Friday, February 01, 2008


Female Bombers Strike Markets in Baghdad

Feb 1 12:42 PM US/Eastern
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD (AP) - Remote-controlled explosives strapped to two mentally retarded women detonated in a coordinated attack on Baghdad pet bazaars Friday, police and Iraqi officials said, killing at least 73 people in the deadliest day since the U.S. sent 30,000 extra troops to the capital this spring.
The chief Iraqi military spokesman in Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Qassim al- Moussawi, claimed the female bombers had Down syndrome and that the explosives were detonated by remote control, indicating they may not having been willing attackers in what could be a new method by suspected Sunni insurgents to subvert stepped up security measures.

Bolstering that claim, local police said the woman in the first attack sold cream in the morning at the market and was known to locals as "the crazy lady."

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said the bombings showed that a resilient al-Qaida has "found a different, deadly way" to try to destabilize Iraq.

"There is nothing they won't do if they think it will work in creating carnage and the political fallout that comes from that," he told The Associated Press in an interview at the State Department.

The first attack Friday occurred at about 10:20 a.m. in the central al-Ghazl market. The weekly bazaar has been bombed several times since the war started but recently had re-emerged as a popular place to shop and stroll as Baghdad security improved and a Friday ban on driving was lifted.

Four police and hospital officials said at least 46 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. Firefighters scooped up debris scattered among pools of blood, clothing and pigeon carcasses.

About 20 minutes later, a second female suicide bomber struck a bird market in a predominantly Shiite area in southeastern Baghdad. That blast killed as many as 27 people and wounded 67, according to police and hospital officials.

The attacks were the latest in a series of violent incidents that have been chipping away at Iraqi confidence in the permanence of recent security gains.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said about 70 people were killed in both attacks, which he said were committed by terrorists motivated by revenge and "to show that they are still able to stop the march of history and of our people toward reconciliation."

Police initially said the bomb at al-Ghazl market was hidden in a box of birds but determined it was a suicide attack after finding the woman's head, an officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

One pigeon vendor said the market had been particularly busy because it was a pleasantly crisp and clear winter day after a recent cold spell.

"I have been going to the pet market with my friend every Friday, selling and buying pigeons," said Ali Ahmed, who was hit by shrapnel in his legs and chest. "It was nice weather today and the market was so crowded."

He said he was worried about his friend, Zaki, who disappeared after the blast about 40 yards away.

"I just remember the horrible scene of the bodies of dead and wounded people mixed with the blood of animals and birds, then I found myself lying in a hospital bed," Ali said.

Navy Cmdr. Scott Rye, a U.S. military spokesman, gave lower casualty figures, saying seven were killed and 23 wounded in the first bombing, and 20 killed and 30 wounded in the second.

He confirmed both attacks were carried out by women wearing explosives vests and said the attacks appeared to be coordinated and likely the work of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Associated Press records show that since the start of the war at least 151 people have been killed in at least 17 attacks or attempted attacks by female suicide bombers, including today's bombings.

The most recent was on Jan. 16 when a female suicide bomber detonated her explosives as Shiites were preparing for a ceremony marking the holiday of Ashoura in a Shiite village near the Diyala provincial capital of Baqouba.

Involving women in fighting violates cultural taboos in Iraq, but the U.S. military has warned that al-Qaida in Iraq is recruiting females and youths to stage suicide attacks because militants are increasingly desperate to thwart stepped-up security measures.

Women in Iraq often wear a black Islamic robe known as an abaya and can avoid thorough searches at checkpoints because men are not allowed to search them and there's a dearth of female guards.

Many teenage boys were among the casualties in the al-Ghazl bombing, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

A bomb hidden in a box of small birds also exploded at the al-Ghazl market in late November, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens. The U.S. military blamed the November attack on Iranian-backed Shiite militants, saying they had hoped al-Qaida in Iraq would be held responsible for the attack so Iraqis would turn to them for protection.

