U.S. coin collectors bonanza. Click on the player for the show.
CAIRO, Egypt (AP)
Osama bin Laden warned Iraq's Sunni Arabs against fighting al-Qaida and vowed to expand the terror group's holy war to Israel in a new audiotape Saturday, threatening ''blood for blood, destruction for destruction.''
Most of the 56-minute tape dealt with Iraq, apparently al-Qaida's latest attempt to keep supporters in Iraq unified at a time when the U.S. military claims to have al-Qaida's Iraq branch on the run.
The tape did not mention Pakistan or the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, though Pakistan's government has blamed al-Qaida and the Taliban for her death on Thursday.
But bin Laden's comments offered an unusually direct attack on Israel, which has warned of growing al-Qaida activity in Palestinian territory. The terror network is not believed to have taken a strong role there so far.
''We intend to liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the sea,'' he said, threatening ''blood for blood, destruction for destruction.''
''We will not recognize even one inch for Jews in the land of Palestine as other Muslim leaders have,'' bin Laden said.
In Iraq, a number of Sunni Arab tribes in western Anbar province have formed a coalition fighting al-Qaida-linked insurgents that U.S. officials credit for deeply reducing violence in the province. The U.S. military has been working to form similar ''Awakening Councils'' in other areas of Iraq.
''It also reminds us that the mission to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq is critically important and must succeed,'' Fratto said. ''The Iraqi people -- every day, and in increasing numbers -- are choosing freedom and standing against the murderous, hateful ideology of AQI. And we stand with them.''
Petraeus said al-Qaida attaches ''enormous importance'' to ''these tribes that have turned against them, and to the general sense that Sunni Arab communities have rejected them more and more around Iraq.''
''They are trying to counter this and they have done so by attacking them,'' which is increasingly turning Sunnis against al-Qaida, he said.
Petraeus said that despite a number of successes against al-Qaida in recent months, the terror network remains ''the most significant enemy Iraq faces because it carries out the most horrific attacks.''
In the audiotape, bin Laden denounced Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the former leader of the Anbar Awakening Council, who was killed in a September bombing claimed by al-Qaida.
''The most evil of the traitors are those who trade away their religion for the sake of their mortal life,'' bin Laden said.
Bin Laden said U.S. and Iraqi officials are seeking to set up a ''national unity government'' joining the country's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
''Our duty is to foil these dangerous schemes, which try to prevent the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq, which would be a wall of resistance against American schemes to divide Iraq,'' he said.
He called on Iraq's Sunni Arabs to rally behind the Islamic State of Iraq, the insurgent umbrella group led by al-Qaida. Besides the Awakening Councils, some Sunni insurgent groups that continue to fight the Americans have rejected the Islamic State.
Bin Laden said Sunnis should pledge their allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the little known ''emir'' or leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. U.S. officials have claimed that al-Baghdadi does not exist, saying al-Qaida created the name to give its coalition the illusion of an Iraqi leadership.
''Failure to give allegiance to the emir after he has been endorsed leads to great evils,'' bin Laden warned. ''Emir Abu Omar would rather have his neck severed than betray the Muslims ... Emir Abu Omar and his brothers are not one of those who accept compromise or meeting the enemy halfway.''
The authenticity of the tape could not be independently confirmed. But the voice resembled that of bin Laden. The tape was posted on an Islamic militant Web site where al-Qaida's media arm, Al-Sahab, issues the group's messages.
The tape was the fifth message released by bin Laden this year, a flurry of activity after he went more than a year without issuing any tapes. The messages began with a Sept. 8 video that showed bin Laden for the first time in nearly three years. The other messages this year have been audiotapes.
Western support for Pakistan as a friendly military state has produced a country which is a greater threat to global security than Iraq ever was. The Iraq war was at least in part about oil. The next phase for the neocon idealogues will be about control of nuclear threat, real of perceived. Bhutto was a pro-western groupie despite being part of the slow democratic process and creation of national political coalitions. Bhutto's death may advance her cause more than her survival would have. Watch out for her canonisation by Bush, Brown, Sarkozy et al as a martyr for democracy. Unfortunately more people will die in the region before things get better. Her death, in the short term, increases the probability that Pakistan will see more political violence spilling over its borders to other zones already de-stabilised by western encroachment.
Iraq and Afghanistan have been strategic victories for extremism, in that the US and its allies have not only been unable to defeat it militarily, but have created a far more active, organized and successful extremism, and have created a full strategic commitment necessity. The US Empire and its puppets have suffered another setback. Previously American military force was used to hold the frontiers against the USSR and China while puppets were used to control important countries. They never kept bases in countries that were part of their empire. Now they do because they must.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld launched the failed April 2004 assault on the Iraqi town of Fallujah before marines were ready because it had become "a symbol of resistance that dominated international headlines", according to a leaked U.S.intelligence report on the operation.
Coalition air strikes were conducted during the cease-fire, which
was a "bit of a misnomer" and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal
contributed to the politically driven peace settlement, which left
Coalition Provisional Chief Paul Bremmer "furious".
By the end of April 600-700 Iraqis and 18 marines had been killed
inside the town with 62 marines killed in the broarder operational
area and 565 wounded in action.
Fallujah's 2,000 defenders were diverse but united to oppose the
U.S. offensive. They included former regime soldiers, "nationalists,
local Islamic extremists, foreign fighters and criminals." together
comprising not so much a military organization as "an evil Rotary club".
