Shooting Erupts in Hama Before Arab Visit

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mariam Karouny

2011-12-24T130622Z_661044096_GM1E7CO1MID01_RTRMADP_3_SYRIA

Men pray next to the coffins of people killed at security sites on Friday in two car bomb attacks, at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus December 24,2011 in this handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency SANA. The United Nations expressed grave concern about twin suicide car bombings in Damascus and condemned the attacks that killed 44 people and lent a grim new face to the uprising in Syria.

REUTERS/Sana/Handout

BEIRUT (Reuters) – At least seven people were wounded on Wednesday in the Syrian city of Hama when security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse a protest against President Bashar al-Assad, just a day before a visit by Arab peace monitors, a rights group said.

Live pictures on al Jazeera television showed gunfire and black smoke rising above a street in Hama as dozens of protesters chanted: “Where are the Arab monitors?”

Arab League monitors checking if Syria is ending its violent crackdown on popular unrest are due to visit Hama on Thursday. In its footage, al Jazeera showed one man bleeding from the neck as others shouted in the background.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the protesters were heading towards Orontes square in the city centre for a sit-in at the symbolic location where demonstrations were crushed earlier this year.

Security forces were not visible in the Jazeera footage. Unarmed protesters, some masked, were heard shouting “Assad forces are shooting us.” The protesters then began chanting: “Freedom for ever” and “We will have our revenge on you Bashar.”

Reuters could not verify the details as Syria has banned most foreign media from the country.

Hama, 240 km (150 miles) north of Damascus, has particular resonance for Syrians. The city was the site of the biggest massacre in the country’s modern history.

Troops overran Hama in 1982 to put down the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which made its last stand there. Up to 30,000 people were killed, many of them killed in an army bombardment or executed in the streets by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad’s’ father, the late Hafez al-Assad. Parts of its old city were razed to the ground.

Twenty-nine years later Hama demonstrators demanding the overthrow of Bashar still revile the memory of his father, who died in 2000 after ruling Syria for three decades.

FREEDOM CALL

In the Jazeera footage, the protesters began cursing Hafez’s soul immediately after the gunfire was heard, before rushing to hide in alleyways.

A few looked out to shout a defiant freedom call before disappearing into hiding again. The shooting intensified, then one man shouted out that snipers were now operating in the area. Dozens of men squeezed themselves in an alley, chanting anti-Assad slogans.

“There is no turning back from the revolution,” they shouted.

Hama was among the hardest hit cities in an escalation of military attacks against urban centers where anti-Assad protests had been held.

In August, tanks attacked Hama for ten days, provoking Arab and Western outrage, after weeks of protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people to Orontes Square. Authorities said the operation was necessary to cleanse the city of “terrorists” according to the wishes of Hama inhabitants.

On Wednesday, part of an Arab League team went to a flashpoint area in the city of Homs but some of their planned tour was blocked when gunfire erupted, activists said.

Residents of Homs’s Baba Amr neighborhood initially refused to cooperate when the monitors arrived with an army escort and the team withdrew. But activists said a smaller group of monitors returned without the officer and were escorted by residents and activists on a tour of the turbulent district.

But the monitors could not enter an area where residents said they believed detainees were being hidden because gunfire erupted. It was not clear where the shooting came from.

“Residents were accompanying the team to the area to show them where they believe detainees are being held when suddenly there was gunfire near the checkpoint,” said Rami Abdelrahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Syrian Oppression: Taxonomy of a Revolution

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Omar Dahi

2011-08-03T134144Z_1051720454_GM1E7831OEQ01_RTRMADP_3_TURKEY

Demonstrators shout slogans as they protest against the government of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad outside the Syrian consulate in Istanbul, August 3, 2011. 

REUTERS/Osman Orsal

The Syrian regime is in big trouble. Absent an economic collapse, its downfall may not be imminent, but Most indicators lead to the conclusion that the regime is effectively done, and the only remaining questions are how bloody the transition will be and what type of Syria will emerge. On the domestic front, the social base of the regime is stagnant or shrinking. The regime immediately mobilized its entire social support structure to ‘million-man’ marches. Though many attending are government workers made to go (pro-regime marches are always on workdays), many of those attending do so willingly. However that mobilization has reached its limit: the regime has no new social base to draw on and mobilize. Most of those who willingly attend the “mnhibak” (literally: we love you) pro-regime rallies know very well that there will not be any violence otherwise they would stay home. On the other hand, the anti-regime demonstrations are steadily increasing, both in numbers and in geographic size. Three weeks ago roughly 1.2 million or 5.5% of the population demonstrated all over the country.

Economically, the country is in dire straits. The tourist industry has been decimated. The increased deficit spending, from raised salaries, support for fuels, lower import tariffs are large enough, without taking into account the spending on Army mobilization, and military and security personnel. Externally, the regime is getting more, not less isolated. Just yesterday, the Russian President warned his Syrian counterpart of a ‘sad fate’, unless reforms are implemented. It was given a long leash by the West to deal with the protests, but its main asset as a guarantor of ‘stability’ is now turning into a liability.

I traveled to Syria in July to observe first-hand what is taking place inside the country. Most of my time was spent in Damascus and its suburbs, with brief trips elsewhere, in particular a two day stint in Hama just days before the government’s massacre. What follows is a series of vignettes, hastily put together, of life inside Syria this past month. These stories represent my own understanding and readers should take all stories emerging from the country as a partial truth, but will hopefully help give a clearer picture of Syria in the midst of the revolution. I have left out the names and identifying details of many wonderful people who have helped me shape my views for obvious reasons. I am solely responsible for this article’s content.

Everyday life in Damascus

The first thing that strikes a traveler when entering Syria straight into Damascus in the past month is that life appears to be normal. This false sense of normalcy has allowed certain sectors of Damascenes to live in a fairy tale of ‘everything’s fine, it’ll be over soon’, something I heard repeatedly during my stay. There are signs of course that things are not quiet as they seem: there is increased security presence everywhere, especially the now infamous security buses which are used to herd arrested protestors to unknown destinations. From time to time cars or trucks full of pro-regime supporters tour the city carrying flags and shouting pro-Bashar slogans. The tourist industry has declined as mentioned earlier which means that many hotels, restaurants, and cafes which had become an important source of income and employment are almost empty. If Damascus had been relatively subdued in terms of protests, politics is on everyone’s minds and all taboo subjects, including what five months ago seemed unspeakable topics such as the regime’s downfall and direct criticism of the President are now commonplace. When entering an ongoing conversation one is immediately asked if s/he is pro- (muwalat) or anti-regime (mu’arada) (or in the derogatory terms booq (trumpet) or mundass (infiltrator).

When discussing the ongoing events with someone against the demonstrations (incidentally, very few people I spoke with identified as ‘pro-regime’, they preferred to say they are ‘with reform’ I will identify them in this article as against the revolts, the most neutral term I could find to describe their position). Conversations with those against the revolts can quickly descend into farce. Many I spoke with maintained that everyone who supports the revolution from outside the country is either a coward, a traitor, or does not genuinely care about Syria’s fate (this third category is where some people placed me, thankfully). As for those opposing the regime on the inside: Dar’a are a bunch of no-good smugglers, Hama is vindictive and full of hate, Homs are all extremist Salafis, the Northwest are separatist Kurds, and the Northeast are drug dealers, etc. The discussion then turns into a description of the atrocities committed by the protestors.

One typical story: “a women went to her neighbor’s house and asked them to stop protesting. When she turned around to leave, they shot her in the back. Somehow she didn’t die and was taken to the hospital. The neighbors then followed her to the hospital, kidnapped her, and cut her to pieces.” Depending on the source this story took place in ‘Arbin, Qatana, Dar’a, or Hama. The punch line was “and this is her own neighbors who did this. You see, these people are monsters, they don’t know what freedom means.” Regime violence is either denied or taken as a given (‘what do you expect, to insult them and be rewarded with flowers?’ or ‘this regime hasn’t done anything yet, if they really wanted to kill, they can do a lot more’). One reason that’s given for not opposing the regime is that this regime is lunatic and capable of mass murder and therefore it should not be pressured.

The more I talked with people who hold these views the more I realized that they genuinely believe them, with one slight caveat: many of these did not decide on their stand against the revolt based on the stories of criminal gangs, and Muslim extremists, and so forth. Just the opposite: most of those I spoke with who held this view clearly had made up their minds from day one of the revolts and then decided to believe the government’s stories. On the other hand, there were many who changed their beliefs when they clearly saw the government had chosen the violent approach, and many who were literally traumatized by the President’s first speech.

Contrary to what many have claimed, demonstrations have been taking place well within the center of a month before Ramadan. Demonstrations have taken place in Qaboon, Rukn al-Deen, Barzeh, Duma, Harasta, Daraya, ‘Arbeen, Zamalka, Hajar al Aswad, (Zabadani), Qatana, Kiswe, , Qadam, Jdeida, as well as the Midan district: all well inside Damascus.

If these were lights on a map they would form a circle around the city.

Since the government’s main concern now is Damascus and Aleppo, it is concentrating a huge security presence in those two cities. Hot spots such as Rukn al-Din, al-Qaboon, Harasta, and Duma are cordoned off entirely starting Thursday night. I walked through those areas on several occasions on a Friday and traffic was completely blocked with checkpoints on each major street entrance.

In the last few days before Ramadan there was a particularly heavy security presence in Damascus. In Khalid bin Walid street two days before Ramadan three flatbed military vehicles passed by pedestrian traffic, each with about 30 soldiers carrying machine guns and chanting pro-Maher (President’s brother) slogans. This seemed to be a warning to Damascenes not to dare protest during Ramadan. Like most regime actions you could see in the faces of passers by that this only increased people’s hostility. As I left the scene an old lady whispered to me ‘dear, do you think they are going to the Golan?’. A few days later in the exact same spot, a silent funeral march for a protestor who had been shot the day before was attacked by police, only for the police themselves to be beaten up by the people in the neighborhood.

Who Are the Protestors? What are their tactics?

Syria’s internal opposition movement is not unified and one should not speak about it in the singular. One can identify five distinct opposition groups. Burhan Ghaliun has stated they are unified by the three “No’s”: no to violence, no to sectarianism, and no to outside intervention (although I would exclude from this what I identify as the fifth group).

The first group consists of traditional oppositional parties: the socialist, Nasserist, and communist parties.

Second are the dissident intellectuals (such as Michel Kilo, Tayeb Tizini, Fayez Sara, Aref Dalila, and Burhan Ghalioun (on the outside).

In my view the writings and words of these dissident intellectuals carry much greater weight among the revolutionary youth than the traditional oppositional parties, although, neither of the first two categories has a large ‘social base.

Third is the youth movement itself (youth here is used liberally, including teenagers to people in their 40s) which is the moving force of the revolution. The leaders of the Local Coordination Committees are in this group. While the uprising started off with demonstrations of marginalized and lower class youth, it has expanded to include youth from all sectors of society.

The fourth category is the social base of the youth movement that is an unorganized civil society composed of socially conservative Muslims but which is mistakenly referred to as Islamist. These are the people who bore the brunt of regime repression for decades. These are the primary carriers of the social revolt — that is the Syrian society itself and the reason in my view why the regime cannot survive.

The fifth category, which the regime claims is the main obstacle, but which is in fact a very small fraction, is the armed Salafi groups.

Some may have traveled to Iraq to fight the US invasion. (They do not fit into Ghalioun’s three “no’s”, because they espouse violent revolution, are overtly sectarian, and welcome intervention by fellow Salafists, whether Syrian or not.) These groups do not neatly fit into either class or regional categories. Most of those who have taken to the streets are from lower economic classes and rural or middle sized-cities. However, there is still a much larger group which has not taken to the streets and does not fall into the categories I have outlined above, but which is just as resentful of the regime: this is the upper-class and middle-class youth of Syria’s two major cities.

It has been conventional wisdom to assume that well-to-do Syrians are pro-regime. This is not accurate. Many who have brushed up against the regime and have experienced its humiliations and observed its brutality first hand. They may not take to the streets, but may contribute in other ways that are not obvious to the casual observer. Given the forbidding security environment, the protestors are organizing at the neighborhood level. Paranoia and fear of secret police make establishing ties between local organizations difficult, although organization is improving at all levels slowly but surely.

Since the start of the revolt, the government’s actions have been arbitrary and improvised. The government was caught flat footed by the protests and has had to change tactics over time. Its response has been to employ two main tracks: the first a campaign of psychological and physical terror against the demonstrators, the second, a series of political liberalization measures meant to both absorb or appease a section of the protestors as well as present to the outside world a semblance of change. Both of these tracks have one main common denominator: they are meant to preserve as much of the political status quo as possible. They are also designed to insist on complete governmental control over events and government reforms. Five months into the uprising, the government still acts as if it holds all the cards; all ‘reform’ measures are issued as decrees by the government.

In other words, it has recognized –in its own words- legitimate grievances, but has yet to recognize a legitimate opposition to be negotiated with.

Thus, the “democratic transition,” such as the crafting of new political reform legislation, such as new ‘parties’ and ‘media’ laws, has been handed down by government fiat. Even the call for ‘dialogue’ which manifested itself in a two day summit in early July ended with a pre-fabricated statement which ignored the discussion that had taken place. Since then, the government’s response to opposition demands has been largely one of violence.

The protests themselves have not been uniform. Given the terror and live ammunition used by the regime, the protest movement’s tactics have been varied and creative. Resistance by the opposition ranges from political satire, rumors and gossip, guerrilla demonstrations, mass demonstrations, in-house demonstrations later broadcast on the internet, sit-ins, as well as acts of sabotage and violence.      

Since some quarters of Damascus and other areas are under Army siege or lock-down, demonstrators come out in rapid demonstrations and withdraw before the security forces can gather. When I visited Hama, days before the massacre (more on this below) each day over 100,000 people gathered in the main square (Sahet al-‘Asi) to discuss the day’s events and exchange information about events taking place elsewhere in Syria. One of the more creative tactics has been the ‘white demonstrations’ on Hamra street. A group ranging from 500 to 2000 all wearing white shirts or hats in groups of no more than three, but usually one or two walk back and forth on Hamra street without saying a word or even acknowledging each other. The security forces see them and know something is up but simply don’t know on what pretext to arrest them.

As to the question of violence, it undoubtedly exists among the protest movement, though to a very small degree, as opposed to the regime’s actions which have been overwhelmingly violent, and increasingly so. It is quite amazing that the protest movement has not been as violent as one would expect given the brutality and sectarianism of the regime.

I attended several pro-regime rallies (masira) because I was curious to see who attends and what exactly takes place there. During my stay there were two large demonstrations, one in Omayyad (capped by the wildly popular singer George Wassouf) and the other in Hijaz Square. I attended the latter, but went twice to a rally in Bab Touma, the traditionally Christian part of town. As I approached the main square, which had several hundred people in white shirts all carrying or wearing Syrian flags, with loud pro-Bashar music blaring from loudspeakers, I finally realized what fascism really looks like.

The belief or claim by some opposition members outside the country that pro-regime demonstrations are entirely forced is not accurate. Many state (and private sector) employees are made to go, but many show up on their own and do not fit neatly into categories such as ‘regime beneficiary’ which some members of the opposition like to throw around.

These were people, on their own will, coming to support a regime’s brutal crackdown by security forces that they themselves have long dreaded and despised. I saw and spoke with several people in attendance, all of whom insisted the events were necessary to ‘confront the conspiracy,’ to ‘preserve national unity’, and to ‘oppose extremists.’ The event was emceed skillfully by a man who alternated between leading chants and reading gut-wrenching accounts of the last moments and words of brave soldiers and military officers. In one such case, the commanding officer of a security post that had been ambushed called his superior and said: “the ammunition is done, I ask you to continue the fight. The homeland is a trust under your hands. Defend it and defend the leader.” The last words of all dying soldiers always involved: a) happiness in their sacrifice, b) devotion to the homeland and the president, c) request that those left behind take up the cause/fight.

