Saturday, December 02, 2006

MoD defends enhanced body armour

MoD defends enhanced body armour UK Latest Guardian Unlimited: "The Ministry of Defence has defended new body armour issued in Afghanistan and Iraq, after claims that its bulk prevented soldiers firing their weapons."

Troops have also been also resorting to ripping out internal ceramic plates from the armour to give themselves better freedom of movement under fire, the newspaper said. Described by Defence Secretary Des Browne earlier this year as "a world-leading system", Osprey Improved Combat Body Armour was designed to give better protection for forces facing attack by insurgents.

The equipment given to soldiers on normal operation duties includes thicker ceramic plates inside the armoured vest.

Because of their more vulnerable position, top gunners on vehicles have been kitted out with an enhanced version called Kestrel, which also includes neck and arm protection.

The newspaper quoted one unnamed marine as saying: "It's hard to run for cover wearing Osprey.
They're heavy, but more importantly they're so bulky you can't even bend down. Worst of all, you can't fit your weapon to your shoulder."

But the MoD insisted that the new protection had been rigorously tested. A spokesman said: "Osprey body armour was widely tested by soldiers in the Infantry Trials and Development Unit (in Warminster, Wilts). It offers superb protection."

He added: "Any issues with equipment should be reported through the chain of command."

The death of Sergeant Steven Roberts during a riot in Basra in March 2003 sparked a storm after it emerged that he had been forced to give up his enhanced body armour before going into battle.

Defence personnel being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan are now not allowed to travel without enhanced combat body armour.

Homeowners up in arms: U.S. military frequency jams hundreds of garage doors

BREITBART.COM - Homeowners up in arms: U.S. military frequency jams hundreds of garage doors: "Homeowners up in arms: U.S. military frequency jams hundreds of garage doors ROBERT WELLER DENVER (AP) - What do remote-control garage door openers have to do with national security? A lot, it seems. "

A secretive U.S. air force facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., tested a radio frequency this past week that it would use to communicate with first responders in the event of a homeland security threat.

But the frequency also controls an estimated 50 million garage door openers, and hundreds of residents in the surrounding area found their garage doors had suddenly stopped working.

"It would have been nice not to have to get out of the car and open the door manually," said Dewey Rinehard, pointing out that the outage happened during the first cold snap of the year when temperatures fell well below freezing.

Capt. Tracy Giles of the 21st Space Wing said air force officials were trying to figure out how to resolve
the problem of their signal overpowering garage door remotes.

"They (military officials) have turned it off to be good neighbours," he said.

The signals were coming from Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, home to the North American Aerospace Defence Command, a joint U.S. and Canadian operation set up during the Cold War to monitor Soviet missile and bomber threats.

Technically, the air force has the right to the frequency, which it began using nearly three years ago at some bases. Signals have previously interfered with garage doors near bases in Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

In general, effects from the transmissions would be felt only within 15 kilometres, but the Colorado Springs signal is beamed from atop 1,855-metre Cheyenne Mountain, which likely extends the range.

Holly Strack, who lives near the entrance to the facility, said friends in the neighbourhood all had the same problem.

"I never thought my garage door was a threat to national security," she said.

David McGuire, whose Overhead Door Co. received more than 400 calls for help, said the air force may be able to slightly adjust the transmission frequency to solve the problem. If not, it will cost homeowners about US$250 apiece to have new units installed.

Saudis arrest 139 'sleeper cell' suspects

Saudis arrest 139 'sleeper cell' suspects - CNN.com: "RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- Saudi security officials said Saturday they foiled a planned terrorist suicide attack and arrested 139 suspected Islamist militants who were in 'sleeper cells' believed to be affiliated with al Qaeda."

A senior official in the Saudi Interior Ministry told CNN that the suspects, who are from several Arab nations, were monitored by Saudi security agents for several months. They rounded the men up just before the expected attack was launched.

The suspects, arrested in different areas of Saudi Arabia, were being interrogated Saturday, the official said.

In October 2005, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called the threat of al Qaeda in his country "madness and evil" and vowed to "eliminate this scourge" of terrorism. Fifteen of the 19 al Qaeda terrorists participating in the September 11, 2001, attacks were Saudis.

There has been a series of deadly bombings in Saudi Arabia since then, including Western targets, further aligning the Saudi government with the United States in the war against terror.

In 2003, suicide bombings at residential compounds housing Westerners in Riyadh killed 23 people, and a car bombing in a mostly Arab neighborhood near Riyadh's diplomatic quarter killed at least 17. Both attacks were blamed on al Qaeda.

In December 2004 a Saudi-based al Qaeda group claimed responsibility for an armed raid on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah that left nine people dead.

Last year Saudi security forces, carrying out raids targeting suspected al Qaeda members, killed a man in Medina they said was the leader of al Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula.

[bth: I'm suspicious of the timing. This round-up more likely is being used to offset the negative publicity generated yesterday when it became evident that Saudi Arabia was preparing to or threatening to fund Sunnis in Iraq.]
 Posted by Picasa

Saudi denies it may back Sunnis in Iraq - washingtonpost.com

Saudi denies it may back Sunnis in Iraq - washingtonpost.com: "RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said there was no truth in an article by a Saudi security adviser suggesting the world's top oil exporter would back Iraq's Muslim Sunnis in the event of a wider sectarian conflict.

Nawaf Obaid, a security adviser to the Saudi government, said on Wednesday the kingdom would intervene with funding and weaponry to prevent Shi'ite militias attacking Iraq's Sunnis once the United States begins pulling out of Iraq."

He also suggested Saudi Arabia could bring down world oil prices to squeeze Shi'ite power Iran, which Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries accuse of meddling in Iraq.

"There is no basis in truth to the article by the writer Nawaf Obaid in the Washington Post of November 29, 2006," the state Saudi Press Agency quoted an "official source" as saying.

"The writer does not represent any official body in Saudi Arabia. What he published only represents his personal opinion and does not in any manner at all represent the policy or positions of the kingdom," it added on Friday.

"(Riyadh) continually affirms its support for the security, unity and stability of Iraq, with all of its sectarian groups."

Obaid stressed in the article that the views were his own and not those of the Saudi government.

"I know this article doesn't represent Saudi policies," said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Thursday. "They (the Saudis) realize the necessity of protecting the democratic process."

WARNING

A Western diplomat in Riyadh said the official denial confirmed diplomats' belief that the substance of Obaid's article does not reflect Saudi policy. He said at most the article may have been intended as a "warning."

Diplomats say Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally, is worried that Washington has lost control of Iraq and developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Arab governments say is driving Islamic extremism and anti-U.S. sentiment in the region.

One diplomat said a visit last week by Vice President Dick Cheney came at Riyadh's request to express concern over both issues.

Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian violence is threatening to descend into a full-scale war in Iraq, which Saudi Arabia fears could spill over onto its borders.

Saudi Arabia has a Shi'ite minority, and some Saudi Sunni militants have gone to Iraq to join insurgents fighting the U.S.-backed Baghdad government. Saudi willingness to back Sunnis has been tempered by fear of al Qaeda militants in the Sunni insurgency who also oppose the Saudi government.

The U.S. administration has been pressing Iraq's neighbors to do more to shore up central authority and quell violence.

Diplomats say it is possible that Saudi Arabia has begun low-level funding of some Sunni tribes in Iraq, but a prominent Saudi tribal figure cast doubt on any large scale funding.

"The Sunni tribes have been asking for money for a number of years from Saudi Arabia and they never got anything because Saudi Arabia was so worried about al Qaeda," said Turki al-Rasheed of the Shamar tribal group that extends into Iraq.

"Those who want Saudi Arabia to intervene are none other than the Americans who are trying to find a quick exit from Iraq. Saudi Arabia will not fight or seriously engage itself in Iraq."

[bth: really what has Saudi Arabia done for us in the last five years besides kill several thousand Americans in NYC? With friends like these....]
 Posted by Picasa

Rummy award sparks firestorm

Philadelphia Daily News 12/02/2006 Rummy award sparks firestorm: "Arriving in tuxedos and gowns to honor departing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld last night, members of the Union League of Philadelphia were greeted by Celeste Zappala holding a sign: 'Rumsfeld Betrayed My Son. Betrayed My Country. Gets A Medal... For What!'"

Standing among dozens of protesters outside the Union League building on Broad and Sansom streets, the grieving West Mount Airy mom wore a poster with a large photo of her late son and the words: "We Mourn Sgt. Sherwood Baker. Killed in Baghdad. April 26, 2004."