The revelations come from a highly classified report on the attack
released today by the open government group Wikileaks, which usually
concentrates on non-western corruption, but which has in the past
month released a number of sensitive U.S. documents, including
manuals for Guantanamo bay and rendition operations.
The report was penned last year by the U.S Army National Ground
Intelligence Center and is classified "SECRET/NOFORN" -- meaning
the report was not to be shared with coalition partners.
The Fallujah assault was initiated when on March 31 2004 four private
military personnel from the U.S firm Blackwater were killed in the
town and photos of their burnt bodies received international coverage.
The report said the coverage had prompted Rumsfeld, General Abizai
and the then Coalition Provisional Authority Chief Paul Bremmer to
order an "immediate military response".
The report not only blames media driven political pressures for
launching the Marine Expediary Force before it was ready, but states
similar political considerations led to a cease-fire 5 days later.
"During the first week of April, insurgents invited a reporter from
Al Jazeera, Ahmed Mansour, and his film crew into Fallujah where
they filmed scenes of dead babies from the hospital, presumably
killed by Coalition air strikes. Comparisons were made to the
Palestinian Intifada. Children were shown bespattered with blood;
mothers were shown screaming and mourning day after day."
The three week official cease-fire was "a bit of a misnomer", with
coalition air strikes continuing and snipers on both sides making
movement hazardous. On the town's resistance, the report claims the
number one "enemey strategy" was "to gain media attention and
sympathy" in order to build political pressure "to a boiling point."
Contributing to the peace settlement at the end of the month were
British opposition to the battle, an Iraqi Shia uprising over the
forced closure of the newspaper "al-Hawza" and Abu Ghraib.
Paul Bremer was "furious when he found out about it, but he was in
little position to overturn it since he had insisted on the cease-fire
in the first place. Complicating matters was the fact that the Abu
Ghraib scandal broke on 29 April, consuming the attention of senior
leaders in the U.S. government. Bremer could not organize a consensus
to overturn the Fallujah decision."
During the battle U.S. psychological operations loud speakers
"blasted rock music or taunted the insurgents into attacking with
insults about their marksmanship."
Marines used the M1A1 Abrhams tank as bait, to lure defenders out
into the open, however this ruse didn't work for long as "The
enemey.. would initiate an ambush with small-arms fire on one side
of a tank in order to get the tank crew to turn its armor in the
direction of fire. They would then fire a coordinated 5 or 6 RPG
[rocket propelled grenade] salvo into the exposed rear of the tank".
The report states "Approximately 150 air strikes destroyed 75
buildings, including two mosques." and that the operation "stirred
up a hornets nest across the Al Anbar provence".
Iraq against US-backed patrols as ‘third force’
BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government will not tolerate US-backed neighbourhood patrols turning into a “third force” alongside the army and the police, Defence Minister General Abdel Qader Jassim said yesterday. His remarks came a day after one of the most powerful leaders in Iraq, Abdul Aziz al Hakim, called for patrols to be brought under tight government control and have a broader sectarian makeup. “We categorically reject them (the patrols) turning into a third military organisation,” Jassim, who is not affiliated with major political parties, told a joint news conference with Interior Minister Jawad al Bolani.
“Everybody should know: There will never be a third force. The only two forces are the ministries of defence and interior.” The neighbourhood patrols, made up of some 71,000 men including former insurgents who fought against the US and Iraqi military, are credited with having helped bring down violence in some of Iraq’s most volatile areas. But the Iraqi government was lukewarm about allowing men it once regarded as enemies to be organised in armed groups.
The United States now pays most of the patrol members about $10 a day, but under US pressure the Iraqi government has said it will take over paying for most of the programme by mid-2008. Bolani said the government plans to integrate about 20 per cent of the patrolmen into the security forces. Others would be offered vocational training for civilian jobs.
The units co-operate with the Iraqi police and army but there have been occasional incidents of clashes between the patrols and the security forces. In one clash last week, two policemen were killed and four patrolmen were wounded when they fought near the town of Baiji, 180 km north of Baghdad. Some police officials also say they distrust the tribes which recruit the men to join the neighbourhood patrols. Both ministers, however, praised the patrols as a factor behind a sharp drop in bloodshed across Iraq.
BAGHDAD — When Leila Nasser was six months pregnant, U.S. soldiers burst into her house and wrestled away her husband, Mohammed Amin, who was asleep on the roof, trying to escape the summer heat.
This week, Nasser waited outside what's now called the "reconciliation hall" in Baghdad's Jihad neighborhood for Amin to appear. In her arms she cradled her year-old son, whom she'd named Moubin, the Iraqi word for apparent.
"I called him Moubin hoping that his father would appear for his eyes," she said. Moubin had never met his father.
Now Amin was one of 15 detainees who'd be released as part of a reconciliation program that the U.S. military's 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment put together in hopes of easing tensions in this divided neighborhood. But the release showed how far reconciliation has to go.
More than 25,000 Iraqis are now in U.S. detention facilities. The Jihad reconciliation committee of Sunni and Shiite Muslims had requested that 562 men be released. Last month, 48 people were released, but 40 more were detained.
Most of those held are never charged with crimes. Sometimes Iraqis are detained because of a tip from a neighbor or because a few cables and cleaning agents are mistaken for bomb-making material.
Nasser said that there was no evidence linking her husband to Shiite Muslim militias. "They destroyed the house with us in it," she said of the U.S. soldiers. "The reason? Because he has a revolver, a revolver that he puts under his pillow to defend me and my daughter."
A member of the reconciliation committee, eavesdropping interrupted her.
"Talk about reconciliation," he instructed.