Of course, no one has been hurt in a pro-regime rally and the ‘roving criminal gangs’ and ‘terrorist groups’ are absent. The rallies are guarded and streets are blocked. My own impression is that a large number of those attending would not take to the streets if there were any chance of violence.

Homage to Hama

I will describe my trip to Hama in a bit more detail because what I experienced there and what took place in the days after I left sums up what is beautiful about the revolution, just as it underscores the dark side of the regime. We left Damascus around 7.30am heading on a Pullman towards Hama. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to get into the city. I had heard horrendous stories about violence in and around the city. There were only 12 passengers on the bus and some were to continue to Aleppo. From the capital until Homs there were very few signs of any disturbances or security presence, however after passing Homs in the environs of Talbeesa and Rastan there were about 20 tanks or so. Upon reaching Hama we were stopped by a new security unit I had not seen or heard of before. They wore black and dark green uniforms and had “counter terrorism unit” (C.T.U.) written on their back. They boarded the bus and to my surprise asked if there were any soldiers on board. They did not ask for our IDs. We had heard of soldier defections taking place and I can only speculate that they were looking for them.

I should note that there have not been any high ranking defections in the Syrian Army that I know of, though there are numerous conscripts that have been fleeing military service. (The Army has not released any soldier from service, including those whose normal service term has expired). That checkpoint was the last symbol of government control and  from then on we were in a liberated city, with no army or security presence whatsoever and no traffic police either.

After the mass demonstrations the security had withdrawn and left the town to its own affairs although everyone was anticipating an attack at any moment (which would later come the day before Ramadan). To try and slow down an attack the Hamwis had set up makeshift barriers throughout the city made of trash cans, cinder blocks, metal bars, even overturned buses and a huge caterpillar truck meant to deter or slow down an attack by security services. These were manned by boys and men ranging  from teenagers to men in their forties, two or three at a time directing traffic. They were not armed, very friendly and allowed me to freely take pictures (on a slightly depressing note, some thought I was a foreigner and greeted me with “hello mr. welcome to hama.”). The teenagers and young men in particular were taking their traffic policing job quite seriously (‘better than the actual traffic cops’ I heard time and again), despite spending the day under a blistering sun.

At night during the daily demonstrations, and when there was a strike, all the checkpoints would be closed. The barriers could not really deter any attack, and the Hamwis knew this of course. At best they were hoping to slow it down so that the city would not be caught unprepared.

I was told that some villagers bringing down milk and yogurt were turned back due to the strike and did not return since their products had spoiled and were afraid this would occur again.

I was also informed that some Alawi civil servants and employees had not come to work from the villages out of fear, although I was assured their fear was unfounded and that no sectarian attack had taken place (Incidentally, I did not hear any sectarian chants during my stay and there was only one anti-Shiite sectarian slogan painted way outside on the periphery of the city. All other slogans around it had been painted over except this one perhaps left to show evidence of sectarianism).

The city itself was full of life and the markets were busy, after several days of a general strike; the markets and shops stayed open until well past 1am. We walked through the city passing by the world famous Norias, the Old souq and the many markets. Life did not stop in Hama, there were no armed gangs or armed presence within the city. We passed by several liquor stores that were open for business. I made sure to take a picture and show my Christian friends back in Damascus who thought that Hama was under some sort of Salafi rule.! Passing through a park near the center of the city, we heard a few men murmur ‘the people want to topple the regime’ as we passed people in a park.

Anti-regime graffiti could be seen on some walls, although some of it was painted over. There was no sign of vandalism and damage of public property, and many pro-regime banners set up at the start of the uprisings in Syria had been left intact. I heard many stories throughout the day of the corruption and theft of the regime, particularly illegal land acquisition by people in the upper circles of power, including partners of the presidents infamous cousin. There is a ‘takbeer’ (chant of God is Great) when a checkpoint is attacked or neighborhood is attacked and the entire block or passersby rush to help. Things of course were a bit more complex than they appeared on the surface.

A source told us of an ambush of demonstrators which took place in front of his house. A masked informant led the demonstrators into the security officers waiting around a street corner who opened fire and immediately killed at least 10 people. Our host told us that the informant was later killed and his body dumped into the Orontes. This has been done a few times with people identified as informants, their names have been posted on the Mosque’s door, although inevitably were some mistakes and one person had to plead with his friends to come out in his defense and clear his name.
The nightly demonstrations were the fullest expression of the city’s freedom. They also acted as a social space for different sectors of Hamwis to gather. It became the location in which the day’s events were planned, grievances are aired, and news of events taking place in Syria discussed. I headed to the demonstration from the neighborhood of the Hama Castle, passing by the café of Apamea hotel. The café is located on a beautiful view, right on the Orontes river overlooking the Sohoniya, Qadriyya, and Sultaniyya Norias (water-wheels). However it has a tragic history. It was built on the ruins of the former Kaylaniyya district, which was beautiful. This entire historic district was razed to the ground during the 1982 massacres after being one of the most architecturally beautiful sites in Syria. The insurgents had taken refuge there believing — mistakenly as it turned out — that the government would not shell the district because of its historic value.

I approached the main square right around the end of the evening prayers. Along the way I passed on the left the only two buildings left in town which prominently displayed the pictures of the President, the first was the police HQ and the second was the Ba’ath party HQ. The Ba’ath Party HQ had been burned down after the massacre which took place on 6/6. A group of people took flowers and headed in that direction. When they approached, gunmen on top of the building had opened fire. The protestors tried to escape through another street only to find that it had been blocked the night before by the security. My informant said that several dozen people were killed that day. The next day Hama started demonstrating en masse and had not stopped since.

As we approached Sahet al-‘Asi (Orontes square) we saw several dozen people finishing the evening prayers in the square itself. The young men at the checkpoints had increased and were rerouting traffic. I first decided to hang out at the edge of the square, in front of the park through which Orontes river ran. The number of people arriving began to pick up. Whether by foot, taxi, or micro-bus, loads of men and women, young and old started arriving. It seemed like the whole town was arriving to take part. Even as the square was getting full I saw a huge crowd marching down from the South of the city. Groups of kids were clapping and chanting anti-regime slogans. Cafes and markets which opened the day before were still open and there was a hustle and bustle in the streets all night long. By the time about 100,000 gathered in the square all checkpoints leading to the square were closed to all but pedestrians, and the demonstration started in full force.

With chants blaring from loudspeakers, the event was more than just an anti-regime demonstration, it was an event were people gathered to talk about the day’s news, exchange information and make requests. One such request was that the checkpoints were becoming a burden on the population, especially the kids wanting to take the dreaded baccalaureate exam. Others asked that the villagers be allowed to bring down their food. A lawyer was recently released from custody and said he was one of the last remaining detainees. Solidarity with other cities as well as individuals who had spoken out against the regime’s violence (such as actress May Skaff) was a particular theme that night.

Most chants mentioned unity among Christians, Alawis, Sunnis, Kurds, (more on the tricky sectarian issue below)and many Christians were in attendance and were saluted by the crowd. Outside the square, markets were still open and people were going about their business as if this was the most normal thing in the world.

Hama has always been a conservative city. All but a few women on the streets were wearing headscarves (there were almost no niqabs -which is mostly a phenomenon in other cities such as Damascus). But I saw absolutely no signs of fundamentalism inside the city. It is a mistake to think Hama’s intifada can simply be reduced to the 1982 massacre.

They have shared grievances with every other city in Syria. In my opinion it’s more accurate to say that this is a city with a history of collective mobilization against injustice and defiance since before the Ba’ath regime came to power, and because of their defiance they have repeatedly paid a heavy price. And they were willing to do so again.

This was not a vindictive or hateful city as I kept hearing from people in Damascus. The genuine happiness of achieving freedom far outweighed the supposed desire for revenge against the regime. The chant I heard most frequently throughout the day and night was ya mahlaha al hurriya (freedom is beautiful).

A few days after I left, the government attacked the city. It killed over 100 people in the first two days of its assault. Syrian television reports on the days of the attack repeated stories of armed criminals terrorizing the population and destroying daily life in the city. They claimed that the Hamwis had called for government intervention. I saw first-hand that all those stories were a blatant lie. Hamwis knew what the regime was capable of and what it was planning. They nevertheless showed unbending courage and defiance in the face of terrible odds. The regime will not emerge triumphant from this bloodbath as it did in the past. Rather than turning their backs on Hama, as they did in the past, Syria’s other cities are championing it. Hama’s cause with neither sectarian nor violent. This time around, Hama expressed the sentiments of the Syrian people in a peaceful way.

The Issue of Minorities

Most of my time in Syria was spent in the Christian quarters of Damascus. Despite personal familiarity with the inhabitants of these quarters, nothing in my upbringing prepared me for the level of vitriol and hatred I heard there toward the protestors. The most depressing aspect of my trip to Syria was to see many (and I fear most) of its Christians rallying in support of the regime.

I heard the same language used to describe my fellow Syrians and the brave protestors as I have so often heard used by Israelis to describe the struggles of Palestinian people:  They are monsters, if they get their rights they will kill us’, ‘why are they sending their children to die?’, ‘they don’t want democracy, they are Islamic extremists who will kill us or oppress all us’, ‘no country can tolerate armed groups seeking to overthrow it’ etc. I was infuriated to consistently hear my heroes slandered and despised in their own country. And this by people who know only too well how brutal the regime is.

However if one is patient and overlooks the provocative slurs, one can detect a common theme among those who criticize the uprising: a genuine fear of the unknown. I believe that many who claim that the regime ‘protects minorities’ in fact fear retribution. Minorities which believe that they have benefited from the regime’s brutality and corruption over the past forty years believe that they are implicated in the eyes of the Sunni majority in its crimes. This is true not only of the Christians but even more so of the Isma’ilis and Alawis. I fear that the longer the regime clings to power and the more brutal it gets, the more sectarian feelings will intensify. Many feel the cross-sectarian chants (such as “Christians and Muslims are brothers” etc.) are disingenuous. This may be true, but I believe the criticism is a too harsh. At the start of the protests the demonstrators were viciously attacked by some as hiding a radical Islamist agenda. they responded in the best way they could: we have no such intentions, in fact we are all one, we love our Christian, Kurdish, and Alawi brothers etc. They were then attacked for saying this as well. In other words, it’s a no-win situation for these demonstrators who, apparently, like their Palestinian brethren, must prove the purity of their intentions. 

All they are doing, after all, is insist that they they be granted their elemental civil rights.

The regime has in fact been the biggest enemy of minorities, including most Alawis. Alawis must navigate a treacherous and difficult political path. The opposition needs to pay special attention to the sectarian issue and the social wounds after the fall of the regime. National reconciliation will be so important if Syria is to find unity and social peace. It is not enough to make the claim that most Alawis (or other minorities) are not with the regime, and that being a Alawi or Christian or Isma’ili has nothing to do with this regime. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, what seems to be on the table in Syria is a genuine revolutionary change and radical societal transformation that inevitably leaves many people fearful of the unknown. The gradualism, peacefulness, and decentralization of the Syrian revolution have been a major asset, although many I spoke with see the lack of an organized opposition they trust (and the Muslim Brotherhood definitely does not fall into this category for the people I am referring to) as potentially disastrous for the country.

Leaving Damascus

I left Damascus three days into Ramadan with the general feeling that it was on the verge of a major escalation. The pro- and anti- regime demonstrations are headed in opposite directions numbers wise. After starting off as a militant movement to demand basic civil rights, the protests seem to have reached a zero-sum game, but this has still emboldened even more people to take to the streets.
The high death toll of the attack on Hama carried out on the day before Ramadan demonstrates that the regime has more or less given up the call for dialogue. Syria’s rulers believe that they can still crush the protest movement. At the same time, they have issued several political reform measures meant to placate foreign countries, who hope that Syria might emerge as a ‘liberal autocracy’ on the model of Egypt in the 1980s and 1990s. The opposition will not accept such thin gruel now that it has sacrificed so much and mobilized so many. Neither side is likely to back down.

Syria might very well descend into fighting and repression that becomes quite bloody. But even if it does, the revolution must be driven completely from the inside for moral as well as practical reasons. So far, despite government claims, it has been overwhelmingly non-violent, internally driven, and de-centralized, which explains its success.

However this can only continue for so long. I fear that increased regime terror will lead to an increasingly armed response. After priding itself on maintaining stability, the regime will have to accept the responsibility for the destruction of Syria for the sake of maintaining power.

* Omar S. Dahi is Assistant Professor of Economics at Hampshire College. His email address is odahi at hampshire dot edu. His cell phone number is 413-313-2492.

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Indo-Pak Talks: Positive Move

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the fact that India and Pakistan are still a long way off from settling their disputes over several important issues, including the Kashmir-problem, they must be credited for adopting a cordial diplomatic approach towards each other. This is marked by recent Indo-Pak meeting, between foreign secretaries of the two countries, being viewed as “positive.” The amiable note on which the meeting was held between Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Islamabad is marked by their addressing a joint press conference and issuing a joint statement (June 24).

Without sidelining the “complexities” in Indo-Pak relationship, after the meeting, Rao told media persons: “We are inspired by our goal of the eventual normalization of the India-Pakistan relationship and the resolution of outstanding issues through peaceful, sustained and serious bilateral dialogue.” Spelling out India’s vision of bilateral ties with Pakistan, Rao asserted: “The ideology of military conflict should have no place in the paradigm of our relationship in the 21st century. Indeed, this relationship should be characterized by the vocabulary of peace,” in the interest of “our peoples” and “in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.” She described the meeting, spread over two days, as “positive” during which the two sides had “constructive and substantive discussion.”

“We have had a very productive and constructive engagement which was forward looking and imbued with a sense of purpose,” Bashir said. He pointed out: “I must underscore here that the quality of the engagement really matters and we have every reason to be satisfied with that quality.” Earlier, while welcoming Rao, Bashir said: “We welcome her for many reasons. It was some years ago that we started a process and I think that process is now well on its way.”

The comments made by both Rao and Bashir are suggestive of India and Pakistan’s keenness to continue their dialogue process with the aim of improving their bilateral ties. This is further highlighted by certain points included in the joint statement. The bilateral talks on peace and security, including confidence building measures (CBMs), Jammu & Kashmir as well as promotion of friendly exchanges were, according to the statement, “held in a frank and cordial atmosphere.” The two sides “reiterated their intention” to continue “the dialogue process in a constructive and purposeful manner.” They discussed the issues in a “comprehensive manner” and both sides “emphasized the importance of constructive dialogue to promote mutual understanding,” the statement said. This suggests India and Pakistan’s intention to backtrack from their stand of firing verbal missiles at each other, particularly on issues they entertain different stands on. This is further supported by their reference to the Kashmir-problem in the joint statement.

They “exchanged views” on Kashmir and “agreed to continue discussions in a purposeful and forward looking manner with the view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences,” according to the statement. This suggests that continuing dialogue on Kashmir is their priority and neither India nor Pakistan wants to the stall the bilateral dialogue process despite their entertaining differences on Kashmir. This is further supported by their agreement to consider measures for “strengthening and streamlining the existing trade and travel arrangements across the Line-of-Control (LoC) and propose modalities for introducing additional cross-LoC CBMs.” A meeting of a working group on Cross-LoC is expected to be held this July, the statement said.
The statement on terrorism too indicates a major change in India and Pakistan’s diplomatic stand towards each other. Refraining from blaming each other, they agreed that “terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security.” They “reiterated firm and undiluted commitment” to “fight and eliminate this scourge in all its forms and manifestations.” Besides, they agreed on the “need to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism.”

Defeating apprehensions of their being any nuclear tension between India and Pakistan, they decided to consider mutually acceptable measures to discuss implementation and strengthening of existing nuclear and conventional CBMS to “build trust and confidence and promote peace and security.”

