Saturday, May 20, 2006

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Plot to down El Al jet in Geneva foiled

Jerusalem Post Plot to down El Al jet in Geneva foiled: "A terrorist plot to blow up an El Al jet at Geneva airport with an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) in December was uncovered by the Swiss and French intelligence agencies, details released for publication on Friday revealed.

The Yedioth Aharonot newspaper reported that a secret agent working undercover amongst an Islamic terror cell in the city discovered the plan after three immigrants of Arabic origin boasted of their attempts to smuggle weapons from Russia with the ultimate goal of shooting down an Israeli plane at the airport.

When the matter was reported to Israeli security, El Al changed the flight paths of all its Geneva-bound planes, landing them at Zurich Airport the following week.

Swiss officials reported that no arrests were made following the discovery since the plan had yet to reach its final operational stages. "...

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"Taliban's Dadullah" says he has not been captured

"Taliban's Dadullah" says he has not been captured��Top News��Reuters.co.uk: "SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A man claiming to be Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah said by telephone a report he had been captured in Afghanistan was untrue and he vowed to fight on against Afghan and foreign troops.

The man telephoned a Reuters reporter late on Friday, hours after the BBC reported the capture of Dadullah, one of the Taliban's top commanders, after heavy clashes in the southern province of Kandahar.

'I am Mullah Dadullah. The reports about my arrest are not only false but a pack of blatant lies,' said the man, who sounded like Dadullah.
'The Americans and their slaves are trying to boost the morale of their troops by spreading false rumours,' the man said. The Taliban refer to the Afghan government as slaves of the United States.

The one-legged Dadullah is a member of the Taliban's 10-man leadership council and is regarded as close to the fugitive top leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar."...
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New [UK] law could hand out life sentences for Iraq deserters

: "Soldiers who refuse to serve in Iraq could face life imprisonment under controversial plans to reform the existing system of courts martial.

Campaigners for justice in the armed forces claimed yesterday that the Government was clamping down on dissent because of the growing opposition to the war. Flight-Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith was jailed for eight months by a court martial for refusing to serve in Iraq, but campaigners said the Armed Forces Bill will open so-called 'refuseniks' to a life sentence"...
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Iraq is disintegrating as ethnic cleansing takes hold

: "....Since the destruction of the mosque in Samarra sectarian warfare has broken out in every Iraqi city where there is a mixed population. In many cases the minority is too small to stand and fight. Sunnis have been fleeing Basra after a series of killings. Christians are being eliminated in Mosul in the north. Shias are being killed or driven out of cities and towns north of Baghdad such as Baquba or Samarra itself.

Dujail, 40 miles north of Baghdad, is the Shia village where Saddam Hussein carrying out a judicial massacre, killing 148 people after an attempt to assassinate him in 1982. He is on trial for the killings. The villagers are now paying a terrible price for giving evidence at his trial.

In the past few months Sunni insurgents have been stopping them at an improvised checkpoint on the road to Baghdad. Masked gunmen glance at their identity cards and if under place of birth is written 'Dujail' they kill them. So far 20 villagers have been murdered and 20 have disappeared. "....

[bth: an article worth reading in full.]

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Don't exaggerate Iranian threat

NJ.com: Search: "There are many good reasons why it is desirable to prevent Iran from acquiring the capability to develop nuclear weapons. But in assessing the Iranian threat and deciding what to do about it, the United States and its allies should take care to sort out the real strategic issues from the spurious ones that are filling up so much airtime and so many magazine columns. In particular, decisions should not be driven by the idea that Iran -- even an Iran with a handful of nuclear warheads -- presents a strategic or existential threat to Israel. It does not. ...

It is true that Iran menaces Israel, mostly through its support of terrorism. But the reason Iran re sorts to terrorism is that it has no other way of inflicting real harm on the Jewish state, which is capable of defending itself and has the full support of the United States.

Some Israeli commentators say that it is easy for Americans to take comfort from the Cold War experience, in which mutual assured destruction deterred the United States and the Soviet Union from attacking each other. The Israelis say they don't have the luxury of that gamble. Given Israel's history, their apprehension is not surpris ing. But American decision-makers would be well advised to proceed on the basis of realistic evaluations, not emotions.

Israelis are understandably apprehensive about the bellicose statements emanating from Iran's odious president, Mahmoud Ahma dinejad, and it may be that the Ira nian's hateful rhetoric foments anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish senti ment around the Middle East. In military terms, however, Iran presents no credible conventional military threat to Israel. "....

Friday, May 19, 2006

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Iran 'using Chinese gas'

Iran 'using Chinese gas' The World The Australian: "VIENNA: Diplomats believe Iran used high-quality uranium gas from China to speed a breakthrough in enrichment for their nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful energy but the West claims could hide weapons work.