"Reconciliation? Which reconciliation? What did we understand from the reconciliation?" Nasser asked. "It's been one year and three months and he did nothing."
Nasser counts Amin's detention in more than just time — one year, three months and four days. She also counts it in the days she's had to be a single mother to her daughter, Banin, now 3. She counts it in the joy she couldn't share with her husband when their son was born. He wasn't there as security in Jihad deteriorated and Sunnis and Shiites separated into their own enclaves. When a tenuous stability returned, she couldn't celebrate with her husband.
"He never prayed in a Husseiniyah," she said, referring to Shiite places of worship, "or in a mosque, and he doesn't get involved in anyone's business." The tears began to flow. The Americans divided Iraqis, she said, by accusing all Sunnis of being insurgents and all Shiites of being aligned with militias. "I swear to God I didn't recognize people as Sunni or Shiite until after the collapse," she said, referring to the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
"Our lives are full of injustice. ...God willing all the detainees will be released," she said. "We tasted bitterness, no salaries — we have nothing. We suffered so much."
As his wife wept outside, Amin was inside, preparing to be released. U.S. soldiers cut the plastic cuffs from his wrists. He and the other detainees were asked to sign a "reconciliation oath." Behind each detainee sat a relative or friend who'd promised that he'd honor the oath. Amin's brother put his hand on Amin's right shoulder and Amin recited the oath.
"I, Mohammed Amin, acknowledge the recent signing of the reconciliation agreement, have ushered in an era of peace and partnership between Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, Christian, Jaysh al Mahdi (the Mahdi Army of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr), Iraqi security forces and American forces," he said. "Based on a review of my arrest record, Iraqi government and coalition force leaders have agreed that my immediate release would be beneficial to the reconciliation process. I pledge not to commit any violation of the reconciliation agreement's 12 points, violate Iraqi law or attack coalition forces."
Amin said he'd never been a threat to security. He thought about his children waiting for him outside.
"It was a lot of suffering and I lived with very little hope," he said. "I always hoped to hug my son and daughter and to raise them with the right principles. ...I depended on God to get through and now I forget it. It's only a page in my past."
He went to collect his personal items from a U.S. soldier, but before he could shake hands with the soldier, Nasser pulled him away.
"They might take you again," she said.
McClatchy Newspapers 2007
U.S. Military Focus Group Study
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 19, 2007; A14
Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of "occupying forces" as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month.
That is good news, according to a military analysis of the results. At the very least, analysts optimistically concluded, the findings indicate that Iraqis hold some "shared beliefs" that may eventually allow them to surmount the divisions that have led to a civil war.
Conducting the focus groups, in 19 separate sessions organized by outside contractors in five cities, is among the ways in which Multi-National Force-Iraq assesses conditions in the country beyond counting insurgent attacks, casualties and weapons caches. The command, led by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, devotes more time and resources than any other government or independent entity to measuring various matters, including electricity, satisfaction with trash collection and what Iraqis think it will take for them to get along.
The results are analyzed and presented to Petraeus as part of the daily Battle Update Assessment or BUA (pronounced boo-ah). Some of the news has been unarguably good, including the sharply reduced number of roadside bombings and attacks on civilians. But bad news is often presented with a bright side, such as the focus-group results and a November poll, which found that 25 percent of Baghdad residents were satisfied with their local government and that 15 percent said they had enough fuel for heating and cooking.
The good news? Those numbers were higher than the figures of the previous month (18 percent and 9 percent, respectively).
And Iraqi complaints about matters other than security are seen as progress. Early this year, Maj. Fred Garcia, an MNF-I analyst, said that "a very large percentage of people would answer questions about security by saying 'I don't know.' Now, we get more griping because people feel freer."
Iraqi political reconciliation, quality-of-life issues and the economy are largely the responsibility of the State Department. But the military, to the occasional consternation of U.S. diplomats who feel vastly outnumbered, has its own "mirror agencies" in many areas. Officers in charge of civil-military operations, said senior Petraeus adviser Army Col. William E. Rapp, "can tell you how many markets are open in Baghdad, how many shops, how many banks are open. . . . We have a lot more people" on the ground.
On Iraqi politics, "we have four to six slides almost every morning on 'Where does the Iraqi government stand on de-Baathification legislation?' All these things are embassy things," Rapp said. But Petraeus is interested in "his 'feel' for a situation, and he gets that from a bunch of different data points," he added.
Even though members of the military "understand the limitations" of polling data, Rapp said, "subjective measures" are an important part of the mix. In July, the military signed a contract with Gallup for four public opinion polls a month in Iraq: three nationwide and one in Baghdad. Lincoln Group, which has conducted surveys for the military since shortly after the invasion, received a year-long contract in January to conduct focus groups.
Outside of the military, some of the most widespread polling in Iraq has been done by D3 Systems, a Virginia-based company that maintains offices in each of Iraq's 18 provinces. Its most recent publicly released surveys, conducted in September for several news media organizations, showed the same widespread Iraqi belief voiced by the military's focus groups: that a U.S. departure will make things better. A State Department poll in September 2006 reported a similar finding.
Matthew Warshaw, a senior research manager at D3, said that despite security improvements, polling in Iraq remains difficult. "While violence has gone down, one of the ways it has been achieved is by effectively separating people. That means mobility is limited, with roadblocks by the U.S. and Iraqi military or local militias," Warshaw said in an interview.
Most of the recent survey results he has seen about political reconciliation, Warshaw said, are "more about [Iraqis] reconciling with the United States within their own particular territory, like in Anbar. . . . But it doesn't say anything about how Sunni groups feel about Shiite groups in Baghdad."
