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Presidential contender Barack Obama has arrived in Baghdad for his first visit to Iraq since he became the Democrat’s presumptive nominee. Obama’s arrival comes just two days after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorsed Obama’s call for a timetable for a US withdrawal from Iraq. In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, al-Maliki said, “US presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about sixteen months. That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.” Maliki went on to say, “Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems.” Soon after Der Spiegel's report was published, US embassy officials in Baghdad called Maliki's office to express concern over his statements. An Iraqi government spokesperson then issued a statement claiming Der Spiegel's report had been misunderstood and mistranslated. However, Der Spiegel has stood by its story. The magazine gave an audio recording of the interview to the New York Times, which confirmed that Maliki endorsed Obama's plan for withdrawing combat troops in about sixteen months.
In other Iraq news, US forces have shot dead the seventeen-year-old son of the governor of Salahuddin province. The killing occurred when US forces raided a home in the town of Beiji. Another relative of the governor was also killed in the raid.
On Sunday, Barack Obama traveled to Kabul, where he met Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai. Obama described Afghanistan as “the central front on our battle against terrorism.” A spokesperson for Karzai said, “Sen. Obama conveyed…that he is committed to supporting Afghanistan and to continue the war against terrorism with vigor.” Obama also met with US troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Sen. Barack Obama: “To see young people like this who are doing such excellent work, with so much dedication and pride, just makes me feel good about the country. And I want to make sure that everybody back home understands how much pride people take in their work here and how much sacrifice people are making. It’s outstanding.”
On the streets of Kabul, many residents said they oppose Obama’s plan to send 10,000 more US troops to Afghanistan.
Mohammed Madani: “The situation is getting worse here, even worse than Iraq. If the US government sends more troops here, the violence will increase. For example, when we see a group of US soldiers walking here, it doesn’t make us feel safe. Our Afghan forces are capable enough to ensure the security of Afghanistan. The US government should focus on other needs of Afghans, not the military.”
Afghans also criticized Western officials for not doing more to help the Afghan people.
Ramazan Jan: “There have not been any changes to the lives of ordinary Afghans. The visits and presence of foreigners has not changed the lives of poor Afghans. I returned from Iran after twenty years there. I had the best life when I was in Iran. Now I have work like an animal in my country in order to feed my family. My life is worse now. What is the benefit of these Western officials coming and going?”
In other news from Afghanistan, US-led troops and Afghan forces killed nine Afghan police officers Sunday, after they mistook the officers to be militants. In a separate incident, NATO said it accidentally killed at least four Afghan civilians Saturday night. A NATO soldier also was killed in the east.
The first US war crimes tribunal since World War II is set to begin today at Guantanamo. Osama bin Laden’s former driver Salim Hamdan will be the first prisoner to face the military commission. Hamdan has been held at Guantanamo for over five years. Last week, his lawyers said he was subjected to sleep deprivation for a fifty-day period in 2003.
A report published by the British Parliament warns Britain can no longer rely on American assurances that it does not torture. The report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said ministers should no longer take at face value statements from senior politicians, including President Bush, that the United States does not resort to torture in the light of the CIA admitting it used “waterboarding.” The Guardian reports this may have implications for extradition of prisoners to the US, because Britain is a signatory of the UN convention, which bars sending individuals to nations where they are at risk of being tortured.
Newly released documents have revealed the Maryland State Police conducted an extensive surveillance campaign in 2005 and 2006 targeting peace groups and anti-death penalty activists. The documents show undercover agents infiltrated meetings and events of the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance and the Baltimore Coalition Against the Death Penalty. The agents entered the name of one prominent Baltimore peace activist, Max Obuszewski, into a federal database that tracks terrorists and drug dealers. The police continued to carry out the surveillance, even though officers never observed any illegal or criminal activity.
An Israeli human rights group has released a video showing an Israeli soldier shooting the leg of a blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinian man from close range. The Palestinian man was detained during protests against Israel’s West Bank wall. The video shows an Israeli army officer gripping a blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinian detainee, while another soldier aims a rifle towards his leg. B’Tselem’s Sarit Michaeli condemned the Israeli action.
Sarit Michaeli: “B’Tselem received this morning footage filmed in the village of Nilin approximately two weeks ago, showing an Israeli soldier firing a rubber-coated steal bullet at a Palestinian. The Palestinian has his hands tied behind his back and his eyes covered, and the soldier is firing at him from very close range, from approximately a meter and a half away. This whole event happens in the presence of a high-ranking officer, a lieutenant colonel.”
The Israeli military said the soldier involved in the shooting has been detained for questioning. An army statement said the incident is a “direct contradiction of IDF values and principles.”
A military judge at Fort Knox has sentenced US war resister James Burmeister to six months in jail after Burmeister pleaded guilty to going AWOL. The twenty-three-year-old soldier served as an Army scout in Iraq but fled to Canada in May 2007 while on leave. After leaving Iraq, Burmeister revealed that US troops in Iraq were planting equipment, such as AK-47s, to lure Iraqis to spots where American snipers could shoot them. The practice was known as bait and kill. Burmeister said, “I know going AWOL was wrong, but I thought it was the best way to stop the small kill teams.”
Charges are expected to be filed this week in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania against a group of teenagers who beat a Mexican immigrant to death last week. Witnesses said six white teenagers brutally beat twenty-five-year-old Luis Ramirez while yelling racial slurs. When one of Ramirez’s friends tried to stop the beating, one of the teenagers said, “Tell your Mexican friends to get out of town, or you’ll be laying next to him.” Ramirez came to the United States six years ago. He was the father of two children and was engaged to Crystal Dillman, who grew up in Shenandoah.
And in China, explosions on three buses killed at least three people and injured fourteen earlier today in the southwestern city of Kunming. The bombings come less than a month before the start of the Olympic Games in Beijing.