India and Pakistan expressed satisfaction on progress made on finalization of Visa Agreement, which will “help liberalize visa regime” and “facilitate people-to-people, business-to-business and sports contacts,” the statement said. They also discussed measures to promote cooperation in various fields, which include, “facilitating visits to religious shrines, media exchanges, holding sports tournaments and cessation of hostile propaganda against each other.” In addition, they agreed that “people of the two countries are at the heart of the relationship and that humanitarian issues should be accorded priority and treated with sensitivity.”

The foreign secretaries are scheduled to meet again in New Delhi, ahead of the meeting Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers, which is expected to take place this July in the Indian capital city. Undeniably, the two foreign secretaries’ comments and the joint statement indicate the seriousness of India and Pakistan to improve their bilateral ties at various levels. Now, it is to be watched whether this “constructive” approach is seriously retained for a substantial period or not!

13-27

Analysis: Egypt Army May Pull Strings from Barracks

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Edmund Blair

CAIRO (Reuters) – Hossam el-Hamalawy is used to being in trouble with the authorities. State security hauled him in three times for his activism when Hosni Mubarak was in power. He hoped Egypt’s uprising would end such summonses. It didn’t.

He was called in again in May for questioning. But one element changed. It wasn’t internal security but an army general who wanted to question the blogger over accusations he made on television about abuses by the military police.

“We didn’t have this revolution … so that we would replace Hosni Mubarak with the military as a taboo,” said Hamalawy, insisting that the army must change its ways.

“The military institution is part of the old regime,” he said. “It will have to go through its own change in revolutionary Egypt.”

Quite what that change might look like is perhaps the biggest question facing Egyptians now.

The army has vowed to hand power to civilians, after it took control when Mubarak was ousted on February 11.

Few doubt it wants to quit the grimy world of day-to-day government but, at the same time, few expect the generals to submit to civilian command when they return to barracks.

Instead, analysts say the military is likely to slip into the political shadows, as a protector of national security — a broad brief that would allow some back-seat intervention — and rigorously guard its business interests and other privileges.

The military has after all supplied Egypt’s rulers, including former air force commander Mubarak, for six decades.

“I do feel they are sincere about handing over power to a civilian government,” said Hamalawy, who writes the arabawy.org blog. “But that does not mean they will give up … their role in the Egypt political arena.”

After summons for interrogation prompted protests, Hamalaway said the general who quizzed him on May 31 promised to examine evidence he provided of any abuses by the military police.

Such incidents, played out in public and drawing the ire of Egyptians enjoying a new-found assertiveness, can only tarnish the reputation of an army which was sky-high when troops took control of the streets from Mubarak’s widely reviled state security forces.

The army has committed to a parliamentary vote in September and presidential poll to follow.

National Security

“The Egyptian military is the institution that can hold the country together, move it forward. It is the only one,” said Kamran Bokhari, an analyst at global intelligence firm STRATFOR.

“I don’t see it relinquishing power to a very nascent, parliamentary system in which there is also a president.”

He added: “There are material interests as an institution. Their privileged status, they want to be able to retain that.

“There are genuine national security concerns.”

To achieve this, there are several models for Egypt to copy.

Close to home is Turkey, where the army was guardian of the secular constitution for decades and toppled governments when it saw that threatened. That role has been diluted with the rise of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK, a socially conservative party with Islamist roots and free market policies.

Further afield is Pakistan where Bokhari said there was an “unwritten rule that the top brass is involved in the decision-making or foreign policy-making process.”

Egypt could forge its own formula. Bokhari said the army may want to insert a line in the constitution that it be consulted over national security, ensuring it a seat at the top table.

The army denies having any such ambitions.

“The job of the army is specified by the current constitution and if this is to change it will be through the parliament after studies and based on the demands of the people,” one military official told Reuters.

“But so far nothing is planned to increase the powers of the army or give it new ones,” said the official, who responded to questions only on condition of anonymity.

However, Mamdouh Shaheen, a general on the military council who deals with legislative and constitutional affairs, said in comments published in May that a new constitution should give the military a special place — “some kind of insurance, so that it is not under the whim of a president.”

He also said parliament should not be allowed to question the armed forces, the newspaper reported.

Such talk has riled commentators. Writing in the same newspaper after Shaheen, Amr el-Shobaki, a columnist, dismissed the idea that army should have any “special immunity” — although he said that it should have a role in protecting Egypt’s democracy.

For now, the generals are in the public eye but the institution is not submitted to public scrutiny. Just as it was under Mubarak, the military budget is a mystery and it controls a sprawling business empire — just how big is unclear.

One Western diplomat, asked about the scale of the army’s business interests compared to the overall economy, said: “Estimates vary wildly, even as much as 40 percent, which I think is way off the mark. We just don’t know.”

Some suggest a more realistic estimate is 10-15 percent.

WINNING OVER THE PUBLIC

The army runs factories that make plastic products and other goods. The highway connecting Cairo with the Red Sea port of Ain Sokhna was built by army engineers and the toll ticket for that road has the words “Ministry of Defense” stamped on it.

To win over the public before one big protest after Mubarak was ousted, the army issued a four-page insert in a newspaper outlining its economic contribution. It listed pharmaceutical firms it owned, stadiums it built and farmland it had reclaimed.

For many in Egypt, a country of 80 million people where about two-thirds of the nation were born during Mubarak’s rule and knew no other leader, the army’s presence gives reassurance.

“We have at least three years to get back on our feet and we need to have a strong and strict establishment in power, like the armed forces, to help us achieve that,” said Saeed Saeed, in his 40s, who works at a private company.

The army has been revered by many Egyptians for its role in wars fighting former colonial powers Britain and France in the 1956 Suez crisis and Israel, notably in the 1973 war that led to peace talks and the return of the Sinai peninsula.

The army was virtually the only institution of state to survive this year’s political turmoil intact. For investors, it provides confidence as the country rebuilds.

“For continuity and to provide an element of security, then having a state institution that functions efficiently is important,” said Angus Blair of Beltone Financial, adding that there needed to be an “evolution in other institutions.”

But there are many Egyptians who have become uncomfortable with what they see as the army’s clumsy handling of government.

“I am getting a feeling that the army is not fulfilling the demands of the protesters … and I don’t like that because I agree with the revolution and all its demands,” said Mohamed Afan, an accountant.
An army-backed ban on strikes by workers drew the wrath of protesters, who accused the army of betraying their trust. There have been no obvious cases where the law was implemented.

Egyptians have rallied over what they say is the army’s tardiness in holding Mubarak to account. His trial on murder and graft charges is now set for August 3. The military insists this is a judicial matter, beyond its control.

Seeking to appease the public, generals have appeared on TV chat shows, unheard of in Mubarak’s time, to explain themselves.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Egypt, once served as defense attache in Pakistan and seems to have long been aware of the pitfalls of military rule.

The U.S. ambassador wrote in a leaked 2009 cable of a remark Tantawi had made then in which he concluded that “any country where the military became engaged in ‘internal affairs’ was ‘doomed to have lots of problems’.”

13-26

Clinton Backs Saudi Drivers

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrew Quinn

2011-06-22T173003Z_1967305151_GM1E76N047F01_RTRMADP_3_SAUDI-DRIVING

Azza Al Shmasani alights from her car after driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh June 22, 2011. Saudi Arabia has no formal ban on women driving. But as citizens must use only Saudi-issued licences in the country, and as these are issued only to men, women drivers are anathema.

REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday praised “brave” Saudi women demanding the right to drive, but she tried to avoid an open breach with a close U.S. ally by saying the Saudis themselves should determine the way forward.

The Saudi driving ban has been publicly challenged in recent weeks by women who have risked arrest to get behind the wheel. Clinton, one of the world’s best-known advocates for women’s rights, has come under mounting pressure to take a stand.

“What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them. I am moved by it and I support them,” Clinton said in her first public comments on the issue.

Clinton’s carefully phrased remarks appeared to be an attempt to balance her deep-held beliefs with the need to keep smooth relations with Riyadh in an era of huge political changes sweeping the Middle East and concern about oil supplies.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have seen their traditionally close ties strained in recent months as popular protests erupted in a number of Arab countries including Bahrain, where Saudi security forces were called in to restore order.

Prior to her remarks, the State Department had said that Clinton was engaged in “quiet diplomacy” on the driving ban — drawing a fresh appeal from one Saudi women’s group for a more forceful U.S. stance.

“Secretary Clinton: quiet diplomacy is not what we need right now. What we need is for you, personally, to make a strong, simple and public statement supporting our right to drive,” the group, Saudi Women for Driving, said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

Clinton did just that on Tuesday, although she repeatedly added the caveat that the issue was an internal matter for Saudi Arabia to sort out.

“This is not about the United States, it is not about what any of us on the outside say. It is about the women themselves and their right to raise their concerns with their own government,” she said.

Clinton raised the issue in a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Friday and said the United States would continue to support full universal rights for women around the world.

Clinton said mobility was important for women to both find jobs and help care for their families.

“We will continue in private and in public to urge all governments to address issues of discrimination and to ensure that women have the equal opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potential,” she said.

Saudi Arabia — a key U.S. security ally and important oil supplier — is an absolute monarchy which applies an austere version of Sunni Islam. Religious police patrol the streets to ensure public segregation between men and women.

Besides a ban on driving, women in Saudi Arabia must have written approval from a male guardian to leave the country, work or even undergo certain medical operations.

Riyadh is also an important factor in both Yemen and Syria, where protests have challenged autocratic leaders and left Washington trying to balance its support for democratic reform with concerns over stability and security in the region.

13-26

Conspiracy Theory

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Craig Roberts

While we were not watching, conspiracy theory has undergone Orwellian redefinition.

A “conspiracy theory” no longer means an event explained by a conspiracy. Instead, it now means any explanation, or even a fact, that is out of step with the government’s explanation and that of its media pimps.

For example, online news broadcasts of RT have been equated with conspiracy theories by the New York Times simply because RT reports news and opinions that the New York Times does not report and the US government does not endorse.

In other words, as truth becomes uncomfortable for government and its Ministry of Propaganda, truth is redefined as conspiracy theory, by which is meant an absurd and laughable explanation that we should ignore.

When piles of carefully researched books, released government documents, and testimony of eye witnesses made it clear that Oswald was not President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, the voluminous research, government documents, and verified testimony was dismissed as “conspiracy theory.”

In other words, the truth of the event was unacceptable to the authorities and to the Ministry of Propaganda that represents the interests of authorities.

The purest example of how Americans are shielded from truth is the media’s (including many Internet sites’) response to the large number of professionals who find the official explanation of September 11, 2001, inconsistent with everything they, as experts, know about physics, chemistry, structural engineering, architecture, fires, structural damage, the piloting of airplanes, the security procedures of the United States, NORAD’s capabilities, air traffic control, airport security, and other matters. These experts, numbering in the thousands, have been shouted down by know-nothings in the media who brand the experts as “conspiracy theorists.”

This despite the fact that the official explanation endorsed by the official media is the most extravagant conspiracy theory in human history.

Let’s take a minute to re-acquaint ourselves with the official explanation, which is not regarded as a conspiracy theory despite the fact that it comprises an amazing conspiracy. The official truth is that a handful of young Muslim Arabs who could not fly airplanes, mainly Saudi Arabians who came neither from Iraq nor from Afghanistan, outwitted not only the CIA and the FBI, but also all 16 US intelligence agencies and all intelligence agencies of US allies including Israel’s Mossad, which is believed to have penetrated every terrorist organization and which carries out assassinations of those whom Mossad marks as terrorists.

In addition to outwitting every intelligence agency of the United States and its allies, the handful of young Saudi Arabians outwitted the National Security Council, the State Department, NORAD, airport security four times in the same hour on the same morning, air traffic control, caused the US Air Force to be unable to launch interceptor aircraft, and caused three well-built steel-structured buildings, including one not hit by an airplane, to fail suddenly in a few seconds as a result of limited structural damage and small, short-lived, low-temperature fires that burned on a few floors.

The Saudi terrorists were even able to confound the laws of physics and cause WTC building seven to collapse at free fall speed for several seconds, a physical impossibility in the absence of explosives used in controlled demolition.

The story that the government and the media have told us amounts to a gigantic conspiracy, really a script for a James Bond film. Yet, anyone who doubts this improbable conspiracy theory is defined into irrelevance by the obedient media.

Anyone who believes an architect, structural engineer, or demolition expert who says that the videos show that the buildings are blowing up, not falling down, anyone who believes a Ph.D. physicist who says that the official explanation is inconsistent with known laws of physics, anyone who believes expert pilots who testify that non-pilots or poorly-qualified pilots cannot fly airplanes in such maneuvers, anyone who believes the 100 or more first responders who testify that they not only heard explosions in the towers but personally experienced explosions, anyone who believes University of Copenhagen nano-chemist Niels Harrit who reports finding unreacted nano-thermite in dust samples from the WTC towers, anyone who is convinced by experts instead of by propaganda is dismissed as a kook.

In America today, and increasingly throughout the Western world, actual facts and true explanations have been relegated to the realm of kookiness. Only people who believe lies are socially approved and accepted as patriotic citizens.

Indeed, a writer or newscaster is not even permitted to report the findings of 9/11 skeptics. In other words, simply to report Professor Harrit’s findings now means that you endorse them or agree with them.

Everyone in the US print and TV media knows that he/she will be instantly fired if they report Harrit’s findings, even with a laugh.

Thus, although Harrit has reported his findings on European television and has lectured widely on his findings in Canadian universities, the fact that he and the international scientific research team that he led found unreacted nano-thermite in the WTC dust and have offered samples to other scientists to examine has to my knowledge never been reported in the American media.

Even Internet sites on which I am among the readers’ favorites will not allow me to report on Harrit’s findings.

As I reported earlier, I myself had experience with a Huffington Post reporter who was keen to interview a Reagan presidential appointee who was in disagreement with the Republican wars in the Middle East. After he published the interview that I provided at his request, he was terrified to learn that I had reported findings of 9/11 investigators.

To protect his career, he quickly inserted on the online interview that my views on the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions could be dismissed as I had reported unacceptable findings about 9/11.

The unwillingness or inability to entertain any view of 9/11 different  from the official view dooms to impotence many Internet sites that are opposed to the wars and to the rise of the domestic US police state.

These sites, for whatever the reasons, accept the government’s explanation of 9/11; yet, they try to oppose the “war on terror” and the police state which are the consequences of accepting the government’s explanation. Trying to oppose the consequences of an event whose explanation you accept is an impossible task.

If you believe that America was attacked by Muslim terrorists and is susceptible to future attacks, then a “war on terror” and a domestic police state to root out terrorists become necessary to make Americans safe. The idea that a domestic police state and open-ended war might be more dangerous threats to Americans than terrorists is an impermissible thought.

A country whose population has been trained to accept the government’s word and to shun those who question it is a country without liberty in its future.

Foreign Policy Journal

Paul Craig Roberts served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration.

13-26

Israel Government ‘Reckless and Irresponsible’ Says Ex-Mossad Chief

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Meir Dagan attacks Binyamin Netanyahu for aggression towards Iran, and for failing to make any progress with the Palestinians

By Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem

meir-dagan--126656584152243800The former head of Israel’s spy service has launched an unprecedented attack on the country’s current government, describing it as “irresponsible and reckless”, and has praised Arab attempts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Meir Dagan stepped down as the head of Mossad six months ago but has gone on the offensive in a series of briefings with journalists and public appearances because he feels that Israel’s security is being mismanaged by Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and Ehud Barak, the defence minister.

One newspaper quotes him as saying that he, as head of Mossad, Yuval Diskin, the head of Sin Bet – the internal security agency, and Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of the army, could prevent Netanyahu and Barak from making mistakes but all three have left their positions and have been replaced by men chosen by the current government.

“I decided to speak because when I was in office, Diskin, Ashkenazi and I could block any dangerous adventure. Now I am afraid that there is no one to stop Bibi [Netanyahu] and Barak,” said Dagan.

