Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fugitive Mullah Omar leaves only a trail of devotees

Guardian Fugitive Mullah Omar leaves only a trail of devotees: "
For five years the mystery surrounding Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban supreme leader, has been impenetrable. Most of the very few available photographs of him are fuzzy and indistinct. He has been captured on videotape just the once. A $10m American bounty on his head has gone untouched."

Then, this week, a chink of light.

The capture of the Taliban spokesman Muhammad Hanif produced a sensational confession: that Omar was hiding in south-west Pakistan. On Wednesday Afghan authorities released a videotape showing the 26-year-old Hanif speaking to the camera. "He lives in Quetta. He is protected by the ISI," he said, referring to Pakistan's powerful Inter Services Intelligence agency.

The sensational claim triggered a flush of excitement among critics who accuse Pakistan of sheltering the Taliban leadership. Islamabad dusted off its well-worn angry denials.

The truth lies in Quetta. But where? "No sign of him around here," shrugged Muhammad Akhtar, a 31-year-old wedding dress salesman in one of the city's many bazaars. He leaned on a shimmering roll of sequinned cloth. "Maybe he's here, maybe he isn't. I mean, how would I know?"

It's a good point. Quetta, a mountain-ringed city with a rich history of spycraft and intrigue, holds many secrets. All are jealously guarded.

Omar, a village cleric who reputedly lost an eye in battle, is unlikely to be uncovered easily. Reviled by the US, he is revered by supporters as "Amir ul Momineen", meaning commander of the faithful, a title he assumed after dramatically wrapping himself in a sacred religious cloth before a giant crowd in Kandahar over a decade ago. The fervour of the faithful grows with every day he evades capture. They scoff at efforts to find him.

"How could he be staying around here?" said Maulana Noor Muhammad, a cleric at a mosque in central Quetta. "He is constantly on the move, for his own security. And Allah is protecting him."

Muhammad is a senior figure in the JUI-F, a pro-Taliban religious party that shares power in Baluchistan province. A giant world map was painted on the wall behind him - a pointer to the success of the global jihad of which Mullah Omar is a leader, he said. "Nato has superior weapons. But the Taliban have faith like our prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who prophesied that one day Islam will conquer the world. This is our faith, we believe it will succeed."

His secretary produced a copy of a letter they sent to George Bush six months ago inviting the American president to convert to Islam. "Still no reply," he said. "We sent a reminder last month."

President Pervez Musharraf and his officials issue repeated weary denials of supporting Mullah Omar or any Taliban. The 2m Afghan refugees - 400,000 of whom live in Quetta - provide a vast human pool into which unarmed militants can disappear, they say. Tariq Khosa, the Baluchistan police chief, said his men had rounded up 400 Taliban suspects this year, 300 of whom had been deported to Afghanistan. "We are doing our best," he said.

But western diplomats and many local residents say the arrests are a revolving door. Most of the "Taliban" are ordinary refugees who are released without charge in Afghanistan. Some make it back to their homes in Pakistan before nightfall.

Others see a more sinister policy. Mahmood Khan Achakzai, a parliamentarian and leader of a Pashtun nationalist party, said he was convinced the ISI was in league with the Taliban. "They can't fight for a single day without our help," he said.

The Quetta security services might have more luck catching Omar if they paid as much attention to the Taliban as they do to foreign reporters. Last month Carlotta Gall, a British reporter for the New York Times, was punched in the face by intelligence agents who broke into her room in the upmarket Serena Hotel, confiscated her computer and notes, and arrested a Pakistani photographer working with her. Ms Gall's crime was to ask questions about the Taliban.

On Thursday and yesterday the Guardian was shadowed by between one and three men from the police's Special Branch unit and the ISI. They said they had been dispatched to ensure the foreigner's "security". When the police lost the trail on Thursday an official called a car hire company in the city, demanding to know this reporter's whereabouts.

The answer was Kuchlak, a crossroads about 10 miles north of Quetta on the crowded road towards the Afghan border crossing at Chaman. In some ways it is a more likely hideout for Omar. Kuchlak, Pishin and other small towns dotted around Quetta are the operational hub of Taliban operations in Baluchistan, where the insurgents recruit and train suicide bombers, seek medical attention and smuggle weapons across the border. Last year the Guardian attended a funeral for a Taliban soldier near Pishin.

