Debbie Almontaser, was forced to resign shortly before the school opened after she was quoted explaining that the word “intifada” literally means “shaking off” in Arabic. Almontaser was criticized for failing to denounce the use of the word intifada on t-shirts. She has filed a federal lawsuit against the city over her dismissal.
And in Chicago, the City Council has voted to approve a nearly $20 million settlement to four former death row prisoners who gave false confessions after being tortured by Chicago police. The four men are all African American. They sued former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and more than twenty officers who worked with him, alleging that they were coerced into falsely confessing to murder. In 2006, special prosecutors released a long-awaited report stating there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Burge and four other former officers abused suspects to extract confessions in the 1980s. Charges have never been filed against Burge. He was fired in 1993 but is still receiving a yearly police pension.