Iraq PM Warns Sunnis Could Be Shut from Power

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Suadad al-Salhy and Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority rejected a call for all-party talks on Wednesday, ignoring U.S. pressure for dialogue to resolve a sectarian crisis that has erupted since American forces left the country this week.

With fears mounting that the nation of 30 million might one day fragment in chaos in the absence of the U.S. troops who toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned Saddam’s fellow Sunnis they faced exclusion from power if they walked out on his ruling coalition.

The main Sunni-backed party, furious at terrorism charges leveled by the Shi’ite-run authorities against Iraq’s Sunni vice president on the day Americans left, rejected Maliki’s call for all-party talks in the coming days and vowed to try and unseat the prime minister in parliament, a move unlikely to succeed.

Having stuck by a decision to withdraw U.S. forces in 2011, a return of the kind of sectarian blood-letting that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis after Saddam fell could embarrass President Barack Obama as he campaigns for re-election.

Vice President Joe Biden called Maliki and the Sunni speaker of parliament on Tuesday to press for urgent talks among Iraq’s leaders. But there was little sign of a thaw on Wednesday, although it remained unclear how far the rhetoric reflected a real threat to the fragile coexistence of Sunnis with the majority Shi’ites and ethnic Kurds, both oppressed under Saddam.

Maliki, calling on the Kurds to hand over Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi who has taken refuge in their autonomous region, said he wanted Hashemi’s Sunni-backed Iraqiya block to end a boycott of parliament and of his year-old power-sharing government.

“But,” he warned, “If they insist, they are free to do so and they can withdraw permanently from the state and all its institutions.”

SUNNIS SLAM MALIKI

Iraqiya said it would not attend talks with Maliki, “since he represents the main reason for the crisis and the problem, and he is not a positive element for a solution.”

As well as Hashemi, who stands accused of running death squads based on televised confessions by men claiming to be his bodyguards, the other most senior Sunni politician, deputy prime minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, is also under fire from Maliki, who has asked parliament to remove Mutlaq from office.

Hashemi has dismissed the charges against him as a fabrication, a denial that has credibility in Washington, where one U.S. official said he believes the charges were unfounded.

The White House on Tuesday said it was “obviously concerned” about the arrest warrant issued for Hashemi. In his calls to Baghdad, Biden had “stressed the urgent need for the prime minister and the leaders of the other major blocs to meet and work through their differences together.”

Shi’ite leaders insist there is no political motive behind the case against Hashemi. But Sunnis, outnumbered about two to one by Shi’ites, see it as proof that Maliki, now freed of the trammels of U.S. occupation, is determined to tighten his personal grip on government and to marginalize the Sunnis.

In a system devised under U.S. occupation to divide power, Iraq has a Shi’ite prime minister with Sunni and Kurd deputies, a Kurdish president with Shi’ite and Sunni vice presidents, and a Sunni parliament speaker with Shi’ite and Kurd deputies.

Having long shunned the U.S.-backed institutions set up when Saddam’s decades of one-man rule ended, Sunni voters propelled Iraqiya into first place in a fragmented parliament last year. But Maliki was able to draw on other Shi’ite and Kurdish groups to build a coalition, in which Iraqiya eventually took part.

Tensions among the major groups has, however, hamstrung the government, leaving key posts such as that of defense and interior minister unfilled and obstructing legislation that could clarify rules for investing and exploiting Iraq’s vast oil and gas reserves.

Iraq sits astride a Sunni-Shi’ite faultline running through the Middle East, fuelling mutual accusations of foreign influence, whether from Shi’ite Iran to the north or from the Sunni-ruled Arab states to the south.

In an interview with Reuters, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, an ethnic Kurd, said that the country’s domestic schisms risked inviting more interference from outside:

“As long as your internal front is fragmented and not united … others who want to interfere will be encouraged,” he said. “That’s why it is very important to deal with this crisis as soon as possible.”

(Additional reporting by Serena Chaudry in Baghdad; Writing by Alastair Macdonald)

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U.S. Military Chapter in Iraq Draws to a Close

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick Markey

2011-12-14T234708Z_1_BTRE7BD1U3200_RTROPTP_3_NEWS-US-IRAQ-WITHDRAWAL-WITNESS
The “Hands of Victory” memorial rises over an empty parade ground in the Green Zone of Baghdad December 14, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Nearly nine years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq ousted Saddam Hussein, American troops are pulling out and leaving behind a country still battling insurgents, political uncertainty and sectarian divisions.

Nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives in a war that began with a “Shock and Awe” campaign of missiles and bombs pounding Baghdad, but later descended into a bloody sectarian struggle between long-oppressed majority Shi’ites and their former Sunni masters.

Saddam is dead and the violence has ebbed, but the U.S. troop withdrawal leaves Iraq with a score of challenges from a stubborn insurgency and fragile politics to an oil-reliant economy plagued by power cuts and corruption.

Iraq’s neighbors will keep a close watch on how Baghdad will confront its problems without the buffer of a U.S. military presence, while a crisis in neighboring Syria threatens to upset the region’s sectarian and ethnic balance.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who made an election promise to bring troops home, told Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that Washington will remain a loyal partner after the last troops roll across the Kuwaiti border.

“The mission there was to establish an Iraq that could govern and secure itself and we’ve been able to do that,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told troops at a U.S. base in Djibouti this week.
“That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”

Iraq’s Shi’ite leadership presents the withdrawal as a new start for the country’s sovereignty, but many Iraqis question which direction the nation will take once U.S. troops leave – sectarian strife or domination by one sect over another?

Will al Qaeda return to sow terror in the cities? Will ongoing disputes between Kurds in their northern semi-autonomous enclave spill into conflict with the Iraqi Arab central government over disputed territories.

Violence has ebbed since the bloodier days of sectarian slaughter when suicide bombers and hit squads claimed hundreds of victims a day at times as the country descended into tit-for-tat killings between the Sunni and Shi’ite communities.

In 2006 alone, 17,800 Iraqi military and civilians were killed in violence.

Iraqi security forces are generally seen as capable of containing the remaining Sunni Islamist insurgency and the rival Shi’ite militias U.S. officials say are backed by Iran.
But for those enjoying a sense of sovereignty, security is still a major worry. Attacks now target local Iraqi government offices and security forces in an attempt show that the authorities are not in control.

“I am happy they are leaving. This is my country and they should leave,” said Samer Saad, a soccer coach. “But I am worried because we need to be safe. We are worried because all the militias will start to come back.”

SECTARIAN TENSIONS

The fall of Saddam opened the way for Iraq’s Shi’ite majority community to ascend to positions of power after decades of oppression under his Sunni-run Baath party. But nine years after the invasion Iraq remains a splintered country, worrying many that the days of sectarian slaughter are not over.

Even the political power-sharing in Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government is hamstrung by sectarian divides. The government at times seems paralyzed as parties split along sect lines, squabbling over every decision.

That has hampered economic development as infrastructure projects and key laws wait for approval. Iraq needs investment in almost all areas – the power grid still provides only a few hours of electricity a day.

Sunni Iraqis fear marginalization or even a creeping Shi’ite-led authoritarian rule under Maliki. A recent crackdown on former members of the Baath party has fueled those fears.

Sectarian divisions leave Iraq still vulnerable to meddling by neighbors trying to secure more influence, especially as Sunni-controlled Arab nations view any Iranian involvement as an attempt to control Iraq’s Shi’ite parties at the cost of Sunni communities.

Iraq’s Shi’ite leadership frets the crisis in neighboring Syria could eventually bring a hardline Sunni leadership to power in Damascus, worsening Iraq’s own sectarian tensions.

U.S. troops had acted as a buffer in another dispute between Kurds in Iraq’s semi-autonomous region and the Iraqi Arabs in the central government. Some fear the two regions could clash over oil and territory rights in disputed areas.

“WAS IT WORTH IT?”

U.S. troops were supposed to stay on as part of a deal to train the Iraqi armed forces. Washington had asked Iraq for at least 3,000 troops to remain in the country. But talks over immunity from prosecution for American soldiers fell apart.

Memories of U.S. abuses, arrests and killings still haunt many Iraqis and the question of legal protection from prosecution looked too sensitive for Iraq’s political leadership to push through a splintered parliament.

At the height of the war, 170,000 American soldiers occupied more than 500 bases across the country. Now only two bases and 5,500 troops remain in the country. All will be home before the end of the year when a security pact expires.

Only around 150 U.S. soldiers will remain in Iraq after December 31 attached to the huge U.S. Embassy that sits near the Tigris River. Civilian contractors will take on the task of training Iraqi forces on U.S. military hardware.

Every day hundreds of trunks and troops trundle in convoys across the Kuwaiti border as U.S. troops end their mission.

“Was it worth it? I am sure it was. When we first came in here, the Iraqi people seemed like they were happy to see us,” said Sgt 1st Class Lon Bennish, packing up at a U.S. base and finishing the last of three deployments in Iraq.

“I hope we are leaving behind a country that says ‘Hey, we are better off now than we were before.’”

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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This Struggle Has Re-awakened Our Imagination

November 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Arundhati Roy

Text of a speech given by Arundhati Roy at the People’s University in Washington Square, NYC on 20 November, 2011.

india-arundhati-at-mike3Tuesday morning, the police cleared Zuccotti Park, but today the people are back.

The police should know that this protest is not a battle for territory. We’re not fighting for the right to occupy a park here or there. We are fighting for justice. Justice, not just for the people of the US, but for everybody.

What you have achieved since September 17th, when the Occupy movement began in the United States, is to introduce a new imagination, a new political language into the heart of empire. You have reintroduced the right to dream into a system that tried to turn everybody into zombies, mesmerized into equating mindless consumerism with happiness and fulfillment.

As a writer, let me tell you, this is an immense achievement. And I cannot thank you enough.

We were talking about justice. Today, as we speak, the army of the United States is waging a war of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. US drones are killing civilians in Pakistan and beyond. Tens of thousands of US troops and death squads are moving into Africa. If spending trillions of dollars of your money to administer occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan is not enough, a war against Iran is being talked up.

Ever since the Great Depression, the manufacture of weapons and the export of war have been key ways in which the United States has stimulated its economy. Just recently, under President Obama, the US made a $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia – moderate Muslims, right? It hopes to sell thousands of bunker busters to the UAE. It has sold $5 billion-worth of military aircraft to my country, India, which has more poor people than all the poorest countries of Africa put together. All these wars, from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Vietnam, Korea, Latin America, have claimed millions of lives — all of them fought to secure the “American way of life”.

Today, we know that the “American way of life” — the model that the rest of the world is meant to aspire towards — has resulted in 400 people owning the wealth of half of the population of the United States. It has meant thousands of people being turned out of their homes and their jobs while the US government bailed out banks and corporations — American International Group (AIG) alone was given $182 billion.

The Indian government worships US economic policy. As a result of 20 years of the free market economy, today, 100 of India’s richest people own assets worth one-quarter of the country’s GDP while more than 80% of the people live on less than 50 cents a day. Two hundred and fifty thousand farmers, driven into a spiral of debt death, have committed suicide. We call this progress, and now think of ourselves as a superpower. Like you, we are well-qualified. We have nuclear bombs and obscene inequality.

The good news is that people have had enough and are not going to take it any more. The Occupy movement has joined thousands of other resistance movements all over the world in which the poorest of people are standing up and stopping the richest corporations in their tracks.

