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President Obama and Vice President Biden plan to hold a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland today to mark the end of the Iraq War. While U.S. combat troops have left Iraq, the United States will still operate the largest embassy in the world in Baghdad and maintain a staff of more than 15,000, including thousands of private security contractors. Meanwhile, Iraq is in a state of political turmoil. On Monday, the Shiite-led Iraqi government issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Muslim, for suspected ties to assassinations and bombings. Some analysts fear the development could push Iraq back into sectarian turmoil between Shiites and Sunnis. Hashemi accused the Iraqi government of failing to push for reconciliation between sectarian groups.
Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s Sunni vice president: “(Reconciliation) is one of the projects that the government has failed at unprecedentedly, and the reason is that there is no real intention for national reconciliation. There is no real will for reconciliation.”
Earlier today, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi denied any wrongdoing.
For the fifth consecutive day, police and soldiers in Egypt have used tear gas and batons in an attempt to clear pro-democracy demonstrators from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Video from the weekend showing soldiers dragging a woman through the street by her hair, with traditional clothing ripped from her body and her underwear exposed, has caused shock and outrage around the world. On Monday, General Adel Emara, a member of Egypt’s ruling military council that took over after President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February, called the assault an isolated incident and said it was under investigation. Emara suggested the youth of Egypt were not responsible for the nation’s unrest.
General Adel Emara, Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces: “It is not possible that those who are destroying the nation are demonstrators or that they are amongst the January 25th youth, who are pure. It is not possible that the young people that sacrificed their souls are the same people that I will show you now, or those that raise their hands to burn Egypt’s heritage or burn the Parliament. It is not possible that they are the pure, young people, the hope of Egypt and the wealth of the nation.”
Medical officials say at least 13 people have been killed since the clashes began Friday. Hundreds more have been wounded. The group Reporters Without Borders claims the military has used systematic violence to block journalists from covering the events. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has joined Amnesty International in demanding that arms suppliers stop sending small arms and weapons to the Egyptian army. The United States alone provides Egypt’s military with $1.3 billion in annual aid. Former Egyptian presidential candidate and longtime dissident Ayman Nour called on Egypt’s military council to cease its campaign of violence at once.
Ayman Nour, Al-Ghad Party chairman: “We are demanding the military council to stop this violence, and it should withdraw the forces and oblige to certain actions, such as stop shooting, respecting human rights, the right to express opinions and the right of protesting. But all of these rights have been violated. In fact, we are demanding the military council to tell us the truth, because all of its statements were not true. We have been shocked, and this situation is leading us into a dead-end tunnel.”
Nour was beaten and detained by the Egyptian military when the clashes began late last week.
In other news from the region, at least 100 people were reportedly killed in Syria Monday in what may have been the bloodiest day since the Syrian government began cracking down on protesters. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 60 army deserters were shot dead as they tried to flee their army base. In addition, 40 Syrian civilians were shot dead. Earlier today, Syria threatened to execute anyone who participates in terrorist acts or distributes weapons. Meanwhile, the Arab League has announced it will soon send monitors to Syria in an attempt to end nine months of violence against anti-government protesters.
Russia is demanding NATO respond to reports that dozens of Libyan civilians were killed in the air strike campaign which led to the downfall of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi. The New York Times recently reported that at least 40 civilians, and perhaps more than 70, were killed by NATO. The death toll included at least 29 women or children. Many of them had been asleep in homes when they were killed.
North Korea has entered an 11-day period of official mourning following the death of leader Kim Jong-il. His body now lies in state in a glass coffin ahead of his funeral next week. Kim Jong-il’s death has been embarrassing to the intelligence services of South Korea, China and the United States. Kim Jong-il died on Saturday, but the spy agencies only learned about the momentous development on Monday — 48 hours later — when North Korean state media announced his death.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta appeared on CBS News last night and warned Iran could assemble a nuclear bomb in a year or less. Panetta becomes the latest Obama administration official to openly talk about Iran becoming an nuclear state, even though no evidence exists that Iran has a facility to build such a weapon. Panetta was interviewed by CBS News anchor Scott Pelley.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: “The United States does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us, and it’s a red line, obviously, for the Israelis. If we have to do it, we will do it.”
Scott Pelley: “You just said, “If we have to do it, we’ll do it.’”
