Saturday, May 2, 2009

U.S. Military: Man in Iraq Army Uniform Kills 2 American Troops

The following is from Fox News:

BAGHDAD — A gunman wearing an Iraqi army uniform opened fire on a U.S. military team Saturday, killing two American soldiers and wounding three others at a combat outpost in northern Iraq, the military said.

A military statement said the attacker was killed after the ambush-style assault 12 miles south of Mosul, which is one of the last urban strongholds for Sunni insurgents.

In the past, attackers have used military and police uniforms to bypass checkpoints and gain access to heavily guarded bases.

The U.S. statement gave no other information on the attack, but Iraqi military officials said the gunman was a Sunni Muslim cleric assigned to an Iraqi army unit.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The attack could elevate worries about militant infiltration in Iraqi security forces as the U.S. military turns over more responsibilities in a phased withdrawal process before all American forces leave at the end of 2011.

In late February, two Iraqi police officers in Mosul opened fire on a visiting U.S. military team, killing one American soldier and an interpreter. The gunmen remain fugitives.

Iraqi Peshmerga battles for funds from Baghdad

Flu's True Severity Is Still Unknown

The following is from Washington Post:

Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 2, 2009

So is this new swine flu outbreak the next great plague, or just a global spasm of paranoia?

Are we seeing a pandemic or a panic?

The pathogen that has seized the world's attention has an official name (swine-origin influenza A H1N1), an acronym (S-OIV), a nickname (swine flu) and an apparent birthplace (Mexico). But the essential nature of the pathogen, its personality, its virulence, remain matters of frenetic investigation. Like all influenza viruses, it is mutating capriciously and, thus, is not a static and predictable public health threat but an evolving one.

The bug has gone global, having shown up in Asia yesterday with the first reported case in Hong Kong. It also popped up in Denmark, as well as in eight new U.S. states.

But there has been some flu-scare backlash, with some officials questioning whether schools are too quick to close their doors at the first hint of the virus.

The World Health Organization directly addressed the pandemic-versus-panic issue yesterday by cautioning the public against leaping to any conclusions about the virulence of the virus. It has yet to show lethality outside Mexico (the one person to die in the United States was a toddler who traveled from Mexico to Texas), though that doesn't mean it will remain a mild pathogen in the weeks and months to come, officials said.

Influenza is a simple virus, with just eight genes, but it makes poor copies of itself, leading to constant mutation. Most of those mutations are dead ends, but, given enough chances, the virus can become more infectious or more lethal. Although the United States is past its flu season, the Southern Hemisphere, where the virus has spread, is entering the cold months when influenza can become explosive.

Some positive news surfaced yesterday: Mexican scientists said the contagiousness of the swine flu is no greater than that of the seasonal flu that circulates every year. And a preliminary genetic analysis hasn't turned up any of the markers that scientists associate with the virulence of the 1918 "Spanish" influenza virus, said Nancy Cox, head of the flu lab of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 1918-19 pandemic has cast a long shadow over today's health emergency. That virus circled the world, eventually infecting nearly everyone and killing at least 50 million people.

Jeffery Taubenberger, the National Institutes of Health researcher who reconstructed the 1918 influenza virus, said he is growing the new swine flu virus in his lab.

"We're very early on in figuring out what makes this virus tick. I am loath to make predictions about what an influenza virus that mutates so rapidly will do," he said. But he believes it will spread across the planet: "My prediction is that this strain will continue to spread, and it is very likely to become a pandemic virus, if it's not already a pandemic now. That does not mean that this has to be a very severe pandemic like 1918."

Michael T. Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, said the situation is analogous to forecasting a hurricane when meteorologists know only that there is a high-low pressure gradient in the Atlantic. "Everyone in one week wants an answer as to what it will do. Anyone who gives you an answer right now, do not listen to them about anything else because you cannot trust them," Osterholm said.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl noted yesterday that the public may misunderstand the word "pandemic." The term refers to where an illness spreads, not its severity.

A major unknown is the swine flu virus's "case-fatality rate" -- the small fraction of infected people who die. For the 1918 influenza, it was 2 to 2.5 percent for the United States as a whole, but in military camps and on troop ships, the rate was a brutal 7 to 10 percent, and in some Inuit villages, it soared to 70 percent.

The other two flu pandemics of the 20th century, however, were far milder. The Asian influenza of 1957-58 had a fatality rate of 0.2-0.5, and the rate during the Hong Kong influenza of 1968-69 was even lower, about 0.1 percent, close to what it is for seasonal flu.

The case-fatality rate of the swine flu will become certain only when epidemiologists are able to track its behavior from the moment it arrives in a population -- a difficult task under the best circumstances, which the current circumstances in Mexico aren't. Physicians there first suspected something strange when a small number of young adults showed up in the hospital with severe pneumonia.

The question is how many other people contracted influenza but never got very sick. Researchers must draw blood from a sample of people in affected towns and cities to estimate how many people were infected and never knew it.

The early signs from the United States and a few European countries where the strain is spreading suggest it is not unusually dangerous, as there have been few deaths so far. If that continues to be true, then it may help explain the mysteriously high mortality in Mexico. It may be that Mexico already has had hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of cases -- all but the most serious hidden in the "noise" of background illness in a crowded population.

The fact that most people infected in other countries had recently been to Mexico -- or were in direct contact with someone who had been -- is indirect evidence that the country may have been experiencing a silent epidemic for months.

Regardless of how dangerous it proves to be, the new swine flu virus is almost certain to eventually infect every continent and country, although that may take years. Studies in the 1930s found that 97 percent of people born before 1920 had antibodies to the Spanish influenza virus. That's evidence that virtually everyone alive in the three years it circulated -- 1918, 1919 and 1920 -- was at one point infected, even if they didn't know it.