The residential areas of Kuchlak are long, narrow streets bordered with high adobe walls. Men with stern faces and roughly tied black turbans stride down side streets. Patrons at a café in the main bazaar declined to answer questions about Mullah Omar. "We don't speak to foreigners," said one.

But one man wanted to speak. Niamatullah, a 78-year-old Afghan refugee with a furrowed brow and shining eyes, crouched over a gas stove at his home. The Taliban bring their dead and wounded to Kuchlak, he said: "They are secretly treated by doctors who come from Quetta. The Taliban have many supporters here."

Mullah Omar's popularity was soaring as President Hamid Karzai's government floundered, he said. Nato bombings that destroyed houses and orchards in southern Afghanistan were particularly unpopular.

"People say that at least if Mullah Omar was in power there would be no more destruction."

The time for the last prayer was approaching so the old man excused himself. Darkness fell over the now quiet bazaar, where colourful lights winked from a food stall. And somewhere along the tribal belt a one-eyed fugitive also said his final prayers before another quiet night - perhaps.

Abu Sayyaf chief dead -Philippine military | World News |

Abu Sayyaf chief dead -Philippine military World News "MANILA (Reuters) - The leader of the Philippines' fiercest Muslim militant group and the country's most wanted man is dead, military chief General Hermogenes Esperon said on Saturday.

He said U.S. forensic tests on a body found last month on the island of Jolo confirmed it was Khaddafy Janjalani, chief of the Abu Sayyaf, who had a $5 million U.S. (2 1/2 million pounds) bounty on his head."...

[bth: excellent.]

Kurdish Iraqi soldiers are deserting to avoid the conflict in Baghdad

McClatchy Washington Bureau 01/19/2007 Kurdish Iraqi soldiers are deserting to avoid the conflict in Baghdad: "SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq - As the Iraqi government attempts to secure a capital city ravaged by conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslim Arabs, its decision to bring a third party into the mix may cause more problems than peace. "

Kurdish soldiers from northern Iraq, who are mostly Sunnis but not Arabs, are deserting the army to avoid the civil war in Baghdad, a conflict they consider someone else's problem.

The Iraqi army brigades being sent to the capital are filled with former members of a Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, and most of the soldiers remain loyal to the militia.

Much as Shiite militias have infiltrated the Iraqi security forces across Arab Iraq, the peshmerga fill the ranks of the Iraqi army in the Kurdish region in the north, poised to secure a semi-independent Kurdistan and seize oil-rich Kirkuk and parts of Mosul if Iraq falls apart. One thing they didn't bank on, they said, was being sent into the "fire" of Baghdad.

"The soldiers don't know the Arabic language, the Arab tradition, and they don't have any experience fighting terror," said Anwar Dolani, a former peshmerga commander who leads the brigade that's being transferred to Baghdad from the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah.

Dolani called the desertions a "phenomenon" but refused to say how many soldiers have left the army.

"I can't deny that a number of soldiers have deserted the army, and it might increase due to the ferocious military operations in Baghdad," he said.

"This is the biggest performance through which we can test them," said Lt. Gen. Ali Ghaidan, the commander of land forces for the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. The Kurdish soldiers will be using translators, and they'll start off doing less dangerous tasks, such as manning checkpoints with Arab soldiers, he said.

In interviews, however, soldiers in Sulaimaniyah expressed loyalty to their Kurdish brethren, not to Iraq. Many said they'd already deserted, and those who are going to Baghdad said they'd flee if the situation there became too difficult.

"I joined the army to be a soldier in my homeland, among my people. Not to fight for others who I have nothing to do with," said Ameen Kareem, 38, who took a week's leave with other soldiers from his brigade in Irbil and never returned. "I used to fight in the mountains and valleys, not in the streets."

Kareem said he knew that deserting was risky, but he said he'd rather be behind bars in Kurdistan than a "soldier in Baghdad's fire." Without the language and with his Kurdish features, he was sure he would stand out, he said. He's a Kurd, he said, and he has no reason to become a target in an Arab war.

Now he drives a taxi in Sulaimaniyah, eking out a living and praying that he doesn't get caught.

Other soldiers in Sulaimaniyah also said they didn't want to be involved in someone else's war.

