In Iran, six senior commanders in the country’s elite Revolutionary Guard were assassinated Sunday in a suicide bombing that killed as many as thirty-six others. The bombing occurred in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan near the Pakistani border. It has been described as the most serious attack against Iran in more than twenty years. The Sunni militant group Jundallah claimed responsibility for the attack. The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has vowed to “retaliate” against the United States and Britain after accusing them of backing Jundallah. Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Pakistan of also having links to the bombers.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “We ask the Pakistani government not to delay any longer in the apprehension of the main elements in this terrorist attack. And also, we were informed that some security agents in Pakistan are cooperating with the main elements of this terrorist incident, and we regard it as our right to demand these criminals.”
The Pakistani military has launched a major offensive against militants in South Waziristan, the heartland of the Pakistani Taliban. Over 150,000 civilians have fled the region seeking refuge. The Obama administration had been urging Pakistan to wage the assault. General David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, arrived in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, on Sunday to consult with Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders.
Investigative reporter Jane Mayer of The New Yorker magazine reveals the number of US drone strikes in Pakistan has risen dramatically since President Obama took office. During his first nine-and-a-half months in office, Obama authorized as many CIA aerial attacks in Pakistan as President Bush did in his final three years in office. At any time, the CIA now has multiple drones flying over Pakistan, scouting for targets. Mayer writes, “there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official US policy.” David Kilcullen, a former adviser to General Petreaus, says that the propaganda costs of drone attacks on civilians have been disastrously high. He recently wrote, “Every one of these dead non-combatants represents an alienated family, a new revenge feud, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.”
The Afghan electoral crisis intensified today as Afghan election officials refused to accept findings of a UN-backed investigative panel that would force a runoff. The UN panel determined that allegedly fraudulent ballots reduced President Hamid Karzai’s portion of the vote to about 47 percent, less than the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. But the Afghan Independent Election Commission, which is dominated by Karzai allies, has rejected the UN data. It is unclear what will happen if the election commission continues to reject the UN findings. Afghan law says the UN-backed panel is the final arbiter on complaints, but the Afghan election commission maintains it can contest at least parts of the investigation. The election dispute may play a critical role in the Obama administration’s decision-making process on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. John Kerry, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, addressed the issue in an interview with CNN.
Sen. John Kerry: “It would be entirely irresponsible for the President of the United States to commit more troops to this country when we don’t even have an election finished and know who the president is and what kind of government we’re working with. And when our own, you know, commanding general tells us that a critical component of achieving our mission here is in fact good governance, and we’re living with a government that we know has to change and provide it, how could the President responsibly say, 'Oh, they asked for more? Sure, here they are,' and we know that the two critical stools of counterinsurgency aren’t going to stand? That would be irresponsible for a president of the United States.”
The New York Times has begun publishing a five-part series by its correspondent David Rohde, who was held as a hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan for seven months. In his piece, Rohde says that Washington’s anti-terrorism policies have galvanized the Taliban. Rohde writes, “Commanders fixated on the deaths of Afghan, Iraqi and Palestinian civilians in military airstrikes, as well as the American detention of Muslim prisoners who had been held for years without being charged.”
In economic news, the House Financial Services Committee has agreed to weaken the power of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency by exempting 98 percent of the nation’s banks from oversight by the agency. The agreement prevents the new agency from conducting annual examinations of the lending practices at more than 8,000 of the nation’s 8,200 banks, leaving only the largest banks and other lenders subject to the agency’s examiners.
Another former Goldman Sachs executive has been tapped for a top post in the Obama administration. The Securities and Exchange Commission has named twenty-nine-year-old Adam Storch as the agency’s first-ever chief operating officer of the enforcement division. For the past five years, Storch worked at Goldman Sachs, most recently as vice president in Goldman’s Business Intelligence Group.
Support is growing on Capitol Hill to repeal an 1945 law that exempts the health insurance industry from antitrust laws. The House Judiciary Committee plans to vote on the matter on Wednesday. The chair of the committee, John Conyers, said it does not make sense anymore to exempt the industry from federal antitrust rules. In his weekly radio address, President Obama said lawmakers were right to review the measure.
President Obama: “The fact is, the insurance industry is making this last-ditch effort to stop reform even as costs continue to rise and our healthcare dollars continue to be poured into their profits, bonuses and administrative costs that do nothing to make us healthy — that often actually go toward figuring out how to avoid covering people. And they’re earning these profits and bonuses while enjoying a privileged exception from our antitrust laws, a matter that Congress is rightfully reviewing.”
In other healthcare news, White House support for the creation of a government-run public health insurance program appears to be deteriorating. Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said Obama still thinks it’s the best possible choice, but she admitted the President is not demanding that it be included in the final legislation considered by Congress.
The former top procurement official in President Bush’s administration has been sentenced to a year in prison for lying about his ties to Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. David Safavian was convicted in December of concealing his efforts to help Abramoff win government contracts. Safavian served as chief of staff at the General Services Administration
The UN Human Rights Council has endorsed a UN report that accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. In a special session, twenty-five states endorsed the resolution. Six, including the United States, voted against, and eleven abstained. The report by South African jurist Richard Goldstone accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes in Gaza but is most critical of Israel. Around 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli attack, most of them civilians.
US Ambassador Douglas Griffiths: “The United States continues to focus our attention on our main goal: working with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to relaunch successful permanent status negotiations as soon as possible. Resolutions like the one before us today can only exacerbate polarization and divisiveness.”
A United Nations investigation into recent explosions in South Lebanon have indicated that Israel had planted spy devices on Lebanese land in violation of a ceasefire agreement. It appears the spy devices were detonated by remote control from Israel after their discovery by Lebanese security forces. A first explosion was reported on Saturday evening and a second on Sunday morning. No injuries were reported. If confirmed, the devices would represent violations of Security Council Resolution 1701, which halted the 2006 war in Lebanon. Meanwhile, Israel is also being accused of flying drones over Lebanon. Michael Williams, the UN special coordinator for Lebanon, said the use of drones was an obvious violation of Lebanese sovereignty and Resolution 1701.
The government of the Maldives held a cabinet meeting underwater on Friday in an attempt to bring attention to the dire consequences of global warming. The Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, is the lowest-lying nation on earth. It could be submerged by rising sea levels. For the underwater meeting, President Mohamed Nasheed and eleven of his government ministers, wore scuba gear and plunged nearly twenty feet into the Indian Ocean.
Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed: “We are actually trying to send our message, let the world know what is happening and what might — what will happen to the Maldives if climate change is not checked. This is a challenging situation. And we want to see that everyone else is also occupied as much as we are and would like to see that people actually do something about it.”
Leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean have agreed during a summit in Bolivia to create a regional currency to make Latin America less dependent on the dollar. Leaders from Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba and other nations met at the two-day Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas summit in Cochabamba. The new currency will be known as the sucre. Meanwhile, Latin American leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, voiced their support for ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
Hugo Chavez: “If that coup government doesn’t hand over power and tries to call elections to wash its hand of it, under no circumstances will we recognize the government that emerges from elections directed by a coup. ALBA must find more severe measures against the coup.”
And Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari has been released from prison in Iran. He had been held since June 21.