Upon leaving his post, Dagan publicly warned against Israel attacking Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In his latest comments, he said that if Israel attacks Iran, it will find itself at the centre of a regional war that would endanger the state’s existence. Dagan’s intervention is dangerous for Netanyahu because it comes from the right wing of Israeli opinion rather than the left, where the prime minister would expect criticism.

Dagan has been in charge of aggressive Israeli actions abroad in recent years, that have included assassinations in Lebanon, Syria and Dubai and an air attack on a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. He also criticised Israel’s failure to offer any initiative to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.

The absence of any workable plan, he said, will leave Israel in a dangerous and weak situation if the Palestinians push for UN recognition of a state later this year.

Dagan also endorsed Saudi Arabia’s peace plan which offered Israel normal relations with all Arab countries if it reaches a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Leading columnist Ari Shavit summarised Dagan’s point of view in the Ha’aretz newspaper: “Dagan is extremely concerned about September 2011. He is not afraid that tens of thousands of demonstrators may overrun the settlements. He is afraid that Israel’s subsequent isolation will push its leaders to the wall and cause them to take reckless action against Iran.”

Ben Caspit of the Maariv newspaper wrote: “He is one of the most rightwing militant people ever born here … who ate Arabs for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“When this man says that the leadership has no vision and is irresponsible, we should stop sleeping soundly at night.”

Dagan was quoted in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth describing Netanyahu and Barak as “irresponsible and reckless individuals”.

Dagan’s criticism of Netanyahu comes when the prime minister is enjoying popular support following his trip to Washington and his speech to Congress.

Opinion polls suggest that Netanyahu has a nine-point lead over his nearest challenger and his Likud party is the most popular in the country.

However, Dagan’s intervention suggests that while Netanyahu is seen as an able performer in public, he believes that behind the scenes he is less astute.

A spokesman for the prime minister said that he would not discuss Dagan’s comments. However members of the cabinet told the Israeli media: “Dagan was out of line on the Iranian issue. This damages deterrence, because the military option must be on the table as a credible option after sanctions.

“If you come and say, ‘we can’t attack Iran, it’s impossible,’ you project weakness to the Iranians and make it look like you don’t have the courage to do it, and that they can do whatever they want.
“More seriously, it sends a message to the world that they can take their foot off the gas pedal of sanctions.”

The Guardian (UK)

13-24

It’s A War On Pakistan?

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Shireen M. Mazari

For Pakistan, the writing on the wall is clear. We are in a two-front war: One directly with the US and the other an unconventional war where nonstate actors are being trained by powerful external powers to undermine the military and intelligence organizations from within for the final external assault. But our civil and military leadership seems oblivious to these increasingly overt signals.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—That Pakistan is facing a two-front war since 9/11 should have been apparent to at least the intelligence and military leadership. After all, the evidence was there from the moment General Musharraf surrendered the country to the Unites States.

There was the publication of the article by a retired US military intelligence officer Ralph Peters in the US Armed Forces Journal titled Blood Borders which envisaged the partitioning of Pakistan and Iran. There was the commencement of US demands to ‘do more’ on the Pakistani state, especially its military, and there was the ‘invasion’ of hordes of American private security contractors and special operatives–most without going through the proper visa clearance process, especially after the coming to power of the Zardari-Gilani combine courtesy the NRO brokered by the US and Pakistan’s military leadership.

Unfortunately, the Pakistani state, especially its military and intelligence leadership miscalculated gravely when they fell in the US trap of a military-centric approach to dealing with terrorism and extremism. The results have been disastrous for the Pakistani state and nation. The US effectively, under international law, declared war on Pakistan’s people with the drone attacks, and the military and intelligence set up neglected to calculate the costs of the US short-term lures of tactical weapons and a few downgraded F-16s. Apart from other fallouts, Pakistan suddenly found itself the victim of suicide bombings, internally displaced people and the Pakistani Taliban whose increasing funding and sophisticated arms should have raised alarm bells.

Additionally the economic costs have now also run into billions and we are today facing a war ravaged nation deeply polarized and totally unable to feel secure in their own territory despite a huge military and intelligence network.

The attack on Mehran Base in Karachi has made it clear that the policy of destroying Pakistan’s military and intelligence set up is being operationalised but the question for us Pakistanis is why our intelligence and military leadership is going along with this scheme of things – or at least why it is unable to develop a viable counter response to this policy.

Some of us had been pointing to the dangers of having US forces embedded within the Pakistan military far before the WikiLeaks made this public. That the May 2nd incident was a major security and intelligence lapse cannot be denied although the cover up has come in the form of the ‘stealth technology’ pretext. But how can one explain the complete CIA covert set up in Abbottabad?

The incident certainly created a disconnect between the military leadership and the younger officers and soldiers and the lack of accountability of the former has done little to restore this equilibrium. As if to ensure that such an eventuality does not come to pass the attack on the Mehran base has taken place. To suggest that it was not a security and intelligence failure is to hide one’s head in the sand. Yes, as usual our soldiers fought bravely and many were martyred but why should they have been exposed to this danger in the first place? It is time some responsibility was accepted and the leadership made accountable.

How long will we continue to place our soldiers and young officers in these lethal situations created by leadership lapses?

What is equally disturbing is to discover that four to six terrorists held the whole base hostage for over sixteen hours and at the end of the operation it was given out that two terrorists may have escaped while four were killed. In comparison eleven of our soldiers were martyred, including our commandos. The terrorists were trained and carrying sophisticated weapons including RPGs. Who has been training these people and where are the money and arms coming from? If they are the Pakistani Taliban, who is behind them? Why did the government not make public the weapons’ makes and origins?

A larger question is how the details of the base and the location of the targets reached the attackers? These terrorists were not targeting the base in a random fashion. They knew where to go to get to their target: the P-3C Orion surveillance planes especially suited for anti-submarine warfare.

Linked to this is the question of why target these planes? Who would benefit from their destruction? The non-state terrorist actors are supposed to be located within Pakistan and Afghanistan; but it is the US and India which could target Pakistan by sea – and both have been threatening to attack Pakistan post-May 2. The US has its bases in Oman and Bahrain while India has a vast blue water navy.
The question that arises then is whether this was a probe attack to check out our defenses?

Just as the May 2 incident exposed our faulty intelligence and military preparedness, this incident has done the same on yet another front. That a few well-trained terrorists can hold up a whole naval base despite inputs from the Rangers and the Army does not bode well for Pakistan’s military preparedness.

The writing on the wall is clear for Pakistan. It is in a two-front war: One directly with the US and the other an unconventional war where nonstate actors are being trained by powerful external powers to undermine the military and intelligence organizations from within for the final external assault. But our civil and military leadership seems oblivious to these increasingly overt signals. Or are they totally mesmerized by US lures?

Our nuclear assets are not under threat militarily for reasons I have already explained at length in an earlier write up. But a security and military environment is being created where a diplomatic and political campaign to take control of the nuclear assets can reach fruition. This is a well thought out strategy that the US has been operationalizing since 9/11 when it gained military and intelligence access into Pakistan and saw how easy it was to seduce the Pakistani military and subsequently the civilian leadership.

While not denying the extremist militancy and terrorism within Pakistan, we need to realize that the targeting of military installations and intelligence vulnerabilities is the handiwork of trained and well-armed operatives who of necessity have strong external backers. Of course we need to counter the extremist threat but to let this bogey blind us to the two-front war being waged against our very existence as a nation and state post-9/11would be to play right into the hands of our very real, very skilled and very powerful external enemies.

Unfortunately, that is what our civil and military leadership is falling prey to so far. In the process the critical cohesiveness and morale of our military and intelligence institutions, the strongest institutions in the country, is being threatened. It is time to arrest this leadership decay through accountability of those responsible. We have already lost over 35 000 Pakistani lives. How many more martyrs can we afford as a result of fatal leadership lapses?

Dr. Mazari is an adviser on defense policy to a political party and the former director of Islamabad Institute For Strategic Studies. She wrote this comment forPakNationalists.com Reach her at callstr[at]hotmail.com

www.paknationalists.com

13-22

Special Report: The West’s Unwanted War in Libya

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Taylor

2011-04-13T171100Z_1218461909_GM1E74E033901_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

A rebel fighter aims his RPG (Rocket-Propelled Grenade) at a vehicle they suspect to be carrying people supporting Muammar Gaddafi, at a road checkpoint in Zuwaytinah, some 100 km (60 miles) southwest of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, April 13, 2011.     

REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

PARIS (Reuters) – It is a war that Barack Obama didn’t want, David Cameron didn’t need, Angela Merkel couldn’t cope with and Silvio Berlusconi dreaded.

Only Nicolas Sarkozy saw the popular revolt that began in Libya on February 15 as an opportunity for political and diplomatic redemption. Whether the French president’s energetic leadership of an international coalition to protect the Libyan people from Muammar Gaddafi will be enough to revive his sagging domestic fortunes in next year’s election is highly uncertain.

But by pushing for military strikes that he hopes might repair France’s reputation in the Arab world, Sarkozy helped shape what type of war it would be. The road to Western military intervention was paved with mutual suspicion, fears of another quagmire in a Muslim country and doubts about the largely unknown ragtag Libyan opposition with which the West has thrown in its lot.

That will make it harder to hold together an uneasy coalition of Americans, Europeans and Arabs, the longer Gaddafi holds out. Almost two weeks into the air campaign, Western policymakers fret about the risk of a stray bomb hitting a hospital or an orphanage, or of the conflict sliding into a prolonged stalemate.

There is no doubt the outcome in Tripoli will have a bearing on the fate of the popular movement for change across the Arab world. But because this war was born in Paris it will also have consequences for Europe.

“It’s high time that Europeans stopped exporting their own responsibilities to Washington,” says Nick Witney, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “If the West fails in Libya, it will be primarily a European failure.”

A FRENCH FIASCO

When the first Arab pro-democracy uprisings shook the thrones of aging autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt in January, France had got itself on the wrong side of history.

Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie had enjoyed a winter holiday in Tunisia, a former French colony, oblivious to the rising revolt. She and her family had taken free flights on the private jet of a businessman close to President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and then publicly offered the government French assistance with riot control just a few days before Ben Ali was ousted by popular protests.

Worse was to come. It turned out that French Prime Minister Francois Fillon had spent his Christmas vacation up the Nile as the guest of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the next autocrat in the Arab democracy movement’s firing line, while Sarkozy and his wife Carla had soaked up the winter sunshine in Morocco, another former French territory ruled by a barely more liberal divine-right monarch.

Television stations were re-running embarrassing footage of the president giving Gaddafi a red-carpet welcome in Paris in 2007, when Libya’s “brother leader” planted his tent in the grounds of the Hotel de Marigny state guest house across the road from the Elysee presidential palace.

On February 27, a few days after Libyan rebels hoisted the pre-Gaddafi tricolor flag defiantly in Benghazi, Sarkozy fired his foreign minister. In a speech announcing the appointment of Alain Juppe as her successor, Sarkozy cited the need to adapt France’s foreign and security policy to the new situation created by the Arab uprisings. “This is an historic change,” he said. “We must not be afraid of it. We must have one sole aim: to accompany, support and help the people who have chosen freedom.”

MAN IN THE WHITE SHIRT

Yet the international air campaign against Gaddafi’s forces might never have happened without the self-appointed activism of French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, a left-leaning philosopher and talk-show groupie, who lobbied Sarkozy to take up the cause of Libya’s pro-democracy rebels.

Libya was the latest of a string of international causes that the libertarian icon with his unbuttoned white designer shirts and flowing mane of greying hair has championed over the last two decades after Bosnian Muslims, Algerian secularists, Afghan rebels and Georgia’s side in the conflict with Russia. Levy went to meet the Libyan rebels and telephoned Sarkozy from Benghazi in early March.

“I’d like to bring you the Libyan Massouds,” Levy says he told the president, comparing the anti-Gaddafi opposition with former Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who fought against the Islamist Taliban before being assassinated. “As Gaddafi only clings on through violence, I think he’ll collapse,” the philosopher told Reuters in an interview.

On March 10, Levy accompanied two envoys of the Libyan Transitional Council to Sarkozy’s office. To their surprise and to the consternation of France’s allies, the president recognized the council as the “legitimate representative of the Libyan people” and told them he favored not only establishing a no-fly zone to protect them but also carrying out “limited targeted strikes” against Gaddafi’s forces. In doing so without consultation on the eve of a European Union summit called to discuss Libya, Sarkozy upstaged Washington, which was still debating what to do, embarrassed London, which wanted broad support for a no-fly zone, and infuriated Berlin, France’s closest European partner. He also stunned his own foreign minister, who learned about the decision to recognize the opposition from a news agency dispatch, aides said, while in Brussels trying to coax the EU into backing a no-fly zone.

“Quite a lot of members of the European Council were irritated to discover that France had recognized the Libyan opposition council and the Elysee was talking of targeted strikes,” a senior European diplomat said. Across the Channel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, aware of the deep unpopularity of the Iraq war, had turned his back on Tony Blair’s doctrine of liberal interventionism when he took office in 2010. But after facing criticism over the slow evacuation of British nationals from Libya and a trade-promotion trip to the Gulf in the midst of the Arab uprisings, he overruled cabinet skeptics, military doubters and critics among his own Conservative lawmakers to join Sarkozy in campaigning for military action. However, Cameron sought to reassure parliament that he was not entering an Iraq-style open-ended military commitment.

“This is different to Iraq. This is not going into a country, knocking over its government and then owning and being responsible for everything that happens subsequently,” he said. In Britain, as in France, the government won bipartisan support for intervention.

GERMANY MISSING IN ACTION

In Germany, on the other hand, the Libyan uprising was an unwelcome distraction from domestic politics. It played directly into the campaign for regional elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg, a south-western state which Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats had governed since 1953.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, leader of the Free Democrats, the liberal junior partners in Merkel’s coalition, tried to surf on pacifist public opinion by opposing military action. Polls showed two-thirds of voters opposed German involvement in Libya, a country where Nazi Germany’s Afrika Korps had suffered desert defeats in World War Two. Present-day Germany’s armed forces were already overstretched in Afghanistan, where some 5,000 soldiers are engaged in an unpopular long-term mission. Westerwelle made it impossible for Merkel to support a no-fly zone, even without participating. He publicly criticized the Franco-British proposal for a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to prevent Gaddafi using his air force against Libyan civilians. Merkel said she was skeptical. The Germans prevented a March 11 EU summit from making any call for a no-fly zone, much to the frustration of the French and British.

Relations between France’s Juppe and Westerwelle deteriorated further the following week when Germany prevented foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized powers from calling for a no-fly zone in Libya. Westerwelle told reporters: “Military intervention is not the solution. From our point of view, it is very difficult and dangerous. We do not want to get sucked into a war in North Africa. We would not like to step on a slippery slope where we all are at the end in a war.”

That argument angered allies. As the meeting broke up, a senior European diplomat tells Reuters, Juppe turned to Westerwelle and said: “Now that you have achieved everything you wanted, Gaddafi can go ahead and massacre his people.”

When the issue came to the U.N. Security Council on March 17, 10 days before the Baden-Wuerttemberg election, Germany abstained, along with Russia, China, India and Brazil, and said it would take no part in military operations.

Ironically, that stance seems to have been politically counterproductive. The center-right coalition lost the regional election anyway, and both leaders were severely criticized by German media for having isolated Germany from its western partners, including the United States. The main political beneficiaries were the ecologist Greens, seen as both anti-nuclear and anti-war.

U.S. TAKES ITS TIME

In Washington, meanwhile, President Barack Obama was, as usual, taking his time to make up his mind. Military action in Libya was the last thing the U.S. president needed, just when he was trying to extricate American troops from two unpopular wars in Muslim countries launched by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama had sought to rebuild damaged relations with the Muslim world, seen as a key driver of radicalization and terrorism against the United States. The president trod a fine line in embracing pro-democracy and reform movements in the Arab world and Iran while trying to avoid undermining vital U.S. interests in the absolute monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Gulf states. Compared to those challenges, Libya was a sideshow.