"Rumsfeld is the symbol of the failed policy that has killed 2,888 American soldiers and wounded over 20,000," Zappala said, "and they're giving him a medal for that? This is appalling.

"If they want to give out a gold medal, give it to our soldiers who somehow made it home alive."

When the league gave Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor its Gold Medal in 2004, the event received full press coverage.

But the league kept the Rumsfeld medal cloaked in secrecy until the Daily News broke the story on Thursday, after club member James A. Ounsworth told a reporter that he was "astonished and ashamed" because "Rumsfeld is a failure. I don't think you should give an award for failure."

When asked about the secrecy surrounding the Rumsfeld medal, league spokeswoman Patricia Tobin said, "It's up to the awardee. We always try to respect the wishes of the awardee."

Asked why the league had chosen Rumsfeld to receive the medal, Tobin said, "I'm not going to be sharing that with anyone."

One of the protest's organizers, Sandra L. Cadwalader, whose great-great uncle was a Union League founder in 1862, said, "The invasion of Iraq is probably the greatest foreign-policy disaster in our history, but somehow the Union League has managed to put on a happy face, give a black-tie dinner and celebrate... what exactly?"

Elizabeth Doering, whose grandfather and father were longtime Union League members, held a sign that read, "Rumsfeld Award Demeans Union League."

"The Union League was part of my childhood," she said. "I came here for dinner with my dad a lot. After the Mummers Parade, we would duck in here to get warm.

"My family is traditional Republican, and they are sick about the Union League giving Rumsfeld a medal.

It's such a crass gesture. He's been deposed because of what he's done. Why give him a citizenship award?"

Last night, the Daily News received an e-mail from Joan Myerson Shrager, who had planned to hold her 50th Philadelphia High School for Girls class reunion at the Union League, where several former classmates are members.

"We are canceling this event because of the Gold Medal award to Donald Rumsfeld," wrote Shrager.

"I have received e-mails from dozens of classmates saying they will not attend the reunion if we continue with our plans to hold it at the Union League. We will not. Rumsfeld has blood on his hands, the blood of our kids."

[bth: Rumsfeld is a liar and betrayer of the public trust. He is also a loser. So give him a medal...that just figures. The injustice of it all. The treachery of lies and leaders makes me ill.]
 Posted by Picasa

Iraqi violence "self-sustaining": U.S. intel chief

Iraqi violence "self-sustaining": U.S. intel chief - Yahoo! News: "CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Sectarian violence in Iraq has become 'self-sustaining,' increasing the challenge of stabilizing the country, the top U.S. intelligence official said on Friday. "

Violence between the Sunnis and Shia has become self-sustaining and has spread out to a wider range of ... groups and actors," said John Negroponte, the U.S. national intelligence director.

Negroponte, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said the violence "presents great challenges toward Iraqi Prime Minister (Nuri) al-Maliki in trying to implement reforms geared to improve life for all Iraqis and to reverse the escalating trend of ethno-sectarian violence.

"Nonetheless, the key to moving Iraq in the direction of a fully functioning, stable democracy must come from Iraqi leaders themselves," Negroponte said at Harvard University.

"Only if they seek to resolve their differences, reach compromises on important issues and observe the state's authority on a full range of political, security and economic challenges in Iraq can they chart a successful path globally," he said....

[bth: No shit Sherlock its only been going on for 3 full years.]
 Posted by Picasa

American Prospect Online - Get the Memo

American Prospect Online - Get the Memo: "This Wednesday, the day that President Bush was to meet with Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki in Jordan, The New York Times published a classified memo prepared by National Security advisor Stephen Hadley and his staff, drawn from Hadley's recent trip to Iraq, that revealed grave doubts about Maliki's ability and willingness to stem the rising violence in Iraq.

The memo reveals an administration desperately trying to brainstorm ways to prop up Maliki as head of a reconstituted unity government, but it also hints at another key aspect of recent internal White House deliberations about how to proceed in Iraq: that the Hadley recommendation is not the only option under active consideration by the administration. Indeed, if it becomes untenable to support a unity government -- as the memo's authors make clear they believe may happen – there are administration elements advocating a complete abandonment of unity in favor of the Iraqi Shia. "

Over Veterans' Day weekend, the entire national security team met for a White House-ordered review of Iraq strategy, as first reported by the Washington Post's Robin Wright. According to my sources, the memo, which was dated November 8 (two days before Veterans' Day), was intended as a starting point for those discussions. While it does not reflect all the positions within the administration over how to proceed in Iraq, the Hadley memo offers clues to the wider debate. Herewith a readers' guide to the plans that are emerging as dominant:

Option 1: Status quo plus. This option, as outlined in the Hadley memo, would be a last-ditch effort to prop up a reconstituted Iraqi government of national reconciliation with 20,000 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad. "The immediate obvious task is securing Baghdad," says military analyst Tom Donnelly of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It would be better to introduce more troops [to do so], but if you had to you could take them from [western Iraq's] Anbar [province]. … I think if we don't produce positive results in Baghdad in six months, the war is over."

The plan would be to try to forge a new and more effective Iraqi government coalition that would include the Sunnis, Kurds, and the Shias, while engineering a tilt within Maliki's Shia coalition away from Sadr and toward fellow Shiite leader Ayatollah Abdul Aziz Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its attendant Badr Brigade militia. (Hakim is scheduled to arrive in Washington next week on an official visit.) The Mahdi Army loyal to radical young Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr would continue to be the enemy. Washington would also engage Saudi Arabia and regional neighbors to encourage Sunni support for Maliki, and Syria and Iran would be pressured to limit their support for combatants.

"Does anyone think at this stage we have ability to build a political base among moderates?" asks Boston University-based military analyst Andrew Bacevich, reflecting on the memo. "We have been trying to do [much of what is in the Hadley memo] for the last three years. Along those lines, it seems to be a policy of 'come on, try harder. Yes, it hasn't worked for three years, but come on, try harder.'"

Option 2: Tilt to the Shias. Among the views advanced at the Veterans' Day weekend meeting was one seemingly at odds with the gist of the Hadley memo: This option, described to me as a fallback position supported by Cheney's office and elements of the National Security Council, would have the U.S. abandon the immediate goal of national reconciliation and instead pick a side -- the Shia. The "unleash the Shia" option would have the United States back a Shiite coalition that would include SCIRI leader Hakim and his Badr Brigades as the core of an Iraqi Army under the direct control of Prime Minister Maliki. Even as the United States sided with the Shia, Hadley's memo makes clear that the United States would at the same time press Maliki to distance himself from Sadr and his Mahdi army. Note in particular the Hadley memo's language concerning the importance of rapidly expanding the size of, and Maliki's control over, the Iraqi Army: "Seek ways to strengthen Maliki immediately by giving him additional control over Iraqi forces, although we must recognize that in the immediate time frame, we would likely be able to give him more authority over existing forces, not more forces." Further down, Hadley adds, "Ask Casey to develop a plan to empower Maliki, including … more forces under Maliki's command and control." Military sources say the key to this control is the Badr Brigades.

Increasingly, we're hearing talk of "picking a winner" or "backing the Shiites versus policing a civil war" from elements in the Pentagon and intelligence community. "The situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead 'pick a winner' in Iraq," the Post's Thomas Ricks and Robin Wright cited a U.S. intelligence official as saying Monday. "He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. 'That's the price you're going to have to pay,' he said."

Option 3: Reduce U.S. forces, hunker down, focus on al-Qaeda and Iran, and ride out the civil war under massively reduced goals and expectations. This tracks most closely with the "Redeploy and Contain" option reportedly under consideration by the Iraq Study Group, that would have U.S. troops move to fortified bases in or outside of Iraq, periodically coming out to launch counterinsurgency strikes against al-Qaeda in western Iraq's al Anbar province, and provide ramped up training and logistical support to Iraqi forces, while drawing down over the coming year to 60,000 to 70,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The Hadley memo, with its advocacy of deploying an additional 20,000 U.S. troops to Iraq in the coming weeks, would suggest the White House is not amenable to this option without another effort to surge troops to secure Baghdad.

