Dozens of people have been killed and many more wounded in a series of bombings in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The death toll so far stands at 63, with another 185 injured. The attacks come as Iraq grapples with the aftermath of the U.S. military withdrawal and heightened sectarian tensions with an arrest warrant for Iraqi vice president and leading Sunni political leader Tariq al-Hashemi. At a news conference on Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was asked about the ongoing U.S. presence in Iraq with a massive embassy in Baghdad.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: “Perhaps some people say that the number [of U.S. embassy staff] is big. It is 2,000 or 3,000 employees. A part of this number represents Iraqi desire. For example, we asked them to provide us with agricultural experience, therefore we will need agricultural experts. We asked them to provide us industrial expertise, so we will need industrial experts. It is our demands that will be the reason to increase or decrease the number of staff that will serve in the U.S. embassy, but there will be no forces.”
Defense attorneys for alleged army whistleblower Bradley Manning rested their case on Wednesday after calling two witnesses. Manning is in a pretrial hearing to determine whether he’s to face a court-martial for allegedly leaking classified video and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Both defense witnesses were military comrades who testified about Manning’s alleged erratic behavior and the lax security environment on the Baghdad computer system he used. Closing arguments are expected to begin today, after which the presiding officer will have over three weeks to render a decision.
The U.S. is poised to admit significant responsibility for an attack on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border last month that left 24 Pakistani solders dead. A military investigation found U.S. and Afghan commandos incorrectly determined there were no Pakistani forces in the area before the air strike. U.S. officials then provided inaccurate data to a Pakistani military representative and missed an opportunity to stop the fighting. Pakistan closed its border after the attack, shutting off a supply line to troops in Afghanistan.
Syrian human rights activists say forces loyal to embattled President Bashar al-Assad have killed at least 160 people in the last three days. The toll would mark one of the deadliest in the nation’s nine-month-old uprising. The killings come as Arab League observers are scheduled to visit Syria for the first time. Activists worry the Assad regime may be attempting to wipe out pockets of unrest before the monitors arrive.
House Republicans are under increasing pressure to drop their opposition to a bipartisan Senate measure that would extend a payroll tax cut set to expire at year’s end. Led by House Speaker John Boehner, Republicans have insisted on linking the tax cut to a number of unrelated proposals, including backing for the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. In an editorial, the right-wing Wall Street Journal urged Republicans to drop their stance, calling it a “fiasco.” In a Twitter message, Republican Senator John McCain concurred, while anonymous Republican aides have been quoted in the media issuing similar criticisms. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Senate proposal remains the only solution on the table.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “The President made clear in his call to Speaker Boehner earlier today, as I made clear in the readout, that the action that must be taken is the House needs to take up the Senate bill, that was supported by an overwhelming percentage of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and pass it to make sure that taxes don’t go up. The short-term bipartisan compromise, passed by almost the entire Senate, is the only option to ensure that middle-class families are not hit with a tax hike in 10 days, and gives both sides the time needed to work out a full year’s solution.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has released the first national standards to cut emissions of mercury and toxic air pollutants from power plants. The agency says the new standards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks each year, as well as preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms. Power plants are the leading source of arsenic and cyanide pollution and are responsible for half of mercury emissions in the United States. In a statement, the group Earthjustice, which filed a lawsuit against the Bush administration that led to the new standards, said, “We’re celebrating today after a long fight for cleaner air.”
Bank of America has agreed to pay a $335 million settlement over allegations its Countrywide Financial division discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers. The Justice Department says the settlement is the largest of its kind in history. Investigators found Countrywide charged higher rates to more than 200,000 people of color compared to white borrowers with similar credit. It also found Countrywide directed more than 10,000 minorities toward more expensive subprime mortgages, while giving white borrowers with similar credit regular loans.
The Obama administration is facing urgent pleas to reverse a decision to delay food aid to North Korea in aftermath of the death of Kim Jong-il. The U.S. had reportedly been poised to deliver aid before Kim Jong-il’s death was announced but now says it will need more time to assess the new regime. Humanitarian groups warn many North Koreans are likely to die of malnutrition in the coming months if the nation does not receive an increased amount of aid. Lack of food has been a central issue for North Koreans since the mid-1990s, when famine struck the region, killing hundreds of thousands. Reports suggest the U.S. could deliver as much as 240,000 tons of aid.
Over two dozen members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the ties between the Central Intelligence Agency and the New York Police Department. Lawmakers want the Department of Justice and House Judiciary Committee to look at how and why the CIA has been involved in the department’s monitoring of Muslim communities. Over the summer, the Associated Press revealed a number of disclosures about the NYPD, including its incorporation of a senior CIA official into its ranks, its infiltration and mapping of ethnic communities in New York City and surrounding areas, and its surveillance of numerous institutions, including mosques and universities.
The Army has announced eight soldiers are being charged in the death of an Army private who apparently took his own life in Afghanistan earlier this year. Nineteen-year-old Danny Chen was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in October. Chen’s family said he had been subjected to race-based hazing, with soldiers forcing him out of bed, throwing rocks at him, calling him ethnic slurs and forcing him to do push-ups with his mouth full of water. The eight soldiers have been charged with crimes ranging from dereliction of duty to manslaughter. In a related case, a group of Marines was recently court-martialed following the suicide of Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, an Asian-American soldier who military prosecutors say also killed himself after being hazed.
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