Farman Mohammed, 42, celebrated the Muslim Eid holiday with his family last month and didn't go back when he heard that he might be deployed to Baghdad. Afraid for his life, he found a new job and settled in with his family.

"The fanatic Sunnis in Baghdad kill the Shiites, and vice versa. Both of them are outraged against the Kurds. They will not hesitate to kill us and accuse us of being collaborators with the occupiers," he said.

"How can we face them alone?"

Those who are planning to go to Baghdad said they didn't want to be considered cowards.

Mohammed Abdoul, 41, reluctantly prepared to leave for the Iraqi capital earlier this week. Fear clouded his mind.

"I don't know why we should interfere in this Sunni-Shiite war," he said. "If I am going to face a difficult task in Baghdad and feel sectarian tension, I will leave the army forever, come back to Sulaimaniyah and work in the market."

An army brigade from Sulaimaniyah began arriving at the Muthana Airport in Baghdad earlier this week, and a brigade from Irbil, another Kurdish city, is expected in February, Ghaidan said.

The 1,200 Kurdish soldiers in each of the two brigades from the Kurdish north will be dwarfed by 2,700 soldiers in each brigade that are being brought to Baghdad from the Shiite south.

Generals in Irbil and Sulaimaniyah begged the Ministry of Defense to choose brigades out of Kirkuk that spoke Arabic to help in Baghdad, brigade commander Dolani said. Ghaidan wouldn't explain why entire Kurdish brigades weren't being transferred from the north.

(Taha is a McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent who reported from Sulaimaniyah. Special correspondent Laith Hammoudi contributed to this report from Baghdad.)

[bth: I hope someone in authority is paying attention to this.]

Canadian spy coins never existed

The Seattle Times: Canadian spy coins never existed: "WASHINGTON — Reversing itself, the Defense Department says an espionage report it produced that warned about Canadian coins with tiny radio-frequency transmitters was not true.

The Defense Security Service said it never could substantiate its own published claims about the mysterious coins. It has begun an internal review to determine how the false information was included in a 29-page report about espionage concerns."

The service had contended since late June that such coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

"The allegations, however, were found later to be unsubstantiated following an investigation into the matter," the agency said in a statement published on its Web site last week.

Intelligence and technology experts were flabbergasted over the initial report, which suggested such transmitters could be used to surreptitiously track the movements of people carrying the coins.

Experts said such tiny transmitters almost certainly would have limited range to communicate with sensors no more than a few feet away, such as ones hidden inside a doorway. The metal coins also would interfere with any signals emitted, they said.

Experts also warned that hiding tracking technology inside coins would be fraught with risks because the spy's target might inadvertently give away the coin or spend it.

Robert Moroz, who organizes an annual technology conference in Canada, said one vendor in 2005 attached coin-sized transmitters to casino chips as part of a proof-of-concept demonstration. Moroz also cited previous industry proposals — later abandoned — to build such transmitters into the euro.

But he was skeptical about the Defense Department's claims even before the Pentagon said its own report was false. "To make it work with current, commercially available technology — I don't see how it could work," Moroz said.

The now-disavowed report never suggested who might be tracking American defense contractors or why. It never described how the Pentagon discovered the purported ruse, how the transmitters worked or even which Canadian currency allegedly contained them.

The service initially maintained that its report on the spy coins was accurate but said further details about the spy coins were classified.

More evidence of Taliban leader hiding in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Mullah Muhammed Omar, the Taliban's one-eyed leader, eluded capture when American bombs ended his fundamentalist regime in Afghanistan in 2001. But a new report of his location is stirring an international uproar.

A captured Taliban spokesman says Mr. Omar is hiding in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Balochistan Province, under the protection of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Abul Haq Haqiq, also known as Dr. Mohammad Hanif, made the statements in a video-taped interrogation released by Afghan intelligence on Wednesday, following his arrest while crossing from Pakistan into the Afghan province of Nangarhar.

Hanif's claims are the latest in a stream of international criticism of Pakistan. Afghanistan officials, including President Hamid Karzai, have accused Pakistan of harboring Omar, and news of his whereabouts – credible or not – is amplifying questions about Pakistan's commitment to the war on terror, analysts say.