'The Iranians have sought to accomplish a technological achievement for political purposes and chose the Chinese feedstock gas because of its quality, which ensures a better enrichment process,' said a diplomat with access to intelligence sources.

The diplomat, who asked not to be named, said Iran 'wanted to declare it had done uranium enrichment and was in a hurry', so it had the work completed before the UN Security Council could move against it.

The Security Council had given Iran until April 28 to halt enrichment, which makes fuel for nuclear power plants but can also be processed to produce the material for atomic bombs.

Another diplomat said Iran had used uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas supplied by China to feed a 164-centrifuge cascade, or array of rotors, to enrich theuranium.

The diplomat said Iran had also tried some of its own UF6, which intelligence sources say is believed to contain contaminants that can cause centrifuges to crash.

Although Iranian UF6 had improved, the Iranians were 'trying to create facts on the ground that are not there', said David Albright, a nuclear non-proliferation analyst. But he said the Iranians had not yet mastered enrichment and still had 'a lot of tests to do'. "...

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Israel tested nuke in 1979

Israel tested nuke in 1979 - World Breaking News - Breaking News 24/7 - NEWS.com.au: "ISRAEL and South Africa carried out a nuclear test on an offshore platform in the northern Antarctic in 1979, according to a newly disclosed US document, Yediot Aharonot newspaper said.

The document, released at the request of the security studies centre at Georgetown University in Washington, says a mystery explosion detected on September 22, 1979 by a US satellite was a nuclear test.

Prepared for the White House in December 1979, it said Israel and South Africa, then under apartheid rule, were cooperating on military issues, including nuclear research."

US intelligence services reported in 1990 that South Africa was producing nuclear weapons, while Israel is estimated to possess 200 nuclear warheads, although it has never confirmed or denied holding such weapons. South Africa later dismantled its nuclear weapons program under UN supervision.
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Taliban's new commander ready for a fight

Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan: "KARACHI - The Taliban's military offensive has begun in earnest in southern Afghanistan, with many key districts already captured by the militia that retreated from power in 2001 after the US-led invasion.

The scale and frequency of the Taliban's revitalized insurgency can be attributed directly to the recent appointment by Taliban leader Mullah Omar of legendary mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani as overall military field commander.

In the latest action - the biggest since the Taliban's ousting - in Helmand province, between 300 and 400 heavily armed Taliban"...

Haqqani, a cleric, rose to fame during the decade of opposition to the Soviets in the 1980s. Coincidentally, at that time he was an ally of the United States.

Mullah Omar has provided Haqqani with major powers, funds and huge stockpiles of arms and ammunition and, most important, hundreds of youths who have been trained by the Iraqi resistance in urban guerrilla warfare. Mullah Omar has demarcated specific areas of Afghanistan to different commanders, but now Haqqani is commander-at-large.

He has also been charged with coordinating suicide attackers throughout the country. He is authorized to wage battles anywhere he chooses in Afghanistan. Haqqani was not part of the Taliban movement when it first emerged from Zabul, but he was the first and most powerful commander of the Afghan resistance to surrender to the Taliban, unconditionally, in 1995.

The defection paved the way for the Taliban to secure territorial advantage and finally victory in 1996. Haqqani, in his 50s, had stunningly captured the first major city since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 - Khost - in 1991, from the puppet communist government of president Mohammad Najibullah.

Afghan parents still tell their children about the hero Haqqani, a thin man of small stature, who refused to stay in Peshawar in Pakistan, preferring the mountains, from where he kidnapped Soviet soldiers and ambushed their convoys. Haqqani stood out from other mujahideen as he was never blamed for warlordism, and he appeared to be truly dedicated to the cause of peace in Afghanistan. Haqqani held relatively low-key positions throughout the Taliban's tenure, but remained loyal to Mullah Omar. During this time he is said to have run several al-Qaeda training camps for Osama bin Laden, with whom he was friendly.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan, Haqqani was invited to Islamabad, where the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), with which he had close ties, offered him the presidency of Afghanistan, but on the condition that he break all ties with Mullah Omar and carve out a "moderate Taliban" faction. (In declassified US State Department documents, Haqqani is described as the tribal leader "most exploited by the ISI [and US] during the Soviet-Afghan war to facilitate the introduction of Arab mercenaries". [1]) Haqqani refused the offer and went back to the Ghulam Khan mountains between Khost and Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area and began his campaign of pitched battles against US-led forces. He then became a prime US target, with a number of attacks aimed specifically at eliminating him. But although Haqqani still commanded great respect all over Afghanistan and especially among the tribal elders of Khost, Paktia, Paktika and Gardez, he still did not belong to the Taliban core - Mullah Omar's "kitchen cabinet".

He thus was not given a central role in the Taliban resistance, although he continued to mount random attacks in his area. Mullah Akhtar Osamani and Mullah Dadullah were the central commanders, but they were not able to make any significant military breakthroughs when the Taliban's spring offensive was launched last month.