At this moment, it is not clear who leaked the Hadley memo and why. But one possibility is that it might have been a shot in a bureaucratic turf war aimed at making people talk about the futility of Option 1, national reconciliation, with the intention of accelerating Option 2 or 3. Even if that wasn't the intent of the leak, it may be the result: Hours after the memo was published, Bush's long-planned meeting with Maliki was delayed. Asked if the delay was due to the memo's revelations that the White House lacked confidence in Maliki, White House advisor Dan Bartlett was cited by the Washington Post saying, "Absolutely not." A rare public expression of certainty in an increasingly murky landscape.
Laura Rozen is a Prospect senior correspondent.
 Posted by Picasa

Taliban Truce in District of Afghanistan Sets Off Debate - New York Times

Taliban Truce in District of Afghanistan Sets Off Debate - New York Times: "KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 29 — After a series of bruising battles between British troops and Taliban fighters, the Afghan government struck a peace deal with tribal elders in Helmand Province, arranging for a cease-fire and the withdrawal of both sides from one southern district. A month later, the ripples are still being felt in the capital and beyond."

The accord, reached with virtually no public consultation and mediated by the local governor, has brought some welcome peace for residents of the district, Musa Qala, and a reprieve for British troops, who had been under siege by the Taliban in a compound there for three months.

But it has sharply divided former government officials, legislators and ordinary Afghans.

Some say the agreement points the way forward in bringing peace to war-torn parts of the country.

Others warn that it sets a dangerous precedent and represents a capitulation to the Taliban and a potential reversal of five years of American policy to build a strong central government. They say the accord gives up too much power to local leaders, who initiated it and are helping to enforce it.

The Musa Qala project has sent two messages: one, recognition for the enemy, and two, military defeat,” said Mustafa Qazemi, a member of Afghanistan’s Parliament and a former resistance fighter with the Northern Alliance, which fought the Taliban for seven years.

This is a model for the destruction of the country,” he said, “and it is just a defeat for NATO, just a defeat.”

As part of the deal, the district has been allowed to choose its own officials and police officers, something one member of Parliament warned would open a Pandora’s box as more districts clamored for the right to do the same.

Some compare the deal to agreements that Pakistan has struck with leaders in its tribal areas along the Afghan border, which have given those territories more autonomy and, critics say, empowered the Taliban who have taken sanctuary there and allowed them to regroup.

It is the calm before the storm,” one senior Afghan military officer said of the accord.

Even President Hamid Karzai, who sanctioned the deal, has admitted to mixed feelings. “There are some suspicions in society about this,” he said in a recent radio interview with Radio Free Europe.

“I trust everything these elders say,” Mr. Karzai said, but he added that two recent episodes in the area — of killing and intimidation — gave pause and needed investigation.

For their part, foreign military officials and diplomats expressed cautious optimism, saying the accord had at least opened a debate over the virtues of such deals and time is needed to see if it will work. “If it works, and so far it appears to work, it could be a pointer to similar understandings elsewhere,” said one diplomat, who would speak on the topic only if not identified.

The governor of Helmand, Mohammad Daud, brokered the deal and defended it strongly as a vital exercise to unite the Pashtun tribes in the area and strengthen their leaders so they could reject the Taliban militants.

Appointed at the beginning of the year, Mr. Daud has struggled to win over the people and control the lawlessness of his province, which is the largest opium-producing region as well as a Taliban stronghold.

Some 5,000 British soldiers deployed in the province this year as part of an expanding NATO presence have come under repeated attack. Civilians have suffered scores of casualties across the south as NATO troops have often resorted to airstrikes, even on residential areas, to defeat the insurgents.

It was the civilians of Musa Qala who made the first bid for peace, Mr. Daud explained.

“They made a council of elders and came to us saying, ‘We want to make the Taliban leave Musa Qala,’ ” he said in a telephone interview from the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. “At first we did not accept their request, and we waited to see how strong the elders were.”

But the governor and the British forces soon demanded a cease-fire, and when it held for more than a month, they negotiated a withdrawal of British troops from the district, as well as the Afghan police who had been fighting alongside them. The Taliban then also withdrew.

Eventually the governor agreed on a 15-point accord with the elders, who pledged to support the government and the Afghan flag, keep schools open, allow development and reconstruction, and work to ensure the security and stability of the region. That included trying to limit the arming of people who do not belong to the government, namely the Taliban insurgents.

They drew up a list of local candidates for the posts of district chief and police chief, from which the governor appointed the new officials. They also chose 60 local people to serve as police officers in the district, sending the first 20 to the provincial capital for 20 days of basic training, according to provincial officials.

One energetic supporter of the deal is Abdul Ali Seraj, a nephew of King Amanullah, who ruled in the 1920s, and leader of the Coalition for National Dialogue With the Tribes of Afghanistan, which is working to bring peace through the tribal structures.

“Musa Qala is the way to do it,” Mr. Seraj said. “Sixty days since the agreement, and there has not been a shot fired.”

The agreement has been welcomed by residents of Musa Qala, who said in interviews by telephone or in neighboring Kandahar Province that people were rebuilding their houses and shops and planting winter crops, including the ubiquitous poppy, the source of opium.

The onset of the lucrative poppy planting season may have been one of the incentives behind their desire for peace, diplomats and government officials admitted.

Elders and residents of the area say the accord has brought calm, at least for now. “There is no Taliban authority there,” said Haji Shah Agha, 55, who led 50 members of the Musa Qala elders’ council to Kabul recently to counter criticism that the district was in the hands of the Taliban.

“The Taliban stopped fighting because we convinced them that fighting would not be to our benefit,” he said. “We told the Taliban, ‘Fighting will kill our women and children, and they are your women and children as well.’ ”

What the Taliban gained was the withdrawal of the British forces without having to risk further fighting.

Meantime, the Taliban presence remains strong in the province, so much so that road travel to Musa Qala for a foreign journalist is not advised by United Nations security officials. While residents are happy with the peace, they do not deny that the militants who were fighting British forces all summer have neither disbanded nor been disarmed.

According to a local shopkeeper, Haji Bismillah, 40, who owns a pharmacy in the center of Musa Qala, the Taliban have pulled back to their villages and often come into town, but without their weapons.

“The Taliban are not allowed to enter the bazaar with their weapons,” he said in a telephone interview.

“If they resist with guns, the tribal elders will disarm them,” he said.

He said the elders had temporarily given the Taliban “some kind of permission to arrest thieves and drug addicts and put them in their own prison,” since the elders did not yet have a police force of their own.

The district’s newly appointed police chief, Haji Malang, said the Taliban and the police had agreed not to encroach on each other’s territory. “They have their place which we cannot enter, and we have our place and they must not come in,” he said in a telephone interview this week.

Some residents said the deal would benefit the Taliban. “This is a very good chance for the Taliban,” said Abdul Bari, 33, a farmer who accompanied a sick relative to a hospital in neighboring Kandahar province.

“The people now view the Taliban as a force, since without the Taliban, the government could not bring peace in the regions.” he said. “It is not sure how this agreement will work, but maybe the Taliban will get more strength and then move against the elders.”


Opponents of the agreement warned that the elders were merely doing the bidding of the Taliban and would never be strong enough to face down Taliban commanders.

The Taliban reappeared by the power of the gun, and the only way to defeat them is fighting, not dealing,” said Haji Aadil Khan, 47, a former police chief from Gereshk, another district of Helmand.

One event that has alarmed all sides was the killing and beheading of Haji Ahmad Shah, the former chief of a neighboring district, who returned to his home after the agreement was signed. Beheading is a tactic favored by some Taliban groups, and his friends say it is a clear sign that the Taliban are in control of the area. Elders of Musa Qala said that Mr. Shah had personal enemies and that they were behind the killing.

The governor, Mr. Daud, and the elders said a number of the opponents to the agreement were former militia leaders who did not want peace. “The people of Musa Qala took a step for peace with this agreement,” said the chief elder, Haji Shah Agha. “The Taliban are sitting calmly in their houses.”

Another elder, Amini, who uses only one name, said: “For four months we had fighting in Musa Qala and now we have peace. What is wrong with it, if we have peace?”
 Posted by Picasa

Baghdad says civilian deaths up 44 percent in November

The Daily Star - Politics - Baghdad says civilian deaths up 44 percent in November: "The number of Iraqi civilians killed in violence appears to have leapt by 44 percent in November from October, officials said Friday as powerful Iraqi Shiite leader Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim prepared to travel to the United States."

The unabated violence left at least 27 people dead on Friday, including 14 Kurdish farmers from the town of Sinjar near the Syrian border who were found massacred in a field.

Data from Interior Ministry officials showed that at least 1,850 Iraqis were slaughtered last month, officials said Friday. They included the 202 people killed in last week's multiple car bombing in the Baghdad Shiite stronghold of Sadr City.