The United States had no big economic or political interests in the North African oil and gas producing state and instinctively saw it as part of Europe’s backyard. Obama had also sought to encourage allies, notably in Europe, to take more responsibility for their own security issues. Spelling out the administration’s deep reluctance to get dragged into another potential Arab quagmire, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a farewell speech to officer cadets at the West Point military academy on March 4: “In my opinion, any future Defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined’, as General (Douglas) MacArthur so delicately put it.”

Prominent U.S. foreign policy lawmakers, including Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator John McCain pressed the Obama administration in early March to impose a “no- fly” zone over Libya and explore other military options, such as bombing runways. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on February 28 that a “no-fly” zone was “an option which we are actively considering”.

But the White House pushed back against pressure from lawmakers. “It would be premature to send a bunch of weapons to a post office box in eastern Libya,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on March 7. “We need to not get ahead of ourselves in terms of the options we’re pursuing.”

While Carney said a no-fly zone was a serious option, other U.S. civilian and military officials cautioned that it would be difficult to enforce.

On March 10, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper forecast in Congress that Gaddafi’s better-equipped forces would prevail in the long term, saying Gaddafi appeared to be “hunkering down for the duration”. If there was to be intervention, it had become clear, it would have to come quickly.

ARAB SPINE

U.S. officials say the key event that helped Clinton and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, persuade Obama of the need for intervention was a March 12 decision by the Arab League to ask the U.N. Security Council to declare a no-fly zone to protect the Libyan population. The Arab League’s unprecedented resolve — the organization has long been plagued by chronic divisions and a lack of spine — reflected the degree to which Gaddafi had alienated his peers, especially Saudi Arabia. When the quixotic colonel bothered to attend Arab summits, it was usually to insult the Saudi king and other veteran rulers.

The Arab League decision gave a regional seal of approval that Western nations regarded as vital for military action.

Moreover, two Arab states – Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – soon said they would participate in enforcing a no-fly zone, and a third, Lebanon, co-sponsored a United Nations resolution to authorize the use of force. Arab diplomats said Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister with presidential ambitions, played the key role in squeezing an agreement out of the closed-door meeting.

Syria, Sudan, Algeria and Yemen were all against any move to invite foreign intervention in an Arab state. But diplomats said that by couching the resolution as an appeal to the U.N. Security Council, Moussa maneuvered his way around Article VI of the Arab League’s statutes requiring that such decisions be taken unanimously. It was he who announced the outcome, saying Gaddafi’s government had lost legitimacy because of its “crimes against the Libyan people”.

The African Union, in which Gaddafi played an active but idiosyncratic role, condemned the Libyan leader’s crackdown but rejected foreign military intervention and created a panel of leaders to try to resolve the conflict through dialogue.

However, all three African states on the Security Council – South Africa, Nigeria and Gabon – voted for the resolution. France acted as if it had AU support anyway. Sarkozy invited the organization’s secretary-general, Jean Ping, to the Elysee palace for a showcase summit of coalition countries on the day military action began, and he attended, providing African political cover for the operation.

OBAMA DECIDES

Having failed to win either EU or G8 backing for a no-fly zone, and with the United States internally divided and holding back, France and Britain were in trouble in their quest for a U.N. resolution despite the Arab League support. Gaddafi’s forces had regrouped and recaptured a swathe of the western and central coastal plain, including some key oil terminals, and were advancing fast on Benghazi, a city of 700,000 and the rebels’ stronghold. If international intervention did not come within days, it would be too late. Gaddafi’s troops would be in the population centers, making surgical air strikes impossible without inflicting civilian casualties.

In the nick of time, Obama came off the fence on March 15 at a two-part meeting of his National Security Council. Hillary Clinton participated by telephone from Paris, Susan Rice by secure video link from New York. Both were deeply aware of the events of the 1990s, when Bill Clinton’s administration, in which Rice was an adviser on Africa, had failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda, and only intervened in Bosnia after the worst massacre in Europe since World War Two.

They reviewed what was at stake now. There were credible reports that Gaddafi forces were preparing to massacre the rebels. What signal would it send to Arab democrats if the West let him get away with that, and if Mubarak and Ben Ali, whose armies refused to turn their guns on the people, were overthrown while Gaddafi, who had used his airforce, tanks and artillery against civilian protesters, survived in office?

The president overruled doubters among his military and national security advisers and decided the United States would support an ambitious U.N. resolution going beyond just a no-fly zone, on the strict condition that Washington would quickly hand over leadership of the military action to its allies. “Within days, not weeks,” one participant quoted him as saying.

A senior administration official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the key concern was to avoid any impression that the United States was once again unilaterally bombing an Arab country. Asked what had swung Washington toward agreeing to join military action in Libya, he said: “It’s more that events were evolving and so positions had to address the change of events.”

“The key elements were the Arab League statement, the Lebanese support, co-sponsorship of the actual resolution as the Arab representative on the Security Council, a series of conversations with Arab leaders over the course of that week, leading up to the resolution. All of that convinced us that the Arab countries were fully supportive of the broad resolution that would provide the authorization necessary to protect civilians and to provide humanitarian relief, and then the (March 19) gathering in Paris, confirmed that there was support for the means necessary to carry out the resolution, namely the use of military force,” the official said.

When Rice told her French and British counterparts at the United Nations that Washington now favored a far more aggressive Security Council resolution, including air and sea strikes, they first feared a trap. Was Obama deliberately trying to provoke a Russian veto, a French official mused privately.

“I had a phone call from Susan Rice, Tuesday 8 p.m., and a phone call from Susan Rice at 11 p.m., and everything had changed in three hours,” a senior Western envoy told Reuters. “On Wednesday morning, at the (Security) Council, in a sort of totally awed silence, Susan Rice said: ‘We want to be allowed to strike Libyan forces on the ground.’ There was a sort of a bit surprised silence.”

THE VOTE

Right up to the day of the vote, when Juppe took a plane to New York to swing vital votes behind the resolution, Moscow’s attitude was uncertain. So too were the three African votes. British and French diplomats tried desperately to contact the Nigerian, South African and Gabonese ambassadors but kept being told they were in a meeting.

“There was drama right up to the last minute,” another U.N. diplomat said. That day, March 17, Clinton had just come out of a television studio in Tunis, epicenter of the first Arab democratic revolution, when she spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a secure cellphone. Lavrov, who had strongly opposed a no-fly zone when they met in Geneva on February 28 and remained skeptical when they talked again in Paris on March 14, told her Moscow would not block the resolution. The senior U.S. official denied that Washington had offered Russia trade and diplomatic benefits in return for acquiescence, as suggested by a senior non-American diplomat. However, Obama telephoned President Dimitry Medvedev the following week and reaffirmed his support for Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization, which U.S. ally Georgia is blocking.

China too abstained, allowing the resolution to pass with 10 votes in favor, five abstentions and none against. It authorized the use of “all necessary measures” – code for military action — to protect the civilian population but expressly ruled out a foreign occupation force in any part of Libya. The United States construes it to allow arms sales to the rebels. Most others do not.

Reuters reported exclusively on March 29 that Obama had signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces. The White House and the Central Intelligence Agency declined comment. Clinton said no decision had been taken on whether to arm the rebels.

Arab Jitters, Cold Turkey

No sooner had the first cruise missiles been fired than the Arab League’s Moussa complained that the Western powers had gone beyond the U.N. resolution and caused civilian casualties. His outburst appeared mainly aimed at assuaging Arab public opinion, particularly in Egypt, and he muted his criticism after telephone calls from Paris, London and Washington.

Turkey, the leading Muslim power in NATO with big economic interests in Libya, bitterly criticized the military action in an Islamic country. The Turks were exasperated to see France, the most vociferous adversary of its EU membership bid, leading the coalition. Sarkozy, who alternated on a brief maiden visit to Ankara on February 25 between trying to sell Turkish leaders French nuclear power plants and telling them bluntly to drop their EU ambitions, further angered Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan by failing to invite Turkey to the Paris conference on Libya.

Italy, the former colonial power which had Europe’s biggest trade and investment ties with Libya, had publicly opposed military action until the last minute, but opened its air bases to coalition forces as soon as the U.N. resolution passed. However, Rome quickly demanded that NATO, in which it had a seat at the decision-making table, should take over command of the whole operation. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini threatened to take back control of the vital Italian bases unless the mission was placed under NATO.

But Turkey and France were fighting diplomatic dogfights at NATO headquarters. Ankara wanted to use its NATO veto put the handcuffs on the coalition to stop offensive operations. France wanted to keep political leadership away from the U.S.-led military alliance to avoid a hostile reaction in the Arab world.

The United States signaled its determination to hand over operational command within days, not weeks, as Obama had promised, and wanted tried-and-trusted NATO at the wheel.

It took a week of wrangling before agreement was reached for NATO to take charge of the entire military campaign. In return, France won agreement to create a “contact group” including Arab and African partners, to coordinate political efforts on Libya’s future. Turkey was assuaged by being invited to a London international conference that launched that process.

That enabled the United States to lower its profile and Obama to declare that Washington would not act alone as the world’s policeman “wherever repression occurs”. While the president promised to scale back U.S. involvement to a “supporting role”, the military statistics tell a different tale. As of March 29, the United States had fired all but 7 of the 214 cruise missiles used in the conflict and flown 1,103 sorties compared to 669 for all other allies combined. It also dropped 455 of the first 600 bombs, according to the Pentagon.

For all the showcasing of Arab involvement, only six military aircraft from Qatar had arrived in theater by March 30. They joined French air patrols but did not fly combat missions, a military source said. Sarkozy announced that the United Arab Emirates would send 12 F16 fighters , but NATO and UAE officials refused to say when they would arrive. Britain’s Cameron spoke of unspecified logistical contributions from Kuwait and Jordan. The main Arab contribution is clearly political cover rather than military assets.

CASUALTY LIST

While the duration and the outcome of the war remain uncertain, some political casualties are already visible.

Unless the conflict ends in disaster, Germany and its chancellor and foreign minister – particularly the latter – are set to emerge as losers. “I can tell you there are people in London and Paris who are asking themselves whether this Germany is the kind of country we would like to have as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. That’s a legitimate question which wasn’t posed before,” a senior European diplomat told Reuters. German officials brush aside such talk, saying Berlin would have the backing of its western partners and needs support from developing and emerging countries more in tune with its abstention on the Libya resolution.

Merkel has moved quickly to try to limit the damage. She attended the Paris conference and went along with an EU summit statement on March 25 welcoming the U.N. resolution on which her own government had abstained a week earlier. She also offered NATO extra help in aerial surveillance in Afghanistan to free up Western resources for the Libya campaign.

A second conspicuous casualty has been the European Union’s attempt to build a common foreign, security and Defense policy, and the official meant to personify that ambition, High Representative Catherine Ashton. Many in Paris, London, Brussels and Washington have drawn the conclusion that European Defense is an illusion, given Germany’s visceral reticence about military action. Future serious operations are more likely to be left to NATO, or to coalitions of the willing around Britain and France. By general agreement, Ashton has so far had a bad war. Despite having been among the first European officials to embrace the Arab uprisings and urge the EU to engage with democracy movements in North Africa, she angered both the British and French by airing her doubts about a no-fly zone and the Germans by subsequently welcoming the U.N. resolution. Unable to please everyone, she managed to please no one.

As for Sarkozy, whether he emerges as a hero or a reckless adventurer may depend on events beyond his control in the sands of Libya. Justin Vaisse, a Frenchman who heads the Center for the Study of the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington, detected an undertone of “Francophobia and Sarkophobia” among U.S. policy elites as the war began. “Either the war will go well, and he will look like a far-sighted, decisive leader, or it will go badly and reinforce the image of a showboating cowboy driving the world into war,” Vaisse said. The jury is still out.

(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry in Paris, Arshad Mohammed, David Alexander and Mark Hosenball in Washington, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Lou Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations, Peter Apps in London, Andreas Rinke and Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Yasmine Saleh in Cairo, Simon Cameron-Moore in Istanbul and Maria Golovnina in Tripoli; writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

13-16

War & Water in South Asia

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Los Angeles—April 10th—Ashok C. Shukla, an independent scholar, who has written and edited several books on South Asian security issues that are largely available in India, but, unfortunately, too often have to be imported from there into North America.  He has been commissioned by an editor to compose a chapter on energy security in the environs for as yet unnamed publisher.

Most of the presentation was on the problematic future transport of oil and gas across Pakistan into India.  Yet, the crucial issue of water came up early.  With today’s political situation, fresh water is problematical there, too — competitive to say the least. The Ganges-Brahmaputra basin provides the fresh water or part of it for all but two of the area’s nations.  This probably supplies a billion people with their drinkable supply of water.  The competition between India and Pakistan is a volatile one, and most likely will not terminate itself to the satisfaction of all parties anytime soon.  At the very worse it could become a trigger for thermo-nuclear war between the two military giants within Southern Asia that could destroy hundreds of millions of people along with its ancient civilization!

(Also, not as pressing, towards the east, there have been unsubstantiated accusations that India has been skimming off part of Bangladesh’s aquifer.)

As has been intimated, Dr. Shukla’s chapter will examine the energy insecurity of the remarkably expanding economy of India.  (Since this is the Muslim Observer, although Bharat (India’s) population is only 12% Islamic [about the same percentage as Afro-Americans in the United States], it has the second highest Islamic national numbers in the world.  In Pakistan, 98% of the country is Muslim; Afghanistan, who potentially could play a role in the transportation of oil and gas to the Subcontinent, is circa 99%.  Bangladesh is an Islamic State Constitutionally along with substantial non-Muslim minorities, though; and most of the new raw energy-rich former Soviet Republics are (Socialist) secularized Islamic States currently rediscovering their Islamic roots.  (Your essayist wishes to point to the veracity of the Islamic political issues of the discussion which were not considered by Mr. Shukla.)

Both India and Pakistan are important to the interests of Washington because of the economic rise of New Delhi and the strategic military significance of Rawalpindi.  Also, within, South Asia, there are overbearing ecological issues impacting the entire globe.  India desperately, requires propulsion sources for their spectacularly expanding industries which resides in raw form in Central Asia and Iran, but Islamabad (and to a lesser extent Afghanistan) holds the key transit routes for the necessary pipelines.  The bad feeling between Indo-Pakistan means that in any crisis the Pakistanis have the capability to turn off the valves bringing India’s burgeoning economy to a halt.  Further, the United States is against India buying Iranian gas which would, also, transverse Pakistan.  (This goes back to our bad relations with the Persians which probably will turn out to be temporary anyway.) The United States is pressing for the pipelines to go through Turkestan.  Nevertheless, added to American opposition, New Delhi does not accept Pakistan’s terms to permit a pipeline from Tehran.) 

Whatever, SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) will not involve itself in political matters between India and Pakistan by the very nature of its charter (it is only an economic organization), and, thus, will not intervene in bi-lateral matters.  (For this reason, it lacks relevance as a prospective influential territorial negotiator on dangerous political issues over the vastness of the geographical extent of the Indic sphere. 

Ashok C. Shukla ended his proposed chapter with the statement that South Asia totally lacks energy security.

(Your reporter pointed to the fact that Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, may be sitting on a sea of gas.  Although a Muslim country it is friendly to India [as is Iran and the Central Asian Republics].  One of the reasons that the gas fields have not been developed is that the technology to liquefy the gaseous energy has not been perfected yet in large enough quantities to ship it to the West and China on ships.  It would make sense, though, to send it to India through pipes, and that would solve the energy security issue for New Delhi, and, further, it would help with the ecological problem since the Republic of India depends on coal for its industrial expansion, and natural gas is much, much cleaner burning).

Dr. Shukla rejected this due to Bangladesh’s nationalistic sensibilities (which your writer finds it hard to believe, for the East Bengals badly require foreign exchange, and their gas could make them as rich as some of the Middle East oil giants! ) 

12-20

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.