Thus Haqqani's elevation. Fresh funds, arms and human resources, and Haqqani's unquestioned military acumen honed in years fighting the Soviets, have revitalized the insurgency.

An immediate spinoff was that veteran Afghan resistance figures, such as Saifullah Masoor, the commander of the renowned resistance leader Nasrullah Mansoor, who were previously sitting on the fence in Gardez and other areas, are now hand in hand with Haqqani.

The regions that the Taliban have targeted and the patterns of mobilization are similar to those used in the mid-1990s when the student militia emerged as a force to fill the chaotic political vacuum created after the withdrawal of Soviet troops and seize Kabul. There are, though, two main distinctions today: the Taliban do not have the support of Pakistan, as they did to a large extent in the 1990s, and many independent groups have now gathered under the Taliban umbrella.

Thus the Taliban-led movement has converted into an organized revolt, concentrated in the southern provinces of Zabul, Helmand and Kandahar. Strengthened by loyal tribes, the targets are US-led coalition forces, as well as the Afghan National Army (ANA). According to Asia Times Online contacts in Afghanistan, intense and constant battles have virtually paralyzed the ANA's ability to retaliate, and many villages and districts in the three key southern provinces are now under Taliban control. The ANA is therefore concentrating on keeping the major Afghan cities under the writ of the Kabul administration of President Hamid Karzai.

"Once again we are facing a mid-1990s-like situation when bloodshed was everywhere and the situation went from bad to worse and these circumstances allowed the Taliban movement to emerge and boot our government out," said former Afghan prime minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzaid in a telephone conversation with Asia Times Online. Ahmad Shah was the acting premier before the Taliban took power in 1996.

"The Karzai administration writ is nowhere, and the Afghan nation is once again in limbo," Ahmad Shah maintained. Solid spadeworkWhile Haqqani has provided the spark for the resistance, he could not have succeeded had thorough groundwork not been laid over the past year or so. The Taliban launched a major recruitment drive last year.

This coincided with the government of Pakistan clamping down on jihad activities in Indian-administered Kashmir. This played right into the Taliban's hands as many former members of Pakistani jihadi organizations, including from the banned Laskhar-i-Toiba and the banned Jaish-i-Mohamed, gathered in North and South Waziristan, where the Taliban have established a virtual Islamic state along the lines of the former uncompromising fundamentalist religious Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

All have pledged their allegiance to Mullah Omar. According to authoritative estimates obtained by Asia Times Online, about 27,000 fighters are gathered in North Waziristan alone. More than 13,000 are believed to be in South Waziristan.

The Taliban leadership there had formed about 100 suicide squads by February, assembled under the motto "fight until the last man and the last bullet".

Partners, not followers Now that the spring offensive has gained sustainable momentum, some of the old guard of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets have jumped into the fray, but as partners of the Taliban rather than followers of Mullah Omar.

One such is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan, who operates in the Kunar Valley and Nooristan province on the border with Pakistan. According to reports from the area, his commanders and their men are grouping to pitch battle before the Taliban mobilize cadres in eastern Afghanistan.

In the Khugiani district in eastern Nangarhar province, Moulvi Yunus Khalis, the chief of his own faction of the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan, and his two sons, especially Anwarul Haq Mujahid, have started up activities and are instigating all tribes to revolt against the Kabul administration, as well as against foreign forces in Afghanistan. Sporadic information coming out of the country also suggests revolts by many small warlords in the southern Pashtun heartland against the Karzai administration.

However, at present they lack effective coordination among themselves, and with the Taliban. Should they get organized, say people with close knowledge of the insurgency, a military mobilization all the way to Kabul could be only a few weeks away.
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Captured Afghan Militant Might Be Top Taliban Leader

FOXNews.com - Captured Afghan Militant Might Be Top Taliban Leader - International News News of the World Middle East News Europe News: "KANDAHAR, Afghanistan � U.S.-led coalition forces captured a militant fighter with only one leg in a battle this week in southern Afghanistan, and it was possible the militant could be top Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah, an Afghan general said Friday.

The militant was captured in a joint Afghan-coalition operation in Kandahar province on Wednesday, said Gen. Rehmatullah Raufi, the head of the Afghan military's southern region.

Dadullah, who lost a leg fighting for the Taliban during its rise to power in the mid-1990s, is one of the hard-line militia's top commanders, responsible for operations in eastern and southeastern Afghanistan.

Neither the U.S.-led coalition or the Afghan government in Kabul said they could immediately confirm that Dadullah had been captured."...

First photo I've seen from Iraq showing side armor on marine vests. Posted by Picasa

More Than 100 Killed in Afghan Violence

FOXNews.com - More Than 100 Killed in Afghan Violence - International News News of the World Middle East News Europe News: "KANDAHAR, Afghanistan � In some of the deadliest combat since the Taliban's fall, hundreds of militants with machine guns stormed a town, battled Afghan, U.S. and Canadian forces and set off car bombs.