An Interior Ministry official said violent civilian deaths in November included people killed in bombings and shootings but not deaths classed as criminal. The figure was 44 percent up on the 1,289 in October.

The figures are roughly half of those presented by the United Nations in its monthly reports - last week the UN said the death toll in October had reached a new high of 3,709.

An official at the Baghdad morgue, speaking privately, said last month it had taken in about 1,600 bodies in October, a 10 percent increase over September, and about 1,350 of these had died violently. No new morgue statistics for November were immediately available.

The Interior Ministry said 102 police officers and 26 Iraqi soldiers were killed in November, a similar total to October. US military reports show 68 American soldiers were killed in November, compared with 106 in the deadly month of October....

[bth: given the blatant manipulation of information by the various parties it is hard to tell what is true.]
 Posted by Picasa

U.S. mulls end to insurgent outreach

United Press International - NewsTrack - U.S. mulls end to insurgent outreach: "WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department has proposed the Bush administration end reconciliation efforts with Sunni insurgents in Iraq. "

The recommendation, which follows a report U.S. outreach efforts with the insurgents have failed, is part of a review of the administration's Iraq policy, The Washington Post reported Friday.

The State Department's recommendation proposes the United States focus primarily on the Kurds and Shiites, the latter of which some officials fear may have become alienated by the outreach efforts to the Sunnis, the Post said.

U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the proposed end of reconciliation talks would not mean an end to the U.S. goal of a unified government involving all three major groups in Iraq, and would instead leave the task of reaching out to the Sunnis to Iraqi leadership.

However, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. military commanders in Iraq, have objected to the proposal, saying diplomatic efforts to coax the insurgents into taking up politics rather than arms is an important part of efforts to stabilize the country.
 Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 01, 2006

Islamist Website Presents First Issue of Technical Mujahid Magazine

MEMRI: Latest News: "On November 28, 2006, the Al-Fajr Information Center released the first issue of the Technical MujahidMagazine. The magazine discusses various technical topics, such as security for electronic data and databases, using GPS, and video editing and production. Some articles are aimed at professionals, and others for laymen. "

The magazine's self-proclaimed purpose is "to help prevent acts of aggression against Muslims [in cyberspace], and to assist the mujahideen in their efforts." The introduction explains that "the Internet provides a golden opportunity... for the mujahideen to break the siege placed upon them by the media of the Crusaders and their followers in the Muslim countries, and to use [the Internet] for [the sake of] jihad and the victory of the faith." Since the Internet also renders the mujahideen vulnerable, however, the magazine deals with issues of computer and electronic data security.

It should be noted that the magazine is just one example evident on the Islamist websites of the growing interest on the part of the mujahideen in information technology, electronic data security, and hi-tech matters. This will be the topic of a future MEMRI Islamic Websites Monitor report.
 Posted by Picasa

3 suicide bombers kill 8 in Somalia

3 suicide bombers kill 8 in Somalia: "MOGADISHU, Somalia -- A veiled woman and two other suicide bombers exploded cars outside the base of Somalia's weak government Thursday, killing eight people after Ethiopia took another step toward war with its Islamic rivals in the country."

Somalia's interim government blamed foreign al-Qaida fighters for the attack, which was believed to be only the second suicide bombing ever in the country.

The attack had the hallmarks of an al-Qaida operation. Suicide bombings carried out by multiple attackers have been widely used by Islamic extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan, both battlegrounds for al-Qaida, and terror leader Osama bin Laden has declared Somalia to be a battleground in his war against the West.

Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle said the bombers detonated their explosives as police tried to inspect their vehicles at a government checkpoint outside Baidoa, the only town the government controls.

Jelle said the dead included two policemen, as well as the three drivers and three accomplices. He said there were non-Somalis among the dead, whom he called "al-Qaida supporters." Four civilians were wounded.

A policeman at the scene, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamud, told The Associated Press that three men were captured at the checkpoint who appeared to be African but were not Somali. There have been numerous reports of foreign Islamic radicals coming to Somalia to join the fighting.
There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.

The Islamic movement that controls most of southern Somalia denied it was behind the bombing. "Terrorism is not our principle and we have nothing to do with what has happened," said movement spokesman Mohamed Ibrahim Bilaal.

Tensions are high in this Horn of Africa nation where the Islamic courts movement and the Ethiopian-backed transitional government are vying for control. The Islamic group has been steadily gaining ground since seizing the capital of Mogadishu in June, while a confidential U.N. report obtained last month said there were up to 8,000 Ethiopian troops in the country supporting the government.

Ethiopia, a largely Christian nation, fears the emergence of a neighboring Islamic state and has acknowledged sending military advisers to help the Somali government.

Earlier Thursday, Ethiopia's parliament authorized military action if attacked by the Islamic movement, which has declared holy war on Ethiopia over its troop incursions.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told lawmakers the country had already suffered attacks on Ethiopian soil by insurgent groups working closely with bitter rival Eritrea and the Islamic forces in Somalia. The resolution authorized "any lawful or constitutional measures necessary to counter and stand up to any attacks or incursions on or into Ethiopia."

Islamic fighters ambushed an Ethiopian convoy Tuesday near a camp where the Ethiopians are training troops loyal to the Somali government, witnesses said. The Islamic fighters targeted the convoy with a remote-controlled bomb, blowing up one of the vehicles, 20 miles southwest of Baidoa.

Islamic militia said about 20 Ethiopians were killed during the attack. The claim could not be independently verified. A Somali government official denied the attack took place.

Witnesses said Islamic fighters ambushed another Ethiopian military convoy earlier this month, killing six Ethiopian soldiers and wounding 20.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another. The interim government was formed with the help of the United Nations two years ago, but exerts little control.

The Islamic movement's often severe interpretation of Islam evokes memories of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, which was ended by a U.S.-led campaign for harboring bin Laden and his al-Qaida fighters. The U.S. accuses the Somali group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al-Qaida bombings of U.S.
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which it denies.

On Sept. 18, President Abdullahi Yusuf escaped unharmed when a suicide bombing struck his convoy in Baidoa, although 11 people were killed in the blast and a subsequent gunbattle, including Yusuf's younger brother. The attack was believed to be the first suicide bombing in the country.

Yusuf has claimed Islamic extremists have drawn up a hit list of top government officials.

---

Associated Press Writer Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu contributed to this report.
 Posted by Picasa

Close weapons investigation in 10 days: Saudi

Khaleej Times Online - Close weapons investigation in 10 days: Saudi: "LONDON - Saudi Arabia has given Britain 10 days to stop an investigation into allegations of corruption by members of the kingdom’s royal family or it will cancel its multi-billion pound deal for British fighter jets, The Daily Telegraph reported on Friday."

Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said that Britain had been informed through diplomatic channels that unless the inquiry by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is closed, Saudi Arabia will cancel the 10 billion-pound (19.7 billion dollars, 14.8 billion euros) deal for 72 Eurofighter jets, manufactured by British defence group BAE Systems.

The SFO has been running a three-year investigation into claims that BAE established a 60-million-pound slush fund for some members of the Saudi royal family, which allegedly provided perks including luxury cars to ensure that they kept doing business with BAE.

The newspaper said that Saudi Arabia had already opened negotiations with France to purchase 36 Rafale jets, and that there had been a series of meetings in Paris, including between Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the national security secretary general, and French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday.

On Monday, the newspaper said, a Saudi envoy apparently visited Paris to confirm the details of such a deal.

Britain has apparently assured Saudi Arabia that the investigation will be completed ‘within a few months’.

Attorney-General Peter Goldsmith has the power to stop the SFO inquiry, and Prime Minister Tony Blair is apparently being pressured to ask him to do so, the newspaper said.

Saudi Arabia threatened to suspend diplomatic links with Britain over the affair after SFO lawyers persuaded a Swiss magistrate to force disclosure of details about confidential Swiss bank accounts, this week’s Sunday Times reported.

BAE Systems has sealed a series of lucrative deals with Saudi Arabia since 1985. While the current Eurofighter deal is initially for 10 billion pounds, the value of the agreement could rise to as much as 40 billion pounds for BAE through maintenance and upgrades.

'Whole world will pay' if US abandons Iraq - Kuwaiti emir

The Daily Star - Politics - 'Whole world will pay' if US abandons Iraq - Kuwaiti emir: "A US withdrawal from Iraq would push the country into a civil war that would damage the whole world, the emir of Kuwait said Thursday ahead of talks with French President Jacques Chirac. 'In the current circumstances, an American withdrawal would in no way help bring back stability,' Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah said in an interview with daily Le Figaro during an official visit to France."

