The New York Times reports a group of American advisers led by a small State Department team played an integral part in drawing up contracts between the Iraqi government and five major Western oil companies to develop some of the largest oil fields in Iraq. The disclosure marks the first confirmation of direct involvement by the Bush administration in deals to open Iraq’s oil to commercial development. The Times recently reported the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — as well as Chevron, are on the verge of getting no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest oil fields. In their role as advisers to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, American government lawyers and private-sector consultants provided template contracts and detailed suggestions on drafting the contracts.
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker magazine has revealed the Democratic-led Congress agreed to a request last year from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran. Congress approved $400 million in spending for covert activities ranging from spying on Iran’s nuclear program to supporting rebel groups in a bid to overthrow the Iranian government.
The United Nations has revealed the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan has soared by 60 percent in the first half of the year. Nearly 700 civilians have been killed since January. John Holmes of the United Nations said the majority were killed by the Taliban or other militant groups, but a significant number were killed by international forces. This comes as the Pentagon is predicting Taliban attacks and bombings will continue to increase because the Taliban has “coalesced into a resilient insurgency.” Fighting has also intensified across the border in Pakistan, where Pakistani forces have begun a third day of assaults on suspected Taliban sites. It marks the first major Pakistani offensive against Taliban fighters in the Khyber tribal region.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports the Pentagon drafted a secret plan to make it easier for the Pentagon’s Special Operations to launch missions against al-Qaeda inside Pakistan. But the plan known as Operation Cannonball has never been implemented, in part because of fears of alienating Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The Times also reports that the war in Iraq consistently diverted resources and high-level attention from the tribal areas. When American military and intelligence officials requested additional Predator drones to survey the tribal areas, they were told no drones were available because they had been sent to Iraq.
In campaign news, Senator Hillary Clinton joined Barack Obama in the New Hampshire town of Unity on Friday. It marked Clinton’s first public appearance with Obama since she dropped out of the presidential race.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “Unity is not only a beautiful place, as we can see, it’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it? And I know what we start here in this field in Unity will end on the steps of the Capitol when Barack Obama takes the oath of office as our next president.”
Senator Barack Obama praised his former opponent.
Sen. Barack Obama: “I’ve admired her as a leader. I’ve learned from her as a candidate. [Audience member shouts, “Hillary Rocks!”] She rocks. She rocks. That’s the point I’m trying to make. I am proud to call her a friend and I know how much we need both Bill and Hillary Clinton as a party and as a country.”
Meanwhile, Senator Obama has announced plans to visit the Middle East and Europe ahead of the November election. Stops will include Israel, Jordan, France, Germany and Britain. Obama said the trip will allow him to “consult with some of our closest friends and allies about the common challenges we face.”
In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe was sworn in Sunday for his sixth term following a disputed run-off election. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted the poll due to a wave of deadly attacks on his supporters. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, when it became an independent nation. Mugabe is in Egypt today for an African Union summit. Libyan state minister Ali Treki urged Zimbabwe to accept a power-sharing government.
Ali Treki: “I think now let us envisage that a government of coalition should be formed from both the government and the opposition to run the country. I think the example we did in Kenya is a very good example, and we are looking forward that our Zimbabwean brothers will follow that example.”
Solar energy companies have been dealt a major setback. The New York Times reports the Bush administration has placed a nearly two-year moratorium on the construction of new solar energy projects on public land. The Bureau of Land Management says it needs until the spring of 2010 to study the environmental impact the solar projects will have on land in Arizona, Nevada, California and other western states. Critics of the moratorium say it could paralyze the solar energy industry. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said, “[This] is the wrong signal to send to solar power developers, and to Nevadans and Westerners who need and want clean, affordable sun-powered electricity soon.” Some environmental groups have praised the government for assessing the implications of large-scale solar development. Meanwhile, the amount of oil drilling and gas drilling on public land has reached a new high. The Wilderness Society recently reported that more than 44 million acres of public lands are leased for oil and gas development. Last year the Bush administration approved over 7,100 drilling permits, a new record.
In Northern California, more than 17,000 firefighters continue to fight over a thousand wildfires. The blazes have scorched more than 550 square miles and destroyed more than fifty buildings. Air pollution warnings have been issued throughout Northern California. Officials say air pollution readings in the region are two to ten times the federal standard. Some areas are experiencing the worst air quality on record, with the smoke hanging down to the ground like a fog. The fires have destroyed nearly fifty structures, injured eighty-five people, and threaten nearly 10,000 homes.
In news from Capitol Hill, Congress has approved giving Israel an additional $170 million in aid next fiscal year. This means the US will give Israel a total of more than $2.5 billion next year. Israel remains the largest recipient of US foreign aid. The US is planning to give Israel $30 billion over the next ten years.
Meanwhile, a prominent Palestinian journalist has been hospitalized after being strip-searched and assaulted by Israeli officials at a border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank. The journalist, Mohammed Omer, was on his way back to Gaza after visiting London, where he won the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for journalism. Omer is the Gaza correspondent for the Inter Press Service and has been a guest on Democracy Now! According to Omer, Shin Bet officials interrogated him, pointed an M16 gun at his face, then forcibly removed all of his clothing. Then officials pinned him to the floor and searched every cavity of his body. He began vomiting and fainted. He was then dragged on the floor with his head banging on the ground. He woke up in a Palestinian hospital.
In economic news, the Dow Jones index is on the brink of its worst June since the Great Depression. The Dow has fallen by over nine percent this month.
In other news, the Justice Department has agreed to give a nearly $6 million settlement to Steven Hatfill, the bio-weapons expert publicly tagged as a “person of interest” in the anthrax scare from October 2001.
And in London, more than 50,000 people attended a star-studded concert on Friday to honor former South African President Nelson Mandela. Mandela turns ninety in July.
Nelson Mandela: “Even as we celebrate, let us remind ourselves that our work is far from complete. Where there is poverty and sickness, including AIDS, where human beings are being oppressed, there is more work to be done. Our work is for freedom for all.”
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Congress has voted to finally remove Mandela and the African National Congress from the government’s terrorist watch list. The former South African president and some in the now-ruling ANC are still blacklisted under US laws and need special permission to enter the United States more than a decade after the apartheid struggle ended.