Warshaw added: "In Iraq, I just don't hear statements that come from any of the Sunni, Shiite or Kurdish groups that say 'We recognize that we need to share power with the others, that we can't truly dominate.' "
According to a summary report of the focus-group findings obtained by The Washington Post, Iraqis have a number of "shared beliefs" about the current situation that cut across sectarian lines. Participants, in separate groups of men and women, were interviewed in Ramadi, Najaf, Irbil, Abu Ghraib and in Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad. The report does not mention how the participants were selected.
Dated December 2007, the report notes that "the Iraqi government has still made no significant progress toward its fundamental goal of national reconciliation." Asked to describe "the current situation in Iraq to a foreign visitor," some groups focused on positive aspects of the recent security improvements. But "most would describe the negative elements of life in Iraq beginning with the 'U.S. occupation' in March 2003," the report says.
Some participants also blamed Iranian meddling for Iraq's problems. While the United States was said to want to control Iraq's oil, Iran was seen as seeking to extend its political and religious agendas.
Few mentioned Saddam Hussein as a cause of their problems, which the report described as an important finding implying that "the current strife in Iraq seems to have totally eclipsed any agonies or grievances many Iraqis would have incurred from the past regime, which lasted for nearly four decades -- as opposed to the current conflict, which has lasted for five years."
Overall, the report said that "these findings may be expected to conclude that national reconciliation is neither anticipated nor possible. In reality, this survey provides very strong evidence that the opposite is true." A sense of "optimistic possibility permeated all focus groups . . . and far more commonalities than differences are found among these seemingly diverse groups of Iraqis."
Link updated 5.1.08
'Bush's Foreign Policy Is in Free Fall'
Former US Diplomat John Bolton is no longer in office, but he still has a lot to say about American foreign policy. SPIEGEL spoke to him recently about what he sees as Bush's softness abroad, Rice having been taken hostage by the liberal State Department, and why it doesn't matter that the world hates the US.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Ambassador, you worked closely with the president and you shared his hawkish views on Iraq. But your new book is fiercely critical of George W. Bush. Why?
Bolton: His foreign policy is in free fall. The president is turning against his own best judgment and instincts under the influence of Secretary (of State Condoleeza) Rice. She is the dominant voice, indeed, almost the only voice on foreign policy in this administration.
SPIEGEL: The popular reading of her looks a bit different. She is presumed to be weak and not particularly efficient.
Bolton: No. Rice is channeling the views of the liberal career bureaucrats in the State Department. The president is focusing all his attention on Iraq and, by doing so, has allowed the secretary to become captured by the State Department. He is not adequately supervising her. It is a mistake.
SPIEGEL: Could it be that your pique really comes from the fact that the president doesn't seem to be listening to neoconservatives like you anymore?
Bolton: The vice president (Vice President Dick Cheney) is still there. But the idea that somehow the neocons were so powerful is a myth -- I mean, it was five or six people, for God sakes. I am not a neoconservative. I am pro-American.
SPIEGEL: You have said that the new moderate foreign policy currently being followed by Bush compromises the security of the United States.
Bolton: Well, I think so. North Korea is going to get away with keeping its nuclear weapons. I think the (National Intelligence Estimate) sends Iran a signal they can do whatever they want...
SPIEGEL: ...You are talking about the recent report by US intelligence services that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003 ...
Bolton: Yes. For 12 hours after the NIE announcement, there was not a word from Iran. They were sitting there in Teheran saying: "What devious trick are the Americans playing on us now?" They couldn't believe it and finally declared victory.
SPIEGEL: In the past, you argued for a military intervention in Iran. Do you still consider that an option?
Bolton: I don't have the same high confidence these intelligence analysts do that, in fact, there was a full suspension of the military program in Iran. This is not like those claims about Cheney pressuring the poor intelligence community to spin intelligence on Iraq. This is politicization from the other side -- people in the intelligence community allowing policy preferences to affect their analysis and judgments about the intelligence.
SPIEGEL: And where is the president? Is he merely a puppet?
Bolton: Look at the North Korean policy. The North Koreans certainly were involved in that facility in Syria that was raided by the Israelis. The North Koreans renege on their commitments and we still negotiate.
SPIEGEL: What do you see as the alternative -- bombing Pyongyang?
Bolton: I'm not running around the world looking for ways to create hostilities. The solution to North Korea is the reunification of the Korean Peninsula. China could influence the North; it supplies 80 to 90 percent of North Korea's energy. The United States have to put pressure on China in order for China to pressure North Korea.
SPIEGEL: Do you have any second thoughts about the American engagement in Iraq?
Bolton: It was right to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It was the regime itself that was a threat. I think in hindsight, what I would have done is turn authority back over to Iraqis much more quickly and say: "Your country, you figure out how to run it."
SPIEGEL: Would you say the world is now a safer place than before the Iraq war?
Bolton: Yes. There is now no possibility that Iraq is going to have weapons of mass destruction. We had the ancillary strategic victory when (Libyan leader) Moammar Gadhafi gave up his nuclear weapons program as well. When he looked at Saddam, he concluded -- incorrectly -- that he might be next.
SPIEGEL: You don't seem to doubt the go-it-alone approach of the United States although anti-Americanism is rising across the world. Doesn't such a negative view of America weaken US power?