On the contrary, the situation would worsen and we would see a civil war of great intensity for which the whole world would pay the price."

Asked if the situation in Iraq had almost become a civil war, Sabah said: "I want to hope that is not yet the case."

Sabah and Chirac discussed the situation in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, according to Chirac's spokesman, Jerome Bonnafont.

Following the talks, Sabah said he invited Chirac to visit Kuwait, the official Kuwaiti News Agency said.

On bilateral ties, Sabah said that two sides "confirmed that they are robust and considered this visit a step forward and an outlet for the future."

The two countries also signed two military cooperation deals with France designed to improve cooperation in military intelligence and smooth arms procurement procedures.

Sabah, a close US ally, said US forces in Iraq should change strategy by withdrawing from cities. "Arab countries and Iraq's other neighbors must cooperate effectively to stop the bloodbath among Iraqis," Sabah said.http://www.dailystar.com.lb

"On the other hand, American soldiers should leave Iraqi cities and withdraw to their periphery. I told President [George W.] Bush that several times."

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was key to improving the situation in Iraq, Sabah said. "Even if we hope that circumstances will soon allow the Americans to accelerate the reconstruction of Iraq, for Kuwait the priority today must be settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said. "That must be the priority of the international community.

"Without a fair and durable solution of the Palestinian question, frustration in the region will continue. The situation can explode at any moment. That would create a climate even more favorable for terrorism."

On Iran, Sabah said dialogue was "the first step" toward ending a standoff between Tehran and the West over the Iranian nuclear program.

But he advised against a military solution to the crisis, warning that such a move would have "grave repercussions" for the stability of Kuwait. - Reuters, AP, The Daily Star

Bush's man in Iraq - The Boston Globe

Bush's man in Iraq - The Boston Globe: "'HE'S THE right guy for Iraq,' President Bush said of Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after two hours of discussion with the Iraqi leader yesterday in Amman, Jordan. Notwithstanding this endorsement, the true import of the Amman encounter will become clear only in policies decided in Washington and unfolding facts on the ground in Iraq. And if Iraq's dire situation is not to be made even worse, a realistic acceptance of those facts will have to inform US policy decisions."

Events surrounding Bush's meeting with Maliki hardly inspire confidence that the president is ready to face nasty realities in Iraq. A leaked memo to Bush from National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said, "Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or . . . his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

Behind this questioning of Maliki's performance is an obtuse assumption that he should be willing or able to move decisively against the anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Maliki was able to become prime minister only as a result of his political alliance with Sadr. If Sadr's followers in Parliament were to desert Maliki, his government would fall or he would have to form a coalition with the main Shi'ite rival to his own Dawa party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq . Dawa, the Supreme Council, and the Sadrists are all anti secular and supported by the theocratic regime in Iran.

This reality of Iraqi politics is crucial. Much as Bush has trumpeted his goal of democratizing Iraq and the rest of the region, his problem with Maliki is rooted in Iraqi power relations that were produced by parliamentary elections and the political horse-trading needed to form a coalition government.

Hadley's memo bemoans Maliki's failure to provide basic services to Sunni areas of Iraq and his intervention to "stop military action against Shi'a targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones."

Hadley also castigates Maliki for fostering Shi'a dominance in the ministries. But the memo's most unrealistic demand is that Maliki dissolve his alliance with Sadr and "bring to justice any" Mahdi army "actors that do not eschew violence."

Only by refusing to face reality could Bush believe that in the midst of Iraq's vicious sectarian vendetta he could convince Maliki to abandon Sadr and build "an alternative political base" for "a nonsectarian national movement," as Hadley's memo proposes. There are no serious possibilities at present for a non-sectarian government in Iraq.

Iraqis need security above all. They may need cooperation from neighbors and some continued training and military support from the United States, but ultimately, they will have to end their sectarian warfare their own way. Americans must now decide how slowly or quickly to reduce the role of foreign forces in that conflict.

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.
 Posted by Picasa

Bill for funding Iraq to test Dems

cantonrep.com: "WASHINGTON As the Bush administration works on its largest request yet for money for the Iraq war, Pentagon generals are discovering they can’t always get what they want."

Democrats, who take control of Congress next year, are pledging to give the troops what they need.

The upcoming request probably will be a record — at least $100 billion — though even that figure reflects cuts from the wish lists originally circulating around the Pentagon.

The measure will give Democrats an early chance to try changing the conduct of the war. They must work carefully to avoid being portrayed as unsympathetic to the troops.

Senior Pentagon officials have trimmed initial requests from the Army and Air Force. But with $70 billion already approved for the budget year that began Oct. 1, and more money needed to replace lost or worn-out equipment, spending levels for 2007 easily will be at the highest since the Iraq war began in 2003.

Precise figures have not been set by either the Pentagon or the White House. The requests in February for Iraq and Afghanistan probably will be about $100 billion, but could climb as high as $128 billion if the services get their way, said Jim McAleese, a Virginia lawyer who specializes in national security law.

Including the money already approved, the cost of the total military spending for Iraq and Afghanistan could come close to $200 billion in 2007. About $120 billion was spent in the 2006 budget year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Despite widespread discontent over the Iraq war and President Bush’s handling of it, Democrats are expected to grant the vast majority of the request. Yet evidence is accumulating that the figure the White House sends to Capitol Hill will not be limited to dollars critically needed for troops and war-fighting

Surprise: Oil Woes In Iran

Surprise: Oil Woes In Iran: "Few countries can match Iran in its ability to generate angst among Westerners. It appears determined to become a nuclear power. Tehran's Islamic leaders aid radical groups across the Middle East. And as the U.S. gets bogged down in Iraq, Iran's influence in the region is on the rise, fueled in large part by its vast energy wealth."

Yet Iran has a surprising weakness: Its oil and gas industry, the lifeblood of its economy, is showing serious signs of distress. As domestic energy consumption skyrockets, Iran is struggling to produce enough oil and gas for export. Unless Tehran overhauls its policies, its primary source of revenue and the basis of its geopolitical muscle could start to wane. Within a decade, says Saad Rahim, an analyst at Washington consultancy PFC Energy, "Iran's net crude exports could fall to zero."

That's not to say Iran doesn't have abundant resources. The country's 137 billion barrels of oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia's, and its supply of gas trails only Russia's, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Getting it all out of the ground, though, is another matter. Iran has been producing just 3.9 million barrels of oil a day this year, 5% below its OPEC quota, because of delays in new projects and a shortage of technical skills. By contrast, in 1974, five years before the Islamic Revolution, Iran pumped 6.1 million barrels daily.

The situation could get even tougher for the National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC), which is responsible for all of Iran's output. Without substantial upgrades in facilities, production at Iran's core fields, several of which date from the 1920s, could go into a precipitous decline. In September, Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh suggested that with no new investment, output from Iran's fields would fall by about 13% a year, roughly twice the rate that outside oil experts had expected. "NIOC is likely to find that even maintaining the status quo is a mounting challenge," says PFC Energy's Rahim.

STATE HANDOUTS

Iran's looming crisis is the result of years of neglect and underinvestment. As in other oil-producing countries such as Venezuela and Mexico, the government treats the oil industry as a cash cow, milking its revenues for social programs. It allocates only $3 billion a year for investment, less than a third of what's needed to get production growing again.

Compounding the pressure are policies that encourage profligate energy use. Gasoline prices are set at 35 cents a gallon, which has helped fuel 10%-plus annual growth in consumption, PFC Energy figures. The national thirst for gasoline far outstrips domestic refining capacity, so Iran will import about $5 billion in gasoline this year, or about 40% of its needs. The government is planning a $16 billion refinery building program to boost capacity by 60%. But unless Iran raises fuel prices, the new plants will just mean more consumption.

An oil squeeze could spell trouble for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The populist leader has won backing at home through generous handouts. Ahmadinejad has ratcheted up public spending this year by 21%, to $213 billion, on everything from aid to rural areas to housing loans for newlyweds. He has also promised some $16 billion in outlays from a special $30 billion fund set up to tide Iranians through future hard times. Without a healthy oil sector, Iran's social spending could bust the national budget--and reignite inflation.

