In Iraq, the head of the Accordance Front, Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab bloc, said on Monday that the Sunni bloc still has reservations about a security pact that would let US troops stay in Iraq for another three years. Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the Sunni bloc, told reporters that the Sunnis wanted a referendum on the pact which has yet to be approved by parliament.
Adnan al-Dulaimi: “We need guarantees for the future, since we are afraid of the future because our role will be marginalized. We will be exposed to daily arrest operations, and this should be stopped. The government and US forces should work together to assure Iraqis that they will not be arrested, searched or killed. The best solution that we see is the referendum, as the Islamic party asked before.”
This comes as followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr make a bid to block the Status of Forces Agreement in parliament.
Supporters of the security pact say it will force all US troops to leave Iraq by 2011, but in Washington top US officials are suggesting this may not be the case. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said, “Three years is a long time. Conditions could change in that period of time.” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino claimed on Monday the security agreement included only “aspirational” dates for withdrawal.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has rejected an offer of peace talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban says it will not negotiate until foreign troops leave Afghanistan. On Sunday, Karzai offered to provide security for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, if he agreed to negotiations.
A congressionally mandated report released Monday concluded that “Gulf War Syndrome” is a legitimate condition suffered by more than 175,000 US war veterans who were exposed to chemical toxins in the 1991 Gulf War. The report could help veterans who have battled the government for treatment of a wide range of unexplained neurological illnesses, from brain cancer to multiple sclerosis. The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses said, “Scientific evidence leaves no question that Gulf War illness is a real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans.” The report links the illness to a drug given to troops to protect against nerve gas and to pesticides that were widely used to protect against sand flies and other pests. For much of the past seventeen years, government officials have maintained that Gulf War veterans were merely suffering the effects of wartime stress.
The business news channel CNBC is estimating the US government has already spent more than $4 trillion over the past year on corporate bailouts, loans and other efforts to combat the financial crisis. That is more than what was spent on World War II if adjusted for inflation. CNBC calculated the figure based on what it described as a complicated cocktail of budgeted dollars, actual spending, guarantees, loans, swaps and other market mechanisms by the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and other offices of government.
In other economic news, the banking giant Citigroup has announced plans to eliminate 52,000 jobs, or 14 percent of its global work force. The New York Times describes this as one of the largest single rounds of layoffs on record.
John Challenger, Challenger, Gray & Christmas: “This is a big mega layoff, largest of the year, and we haven’t seen many layoffs of this size over the last decade. It certainly signals the depth of the problems in financial services and in the US economy when a company of this size can do such large job cuts.”
At least a half-dozen of President-elect Barack Obama’s new transition team leaders were among Obama’s top fundraisers who “bundled” cash for him on the campaign trail. Four of them raised $500,000 or more for the Obama campaign. Some public interest advocates have expressed concern over the links. Craig Holman of Public Citizen said, “Any time you see these people who brought in half a million dollars to the campaign being appointed to government service, it’s a red flag.”
The Associated Press reports Barack Obama’s incoming administration is unlikely to bring criminal charges against government officials who authorized or engaged in torture during the Bush presidency. Two Obama advisers said there’s little — if any — chance that the incoming president’s Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations. President Bush may also decide to protect his top aides and interrogators by issuing a preemptive pardon before his term ends.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, a predominantly black congregation is vowing to rebuild its church after it was burned to the ground two weeks ago, just hours after the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president. Law enforcement officials say the fire was intentionally set, but no arrests have been made.
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center said there have been “hundreds” of race-based incidents since the election. The Associated Press has compiled a list of other possible hate crimes over the past two weeks. Crosses were burned in yards of Obama supporters in Hardwick, New Jersey and Apolacan Township, Pennsylvania. In the Pittsburgh suburb of Forest Hills, a black man said he found a note with a racial slur on his car windshield, saying, “Now that you voted for Obama, just watch out for your house.” A black teenager in New York City said he was attacked with a bat on election night by four white men who shouted “Obama.” In Standish, Maine, a sign inside the Oak Hill General Store read, “Osama Obama Shotgun Pool.” Customers could sign up to bet $1 on a date when Obama would be killed. At North Carolina State University, four students admitted writing a sign on the campus that called for shooting Obama in the head. And in Idaho, second- and third-grade students on a school bus in Rexburg, Idaho were heard chanting “assassinate Obama.”
The Bush administration is coming under wide criticism for its proposal to lease more than 50,000 acres for oil and gas drilling in Utah, including areas adjacent to Arches National Park and Desolation Canyon. The Bureau of Land Management is planning to hold the auction on December 19. The Bureau announced the proposal on Election Day. The National Park Service’s top official in Utah called the proposal “shocking and disturbing.” Stephen Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said, “This is the fire sale, the Bush administration’s last great gift to the oil and gas industry.”
The United Nations climate agency has given a stark warning on greenhouse gases, reporting on Monday that the levels of emissions from wealthy countries are increasing.
The warning came two weeks ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland.
Yvo de Boer: “Since the year 2000, industrialized country emissions have been clearly on the rise. Taking the 2000 base line, industrialized countries have seen an increase of 2.3 percent in emissions to 2006 because of increases in both economies in transition and in other industrialized countries. The picture is somewhat different for the group of countries which have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. In the time frame 1990 to 2006, emissions of parties to the Kyoto Protocol fell by 17 percent.”
In other climate news, Dutch police arrested more than eighty Greenpeace activists on Saturday after activists chained themselves to structures and machinery at the site of a new coal-fired power station in Rotterdam.
In news from Africa, a group of Somali pirates have hijacked a Saudi supertanker 450 nautical miles off the coast of Kenya. The supertanker is three times the size of an aircraft carrier. The tanker holds up to two million barrels of oil, more than one-quarter of Saudi Arabia’s daily exports. It is the largest vessel ever seized by a Somali gang. According to Al Jazeera, there have been sixty-three reported incidents of piracy this year off the coast of Somalia. Thirteen vessels are still being held with a total of 275 crew members.
The Pentagon has acknowledged that the United States held twelve juveniles at Guantanamo Bay, four more than previously acknowledged. The Pentagon made the announcement a week after the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas issued a study concluding the US has held at least a dozen juveniles at Guantanamo, including a Saudi who committed suicide in 2006. Eight of the twelve juvenile detainees identified by the human rights center have been released. The Saudi who hanged himself, Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, was seventeen when he arrived at Guantanamo.
The Vatican has threatened to excommunicate a well-known Catholic priest this month unless he recants his belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in the Church. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest, took part in a ceremony this summer to ordain a member of the group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Bourgeois has been a priest for thirty-six years. For the past two decades, he has organized the annual protest against the US Army’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. The 2008 protest is scheduled for this weekend.
And in South Africa, over 2,000 people gathered on Saturday to hold a public memorial for Miriam Makeba, one of Africa’s best-known singers and a champion of the fight against apartheid during three decades in exile. Makeba died at the age of seventy-six on November 9th. Makeba, who was known as Mama Africa, was the first black South African musician to gain international fame and was a longtime critic of the apartheid system.
South African Deputy President Baleka Mbete: “We have come together to pay tribute to a soul that loomed larger than life. We are here to commiserate with the family, relatives and friends of Mama Africa and to share in the loss of this beloved African heroine, about whom we can say she was an outstanding patriot and a Pan-Africanist. We take this moment to say to the Makeba family, your pain is our pain, your loss is the loss of the entire world. I am sure we can agree that we are here to pay homage and celebrate a life lived to the fullest. It is for this reason that the tears we shed are not tears of pain but are tears of joy, for Mama Makeba left us a legacy that will be in our historical memory for generations to come.”