Few of us dreamed that we would see you, the people of the United States on our side, trying to do this in the heart of Empire. I don’t know how to communicate the enormity of what this means.

They, the one percent, say that we don’t have demands” perhaps they don’t know, that our anger alone would be enough to destroy them. But here are some things — a few “pre-revolutionary” thoughts I had — for us to think about together:

We want to put a lid on this system that manufactures inequality. We want to put a cap on the unfettered accumulation of wealth and property by individuals as well as corporations. As “cap-ists” and “lid-ites”, we demand:

One, an end to cross-ownership in businesses. For example, weapons manufacturers cannot own TV stations; mining corporations cannot run newspapers; business houses cannot fund universities; drug companies cannot control public health funds.

Two, natural resources and essential infrastructure — water supply, electricity, health, and education — cannot be privatized.

Three, everybody must have the right to shelter, education and healthcare.

Four, the children of the rich cannot inherit their parents’ wealth.

This struggle has re-awakened our imagination. Somewhere along the way, capitalism reduced the idea of justice to mean just “human rights”, and the idea of dreaming of equality became blasphemous. We are not fighting to just tinker with reforming a system that needs to be replaced.

As a cap-ist and a lid-ite, I salute your struggle.

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Is Mideast Sleepwalking … into a War?

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

YOU may fool some people some of the time, counseled Abraham Lincoln, but not all the people all the time.

The earthy wisdom of the US president credited with uniting America and ending slavery has been repeatedly challenged by his own country. 

Seems you can’t just fool all the people all the time, you can get away with murder by lying through your teeth.

What happened in Iraq eight years ago appears all set to repeat itself as the Western powers gang up against Iran. And you thought the world has learned its lessons from the catastrophe of Iraq.

Savaged by the trillion dollar wars being waged by the US and its NATO allies, coupled with the open loot and corruption on the Wall Street, the world economy is battling for its life.  Look at the God-awful mess in Europe. Who would have thought a decade ago, or at the time of Western invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the rich European Union and its much-wanted euro would be faced with the calamity they are facing today? Even the “with-us-or-against-us” leader of the free world, who had persuaded himself he was on a divine mission to save Israel from its imagined enemies, seemed to have his share of doubts about the whole circus when he left the White House.

Of course, those weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was supposed to have piled up to attack the peace-loving, democratic state of Israel are yet to be found, not to mention the million plus Iraqis who have paid with their lives for the Oedipal insecurities of the most powerful man on the planet.

Yet here we are back once again sleepwalking, eyes wide shut, toward yet another calamitous showdown. It’s déjà vu all over again as the Goebbelsian propaganda machine bombards us with the characteristically disingenuous fiction masquerading as “facts” and “expert opinion” about the clear and present danger the world faces from Iran.

Just as the UN and its numerous experts were used to build the case against Iraq, IAEA’s services are being employed today to corner Tehran. In its latest report, the UN nuclear watchdog suggests Iran may have developed necessary know-how and expertise to build a nuclear weapon after receiving “critical support from foreign scientists.”

Since when has knowledge become a crime? In doing so, the IAEA has trashed its own findings and numerous reports by its experts presented over the past decade following endless visits to Iran’s nuclear sites, ruling out the possibility Tehran is working on the bomb — a fact corroborated by America’s own intelligence agencies in the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate.

The latest IAEA report is based on the “evidence” provided by a Russian scientist, who is supposed to have helped the Iranians in building the detonation system for nuclear weapons, and data found on a stolen laptop! Russia, which has helped Iran with its nuclear power program over the years, has dismissed the claim and IAEA report with utmost contempt. Tehran has, of course, rejected the IAEA report as being stage-managed by the West. Considering the US contributes 26 percent of the IAEA’s annual budget and has many US officials serving in senior positions, the Iranian claim is hardly exaggerated, especially after the Russian “nuclear weapons expert” has turned out to be a specialist in the production of nanodiamonds!

The IAEA, instead of enforcing Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty and confronting big powers on their hoards of nukes, is increasingly acting like a US government outfit. Unlike Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan, Iran is a signatory to the NPT and has allowed regular international inspections of its nuclear sites.

But we have been here before, haven’t we? In the run up to the Iraq invasion, many such experts were produced out of Uncle Sam’s hat.  From the fiction of Iraq sourcing uranium from Niger to Blair’s claim of Saddam being within the 45-minute striking distance of a WMD attack on the UK, the history of colonial deceptions is endless. And thanks to the blessings of Internet, every blatant lie and every piece of the charade that passes for international diplomacy in the run-up to the Iraq 2003 has been preserved for posterity. Just Google and see for yourself. The resemblance with Iran 2011 is uncanny.

The same saga of subterfuge and plotting continues against Iran, notwithstanding the historical irony that it was the US and Israel that had helped Tehran build its nuclear program in 1970s, in an attempt to check the Arabs. Indeed, Israel was supposed to supply Reza Shah Pahlavi with missiles and nuclear warheads. The program was abandoned in haste when the people power threw the Shah out in 1979, forcing him to seek refuge with the very Arabs he loved to hate. His old friends in the West had spurned him, just as they recently abandoned Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali and Qaddafi.  The Shah died a broken man in Cairo in 1980, only a year after the Revolution.

What cruel irony of history that today the same Arabs are being hammered into believing that the Islamist Iran, and not Israel and its powerful partisans with a large nuclear arsenal and a long history of aggression, is their worst enemy!

For eight long years, George W. Bush and the fellow crusaders obsessed over Tehran dreaming of doing an Iraq to Iran. Not because the long sanctioned Iran with its archaic weaponry and crippled economy was a threat to world peace but because Israel said so. Indeed, but for the “shock and awe” that the empire faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran might have been the third front in America’s war.  And the irony of ironies, the man who as a senator voted against the Iraq invasion eight years ago, is now parroting and reading from the same hymn sheet that his predecessor did. The script of the Middle East’s theater of the absurd remains unchanged; only dramatis personae have changed. As Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector who exposed his own government’s game on Iraq, puts it, it’s the same bull…. with a different president!

So as Israel steps up the beating of war drums on Iran with the politicians in the US competing with each other to woo the Zionists, can Obama afford to be left behind? So promising more “effective” sanctions against an already much punished country over the past 33 years, he thunders “all options are on the table,” reminding one of W’s rhetoric. So much for the audacity of hope!

The irony of it all may not be entirely lost on the Nobel laureate president. But with the reelection battle fast approaching and all Republican hopefuls, except Ron Paul and Herman Cain, promising to hit Tehran, how can Obama appear “weak on national security”? The rejection of the Palestinian state was part one of the strategy for the Jewish vote and money. An attack on Iran would seal the pact with the devil.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a commentator on the Middle East and South Asian affairs. Write him at aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

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Iraq’s Booming Funeral Market

May 13, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Afif Sarhan, IslamOnline.net

2010-05-11T080728Z_1227782277_GM1E65B18RJ01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-VIOLENCE

Residents carry a coffin of a victim who was killed in Monday’s bomb attack during a funeral in Basra, 420 km (260 miles) southeast of Baghdad, May 11, 2010. Bombers and gunmen officials linked to a battered but still lethal al Qaeda killed more than 100 people on Monday during a day-long wave of attacks on markets, a textile factory, checkpoints and other sites across Iraq.

REUTERS/Atef Hassan

BAGHDAD – With deadly attacks still claiming more lives in the war-torn country, the funeral market in Iraq has turned from a simple work into a booming business.
“Before US-led invasion, I had one ceremony to take care,” mourner Ali Abdel-Kareem al-Shuwafi, 48, told IslamOnline.net on Friday, October 30.

“But in the last four years, I had to hire 12 employees and other 15 who are used when we have many ceremonies to hold in the same day.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in violence plaguing Iraq since the US invaded the country in 2003 to topple the Saddam Hussein regime.

“Violence in Iraq changed my life. I know that it isn’t a nice sentence to say but it is the true,” said Shuwafi.

“The continuing killings in my country helped me become a wealthy man and able to give a very good life to my family who years ago were suffering with the need of everything.”

Before the US invasion, Shuwafi was hardly able to provide basics to his family.

But his life has totally changed after the US troops invaded the oil-rich country.

“I decided to open a shop in Baghdad two years ago which takes care of everything, the three days mourning process, the burying and other ceremonies asked by our clients,” he said.

Shuwafi had borrowed money from a friend of his to open his shop.

“After few months, I had enough to pay him back and open more two shops, one in Baghdad and one in Basra where my brother takes care,” he said.

“I know I’m successful today because of people suffering, however, I didn’t kill them and just made a way for families to be well supported in a so hard moment of their lives.

“The war changed my life for better but I sometimes I wish that things were like before and I would had been able to improve my living conditions under other ways offered by the government.”

Lucrative

Like Shuwafi, many mourning professionals have made a fortune from the deadly violence.

“There was periods where I had to refuse ceremonies because I didn’t have enough materials to organize it,” Kamal al-Jumeiri, a funeral business owner in Baghdad, told IOL.

“During 2006 and 2007 I was able to make enough money to send my family away to Jordan to protect them and I use to visit my kids and wife every three months.

“My family accuse me of taking advantage and making money from people who were victims but someone had to make it and I had enough conditions to offer my skills.”

Jumeiri recalls that he only owned two coffins to run his business before the US invasion.

“After violence in 2006, I had enough money to open two shops,” he said.

“By two trucks, I import supplies from outside with better quality, offer a proper burial with all stuff needed like chairs for the mourners, recorders, speakers, people to read Qur’anic verses, kitchen apparatus to cook food during the three days ceremony, generators, tents and other specific things that sometimes is asked by grieving families.”

According to Iraqi traditions, families rent tents for the three days of mourning and professional mourners to add emotions by crying while speaking verses of the Qur’an.

In addition, coffee, tea and cigarettes should be offered to visitors during the three days of mourning.

In the last day, food is cooked and offered to all people present, including poor people who usually get close to get free food.

“I moved from a simple mourning workers into a first-class business and most of my clients have wealthy living conditions and hire my work due to my excellent materials used,” said Jumeiri.

The booming funeral market is also sparking rivalry among mourning professionals.

“I suffered threats from other mourning professionals,” said Jumeiri.

“Many of them, not all, have organised gangs to prevent us from keeping work and leave all ceremonies to them but I insisted and have to pay a security guard to follow me.”

Prices for the funeral services have skyrocketed over the violence.

“I lost my father before invasion from heart disease and didn’t spend more than US $50 for all ceremony and coffin,” Haydar Muhammad Khalif, a government employee, told IOL.

“But two months ago, my uncle was killed and we had to pay US $300 for the same ceremony, without any changes.”

Coffins now cost about $80, from only $10 before the US invasion.

A complete ceremony would cost from $150 to $400, from only $60 before the invasion.

“Even to die in Iraq you have to have enough money or you will have to be buried without proper Iraqi Muslim traditions,” said Khalif.

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While You Were Sleeping

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

COV_iranFlag This week has seen a spurt of would-be terror plots that painfully highlights the reality that our world is still not as safe as it should be, despite the two wars still being waged against purported terrorist regimes. The most notable occurred in the heart of New York City as Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad has confessed to being the mastermind behind the car bomb that, luckily, did not explode in Times Square. Shahzad was just barely apprehended as he sat on an Emirates flight set for Dubai.