Iran badly needs fresh foreign investment to shore up the oil industry. Tehran has attracted some $20 billion in funding for oil and gas projects since 1995 from overseas companies including Royal Dutch/Shell Group (RD), France's Total (TOT), and Norway's Statoil. But new investment has largely dried up in recent years because of lingering worries about the risk of war with the U.S. and disenchantment with Iran's tightfisted terms. Outsiders are offered contracts only to drill wells--rather than operate fields--and get just a small share of profits from output. For instance, Italian oil giant ENI (ENI), a fixture in Iran since 1957, produces about 35,000 barrels per day but doesn't expect to get any bigger. "Unless international sanctions are imposed on Iran and the Italian government directs ENI to abide by them, we are committed to staying," says ENI Chief Executive Paolo Scaroni. "However, in order to increase our presence there, contractual terms for oil companies need to change."

Endless haggling and delays have set back some of Iran's biggest oil initiatives. One top priority had been the Azagedan field in southern Iran, which is expected eventually to produce 260,000 barrels a day. But in October, Tehran scrapped a $2 billion contract, agreed to in 2004, with Japan's Inpex to develop the project. And Shell's $800 million Soroush/Nowrooz project in the Persian Gulf has been plagued by cost overruns and technical glitches. In January, meanwhile, Statoil wrote down the entire $329 million book value of its South Pars project because of "productivity and quality problems" with a local contractor.

GLACIAL PACE

It's not just oil that Iran is failing to exploit. The glacial pace of negotiations is also making it fall behind neighboring Qatar in exploiting the huge offshore gas field that the two countries share. While Qatar has signed up the likes of ExxonMobil (XOM) and Shell to develop the site, Iran's talks with Total and Shell have progressed far more slowly. Iran is now a net importer of gas, a situation not expected to reverse before 2010.

Foreign energy companies are lobbying the Iranians to change. Executives say they would like longer contracts, which would give them more control and might boost returns. But progress is slow as many Iranian officials are reluctant to give foreigners terms that might be judged too favorable. "There are indications of movement, but how far and how deep it goes is anyone's guess," an oil executive says.

Can Iran fix its energy conundrum? Some experts are betting Tehran will get its act together sooner rather than later. Iran was able to boost production from 1.2 million barrels a day during the 1980-88 war with Iraq to nearly 4 million barrels with almost no foreign help, notes Bijan Khajepour, chairman of Tehran's Atieh Bahar Consulting, which advises oil companies. He thinks Iran should be able to sustain current production for the next decade. Even so, if Tehran doesn't face up to the woes of its oil industry, Iran may find itself in the unusual position of sharing the West's angst over growing dependence on imported oil.

with Babak Pirouz in Tehran

Reed is London bureau chief for BusinessWeek.

U.S. Considers Ending Outreach to Insurgents - washingtonpost.com

U.S. Considers Ending Outreach to Insurgents - washingtonpost.com: "The Bush administration is deliberating whether to abandon U.S. reconciliation efforts with Sunni insurgents and instead give priority to Shiites and Kurds, who won elections and now dominate the government, according to U.S. officials."

The proposal, put forward by the State Department as part of a crash White House review of Iraq policy, follows an assessment that the ambitious U.S. outreach to Sunni dissidents has failed. U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that their reconciliation efforts may even have backfired, alienating the Shiite majority and leaving the United States vulnerable to having no allies in Iraq, according to sources familiar with the State Department proposal.

Some insiders call the proposal the "80 percent" solution, a term that makes other parties to the White House policy review cringe. Sunni Arabs make up about 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.

Until now, the thrust of U.S. policy has been to build a unified government and society out of Iraq's three fractious communities. U.S. officials say they would not be abandoning this goal but would instead leave leadership of the thorny task of reconciliation to the Iraqis. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the deliberations.

The proposal has met serious resistance from both U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and military commanders in Iraq, who believe that intensive diplomatic efforts to bring Sunni insurgents into the political process are pivotal to stabilizing the war-ravaged country, the sources said.

Khalilzad, who has spearheaded U.S. outreach to the Sunni leadership, has developed a long list of steps to accommodate Sunni concerns, from a possible amnesty to changes in the hydrocarbon law that distributes oil wealth, which is located mainly in Shiite and Kurdish regions. Critics argue that he might be able to broker an agreement, but they question whether it would hold, according to sources close to the discussions.

Opponents of the proposal cite three dangers. Without reconciliation, military commanders fear that U.S. troops would be fighting the symptoms of Sunni insurgency without any prospect of getting at the causes behind it -- notably the marginalization of the once-powerful minority. U.S. troops would be left fighting in a political vacuum, not a formula for either long-term stabilization or reducing attacks on American targets.

A second danger is that the United States could appear to be taking sides in the escalating sectarian strife. The proposal would encourage Iraqis to continue reconciliation efforts. But without U.S. urging, outreach could easily stall or even atrophy, deepening sectarian tensions, U.S. sources say.

A decision to step back from reconciliation efforts would also be highly controversial among America's closest allies in the region, which are all Sunni governments. Sunni leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms have been pressuring the United States to ensure that their brethren are included in Iraq's power structure and economy.

But over 10 days of intense discussions recently among top policymakers in the White House review, State Department officials argued that intervening in Iraqi politics is increasingly counterproductive, particularly after elections for a permanent government last December. Reconciliation, they also argued, is now exceptionally unlikely and could actually jeopardize U.S. relations with Iraq's Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of the population, according to sources familiar with the debate.

State Department counselor Philip D. Zelikow, author of the proposal, argued that the United States has compromised its prospects of success by reaching too far, according to the sources.

The State Department proposal, which was introduced at the second of 10 meetings and has dominated debate ever since, suggests that the United States would keep at arm's length diplomatic efforts to bridge the deep divide in Iraq between the two branches of Islam, the sources said.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey declined to comment on the proposal.

Another point of debate in the policy review is how far to broaden a new U.S. strategy to bring in regional players to help stabilize Iraq. The White House and the State Department are still wedded to the isolation of Iran and Syria, despite the growing momentum behind the idea of regional outreach, according to sources familiar with the discussions. The idea has also been part of the discussions of the Iraq Study Group.

The policy review team briefed President Bush on Sunday evening with a 15-page slide presentation of its incomplete findings. Although differences have not yet been sorted out, the presentation coalesced heavily around a tilt to the Shiites, sources said. The White House review was then put on hold for Bush's summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The administration had initially hoped to pull together its review about the time the Iraq Study Group released its report, but en route home from the Bush-Maliki summit in Jordan, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said changes to U.S. strategy may still be weeks away.

"There is a real sense of urgency, but there is not a sense of panic," Hadley told reporters on board Air Force One. "I think probably it's going to be weeks rather than months. It's going to be when the president is comfortable."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Jordan yesterday that Bush plans to receive the report of the Iraq Study Group on Wednesday, then hear more from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his own policy review team. "Then I think he'll set out a direction that adjusts our policy to be appropriate to the circumstances that the Iraqis now face," Rice told reporters traveling with her.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

ABC News: EXCLUSIVE: Iranian Weapons Arm Iraqi Militia

ABC News: EXCLUSIVE: Iranian Weapons Arm Iraqi Militia: "WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2006 — U.S. officials say they have found smoking-gun evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq: brand-new weapons fresh from Iranian factories. According to a senior defense official, coalition forces have recently seized Iranian-made weapons and munitions that bear manufacturing dates in 2006. "

This suggests, say the sources, that the material is going directly from Iranian factories to Shia militias, rather than taking a roundabout path through the black market. "There is no way this could be done without (Iranian) government approval," says a senior official

Iranian-made munitions found in Iraq include advanced IEDs designed to pierce armor and anti-tank weapons. U.S. intelligence believes the weapons have been supplied to Iraq's growing Shia militias from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is also believed to be training Iraqi militia fighters in Iran.

Evidence is mounting, too, that the most powerful militia in Iraq, Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, is receiving training support from the Iranian-backed terrorists of Hezbollah.

Two senior U.S. defense officials confirmed to ABC News earlier reports that fighters from the Mahdi army have traveled to Lebanon to receive training from Hezbollah.

While the New York Times reported that as many as 2,000 Iraqi militia fighters had received training in Lebanon, one of the senior officials said he believed the number was "closer to 1,000." Officials say a much smaller number of Hezbollah fighters have also traveled through Syria and into Iraq to provide training.

U.S. intelligence officials believe the number of Al-Sadr's Mahdi army now includes 40,000 fighters, making it an especially formidable force.

[bth: note the source is unnamed and does not tell us what kind of weapons they are. Are they advanced IEDs as mentioned in the article or are they something like mortars? Also where did they find them and with whom? Were they found? This article is interested in what it doesn't say.]