Bolton: I don't think so. I have looked at public opinion polls in France in the late 1940s and early 1950s during the height of Marshall Plan aid. They had a very negative attitude towards the United States then. There were negative attitudes towards the United States because of Vietnam. There were negative attitudes about the United States when Reagan wanted to deploy intermediate range ballistic missiles. I don't think the president should base his foreign policy on American public opinion polls, let alone foreign public opinion polls.
SPIEGEL: What kind of foreign policy will the next president pursue?
Bolton: If you get a President (Hillary) Clinton, you might well find, just as after Vietnam, that there is a retraction from Iraq and of American influence in the world. And in a couple of years the Europeans will be complaining about that too. See how long American troops last in Europe under an administration that thinks it is time for America to come home.
SPIEGEL: Is that a threat?
Bolton: No. The European Union can now act like a major power, at least that is what the European Union tells us. So they should do so -- they can experiment with Russia.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Ambassador, thank very much for taking the time to speak with us.
Interview conducted by Cordula Meyer
Wolvespeak : John Bolton was the US Ambassador to the United Nations until the end of 2006. Loyal to US President George W. Bush, Bolton is deeply conservative and highly skeptical of international organizations like the UN. "There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States," he said in 1994. His new book is called "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations." Don't buy it.
The narrative of progress in the "war on terror" is belied by immediate events and longer-term trends in Iraq, Afghanistan and Algeria.
13 - 12 - 2007
The mood-music for several weeks in November-December 2007 has been of the cautious improvement of military and political prospects in the various leading fronts of George W Bush's "war on terror". The United States military surge in Iraq was clearly having some success; a febrile political situation in Pakistan was nonetheless contained, with violence in areas such as Swat being addressed; the winter was expected to see an easing of the conflict in Afghanistan; the Annapolis summit could be presented as a signal of progress in middle-east negotiations; and Iran's recalcitrance over its nuclear programmes meant that there seemed a real possibility of maintaining pressure on Tehran (via an economic squeeze, international support for a third round of United Nations sanctions, and the ultimate threat of military force).
In combination, the domestic political impact of these events and trends in the US - especially when given a positive gloss by the establishment media - could be regarded as positive for the Republicans in the 2008 presidential campaign (albeit without agreement yet on the party's likely candidate).
A sea of worries
The most striking breach in this evolving story-line was the release on 3 December 2007 of the national-intelligence estimate (NIE), a collation of the most up-to-date assessments on current security situations and threats from the US's sixteen intelligence agencies. The latest NIE report - Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities - concluded "with high confidence" that Iran had abandoned its plans to build a nuclear weapon in 2003 as a result of international pressure, and was unlikely to have enough enriched uranium to resume its plans until 2010-15. Its publication was a severe blow to leading US neo-conservatives who had invested so much effort in depicting Iran as an immediate danger.
Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001
The unexpected revision of judgment about Iran's nuclear ambitions produced a heated response from hawkish commentators (see Khody Akhavi, "The neo-cons strike back", Asia Times, 11 December 2007). There is little doubt, however, that the assessment makes it far more difficult for the more intransigent elements in Washington to persuasively advocate a military assault on Iran in the near future - and perhaps before the end of Bush's presidential term at the end of 2008. Moreover, the report effectively undercuts the case for increased sanctions on Iran, with Russia and China able to exert influence in the UN Security Council influence to counter any fresh US move in this direction.
Elsewhere too, the true picture qualifies the discourse of cautious optimism. The bombings in Algiers on 12 December which killed around sixty-seven people (including eleven United Nations staff) at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees offices and other locations show that al-Qaida and its affiliates are still capable of major coordinated operations against perceived western (as well as other) targets. The manoeuvres of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan have bought him and his US backers some breathing-space, though the political and security prospects there remain uncertain as the 8 January 2008 election approaches. Afghanistan, however, is re-emerging as a major worry for both the US and Britain, as large parts of the south and east of the country remain or have moved out of the control either of the Hamid Karzai administration or of International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) units.
The unusually severe message to his Nato allies from Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, is significant here: during his visit to Afghanistan on 3-4 December, Gates said that many Nato countries seemed frankly unwilling to increase their commitments to match current needs (such as a serious shortage of helicopters). The extensive "spin" over recent operations against the Taliban (such as the five-day assault on the town of Musa Qala, in Helmand province) or over the British prime minister's visit to Afghanistan on 12 December cannot conceal the fact that the real situation is one of great concern to the leading coalition powers.
It is in Iraq, however, that provides the greatest test on any current assessment of the "war on terror". There has been over several months an undoubted improvement in the security situation in large parts of central and northern Iraq. This is reflected in a decline in American military casualties, which are running at a rate of around half of those in most of the 2005-07 period; and Iraqi civilian deaths are also substantially down. There has also been a limited return of refugees (due to "push" factors as the welcome in neighbouring countries where Iraqis have sought refuge has become strained, as well as the "pull" factor of greater security), and large parts of Baghdad are relatively calm. The increased US military presence as a result of the surge strategy has contributed to this, as has the erection of numerous walls and other barriers reinforcing the division of Baghdad into separate communities (see "Baghdad Safer, But It's a Life Behind Walls", Christian Science Monitor, 10 December 2007).
The notion of a positive overall dynamic has, however, been challenged by a sharp escalation in the levels of violence in Iraq in the first two weeks of December 2007. Whether coincidental or not, the series of attacks intensified around the time of Robert Gates's arrival in Baghdad on 5 December. An attack on 4 December in Mosul was followed by four bombings the next day that killed twenty-five people, including sixteen in one Shi'a neighbourhood of Baghdad.
