Iraq PM Warns Sunnis Could Be Shut from Power

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Suadad al-Salhy and Aseel Kami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNNIS SLAM MALIKI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama to Hold Global Summit if Latest Middle East Talks Fail

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Catrina Stewart in Jerusalem

2010-05-05T172601Z_01_BTRE6441CFM00_RTROPTP_3_POLITICS-US-USA-COURT

File:  U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden smile as they are pictured with bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 21, 2010.

REUTERS/Jason Reed 

Barack Obama could call a world summit by the end of the year to pave the way for a Palestinian state should hoped-for peace talks bring no breakthrough in coming months.

The US President is understood to have informed European leaders of his plan to break an Israeli-Palestinian deadlock if negotiations have not borne fruit by September or October, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz cited unidentified Israeli officials as saying.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday told reporters that special envoy George Mitchell would be returning to the Middle East next week, when she said that proximity talks – the first since peace talks stalled in January 2008 – would begin again. The planned return to the negotiating table was delayed last month after a row over Israeli plans to build new homes in East Jerusalem.

If those talks are again knocked off course, a broader summit will become more likely. The four members of the Middle East Quartet negotiating group – the US, the UN, the EU and Russia – would be expected to play a leading role in the summit to present a united front, the paper said. The summit would address core issues, including Jerusalem and final borders.

The bold move reflects Mr Obama’s resolve to find a solution to the decades-old conflict that has eluded his predecessors and raises the possibility that Washington might seek to impose its own settlement on the parties, a prospect viewed with hostility by Israeli politicians.

Mr Obama has placed negotiations at the forefront of his political agenda while acknowledging that a continued stalemate threatens the US’s own security interests.

After months of intense US diplomacy in the region, the indirect “proximity” talks represent the best chance of a breakthrough in the peace process.

While a final settlement has appeared tantalisingly close in the past, few Palestinians believe that a solution can be reached without outside help, and Israelis repeatedly insist they have no partner for peace.

“Leaving the peacemaking hostage to agreements between both sides is not a good idea,” said Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority. “The international community has to play a larger role.”

Earlier this month, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Mr Obama to impose a peace solution, a plea that will have worried Israeli officials, who insist that a negotiated solution between the two parties is the only way out of the impasse.

Mr Obama’s efforts to bring both sides to talks have stalled over the critical issue of Jewish settlements in Arab-dominated East Jerusalem, which Israel captured and later annexed after the Six-Day War in 1967. Palestinians covet East Jerusalem as the future capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Mr Abbas backed out of talks in early March after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 Jewish homes in East Jerusalem during a visit by the US Vice-President Joe Biden. The resulting row plunged relations between Israel and the US, its closest ally, to their lowest point in recent memory.

A US State Department official declined to confirm back-up plans for a global summit, saying: “Peace must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside. Our focus remains on seeing the discussions that are under way lead to formal negotiations that will address all of the complex issues.”

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Obama Moves to Boost U.S. Broadband Access

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By John Poirier

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration released details on Thursday of a $2 billion program in grants and loans to help dramatically expand Americans’ broadband Internet access and create tens of thousands of jobs.

The funds, to be released over the next 75 days, are among $7.2 billion set aside in President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic recovery package to bring broadband access to unserved or underserved U.S. communities.

Vice President Joe Biden, at an event in Dawsonville, Georgia, announced details of an initial $183 million investment in broadband projects in 17 states.

“New broadband access means more capacity and better reliability in rural areas and underserved urban communities around the country,” Biden said in a statement.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans have adopted broadband at home, while one-third have access but have not adopted it, and 4 percent say they have no access where they live, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Biden’s chief economist, Jared Bernstein, told reporters in a briefing the administration was unable to provide more precise figures on exactly how many jobs would be created, but White House officials said “tens of thousands of jobs” could be created in the near term.

The FCC held an open meeting on Wednesday to provide an update on its national broadband plan due to be submitted to Congress in February. FCC staff stopped short of making formal recommendations because they are still gathering data on which to base their final report.

