Iraq suffered its deadliest day of the year on Monday with some 89 killed and more than 300 injured in dozens of coordinated attacks across the country. Militants used car bombs, roadside bombs and shootings to carry out the violence, targeting Iraqi security officials and civilians alike. In the final reported attack late Monday night, gunmen dressed in military uniforms pulled seven people out of Sunni mosque south of Baghdad and shot them all execution-style. No group has claimed official responsibility for the violence, but a recording posted on an al-Qaeda-linked website last week indicated the group was planning a wide-scale attack. The assaults marked the first major act of violence since Iraqi officials announced they would begin talks on keeping U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the scheduled withdrawal date of December 31.
The Syrian government has intensified its assault on the port city of Latakia, bringing the death toll to an estimated 34 people over the past four days. Witnesses say the army has rounded up civilians in a sports stadium and stripped them of identification and mobile phones after ordering residents to evacuate their homes. The siege of Latakia began on Saturday, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces using snipers, tanks and, in a new tactic, navy gunships. The United Nations says more than 5,000 Palestinians fled a refugee camp in the city to escape the violence. U.N. spokesperson Christopher Gunness called on Syria to halt the attacks and provide access to the camp.
Chris Gunness: “We are extremely concerned about the situation in Latakia, where more than half the refugee camp, between 5,000 and 10,000 people, have fled. They fled incoming fire from gunboats, they fled incoming fire from the land, and security personnel told them to leave. We’re saying to the Syrian government we want immediate humanitarian access to tend to the sick, to tend to the dying, and to get our own programs up and running. The eyes and the ears of the world are watching. There’s diplomatic pressure, there’s political pressure. I would like to think there’s some kind of moral pressure, because this fighting, this attack on the refugee camp, has got to stop.”
Meanwhile, Syrian tanks have entered Homs, causing what local witnesses are calling a state of siege. The foreign minister of Turkey has again urged the Assad regime to end the violence, calling the plea the “final words” from the Turkish government. Human rights activists estimate around 2,200 people have been killed since the Syrian crackdown began in mid-March.
Opposition fighters in Libya have seized strategic positions outside the capital city of Tripoli, intensifying pressure on the regime of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. The rebels have cut off the major oil and diesel fuel pipelines to Tripoli and captured two key outlying towns. In response, Gaddafi’s troops shelled the coastal town of Az-Zawiyah, which rebels now control. A senior Libyan security official unexpectedly arrived in Cairo Monday, signifying a major defection for the Gaddafi regime. U.S. officials, meanwhile, say Gaddafi’s forces have fired a surface-to-air scud missile for the first time in the ongoing conflict, but it failed to hit its target. The developments inside Libya come as representatives of the Gaddafi regime and the rebels continue to hold talks in neighboring Tunis. The United Nations envoy on Libya — former Jordanian foreign minister Abdul Ilah al-Khatib — flew into Tunis on Monday to join the negotiations.
President Obama has kicked off a three-day Midwest bus tour aimed at promoting his record on the economy amidst high unemployment and fears of a worsening recession. At a town-hall-style event in Iowa, Obama said he would present a new plan to boost the economy next month.
President Obama: “I’ll be putting forward, when they come back in September, a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs, and to control our deficit. And my attitude is: get it done. And if they don’t get it done, then we’ll be running against a Congress that’s not doing anything for the American people, and the choice will be very stark and will be very clear.”
Speaking earlier in the day in Minnesota, Obama criticized Republicans’ steadfast opposition to tax hikes on the wealthy. Obama cited an opinion piece from billionaire investor Warren Buffett in support of the tax hikes.
President Obama: “I put a deal before the Speaker of the House John Boehner that would have solved this problem. And he walked away because his belief was we can’t ask anything of millionaires and billionaires and big corporations in order to close our deficit. Now, Warren Buffett had an op-ed that he wrote today, where he said, ’We’ve got to stop coddling billionaires like me.’”
President Obama’s bus tour comes as his approval rating has fallen below 40 percent for the first time. According to a new Gallup poll, 39 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s job performance, while 54 percent disapprove. Both figures represent the poorest marks Obama has received since taking office.
The Republican race picked up steam Monday with the latest entry, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, joining rival candidates on the stump. Perry addressed supporters in Iowa, while Mitt Romney spoke before a crowd in New Hampshire.
Gov. Rick Perry: “I know what this country needs, and we need to get Americans back working. We need to be able to create an environment in this country where anybody that wants to work can find that job.”
Mitt Romney: “I wish the President were in Washington calling back Congress and dealing with the challenges we have. I don’t know that he has a strategy now or whether he basically thrown up his hands and is just hoping things will get better. In some respects, I think he’s more concerned about keeping his job than spending the time necessary to help Americans get their jobs.”