On 7 December, a woman suicide-bomber killed sixteen people and wounded at least twenty in Muqdadiya, ninety kilometres northeast of Baghdad, while ten more died other bombing incidents. On 8 December, six police officers were killed in the northern town of Baiji; two days later, multiple bomb attacks in Baghdad killed nine people and set fire to an oil refinery; and on 12 December, a triple car-bombing killed at least forty people and wounded 125 in Amara, southern Iraq.
A number of dedicated assaults in this same period reveal the political calculation of the insurgent forces. On 9 December, the police chief of Babil district, Major-General Qais al-Mamouri - a close ally of the US forces, whose representatives had publicly praised him only hours before - was assassinated. On 11 December, a bomb targeted the office of the former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, in a secure part of Baghdad close to the green zone; Allawi himself survived but two guards were killed.
The US attempts to undermine insurgents in recent months (especially those linked to al-Qaida) have included the arming of some Sunni militias, especially to the north and west of Baghdad. This has certainly helped counter the al-Qaida campaign, but the substantial flow of weapons and munitions into Sunni communities carries its own risks; many in these communities remain bitterly opposed to the US presence and fearful of the power of the Shi'a majority in any future Iraqi state. For them, the US military supplies may serve one useful purpose now, but a quite different purpose later.
In a parallel development, the withdrawal of British forces from Basra has been accompanied by an intensification of the fight for control of the city by Shi'a factions. Britain's government - including Gordon Brown himself, during his visit to Basra on 9 December - presents the retreat as a successful handover to the Iraqi government. The reality on the ground is very different (see Sami Moubayed, "British pullout stokes Iraq's southern fire", Asia Times, 12 December 2007). Britain retains 2,500 personnel at Basra airport, in a role termed "overwatch" that is largely concerned with protecting their own base. The government will be under heavy pressure from Washington to keep this small number of troops in Iraq, even if almost entirely for symbolic reasons. Now that Poland and Australia plan to pull out of Iraq, the coalition forces are now barely even a rump.
The logic of control
A more general issue is that alongside the slow easing of the security situation across much of Iraq, there is abundant evidence of an increase in lawlessness, racketeering and corruption. Transparency International now lists Iraq as the third most corrupt country (after Burma and Somalia) out of 180 countries surveyed. The combination of a surge in violence and an insistence on rigid religious observance has had a particularly damaging impact on the lives of women (see Mark Lattimer, "Freedom Lost", Guardian, 13 December 2007).
There is little evidence that this is a matter of real concern in Washington, where the main focus is on consolidating US influence in the country. At least 50,000 US troops are planned to stay in the country indefinitely (something that that the largely defunct Nouri al-Maliki administration has accepted), and there will in addition be at least 50,000 private-security personnel and contractors.
The US's military effort is accompanied by the continuation of efforts by transnational oil companies to enter the Iraqi oil markets. The intended Iraqi national oil law remains stalled after a year of internal negotiations, but it now appears that the al-Maliki government will bypass the legislative problems by awarding contracts for the development of existing oilfields. The companies involved including the so-called "super-giants"; Shell, BP, Chevron and Total are currently in the frame for substantial contracts, as are two US majors, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.
The relevant oilfields (between seven and nine of which are at stake) each have reserves of at least 5 billion barrels - together containing nearly half of Iraq's total reserves (see Ben Lando, "Big Oil to Sign Iraq Deals Soon", UPI, 6 December 2007). The context is important: Iraq has the third largest oil reserves of any country after Iran and Saudi Arabia, and many of the largest oil companies find that the reserves currently under their control are diminishing rapidly.
Behind the headlines, then, the Bush administration is seeking to strengthen its influence in Iraq in the face of a weak and corrupt government that is ready to complete numerous contracts with oil companies. At the heart of United States strategy in Iraq remains the aim of securing ultimate control of what to it is Iraq's most precious resource.
This assessment reinforces the argument made repeatedly in these columns since the launch of war in Iraq in 2003: that the United States will be in Iraq for decades. From Washington's perspective, this is how it should be. From al-Qaida's perspective too, the prospect is as welcome as can be. The devastating Algiers bombs - perpetrated by a group which chose to serve under the al-Qaida banner - is another reminder of the value of Iraq as a combat-training zone for the al-Qaida movement. That movement still sees a few months' difficulty in Iraq as but a brief moment in a decades-long ambition.
What a bunch of cheese merchants on this clip. Blair is the worst of the lot. To judge by his haggard appearance(about the 5 min. mark) he must have sold his soul to the Devil a few years ago. I know he sold it to Dubya as this video proves, but there's a Dorian Gray syndrome going on here somewhere.
BAGHDAD - Suheila Hammad held her daughter in her arms before dawn on Tuesday. Outside she heard the U.S. Special Forces and the Iraqi army in her area just south of Fallujah.
First they raided a home two doors down, blew the doors out and went in looking for their target. The soldiers pulled the family out of the home and the second floor was destroyed, the family said. A picture shows a burned-out room and shattered glass.
The soldiers progressed to the second house, searching for their target, an al-Qaida in Iraq member who was believed responsible for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.
At the second house in this place, once an al-Qaida bastion, they blew the doors off and pulled the residents from the house. The Iraqi soldiers toyed with them, telling them to raise their arms up, drop their arms and raise them again.
A few soldiers walked away speaking a language the families didn't understand. It was then that a bullet pierced the window where Suheila held her daughter Hadil. The bullet pierced Hadil's neck and passed through her, embedding in the wall of the room. No one came into the house and Suheila was too afraid to call out for help, she said.