‘PLATFORM FOR ECONOMIC PROSPERITY’

Officials said on Thursday that broadband expansion projects aimed to link communities to the “Internet backbone,” a network of large, high-bandwidth fiber-optic cables that span the country.

They said the grants and loans, being released by the departments of Commerce and Agriculture, would help expand broadband for education, healthcare and providing workers the flexibility to work from home.

“The community is part of the solution to the national broadband strategy,” said Craig Settles, president of broadband strategy consulting firm Successful.com.

With the rest of the U.S. economy stuck in the doldrums and shedding jobs, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said the technology sector has been going in the other direction.

“Because of its power to propel innovation, broadband can be our platform for economic prosperity,” Genachowski said in a December 1 speech on technology innovation.

Officials announced four different types of awards:

- $121.6 million to build and improve connections to communities lacking sufficient broadband access.
- $51.4 million to connect end users like homes, hospitals and schools to their community’s broadband infrastructure (the middle mile).
- $7.3 million to expand computer center capacity for public use in libraries, community colleges and other public venues.
- $2.4 million to fund innovative projects that promote broadband demand with population groups where the technology has traditionally been underutilized.

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Gates: US Absolutely Not Leaving Afghanistan

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Spetalnick

2009-10-14T173345Z_514805076_GM1E5AF044W02_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan boy pushes his youngest brother on a wheelbarrow in a village in Charkh district, Logar province October 14, 2009.

REUTERS/Nikola Solic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Monday ruled out any consideration of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama’s sweeping strategy review of the increasingly unpopular war there.

“We are not leaving Afghanistan. This discussion is about next steps forward and the president has some momentous decisions to make,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a television program taped at George Washington University that will be aired by CNN on Tuesday.

Gates said the Afghan and Pakistani governments should not be “nervous” about the U.S. review as Obama prepared to brief congressional leaders and to convene his war council again this week on how to deal with the deteriorating security situation.

“I don’t think we have the option to leave,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “That’s quite clear.”

Obama faces pivotal decisions in the coming weeks after the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, presented a dire assessment of the eight-year-old war effort.

Earlier, Gates urged military advisers to speak “candidly but privately” but defended McChrystal, who has been criticized for appearing to lobby in public for his position that more troops need to be sent to Afghanistan.

“Stan McChrystal is exactly the right person to be the commander in Afghanistan right now,” Gates said. “I have every confidence that, no matter what decision the president makes, Stan McChrystal will implement it as effectively as possible.”

The debate within the Obama administration is now over whether to send thousands more U.S. troops, as McChrystal has requested, or scale back the U.S. mission and focus on striking al Qaeda cells, an idea backed by Vice President Joe Biden.

‘Our Inability’

Gates suggested that the failure of the United States and its allies to put more troops into Afghanistan in earlier years — a period when former U.S. President George W. Bush invaded Iraq — had given the Taliban an edge in Afghanistan.

“The reality is that because of our inability, and the inability, frankly, of our allies, (to put) enough troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now, it seems,” Gates said, although he declined to discuss what options Obama may be considering.

As the strategy debate in Washington gathered steam, Afghan election authorities began a recount on Monday in the disputed presidential election held in August.

Allegations of fraud in what Gates called the “flawed” election are among the reasons U.S. officials have cited for launching the review of policy toward Afghanistan.

With U.S. casualties on the rise, American public opinion has turned increasingly against what Obama’s aides once hailed as the “good war,” in contrast to the unpopular war in Iraq that occupied the focus of Bush.

There also have been increasing calls from the anti-war left and foreign policy critics for a U.S. pullout. Dozens of protesters gathered outside the White House on Monday, and a few were arrested when they chained themselves to the gates.

Seeking to shore up support, Obama invited senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers to the White House on Tuesday to discuss the future course of the war. He is due to meet his national security team on Wednesday and Friday.