The U.S. military has been unable to stop the suicide bombings despite a steep drop in violence in the past six months, but the explosions on Friday were the deadliest in the capital since Aug. 1, when some 70 people were killed in three attacks, including 50 in a fuel truck explosion in Baghdad.

Rae Muhsin, the 21-year-old owner of a cell phone store, said he was walking toward the New Baghdad bird market in southeastern Baghdad when the blast occurred, shattering the windows of nearby stores.

"I ran toward the bird market and saw charred pieces of flesh, small spots of blood and several damaged cars," Muhsin said, adding he will no longer visit the Friday market. "I thought that we had achieved real security in Baghdad, but it turned that we were wrong."

The number of Iraqi civilians and security forces killed in January fell to at least 599, an Associated Press tally showed, the lowest monthly death toll since December 2005, and continuing a downward trend since the fall. The figure as tabulated by Iraqi officials in the ministries of Defense, Interior and Health was slightly lower, at 543.

U.S. forces, meanwhile, have expanded offensives in central and northern Iraq, seeking to build on gains against al-Qaida in Iraq in the past year. But the latest campaigns also have driven up the military's death toll after months of decline.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday—one by a roadside bomb in Baghdad and another by a rocket or mortar attack on a convoy support center south of the capital, the military reported.

The attacks raised to at least 39 the number of U.S. troops who died in January—well above the 23 in December but still sharply lower than a year ago. In January last year, 83 soldiers were killed in Iraq.


Associated Press writers Hamid Ahmed and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Parents battle over life of brain-damaged daughter
Lauren Richardson, 23, has been in a persistent vegetative state since taking an overdose of heroin in August 2006

By SEAN O'SULLIVAN, The News Journal
Posted Thursday, January 31, 2008

In a case with parallels to the 2005 uproar over Terri Schiavo, a Newark father is fighting a court order that could allow the removal of a feeding tube and end the life of his brain-damaged daughter.

"She's committed no crime and doesn't deserve to have this death imposed on her," said Randy Richardson, 52, on Wednesday.

According to court records, Lauren Marie Richardson, 23, is in a persistent vegetative state following a heroin overdose in August 2006. She was pregnant at the time and was kept alive at Christiana Hospital -- with feeding tubes and a breathing machine -- to allow her to give birth, which she successfully did in February 2007 to a healthy baby girl.

Late last week, a court awarded guardianship of Lauren Richardson to her mother, Edith Towers, who maintains her daughter did not wish to live this way and seeks to end artificial life support measures.

Randy Richardson has appealed a ruling by Delaware Court of Chancery Master Sam Glasscock III, putting any action on hold until the court's chancellor or a vice chancellor reviews the ruling, a process that will take at least three months.

Once that ruling is made, one side or the other may be able to appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court.

While the case is similar to the one involving Schiavo, legal experts said that matter did not set any precedents Delaware has to follow.

"That was a case about Florida law," said Drewry Fennell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware.

In the Schiavo case, her husband, Michael Schiavo, waged a seven-year legal battle to end life support for her, stating that she did not want to live by artificial means. Schiavo's parents opposed removing a feeding tube. A lower court and later the Florida Supreme Court sided with Michael Schiavo. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declined to intervene and in March 2005, the tube was removed. Terri Schiavo, 41, died 13 days later.

Lauren Richardson, a Glasgow High School graduate, did not leave a "living will" stating her desires in such a situation, or use a mechanism in the Delaware law called an Advanced Health Care Directive, a simple form a person can fill out to make their end-of-life wishes clear.

Randy Richardson acknowledges that the daughter he knew before her brain injury is gone. But, he said, she is still alive and responds to him. He said she has made progress since her overdose -- she no longer needs a ventilator to breathe -- and given more time and therapy that can continue. "We just want to give her a chance," he said, adding he is not talking about extreme measures.