The tiny Gulf State of Kuwait also got its own dose of a potential terror-plot in the making when security personnel unraveled a tangled web of deceit within its own borders. A ‘sleeper cell’ network of spies, apparently working covertly for the Iranian government’s Revolutionary Guard, was exposed this past week much to the surprise of the denizens of the region. For weeks, local Kuwaiti newspapers have been reporting renewed ties between Kuwait and Iran as well as a couple of deals, like oil exports. By all appearances the sleeper cell was put into place to gather intelligence on primary Kuwaiti and American targets, in the event that America decided to take a preemptive military strike against Iran. Iranian President has always promised to lash out at any Gulf neighbor that allows its land to be used by the US and its allies in a show of force against Iran.

Kuwait’s security forces have arrested at least eleven high-ranking Kuwaiti citizens that worked in close proximity to both the interior and defense ministries as well as several Arab nationals whose nationalities have not been released. During the bust, Kuwaiti security personnel raided the home of one of the leaders of the sleeper cell and found a great deal of incriminating evidence including maps for sensitive targets in Kuwait, hi-tech gadgetry and an estimated $250,000 stockpile of cold hard cash. Key players within the sleeper cell have also revealed to Kuwait security forces that they were instructed to recruit new members from Kuwait that were sympathetic to the plight of Iranians.

It’s not surprising that Kuwait was chosen as a primary location for the Iranian sleeper cell to settle in unnoticed. There are several American army bases littered throughout the country and Kuwait is a key stopping point for American troops headed to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the strongest reason is most likely the friendship that Kuwait and America have built ever since the 1991 Desert Storm war, where America and its allies literally pulled Kuwait out of the clutches of the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Word out of Iran is that the whole fiasco is merely a chance for Kuwait to discredit the country. However, the evidence is strongly leaning towards the validity of the sleeper cell and the Iranian governments full knowledge of its existence. And according to the Kuwaiti government there are still at least seven more members of the sleeper cell who have not yet been apprehended. But what is most disturbing is that interrogations with the suspects are slowly revealing that the espionage stretches clean across the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) member states with several Gulf countries supposedly having an invisible sleeper cell operating from within. Leaders from the Arab world are expected to meet in the foreseeable future to join forces in combating Iranian spy rings.

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Why We Won’t Leave Afghanistan or Iraq

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Yes, We Could… Get Out!

By Tom Engelhardt

2010-05-05T120909Z_1306706484_GM1E6551JSJ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan man smiles after he received food aid in Kabul May 5, 2010. The Afghan Ministry of Defense distributed food aid such as wheat, cooking oil, sugar and beans to 220 poor families.        

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Yes, we could. No kidding. We really could withdraw our massive armies, now close to 200,000 troops combined, from Afghanistan and Iraq (and that’s not even counting our similarly large stealth army of private contractors, which helps keep the true size of our double occupations in the shadows). We could undoubtedly withdraw them all reasonably quickly and reasonably painlessly.

Not that you would know it from listening to the debates in Washington or catching the mainstream news. There, withdrawal, when discussed at all, seems like an undertaking beyond the waking imagination. In Iraq alone, all those bases to dismantle and millions of pieces of equipment to send home in a draw-down operation worthy of years of intensive effort, the sort of thing that makes the desperate British evacuation from Dunkirk in World War II look like a Sunday stroll in the park. And that’s only the technical side of the matter.

Then there’s the conviction that anything but a withdrawal that would make molasses in January look like the hare of Aesopian fable — at least two years in Iraq, five to ten in Afghanistan — would endanger the planet itself, or at least its most important country: us.

Without our eternally steadying hand, the Iraqis and Afghans, it’s taken for granted, would be lost. Without the help of U.S. forces, for example, would the Maliki government ever have been able to announce the death of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq? Not likely, whereas the U.S. has knocked off its leadership twice, first in 2006, and again, evidently, last week.

Of course, before our troops entered Baghdad in 2003 and the American occupation of that country began, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. But that’s a distant past not worth bringing up. And forget as well the fact that our invasions and wars have proven thunderously destructive, bringing chaos, misery, and death in their wake, and turning, for instance, the health care system of Iraq, once considered an advanced country in the Arab world, into a disaster zone(that — it goes without saying — only we Americans are now equipped to properly fix). Similarly, while regularly knocking off Afghan civilians at checkpoints on their roads and in their homes, at their celebrations and at work, we ignore the fact that our invasion and occupation opened the way for the transformation of Afghanistan into the first all-drug-crop agricultural nation and so the planet’s premier narco-nation. It’s not just that the country now has an almost total monopoly on growing opium poppies (hence heroin), but according to the latest U.N. report, it’s now cornering the hashish market as well. That’s diversification for you.

It’s a record to stand on and, evidently, to stay on, even to expand on. We’re like the famed guest who came to dinner, broke a leg, wouldn’t leave, and promptly took over the lives of the entire household. Only in our case, we arrived, broke someone else’s leg, and then insisted we had to stay and break many more legs, lest the world become a far more terrible place.

It’s known and accepted in Washington that, if we were to leave Afghanistan precipitously, the Taliban would take over, al-Qaeda would be back big time in no time, and then more of our giant buildings would obviously bite the dust. And yet, the longer we’ve stayed and the more we’ve surged, the more resurgent the Taliban has become, the more territory this minority insurgency has spread into. If we stay long enough, we may, in fact, create the majority insurgency we claim to fear.

It’s common wisdom in the U.S. that, before we pull our military out, Afghanistan, like Iraq, must be secured as a stable enough ally, as well as at least a fragile junior democracy, which consigns real departure to some distant horizon. And that sense of time may help explain the desire of U.S. officials to hinder Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attempts to negotiate with the Taliban and other rebel factions now. Washington, it seems, favors a “reconciliation process” that will last years and only begin after the U.S. military seizes the high ground on the battlefield.

The reality that dare not speak its name in Washington is this: no matter what might happen in an Afghanistan that lacked us — whether (as in the 1990s) the various factions there leaped for each other’s throats, or the Taliban established significant control, though (as in the 1990s) not over the whole country — the stakes for Americans would be minor in nature. Not that anyone of significance here would say such a thing.

Tell me, what kind of a stake could Americans really have in one of the most impoverished lands on the planet, about as distant from us as could be imagined, geographically, culturally, and religiously? Yet, as if to defy commonsense, we’ve been fighting there — by proxy and directly — on and off for 30 years now with no end in sight.

Most Americans evidently remain convinced that “safe haven” there was the key to al-Qaeda’s success, and that Afghanistan was the only place in which that organization could conceivably have planned 9/11, even though perfectly real planning also took place in Hamburg, Germany, which we neither bombed nor invaded.

In a future in which our surging armies actually succeeded in controlling Afghanistan and denying it to al-Qaeda, what about Somalia, Yemen, or, for that matter, England? It’s now conveniently forgotten that the first, nearly successful attempt to take down one of the World Trade Center towers in 1993 was planned in the wilds of New Jersey. Had the Bush administration been paying the slightest attention on September 10, 2001, or had reasonable precautions been taken, including locking the doors of airplane cockpits, 9/11 and so the invasion of Afghanistan would have been relegated to the far-fetched plot of some Tom Clancy novel.

Vietnam and Afghanistan

Have you noticed, by the way, that there’s always some obstacle in the path of withdrawal? Right now, in Iraq, it’s the aftermath of the March 7th election, hailed as proof that we brought democracy to the Middle East and so, whatever our missteps, did the right thing. As it happens, the election, as many predicted at the time, has led to a potentially explosive gridlock and has yet to come close to resulting in a new governing coalition. With violence on the rise, we’re told, the planned drawdown of American troops to the 50,000 level by August is imperiled. Already, the process, despite repeated assurances, seems to be proceeding slowly.

And yet, the thought that an American withdrawal should be held hostage to events among Iraqis all these years later, seems curious. There’s always some reason to hesitate — and it never has to do with us. Withdrawal would undoubtedly be far less of a brain-twister if Washington simply committed itself wholeheartedly to getting out, and if it stopped convincing itself that the presence of the U.S. military in distant lands was essential to a better world (and, of course, to a controlling position on planet Earth).

The annals of history are well stocked with countries which invaded and occupied other lands and then left, often ingloriously and under intense pressure. But they did it.

It’s worth remembering that, in 1975, when the South Vietnamese Army collapsed and we essentially fled the country, we abandoned staggering amounts of equipment there. Helicopters were pushed over the sides of aircraft carriers to make space; barrels of money were burned at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; military bases as large as anything we’ve built in Iraq or Afghanistan fell into North Vietnamese hands; and South Vietnamese allies were deserted in the panic of the moment. Nonetheless, when there was no choice, we got out. Not elegantly, not nicely, not thoughtfully, not helpfully, but out.

Keep in mind that, then too, disaster was predicted for the planet, should we withdraw precipitously — including rolling communist takeovers of country after country, the loss of “credibility” for the American superpower, and a murderous bloodbath in Vietnam itself. All were not only predicted by Washington’s Cassandras, but endlessly cited in the war years as reasons not to leave. And yet here was the shock that somehow never registered among all the so-called lessons of Vietnam: nothing of that sort happened afterwards.

Today, Vietnam is a reasonably prosperous land with friendly relations with its former enemy, the United States. After Vietnam, no other “dominos” fell and there was no bloodbath in that country. Of course, it could have been different — and elsewhere, sometimes, it has been. But even when local skies darken, the world doesn’t end.

And here’s the truth of the matter: the world won’t end, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in the United States, if we end our wars and withdraw. The sky won’t fall, even if the U.S. gets out reasonably quickly, even if subsequently blood is spilled and things don’t go well in either country.

We got our troops there remarkably quickly. We’re quite capable of removing them at a similar pace. We could, that is, leave. There are, undoubtedly, better and worse ways of doing this, ways that would further penalize the societies we’ve invaded, and ways that might be of some use to them, but either way we could go.

A Brief History of American Withdrawal

Of course, there’s a small problem here. All evidence indicates that Washington doesn’t want to withdraw — not really, not from either region. It has no interest in divesting itself of the global control-and-influence business, or of the military-power racket. That’s hardly surprising since we’re talking about a great imperial power and control (or at least imagined control) over the planet’s strategic oil lands.

And then there’s another factor to consider: habit. Over the decades, Washington has gotten used to staying. The U.S. has long been big on arriving, but not much for departure. After all, 65 years later, striking numbers of American forces are still garrisoning the two major defeated nations of World War II, Germany and Japan. We still have about three dozen military bases on the modest-sized Japanese island of Okinawa, and are at this very moment fighting tooth and nail, diplomatically speaking, not to be forced to abandon one of them. The Korean War was suspended in an armistice 57 years ago and, again, striking numbers of American troops still garrison South Korea.

Similarly, to skip a few decades, after the Serbian air campaign of the late 1990s, the U.S. built-up the enormous Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo with its seven-mile perimeter, and we’re still there. After Gulf War I, the U.S. either built or built up military bases and other facilities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, as well as the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. And it’s never stopped building up its facilities throughout the Gulf region. In this sense, leaving Iraq, to the extent we do, is not quite as significant a matter as sometimes imagined, strategically speaking. It’s not as if the U.S. military were taking off for Dubuque.