More than 100 people were killed, including dozens of insurgents and a U.S. civilian, officials said Thursday."...

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday said the violence was emanating from neighboring Pakistan, whose mountainous border tribal regions are also populated by ethnic Pashtuns, who make up the majority of the Taliban militants.

"We have credible reports that inside Pakistan, in the madrassas, the mullahs and teachers are saying to their students: 'Go to Afghanistan for jihad. Burn the schools and [medical] clinics,"' Karzai said.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Tasnim Aslam, called the allegations "baseless."

In one of the largest militant attacks since 2001, an estimated 300-400 militants using assault rifles and machine guns attacked a police and government headquarters late Wednesday in the small town of Musa Qala in Helmand, sparking eight hours of clashes with Afghan security forces.

The bodies of about 40 Taliban militants were recovered, said deputy Gov. Amir Mohammed Akhunzaba. Thirteen police were killed and six wounded in the fight, some 280 miles southwest of Kabul.

The fighting was the fiercest in Helmand province since the fall of the Taliban, Akhunzaba said.

The assault was countered by Afghan police reinforcements, who eventually forced the militants to flee, said British military spokesman Capt. Drew Gibson.

British forces in Helmand province helped evacuate casualties but did not provide military backup, in part so Afghan police could prove their fighting abilities, Gibson said.

"If they're the ones who are seen beating off the Taliban, there's a lot of credibility for them," Gibson said. "The ANP [Afghan National Police] did admirably in the circumstances, proven by the fact that Musa Qala is now back under ANP security."

In neighboring Kandahar province, the U.S.-led coalition said up to 27 Taliban militants were killed during an operation Thursday. The military said there were seven confirmed deaths and another 15-20 militants may have been killed in an airstrike near the village of Azizi.

Elsewhere in Kandahar, about 18 Taliban militants and the Canadian officer, Goddard, were killed in fighting late Wednesday, said Maj. Scott Lundy, a Canadian military spokesman.

Canadian soldiers were supporting Afghan forces on a mission to oust Taliban fighters in Panjwayi district, about 20 miles west of Kandahar city, when they were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire, Lundy said.

Three Afghan soldiers were wounded, and about 35 militants were detained, he said.

Although Canadian women lost their lives in action in both world wars, Goddard, from Calgary, Alberta, was the first to do so in a combat role.

A Defense Ministry spokesman, Gen. Zahir Azimi, said the impending handover of power in the south to NATO troops in July could be sparking attacks in the south of Afghanistan.

"Maybe the Taliban is trying to show NATO that they are active there, but coalition and NATO forces are both strong," he said.

Lundy said coalition commanders were still studying whether the attacks Wednesday and Thursday across the south had been coordinated....

[bth: looks like a series of significant attacks by the Taliban largely were beaten back.]
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Top Air Force brass said to be under FBI probe

Top Air Force brass said to be under FBI probe��Reuters.com: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force's highest-ranking officer and his predecessor are the subjects of an FBI investigation into the handling of a $49.9 million dollar contract for the Thunderbirds, an air demonstration squadron, ABC News reported on Thursday.
The network quoted law enforcement officials as saying the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating allegations that Gen. Michael Moseley and Gen. John Jumper helped to steer a Thunderbird contract to a friend, retired Air Force Gen. Hal Hornburg.

The Air Force, responding to the report, said Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne had referred a protest involving the contract to the Defense Department's chief internal inspector.
'Unfortunately, because of the ongoing litigation and investigation it is inappropriate to address specifics concerning the issue,' an Air Force statement said."...
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Government to force handover of encryption keys

Government to force handover of encryption keys - ZDNet UK News: "The UK Government is preparing to give the police the authority to force organisations and individuals to disclose encryption keys, a move which has outraged some security and civil rights experts.

The powers are contained within Part 3 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). RIPA was introduced in 2000, but the government has held back from bringing Part 3 into effect. Now, more than five years after the original act was passed, the Home Office is seeking to exercise the powers within Part Three of RIPA.

Some security experts are concerned that the plan could criminalise innocent people and drive businesses out of the UK. But the Home Office, which has just launched a consultation process, says the powers contained in Part 3 are needed to combat an increased use of encryption by criminals, paedophiles, and terrorists.

'The use of encryption is... proliferating,' Liam Byrne, Home Office minister of state told Parliament last week. 'Encryption products are more widely available and are integrated as security features in standard operating systems, so the Government has concluded that it is now right to implement the provisions of Part 3 of RIPA... which is not presently in force.'"...