Hadil bled to death in her mother's arms. Three men were detained, two were later released. The U.S. military said the man detained is an al-Qaida in Iraq member. There were no reports of Hadil's death, they said.
Wednesday morning Ali walked into my room. He works at the hotel where our offices are housed. We chat while he works most mornings. This day he was visibly tired.
''How's your neighborhood,'' I asked.
''Not good Leila, not good,'' he replied. He stopped his work and walked over to my desk.
''They came at 3 a.m. looking for someone from the Mahdi Army,'' he said, referring to the U.S. military. The Shiite militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr controls his neighborhood.
He described how the ''Amerkan,'' the Americans, pulled him and his family from their beds and forced them against the walls, guns pointed to their backs. The U.S. soldiers had broken down the doors and taken them by surprise, looking for their target.
His daughter and son, Wafaa, 6, and Hussein, 7, shook with fear. Because I didn't understand the word shiver, he impersonated his children quivering. The soldiers searched the home and found nothing. They told Ali he could file for compensation for the damages they caused.
''After this, why would I want their money?'' he said.
Last month a child and two men were killed as they rushed through a military checkpoint while the U.S. military were conducting an operation in Bayji. A U.S. military official estimated the child was about 3 years old. In Baghdad up to four people were killed, including three women, when a minibus ended up on a road meant only for car traffic. Bank employees on the bus were killed when soldiers fired warning shots that fragmented and hit the bus.
These deaths were not deliberate. But Suheila does not have her daughter, a 3-year-old was shot as he huddled in the back of a car and two young people forever associate Americans with the fear they felt in the middle of the night when foreign soldiers burst into their home.
Leila Fadel is the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.
December 10th, 2007 By Ruth Tanner
From: Campaign Against the Arms Trade
In September this year, employees of US private military company Blackwater killed 17Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. In October, guards from Unity Resources Group, a security firm run by former Australian army personnel, killed two Iraqis. In the same month, guards working for UK group Erinys International opened fire on a taxi near Kirkuk, wounding three civilians. In November, an Iraqi taxi driver was shot and killed by a guard with DynCorp International, a private security company hired to protect American diplomats.
These are just the most recent accounts of human rights abuses and civilian killings by employees of Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) in Iraq. There have been hundreds of human rights violations by mercenary troops, yet not a single prosecution has been brought against them.
All foreign contractors were granted immunity from prosecution in Iraq by virtue of order 17 of the Coalition Provisional Authority, one of Paul Bremer’s final acts before handing over power in summer 2004. In the wake of the Blackwater massacre the Iraqi government is attempting to bring in legislation to bring contractors under the control of Iraqi law.
Recent years have seen a new evolution in privatised warfare: today’s mercenaries are not just soldiers of fortune; they are corporations. The PMSC industry comprises hundreds of companies operating in more than 50 countries worldwide and working for governments, international institutions and corporations. They provide combat support including training and intelligence provision, operational support, strategic planning and consultancy, technical assistance, post-conflict reconstruction and a wide range of security provision.
These companies are making a financial killing out of war. Iraq has turned this into a multi-billion pound industry and UK firms are amongst the biggest winners. Estimates have suggested the total income for the private security sector worldwide has reached about £50 billion a year. UK companies saw their annual income grow six fold in the first year of the Iraqi occupation alone. A third of all US reconstruction money and a quarter of all UK reconstruction money has gone on PMSCs.
One UK company, Armorgroup has just won the UK government’s £20 million annual contract for security services in Afghanistan. Another UK company Aegis Defence Services, run by former Sandline International chief executive Tim Spicer of the 1998‘Arms to Africa’ scandal, has won a new contract with the Pentagon worth half a billion dollars over the next two years.
Blackwater President Gary Jackson, has made clear his intentions. He would like to develop, in his own words: ‘the largest, most professional private army in the world’. Others are more circumspect, preferring to legitimise their activities in war zones as ‘security’ and the rather Kafkaesque ‘peace building’.
However, in a conflict environment like Iraq, the distinction between security and combat breaks down. There is often no perceptible difference between regular soldiers and private support workers involved in protecting convoys or materials. PMSCs have become so much a part of war efforts that some major Western countries, like the UK and US, would now struggle to wage war without them.
This recent and very rapid expansion of PMSCs means that there is an urgent need to bring their activities under legal and democratic control. The absence of legal accountability in the country of operation makes it doubly essential that there is legislation governing PMSCs in their home country. The UK has no regulations governing the private military and security industry, despite the fact that its employees regularly operate in life-and-death situations and are currently taking over more and more functions of our own armed forces.
Rein in The UK government demonstrated that it was aware of many of the problems posed by PMSCs when it published a Green Paper on the issue in 2002. In its response to this, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee recommended that ‘private companies be expressly prohibited from direct participation in armed combat operations’. Since 2002, however, the UK government has failed to introduce legislation to take forward any of the options presented in the Green Paper.
In October, the United Nations working group on mercenaries renewed its call for the UK government to introduce legislation to regulate the private military sector and to guard against the ‘inherent dangers’ of privatising the use of violence in war zones. Corporate mercenaries have reaped huge profits from the conflict and at the expense of human rights in Iraq. The latest shootings in Iraq underline the need for the UK government to stop UK mercenaries operating in war zones. The Government must act now to bring these companies within the law.
1.2 million dead
A recent poll suggests that upwards of a million people may have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of the 2003 invasion, including 116,000 killed by aerial bombing.