Hanif's remarks come after the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion removed the Taliban from power in 2001. Some 4,000 people died in insurgent-related violence in 2006. During a visit to Kabul Wednesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would consider sending more US troops to bolster the 22,500 already posted in Afghanistan.

Omar carries a $10 million bounty on his head and, like Osama bin Laden, is believed to be hiding somewhere in the remote areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Hanif also told Afghan interrogators that the Taliban, with help from the ISI, were responsible for more than 100 suicide attacks that left 270 civilians and 17 international soldiers dead.

"It's extremely important news. When we add all these accusations together, they pose a real problem for Pakistan's credibility, that it is playing a double game," says Rasul Bahksh Rais, a political analyst at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Omar has barely been heard from since he disappeared, leading many to wonder if he is dead or inactive.

But before he was arrested, Hanif told the Monitor in mid-December that Omar remains a central pillar in Taliban operations. He is not always present at meetings of the upper leadership, but all decisions are conveyed to him for approval, Hanif claimed.

"Without Mullah Omar we would not be able to reorganize and have this intensity of our attacks," Hanif said by telephone last month from an undisclosed location.

Earlier this month, Omar was heard from for the first time in years when he told Reuters, through Hanif, that he hadn't seen Osama bin Laden since 2001.

If true, Hanif's taped confession would constitute the highest level official statement from the Taliban that Omar is in Quetta. It would also verify that the operational center of the movement is in Pakistan.

Many have long claimed this, chief among them Mr. Karzai, who last February delivered a series of dossiers to Islamabad detailing the addresses of Taliban leaders in Quetta.

Pakistan rejected the validity of those files, just as they immediately rejected Hanif's claims, calling it another salvo in Afghanistan's escalating blame game.

"This is the most absurd statement that can come out," says Maj. Gen. Shaukut Sultan, the spokesman for the Pakistani military. "Pakistan is fully committed to fighting terrorism."

Hanif's accusations against Afghan intelligence officials may have been coerced, some observers say.

They also directly contradict statements Hanif made earlier to the Monitor.

"Mullah Omar is in Afghanistan and all [Taliban] leaders, too. There is no Taliban in Quetta," Hanif said at the time.

But Quetta has long been considered a logical place for Omar to seek refuge. The city lies near the border with Afghanistan, and has historical ties to Kandahar, Omar's home and the birthplace of the Taliban.

International media reports have repeatedly highlighted the presence of Taliban fighters in the city.

Residents of Quetta remain divided over Hanif's statement. "This is completely propaganda," says Maulana Nur Mohammed, a parliament member from Jamiat-Ulema-Islami, a hard-line Islamist party that openly supports the ideology of the Taliban. "Because of all the intelligence agencies present here, it is not possible for the Taliban to stay in Quetta."

Others in Pakistan hailed Hanif's claim as proof of an open secret. "As the captured person said, [the Taliban] are in the protection of the ISI. In Quetta city, anybody can see that [the Taliban] are living here," says Akram Shah Khan, general secretary of the Pashtunkhwa Mili Awami Party, a Pashtun nationalist party in Quetta.

Many have also suspected that when he fled, Omar sought protection from the ISI, once his closest ally.

In the mid-'90s, the ISI provided Omar's fledgling movement with the operational prowess needed to seize power, but denied doing so to American authorities.

Speaking to the Monitor last month, Hanif dismissed reports that Pakistan is providing aid to the Taliban.

"Pakistan is not helping. We don't want their help either. Basically the Afghan people help, themselves," he said.

But he contradicted himself again in Thursday's taped interrogation, claiming that a former ISI chief, Hamid Gul, was providing financial and logistical support to the Taliban, principally in the form of suicide bombers.

Mr. Gul, who ran the ISI during the Afghan war against Russian forces in the 1980s, is known to have cultivated support for the Taliban in their early days. But he denies any involvement with them now.

"This is nonsense. Afghan intelligence is totally groping in the dark," says Gul, who is retired and living in Rawalpindi, near Pakistan's capital. "The real cause is that America is failing in Afghanistan and therefore putting pressure on Karzai...."

On Saturday, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, a top US commander, said that Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Taliban commander, was orchestrating large-scale attacks against Afghanistan from a base in Pakistan's tribal zone. His remarks came days after NATO forces killed 150 Taliban militants infiltrating Afghanistan from Pakistan, one of the single largest such engagements in the conflict.