A history of American withdrawal would prove a brief book indeed. Other than Vietnam, the U.S. military withdrew from the Philippines under the pressure of “people power” (and a local volcano) in the early 1990s, and from Saudi Arabia, in part under the pressure of Osama bin Laden. In both countries, however, it has retained or regained a foothold in recent years. President Ronald Reagan pulled American troops out of Lebanon after a devastating 1983 suicide truck bombing of a Marines barracks there, and the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, functionally expelled the U.S. from Manta Air Base in 2008 when he refused to renew its lease. (“We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorian base,” he said slyly.) And there were a few places like the island of Grenada, invaded in 1983, that simply mattered too little to Washington to stay.

Unfortunately, whatever the administration, the urge to stay has seemed a constant. It’s evidently written into Washington’s DNA and embedded deep in domestic politics where sure-to-come “cut and run” charges and blame for “losing” Iraq or Afghanistan would cow any administration. Not surprisingly, when you look behind the main news stories in both Iraq and Afghanistan, you can see signs of the urge to stay everywhere.

In Iraq, while President Obama has committed himself to the withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2011, plenty of wiggle room remains. Already, the New York Times reports, General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in that country, is lobbying Washington to establish “an Office of Military Cooperation within the American Embassy in Baghdad to sustain the relationship after… Dec. 31, 2011.” (“We have to stay committed to this past 2011,” Odierno is quoted as saying. “I believe the administration knows that. I believe that they have to do that in order to see this through to the end. It’s important to recognize that just because U.S. soldiers leave, Iraq is not finished.”)

If you want a true gauge of American withdrawal, keep your eye on the mega-bases the Pentagon has built in Iraq since 2003, especially gigantic Balad Air Base (since the Iraqis will not, by the end of 2011, have a real air force of their own), and perhaps Camp Victory, the vast, ill-named U.S. base and command center abutting Baghdad International Airport on the outskirts of the capital. Keep an eye as well on the 104-acre U.S. embassy built along the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad. At present, it’s the largest “embassy” on the planet and represents something new in “diplomacy,” being essentially a military-base-cum-command-and-control-center for the region. It is clearly going nowhere, withdrawal or not.

In fact, recent reports indicate that in the near future “embassy” personnel, including police trainers, military officials connected to that Office of Coordination, spies, U.S. advisors attached to various Iraqi ministries, and the like, may be more than doubled from the present staggering staff level of 1,400 to 3,000 or above. (The embassy, by the way, has requested $1,875 billion for its operations in fiscal year 2011, and that was assuming a staffing level of only 1,400.) Realistically, as long as such an embassy remains at Ground Zero Iraq, we will not have withdrawn from that country.

Similarly, we have a giant U.S. embassy in Kabul (being expanded) and another mega-embassy being built in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. These are not, rest assured, signs of departure. Nor is the fact that in Afghanistan and Pakistan, everything war-connected seems to be surging, even if in ways often not noticed here. President Obama’s surge decision has been described largely in terms of those 30,000-odd extra troops he’s sending in, not in terms of the shadow army of 30,000 or more extra private contractors taking on various military roles (and dying off the books in striking numbers); nor the extra contingent of CIA types and the escalating drone war they are overseeing in the Pakistani tribal borderlands; nor the quiet doubling of Special Operations units assigned to hunt down the Taliban leadership; nor the extra State department officials for the “civilian surge”; nor, for instance, the special $10 million “pool” of funds that up to 120 U.S. Special Operations forces, already in those borderlands training the paramilitary Pakistani Frontier Corps, may soon have available to spend “winning hearts and minds.”

Perhaps it’s historically accurate to say that great powers generally leave home, head elsewhere armed to the teeth, and then experience the urge to stay. With our trillion-dollar-plus wars and yearly trillion-dollar-plus national-security budget, there’s a lot at stake in staying, and undoubtedly in fighting two, three, many Afghanistans (and Iraqs) in the years to come.

Sooner or later, we will leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s too late in the history of this planet to occupy them forever and a day. Better sooner.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”).

12-19

A Terrorist by Any Other Name

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jon Pahl

(April 16, 2010) – When is a terrorist not considered a terrorist? When the US media identifies him or her as a “Christian”. And when is a terrorist group not considered a terrorist group? When the US media calls it an “anti-government militia”.

Exceptionalism is alive and well when it comes to reporting on violence in the name of religion, as evidenced in the recent case of the Michigan-based Hutaree, a group that the media has labeled a militia following recent FBI raids that uncovered stockpiles of illegal weapons, and a plot to kill law enforcement officers and “levy war” against the United States.

The leader of the group, 45-year-old David Brian Stone, pulled no punches about who he was, coining the term “Hutaree” which his website translates as “Christian warrior” for his group. His motto is the biblical passage John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

The behavior of this group seems very similar to that of those termed terrorists by the media.

Yet Joshua Rhett Miller of Fox News described the Hutaree in a 29 March story as a “purportedly Christian-based militia group.” In a similar vein, Nick Bunkley and Charlie Savage of The New York Times identified Stone and the Hutaree somewhat apologetically as “apocalyptic Christian militants” in their 29 March report. This, despite the fact that the group not only stockpiled weapons and engaged in training identical to Al Qaeda’s modus operandi, but even planned improvised explosive devices based on those used by terrorists in Iraq.

In its “Times Topics” section, The New York Times positively contorts itself to avoid using the word “terrorist”. It describes the Hutaree as a “Michigan-based Christian militia group” and, mirroring the language of US Attorney General Eric Holder, as “anti-government extremists.”

Are we reserving the term “terrorist” only for Muslims these days? In coverage of stories like the thwarted plan to bomb synagogues in New York in May 2009 or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up a plane over Detroit, the mainstream media has no qualms about discussing “foiled terror plots.” Such a reservation stokes indiscriminate fear of Muslim “others”. It also constructs an implicit “us versus them” dualism between a broadly “Christian America” and an allegedly monolithic “Muslim world”, as American political scientist Samuel Huntington most notoriously opined in his “Clash of Civilisations” theory.

Religion is all too often seen as the root of terrorist violence, rather than as one of its most effective tools. As Scott Shane argued in the 4 April New York Times article “Dropping the word bomb”, we need a robust debate about what terms to use across cases. Journalists can help by practicing consistency, and by pointing out attempts to scapegoat one group and exempt another from the opprobrium associated with terms like “terrorist.”

Mainstream Christians like me cringe when a group like the Hutaree is identified as “Christian”. Perhaps this incident can help other Americans empathise with what close to 1.5 billion Muslims might have felt every time in the last few years they have heard the words “Muslim terrorists” or, far worse, “Islamic terrorists”.
A good rule to follow, for journalists and for all of us, might be to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.

And that means calling a terrorist – of whatever background – exactly that.

Jon Pahl (jpahl@ltsp.edu) is Professor of History of Christianity in North America at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, and author of Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence. This article first appeared in The Colorado Daily and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) www.commongroundnews.org

12-17

U.S. Soldier on 2007 Apache Attack: What I Saw

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kim Zetter Email Author , Wired Magazine

centcom-screenshot

Ethan McCord had just returned from dropping his children at school earlier this month, when he turned on the TV news to see grainy black-and-white video footage of a soldier running from a bombed-out van with a child in his arms. It was a scene that had played repeatedly in his mind the last three years, and he knew exactly who the soldier was.

In July 2007, McCord, a 33-year-old Army specialist, was engaged in a firefight with insurgents in an Iraqi suburb when his platoon, part of Bravo Company, 2-16 Infantry, got orders to investigate a nearby street. When they arrived, they found a scene of fresh carnage – the scattered remains of a group of men, believed to be armed, who had just been gunned down by Apache attack helicopters. They also found 10-year-old Sajad Mutashar and his five-year-old sister Doaha covered in blood in a van. Their 43-year-old father, Saleh, had been driving them to a class when he spotted one of the wounded men moving in the street and drove over to help him, only to become a victim of the Apache guns.

McCord was captured in a video shot from one helicopter as he ran frantically to a military vehicle with Sajad in his arms seeking medical care. That classified video created its own firestorm when the whistleblower site Wikileaks posted it April 5 on a website titled “Collateral Murder” and asserted that the attack was unprovoked. More than a dozen people were killed in three attacks captured in the video, including two Reuters journalists, one carrying a camera that was apparently mistaken for a weapon.

McCord, who served seven years in the military before leaving in the summer of 2009 due to injuries, recently posted an apologetic letter online with fellow soldier Josh Steiber supporting the release of the video and asking the family’s forgiveness. McCord is the father of three children.

Wired’s Kim Zetter reached McCord at his home in Kansas. This is his account of what he saw.

Wired.com: At the time you arrived on the scene, you didn’t know what had happened, is that right?

Ethan McCord: Right. We were engaged in our own conflict roughly about three or four blocks away. We heard the gunships open up. [Then] we were just told … to move to this [other] location. It was pretty much a shock when we got there to see what had happened, the carnage and everything else.

Wired.com: But you had been in combat before. It shouldn’t have surprised you what you saw.

McCord: I have never seen anybody being shot by a 30-millimeter round before. It didn’t seem real, in the sense that it didn’t look like human beings. They were destroyed.

Wired.com: Was anyone moving when you got there other than the two children?

McCord: There were approximately two to three other people who were moving who were still somewhat alive, and the medics were attending to them.

Wired.com: The first thing you saw was the little girl in the van. She had a stomach wound?

McCord: She had a stomach wound and she had glass in her eyes and in her hair. She was crying. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I went to the van immediately, because I could hear her crying. It wasn’t like a cry of pain really. It was more of a child who was frightened out of her mind. And the next thing I saw was the boy…. He was kind of sitting on the floorboard of the van, but with his head laying on the bench seat in the front. And then the father, who I’m assuming was the father, in the driver’s seat slumped over on his side. Just from looking into the van, and the amount of blood that was on the boy and the father, I immediately figured they were dead.

So, the first thing I did was grab the girl. I grabbed the medic and we went into the back. There’s houses behind where the van was. We took her in there and we’re checking to see if there were any other wounds. You can hear the medic saying on the video, “There’s nothing I can do here, she needs to be evac’d.” He runs the girl to the Bradley. I went back outside to the van, and that’s when the boy took, like, a labored, breath. That’s when I started screaming, “The boy’s alive! The boy’s alive!” And I picked him up and started running with him over to the Bradley. He opened his eyes when I was carrying him. I just kept telling him, “Don’t die; don’t die.” He looked at me, then his eyes rolled back into this head.

Then I got yelled at by my platoon leader that I needed to stop trying to save these mf’n kids and go pull security…. I was told to go pull security on a rooftop. When we were on that roof, we were still taking fire. There were some people taking pot shots, sniper shots, at us on the rooftop. We were probably there on the roof for another four to five hours.

Wired.com: How much sniper fire were you getting?

McCord: It was random sporadic spurts. I did see a guy … moving from a rooftop from one position to another with an AK-47, who was firing at us. He was shot and killed.

After the incident, we went back to the FOB [forward operating base] and that’s when I was in my room. I had blood all down the front of me from the children. I was trying to wash it off in my room. I was pretty distraught over the whole situation with the children. So I went to a sergeant and asked to see [the mental health person], because I was having a hard time dealing with it. I was called a pussy and that I needed to suck it up and a lot of other horrible things. I was also told that there would be repercussions if I was to go to mental health.

Wired.com: What did you understand that to mean?

McCord: I would be smoked. Smoked is basically like you’re doing pushups a lot, you’re doing sit-ups … crunches and flutter kicks. They’re smoking you, they’re making you tired. I was told that I needed to get the sand out of my vagina…. So I just sucked it up and tried to move on with everything.