Controversy over Pentagon's war-spending plan - Los Angeles Times

Controversy over Pentagon's war-spending plan - Los Angeles Times: "WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is preparing an emergency spending proposal that could be larger and broader than any since the Sept. 11 attacks, covering not only the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but extending to other military operations connected to the Bush administration's war on terrorism."

The spending plans may push the Defense Department into conflict with Democrats as they take control of Capitol Hill in January. Democrats had been planning to limit the emergency "supplemental" spending measures that have funded the wars in favor of the regular federal budget process, which affords greater oversight and congressional control.

Congressional and military officials have said the Pentagon is considering a request of $127 billion to $150 billion in new emergency war spending, the largest such request since the special spending measures were begun in 2001. So far, Congress has allocated $495 billion for Afghanistan, Iraq and terrorism-related efforts.Even within the Pentagon, the spending request is generating controversy. The Pentagon was due to forward its request to the White House by about Nov. 15.

But a senior Defense Department official said that the decision has been delayed and that Pentagon officials have asked Army and Air Force officials to provide more justification for their spending demands.The services have been pushing to increase the size of the supplemental appropriation in order to replace equipment, and they have argued that the overall military budget is too small given the demands on the armed forces.Pentagon officials would not comment on the budget figures, which are due to be made public in February.

The upcoming request, added to the $70 billion already allocated for next year, would easily exceed the annual cost of the Vietnam War at its height. Adjusted for inflation, the U.S. spent $121 billion on the Vietnam War in 1968, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.Still, the overall cost of the Vietnam War — about $663 billion adjusted for inflation — is still larger than the combined costs of the fighting thus far in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the research service.

The next request stands to be larger partly because of new rules laid out in an Oct. 25 memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England. Rather than strictly limiting spending to Iraq and Afghanistan costs, the memo said the military services could include costs associated with operations that are part of the larger war on terrorism.

Previously, the military portion of the supplemental spending measures has been used almost exclusively for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. England's memo would allow the military to include a greater number of expenses more loosely tied to the actual wars, such as new military weapons systems and training exercises.Critics of the Pentagon budget process say the memo has encouraged the services to inflate their requests.

"The England memo basically said, 'Let her rip,' " said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project and a former congressional budget aide. "Anything goes, as long as you can put it under the pretext of not only Iraq or Afghanistan but the global war on terror."

The cost and approach of the spending request both are likely to meet with resistance in Congress. Democratic congressional aides said the new majority on Capitol Hill probably will push back against a request higher than $100 billion.

"This was a dream list for the military," said one aide, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because the Pentagon has not formalized its request and because some members of Congress believe it is premature to comment publicly.

Democrats said a supplemental of $80 billion to $100 billion was more realistic. Both House and Senate aides say they want to push in the opposite direction of the Pentagon, moving money out of the supplemental and into the regular budget."We are going to show more oversight," said another Democratic aide.

But Democrats acknowledged that it would be difficult to move most of the costs to the regular budget without forcing massive cuts elsewhere.Though there will be more scrutiny of the Pentagon requests, and the more elaborate spending proposals could be nixed, there is little doubt a large supplemental will be approved, some Democratic aides said.

"People will grouse that they are loading up the supplemental, but they will be hard-pressed to say no because they realize the services need the equipment," said the Democratic aide.

According to the England memo, the Pentagon wants to include money in the supplemental to replace equipment destroyed in combat or run down by accelerated wear and tear.

More controversially, it also allows the services to replace old equipment with new models — actions historically subject to the normal budget review process.

Defense Department officials declined to lay out specifics about what expenditures would be allowed in the next supplemental spending bill.

A Department official said a $30-billion request from the Navy and Marine Corps has been viewed as relatively uncontroversial. But the Army and Air Force requested far more than the Pentagon was willing to take to the White House's Office of Management and Budget, and were asked to provide more information to top Defense Department officials.

The Army, outside military analysts have said, has requested about $80 billion in the upcoming supplemental, although Army officials have not confirmed the figure.

The Air Force has requested about $33 billion in supplemental funding, said Maj. Morshe Araujo, a spokeswoman. The Air Force initially requested $17.4 billion, but after the England memo was circulated the Air Force added $16 billion more in requests, Araujo said.

Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the nonpartisan Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., said the timing of the memo suggested that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has resigned and is likely to be out by the end of the year, was passing on tough spending choices."

It really does have the feeling of opening up the floodgates and letting someone else drown," Thompson said.Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the supplemental amounts being publicly discussed were "wildly speculative."

The England memo, he said, was meant to enable the services to request money to replace worn-out equipment."It is fair to say you are five years into this conflict and equipment is being used at a higher rate than its peacetime service life would be," Whitman said. "Those are costs directly related to the war, and we are going to have to figure out how we are going to deal with it."

But Wheeler said the services were doing more than just replacing equipment destroyed in Iraq or Afghanistan. He was particularly critical of the Marine Corps' decision to use the emergency spending requests to replace old helicopters with the new V-22 Osprey, a controversial and expensive tilt rotor airplane that has yet to be deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan."That is like telling your wife she has worn out the Yugo for getting to the train station and you are going to buy her a Ferrari," Wheeler said.

But in a meeting with reporters last week, Gen. James T. Conway, the new Marine Corps commandant, said that buying outdated equipment would be wasteful.

"What we have to do is be smart about it," Conway said. "We have to be good custodians of the nation's resources. We have to ask ourselves: Do we buy new old stuff or do we go to the next generation of equipment and modernize in the process?"

The England memo allows services to include in the emergency funding request the costs of increasing "force capability." That could include costs associated with increasing the size of the Marine Corps. And Conway said the Marines may request money to expand its force in the supplemental appropriation.

Earlier this year, Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker asked that Rumsfeld increase the annual Army budget to $138.8 billion, nearly $25 billion higher than limits set by the Defense Department.

Current budgets must increase because the military is being asked to do more around the world, and to stay longer, the service chiefs have argued."[Chief of Naval Operations] Mike Mullen has got the smallest Navy he's had since before World War II. Gen. Schoomaker is looking at refitting and resetting an Army that's engaged mightily," Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Mosley said last month.

"The [Air Force] secretary and I are looking at recapitalizing an Air Force that's got the oldest inventory in the history of the Air Force while we're engaged in a global war."Mosley said he thinks Congress should debate whether it needs to spend more money on defense."I believe there should be a debate," he said.

"And there should be a set of questions asked about what are the opportunities for an increase in the top line, and how would that be spent."*

julian.barnes@latimes.competer.spiegel@latimes.com

[bth: the air force just plugged their supplemental when they realized the army was going for more. the air force general mosley has misread the public I think. The public wants to supply for this war and they will do it, but the public has other priorities now and fighting china isn't one of them. The backlogged and unfunded maintenance was just conveniently raised after the election. The Pentagon and specifically Rumsfeld has been negligent and dishonest about its budgeting process and the use of supplementals was a magicians clever hand trick to bypass congressional oversight and public scrutiny. The big question is what the democrats will do now that the great decider has passed this plate on to them.]

Iraq violence strains US-Saudi relations

Khaleej Times Online - Iraq violence strains US-Saudi relations: "WASHINGTON - The deteriorating situation in Iraq has put a strain on Washington’s relations with Saudi Arabia, a top Middle East ally seeking greater US involvement in the region to counter Iran’s influence."

An advisor to the Sunni-dominated Saudi kingdom warned Wednesday that if US troops withdraw from Iraq, Riyadh could arm Iraq’s Sunni minority in the face of similar aid from Iran to Iraqi Shias.

A top aid to President George W. Bush, meanwhile, reportedly recommended that the administration pressure Saudi Arabia into using its influence to convince Sunnis to stop resorting to violence.

Nawaf Obaid, a security advisor to the Saudi ambassador in the United States, wrote in a Washington Post column that a US pullout from Iraq would lead to “massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shia militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.”

Options now include providing Sunni military leaders ... with the same types of assistance — funding, arms and logistical support — that Iran has been giving to Shia armed groups for years,” wrote Obaid.

To turn a blind eye to the massacre of Iraqi Sunnis would be to abandon the principles upon which the kingdom was founded. It would undermine Saudi Arabia’s credibility in the Sunni world and would be a capitulation to Iran’s militarist actions in the region,” he wrote.

Obaid said Saudi King Abdullah has fended off “intense” pressure to provide financial and arms support for Iraq’s Sunnis from Sunni leaders inside Saudi Arabia and around the Middle East.

But Obaid said Abdullah pledged to Bush that he would not intervene, despite the rise in bloody sectarian reprisal killings between Iraq’s majority Shias and Sunnis, in what some describe as a civil war.