At least one Palestinian has been killed and five others wounded in a series of Israeli air strikes on the occupied Gaza Strip. Two of victims were left on life support. Israel has said it is responding to rocket fire that has increased from Gaza over the past month. But Palestinians have accused Israel of escalating attacks on the Occupied Territories in order to subvert the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations next month.
The Israeli government has approved a new settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. The settlement of Ariel will receive nearly 300 new homes in the largest housing project in a single settlement since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office. One hundred of the apartments will house Israeli settlers who left the Gaza Strip six years ago.
The United Nations World Food Programme says it is investigating the theft and sale of food intended for famine victims in Somalia. The Associated Press has uncovered eight sites in Mogadishu markets where thousands of sacks of food stamped with the WFP logo were being sold. According to the United Nations, more than 3.2 million Somalis are in need of food aid, nearly half the country’s population. The ongoing crisis has already claimed the lives of 29,000 Somali children under the age of five.
The presiding judge in the trial of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has ruled the proceedings will no longer be televised. Without explanation, Judge Ahmed Refaat said on Monday the cameras would be turned off in order to “protect the public interest.” Mubarak’s trial was on its second day. Egyptians had previously been able to see the ailing Mubarak appear in court lying on a gurney within a metal cage. Mubarak is accused of corruption and ordering the killing of civilians, while his sons, Gamal and Alaa, face corruption charges. Family members of those killed in Egypt’s uprising and critics of the Mubarak regime have denounced the court’s ruling.
Protester: “When they were arresting us during the revolution, we would be put on trial within 24 hours. So why has he not been sentenced yet? Why has he not been sentenced after six months? Why? Because he is still the president, just like he was, and he will remain so. He will remain president for six more months until the regime is finished.”
In Israel, lawmakers have interrupted a summer recess amidst ongoing protests against economic inequality and the high costs of living. Tens of thousands of people continue to take part in the protests across Israel.
Protester: “The gaps between rich and poor really got wider and wider, and I think right now people really feel frustrated, because they’re working, they do work, they work in very, like, respectable jobs, but they don’t get enough to live their lives and to raise their children. So I think this is the uprising. This is where it comes from.”
Protester: “I believe it might get a bit more violent towards next week, if we don’t start seeing the government taking us a bit more seriously.”
A new report from the United Nations says violence in Sudan’s South Kordofan region in June may have amounted to war crimes or crimes against humanity. The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang said more investigation is needed.
Kyung-wha Kang: “The main findings of the report are violations of—serious violations of human rights in terms of indiscriminate attacks, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions and looting of property. We have cases that would point to, if substantiated with other patterns that point to the same kinds of crimes, crimes against humanity.”
The oil giant Royal Dutch Shell says it’s spilled 54,600 gallons of oil into the North Sea from a rig off Scotland’s eastern coast. The company announced the spill from the Gannet Alpha oil rig last week. Shell officials say they expect the oil to be dispersed by the ocean’s waves and do not anticipate it will reach the shore, but conservation groups are warning it may threaten sea life.
Global food prices are once again on the rise, stirring fears of further unrest in poor communities worldwide. According to the World Bank, food costs were 33 percent higher last month than one year ago. The bank’s Food Watch Price report says prices are now near the record levels that sparked riots in 2008.
In Arizona, floodwater has washed away a portion of a fence along the Mexican border, affirming predictions made by the barrier’s environmental critics. Built between 2007 and 2008, the fence at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has been criticized for dividing wildlife populations and habitats and diminishing the range for endangered animals by as much 75 percent. Experts predicted the barrier, which forms an unnatural dam during rainfall, could present a risk to its own structural integrity. On Sunday, it took two-and-a-half inches of rain to wash away 40 feet of the fence.
Latinos and immigrant rights activists are holding a national day of action today to oppose the Obama administration’s recent decision to expand the controversial immigration program known as Securities Communities. Secure Communities requires local police to forward fingerprints of every person they arrest to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In recent months, the governors of Illinois, Massachusetts and New York have pulled out of the program. But earlier this month federal officials announced the program is not voluntary and that local governments cannot opt out. Rallies are planned in Atlanta, Georgia; Boston, Massachusetts; Charlotte, North Carolina; Houston, Texas; and Miami, Florida. The activists plan to deliver thousands of petitions to President Obama’s national campaign headquarters in Chicago.
The online giant Google has launched a major expansion into the wireless market. On Monday, Google bought Motorola Mobile for $12.5 billion. The purchase was Google’s largest to date.