I’ve lived with seeing the children that way since the incident happened. I’ve had nightmares. I was diagnosed with chronic, severe PTSD. [But] I was actually starting to get kind of better. … I wasn’t thinking about it as much. [Then I] took my children to school one day and I came home and sat down on the couch and turned on the TV with my coffee, and on the news I’m running across the screen with a child. The flood of emotions came back. I know the scene by heart; it’s burned into my head. I know the van, I know the faces of everybody that was there that day.

Wired.com: Did you try to get information about the two children after the shooting?

McCord: My platoon sergeant knew that I was having a hard time with it and that same night … he came into the room and he told me, hey, just so you know, both of the children survived, so you can suck it up now. I didn’t know if he was telling me that just to get me to shut up and to do my job or if he really found something out. I always questioned it in the back of my mind.

I did see a video on YouTube after the Wikileaks came out, of the children being interviewed. … When I saw their faces, I was relieved, but I was just heartbroken. I have a huge place in my heart for children, having some of my own. Knowing that I was part of the system that took their father away from them and made them lose their house … it’s heartbreaking. And that in turn is what helped me and Josh write the letter, hoping that it would find its way to them to let them know that we’re sorry. We’re sorry for the system that we were involved in that took their father’s life and injured them. If there’s anything I can to do help, I would be more than happy to.

Wired.com: Wikileaks presented the incident as though there was no engagement from insurgents. But you guys did have a firefight a couple of blocks away. Was it reasonable for the Apache soldiers to think that maybe the people they attacked were part of that insurgent firefight?

McCord: I doubt that they were a part of that firefight. However, when I did come up on the scene, there was an RPG as well as AK-47s there…. You just don’t walk around with an RPG in Iraq, especially three blocks away from a firefight…. Personally, I believe the first attack on the group standing by the wall was appropriate, was warranted by the rules of engagement. They did have weapons there. However, I don’t feel that the attack on the [rescue] van was necessary.

Now, as far as rules of engagement, [Iraqis] are not supposed to pick up the wounded. But they could have been easily deterred from doing what they were doing by just firing simply a few warning shots in the direction…. Instead, the Apaches decided to completely obliterate everybody in the van. That’s the hard part to swallow.

And where the soldier said [in the video], “Well, you shouldn’t take your kids to battle.” Well in all actuality, we brought the battle to your kids. There’s no front lines here. This is urban combat and we’re taking the war to children and women and innocents.

There were plenty of times in the past where other insurgents would come by and pick up the bodies, and then we’d have no evidence or anything to what happened, so in looking at it from the Apache’s point of view, they were thinking that [someone was] picking up the weapons and bodies; when, in hindsight, clearly they were picking up the wounded man. But you’re not supposed to do that in Iraq.

Wired.com: Civilians are supposed to know that they’re not supposed to pick up a wounded person crawling in the road?

McCord: Yeah. This is the problem that we’re speaking out on as far as the rules of engagement. How is this guy supposed to [decide] should I stop and pick them up, or is the military going to shoot me? If you or I saw someone wounded on the ground what is your first inkling? I’m going to help that person.

Wired.com: There was another attack depicted in the video that has received little attention, involving a Hellfire and a building that was fired on.

McCord: I wasn’t around that building when it happened. I was up on a rooftop at that time. However, I do know some soldiers went in to clear that building afterwards and there were some people with weapons in there, but there was also a family of four that was killed.

I think that a Hellfire missile is a little much to put into a building…. They’re trained as soldiers to go into a building and clear a building. I do know that there was a teenage girl [in there], just because I saw the pictures when I was there, that one of the soldiers took.

Wired.com: Have you heard from any other soldiers since the video came out?

McCord: I’ve spoken with one of the medics who was there. He’s no longer in the Army. When this video first came out, there was a lot of outrage by the soldiers, just because it depicted us as being callous, cruel, heartless people, and we’re not that way. The majority of us aren’t. And so he was pretty upset about the whole thing…. He kept saying, we were there, we know the truth, they’re saying there was no weapons, there was.

I’ve spoken with other soldiers who were there. Some of them [say] I don’t care what anybody says … they’re not there. … There’s also some soldiers who joke about it [as a] coping mechanism. They’re like, oh yeah, we’re the “collateral murder” company. I don’t think that [the] big picture is whether or not [the Iraqis who were killed] had weapons. I think that the bigger picture is what are we doing there? We’ve been there for so long now and it seems like nothing is being accomplished whatsoever, except for we’re making more people hate us.

Wired.com: Do you support Wikileaks in releasing this video?

McCord: When it was first released I don’t think it was done in the best manner that it could have been. They were stating that these people had no weapons whatsoever, that they were just carrying cameras. In the video, you can clearly see that they did have weapons … to the trained eye. You can make out in the video [someone] carrying an AK-47, swinging it down by his legs….

And as far as the way that the soldiers are speaking in the video, which is pretty callous and joking about what’s happened … that’s a coping mechanism. I’m guilty of it, too, myself. You joke about the situations and what’s happened to push away your true feelings of the matter.

There’s no easy way to kill somebody. You don’t just take somebody’s life and then go on about your business for the rest of the day. That stays with you. And cracking jokes is a way of pushing that stuff down. That’s why so many soldiers come back home and they’re no longer in the situations where they have other things to think about or other people to joke about what happened … and they explode.

I don’t say that Wikileaks did a bad thing, because they didn’t…. I think it is good that they’re putting this stuff out there. I don’t think that people really want to see this, though, because this is war…. It’s very disturbing.

Image: U.S. Central Command

12-17

Pak MP’s Refuse Body Scan

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Shah-Mehmood-Qureshi
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says he had raised the issue with US authorities during his recent visit to Washington.

Pakistani MPs abandon US visit over body scanning

Pakistani lawmakers belonging to different political parties have refused to visit the United States amid a row over body scanning at American airports.

A senior member of the Pakistani Parliament told Press TV on condition of anonymity that 18 lawmakers had rejected official invitation extended by the US embassy in Islamabad.

The lawmakers say they would not visit the US until their exemption from scanning at US airports.

Earlier this month, a six-member Pakistani parliamentary delegation, protesting full body scanning in Washington, cut short their official US visit immediately to return home.

The US state department had invited them to Washington to discuss security in the troubled tribal regions of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says he had raised the issue with US authorities during his recent visit to Washington.

The X-ray machines show naked images of passengers.

Under the new rules, citizens from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen must receive an extra check of their body and carry-on bags before boarding a plane.

12-15

Economist Tallies Rising Cost of Israel on US Taxpayers

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By David R. Francis, Christian Science Monitor

Since 1973, Israel has cost the United States about $1.6 trillion. If divided by today’s population, that is more than $5,700 per person.

This is an estimate by Thomas Stauffer, a consulting economist in Washington. For decades, his analyses of the Middle East scene have made him a frequent thorn in the side of the Israel lobby.

For the first time in many years, Mr. Stauffer has tallied the total cost to the US of its backing of Israel in its drawn-out, violent dispute with the Palestinians. So far, he figures, the bill adds up to more than twice the cost of the Vietnam War.

And now Israel wants more. In a meeting at the White House late last month, Israeli officials made a pitch for $4 billion in additional military aid to defray the rising costs of dealing with the intifada and suicide bombings. They also asked for more than $8 billion in loan guarantees to help the country’s recession-bound economy.

Considering Israel’s deep economic troubles, Stauffer doubts the Israel bonds covered by the loan guarantees will ever be repaid. The bonds are likely to be structured so they don’t pay interest until they reach maturity. If Stauffer is right, the US would end up paying both principal and interest, perhaps 10 years out.
Israel’s request could be part of a supplemental spending bill that’s likely to be passed early next year, perhaps wrapped in with the cost of a war with Iraq.

Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid. It is already due to get $2.04 billion in military assistance and $720 million in economic aid in fiscal 2003. It has been getting $3 billion a year for years.

Adjusting the official aid to 2001 dollars in purchasing power, Israel has been given $240 billion since 1973, Stauffer reckons. In addition, the US has given Egypt $117 billion and Jordan $22 billion in foreign aid in return for signing peace treaties with Israel.

“Consequently, politically, if not administratively, those outlays are part of the total package of support for Israel,” argues Stauffer in a lecture on the total costs of US Middle East policy, commissioned by the US Army War College, for a recent conference at the University of Maine.

These foreign-aid costs are well known. Many Americans would probably say it is money well spent to support a beleagured democracy of some strategic interest. But Stauffer wonders if Americans are aware of the full bill for supporting Israel since some costs, if not hidden, are little known.

One huge cost is not secret. It is the higher cost of oil and other economic damage to the US after Israel-Arab wars.

In 1973, for instance, Arab nations attacked Israel in an attempt to win back territories Israel had conquered in the 1967 war. President Nixon resupplied Israel with US arms, triggering the Arab oil embargo against the US.

That shortfall in oil deliveries kicked off a deep recession. The US lost $420 billion (in 2001 dollars) of output as a result, Stauffer calculates. And a boost in oil prices cost another $450 billion.

Afraid that Arab nations might use their oil clout again, the US set up a Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That has since cost, conservatively, $134 billion, Stauffer reckons.

Other US help includes:

• US Jewish charities and organizations have remitted grants or bought Israel bonds worth $50 billion to $60 billion. Though private in origin, the money is “a net drain” on the United States economy, says Stauffer.

• The US has already guaranteed $10 billion in commercial loans to Israel, and $600 million in “housing loans.” (See editor’s note below.) Stauffer expects the US Treasury to cover these.

• The US has given $2.5 billion to support Israel’s Lavi fighter and Arrow missile projects.

• Israel buys discounted, serviceable “excess” US military equipment. Stauffer says these discounts amount to “several billion dollars” over recent years.

• Israel uses roughly 40 percent of its $1.8 billion per year in military aid, ostensibly earmarked for purchase of US weapons, to buy Israeli-made hardware. It also has won the right to require the Defense Department or US defense contractors to buy Israeli-made equipment or subsystems, paying 50 to 60 cents on every defense dollar the US gives to Israel.

US help, financial and technical, has enabled Israel to become a major weapons supplier. Weapons make up almost half of Israel’s manufactured exports. US defense contractors often resent the buy-Israel requirements and the extra competition subsidized by US taxpayers.

• US policy and trade sanctions reduce US exports to the Middle East about $5 billion a year, costing 70,000 or so American jobs, Stauffer estimates. Not requiring Israel to use its US aid to buy American goods, as is usual in foreign aid, costs another 125,000 jobs.

• Israel has blocked some major US arms sales, such as F-15 fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia in the mid-1980s. That cost $40 billion over 10 years, says Stauffer.

Stauffer’s list will be controversial. He’s been assisted in this research by a number of mostly retired military or diplomatic officials who do not go public for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic if they criticize America’s policies toward Israel.