• Suzanne Koster contributed to this report from Islamabad.

Ex-Vice President Says Cheney Goes Too Far

Top News- Ex-Vice President Says Cheney Goes Too Far - AOL News: "ATHENS, Ga. (Jan. 19) - Former vice president Walter Mondale on Friday criticized Vice President Dick Cheney 's role in the White House, and said former president Jimmy Carter never would have tolerated Cheney's actions. "

I think that Cheney has stepped way over the line," Mondale said. Mondale, who was vice president under Carter, made the comments at a three-day conference about Carter's presidency that opened Friday at the University of Georgia. Mondale said Cheney and his assistants pressured federal agencies as they prepared information for President Bush .

"I think Cheney's been at the center of cooking up farcical estimates of national risks, weapons of mass destruction and the 9/11 connection to Iraq ," he said. Mondale said that does not serve the president, because he needs facts. "If I had done as vice president what this vice president has done, Carter would have thrown me out of there," Mondale said.

"I don't think he could have tolerated a vice president over there pressuring and pushing other agencies, ordering up different reports than they wanted to send us. I don't think he would have stood for it."

Academics credit Carter with expanding the role of the vice presidency during his administration.

As vice president, Mondale served as the president's senior adviser. He held an office in the West Wing of the White House, had private meetings with the president and spoke on behalf of the president before influential groups.

Friday, January 19, 2007

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IraqSlogger: Coming: Huge Baghdad Checkpoints

IraqSlogger: Coming: Huge Baghdad Checkpoints: "Baghdad entrances to get security gates with surveillance cameras By Hosam al-Shahmani Baghdad, Jan 18, (VOI) – The entrances of Baghdad will get during 2007 four security gates complete with surveillance cameras to monitor all vehicles coming into and leaving the Iraqi capital, an official source in Baghdad governorate said on Thursday. The four gates will cost a total of 24 billion dinars ($18.5 million), the source, who declined to be named, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). The cameras will be “connected to the offices of the Iraqi president, the prime minister, the parliament speaker and the governor of Baghdad so that monitor directly all vehicles coming in through the four gates,” “The gates will also have ultraviolet equipments to see through the vehicles in order to intercept car bombs and vehicles smuggling weapons,” he added. Each gate will have an emergency aid center, a fire fighting unit, a mosque, four towers and a parking car lot, the source said. "
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NATIONAL JOURNAL: The Nonwar War Against Iran

NATIONAL JOURNAL: The Nonwar War Against Iran (01/20/2007): "While the Iraq debate was gripping Washington over the past few weeks, the Bush administration was also shifting its policy toward neighboring Iran -- in a more confrontational direction. "

U.S. officials, who asked not to be identified, say that the Iran policy has expanded from focusing chiefly on Iran's nuclear ambitions to challenging Tehran's suspected misbehavior across the Middle East. Indeed, one source said succinctly that the new policy is geared to "confront Iran in every way but direct armed conflict, using all means short of war."

The more aggressive policy is driven by several factors, U.S. officials say. The first is the emergence of a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab governments, plus Israel, all of which are alarmed at Iran's flexing of power in the region and, in particular, at Tehran-backed Hezbollah's efforts to bring down the government in Lebanon. In addition, this loose coalition fears Iran's possible role in supporting militant proxy groups that threaten to destabilize other countries, specifically Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Shiite groups in the Gulf States, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, the Bush administration and the American military in Iraq are increasingly concerned about what they see as a direct Iranian role in providing more-sophisticated armor-piercing explosive charges to militant groups that are attacking coalition forces in Iraq. These "shaped" charges multiply the killing power of the roadside bombs that detonate daily in Iraq.

Under the new policy, the United States will aggressively seek to expose and confront Iranian networks thought to be supplying radical proxies in Iraq, U.S. sources involved with the policy said. In addition, the U.S. is doubling its naval power in the Persian Gulf, considering covert ways to counter Hezbollah in Lebanon, and sending Patriot missiles to jittery allies in the Gulf. Bush administration officials are "projecting a lot of confrontation with Iran," says one American source privy to the administration's Iran policy debate who asked not to be further identified. "But they don't mean to signal war. They don't mean war. It's war by other means.