"Fairy Tales"(Harpers.org)

�Fairy Tales� (Harpers.org): "The (lack of) intelligence underpinning Bush's Iraq policy

Posted on Thursday, May 18, 2006. By Ken Silverstein.
SourcesDuring the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein's Information Minister became the butt of a million jokes for proclaiming that American soldiers were being routed, even as U.S. troops were quickly closing in on Baghdad. "Their infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad," Muhammed Saeed al-Sahafaka Baghdad Bob"said as Saddam's end neared. "Be assured, Baghdad is safe."

Now, on the subject of Iraq the Bush administration has roughly the same credibility as Baghdad Bob, and for similar reasons: the administration covers its ears when it gets bad news and anyone bold enough to deliver it is sent to face the firing squad. “This administration,” Bob Graham, the former Senator and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told me, “does not seek the truth as a basis for its judgments, but tries to use intelligence to validate judgments it has already made.”

A number of current and former intelligence officials have told me that the administration's war on internal dissent has crippled the CIA's ability to provide realistic assessments from Iraq. “The system of reporting is shut down,” said one person familiar with the situation. “You can't write anything honest, only fairy tales.”

The New York Times and others have reported that in 2003, the CIA station chief in Baghdad authored several special field reports that offered extremely negative assessments of the situation on the ground in Iraq—assessments that later proved to be accurate. The field reports, known as “Aardwolfs,” were angrily rejected by the White House. Their author—who I'm told was a highly regarded agency veteran named Gerry Meyer—was soon pushed out of the CIA, in part because his reporting angered the See No Evil crowd within the Bush administration. “He was a good guy,” one recently retired CIA official said of Meyer, “well-wired in Baghdad, and he wrote a good report. But any time this administration gets bad news, they say the critics are assholes and defeatists, and off we go down the same path with more pressure on the accelerator.”

In 2004 Meyer was replaced with a new CIA station chief in Baghdad, who that year filed six Aardwolfs, which, sources told me, were collectively as pessimistic about the situation in Iraq as the ones sent by his predecessor. The station chief finished his assignment in December 2004; he was not fired, but according to one source is now “a pariah within the system.” Three other former intelligence officials gave me virtually identical accounts, with one saying the ex–station chief was “treated like shit” and “farmed out.” (I was given the former station chief's name and current position, but I am not publishing the information because he is still employed by the CIA.) ...

Clearly, better reporting from Iraq is badly needed. But don't expect more honesty out of Baghdad soon. Under this administration, anything less than cheerleading can be a career-ending move.

[bth: a powerful article worth reading in full.]
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As Death Stalks Iraq, Middle-Class Exodus Begins

As Death Stalks Iraq, Middle-Class Exodus Begins - New York Times: "'...The main thing now is to just get out of Iraq,' said Mr. Bahjat, standing in a room heaped with suitcases and bedroom furniture in eastern Baghdad.

In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be doing everything they can to leave the country. In the last 10 months, the state has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population and a quarter of the country's estimated middle class.

The school system offers another clue: Since 2004, the Ministry of Education has issued 39,554 letters permitting parents to take their children's academic records abroad. The number of such letters issued in 2005 was double that in 2004, according to the director of the ministry's examination department. Iraqi officials and international organizations put the number of Iraqis in Jordan at close to a million. Syrian cities also have growing Iraqi populations.

Since the bombing of a shrine in Samarra in February touched off a sectarian rampage, crime and killing have spread further through Iraqi society, paralyzing neighborhoods and smashing families.

Now, on the brink of a new, permanent government, Iraqis are expressing the darkest view of their future in three years. 'We're like sheep at a slaughter farm,' said a businessman, who is arranging a move to Jordan. 'We are just waiting for our time.' The Samarra bombing produced a new kind of sectarian violence. Gangs of Shiites in Baghdad pulled Sunni Arabs out of houses and mosques and killed them in a spree that prompted retaliatory attacks and displaced 14,500 families in three months, according to the Ministry for Migration.

Most frightening, many middle-class Iraqis say, was how little the government did to stop the violence. That failure boded ominously for the future, leaving them feeling that the government was incapable of protecting them and more darkly, that perhaps it helped in the killing. Shiite-dominated government forces have been accused of carrying out sectarian killings.

"Now I am isolated," said Monkath Abdul Razzaq, a middle-class Sunni Arab, who decided to leave after the bombing. "I have no government. I have no protection from the government. Anyone can come to my house, take me, kill me and throw me in the trash."...

"Sunnis, Shiites, Christians," said Mr. Bahjat, a Christian who this month moved his family to New Baghdad, an eastern suburb, to live with a relative, before leaving for Syria. "They just want to empty this place of all people."

"We must start from zero," he said. "Maybe under zero. But there is no other choice. Even with more time, the security will not improve."

It is more than just the killing that has sapped hope for the future. Iraqis have waited for five months for a permanent government, after voting in a national election in December, and though political leaders are on the brink of announcing it, some Iraqis say the amount of haggling it took to form it makes them skeptical that it will be able to solve bigger problems.