12-15

Negotiations with Taliban? (Part 1)

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–March 15th–Gautam Mukhopadhaya is a career diplomat in the Union of India’s Department of External Affairs (i.e., Foreign Service). He was their Ambassador Embassy to Kabul for the first time after the Taliban victory during the 1990s.  When, after the 200l American onslaught, the Indian federation deemed it safe enough to re-establish a presence in the Hindu Kush.  In many ways, New Delhi is more of a negative influence than a positive one in that area, for they have exacerbated the Indo-Pak rivalry as it was slowly cooling down.  Succinctly, your essayist sees New Delhi pulling a geopolitical pincher movement.  Rawalpindi has moved significant Divisions of their Army into new areas facing India’s Western frontier that previously Pakistan did not judge to be essential to their security.  This, curiously, has hurt the military their campaign in the Durand borderlands, for the Pak COAS (Commander of the Army Staff) has decided to move a significant numbers of his military to counter the new Indian concentrations.  Further, your author’s sources have informed him that there is a  very secret “War” being waged between the Pakistani ISI (Inner Services Intelligence) and the Indian RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) within Afghanistan itself destabilizing the efforts of foreign forces (NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and especially Washington).

Although (Indo-) Bharat is not an Islamic-majority country, it is the second most populous (“culturally”) Muslim land in the world.  Although he has a Hindu name, (Former) Ambassador Mukhopadhaya was raised in Calcutta, which is within the eastern (Indian) state of West Bengal, and borders the Islamic-majority nation of Bangladesh.  Slightly over a quarter of Indian (West) Bengalis are Muslims, which must have given him a great sensitivity for — and knowledge of — the Afghanistani Muslims, for he was the first Indian chief envoy to be appointed there after the fall of the Talibani State in 2002.

He made a notation which your reporter has heard from other knowledgeable people in field:  Iraq was/is a War of choice for the U.S.A. while Afghanistan is one of necessity.

Mukhopadhaya observed that President Barrick Obama of the United States of America is beginning the second year of his Afghan Policy.  Obama is now considering negotiations with the Taliban!  His Excellency America perceives Pakistan as aggravating the War in Afghanistan, for the District of Columbia (D.C.) perceives that the province Peshawar rules has not pursued the Taliban and Al-Qaida with the zeal for which they the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) hoped, (but the causality figures of Pakistani Army in the N.W.P. [the Northwest Provinces] belie the accuracy of his Excellency’s analysis.) 

The Obama Administration views not only the Pakistanis but the  Indians as “spoilers!”  Yet, whatever, the U.S. War effort entails, the assistance of Pakistan’s COAS, General Ashram Parvez (Kayani) and his staff, the North Americans with their European allies cannot do alone, for the regional nation-states are long-term stakeholders within their topography! 

12-15

Book Review: Rounded Up

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Rounded Up: Artificial Terrorists and Entrapment After 9/11
By Shamshad Ahmad, PhD
Troy Book Makers: 2009.
www.thetroybookmakers.com

Book Review by Karin Friedemann, MMNS

Yassin Aref, a Kurdish refugee from Iraq, was thrust into the media spotlight with claims that his name was allegedly discovered in an address book found in the pocket of a “terrorist” killed by US soldiers in Iraq. At the time, Aref was working as an imam at an Islamic center in Albany, NY. After it was exposed that the entire case against him was a fraud based on a mistranslation, the US government resorted to “secret evidence” to continue Aref’s prosecution.

“How can a trial be called fair if a defendant, or even a defendant’s attorney, cannot challenge the evidence of the accusation against him?” asks the author.

Step by step this book details the injustices suffered by Aref and the local community.

The legal atrocity starts when the FBI raided the mosque in the culmination of a sting operation. An accused felon serving as a cooperating witness hoped to avoid prosecution in return for fingering Aref and local pizzeria owner Mohammed Hossain as dangerous Islamic terrorists. Such sting operations have been part of a larger strategy on the part of the Neocon-corrupted FBI and DOJ to justify selective surveillance and prosecution of Muslim Americans. A show trial based on secret evidence ended with a guilty verdict and an extremely harsh sentence handed down in 2007.

Dr. Ahmad describes how improper prosecutorial psychological tactics, US government manipulation or miscategorization of the evidence, and judicial misconduct gave the false impression the defendant was involved with terrorism when the actual albeit false charges pertained to money laundering.

Meanwhile, many supportive community members, media journalists, and cartoonists actively demonstrated their belief in Aref’s innocence. These American patriots bridged the gap between immigrant Muslims and the local community in order to preserve the freedom of an innocent man and to save what is left of America’s political integrity.

This book is an extremely painful and frustrating journey through the perversion of US law enforcement, which smears innocent people as terrorists in order for the government to save face for its failure to catch any real terrorists in the post-9/11 era.

It is too bad that every falsely accused person doesn’t have a friend like Dr. Ahmad to tell his story step by step, point by point. It is my hope that the evidence presented in this book will help win Aref’s freedom in his ongoing legal battle.

Those interested in learning more about the life and travails of Yassin Aref may wish to also read his book “Son of Mountains,” available at http://www.yassinaref.com/.

12-14

Thousands Take to the Streets to Demand: U.S. out of Afghanistan and Iraq now…

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

On Saturday, thousands of people converged at the White House for the March 20 March on Washington—the largest anti-war demonstration since the announcement of the escalation of the Afghanistan war. By the time the march started at 2 p.m., the crowd had swelled up to 10,000 protesters.

Transportation to Washington, D.C., was organized from over 50 cities in 20 states. Demonstrators rallied and marched shoulder to shoulder to demand “U.S. Out of Iraq and Afghanistan Now,” “Free Palestine,” “Reparations for Haiti” and “No sanctions against Iran” as well as “Money for jobs, education and health care!”

Speakers at the Washington rally represented a broad cross section of the anti-war movement, including veterans and military families, labor, youth and students, immigrant right groups, and the Muslim and Arab American community.

Following the rally, a militant march led by veterans, active-duty service members and military families made its way through the streets of D.C. carrying coffins draped in Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani, Somali, Yemeni, Haitian and U.S. flags, among those of other countries, as a symbol of the human cost of war and occupation. Coffins were dropped off along the way at Halliburton, the Washington Post, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and other institutions connected to the war profiteering, propaganda, and human suffering. The final coffin drop-off was at the White House—the decision-making center of U.S. imperialism.

The demonstration received substantial media coverage. It was featured in a major story on page A3 on the Sunday Washington Post (click here to read it). An Associated Press article on the March on Washington was picked up by a large number of newspapers and media outlets in the United States and abroad.

Joint demonstrations in San Francisco and Los Angeles drew 5,000 protesters each.

In San Francisco, the demonstration included the participation of UNITE HERE Local 2 hotel workers, who are presently fighting for a contract; students, teachers and parents who have been organizing against education budget cutbacks; and community members and activists who have been engaged in a struggle to stop fare hikes and service cuts.

In Los Angeles, demonstrators marched through the streets of Hollywood carrying not only coffins but also large tombstones that read “R.I.P. Health care / Jobs / Public Education / Housing,” to draw attention to the economic war being waged against working-class people at home in order to fund the wars abroad. Essential social services are being slashed to pay for the largest defense budget in history.

The March 20 demonstrations mark a new phase for the anti-war movement. A new layer of activists joined these actions in large numbers, including numerous youth and students from multinational, working-class communities. A sharp connection was drawn between the wars abroad and the war against working people at home. Though smaller than the demonstrations of 2007, this mobilization was larger than the demonstration last year—the first major anti-war action under the Obama administration. The real-life experience of the past year has shown that what we need is not a change in the presidency, but a change in the system that thrives on war, militarism and profits.

These demonstrations were a success thanks to the committed work of thousands of organizers and volunteers around the country. They raised funds, spread the word through posters and flyers, organized buses and other transportation, and carried out all the work that was needed on the day of the demonstration. We took to the streets in force even as the government tried to silence us with tens of thousands of dollars in illegal fines for postering in Washington, D.C., and felony charges against activists for postering in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

We want to especially thank all those who made generous donations for this mobilization. Without those contributions, we could not have carried out this work.
March 20 was an important step forward for the anti-war movement. We must continue to build on this momentum in the months ahead. Your donation will help us recover much-needed funds that helped pay for this weekend’s successful demonstration, as well as prepare for the actions to come.

12-14

US Silencing Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Haymarket Books

Effectively canceling a planned speaking tour, the US consulate in the Netherlands has put an extended hold on the visa application of award-winning Palestinian journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer, scheduled to speak on conditions in Palestine, on 5 April in Chicago.

In 2008, Omer became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, for his firsthand reportage of life in the besieged Gaza Strip. As his prize citation explained, “Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless … Working alone in extremely difficult and often dangerous circumstances, [Omer has] reported unpalatable truths validated by powerful facts.”

Upon attempting to return to Gaza following his acceptance of the Gellhorn award in London, Omer was detained, interrogated and beaten by the Shin Bet Israeli security force for over 12 hours, and eventually hospitalized with cracked ribs and respiratory problems. He has since resided in the Netherlands and continues to undergo medical treatment there for his subsequent health problems.

The US consulate has now held his visa application for an extended period of time, effectively canceling a planned US speaking tour without the explanation that a denial would require. In recent years, numerous foreign scholars and experts have been subject to visa delays and denials that have prohibited them from speaking and teaching in the US — a process the American Civil Liberties Union describes as “Ideological Exclusion,” which they say violates Americans’ first amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the United States. Foreign nationals who have recently been denied visas include Fulbright scholar Marixa Lasso; respected South African scholar and vocal Iraq War critic Dr. Adam Habib; Iraqi doctor Riyadh Lafta, who disputed the official Iraqi civilian death numbers in the respected British medical journal The Lancet; and Oxford’s Tariq Ramadan, who has just received a visa to speak in the United States after more than five years of delays and denials.

Fellow Gellhorn recipient Dahr Jamail, expressed his disbelief at Omer’s visa hold. “Why would the US government, when we consider the premise that we have `free speech’ in this country, place on hold a visa for Mohammed Omer, or any other journalist planning to come to the United States to give talks about what they report on? This is a travesty, and the only redemption available for the US government in this situation is to issue Omer’s visa immediately, and with a deep apology.”

Omer was to visit Houston, Santa Fe and Chicago, where local publisher Haymarket Books was to host his Newberry Library event, “Reflections on Life and War in Gaza,” alongside a broad set of interfaith religious, community and political organizations.

Rather than cancel the meeting, organizers are calling on supporters to write letters and emails calling for the US consulate’s approval of Omer’s visa. They are also proceeding with the event as planned, via live satellite or skype, if necessary.

U.S. consulate information:

Ambassador Fay Hartog Levin
U.S. Embassy in The Hague
Lange Voorhout 102
2514 EJ
The Netherlands
T: +31 70 310-2209
F: +31 70 361-4688

ConsularAmster@state.gov

Background on Mohammed Omer:

Mohammed Omer was born and raised in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He maintains the website Rafah Today and is a correspondent for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. His home in Rafah was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while the family was inside, seriously injuring his mother. Yet, as Omer explained in an article he wrote upon winning the award, “My ambition was to get the truth out, not as pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli, but as an independent voice and witness.” His reportage features interviews with regular Palestinians in Gazan attempting to survive amidst bombing, home demolitions and the crippling economic blockade, which has created devastating shortages of electricity, water, fuel and other necessities for survival.

Omer was to visit Chicago to discuss, with Ali Abunimah, Chicago-based author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, his reportage, personal experience, and the struggle for Palestinian rights. If the delay on his visa continues, he will take part in the event via live satellite connection or Skype.

12-13

Final Destination Iran?

March 18, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Rob Edwards, The Herald (Scotland)

Hundreds of powerful US bunker-buster bombs are being shipped from California to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for a possible attack on Iran.

