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In Iraq, more than sixty were killed and another 250 wounded Monday in suicide bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk. Four women carried out the attack, three of them strapping themselves with the bombs. It was one of the deadliest attacks on Iraqi civilians in months.
In Pakistan, at least six people have been killed in a US missile strike on a northwestern village. The attack reportedly killed Abu Khabab al-Masri, a top operative for al-Qaeda. The bombing came as Pakistan’s new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, was in Washington for meetings at the White House.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is claiming Iran is making progress in international talks over its nuclear program. In an interview with NBC News, Ahmadinejad said Iran would find “common ground” with the US and five other nations.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “We are not working to manufacture a bomb. We don’t believe in a nuclear bomb. Nuclear bombs belong to the twentieth century. We are living in a new century. Nuclear energy must not be equaled to a nuclear bomb.”
Iran has until Saturday to reply to an international offer to halt UN sanctions in return for a nuclear freeze.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government has announced it will refuse to negotiate the long-term status of Jerusalem as part of ongoing peace talks with Palestinian leaders. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said a deal could be reached on other issues but that Jerusalem won’t even be discussed until at least next year. Palestinians have long called for East Jerusalem as the capital of any future state. In Gaza, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar criticized the Israeli move.
Mahmoud al-Zahar: “No peace process will be achieved, either in this year or the expected years. Israel, backed by America, is not intended to give the Palestinian people their basic demand, by establishment of an independent state. And for this reason, we resorted to the military activities in order to push the occupation and to make an end by our alternative method.”
Israel’s decision coincided with another demolition of a Palestinian residential building in East Jerusalem. Israeli officials say the owner hadn’t obtained the proper permits. Israel has demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes over the last decade.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has instructed several top officials not to visit Spain after a Spanish judge approved an international arrest warrant against them for allegedly committing war crimes. A Spanish human rights group filed the case over an Israeli air strike in 2002. Sixteen Palestinian civilians were killed when Israel bombed a crowded area in the heart of central Gaza. Israel says it was targeting a senior Hamas leader who was killed in the attack.
Here in the United States, the Bush administration has admitted it will leave behind a record budget deficit of around $490 billion. The figure is more than $80 billion over President Bush’s forecast earlier this year. The projection is likely too small because the White House hasn’t requested war funding for the entire year.
An internal probe has found top Justice Department officials practiced routine political discrimination in hiring for top positions. Applicants were disqualified for everything from links to Democratic Party politics and rumors of being gay or lesbian. Less-experienced Republicans were given priority, including one lawyer who drew raves for his position on “god, guns and gays.” The report focuses on the conduct of senior aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, including former top adviser Monica Goodling and former chief of staff Kyle Sampson. The officials relied on a White House internet search technique to vet the political views of potential employees. The aides searched for the applicants’ names, along with such key words as “abortion”, “homosexual”, “Florida recount” and “guns.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement office has told employees to direct any outside inquiries to a small group of officials rather than answer the questions themselves. According to the Washington Post, an EPA memo cites any contact from reporters, congressional investigators and the EPA’s inspector general. The memo says: “Please do not respond to questions or make any statements.” Critics say the move will further endanger employees who speak out against political interference with their work. A recent survey found more than half of EPA officials have encountered political interference in the past five years.
In Tennessee, the assailant in Sunday’s deadly church shooting in Knoxville has told police he targeted the congregation because it was known for socially liberal and gay-friendly views. Two people were killed and eight others were wounded when Jim Adkisson walked into the church and opened fire with a shotgun. Knoxville police chief Sterling Owen said the attack is being treated as a hate crime.
Sterling Owen: “It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement. We have recovered a four-page letter in which he describes his feelings and the reason that he claims that he committed these offenses.”
A government audit has found the private military company Blackwater has obtained dozens of contracts meant for small businesses. The Inspector General of the Small Business Administration says Blackwater was awarded $110 million in small business contracts despite uncertainty over whether it qualifies as a “small business.” From 2005 to 2007, Blackwater was awarded thirty contracts intended for companies with revenues under $6.5 million. Blackwater’s revenues exceeded $200 million for each of those years.
Meanwhile, another government audit has found tens of millions of dollars have been wasted on a Pentagon contract to build security facilities in Iraq. Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq, says contractor Parsons Delaware completed just one-third of a $900 million project.
In banking news, federal regulators have shut down two banks in California and Nevada. First National Bank of Nevada and the Californian First Heritage Bank were both folded for lacking sufficient capital. The closures come two weeks after the collapse of the California bank IndyMac.
And in Louisiana, prosecutors have announced they plan to seek the indictment of a white officer in the tasing death of a young African American man in the town of Winnfield. Baron Pikes died on January 17 from electrocution after the police officer shot him nine times with a taser. Pikes was already in handcuffs at the time. Last month, his death was ruled a homicide. Pikes was the first cousin of Mychal Bell, the lead defendant in the Jena Six case. Prosecutors say they’ll convene a grand jury next month.
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