The Iraqi government is calling for changes to a proposed security pact that would keep US troops in Iraq for at least three more years. On Tuesday, the cabinet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the agreement should be revised to include a US pledge not to use Iraq as a “center for aggression” in the Middle East. The call came as the Iraqi government condemned last weekend’s US attack on Syria that killed at least eight people. Iraq is also calling for the right to inspect US military shipments that could be used to launch an attack on Iran. The Maliki government also wants more legal authority over US troops accused of crimes and to shore up a 2012 withdrawal date that currently leaves room for a longer stay. The White House has rejected any calls for modifying the agreement. The Bush administration has been accused of blackmail after warning Iraq it will shut down military operations and other vital services if the Iraqi government doesn’t back the deal. On Tuesday, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said “the door is pretty much shut” on further talks.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government continues to protest the US helicopter attack. On Tuesday, Syria lodged a complaint with the UN and said it would close an American cultural center in its capital Damascus. Meanwhile, Syria has released new video footage taken after the attack. The footage shows crowds gathering around the bloodied bodies of the victims.
On the campaign trail, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain entered the final week of their contest with appearances in Pennsylvania. Some 10,000 people turned out to hear Obama at Widener University.
Sen. Barack Obama: “I want to start off with just two words: one week. One week. After decades of broken politics in Washington, after eight years of failed policies by George Bush, after twenty-one months of a campaign that’s taken us from the rocky coast of Maine to the sunshine of California, we are one week away from bringing about change in America.”
Obama also addressed McCain’s allegations he would raise taxes as president.
Sen. Obama: “If you make less than a quarter-million dollars a year — and that includes, by the way, 98 percent of small businesses and 99.9 percent of plumbers — you will not see your taxes increased one single dime, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains tax, not your income tax, no tax, because the last thing you need is higher taxes when we’re in a recession like this, and you won’t get one under an Obama administration.”
McCain, meanwhile, was in Hershey, where he dismissed polls showing him trailing Obama.
Sen. John McCain: “The pundits wrote us off, as they have several times before. My opponent is out working out the details with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid on their plans to raise your taxes, raise your taxes, increase spending and concede defeat in Iraq. He’s measuring the drapes, and he’s planned his first address to the nation before the election. I guess I’m old-fashioned about these things. I prefer to let the voters weigh in before presuming the outcome.”
Reports of voter deception continue across the country. In Virginia, a phony flier purporting to come from the state election board has circulated to prevent Democrats from voting on Election Day. The flier tells Democrats and independents to vote on November 5th, the day after the election.
In other voting news, a new Princeton University report is warning against an electronic voting machine currently used in New Jersey and other states. The report says a machine made by the California-based Sequoia Voting Systems can be hacked in about seven minutes. The report was ordered by a New Jersey judge as part of a four-year legal battle over the machine’s use.
In other election news, both McCain and vice-presidential running mate Sarah Palin have joined Republican calls for the resignation of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. On Monday, Stevens was found guilty of all seven counts of violating federal ethics laws for failing to report tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and services he had received from an oil company executive. Stevens is the longest-serving Republican senator in US history and the former chair of the Appropriations Committee. He is still seeking re-election despite his conviction.
A US judge has ruled the confession of a young Guantanamo Bay prisoner cannot be used, because it was obtained through torture. Mohamed Jawad was arrested in Afghanistan when he was sixteen or seventeen years old on allegations of wounding US soldiers with a grenade. The court backed Jawad’s claims he was drugged and threatened with death by Afghan officials unless he admitted to the charges. Jawad was turned over to US forces and sent to Guantanamo Bay. His was one of five cases that led his prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, to resign last month. Vandeveld has accused the military of deliberately withholding evidence that could have helped clear the prisoners.
Pakistani and Afghan leaders have announced plans to hold talks with resistance groups, including the Taliban. The decision came out of a two-day council known as a ‘jirga’ attended by tribal leaders. Former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah announced the move.
Abdullah Abdullah: “We agreed that contacts should established with the opposition in both sides, joint contacts through Jirgagai. Apart from whatever else is happening in that regard, joint contacts will be established by the — through Jirgagai by using other influential figures to the opposition groups in both countries.”
The decision comes as US military commanders have reportedly asked for another 20,000 troops in Afghanistan. Some 4,000 troops are expected to arrive by January. But the Washington Post reports military commanders now want another 10,000 “support troops” on top of the additional 12,000 that has yet to be approved.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, tens of thousands of people have abandoned a restive eastern city amidst an advance by armed rebels. Villagers have fled as government troops left their positions against the rebel force led by Laurent Nkunda. The top United Nations official in the Congo has asked the Security Council to approve more troops for the international force. UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Ron Redmond warned of a worsening situation on the ground.
Ron Redmond: “It’s a very difficult security situation to work in. Basically, those who have been forced to flee their homes have to reach us, because we simply cannot send teams out into the countryside. There’s too much fighting going on. It’s too dangerous. It’s anarchy. So we have to remain fairly close to our headquarters in that region in Goma.”
Back in the United States, a New Jersey police officer has been suspended following the violent arrest of a television camera operator. Jim Quodomine of WCBS was filming a peaceful protest outside a Newark church when the officer put him in a chokehold and arrested him. Quodomine spent more than an hour in a police vehicle and had his camera confiscated. The arrest came days after a photojournalist was arrested in Chicago while covering the fatal shooting of a suspected burglar by an off-duty police officer.
New figures show Latinos are the lone ethnic group to see a major rise in hate crimes against them. According to the FBI, crimes against Latinos increased for the fourth year in a row, with 595 incidents recorded last year.
In military news, a new Veterans Administration study says an increasing number of female soldiers are reporting cases of sexual assault by fellow servicemembers. According to the VA, one in seven female veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who sought medical care have suffered sexual trauma. The study covers only a fraction of those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and excludes those on active duty.
In media news, the Christian Science Monitor has announced it will abandon print publishing to focus online. Starting in April, the Monitor will only print a weekend edition. The rest of the week’s content will be published on its website. The announcement makes the Christian Science Monitor the first major US newspaper to abandon the printed press.
And the Bush administration has issued a new definition of its right to use force against other countries. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US will hold “fully accountable” any country or group that helps “terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction.” Gates’ comments are stoking fears the Bush administration is seeking to expand its rationale for using force in its remaining months in office.