The Sunday Herald can reveal that the US government signed a contract in January to transport 10 ammunition containers to the island. According to a cargo manifest from the US navy, this included 387 Blu bombs used for blasting hardened or underground structures.

Experts say that they are being put in place for an assault on Irans controversial nuclear facilities. There has long been speculation that the US military is preparing for such an attack, should diplomacy fail to persuade Iran not to make nuclear weapons.

Although Diego Garcia is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, it is used by the US as a military base under an agreement made in 1971. The agreement led to 2,000 native islanders being forcibly evicted to the Seychelles and Mauritius.

The Sunday Herald reported in 2007 that stealth bomber hangers on the island were being equipped to take bunker-buster bombs.

Although the story was not confirmed at the time, the new evidence suggests that it was accurate.

Contract details for the shipment to Diego Garcia were posted on an international tenders website by the US navy.

A shipping company based in Florida, Superior Maritime Services, will be paid $699,500 to carry many thousands of military items from Concord, California, to Diego Garcia.

Crucially, the cargo includes 195 smart, guided, Blu-110 bombs and 192 massive 2000lb Blu-117 bombs.

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran, said Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London, co-author of a recent study on US preparations for an attack on Iran. US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours, he added.

The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel, Plesch argued.

The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely, he added. The US … is using its forces as part of an overall strategy of shaping Irans actions.

According to Ian Davis, director of the new independent thinktank, Nato Watch, the shipment to Diego Garcia is a major concern. We would urge the US to clarify its intentions for these weapons, and the Foreign Office to clarify its attitude to the use of Diego Garcia for an attack on Iran, he said.

For Alan Mackinnon, chair of Scottish CND, the revelation was extremely worrying. He stated: It is clear that the US government continues to beat the drums of war over Iran, most recently in the statements of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

It is depressingly similar to the rhetoric we heard prior to the war in Iraq in 2003.

The British Ministry of Defence has said in the past that the US government would need permission to use Diego Garcia for offensive action. It has already been used for strikes against Iraq during the 1991 and 2003 Gulf wars.

About 50 British military staff are stationed on the island, with more than 3,200 US personnel. Part of the Chagos Archipelago, it lies about 1,000 miles from the southern coasts of India and Sri Lanka, well placed for missions to Iran.

The US Department of Defence did not respond to a request for a comment.

12-12

Israel-Iran War Game Scenario Predicts Disaster:

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Translated by Didi Remez

Israel’s leading columnist, Nahum Barnea, published a column this week about an academic war game exercise conducted at Bar Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center Strategic Studies.  In a paper published last September, Prof. Moshe Vered considered under what conditions the two nations might enter a war, how long it might last and how it might end.  The results were alarming even to the Israeli intelligence community.  Here is how Barnea summarizes the research (thanks to Didi Remez for translating the article):

2010-03-17T153723Z_01_BTRE62G17EF00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-IRAN-NUCLEAR-CHINA

Workers move a fuels rod at the Fuel Manufacturing plant at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility 440 Km (273 miles) south of Tehran April 9, 2009.  

REUTERS/Caren Firouz 

“The war could be long,” Vered warns, “its length could be measured in years.”  The cost that the war will exact from Israel raises a question mark as to the decision to go to war.

The relatively light scenario speaks about an Israeli bombing, after which Iran will fire several volleys of surface-to-surface missiles at Israel.  Due to the limited number of missiles and their high cost, the war will end within a short time.  The missiles may run out, the study states, but the war will only be getting started.
“The means that may be most effective for the Iranians is war by proxies—Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas,” Vered writes.  “(There will be) ongoing and massive rocket fire (and in the Syrian case, also various types of Scud missiles), which will cover most of the area of the country, disrupt the course of everyday life and cause casualties and property damage.  The effect of such fire will greatly increase if the enemy fires chemical, biological or radiological ordnance… massive Iranian support, by money and weapons, will help the organizations continue the fire over a period of indeterminate length… due to the long-range of the rockets held by Hizbullah, Israel will have to occupy most of the territory of Lebanon, and hold the territory for a long time.  But then the IDF will enter a guerrilla war, a war the end of which is hard to predict, unless we evacuate the territory, and then the rocket fire will return…”

This is not all.  “Another possibility,” Vered writes, “is the activation of Iranian expeditionary forces that will be located in Syria as part of a defense pact between the two countries, or sending large amounts of infantry forces to participate in the war alongside Hizbullah or Syria.  Iran’s ability to do so will increase after the United States evacuates its troops from Iraq.  If the current tension between Turkey and Israel rises, Turkey may also permit, or turn a blind eye to, arms shipments and Iranian volunteers that will pass to Syria through its territory and airspace.  Israel will find it very difficult, politically and militarily, to intercept the passage of forces through Iraq or Turkey.  The participation of Iranian forces will make it very difficult for the IDF to occupy areas from which rockets are being fired.

“Along with these steps, Iran may launch a massive terror campaign against Israeli targets within Israel and abroad (diplomatic missions, El Al planes and more) and against Jewish targets.”

Iran will not attack immediately, Vered’s scenario states.  First it will launch intensive diplomatic activity, which could lead to an American embargo on spare parts to Israel.  Along with this, the Iranians will secretly move troops to Syria.  Israel will not attack the troops, for fear of international pressure.  The IDF will have to mobilize a large reserve force to defend the Golan Heights.  After the Iranians complete the buildup of their force, Hizbullah and Hamas will launch massive rocket fire against all population centers.  The IDF will try to occupy Lebanon and will engage in a guerrilla war with multiple casualties.  Hamas will renew the suicide bombings and Iran will target Israel’s sea and air routes by terrorism.  The Iranians will fire missiles at population centers in Israel, and will rebuild the nuclear facilities that were bombed, in such a way that will make it very difficult to bomb them again.

Vered bases his assessment mainly on the regime’s ideology and on the lessons of the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988.  He writes: “Half a million dead, a million wounded, two million refugees and displaced persons, economic damage estimated by the Iranian government at about $1-trillion—more than twice the value of all Iranian oil production in 70 years of pumping oil—none of this was sufficient to persuade Iran to stop the war.  Only the fear of the regime’s fall led the leadership to accept the cease-fire.

“The ramifications are clear and harsh—like the war against Iraq, the war against Israel will also be perceived by the Iranians as a war intended to right a wrong and bring justice to the world by destroying the State of Israel.  Only a threat to the regime will be able to make the Iranian leadership stop.  It is difficult to see how Israel could create such a threat.”

The United States would be able to shorten the war if it were to join it alongside Israel.  Vered does not observe American willingness to do so.  He predicts the possibility of pressure in the opposite direction, by the US on Israel….

The military card

…The game is now approaching the critical stage, the “money time.”  Netanyahu and Barak are waving the military card.  “All the options are on the table,” they say, accompanying the sentence with a meaningful look.  There are Israelis, in uniform and civilian clothes, who take them seriously…

The following is perhaps the most important portion of this column since Barnea posits a startling theory to explain Bibi’s posturing and bellicosity concerning Iran.  If he is right then I would feel a whole lot more confident that war is not in the offing.  But if he is wrong…

I find it difficult to believe that Netanyahu will undertake such a weighty and dangerous decision.  It is more reasonable to assume that he and Barak are playing “hold me back.”  On the day they will be called upon to explain why Iran attained nuclear weapons, they will say, each on his own, what do you want from me, I prepared a daring, deadly, amazing operation, but they—the US administration, the top IDF brass, the forum of three, the forum of seven, the forum of ten—tripped me up.  They are to blame.

Netanyahu and Barak know: there is no military operation more successful, more perfect, than an operation that did not take place.

Netanyahu has upgraded Ahmadinejad to the dimensions of a Hitler.  Against Hitler, one fights to the last bunker.  This is what Churchill did, and Netanyahu wants so badly to be like Churchill.  His credibility—a sensitive issue—is on the table.  If he retreats, the voters will turn their back on him.  Where will he go?  In his distress, he may run forward.

Below, Barnea continues with his entirely reasonable, pragmatic and even cynical theories that the Israeli public neither believes, nor wants Bibi to go to war.  While he may be right, I’m afraid that many polls of Israeli opinion show a population resigned to confrontation and possible war. So who do you believe?

The fascinating side of this story is that very few Israelis would appear to believe their prime minister.  If they believed him, they would not run in a frenzy to buy apartments in the towers sprouting like mushrooms around the Kirya.  In the event that Iran should be bombed, the residents of the towers would be the first to get it.  If they believed [Netanyahu], the real estate prices in Tel Aviv would drop to a quarter of their current value, and long lines of people applying for passports would extend outside the foreign embassies.  What do the Israelis know about Netanyahu that Ahmadinejad does not know, what is it that they know.
Of course, this eminently reasonable interpretation omits the fact that many other pragmatic Israeli leaders, equally cynical in their way, have been sucked into disastrous wars for far less reason.  Most recently Ehud Olmert in Lebanon and Gaza.  Menachem Begin in Lebanon.  Do we really believe that even if he doesn’t mean to go to war that something could not suck him into it against his better judgment?  History is full of examples of precisely such things, World War I being perhaps the foremost example.

Returning to Vered’s war game, there will be Iran haters in Israel who read this who pooh-pooh this scenario claiming it overstates the negatives and overlooks Israel’s prowess and past success in similar ventures like Osirak and the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor.  But I say if even 1/10 of the complications Vered outlines happen, that disaster may be in the offing for Israel.  Israelis tend to have a “can do” attitude towards wars with their Arab neighbors.  As such, they often overestimate themselves and underestimate their adversary.  Iran, once provoked, will make a much more formidable adversary than most Israelis imagine.  Israelis should remember, but won’t, that the IDF is no longer the vaunted invincible force it was after the 1967 War.  It cannot work miracles.  Think Lebanon, 2006.  Think Gaza, 2008.  To delude yourself that bombing Iranian nuclear plants will be a surgical operation with short-term consequences alone is beyond foolish.  That is why Vered’s exercise, no matter how accurate it turns out to be, is salient.

12-12

Iraq Awaits Election Results

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The first results of Iraq’s parliamentary elections are expected to be released on Wednesday, officials have said, in a vote seen as a test of democracy in the country.

But none of the political blocs contesting Sunday’s vote are expected to win a decisive victory, and talks to form a coalition could take months.

Figures showed that more than 60 per cent of eligible voters took part in Sunday’s elections, despite numerous attempts to disrupt the process.

The independent electoral commission, IHEC, said on Monday that roughly 11.7 million voters had cast their ballots on election day.

The 62.5 voter turnout did not include ballots cast by security forces and others in early voting or the 275,000 Iraqis voting abroad.

Hamdiyah al-Husseini, a senior official with IHEC, told reporters that turnout was particularly high in the country’s autonomous northern Kurdish region, with 80 percent of voters in Dohuk casting ballots.

Informal tallies showed prime minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition had polled well in Shia provinces while a secular, cross-sectarian bloc led by former premier Iyad Allawi appeared to be strong in Sunni areas of the north and west.

Sami al-Askari, a member of Maliki’s coalition, said his coalition took about 45 per cent of the vote in Baghdad, the capital, and would win about half the seats in the Shia holy city of Najaf. He added that it was running third in some northern areas behind Iraqiya and the Kurdish Alliance, he said.

“We will be the biggest bloc in the next parliament and according to the constitution we will be the bloc that will nominate the next prime minister,” he said. “But definitely we will need to ally with one or two other lists.”