The Obama administration already has almost doubled the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan this year to 62,000 to contend with the worst violence since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban rulers in 2001. The U.S. invasion was launched in the weeks after the September 11 attacks carried out by al Qaeda, which had been given a haven in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

McChrystal has warned in a confidential assessment that the war effort would end in failure without additional troops and changes in strategy.

But signing off on the 30,000 to 40,000 troop increase that McChrystal is said to have requested would be politically risky for Obama due to unease within his own Democratic Party and fatigue among the American public after eight years of war in Afghanistan and six in Iraq.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered their worst losses in more than a year when fighters stormed remote outposts near the Pakistan border over the weekend. Eight American soldiers were killed on Saturday after tribal militia stormed two combat outposts in remote Nuristan province in eastern Afghanistan.

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After the Green Revolution Fails–Invasion Plans Anew

July 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Damian Lataan

With the failure of the Western powers to foment a popular uprising after the 12 June elections in Iran that they hoped would lead to regime change, the West has now had to return to the ‘Iran has nuclear weapons’ meme in order to pave the way for an attack against Iran in the hope that regime change can be affected that way.

In an interview on Sunday, Vice-President Joe Biden, when asked, “…if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?” responded saying: “Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they’re existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.”

Biden was then asked: “You sa y we can’t dictate, but we can, if we choose to, deny over-flight rights here in Iraq. We can stand in the way of a military strike”, to which he responded, “I’m not going to speculate… on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what’s in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what’s in our interests.”

Yesterday (5 July) ‘Timesonline’ reported that the Saudis had made it clear to Meir Dagan, Israel’s Mossad chief, that they would not object to Israeli overflights if they were on their way to targets in Iran. While a flight to Iran from Israel via Saudi Arabia would be much longer that a direct flight to Iran overflying Jordan and Iraq, a flight via Saudi Arabia would not require permission from any other country; not even the US to fly over Iraq. And if the Israelis can get permission from the Saudis to have support aircraft in the air in Saudi airspace to refuel the Israeli strike aircraft over, say, the Persian Gulf, then an Israeli strike against Iran is feasible.

It’s interesting that the report about the Saudi’s giving clearance for overflights to attack Iran were quickly denied by Netanyahu’s office. Clearly, the Israelis are anxious to bury this information though, one suspects, that it is now too late and the Iran ians will now have their spies in Saudi Arabia scanning the skies and radio bands for high flying aircraft heading west to east across Saudi Arabia toward the Persian Gulf.

It may well be that Israel could be keen to take advantage of the unrest that has recently unsettled Iran but now seems to have died down. A strike now, they may feel, might just reignite the embers of insurrection that still glow especially if there was also a strike against Iran’s security forces and it’s military.

Even if Israel did strike against Iran via Saudi skies, Israel would still need to rely on the US for support. The fuel required for the mission would need to be supplied by the US as would most of the munitions. US forces would also need to be on standby ready to prevent any Iranian retaliatory strikes against Israel and the US. Israel would also need to have its troops on standby at home in preparedness for retaliatory attacks from both Hezbollah and Hamas.

For Israel, a Hamas and Hezbollah strike against them would be what they want. It would provide the casus belli for Israel to invade both the Gaza Strip and south Lebanon – perhaps all of Lebanon – knowing that the Iranians would not be in a position to help them. And with Iran out of the equation, Syria would not dare move against Israel.

With the failure of the post-election Iranian revolution, Israel will now resort to its old rhetoric of ‘Iran has a nuclear weapons program’ to try again to get public opinion onside for when they launch their attack against Iran to effect regime change. With the US now clearly not standing in the way and the Saudis prepared to let the US off the hook with regard to being seen by the world as facilitating an Israeli attack by allowing the Israelis to overfly Iraq despite all the talk of pursuing a “diplomatic solution”, everything seems in place for the Israelis to feel free to attack Iran when ever they feel they are ready.

The prospect of a final confrontation between Israel and Iran is now off the back burner and back on to the front burner. The problem is, If and when it happens, it won’t be a simple make or break fight for Israel or Iran; the repercussions will reverberate around the world for years to come.

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