"For a long time, Americans were beating the nuclear weapons drum, and countries in the region were saying, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, we hear you, sure, whatever you say,' " he continued. "I think, in the region, while people were concerned about the nuclear issue, what really spooked the Arab regimes was the reaction after Hezbollah's triumph in Lebanon and the popular reaction in their own countries of infatuation with Hezbollah, and Iran's defiance."

The American source spoke shortly after U.S. forces had taken the dramatic step of raiding a quasi-official Iranian government outpost in Erbil, in Kurdish northern Iraq, where they seized computers and documents and detained five Iranians. The Iran office "was housing individuals believed to be closely associated to activities targeting Iraqi and coalition security forces and contributing to sectarian violence," a State Department official told National Journal.

Yet some sources indicate that elements inside the U.S. government -- in the U.S. intelligence community, in particular -- are trying to head off a possible administration move to escalate the confrontation with Iran over its suspected actions in Iraq. Some officials reportedly have doubts about the precise nature of the evidence indicating Iranian involvement in Iraq. For instance, after a highly publicized U.S. military raid on December 21 at the compound of Iraqi Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, U.S. forces detained several Iranians who were meeting there. All of them were ultimately released and were returned to Iran, partly at the behest of the Iraqi government, which said it had invited the Iranians.

Contrary to some initial reports that American troops had found damning maps and documents on the detained Iranians, some U.S. government sources indicate that the Hakim raid did not produce definitive proof of Iranian involvement in supplying Iraqi militants. "They are trying to walk this back," one U.S. official said. "There are no smoking guns about Iran in Iraq," said another knowledgeable U.S. source. "That's the problem. Sort of like the WMD."

The U.S. actions at the Hakim compound and against the Iranian office in Erbil dramatically underscored President Bush's comments in his January 10 television address on Iraq in which he singled out Iran as providing "material support for attacks on American troops" in Iraq, and vowed to "seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

Bush's new emphasis on Iran's suspected role as a destabilizing force in the region articulates what Middle East experts say is a growing conviction among Washington's Sunni allies that Iran poses an immediate threat to their regimes' interests and stability.

"The administration believes that the Saudis had an epiphany, that Iran is the lens through which they now view all their security concerns," says Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert and the deputy director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "And that means the Saudis may be prepared to do a variety of things which previously they were not prepared to do."

Among the steps the Saudis now appear ready to take, according to Clawson, is to significantly fund Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has faced an upsurge in intra-Palestinian violence incited by Hamas, which is supported by Syria and Iran. Clawson cited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's very positive public reference about the Saudi role in helping to promote peace. "It was extraordinarily unusual for an Israeli prime minister to refer to three helpful countries" -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. "That was no accident. It was carefully worked out language." The Israeli media recently reported speculation about a rare meeting between Israeli and Saudi officials.

The emerging Washington-Saudi-Sunni-Israeli alliance to counter Iran "makes perfect sense," says Kenneth Katzman, a veteran Iran and Iraq analyst at the Congressional Research Service. "It is something that is evolving based on commonality of interests of the Saudis and Israel and other Gulf states to counter Iranian triumphalism. The Saudis are facing Iran in Iraq and in the Gulf states. Israel is facing Iranian-backed Hezbollah on its northern border with Lebanon. The Saudis are interested in their long-standing client in Lebanon, the Hariri family."

Middle East analyst Daniel Byman, who is the director of Georgetown University's Security Studies Program, said, "The most popular people in the Islamic world right now, and the two most popular people in Egypt, are Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And their popularity is increasing. They are like Che Guevara."

Sources close to the administration's Iran policy say the primary vehicle for U.S. government planning on Iran is the Iran-Syria Policy and Operations Group, an inter-agency body created in early 2006 that includes representatives and Iran specialists from the Office of the Vice President, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the State Department, the Treasury Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and other agencies.

The overall group has four or five subgroups, including a recently combined one that focuses on "public diplomacy and promoting democracy" in Iran. That subgroup doled out some of the $85 million that Congress approved to support pro-democracy efforts in Iran. A second subgroup is devoted exclusively to Syria. A third focuses on counter-terrorism issues, and a fourth has a military agenda. Formally overseen by a steering committee headed by National Security Council Middle East adviser Elliott Abrams and James Jeffrey, the State Department's principal deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, the so-called ISOG is managed day to day by David Denehy, a senior adviser at State's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and a former official with the International Republican Institute. Denehy has recently told some associates that he plans to move sometime early this year to the Office of the Vice President, where he would continue to coordinate the Iran-Syria group.