Mike Hanna, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Baghdad, said the first preliminary results would be based on just 30 per cent of the votes and may not be that representable.

“The prime intention is to get a governing bloc within the parliament which has 50 per cent plus one seat, which would then enable that particular bloc to form a government and nominate a prime minister.”

Final results, certified by the supreme court after hearing appeals, were expected within about a month of the election.

More than 6,000 candidates from 86 political groups were competing for the 325 seats in parliament.

Despite tight security arrangements, the vote was marred by violence as a series of explosions left at least 38 people dead and 89 others wounded in the capital.

The bloodiest toll was from an explosion that destroyed a residential building in the Shaab district of northern Baghdad, killing 25 people and wounding at least eight more.

Source:     Al Jazeera and agencies

12-11

Is Israel Controlling Phony Terror News?

March 4, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

By Gordon Duff and Brian Jobert, www.opinion-maker.org

 

Who says Al Qaeda takes credit for a bombing? Rita Katz. Who gets us bin Laden tapes? Rita Katz. Who gets us pretty much all information telling us Muslims are bad? Rita Katz? Rita Katz is the Director of Site Intelligence, primary source for intelligence used by news services, Homeland Security, the FBI and CIA. What is her qualification? She served in the Israeli Defense Force. She has a college degree and most investigative journalists believe the Mossad “helps” her with her information. We find no evidence of any qualification whatsoever of any kind. A bartender has more intelligence gathering experience.

Nobody verifies her claims. SITE says Al Qaeda did it, it hits the papers. SITE says Israel didn’t do it, that hits the papers too. What does SITE really do? They check the internet for “information,” almost invariably information that Israel wants reported and it is sold as news, seen on American TV, reported in our papers and passed around the internet almost as though it were actually true. Amazing.

Do we know if the information reported comes from a teenager in Seattle or a terror cell in Jakarta? No, of course not, we don’t have a clue. Can you imagine buying information on Islamic terrorism from an Israeli whose father was executed as a spy by Arabs?

It is quite likely that everything you think you know about terror attacks such as the one in Detroit or whether Osama bin Laden is alive or dead comes from Rita Katz. Does she make it all up? We don’t know, nobody knows, nobody checks, they simply buy it, print it, say it comes from Site Intelligence and simply forget to tell us that this is, not only a highly biased organization but also an extremely amateur one also.

Is any of this her fault, Ritas? No. She is herself, selling her work. The blame is not Site Intelligence, it is the people who pass on the information under misleading circumstances.

Imagine if a paper carried a story like this:

Reports that Al Qaeda was responsible for bombing the mosque and train station were given to us by an Israeli woman who says she found it on the internet.

This is fair. Everyone should be able to earn a living and information that comes from Israel could be without bias but the chances aren’t very good. In fact, any news organization, and most use this service, that fails to indicate that the sources they use are “rumored” to be a foreign intelligence service with a long history of lying beyond human measure, is not to be taken seriously.

Can we prove that SITE Intelligence is the Mossad? No. Would a reasonable person assume it is? Yes.

Would a reasonable person believe anything from this source involving Islam or the Middle East? No, they would not.

SITE’s primary claim to fame other than bin Laden videos with odd technical faults is their close relationship with Blackwater. Blackwater has found site useful. Blackwater no longer exists as they had to change their name because of utter lack of credibility.

What can be learned by examining where our news comes from? Perhaps we could start being realistic and begin seeing much of our own news and the childish propaganda it really is.

Propaganda does two things:

1. It makes up phony reasons to justify acts of barbaric cruelty or insane greed.

2. It blames people for things they didn’t do because the people doing the blaming really did it themselves. We call these things “false flag/USS Liberty” incidents.

Next time you see dancing Palestinians and someone tells you they are celebrating a terror attack, it is more likely they are attending a birthday party. This is what we have learned, perhaps this is what we had best remember.

From an AFP article on Site Intelligence:

Rita Katz and S.I.T.E. are set to release yet another “aL-Qaeda” tape

WASHINGTON (AFP) The head of the Al-Qaeda network Osama bin Laden is expected to release a taped message on Iraq, a group monitoring extremist online forums said Thursday. The 56-minute tape by the hunted militant is addressed to Iraq and an extremist organization based there, the Islamic State of Iraq, said the US-based SITE monitoring institute, citing announcements on “jihadist forums.”

It said the release was “impending” but did not say whether the message was an audio or video tape. Despite a massive manhunt and a 25-million-dollar bounty on his head, he has evaded capture and has regularly taunted the United States and its allies through warnings issued on video and audio cassettes.

Source: ME Times

Yes, despite a massive manhunt by the world’s intelligence agencies, BL seems to evade their combined efforts, staying on the run. But he still has time to drop into his recording studio and cook up a fresh tape for the likes of Rita Katz and her outfit called S.I.T.E. SITE is staffed by TWO people, Katz and a Josh Devon.

Yet these two individuals manage to do what the ENTIRE combined assets of the world’s Western intelligence can’t:

Be the first to obtain fresh video and audio tapes from Al-Qaeda with Bin Laden making threats and issuing various other comments. If BL appears a bit “stiff” in the latest release, that’s because he is real stiff, as in dead.

How is it that a Jewish owned group like S.I.T.E. can outperform the world’s best and brightest in the intelligence field and be the first to know that a group like al-Qaeda is getting ready to release another tape?

How is it possible that Rita Katz and S.I.T.E. can work this magic? Maybe looking at Katz’s background will help:

Rita Katz is Director and co-founder of the SITE Institute. Born in Iraq, her father was tried and executed as an Israeli spy, whereupon her family moved to Israel [the move has been described as both an escape and an emigration in different sources]. She received a degree from the Middle Eastern Studies program at Tel Aviv University, and is fluent in Hebrew and Arabic. She emigrated to the US in 1997.

Katz was called as a witness in the trial, but the government didn’t claim she was a terrorism expert. During the trial it was discovered that Katz herself had worked in violation of her visa agreement when she first arrived in America in 1997.

She also admitted to receiving more than $130,000 for her work as an FBI consultant on the case.

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Saudi-India Ties: “A New Era of Strategic Partnership”

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2010-03-01T142216Z_1695035870_GM1E6311LXT01_RTRMADP_3_SAUDI

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) stands next to his wife Gursharan Kaur as he is given a King Saud University sash during a visit to the university in Riyadh March 1, 2010.

REUTERS/Stringer

NEW DELHI:  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described his three-day visit to Saudi Arabia as “very productive and fruitful” (February 27 to March 1). The highlight of his visit was inking of “Riyadh Declaration: A New Era of Strategic Partnership,” by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Indian Prime Minister. The declaration signed on February 28, states that the two leaders held “in depth discussions on a wide range of issues in an atmosphere of utmost warmth, cordiality, friendship and transparency.” They agreed that Saudi King’s India-visit in 2006, during which the Delhi Declaration was signed (January 27, 2006), and Singh’s “current” visit “heralded a new era in Saudi-India relations” “in keeping with changing realities and unfolding opportunities of the 21st century.”

In addition to laying stress on strengthening of bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia, the declaration highlights the crucial global issues discussed by the two leaders. They “noted that tolerance, religious harmony and brotherhood, irrespective of faith or ethnic background, were part of the principles and values of both countries.” Condemning terrorism, extremism and violence, they affirmed that “it is global and threatens all societies and is not linked to any race, color or belief.” “The international community must,” according to the declaration, “resolutely combat terrorism.”

With the peace process in Middle East high on their agenda, the two leaders “expressed hope for early resumption of the peace process,” “within a definite timeframe leading to establishment of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestinian State in accordance with the two-state solution.” They “emphasized” in the declaration that “continued building of settlements by Israel constitutes a fundamental stumbling block for the peace process.”

The declaration strongly signals their being against nuclear weapons while they favor peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The two leaders “emphasized the importance of regional and international efforts” directed towards making “Middle East and Gulf Region free of all nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction,” according to the declaration. They “reiterated their support” to “resolve issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program peacefully through dialogue and called for continuation of these efforts.” They “encouraged Iran to respond” to these efforts to “remove doubts about its nuclear program, especially as these ensure the right of Iran and other countries to peaceful uses if nuclear energy” in keeping with procedures of International Atomic Energy Agency, the declaration states.

The situation in Afghanistan and Iraq also figured in their discussions. They called for “preservation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and independence.” They “expressed hope” that forthcoming elections will help people of Iraq “realize their aspirations” by ensuring them security, stability, territorial integrity and national unity.

Though Indo-Pak relations are not mentioned in the Declaration, they figured prominently in discussions held between the two sides. While addressing the Saudi Parliament, Majlis-Al-Shura at Riyadh (March 1), Singh said: “India wishes to live in peace and friendship with its neighbors.” “We seek cooperative relations with Pakistan. Our objective is a permanent peace because we recognize that we are bound together by a shared future. If there is cooperation between India and Pakistan, vast opportunities will open up for trade, travel and development that will create prosperity in both countries and in South Asia as a whole. But to realize this vision, Pakistan must act decisively against terrorism. If Pakistan cooperates with India, there is no problem that we cannot solve and we can walk the extra mile to open a new chapter in relations between our two countries,” Singh stated.

During his interaction with media persons, to a question on whether Saudi Arabia can be “credible interlocutor” on some issues between India and Pakistan, Singh replied: “Well I know Saudi Arabia has close relations with Pakistan. I did discuss the Indo-Pak relations with His Majesty on a one-to-one basis. I explained to him the role that terrorism, aided, abetted and inspired by Pakistan is playing in our country. And I did not ask for him to do anything other than to use his good offices to persuade Pakistan to desist from this path.”

While addressing the Saudi Parliament, Singh highlighted importance Islam has for India. Describing Saudi Arabia as “the cradle of Islam and the land of the revelation of the Holy Quran,” Singh said: “Islam qualitatively changed the character and personality of the people in Arabia as it enriched the lives of millions of Indians who embraced this new faith.” Tracing their historical ties, he said: “It is said that during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, Indian pilgrims constituted the largest movement of people by sea. Indian Muslim scholars went to Mecca in order to learn Islamic theology. Arab Muslim scholars came to India to learn mathematics, science, astronomy and philosophy. These exchanges led to the widespread diffusion of knowledge in the sciences, arts, religion and philosophy.”

“Today, Islam is an integral part of India’s nationhood and ethos and of the rich tapestry of its culture. India has made significant contributions to all aspects of Islamic civilization. Centers of Islamic learning in India have made a seminal contribution to Islamic and Arabic studies. Our 160 million Muslims are contributing to our nation building efforts and have excelled in all walks of life. We are proud of our composite culture and of our tradition of different faiths and communities living together in harmony,” Singh said.

Undeniably, the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia symbolizes the two countries’ desire to strengthen their ties, “upgrade the quality” of their “relationship to that of a strategic partnership,” as stated by Singh. During his visit, Singh also paid special attention to highlight importance of Islam from the Indian perspective. Besides, the Riyadh declaration specifically condemns terrorism and states that it cannot be linked with any “belief.” In addition to strengthening ties with Saudi Arabia, Singh’s words suggest that he is hopeful of it setting the stage for improving relations with other Muslim countries; it will enhance his government’s image at home among the business community eyeing for more trade opportunities with the Arab world and gain his party greater support from Indian Muslims.

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