The poll, conducted 12 – 19 Aug by Opinion Business Research (ORB, a polling company believed to have conducted past polls for the MoD) and barely reported in the British press, found that 22% of Iraqi households had had one (16%), two (5%) of three (1%) members die ‘as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003’ (tinyurl.com/2xlygm).
Using data from a 2005 census, ORB calculated that over 1.2 million Iraqis had been killed since the start of the invasion. 52.1% (636,000) were killed by gunshots, 21.6% (264,000) by car bombs and 9.5% (116,000) by aerial bombardment. A further 1.1 million were estimated to have suffered injuries ‘as a result of the conflict.’
Together with the results of the 2006 survey published in the Lancet (which was described by the MoD’s chief scientific adviser as ‘employing methods … regarded as “close to best practice” in this area’ – see Voices 53), the ORB poll suggests that tens of thousands of Iraqis have died as result of air strikes since July 2006.
Link to new movie by Alex Gibney to be released in January 2008. An in-depth look at the torture practices of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, focusing on an innocent taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed in 2002.
By Ulrike Putz and Gregor Peter Schmitz in Beirut and Washington, D.C.
US President George W. Bush plays host this week to a massive summit aimed at pushing the Middle East peace process forward. Expectations, though, are low. Many doubt that Bush is truly dedicated to the project.
It was an elegant setting for the luncheon hosted by the Israel Project one week ago. Guests at the National Press Club in Washington picked at salmon on a bed of salad, forks clinked gently against plates. The hostess spoke quietly of peace and understanding.
But then David Wurmser showed up. For four years, Wurmser was US Vice President Dick Cheney's Middle East advisor. And he is not at all convinced that the region deserves the world's attention. "It is absurd," he said to general astonishment, "that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contributes to the ozone hole by jetting across the world to bring peace to the Israelis and Palestinians." There are, he went on, much more important challenges, like North Korea, Iran, China, energy policy, Moscow, Japan....
The list seemed endless. "For me, the conflict is way down on the priority list," Wurmser said. "To attach so much importance to it sends the wrong signal."
All Domestically Weak
Wurmser is no longer with the government, having left this year to start his own consulting firm. He attended and spoke at last week's event as a civilian. Still, his comments are telling; they mirror exactly the friction generated by the Annapolis conference within the Bush Administration.
Officially the United States is the proud host, welcoming high-ranking representatives from 49 countries and organizations to the summit with the intention of exploring possible paths to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The countries represented even include Saudi Arabia and Syria, neither of which was present at the last major US negotiation initiative, Bill Clinton's 2000 Camp David summit. All the parties are meeting on Tuesday on the premises of the picturesque Annapolis Naval Academy in the state of Maryland, where a banner in one room features the encouraging motto: "Don't give up the ship!"
But even before the first speech was held at the conference, many observers had already abandoned any hope of significant progress. "All the participants have the fear of failure on their minds rather than the hope of success," Tamara Cofman Wittes from the Brookings Institution told SPIEGEL ONLINE, adding that the key protagonists -- US President George W. Bush, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert -- are all very weak domestically.
Help Against Iran
Shmuel Rosner, US correspondent of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, is not even impressed by the fact that the Arab states are attending. "This whole meeting tells us much more about the host than about the guests," he says.
And the host appears to be moody. Large parts of Bush's team seem to have very little desire to work hard to make Annapolis a success -- already apparent from the disastrous preparation. The mega-conference was not officially confirmed until the beginning of last week, forcing delegations to hurriedly amend their hotel bookings. Briefings with reporters were arranged with just a few minutes' notice -- and clashed with the US-wide travel chaos caused by the Thanksgiving holiday.
Why the half-heartedness? In the White House, the Annapolis conference is increasingly regarded as an admission of weakness, especially in the influential circle surrounding Dick Cheney and the neo-cons. They grudgingly accept that a stronger US engagement for peace in the Middle East is probably the price that has to be paid for more help against an increasingly powerful Iran.
Important US allies such as Saudi Arabia have given clear signals in recent months that they want support in mediating between the Israelis and Palestinians. "The conference is also a product of the changed balance of power in the region," says Wittes. The official line in Washington is that such pragmatic considerations have no effect on the US's Middle East policy and that Annapolis is much more about finding a new start for real peace talks. But few in the Middle East would believe that the US government could be so altruistic. "It is good that the negotiating process is back on track," says Wittes. "But it's not good that it is being exploited for other political aims."
Mustafa Barghouti, the Palestinian Information Minister until June, sees little more than a glimmer of hope in the peace conference. "The US was mainly put under pressure by the Saudis to do something," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. But the outcome was totally unsatisfactory, he said. The Annapolis conference was poorly prepared and the hectic organization that went into it belied a lack of substance, said Barghouti. "A lot is being done here so that no one notices that nothing is being done."
FROM DER SPIEGEL.
The US Military notoriously 'don't do body counts'. NGOs like Iraq Body Count (IBC)decided to fill this information void. IBC is commonly used to provide the minimum numbers of Iraqis killed since 2003. Its range is currently between 77,333 and 84,250dead. Yet a methodology that relies on evidence "drawn from crosschecked media reports of violent events leading to the death of civilians, or of bodies being found, and is supplemented by the careful review and integration of hospital, morgue, NGO and official figures" is limited at best. Iraq's ministries are run as fiefdoms by various sectarian parties, meaning there is little reason to think that information coming from them does not serve political means. "They are using this number because they want to show that Maliki is succeeding," says Salim Abdullah, a lawmaker and member of the largest Sunni bloc, known as the Accordance Front. Link