12-19

How Dubai Unraveled a Homicide, Frame by Frame

March 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A mix of old-fashioned legwork and high-tech razzle-dazzle, scouring hundreds of hours of surveillance videos, helped police home in on suspects in a Hamas man’s slaying, blamed on Israel’s Mossad.

By Borzou Daragahi, LA Times

  • Hatem Moussa / Associated Press

Reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Lacking witnesses but blessed with hundreds of hours of video, the cops and spooks worked the case of the slain weapons smuggler like a movie in reverse.

Dubai’s cameras never blink. The security system allows law enforcement to track anyone, from the moment they get off an airplane, to the immigration counter where their passport is scanned, through the baggage claim area to the taxi stand where cameras record who gets into what cars, which log their locations through the city’s automated highway toll system, all the way to their hotels, which also have cameras.

Which brings us to the Bustan Rotana hotel on the night of Jan. 19, and an assassination made to look like a run-of-the-mill heart attack.

The dead man, as the world now knows, was a 50-year-old Hamas commander named Mahmoud Mabhouh, wanted by Israel in the killing of two Israeli soldiers. Once Dubai investigators narrowed the time of death to 8 to 8:30 p.m., they quickly found that seven people in the Bustan Rotana had no business being there.

Using facial recognition software, a source familiar with the investigation said, a team of 20 investigators pored over hours of security camera videos to sketch out a picture of the suspects’ movements and accomplices, a group that has grown to at least 27 people.

They tracked down taxi drivers and grilled them about the suspects. They even traced the trip of a female suspect to a shopping center and discovered what she bought.

For years, the United Arab Emirates has been using its considerable oil wealth to build up its defense and security infrastructure, including the National Security Agency, the secret police, which is playing a key role in the investigation.

"They buy the best," said Kamal Awar, a retired Lebanese army officer and editor of Beirut-based Defense 21, a regional military magazine. "They bought the latest technology in satellite and communications."

In the end, a mixture of high-tech razzle-dazzle and old-fashioned investigative work cracked the case.

"What it takes is a few skilled police officers putting stuff on the board and figuring out who relates to what," said Col. Patrick Lang, a former U.S. military intelligence officer who served in the Persian Gulf for years. "It’s not a magic thing. It’s a question of thinking clearly."

A homicide in disguise

The middle-aged man was splayed out dead in his hotel room as if he’d gone into cardiac arrest. The door was chained from the inside. Coroners surmised that he’d died of natural causes.

But one doctor noticed an abnormality in the blood. He later spotted strange puncture marks on a leg and behind an ear. And after the Palestinian militant group Hamas informed Dubai authorities that the dead man was Mahmoud Mabhouh, they decided it couldn’t hurt to double-check. Blood samples were sent abroad. Days passed.

When the toxicology reports showed that he’d been given a lethal dose of a powerful anesthetic, Dubai authorities knew they had a high-profile homicide on their hands. Though Mabhouh was no friend of the Emirates, authorities were furious about the killing.

"The whole operation was based on one key assumption: that the death will be recorded as a natural death," Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center, a Dubai think tank, said of the assassins. "And that was the downfall. The reason why they were so careless was because they thought there would be no investigation."

At least half of the passports used by the 27 suspects bore the names and registration numbers of Israeli dual citizens who held British, Irish, Australian, French or German passports, leading many experts to believe that Israel’s spy outfit, Mossad, had forged the identities.

Israeli officials have been tight-lipped about the case and refused to confirm or deny the nation’s involvement. None of the suspects captured on video or identified in passport photos, including a bottle-blond and an assortment of beefy, balding guys wearing rectangular glasses, have come forward to deny or confirm their involvement.

Interpol announced last week that it was joining the international investigation.

"Investigative information provided by the authorities in Dubai bore out the international links and broad scope of the number of people involved, as well as the role of two ‘teams’ of individuals identified by the Dubai police as being linked to al-Mabhouh’s murder," Interpol said in a statement.

An unlikely place to strike

Perhaps no hotel in Dubai is less amenable to an assassination than the upscale Bustan Rotana, in the Garhoud district adjacent to the airport. The circular building’s rooms are arrayed around a vast airy atrium.

"If you’re sitting in the lobby you can see the door to every room," said Theodore Karasik, a security analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Affairs, a think tank with offices in Dubai and Beirut. "If there’s a scuffle, you can see and hear it."

Security experts around the world have also puzzled over the apparent size of the hit team: 27 bearers of Western passports and, according to Hamas, two or three Palestinians.

Some security experts said the assassins knew what they were doing, organizing themselves into evacuation, surveillance and execution teams.

But others see a classic bureaucratic blunder.

"You have a surveillance team and a counter-surveillance team and the technical people as well as the security people around the perimeter," said Lang, the former U.S. military intelligence officer. "Once you start doing that, you have to have shifts. You have to have two or three sets of these people and rotate them. Once you start doing it that way you’re going to have a lot of people."

The assailants apparently entered the hotel room without any struggle, suggesting that someone on the team knew Mabhouh. A fatal dose of the powerful muscle relaxant succinylcholine quickly paralyzes its recipient and ultimately mimics the effects of a heart attack. It should have killed Mabhouh within 15 minutes.

But something must have gone wrong, said the source with knowledge of the investigation, because the assassins pressed a pillow against Mabhouh’s face for one or two minutes until he suffocated. "They were panicking for one reason or another," said the source.

The hit team tidied up the room and laid Mabhouh out as though he’d suffered a massive heart attack and dropped dead.

Dubai Police Chief. Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim told satellite channel Al Arabiya that "the murderers tried their best to mislead us."

A knack for putting things together

Just as police were about to conclude that it was a natural death, a Palestinian man trying to contact Mabhouh learned of his death and telephoned his family in Gaza. It was only then that Hamas officials contacted Dubai police, Tamim said.

"Dubai police are very good at piecing together crimes," analyst Karasik said. "I’ve seen it before when you had robberies or murders occur and you’ll forget about the story and then six months later the guys are arrested via Interpol, brought back here and then they disappear into the system."

Although Mabhouh’s assassins managed to enter the country, kill him and get out without getting caught, the case has generated what most analysts consider unwelcome fallout for Israel, which most suspect of being behind the attack.

Authorities are now reexamining the death of Faisal Husseini, a charismatic Palestinian leader who died in his Kuwait hotel room in 2001.

"Now we know their tradecraft," said Alani. "We know how they operate."

If Mossad agents were behind the attack, the operation blew the identities of 27 agents; it takes up to five years to train each agent.

"They’ll never be able to go outside of Israel again, even with disguises," Karasik said. "Biometrics means all of the contours of your face are on file."

daragahi@latimes.com

The Road to Armageddon

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Craig Roberts

Armageddon The Washington Times is a newspaper that looks with favor upon the Bush/Cheney/Obama/neocon wars of aggression in the Middle East and favors making terrorists pay for 9/11. Therefore, I was surprised to learn on February 24 that the most popular story on the paper’s website for the past three days was the “Inside the Beltway” report, “Explosive News,” about the 31 press conferences in cities in the US and abroad on February 19 held by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, an organization of professionals which now has 1,000 members.

I was even more surprised that the news report treated the press conference seriously. How did three World Trade Center skyscrapers suddenly disintegrate into fine dust? How did massive steel beams in three skyscrapers suddenly fail as a result of short-lived, isolated, and low temperature fires? “A thousand architects and engineers want to know, and are calling on Congress to order a new investigation into the destruction of the Twin Towers and Building 7,” reports the Washington Times.

The paper reports that the architects and engineers have concluded that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology provided “insufficient, contradictory and fraudulent accounts of the circumstances of the towers’ destruction” and are “calling for a grand jury investigation of NIST officials.”

The newspaper reports that Richard Gage, the spokesperson for the architects and engineers said: “Government officials will be notified that “Misprision of Treason,’ U.S. Code 18 (Sec. 2382) is a serious federal offense, which requires those with evidence of treason to act. The implications are enormous and may have profound impact on the forthcoming Khalid Sheik Mohammed trial.”

There is now an organization, Firefighters for 9/11 Truth. At the main press conference in San Francisco, Eric Lawyer,the head of that organization, announced the firefighters’ support for the architects and engineers’ demands. He reported that no forensic investigation was made of the fires that are alleged to have destroyed the three buildings and that this failure constitutes a crime.

Mandated procedures were not followed, and instead of being preserved and investigated, the crime scene was destroyed. He also reported that there are more than one hundred first responders who heard and experienced explosions and that there is radio, audio and video evidence of explosions.

Also at the press conference, physicist Steven Jones presented the evidence of nano-thermite in the residue of the WTC buildings found by an international panel of scientists led by University of Copenhagen nano-chemist Professor Niels Harrit. Nano-thermite is a high-tech explosive/pyrotechnic capable of instantly melting steel girders.

Before we yell “conspiracy theory,” we should be aware that the architects, engineers, firefighters, and scientists offer no theory. They provide evidence that challenges the official theory. This evidence is not going to go away.

If expressing doubts or reservations about the official story in the 9/11 Commission Report makes a person a conspiracy theory kook, then we have to include both co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission and the Commission’s legal counsel, all of whom have written books in which they clearly state that they were lied to by government officials when they conducted their investigation, or, rather, when they presided over the investigation conducted by executive director Philip Zelikow, a member of President George W. Bush’s transition team and Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a co-author of Bush Secretary of State Condi “Mushroom Cloud” Rice.

There will always be Americans who will believe whatever the government tells them no matter how many times they know the government has lied to them. Despite expensive wars that threaten Social Security and Medicare, wars based on non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, non-existent Saddam Hussein connections to al Qaida, non-existent Afghan participation in the 9/11 attacks, and the non-existent Iranian nukes that are being hyped as the reason for the next American war of aggression in the Middle East, more than half of the U.S. population still believes the fantastic story that the government has told them about 9/11, a Muslim conspiracy that outwitted the entire Western world.

Moreover, it doesn’t matter to these Americans how often the government changes its story. For example, Americans first heard of Osama bin Laden because the Bush regime pinned the 9/11 attacks on him. Over the years video after video was served up to the gullible American public of bin Laden’s pronouncements. Experts dismissed the videos as fakes, but Americans remained their gullible selves. Then suddenly last year a new 9/11 “mastermind” emerged to take bin Laden’s place, the captive Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the detainee waterboarded 183 times until he confessed to masterminding the 9/11 attack.

In the Middle Ages confessions extracted by torture constituted evidence, but self-incrimination has been a no-no in the U.S. legal system since our founding. But with the Bush regime and the Republican federal judges, whom we were assured would defend the U.S. Constitution, the self-incrimination of Sheik Mohammed stands today as the only evidence the U.S. government has that Muslim terrorists pulled off 9/11.

If a person considers the feats attributed to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, they are simply unbelievable. Sheik Mohammed is a more brilliant, capable superhero than V in the fantasy movie, “V for Vendetta.” Sheik Mohammed outwitted all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies along with those of all U.S. allies or puppets, including Israel’s Mossad. No intelligence service on earth, or all of them combined, was a match for Sheik Mohammed.

Sheik Mohammed outwitted the U.S. National Security Council, Dick Cheney, the Pentagon, the State Department, NORAD, the U.S. Air Force, and Air Traffic Control. He caused Airport Security to fail four times in one morning. He caused the state-of-the-art air defenses of the Pentagon to fail, allowing a hijacked airliner, which was off course all morning while the U.S. Air Force, for the first time in history, was unable to get aloft intercepter aircraft, to crash into the Pentagon.

Sheik Mohammed was able to perform these feats with unqualified pilots.

Sheik Mohammed, even as a waterboarded detainee, has managed to prevent the FBI from releasing the many confiscated videos that would show, according to the official story, the hijacked airliner hitting the Penagon.

How naive do you have to be to believe that any human, or for that matter Hollywood fantasy character, is this powerful and capable?

If Sheik Mohammed has these superhuman capabilities, how did the incompetent Americans catch him? This guy is a patsy tortured into confession in order to keep the American naifs believing the government’s conspiracy theory.

What is going on here is that the U.S. government has to bring the 9/11 mystery to an end. The government must put on trial and convict a culprit so that it can close the case before it explodes. Anyone waterboarded 183 times would confess to anything.

The U.S. government has responded to the evidence being arrayed against its outlandish 9/11 conspiracy theory by redefining the war on terror from external to internal enemies. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on February 21 that American extremists are now as big a concern as international terrorists. Extremists, of course, are people who get in the way of the government’s agenda, such as the 1,000 Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. The group used to be 100, now it is 1,000. What if it becomes 10,000?

Cass Sunstein, an Obama regime official, has a solution for the 9/11 skeptics: Infiltrate them and provoke them into statements and actions that can be used to discredit or to arrest them. But get rid of them at all cost.

Why employ such extreme measures against alleged kooks if they only provide entertainment and laughs? Is the government worried that they are on to something?

Instead, why doesn’t the U.S. government simply confront the evidence that is presented and answer it?

If the architects, engineers, firefighters, and scientists are merely kooks, it would be a simple matter to acknowledge their evidence and refute it. Why is it necessary to infiltrate them with police agents and to set them up?

Many Americans would reply that “their” government would never even dream of killing Americans by hijacking airliners and destroying buildings in order to advance a government agenda. But on February 3, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told the House Intelligence Committee that the U.S. government can assassinate its own citizens when they are overseas. No arrest, trial, or conviction of a capital crime is necessary. Just straight out murder.

Obviously, if the U.S. government can murder its citizens abroad it can murder them at home, and has done so. For example, 100 Branch Davidians were murdered in Waco, Texas, by the Clinton administration for no legitimate reason. The government just decided to use its power knowing that it could get away with it, which it did.

Americans who think “their” government is some kind of morally pure operation would do well to familiarize themselves with Operation Northwoods. Operation Northwoods was a plot drawn up by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff for the CIA to commit acts of terrorism in American cities and fabricate evidence blaming Castro so that the U.S. could gain domestic and international support for regime change in Cuba. The secret plan was nixed by President John F. Kennedy and was declassified by the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board. It is available online in the National Security Archive. There are numerous online accounts available, including Wikipedia. James Bamford’s book, Body of Secrets, also summarizes the plot:

“Operation Northwoods, which had the written approval of the Chairman [Gen. Lemnitzer] and every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro, thus giving Lemnitzer and his cabal the excuse, as well as the public and international backing, they needed to launch their war.”

Prior to 9/11 the American neoconservatives were explicit that the wars of aggression that they intended to launch in the Middle East required “a new Pearl Harbor.”

For their own good and that of the wider world, Americans need to pay attention to the growing body of experts who are telling them that the government’s account of 9/11 fails their investigation. 9/11 launched the neoconservative plan for U.S. world hegemony.

As I write, the U.S. government is purchasing the agreement of foreign governments that border Russia to accept U.S. missile interceptor bases. The U.S. intends to ring Russia with U.S. missile bases from Poland through central Europe and Kosovo to Georgia, Azerbaijan and central Asia. U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke declared on February 20 that al Qaida is moving into former central Asian constituent parts of the Soviet Union, such as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. Holbrooke is soliciting U.S. bases in these former Soviet republics under the guise of the ever-expanding “war on terror.”

The U.S. has already encircled Iran with military bases. The U.S. government intends to neutralize China by seizing control over the Middle East and cutting China off from oil.

This plan assumes that Russia and China, nuclear armed states, will be intimidated by U.S. anti-missile defenses and acquiesce to U.S. hegemony and that China will lack oil for its industries and military.

The U.S. government is delusional. Russian military and political leaders have responded to the obvious threat by declaring NATO a direct threat to the security of Russia and by announcing a change in Russian war doctrine to the pre-emptive launch of nuclear weapons. The Chinese are too confident to be bullied by a washed-up American “superpower.”

The morons in Washington are pushing the envelope of nuclear war. The insane drive for American hegemony threatens life on earth. The American people, by accepting the lies and deceptions of “their” government, are facilitating this outcome.