A similar fate awaits any population exposed long enough to a new flu strain to which it has no immunity, experts believe.

GIMF:: As-Sahab - “6 Yrs Since the Invasion of Iraq & 30 Yrs Since the Signing of the Israeli Peace Accords”

This is the English translation of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s recent speech.

To download, click here.

Former US soldiers describe rape of Iraqi girl, killings

PADUCAH, Kentucky (AFP) – One of the five US soldiers who helped rape an Iraqi girl and kill her family told jurors Friday that he regrets what happened that day in March 2006.

This 2005 photo obtained from the US Army shows then Pfc. Steven ...
This 2005 photo obtained from the US Army shows then Pfc. Steven Green, preparing to blast a lock off the gate of an abandoned home during a search operation in Mullah Fayed, Iraq. One of the five US soldiers who helped rape an Iraqi girl and kill her family told jurors Friday that he regrets what happened that day in March 2006.

"I should have had more sense that that," James Barker testified, calling the crimes "barbaric" and saying his actions that day went against how he was raised.

Barker, now serving a 90-year-term in a military prison, was testifying at the civil trial of the atrocity's alleged ringleader.

Specialist Steven Dale Green is being tried in federal court in Kentucky because he was discharged from the army due to a "personality disorder" before his involvement in the crime came to light.

He could face the death penalty if convicted of raping 14-year-old Abeer al-Janabi and killing her father, mother and six year-old sister in Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad.

Barker told jurors how being stationed in the so-called "triangle of death," working at an insufficiently fortified traffic checkpoint and having to make daily sweeps for bombs, caused him to develop a hatred of Iraqis.

"They talk to you, they pretend to be your friend, and then they try to kill you the next day," he said.

Killing an Iraqi family was Green's idea, Barker testified, but he said that he was the one who came up with the idea of raping the Iraqi teenager.

Jurors also heard from former Specialist Paul Cortez, who is now serving a 100-year sentence for his involvement.

Cortez said he attempted to rape Abeer al-Janabi but could not get an erection. He said he then held her down while Barker raped her.

When he heard gunshots in the room next door, Cortez said he ran to the door and found the rest of the family had been killed.

He said Green told them "he killed them all and that all of them were dead."

Cortez said that Green then raped the girl, put a pillow over her face and fired three shots into her head with an AK-47. Her body was then burned.

Rest in Peace Sister Abeer al-Janabi

UN calls on Israel to end evictions

The following is from Al Jazeera:

The United Nations has called on Israel to stop evicting Palestinians and demolishing their homes in East Jerusalem.

A report of the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs, published on Friday, said an estimated 1,500 demolition orders were pending for homes built without a permit from Israel's Jerusalem municipality.

At least 9,000 Palestinians would be displaced in east Jerusalem's Silwan neighbourhood if the orders were implemented, the report said.

Under international law, Israel's claim to the neighbourhood itself is illegal because it is not recognised by world powers as part of the Israeli capital.

Housing crisis

The UN report also appealed to Israel to provide solutions to the housing crisis in the contested city.

Efforts by Nir Barkat, Jerusalem's Israeli mayor, to expand Jewish settlements on occupied land, have stoked tensions in the city.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, visiting Israel in March, said demolitions were "unhelpful".

In a response to the UN report, Barkat denied the allegations and disputed the facts, but agreed that there was a "planning crisis" in the city.

"This report is about the past, while Mayor Barkat is committed to the future and providing a better quality of life for all residents of Jerusalem," a statement from his office said.

The crisis "throughout all of Jerusalem ... affects Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike", the mayor said.

He said the issues at hand would soon be tackled comprehensively in the first "master plan for the city" to be drawn up in 50 years.

Jerusalem tension

At least 28 per cent of Palestinian homes were at risk because they were built in violation of Israeli zoning restrictions, the UN report said.

At least 60,000 Palestinians were therefore at risk of becoming homeless.

Many homes were located in areas zoned as "green areas" by the Jerusalem municipality. This included the Silwan area, where the municipality planned to demolish 88 Palestinian residential buildings to make way for an archaeological park.

Palestinians say the planned demolitions were aimed at forcing them out of East Jerusalem.

Israel considers Jerusalem to be its indivisible capital while Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem the capital of their future state.

If the demolition orders are carried out it would represent one of the largest forced evictions since Israel occupied mostly Arab East Jerusalem.

"Although the Israeli government has indicated that the houses being demolished did not have the necessary building permits, the fact is that Palestinians lack meaningful access to such permits," the UN Human Rights Commissioner said.

Only 13 per cent of annexed East Jerusalem land area was currently zoned by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian construction, the report said.

Most of that land is already overcrowded by existing construction projects, severely restricting the possibility of Palestinians obtaining a permit.

"Meanwhile, the growth in the number of new structures in Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank increased by 69 per cent in 2008, compared to 2007," it noted, citing figures from Peace Now, the Israeli rights group.

The Palestinian population of East Jerusalem, which was approximately 66,000 in 1967, is now about 250,000.

In addition, more than 195,000 Israelis live in Jewish developments - referred to as "neighbourhoods" by the Israelis and as "settlements" by the UN - in east Jerusalem.

Death verdict

Earlier this week, a Palestinian man was sentenced to death by hanging for selling land in the West Bank to Israelis.

Prosecutors at the Palestinian court in Hebron said on Wednesday the man had sold land that did not belong to him in the village of Beit Omar, a move regarded as treason by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the West Bank, said it remained to be seen whether Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, would sign the execution order.