Panetta: “That’s right.”
Pelley: “What is 'it'?”
Panetta: “If they (Iran) proceed, and we get intelligence that they’re proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon, then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it.”
The New York Times has revealed Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney received millions of dollars each year from the private equity firm Bain Capital, despite having left the company in 1999. The Times reports Romney’s retirement package gave him a share of profits from corporate buyouts and investment through February 2009. The company’s actions over the years have included purchasing and restructuring companies, firing thousands of workers.
Eight people affiliated with Occupy Des Moines in Iowa were arrested Monday after staging a protest at the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters. The Occupy protesters have also targeted the Obama for America office in recent days. The protesters called on Obama to veto the National Defense Authorization Act, which could usher in a radical expansion of indefinite detention under the U.S. government by authorizing the military to jail anyone it considers a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world without charge or trial.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, clashes broke out between Occupy Denver protesters and Denver police last night following a late-night eviction. Two protesters were arrested on arson charges for setting the shelters aflame.
In banking news, a new report from the New Bottom Line is predicting total compensation at seven of the biggest U.S. banks to total a record-breaking $156 billion this year. The report examined the records of Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, US Bank, and Wells Fargo. Six of the seven banks set aside more money for compensation through the first three quarters of 2011 than they did in the first three quarters of 2010.
In other economic news, a study has found 1.6 million children in the United States, or one in 45 kids, were homeless last year. The National Center on Family Homelessness said its study is a “call to action for all of us to address child homelessness before we lose another generation.” The group said the child homelessness rate has jumped 33 percent since 2007.
Another study found about one-third of young people will be arrested before they turn 23. The study examined arrests, not including minor traffic violations, for kids ages eight to 23. Researchers said they found between 30.2 percent and 41.4 percent had been arrested.
In business news, AT&T has abandoned its attempt to merge with T-Mobile after the $39 billion deal came under intense scrutiny from federal regulators and public interest groups. The deal would have left the country with two cell phone companies, AT&T and Verizon, with almost three-quarters of the market between them.
In the Philippines, the death toll from a typhoon and massive flooding is approaching 1,000. President Benigno Aquino III has declared a state of calamity, and aid workers are calling for water and other supplies to help 45,000 people displaced to evacuation centers. Most of the dead were reportedly women and children killed in their sleep by flash floods.
Hundreds of people have taken to the streets of the former Soviet republic Kazakhstan following days of sustained clashes between police and striking oil workers. Officials say at least 14 people have died since the unrest took hold late last week, but human rights groups claim the number could be many times higher. On Friday, police opened fire on oil workers participating in a six-month-old strike in the city of Zhanaozen, killing 13 people. Twenty-six-year-old Arman is a resident of Zhanaozen, where the second day of violence took place.
Arman, Zhanaozen resident: “Panic started, shooting. We were standing slightly to the side. Everybody started running. Everybody was shouting. We got frightened and started running, too. I had a bullet in my stomach. I got into intensive care. Then I had a surgery.”
In Belarus, dozens of people have been detained by the police after taking part in a candle-lit vigil to protest President Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko was recently reelected for a fourth time in a contest his critics have denounced as fraudulent. The protest follow similarly motivated demonstrations in Russia, where tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest disputed parliamentary elections that have secured power for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
A Latino Army veteran arrested by sheriff’s deputies in Maricopa County, Arizona, is on life support after being found unresponsive in his cell. The family of 44-year-old Ernest Atencio told advocates they were deciding when to take their son off life support after he was found in his jail cell with taser marks on his body. The news comes as Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is facing scrutiny after a U.S. Department of Justice probe found the department unfairly targeted Latinos.
The U.S. Department of Justice has found another instance of discrimination against Latinos, this time by suburban police in East Haven, Connecticut. Investigators said records of traffic stops showed the department engaged in a “pattern or practice of biased policing” and showed indifference to the rights of minorities. One case included an officer looking up insurance information on a moving vehicle in order to find a reason to stop the car.
The once-imprisoned U.S. activist Lori Berenson has been allowed to leave Peru for the first time since she was arrested in 1995. Berenson boarded a plane last night along with her two-year-old son. She is planning to spend the holidays with her parents in New York City. Berenson was paroled last year after serving 15 years of a 20-year sentence for aiding the outlawed Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.