[Paul Craig Roberts, a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, has been reporting shocking cases of prosecutorial abuse for two decades. A new edition of his book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions, co-authored with Lawrence Stratton, a documented account of how Americans lost the protection of law, was published by Random House in March, 2008. His latest book, How The Economy Was Lost, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press.]

12-10

A New Battle Begins in Pakistan

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD – Despite serious reservations, Pakistan’s military at the weekend began an all-out offensive against the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda in the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.

The deployment of about 30,000 troops in South Waziristan, backed by the air force, shifts the main theater of the South Asian battlefield from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

That Pakistan has become a focal point was underscored on Sunday when six Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders were killed, as well as 37 other people, in an attack in Iran’s restive Sistan-Balochistan province.

Iranian state television said the Foreign Ministry summoned a senior Pakistani diplomat in Tehran, saying there was evidence

“the perpetrators of this attack came to Iran from Pakistan”. The Pakistani government was asked not to delay “in the apprehension of the main elements in this terrorist attack”.

The attack has been blamed on the group Jundallah, which is believed to operate from Pakistan’s Balochistan province and which recently established a link with al-Qaeda. (See Al-Qaeda seeks a new alliance Asia Times Online, May 21, 2009.)

On Monday, clashes between the Pakistan military and the militants continued for the third day in South Waziristan. Islamabad says that 60 militants have been killed, with 11 soldiers dead.

The army had serious reservations about sending ground troops into South Waziristan, firstly for fear of a strong militant backlash in other parts of the country and secondly because there is no guarantee of success. However, under pressure from the United States, and with the carrot of US$1.5 billion a year for the next fives years in additional non-military aid, Pakistan’s political government has bitten the bullet. The timing might have been influenced by a string of militant attacks in the country over the past few days.

The offensive is concentrated in the areas of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan, which is also the headquarters of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

In preparation for the assault, the army made ceasefire deals with several influential Taliban warlords who run large networks against coalition troops in Afghanistan. They include Mullah Nazir, the chief of the Taliban in Wana, South Waziristan, who operates the largest Taliban network in the Afghan province of Paktika. Mullah Nazir is neutral in this Pakistani conflict and agreed to allow passage to the army to enter Mehsud territory.

In North Waziristan, two top Taliban commanders, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Moulvi Sadiq Noor, also agreed to remain neutral. They are members of the Shura of the Mujahideen and a main component of the Taliban’s insurgency in the Afghan province of Khost.

This leaves a few thousand Mehsud tribal fighters along with their Uzbek and Punjabi militant allies to fight against the military. Thousands of civilians have fled the area.

However, Hakimullah Mehsud of the TTP, according to Asia Times Online contacts, has apparently adopted a strategy that will not expend too many resources on protecting the Mehsud area. Instead, he aims to spread chaos by attacking security personnel in the cities. Hakimullah was the architect of successful attacks on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s supply lines in the Khyber Agency, which began in 2007.

The same contacts say that when thousands of people left South Waziristan last week under the military’s directives, a majority of the militants melted away to the Shawal region, situated at the crossroads of South Waziristan, Afghanistan and North Waziristan, besides going to Pakistani cities.

A very limited force is entrenched in the Mehsud tribal area, and by all accounts it is putting up fierce resistance.

In the cities, the TTP will be assisted by Punjabis, who will aim to replicate the audacious and well-planned attack on the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi on October 10.

This attack and subsequent siege in which a number of hostages were held exposed loopholes in the security mechanisms of the armed forces as well as the deep penetration of militants in the security forces.

A transcript of the militants’ calls, intercepted by the security forces and read by Asia Times Online, shows that the militants had noticed a damaged wall at General Headquarters Rawalpindi. They therefore engaged security personnel at the main gate, while at the same time sending about 10 men through the breach in the wall. These militants were given support by insiders.

The attackers made directly for the barracks of Military Intelligence and took several senior officials hostage, including the director general of Military Intelligence. They then presented a list of demands. According to some reports which have not been authenticated by independent sources, six prisoners were released on the militants’ demands before the hostages were released after a commando operation on October 11.

Washington has been keen to extend the war into Pakistan since early 2008. To reflect this, this year it coined “AfPak”, and even appointed a special representative, Richard Holbrooke, to handle this portfolio. The focus in Pakistan was to be the militant bases in the tribal areas which feed directly into the insurgency across the border.

The aim was to create breathing space for coalition troops in Afghanistan and eventually pave the way for an honorable exit strategy after initiating talks with sections of the Taliban.

This year, the US also stepped up its presence in Pakistan by acquiring new bases and the Americans developed a joint intelligence mechanism with Pakistan to hit al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan with Predator drones. These missile attacks have proved particularly successful in taking out key targets, including Baitullah Mehsud, the TTP leader.

The US also coordinated ground military operations such as Lion Heart, which saw coalition troops on the Afghan side working with Pakistani troops on the other side to squeeze militants. (Asia Times Online documented this last year – see US forces the terror issue with Pakistan September 16, 2008.)

There are parallels in what the US is doing with Pakistan to what happened during the Vietnam War, when that war was extended into Laos and Cambodia.

Beyond the South Waziristan operation

Washington is watching developments in Waziristan with keen interest. Both General Stanley A McChrystal, the top US general in Afghanistan, and US Central Command chief, General David Petraeus, are currently in Pakistan.

They will be pleased that Pakistan has committed its biggest-ever force for such an operation – 30,000 troops with another 30,000 in reserve. Yet the chances of a decisive military victory remain remote.

Given the nature of the opposition and the tough territory, there is a high probability of extensive casualties in the army, with resultant desertions and dissent. There is also no guarantee that if the conflict drags on, the warlords with whom ceasefires have been agreed will not go back on their deals.

At the same time, there are signals that the Taliban in the Swat area in North-West Frontier Province are regrouping after being pushed back by the army this year. It is likely that by the time the snow chokes major supply routes, the Taliban will have seized all lost ground in the Swat Valley. By marching into South Waziristan, the military has taken something of a gamble as it is highly unlikely to eliminate the militant threat. Indeed, the past seven or so years have shown that after any operation against militants, the militants have always gained from the situation. By the same token, the militants don’t have the capacity to permanently control ground beyond their areas in South Waziristan and North Waziristan.

In this situation, in which the militants and the military can’t defeat one another, and if the fighting continues, a political crisis could be provoked. This would weaken the state of Pakistan and its institutions. Alternatively, the authorities could accept the fact that Pakistan is a tribal society which always operates through bargains and deals, and move quickly to contain this conflict.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief.

12-9

Egypt/Palestine : The Wall of Shame

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tariq Ramadan

2010-02-10T110526Z_497589140_GM1E62A1H2L01_RTRMADP_3_PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL

Palestinians tries to break off bricks from a building at an abandoned airport that was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip February 10, 2010. Israel launched an air strike in the southern Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian rocket fire, an army spokesperson said on Wednesday.

REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

It is common knowledge that the Palestinians have long been direct victims of the directionless, spineless and hypocritical polices of the Arab leadership. It is equally common knowledge that the State of Israel need make no effort to impose its vision, its methods and its objectives. Given the support of the United States, Europe’s guilty silence and the compliant passivity of the Arab regimes, we know what to expect. The foreign policy of most Arab states has been described with good reason as “pro-Zionist.” Their cowardice and treachery comes as no surprise.

Following last year’s murderous attack on Gaza by Israeli forces, we may have thought we’d seen the worst. That judgment failed to take into account the ingenuity of the “worse yet” scenario produced by the Egyptian regime and the “religious authorities” of al-Azhar. In the name of “national security”, of the fight against “terrorism”, and ultimately, of combating “corruption”, “smuggling” and “drug trafficking”, the Egyptian government is building a wall reaching twenty meters below ground level to stop the “Gazans” from carrying out their “illegal” activities and from digging “smuggling tunnels.” Of course, the Egyptian government has no intention of confining the inhabitants of Gaza to their hell; of course, the measure is dictated only by concern for national security! So persuasive is the argument that the committee of religious experts of al-Azhar quickly endorsed the government decision, declaring it to be “islamically legitimate” (“in conformity with the Shari’a”) for the country to protect its borders. (The al-Azhar scholars were responding to a fatwa issued by the International Union of Muslim Scholars that had ruled the exact opposite, that the Egyptian decision was “islamically unacceptable.”)

For shame! So this is how justice is mocked, how power and religion are misused. The Palestinian people, and most of all the inhabitants of Gaza, are denied their dignity and their rights; deprived of access to food, to water and to basic health care. And now, the Egyptian government becomes the ally of Israeli policy at its worst: isolating, strangling, starving, and smothering Palestinian civilian life after having eradicated hundreds. The aim is clear: to choke off all resistance and to destroy its leadership. The Egyptian government has blocked convoys attempting to deliver badly needed aid to the Palestinian people in an effort to raise the siege of Gaza. The mobilization that brought hundreds of women and men from around the world to Rafah was met by refusal upon refusal by the Cairo authorities, along with a strategy of selective humiliation.

For shame! No wonder the Israeli government purring with contentment. After all, a new and “promising” start for the “peace process” has been announced! There will be something for everybody: the United States, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt has spared no efforts to draft a new and “comprehensive” program. A splendid “peace process” indeed, in whose name civilians have suffered months of blockade before their leaders are invited to take their place at the “free” and “respectful” negotiating table. Israel can keep on purring: it can play for more time without making the slightest concession. Settlement activities are to be temporarily frozen—except for construction projects already underway. Finer negotiations would be hard to find!

It cannot be repeated often enough: the Egyptian “national security wall” is a wall of shame. The religious authorities that have legitimized it have behaved exactly like the notorious “ulama” (Muslim scholars) or “Islamic councils” that openly serve power, whether of dictators or the forces of colonialism, or of some self-styled Republic specializing in the manipulation of religion. What can possibly remain of their credibility after issuing a “political fatwa” that lends the Islamic endorsement of craven scholars to the power of dictatorship? Silence would have been far better.

We must condemn these unacceptable acts, and stand beside those who resist with dignity. If successive Israeli governments know one thing—with which we must agree—it is this: the Palestinian people will not surrender. For those who may still harbor doubts, we must add a second certainty, that of time: History is on the side of the Palestinians; it is they who represent, today and tomorrow, hope for the noblest human values. To resist oppression, to defend one’s legitimate rights and one’s land, to never yield to the arrogance and to the lies of the mighty. As for the power of the Israelis, the Egyptians and others, as for the fatwas of government-appointed ulama, these things too will pass; they will pass, and will be forgotten. Happily forgotten. For the duty of memory is transformed into forgetfulness when it comes to the names and the acts of dictators, traitors and cowards.

12-7

Christmas Day Crotch Bomber Tied To Israel, FBI

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jeff Gates, Salem-News.com

(TEMPE, Az.) – The Christmas Day “terrorist” is the latest in a series of staged incidents meant to make The Clash of Civilizations appear plausible and “the war on terrorism” rational.

The storyline does not hold together. Not even a little bit. As usual, the source of this media-fueled fear campaign traces directly to Tel Aviv-with a supporting role by the FBI.

How did a young Nigerian Muslim without a passport “slip through” security at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport? Not only did his itinerary feature an illogical travel route, he paid cash for a high-priced last-minute ticket and boarded without checked baggage. How?

ICTS International, the security screening company at Schiphol, was founded by former members of Shin Bet, Israel’s civil security agency, and Israeli executives in charge of El Al security. ICTS had already proven its expertise in mounting this type of operation.

In December 2001, Richard “The Shoe Bomber” Reid “slipped through” ICTS security at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Huntleigh USA, an ICTS subsidiary, shared responsibility for security at Logan International Airport in Boston where hijackers for two of the four 911 jets “slipped through” airport security. It gets better.

The Crotch Bomber told U.S. authorities that radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki counseled him on the incident. Born and raised in New Mexico, Al-Awlaki moved to Yemen in 2004 after advising the two 911 hijackers who trained in San Diego. He also advised U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan who is charged with shooting 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009.

It’s not yet clear whether FBI agents were monitoring the Nigerian while he too was advised by Al-Awlaki. If not, that would be an anomaly in a repetitive pattern of FBI complicity.

FBI agents not only monitored Major Hasan and Al-Awlaki before the Fort Hood shootings, they also monitored the San Diego hijackers while they were advised by Al-Awlaki. It gets better.

Though the Nigerian was foiled while trying to ignite 80 grams of PETN, an explosive sewn into his underwear, that amount was barely enough to dislodge the arm on his seat – of course that assumes it could have been ignited.

Without a blasting cap, this “terrorist incident” was doomed to failure even before he “slipped through” security. Could this get even better? Oh yeah.

We were told about his father alerting the C.I.A. station chief in Lagos. However we were not informed that his father, a banker, oversaw a Nigerian defense firm that hired Israeli Defense Forces personnel to train Nigerians – in security.

Nor were we told that, for decades, Nigeria has been a central hub for Israelis laundering the proceeds of their transnational organized crime. That’s not all.

The Iraq War Connection

Four days after 911, San Diego special agent Steven Butler came to the San Diego home of Iraqi-American Munther Ghazal, the Iraqi closest to Saddam Hussein then living in the U.S.

That’s the same day Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz proposed in a principal’s meeting at Camp David that the U.S. should invade Iraq. Iraq?!

Agent Butler paid rent and cashed checks for the two San Diego hijackers while they were being advised by Al-Awlaki. What did Butler want to know? Was Ghazal funding Mel Rockefeller with whom he had traveled to Iraq in 1997.

While in Baghdad, they confirmed that Saddam Hussein had mothballed Iraq’s WMD program after the 1991 Gulf War – and was prepared to negotiate his departure without this war. That was four years before 911. The FBI has yet to interview Mel Rockefeller.

Meanwhile, the usual suspects are once again profiting off the misery of both sides in a “Clash” that they played a key role in creating. It was Jewish Zionist Bernard Lewis who first coined the term, The Clash of Civilizations.

Only later was Harvard professor Samuel Huntington branded with that premise when his book by that name was published in 1996, five years before 911.

Israeli-American Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security (aka the rabbi’s son), now promotes firms that manufacturer highly intrusive body scanners that are terrific for spotting crotch bombers unless, of course, an Israeli firm is in charge of security.

News reports suggest that the stock of body-scanning firms soared $3 billion in value after this latest “terrorist” incident. Imagine the glee among clients of the Chertoff Group.

Meanwhile the U.S. has been transformed from the wealthiest nation to the world’s largest debtor. Nobel economist Joe Stiglitz projects a $3 trillion tab for a war based on fixed, flawed and outright fabricated intelligence – every cent of it borrowed, including $700 billion in interest.

Tel Aviv: The Common Source of Terror

That’s not all. Controlling shares in ICTS are held by Menachem Atzmon, board chairman since 2004. While treasurer of Israel’s long-dominant Likud Party, Atzmon was convicted of campaign finance fraud. His co-treasurer, Ehud Olmert, resigned as Prime Minister in 2008 after being acquitted of fraud amid multiple corruption charges.

Did I forget to mention that ICTS was also handling security for London’s bus system when the U.K. was targeted for its terrorist attack? Did I neglect to note that six months prior to the Shoe Bomber’s flight on American Airlines, Richard Reid was stopped at Schiphol while boarding an El Al flight to Tel Aviv? Shin Bet allowed him to board so he could be monitored in Israel.

Did the Israelis inform their loyal ally about Richard Reid? What do you think?

Remember the October 1983 truck bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut that left 241 Americans dead? A former Mossad case officer conceded they had a description of the truck. Did our ally tell us? What do you think?

Our withdrawal from Lebanon left the field open to those who specialize in displacing facts with what targeted populations (including our own) can be deceived to believe.

Recall our belief in Iraqi WMD? Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda? Iraqi mobile biological weapons laboratories? Iraqi yellowcake uranium from Niger? Iraqi meetings in Prague? All were false. All were traceable to Tel Aviv. Are you still having trouble connecting the dots?