Abd al-Kareem al-Mahamedawy, a tribal sheik from Amara in southern Iraq who fought for years against Saddam Hussein, compared the process to "giving birth to a deformed child."...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

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'Many dead' in major Afghan clash

BBC NEWS South Asia 'Many dead' in major Afghan clash: "Southern Afghanistan has seen a fierce battle between as Taleban fighters and police, with officials saying more than 40 people were killed.

The fighting erupted in Helmand province where thousands of British troops are currently deployed.

Violence also broke out earlier in Kandahar, leaving 18 militants and a female Canadian soldier dead.

The attacks came as Canada's parliament narrowly voted to extend the country's combat mission until 2009.

A suicide bomber also attacked a convoy of vehicles in the western city of Herat on Thursday, police said, killing himself and an American national.

'This morning around 0930 a suicide attacker drove his car in to a passing American convoy of supply trucks in the city of Herat,' police chief Gen Aayub Salangi told the BBC, adding that one vehicle had been completely destroyed. "...
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US forces cannot withdraw yet from any Iraqi province: general

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US and coalition forces cannot yet be withdrawn from even Iraq' most stable regions, despite progress made in building up Iraqi security forces, the US military chief said

Testifying alongside US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, General Peter Pace was asked whether coalition forces could withdraw within the next three months from any of 14 Iraqi provinces that he had described as calm and stable.

"No, sir," Pace told members of a Senate appropriations subcommittee considering an administration request for 66.3 billion dollars in additional military funding, most of it for Iraq.

Rumsfeld said he expected a new Iraqi cabinet to be formed by a May 21 deadline, ending a political bottleneck that has held up major decisions on the future of the 130,000-strong US force in Iraq.

The US military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said last year he anticipated a substantial reduction in the US force this year, but neither Rumsfeld nor Pace gave any indication that cuts are imminent.

"If General Casey were here, he would say that there must be reasonable security, there must be a reasonable economic opportunity, and to have either one you've got to have a unity government," Rumsfeld said.

"So we're not going to get the security, in my view, in his view, unless the new government engages the country, has a reconciliation process and demonstrates to the Iraqi people that they have a stake in that government," he said.

The months-long struggle to form a new government in Iraq has been accompanied by a surge in sectarian violence, with Shiite militias in the security forces believed to be responsible for the kidnapping and killing of Sunnis.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said she was concerned that US forces are being caught in the middle. She singled out the Shiite militia led by radical cleric Moqtada Sadr as a source of particular concern.

"It seems to me the time is upon us to transition that mission and begin to confine our presence to logistics and support and move our people out," she said.

"I don't disagree with the construct you've presented," Rumsfeld replied. "We ought to be worried about Sadr and his militia. Armed militias in a country with a democracy is inconsistent with the success of that democracy."

He said US commanders were wrestling with how many US troops were needed to foster security without becoming the fuel for the insurgency, he said.

Rumsfeld noted that Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki had spoken out publicly on the need to address the militias.

Maliki, who has been struggling to form a broad-based cabinet, has decided on a defense minister, but debate was still under way over who should head the interior and finance ministries, Rumsfeld told the senators.

The US military has continued to hand over territory to Iraqi security forces in the meantime, Pace said.

US forces have closed or turned over to Iraqis 34 operating bases this year, shrinking their numbers from 110 to 76.

About 20 more are slated to be handed over or closed, he said.

Only two of Iraq's 10 divisions are "in the lead," meaning they control their own territory, according to Pace. But half of the Iraqi army's 30 brigades now have the lead responsibility for security in assigned areas, he said.

"There are still logistics and command and control parts of their army that need to be built for them to be able to sustain themselves completely," he said.

With the US course in Iraq under growing fire, Rumsfeld has faced insistent calls for his resignation, most recently by a group of retired generals, some of whom commanded forces in Iraq.

Asked whether military morale has suffered, Rumsfeld said, "I haven't done any polling or taken temperatures in that. I haven't noticed anything."

[bth: Sadrs militia is certainly part of the problem, but yet we are putting him into power and making his group the kingmaker in the new Iraqi government.]
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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Marines killed Iraqi civilians 'in cold blood': US lawmaker

BREITBART.COM - Marines killed Iraqi civilians 'in cold blood': US lawmaker: " US lawmaker and former Marine colonel accused US Marines of killing innocent Iraqi civilians after a Marine comrade had been killed by a roadside bomb.

'Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood,' John Murtha told reporters. The November 19 incident occurred in Haditha, Iraq. "

"There was no firefight" that led to the shootings at close range, the Vietnam war veteran said, denying early official accounts, which said that a roadside bomb had killed the Iraqis.

"There were no (roadside bombs) that killed these innocent people," he said.