Bush has so far rejected mounting calls for a troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Obaid’s column, which he said reflected his own views and not the Saudi government’s, appeared as Bush was in Amman to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki to discuss Iraq’s sectarian violence. The meeting was postponed from Wednesday to Thursday.

It also came just days after US Vice President Dick Cheney flew to Riyadh to consult with the Saudi ruler on Iraq.

Little information has leaked from Cheney’s meeting with the king, but Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation think tank, said Obaid’s article likely indicated the message conveyed by Abdullah.

LEBANON: TWO SYRIAN-SENT WOULD-BE ASSASSINS SEIZED

LEBANON: TWO SYRIAN-SENT WOULD-BE ASSASSINS SEIZED: "Beirut, 29 Nov. (AKI) - Lebanese authorities have arrested two Syrian agents who were planning to murder 36 senior Lebanese officials, a Beirut-based daily reported on Wednesday.

Al-Mustaqbal, a newspaper owned by the family of slain former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, also said Syria has sent some 200 pro-Damascus militants to the Palestinian refugee camps Al-Badwaii and Borge Al-Baragna in Lebanon. The militants were prepared to carry out instructions sent them from Syria, the report continued. "

Two of the "terrorists", carrying Syrian passports, were arrested recently and admitted working under orders of Syrian intelligence, al-Mustaqbal said.

According to the report, the two said they were working for Abu Khaled El Amalah, the number two man in Fatah Intifada, a pro-Syrian Palestinian armed group.

Over recent months several United Nations reports have said that Syria is still active in Lebanon despite its troop withdrawal in April 2005 which formally ended a three-decades-long military presence in the country.Rafiq Hariri was killed along with 22 other people in a bomb attack in Beirut on 14 February 2005.

Several top pro-Syrian Lebanese security officials have been arrested in connection with the attack while a United Nations investigation has also pointed the finger at top Syrian officials for allegedly masterminding it.

Halliburton Unit to Pay $8 Million for Overbilling -

Halliburton Unit to Pay $8 Million for Overbilling - washingtonpost.com: "A Halliburton subsidiary agreed to pay the government $8 million to resolve accusations of overbilling related to the firm's work for the Army in the Balkans, the Justice Department said yesterday.

The allegations against KBR, formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root, stemmed from orders placed with 10 foreign subcontractors that were working for KBR on military logistics support in 1999 and 2000. The accusations, made under the federal False Claims Act, included double-billing, inflating prices and providing products that didn't fit the Army's needs during the construction of Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo."...

The $8 million settlement is relatively small by the standards of other False Claims Act cases, said Patrick Burns, communications director of Taxpayers Against Fraud. Burns also noted that the settlement had been a long time coming, and said that the government needs to pay more attention to recent allegations of fraud in Iraq.

"At a certain point, justice delayed is justice denied," said Burns, whose nonprofit group promotes use of the False Claims Act, which dates to the Civil War. "People are going to say, 'When were we in the Balkans?' "...

Iraq, Iran reach agreement on security

Iraq, Iran reach agreement on security - Yahoo! News: "TEHRAN, Iran - Iraq's president said Wednesday he had reached a security agreement with Iran, which the United States accuses of fueling the chaos in the war-torn country. Iran's president called on countries to stop backing 'terrorists' in Iraq and for the Americans to withdraw. "

Tehran is believed to back some of the Shiite militias blamed in the vicious sectarian killings that have thrown the country into chaos. The United States has said the Iraqi government should press Iran to stop interfering in its affairs in a bid to calm the violence.

Presidents Jalal Talabani of Iraq and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran held talks Wednesday hours before U.S.

President George W. Bush' was due to meet with the Iraqi prime minister in Jordan in talks aimed at finding a solution to Iraq's spiraling bloodshed.

Talabani gave no details on the security agreement with Iran, and Ahmadinejad made no mention of any deal at a joint press conference in Tehran.

"We discussed in the fields of security, economy, oil and industry. Our agreement was complete," Talabani told reporters. "This visit was 100 percent successful. Its result will appear soon."

It was not clear if Talabani's comments reflected an agreement by Tehran to try to rein in Shiite militias. Most of the militias are run by political parties that are a powerful part of the coalition government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He has resisted U.S. pressure to crack down on the militias.

Ahmadinejad repeated his calls for the United States to withdraw its forces from Iraq....

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

 Posted by Picasa

Son also rises in testy Webb-Bush exchange

Son also rises in testy Webb-Bush exchange: "President Bush has pledged to work with the new Democratic majorities in Congress, but he has already gotten off on the wrong foot with Jim Webb, whose surprise victory over Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) tipped the Senate to the Democrats."

Webb, a decorated former Marine officer, hammered Allen and Bush over the unpopular war in Iraq while wearing his son’s old combat boots on the campaign trail. It seems the president may have some lingering resentment.

At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.

Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.

“I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing,” Bush retorted, according to the source.

Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn’t. It’s safe to say, however, that Bush and Webb won’t be taking any overseas trips together anytime soon.

“Jim did have a conversation with Bush at that dinner,” said Webb’s spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd. “Basically, he asked about Jim’s son, Jim expressed the fact that he wanted to have him home.” Todd did not want to escalate matters by commenting on Bush’s response, saying, “It was a private conversation.”
A White House spokeswoman declined to give Bush’s version of the conversation.
 Posted by Picasa

Accept defeat by Taliban, Pakistan tells Nato

Telegraph News Accept defeat by Taliban, Pakistan tells Nato: "Senior Pakistani officials are urging Nato countries to accept the Taliban and work towards a new coalition government in Kabul that might exclude the Afghan president Hamid Karzai."

Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, has said in private briefings to foreign ministers of some Nato member states that the Taliban are winning the war in Afghanistan and Nato is bound to fail. He has advised against sending more troops.

Western ministers have been stunned. "Kasuri is basically asking Nato to surrender and to negotiate with the Taliban," said one Western official who met the minister recently.

The remarks were made on the eve of Nato's critical summit in Latvia. Lt Gen David Richards, the British general and Nato's force commander in Afghanistan, and the Dutch ambassador Daan Everts, its chief diplomat there, have spent five days in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, urging the Pakistani military to do more to reign in the Taliban. But they have received mixed messages.

Mr Karzai has long insisted that the Taliban sanctuaries and logistics bases are in Pakistan while Gen James Jones, the Supreme Commander of Nato, told the US Congress in September that the Taliban leadership is headquartered in the Pakistani city of Quetta

Lt Gen Ali Mohammed Jan Orakzai, governor of the volatile North West Frontier Province has stated publicly that the US, Britain and Nato have already failed in Afghanistan. "Either it is a lack of understanding or it is a lack of courage to admit their failures," he said recently.

Gen Orakzai insists that the Taliban represent the Pashtun population, Afghanistan's largest and Pakistan's second largest ethnic group, and they now lead a "national resistance" movement to throw out Western occupation forces, just as there is in Iraq.

But his comments have deeply angered many Pakistani and Afghan Pashtuns, who consider the Taliban as pariahs and a negation of Pashtun values. Gen Orakzai is the mastermind of "peace deals" between the army and the heavily Talibanised Pashtun tribes on the Pakistani side of the border, but these agreements have failed because they continue to allow the Taliban to attack Nato forces inside Afghanistan and leave the Taliban in place, free to run a mini-Islamic state.

Gen Orakzai is expected to urge the British Army to strike similar deals in Helmand province. Meanwhile aides to President Pervez Musharraf say he has virtually "given up" on Mr Karzai and is awaiting a change of face in Kabul before he offers more help.

Many Afghans fear that Pakistan is deliberately trying to undermine Mr Karzai and Nato's commitment to his government in an attempt to reinstall its Taliban proxies in Kabul – almost certainly leading to all-out civil war and possible partition of the country.

To progress in Riga, Nato will have to enlist US support to call Pakistan's bluff, put pressure on Islamabad to hand over the Taliban leadership and put more troops in to fight the insurgency while persuading Mr Karzai to become more pro-active.

[bth: Unless the Paki government is held to account for the actions of those it allows to operate from its territory. Unless and until we are prepared to go in and kill the Taliban in their sanctuaries they will thrive and survive. The Democrats and this President should announce that we are redoubling our efforts against the Taliban, redeploy troops accordingly, and use this as cover for a restructuring of our troops and situation in Iraq. If my math is right, two weeks spending in Iraq would buy the entire annual poppy production of Afghanistan.]