He also said she should be kept alive for the sake of her 1-year-old daughter, and is concerned Towers, his ex-wife, has not allowed Lauren and her child to see each other.

On Wednesday, Richardson and the Delaware Pro-Life Coalition Inc. released a video of Lauren taken recently at The Arbors, a nursing home near New Castle, where she is receiving treatment. In the video, Lauren appears to respond and react to family members and a dog.

"There is no life support except ... a feeding tube," Richardson said, adding he has been told that with the proper therapy, his daughter could be taught to eat.

He said he would like to take her home and allow her to live out whatever is left of her life with dignity and not have it end in slow starvation with the removal of a feeding tube.

'A very private situation'

Lauren's mother declined comment through her attorney William A. Gonser Jr. beyond a brief statement on Wednesday: "This is a very painful, very sad and very private situation and both sides have suffered greatly."

In court, Towers argued that her daughter told her and others, at the time the Schiavo case was in the news, that she would not want to live that way.

According to court records, Towers recalled her daughter saying, "Don't ever leave me hooked up to life support. I would not want that. I think it is horrible. I think that I do not ever want to be kept on life support if the doctors say there's no hope."

Towers testified that she then promised her daughter she would not and made her do the same if she ever ended up in that situation.

An uncle also testified, according to the ruling, that in a separate conversation Lauren told him such an existence would be "gross" and she wouldn't want to live like that with others caring for her.

Richardson, who divorced from Towers when their daughter was young, disputes the accounts, saying Lauren was living with him at the time and expressed no such wish.

The court ruling indicates Lauren moved around among relatives.

Richardson said his former wife never mentioned his daughter's statements about life support and the Schiavo case before she filed for guardianship.

He also said his daughter made clear other end-of-life matters -- like her wish to be an organ donor -- but did not write a "living will" or state her opposition to life-support measures in her journals. Richardson also said his daughter had expressed anti-abortion sentiments, as in the case of her then-unborn daughter when she was encouraged to get an abortion.

Towers has temporary custody of Lauren's child, but Richardson said a second guardianship case is pending on that issue.

A difficult decision

In his Jan. 24 decision, Glasscock wrote that he believes both parents were fit to be Lauren's guardian and both love her and wish for what is best for her. However, he found that testimony presented by Lauren's mother was "clear and convincing" about her wishes and the evidence "presented by Lauren's father does not change this conclusion."

As for Lauren herself, Glasscock wrote, "All the medical evidence supplied by the physicians -- by the independent neurologist and by Lauren's own doctors -- is in agreement: Lauren is not in a coma but is in a persistent vegetative state. A large portion of her brain was destroyed by a lack of oxygen following a heroin overdose of August 2006. She is unable to communicate or experience consciousness. Her continued existence is dependent upon tube feeding and hydration. ... No improvement in her condition can be expected."

Richardson said he disagrees and, in addition to filing an appeal, reached out to several groups for assistance, including the Delaware Pro-Life Coalition, which organized a prayer vigil Wednesday outside The Arbors. About 25 people turned out, some carrying pictures of Lauren.

Richardson said the vigil was not protesting The Arbors, where he believes his daughter is being treated well.

Fennell, of the Delaware ACLU, said it is a sad situation for all involved but the system appears to be working the way it was intended.

Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed. Delaware is a state that does not require living wills or other written documents to allow for someone to be removed from life support, he said. It is among the states that allow verbal testimony from friends and family about what the patient would have wanted.

"There will be a scramble with each parent locking horns, trying to find friends and relatives who she said things to about this issue," he said.

Caplan said the ruling giving guardianship to the mother makes it tougher for the father to make his case.

"The burden will be on the father to prove the mother is not emotionally or psychologically qualified to act in the best interest of the daughter, and reflect her true values," he said.

Outside The Arbors on Wednesday, Richardson said he waited 17 months before saying anything publicly. "We didn't want to do this. It is not in my nature to speak to newspeople. ... But if I don't, who will? I love my daughter."

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