Time magazine reported the shootings on March 27, based on an Iraqi human rights group and locals, who said that 15 unarmed Iraqis died, including women and children, when Marines barged into their home throwing grenades and shooting.

"It's much worse than reported in Time magazine," Murtha said.

At least three Marine officers are under official investigation, and no report has been released, Army Times said Tuesday.
Murtha is a harsh critic of the war in Iraq and said that such incidents are the result of inadequate planning, training and troop numbers in Iraq.
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The Blog | Rep. John Murtha: Anyone Think Things will be Better Six Months from Now? | The Huffington Post

The Blog Rep. John Murtha: Anyone Think Things will be Better Six Months from Now? The Huffington Post: "Today marks 6 months since I introduced my resolution calling for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq. Over these past 6 months things have gotten worse, not better. Those who disagree with me argue 'we can't just leave,' but they have no plan to make things better. The fact is the success of Iraq is up to the Iraqis."

The Iraqis must settle their differences and we must set a timetable for the Iraqis to take complete control of their country.

Instead of showing progress, oil production remains below prewar levels, electricity in Baghdad measured only 2.9 hours per day last week, and more than half of all Iraqis are unemployed. Every month we are spending over $8 billion in Iraq.

When I visit the severely wounded at our military hospitals, I ask "what happened to you?" Most say they were blown up while looking for IEDs. That's a hell of a mission.

Over the last 6 months, more Iraqis have died in sectarian violence than at anytime since the toppling of Saddam Hussein. This is a civil war and our military is caught in the middle of it.

The war in Iraq has been more harmful than beneficial to our counterterrorism efforts. And while the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate, this Administration continues to say things are going very well. They ignore the real story.

Secretary Rumsfeld says that progress in Iraq is evidenced by how many satellite dishes he sees on rooftops, but ignores the fact that electricity is only provided for 2.9 hours per day.

Karl Rove recently said the public is "sour" on the war in Iraq.

The use of the word "sour" disgracefully minimizes public reaction to the way this Administration has run the war. Try using disillusioned, betrayed, and deeply concerned about the lives of our service members, the future of the military, and the future of this country if we continue down this open-ended and ill defined path.

Does anyone think that things will be better 6 months from now?
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Islamist lawyer kills top judge in gun attack on Turkish court

Independent Online Edition > Europe: "A gunman shouting 'Allah is Great' struck at the heart of Turkey's secular establishment yesterday, killing a judge and wounding four others at the highest administrative court.

The attacker, a lawyer, used his ID to get past security at the Council of State in the capital, Ankara. Armed with a plastic-coated Glock pistol, he made his way to the eighth floor, where the second chamber was in session. He broke into the room and unloaded two clips from his pistol, shouting, 'I am a soldier of Allah', witnesses said. Police caught him trying to flee using a back door. He was named by Turkish media as Alpaslan Aslan, 29.

The court is best known for its strict upholding of secular laws, in particular a ban on headscarves in universities and public offices which has become a rallying point for Islamists.

The ban dates back to Turkey's founder Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, who abolished religious dress and adopted a Swiss-based legal code in 1923. Tension between secularists and Islamists has plagued Turkey ever since.

One of the injured judges, Mustafa Birden, made headlines earlier this year when he ruled that teachers, who are banned from wearing the Islamic headscarf at work, could not cover their heads even on their way to school. He has reportedly received death threats since then. One Islamist newspaper printed photographs of him and other judges from the court's second chamber, which deals with education issues."...
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Hostages of War - New York Times

Hostages of War - New York Times: "S INCE the start of the war, at least 439 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq, averaging more than three a week. Those abducted include Muslims and non-Muslims, citizens of coalition countries and of non-coalition countries, supporters of the war as well as outspoken critics. Some 60 nationalities are represented among those taken hostage -the top six, in order, are Turkish, Jordanian, American, Lebanese, Egyptian and Nepalese. "

As sobering as the number of foreign hostages may be, still more kidnapping victims are Iraqis. We lack comprehensive, reliable information on the Iraqi cases, but a crude estimate puts the rate of abduction at 5 to 30 new cases daily. Most of these are resolved with ransom payments, which tend to range from $10,000 to $50,000, with an average ransom of roughly $30,000. In several instances, the kidnappers have demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars. While many payments go to criminal gangs, a significant amount of ransom money goes to insurgent or terrorist groups.

The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior and the United States Embassy in Baghdad have each tracked the kidnappings of hundreds of Iraqis since 2004. It's worth noting that there have been signs of progress: daring rescues have taken place, and the Iraqi justice system is actively prosecuting kidnappers.

Still, for far too many people, Iraq has become a land of the lost.

Erik Rye is the director of the Hostage Working Group at the United States Embassy in Baghdad. Joon Mo Kang is a graphic designer.
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Zarqawi aide arrested in Iraq

Zarqawi aide arrested in Iraq: "Baghdad - Iraq has apprehended an aide to the country's most-wanted man, al-Qaeda chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in the city of Ramadi, says an interior ministry.