As the U.S. sinks into bankruptcy, we are ridiculed abroad for failing to acknowledge the obvious: Americans have long been the target of a fraud operated by Israelis, pro-Israelis and those supportive of their goals for the region.

What better way to wage war on the U.S. than from within? How else can Israel expand except by duping its super power ally to wage wars for Greater Israel? Never mind the cost in blood and treasure. As an ally, the U.S. is easily portrayed as guilty by association.

Those promoting the Crotch Bomber scare are part of the problem. In the Information Age, this latest false flag operation is typical of how treason proceeds in plain sight yet, to date, with impunity. Those media outlets marketing this latest lie are an enemy within.

Special thanks to: The Sabbah Report
Special thanks to: intifada-palestine.com

Jeff Gates is a widely acclaimed author, attorney, investment banker, educator and consultant to government, corporate and union leaders worldwide.

Jeff’s latest book is Guilt By Association — How Deception and Self-Deceit Took America to War (2008). His previous books include Democracy at Risk: Rescuing Main Street From Wall Street and The Ownership Solution: Toward a Shared Capitalism for the 21st Century. For two decades, an adviser to policy-makers worldwide. Counsel to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee (1980-87).

For more: information, visit: criminalstate.com You can email Jeff Gates at this address: jeffgates2@gmail.com

12-7

Don’t Panic. Fear Is Al-Qaeda’s Real Goal

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

In responding to the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced the feelings of many when she said that to prevent such situations, “I’d rather overreact than underreact.” This appears to be the consensus view in Washington, but it is quite wrong. The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn’t work. Alas, this one worked very well.

The attempted bombing says more about al-Qaeda’s weakened state than its strength. In the eight years before Sept. 11, al-Qaeda was able to launch large-scale terrorist attacks on several continents. It targeted important symbols of American power — embassies in Africa; a naval destroyer, the USS Cole; and, of course, the World Trade Center. The operations were complex — a simultaneous bombing of two embassies in different countries — and involved dozens of people of different nationalities who trained around the world, moved significant sums of money and coordinated their efforts over months, sometimes years.

On Christmas an al-Qaeda affiliate launched an operation using one person, with no special target, and a failed technique tried eight years ago by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. The plot seems to have been an opportunity that the group seized rather than the result of a well-considered strategic plan. A Nigerian fanatic with (what appeared to be) a clean background volunteered for service; he was wired up with a makeshift explosive and put on a plane. His mission failed entirely, killing not a single person. The suicide bomber was not even able to commit suicide. But al-Qaeda succeeded in its real aim, which was to throw the American system into turmoil. That’s why the terror group proudly boasted about the success of its mission.

Is there some sensible reaction between panic and passivity? Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and later a senior State Department official in the Bush administration, suggests that we should try to analyze failures in homeland security the way we do airplane catastrophes. When an airliner suffers an accident, major or minor, the National Transportation Safety Board convenes a group of nonpartisan experts who methodically examine what went wrong and then issue recommendations to improve the situation. “We approach airline security with the understanding that it’s a complex problem, that we have a pretty good system, but that there will be failures — caused by human beings, technology, or other factors. The point is to constantly fix what’s broken and keep improving the design and execution,” says Zelikow.

Imagine if that were the process after a lapse in homeland security. The public would know that any attack, successful or not, would trigger an automatic, serious process to analyze the problem and fix it. Politicians might find it harder to use every such event for political advantage. The people on the front lines of homeland security would not get demoralized as they watched politicians and the media bash them and grandstand with little knowledge.

Overreacting to terrorist attacks plays into al-Qaeda’s hands. It also provokes responses that are likely to be large-scale, expensive, ineffective and possibly counterproductive. More screening for every passenger makes no sense. When searching for needles in haystacks, adding hay doesn’t help. What’s needed is a larger, more robust watch list that is instantly available to all relevant government agencies. Almost 2 million people travel on planes in the United States every day. We need to isolate the tiny percentage of suspicious characters and search them, not cause needless fear in everyone else.

As for the calls to treat the would-be bomber as an enemy combatant, torture him and toss him into Guantanamo, God knows he deserves it. But keep in mind that the crucial intelligence we received was from the boy’s father. If that father had believed that the United States was a rogue superpower that would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency, would he have turned him in? To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

12-3

Iraqi Fights Graft, Crime in Interior Ministry

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Missy Ryan and Muhanad Mohammed

2010-01-13T225914Z_513309992_GM1E61E0J8I01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-MINISTRY

Interior Ministry Inspector General, Aqeel al-Turaihi speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad January 11, 2010. Outside the office of Aqeel al-Turaihi, inspector general at what is seen as a corrupt country’s most corrupt government agency, hangs a ‘Board of Honour’ showing photos of slain colleagues. Since he began probing theft, human rights abuses and police infiltration by militias in Iraq’s Interior Ministry in 2006, more than 40 members of Turaihi’s team have been assassinated. Picture taken January 11, 2010.

REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Outside the office of Aqeel al-Turaihi, inspector general at what is seen as a corrupt country’s most corrupt government agency, hangs a ‘Board of Honour’ showing photos of slain colleagues. Since he began probing theft, human rights abuses and police infiltration by militias in Iraq’s Interior Ministry in 2006, more than 40 members of Turaihi’s team have been assassinated.

“We are targeted from two sides: by terrorists because we are part of a security agency and by unscrupulous officials because we fight corruption,” he said.

Assailants have tried several times to kill Turaihi himself, an amateur poet and one-time activist against dictator Saddam Hussein, including a bomb attack on his convoy two years ago. The most recent threat on his life was less than a month ago.

Yet, Turaihi said, big strides had been made in combating malfeasance in the ministry, a vast bureaucracy that includes more than 300,000 police and about 200,000 other employees.

“There has been a big improvement. When we talk about the problems that might exist in the ministry, we need to note that we’re watching them closely and working hard to correct them.”

As Iraq battles a stubborn insurgency and takes on greater responsibility for security from U.S. troops, it must face not just corruption but allegations police or soldiers take bribes from militants or even collude in bloody attacks on civilians.

In a new report, parliament’s security and defense committee charges security forces were at least indirectly responsible in recent attacks on state buildings that have added a new element of uncertainty before national elections in March.

Seven or eight members of security forces remain in police custody after those attacks, committee member Falah Zaidan said.

Ammar Tu’ma, another lawmaker on the committee, said security forces were infiltrated.

“There are elements complicit with terrorists in implementing these explosions,” he said.

While officials deny any systemic wrongdoing among uniformed Iraqis, they acknowledge shortcomings in keeping Iraqis safe and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed dire consequences for those taking part in such attacks.

EJECTING CRIMINAL ELEMENTS

In the bloody years after Saddam’s ooverthrow, when U.S. officials disbanded security forces and rebuilt them anew, the Interior Ministry was widely believed to be in the grip of Shi’ite militias that went after adversaries with impunity and targeted Iraqis from the once-dominant Sunni minority.

Turaihi said most criminal elements were ‘cleansed’ from the ministry.

“There was a time when the ministry may not have been so professional and its loyalties might have been weak, but those loyalties have now come together under a national banner.”

Critics are skeptical about how zealous Turaihi and other anti-corruption officials in Iraq have been in that fight.

Zaidan said Turaihi, whose 2,600 inspectors oversee a ministry of 500,000 employees, and his Defense Ministry counterpart were not up to snuff and may need to be replaced.

While graft is sure to be a hot issue in the March 7 national polls, Iraq’s record on going after iniquitous officials, especially those from senior levels, is poor.

Iraq is still ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries even as it stands on the verge of signing energy deals that could bring a flood of new oil revenue.

The Interior Ministry has been especially problematic. An independent panel reported there were more Interior employees convicted of corruption in 2008 than any other ministry.

The same year, senior officials shut down 135 suspected corruption cases across the government, and another 1,552 were abandoned because suspects were covered by an amnesty law that has been morphed to become a corruption shield.

Turaihi said he did not support a full cancellation of the controversial article that allows ministers to protect subordinates, but said it should be used only to protect prosecution of ‘unintentional’ crimes.

(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim, Suadad al-Salhy and Khalid al-Ansary; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

12-3

Is Yemen the New Hot Spot for Terrorism Training?

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Q&A, Aaron Glantz

Editor’s Note: Reports that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect accused of trying to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day, was trained in Yemen have raised the specter of further U.S. military involvement in that country. To get a better sense of what’s going on in Yemen, NAM editor Aaron Glantz spoke with Jillian Schwedler, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of the book, “Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen.”

2010-01-06T200542Z_440314731_GM1E6170BC301_RTRMADP_3_YEMEN-QAEDA

A security personnel stands behind a machinegun installed on a vehicle in Sanaa January 6, 2010. Yemeni forces surrounded a suspected al Qaeda regional leader near the capital on Wednesday and captured three militants wounded in a raid, security sources said. Yemen, the poorest Arab country, was thrust into the foreground of the U.S.-led war against Islamist militants after a Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda said it was behind a Christmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane.                                

REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

What was your first reaction when you heard that Abdulmutallab was trained in Yemen?

Yemen has fairly porous borders and a lot of people are in and out of there. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It’s not like going to a camp in Afghanistan. It doesn’t have the same meaning. I mean, you go to a camp in Afghanistan, you’re pretty much going for one reason. It’s not the same as Yemen.

It seems like in the popular discussion, Yemen is becoming associated with fundamentalist clerics and terrorism.

There are definitely a lot of extremists there, but I think the bigger framework to think about Yemen is not as a hotbed of radicalism and terror but as a state where the government does not control all of the land. They’ve been fighting a significant insurgency in the North for six years now and there’s a separatist group in the South that’s in an armed conflict. The Ministry of Interior estimates that there are 60 million weapons outside of government hands in Yemen. And that’s in a country of 20 million people. So it’s a highly-armed, fragmented society and the government hasn’t really had control over the entire country for some time, if ever. So certainly there’s extremism there, but there’s a lot of stuff going on that the government isn’t really in control of.

So who is in the leadership of the government of Yemen?

The government of Ali Abdullah Saleh is essentially a central government, but there are many parts of the country that are not under the central government. There are armed areas that the government doesn’t police and doesn’t have anything to do with, except to offer very limited services. And we’re talking about big chunks of the country in the North and the East particularly. It’s not one little enclave.

And a huge part of the border with Saudi Arabia is not even defined because it’s a desert. There are not a lot of people there but there are chunks of the country that are frontier-land kind of areas where people move between those two states.

Yemen was two countries during the Cold War.

Even calling it two countries becomes sort of a fiction. For years, it was just sort of a bunch of enclaves including the British colony that was there for nearly 100 years in the South, various tribal governments, there was a Northern government. But from the ‘60s, you had two states, a Northern state which was the Yemen Arab Republic, and the Southern state which was the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, which was a Marxist, Soviet outpost. And so when the Soviet Union fell in 1989, they lost all their funding and then North Yemen was never particularly strong, and so the two decided that they would unite, which they did and initially had democratic elections in which nobody won a majority.

Northern loyalists were assassinating socialists in the South and the unification never really went forward. They unified the country formally, but former governments maintained their owned armies. That culminated in a civil war in 1994 that lasted two months. And the North defeated the South and has been in control ever since under the leadership of the same president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

So it’s really become an Egypt-style government where there’s a president who pretends to be elected and everyone else pretends to have candidates.

So during all this time, what has the U.S. government’s role been?

Well, right after Yemen unified in May 1990, Yemen had the unfortunate opportunity to have a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. So they had the seat during the first Gulf War in 1991 and they abstained from that Security Council vote. They did not vote for the coalition in 1990 and they did not vote against it; they abstained. So the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait all punished Yemen by unilaterally cutting all aid to the country. So it was a newly-unified country that had a tremendous amount of aid cut. Millions of Yemeni migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were all deported and that had a devastating affect on the economy in Yemen.

But then relations gradually improved, with the U.S. not really having an interest in Yemen. Then, with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and subsequent events, the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh has been working very closely with the U.S. government because in some ways these Islamists are threatening to him as well. That said, there’s an Islamist party that’s closely aligned with the regime. So while the government is working with the U.S. to battle extremists, at the same time he’s playing this delicate balancing act that includes allying himself with extremists.

So basically, he’s allying himself with the United States in the war on terror, and with the people who are opposing that at the same time.

Exactly. And I don’t think he’s that brilliant as a politician. It’s just luck that it’s all held together at this point. It’s surprising to me that he’s pulling it off. A lot of people think it could get really bad there really quick.

Already, the Fullbright program has been suspended. People aren’t going there to study or do research. It’s really not safe.

So when you’re watching the news right now, what are you looking for? What are you looking for in these reports that will help you decide what’s going on?

In so much of what’s coming through, I hear mistakes in reports that frustrate me. What I want to know is: Are things realigning? Are new people coming on top? I haven’t seen this in the media, but for example: Saudi Arabia would have a clear interest in Yemen not becoming a failed state. So is Saudi Arabia sending more government and trying to bolster them and is that creating more Wahabi influence? Or this: Are you seeing a lot of the tribal sheiks realigning themselves? Because with that many weapons out of government control a few significant shifts in alignment could be game changers. Those are the kinds of things I’m interested in, but you don’t tend to see them in media a lot.

Jillian Schwedler is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of the book, “Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen.”

12-2

Obama Appoints Former Microsoft Security Chief New Cybersecurity Czar

December 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kim Zetter, Wired Magazine Email Author

howard-schmidt-with-president-obama

It took seven months but President Obama has finally found someone to take the cybersecurity czar job no one wanted.

Howard Schmidt,  a former Microsoft security executive and a one-time cybersecurity adviser to President George W. Bush, has been appointed to the position of cybersecurity coordinator, according to a White House announcement Tuesday.

Schmidt served as vice chair, and then chair, of the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and as Special Adviser for Cyberspace Security for the White House from December 2001 until May 2003, when he reportedly left the position out of frustration that the government wasn’t making cybersecurity a priority. After leaving the White House, he became chief information security officer at eBay.

In his new position, he will be responsible for coordinating the federal government’s cybersecurity initiatives to secure government networks and critical U.S. infrastructures. This will include working with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure that agencies have money allocated for cybersecurity priorities, and coordinating the government’s response to a major cyber incident or attack.

According to the Associated Press, Obama was directly involved in the selection of Schmidt, who was chosen after an extensive search.

But the announcement of Schmidt came with little fanfare on Tuesday and followed months of reports from other candidates that they either turned down the job or otherwise discouraged the White House from courting them.

Obama announced last May that he was creating a new office to be led by a cybersecurity czar. For nearly a year, however, he could find no one to take the job, because of what many viewed as its undesirable placement in the federal hierarchy.

The czar, Obama stated, would report to the National Security Council and the National Economic Council, putting the position one rung lower in the executive branch hierarchy than many security experts had wanted. Observers had hoped the czar would report directly to the president, which would have helped insulate the office from agency turf battles and ensure quick access to top decision makers.

The White House was quick to dispel concerns on Tuesday that Schmidt’s office would be exiled from the West Wing. An unidentified White House official told the Associated Press that Schmidt would have regular and direct access to the President for cybersecurity issues.

Schmidt, Microsoft’s chief security officer until 2001, is the second former Microsoft executive to take a top federal cybersecurity position. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appointed Philip Reitinger in March to the position of deputy undersecretary of the department’s National Protections Program Directorate.

Reitinger was Microsoft’s chief trustworthy-infrastructure strategist, a job that required him in part to help develop and implement strategies for enhancing the security of critical infrastructures. In his new position, he oversees the protection of the government’s computer networks and works with the private sector to help secure critical infrastructures.

There have been concerns about how the White House intends to address cybersecurity issues, particularly in the private sector, and protect civil liberties at the same time.

Obama asserted in his speech in May that the new White House cybersecurity office would include an official whose job is to ensure that the government’s cyberpolicies don’t violate the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.

“Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not include — I repeat, will not include — monitoring private-sector networks or internet traffic,” he said. “We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans.”

Photo by Lawrence Jackson, courtesy of White House

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