The crisis in Gaza continued on January 9, as Israeli aircraft struck more than 30 Hamas targets before dawn. Hamas militants responded by firing rockets against targets near southern Israel's largest cities, Beersheba and Ashkelon. During the two-week-old conflict that began with Israel's aerial bombardment of Gaza on December 27 — in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks on Israel — more than 750 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have been killed. The fighting ignored a United Nations Security Council resolution passed on January 8, calling for an immediate, durable, and fully respected cease-fire. The United States, which holds veto power on the Security Council, abstained from the vote on the resolution.
China is finally being forced to curb her appetite for U.S. government debt, according to the New York Times. China, which last September overtook Japan as the largest international holder of U.S. Treasuries, now holds more than $1 trillion in U.S. government debt. Its willingness to buy IOUs from the U.S. government is the major reason that the Fed's reckless creation of money out of thin air over the past several years has not resulted in hyperinflation at home. Newly printed money, in the form of government debt issues, can always be exported when there are willing purchasers overseas, and the removal of that money from circulation here at home helps buoy up the purchasing power of the dollar.
On January 1, the day after the UN mandate for foreign troops expired and the new Status of Forces security agreement between Iraq and the United States took effect, the U.S. military turned over security control of the Green Zone in central Baghdad to the Iraqi military. The Green Zone is a heavily fortified area of Baghdad containing many Iraqi government and foreign diplomatic structures. Under the new agreement, U.S. troops will withdraw from the streets of Iraqi towns and cities by June 30, and the remaining 150,000 will leave Iraq by December 31, 2011.
Israeli tanks and troops late Saturday on January 3 entered Gaza, escalating Israel's eight-day-old offensive against the Hamas terrorist organization that controls the narrow, 25-mile-long strip of land along the Mediterranean between southwest Israel and Egypt's Sinai peninsula. On December 27, Israeli F-16 fighters launched a series of airstrikes against targets in Gaza in retaliation for Hamas' rocket attacks against Israel that numbered over 3,000 in 2008.
The ongoing Israeli attacks on the Palestinian-occupied and controlled Gaza Strip have provoked indignation worldwide, as flare-ups in that corner of the globe usually do. The status of the Palestinian people is perhaps the most vexed problem in geopolitics, and has been since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Only five weeks away from the end of his presidency, President George Bush made surprise visits on December 14 and 15 to Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Bush's first stop in Iraq was the Iraqi presidential palace in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, where he participated in talks with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. During the talks, Bush said: "The work hasn't been easy but it's been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope and world peace." Talabani called Bush "a great friend for the Iraqi people, who helped us liberate our country."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, while flying on December 11 to a regional military base for international forces in Kandahar, Afghanistan, told reporters aboard his plane that the United States intends to send an additional 20,000 troops to Afghanistan over a 12- to 18-month period. The additional forces will increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 58,000. One extra U.S. brigade combat team of approximately 3,500 troops from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York, is already scheduled to deploy south of Kabul in January. Beyond those troops, Reuters news service quoted Gates as saying: “We’re going to try and get two additional brigade combat teams, in response to [U.S. General David McKiernan’s] request, into Afghanistan by summertime.” General McKiernan is NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan.
Sources within the British Ministry of Defence in London revealed on December 9 that British troops will start pulling out of Iraq in March and that by next summer only about 400 British personnel will remain there. Britain currently has 4,100 troops in Iraq, with most stationed at Basra airport, in southern Iraq. Basra, located just 34 miles from the Persian Gulf, is Iraq's main port and is situated amidst the nation's petroleum producing and refining facilities. A smaller number of British forces making up SAS (British Special Forces) anti-terrorism squadrons in Baghdad are expected to be transferred to Afghanistan to join 8,000 British troops currently engaged in the fight against the Taliban.
On December 1, the Indian government summoned Shahid Malik, Pakistan's high commissioner, to lodge a formal protest over the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. AFP, the French Press Agency, reported that Malik was handed a message concerning his country's alleged "failure to curb terrorism emanating from its soil." The Mumbai attacks left at least 188 dead and nearly 300 wounded. The attacks took place in several locations, including a railway station, a restaurant, a hospital, two hotels, and a Jewish center.
Three separate bomb blasts killed a total of 19 people in Baghdad during the Monday morning rush hour on November 24, with one attack killing 13 government employees on a bus on their way to work. In the worst of the three incidents, a so-called "sticky bomb" fastened to the side of a bus carrying a group of employees riding to their jobs at the Iraqi Trade Ministry exploded, causing a fire in which four men and nine women perished. Five other victims were treated at a local hospital.
Thousands of people gathered in Baghdad's Firdous Square on November 21 to protest against a pact letting U.S. forces stay in Iraq until 2011. The current UN mandate authorizing the U.S. troop presence expires on December 31. Under the proposed Status of Forces Agreement, U.S. troops will withdraw from the streets of Iraqi towns and cities by June 30, 2009, and the remaining 150,000 would leave Iraq by December 31, 2011.