It said that the suspected insurgent, Salah Hussein Abdel Razak, had a mobile telephone with a picture of himself and Zarqawi together, but a statement didn't specify when the arrest took place.

In a separate incident, the statement said Iraqi police arrested Omar Ahmed Salah, known as Abu Jibril, 'a leader of what is known as the Brigades of Al-Tawhid Wa Jihad', a militant group believed to be linked to al-Qaeda.

The arrest took place on Monday morning in the south of Baghdad, the ministry said"
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Murder of Bangladeshi judges was Allah�s will: militant

Khaleej Times Online - Murder of Bangladeshi judges was Allah�s will: militant: "DHAKA -An Islamic militant leader accused of waging a bloody bombing campaign to impose Islamic laws in Bangladesh told a court he ordered the murder of two judges because it was Allah's will, police said on Tuesday.

"The judges were murdered at the instruction of Allah. We should be rewarded, not punished for following the order of killing judges." Shaikh Abdur Rahman was quoted as saying by investigating officer Munshi Atiqur Rahman.

Authorities have accused Rahman's Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) of staging a series of bombings, many of which targeted the judiciary.

At least 28 people, including lawyers, policemen and four suicide bombers, have been killed since last August in the attacks.

"Those who are engaged in man-made courts, especially lawyers, police and judges, will be punished in the court of Allah," added Rahman, who was appearing in court in the southern town of Jhalokathi on Monday.

"Murder to those who are against Allah's law," he was quoted as saying.

The group wanted to overturn the country's existing secular legal system dating back to the British colonial period and replace it with Islamic law"...
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US spells out plan to bomb Iran

THE US is updating contingency plans for a non-nuclear strike to cripple Iran's atomic weapon programme if international diplomacy fails, Pentagon sources have confirmed.

Strategists are understood to have presented two options for pinpoint strikes using B2 bombers flying directly from bases in Missouri, Guam in the Pacific and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

RAF Fairford in Gloucester also has facilities for B2s but this has been ruled out because of the UK's opposition to military action against Tehran.

The main plan calls for a rolling, five-day bombing campaign against 400 key targets in Iran, including 24 nuclear-related sites, 14 military airfields and radar installations, and Revolutionary Guard headquarters.

At least 75 targets in underground complexes would be attacked with waves of bunker-buster bombs.Iranian radar networks and air defence bases would be struck by submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and then kept out of action by carrier aircraft flying from warships in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.

The alternative to an all-out campaign is a demonstration strike against one or two high-profile targets such as the Natanz uranium enrichment facility or the hexafluoride gas plant at Isfahan.

UK sources say contingency plans have also been drawn up to cope with the inevitable backlash against the Basra garrison in neighbouring Iraq.

THE US is updating contingency plans for a non-nuclear strike to cripple Iran's atomic weapon programme if international diplomacy fails, Pentagon sources have confirmed.Strategists are understood to have presented two options for pinpoint strikes using B2 bombers flying directly from bases in Missouri, Guam in the Pacific and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

RAF Fairford in Gloucester also has facilities for B2s but this has been ruled out because of the UK's opposition to military action against Tehran.

The main plan calls for a rolling, five-day bombing campaign against 400 key targets in Iran, including 24 nuclear-related sites, 14 military airfields and radar installations, and Revolutionary Guard headquarters

At least 75 targets in underground complexes would be attacked with waves of bunker-buster bombs.

Iranian radar networks and air defence bases would be struck by submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and then kept out of action by carrier aircraft flying from warships in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.

The alternative to an all-out campaign is a demonstration strike against one or two high-profile targets such as the Natanz uranium enrichment facility or the hexafluoride gas plant at Isfahan.

UK sources say contingency plans have also been drawn up to cope with the inevitable backlash against the Basra garrison in neighbouring Iraq.

[bth: there is no reason to think Iran's retaliation using surrogate terrorist organizations like Hezbollah will be limited to Iraq or the Middle East. I would expect US based terrorist attacks as well.]

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

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Pakistani nuke supplier tied to Syria

Pakistani nuke supplier tied to Syria�-�Nation/Politics�-�The Washington Times, America's Newspaper: "U.S. intelligence agencies suspect Syria was offered and received nuclear weapons technology from the covert Pakistani supplier group headed by A.Q. Khan, according to an intelligence report.

An annual report to Congress on arms proliferation states that Pakistani investigators have confirmed reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency that the Khan network 'offered nuclear technology and hardware to Syria.'

'We are concerned that expertise or technology could have been transferred,' said the intelligence report, which is the first time the Bush administration has publicly linked Syria to Khan.

'We continue to monitor Syrian nuclear intentions with concern.' "....
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