— In a mostly agreeable joint press conference yesterday President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki differed on their approach to the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Obama stuck by his call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, while Maliki said he does not have “the right to ask a president to abdicate.”
— The death toll from the Syrian government’s 9-month-old crackdown on protesters has exceeded 5,000 people, according to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, and at least 300 children are among those killed.
— The House and Senate yesterday agreed on a $662 billion defense bill that requires military custody for al-Qaeda linked terror suspects and imposes new sanctions on Iran that target foreign financial transactions with Iran’s Central Bank.
— Lawmakers tried to ease White House concerns over the terrorist suspect detention provisions by providing “additional assurances” to reinforce the assertion that the language on detainees would not interfere with civilian interrogations and law enforcement.
— The defense bill also contains a measure that freezes $700 million in aid to Pakistan until it provides assurances it is working the prevent the spread of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the region.
— Maliki has “moved swiftly to consolidate power in advance of the American military withdrawal, offering a glimpse of how Iraq’s post-American identity may take shape, by rounding up hundreds of former Baath Party members and evicting Western companies from the heavily fortified Green Zone.”
— The Iraqi government’s ability to expand oil production and oversee large public spending are two important economic achievements but uncertainty surrounding Iraq’s debt position and failure to account for domestically generated oil continue to slow Iraq’s economy.
— Members of Tunisia’s interim parliament voted to elect Moncef Marzouki as president, a former dissident who was imprisoned and then exiled for opposing President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.