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The New York Times is reporting it now appears President Bush will keep 140,000 troops in Iraq for the rest of his term. On Monday, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker recommended Bush put off making any decisions on troops reductions until at least August or September. Petraeus and Crocker are scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill in two weeks, exactly five years after the so-called fall of Baghdad.
Vigils were held across the country on Monday to mark the 4,000th death of a US soldier in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. At the White House, President Bush said the outcome of the war will “merit the sacrifice” of the 4,000 soldiers killed so far.
President Bush: “And I guess my one thought I want to leave with those who still hurt is that one day people will look back at this moment in history and say, thank God there were courageous people willing to serve, because they laid the foundations for peace for generations to come.”
In an interview on ABC News, Vice President Dick Cheney was also asked about the 4,000 soldiers killed in Iraq.
Dick Cheney: “The President carries the biggest burden, obviously. He’s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans, but we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, an all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm’s way for the rest of us.”
97 percent of the deaths of US soldiers have occurred after President Bush announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq on May 1, 2003.
Heavy fighting erupted earlier today in the southern Iraqi oil city of Basra as Iraqi security forces launched a major operation against rival Shiite militias. The fighting could lead to the end of a seven-month-old ceasefire by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Earlier today, an official from Sadr’s headquarters reportedly ordered Mahdi Army field commanders to go on high alert and prepare “to strike the occupiers” and their Iraqi allies. The ceasefire by Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been seen as a major factor behind the recent drop in violence in Iraq. Basra is Iraq’s second largest city and Iraq’s gateway to the Gulf. Its oil fields are the source of most government revenues. The military operation was launched after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki visited Basra and vowed to reimpose his government’s control over the city.
Supporters of Sadr have also launched a nationwide civil disobedience campaign to protest raids and detentions. They are demanding the government release detainees, stop targeting Sadrist members and apologize to the families and the tribal sheiks of the men.
Human rights demonstrators breached tight security and tried to hijack the Beijing Olympic torch lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia, Greece on Monday. Just before the torch was lit, three demonstrators managed to break a tight police cordon. Police arrested nine protesters, including members of Reporters Without Borders and Students for a Free Tibet.
Tibetan activist Tenzin Dorjee spoke to reporters as he was being dragged away.
Tenzin Dorjee: “No torch through Tibet. Shame on China. Shame on China. Don’t bring China’s blood-tainted torch to Tibet. Free Tibet. Tibet is an independent country. China is the oppressor. The Chinese government has no shame, and the Chinese government is oppressing me even in a free country. The Chinese government is spreading its oppression and dictatorship like cancer around the world.”
The globally televised ceremony launched a five-month torch relay that culminates with the opening of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
On Monday, Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, defended the decision to hold the summer games in China.
Jacques Rogge: “It was right to award the games to China for two reasons. One is that we cannot deny one-fifth of mankind of the advantages of Olympism and the Olympic games. It’s just not fair to do that. And secondly, we believe that the games are a great catalyst for change for China itself. The games will open up China to the scrutiny of the world, thanks to the 25,000 media being present.”
Meanwhile, the Tibetan government in exile says the death toll from the demonstrations in Tibet has now reached about 140.
In Pakistan, a close associate of the assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been sworn in as Pakistan’s new prime minister. Yousaf Raza Gilani took the oath today from Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf. Moments after he was sworn in, his supporters began chanting “Long Live Bhutto.” Gilani heads a coalition government that won elections in February against the US-backed Musharraf. In his first move as prime minister, Gilani ordered the release of senior judges who had been placed under house arrest by Musharraf last year. On Monday, former chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry,spoke to reporters.
Iftikhar Chaudhry:”On behalf of myself and all those judges who were illegally and unconstitutionally detained in their houses on November 3, I thank all of you and the entire nation.”
Iftikhar Chaudhry had been under house arrest since November. Gilani also said he would seek a formal UN investigation into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Two top US officials, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, have already arrived in Pakistan to meet with Pakistan’s new prime minister.
In economic news, American households are spending a bigger chunk of their income on food, energy and medical care than at any time since records were first kept in 1960.
According to Merrill Lynch, 36 percent of disposable income is now spent on these expenses.
Meanwhile, in another sign of the worsening economy, the number of residents in Ohio receiving food stamps has almost doubled since 2001. A record 1.1 million Ohioans now receive food stamps. That’s nearly ten percent of the state’s population.
In campaign news, Senator Hillary Clinton has admitted she misspoke when she claimed to have run across a tarmac to avoid sniper fire after landing in Bosnia as First Lady in 1996. Clinton gave a vivid description of the incident earlier this month claiming that she was sent to Bosnia because it was too dangerous for the President. Clinton was forced to admit she misspoke after CBS News showed footage of her casually walking across the tarmac with her daughter Chelsea. Clinton’s description of coming under sniper fire was first challenged by the comedian Sinbad who was also on the trip. Sinbad, who has endorsed Barack Obama, said the scariest part of the trip to Bosnia for him was wondering where the next meal would come from.
Arab leaders are heading to Damascus Saturday for a summit organized by the Arab League. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa says US-led peace efforts had faltered seriously since a Middle East peace summit in Annapolis, Maryland in November. Moussa also said that the Arab League would continue to push for the entire Middle East to become a zone free from nuclear weapons.
Amr Moussa: “The regional security requires a lot of work and requires, in particular, the establishment of a zone free from nuclear weapons. This should apply to Israel, to Iran, to any other country in the region. This is the basic point in our policy. If the situation remains as it is, I believe that a viable security system, a viable security scheme for the region will be very difficult to achieve.”
In news from Latin America, Ecuador’s Attorney General Alfredo Alvear said Ecuador is putting together a case that could result in bringing Colombia before an international court for carrying out a military strike inside Ecuador. On March 1, Colombian troops killed at least twenty-five people at a camp in Ecuador run by the Colombian rebel group FARC. On Sunday, Colombia admitted one of the dead was an Ecuadorian man. Five Mexican students were also killed in the attack. Meanwhile, the Inter Press Service reports the US military base in Manta, Ecuador may have been used in the attack. Military and diplomatic sources told the news service that the air base played a role in locating and carrying out reconnaissance of the FARC camp in Ecuador.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice as well as misconduct in office for lying about a romantic relationship with his former chief of staff. If convicted the Democratic mayor would be automatically expelled from office.
In legal news, a Superior Court judge in California has ordered Starbucks to pay more than $100 million in back tips and interest to workers. The Starbucks employees filed a lawsuit because they were being forced to share their tips with supervisors, in violation of California law.
And the corporate watchdog group Corporate Accountability International has launched a new contest to name the most abusive corporations of 2008. Nominees include Archer Daniels Midland, Toyota, Countrywide, Mattel, Nestle, Blackwater, Wal-Mart, and Wendy’s.