At least thirty people have been killed in three suicide bombings in the Iraqi city of Baquba. More than forty people were wounded. The attack comes as Iraq is on high alert ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
A security official at the US Embassy in Iraq has claimed he believes State Department colleagues tried to block any serious probe of the 2007 massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians by employees of the private military firm Blackwater. The official, David Farrington, told prosecutors that State Department officials handling evidence at the crime scene wanted to ensure the Blackwater guards would avoid punishment. Charges against five Blackwater guards were dismissed in December after a federal judge ruled prosecutors had tried to use testimony that the guards had made under immunity provided by the State Department. According to the New York Times, prosecutors in the case were also concerned Blackwater was trying to obstruct the investigation and had uncovered evidence that the company’s management had failed to report testimony from its own guards. One guard who witnessed the Nisoor Square massacre described it as “murder in cold blood.”
The military industry giant KBR has been awarded a new contract worth up to $2.8 billion in Iraq. KBR’s work has come under wide scrutiny in Iraq over several controversies, including the electrocution deaths of US troops due to faulty electrical work, the alleged exposure of troops to cancer-causing chemicals, the alleged gang rape of a female KBR worker, and multiple allegations of contract fraud. A former subsidiary of Halliburton, KBR is the Army’s largest contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government has delayed a plan to demolish Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Bustan. Israeli officials are pushing to construct an archaeological park on the grounds of homes inhabited by Palestinian families for over a century. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Jerusalem’s mayor to delay the demolitions, citing concern over Israel’s international image. Orly Noy, a spokesperson for the Israeli human rights group Ir Amim, criticized the demolition plans.
Orly Noy: “We believe that any plan that involves massive demolitions of almost ninety houses in the most sensitive area, in the most explosive area of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem, is extremely dangerous both to the political future of the city and to its current stability.”
Meanwhile in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official has accused Israel of keeping Palestinians in an “open-air prison.” John Holmes appeared on the news network Al Jazeera English Tuesday after touring Gaza.
Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “They’re living in a kind of open-air prison. They’re still suffering this kind of collective punishment they’ve been suffering for three years now. And it’s counterproductive. It’s counterproductive including for Israel, because it’s only breeding despair. It’s not helping their objectives, whatever they might be in Gaza. So it really needs changing, and it really needs changing very rapidly. I think that’s the main point, and we really will hope that they will reconsider the kind of attitude they’ve been adopting so far.”
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has passed a $10 billion spending bill extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. The bill was approved after Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky agreed to end a five-day filibuster to prevent its passage. Bunning’s opposition had forced around 2,000 federal employees into furloughs and delayed several dozen highway projects. Earlier in the day, Bunning defended his campaign against the bill.
Sen. Jim Bunning: “We want a country that my forty grandchildren have the same abilities that I did growing up. We want a country that don’t owe everybody in the world for our existence. I don’t — and the question I’ve been asked mostly is, 'Why now?' Well, why not now?”
The auto giant Nissan has announced plans to recall nearly 540,000 vehicles, mostly in the United States. Nissan says the recall would address potential defects in its brake pedals and fuel gauges on at least four different models.
A new report says the United States is seeing a major rise in the number of domestic right-wing extremist groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-government “Patriot” groups grew to 512 in 2009, an increase of 244 percent. Right-wing militias tripled over the same period to 127.
In California, the Los Angeles public school board is preparing to warn teachers of massive layoffs amidst a $640 million budget shortfall. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District voted to send notices of possible layoffs to up to 5,200 teachers.
The Obama administration has announced plans to adopt an alternative formula for measuring poverty in the United States. Under the new approach, expenses including housing, utilities, childcare and medical treatment will also be factored in. The new standard won’t replace the current federal formula, which is based on the cost of food and family income.
And the Supreme Court has rejected an effort to block the District of Columbia’s legalization of gay marriage. Opponents of gay rights had sought to prevent the District from enacting the law pending an appeal. The first marriage licenses are expected to be issued today.