In addition to the ISOG, the Pentagon last spring set up a six-person Iranian directorate in the Office of the Secretary of Defense that includes three former members of the Office of Special Plans, a controversial unit established by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that produced discredited intelligence analysis linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda.

U.S. officials say that multiple inter-agency meetings on Iran are going on every day under the auspices of the Iran-Syria Policy and Operations Group, and that the pace of activity has quickened. "There are so many meetings; we're doing stuff, writing papers; actions are being taken," said one person involved with the group. "It's very intense."
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Retired Generals Criticize Bush’s Plan for Iraq

Retired Generals Criticize Bush’s Plan for Iraq - New York Times: "A panel of retired generals told a United States Senate committee today that sending 21,500 additional troops to Iraq will do little to solve the underlying political problems in the country."

Too little and too late,” is the way Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, a former chief of the Central Command, described the effort to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The additional troops are intended to help pacify Baghdad and a restive province, but General Hoar said American leaders had failed to understand the political forces at work in the country. “The solution is political, not military,” he said.

A fool’s errand,” was the judgment of Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who commanded troops in the first Gulf War. He said other countries had concluded that the effort in Iraq was not succeeding, noting that “our allies are leaving us and will be gone by summer.”

Describing the situation in Iraq as “desperate but not terminal,” he said Iraqis had to try to make political deals domestically and negotiate for stability with neighboring nations, particularly Syria and Iran.

The American effort in Iraq has gone badly because the United States did not understand the consequences of deposing Saddam Hussein, said Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency. He said the principal beneficiary of the war was Iran and Al Qaeda, not the United States.

There is no way to win a war that is not in your interests,” he said.

In statements and in questioning, senators were skeptical about the increased commitment of troops and the likely outcome of the deployment. Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, noted that he had raised questions about the effort in Iraq as long ago as 2003, and said, “Today, I don’t have an understanding about how it will work militarily.”

One general warned that even a plan to start withdrawing American forces from the country carried the risk that the armed Iraqi population will step up the level of attacks. “We will be shot at as we are going out.” said Gen. Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army.

McCain no longer rocks in Granite State - Opinion & Editorial: McCain no longer rocks in Granite State: "...Manchester, N.H.-based American Research Group finds that McCain’s popularity among New Hampshire’s independent voters has collapsed"

“John McCain is tanking,” says ARG president Dick Bennett. “That’s the big thing [we’re finding]. In New Hampshire a year ago he got 49 percent among independent voters. That number’s way down, to 29 percent now.”

American Research Group, which is New Hampshire’s leading polling company and has been operating in the state since 1976, polled 1,200 likely Granite State voters in the survey.

Bennett says ARG is finding a similar trend in other states polled, including early primary battlegrounds like Iowa and Nevada. “We’re finding this everywhere,” he says.

The main reason isn’t hard to find: His hawkish stance on the Iraq war, which is tying him ever more closely to an unpopular president. “Independent support for McCain is evaporating because they view him as tied to Bush,” says Bennett...

[bth: New Hampshire just voted out two moderate republican congressmen and replaced them with democrats. They don't have the patience for McCain right now. He doesn't have a prayer in NH.]

Report: Cheney rejected Iran concessions

Report: Cheney rejected Iran concessions - Yahoo! News: "LONDON - An Iranian offer to help the United States stabilize Iraq and end its military support for Hezbollah and Hamas was rejected by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003, a former top State Department official told the British Broadcasting Corp. "

The U.S. State Department was open to the offer, which came in an unsigned letter sent shortly after the American invasion of Iraq, Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell' 's chief of staff, told BBC's Newsnight in a program broadcast Wednesday night. But, Wilkerson said, Cheney vetoed the deal.

"We thought it was a very propitious moment" to strike a deal, Wilkerson said. "But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the vice president's office, the old mantra of 'We don't talk to evil' ... reasserted itself."

A spokesman for the State Department said Thursday he wasn't aware of any letter from the Iranians to the U.S. government in 2003.

"Far as I know, there's never been an offer from the Iranian Government on those kinds of concerns," said Tom Casey, the state department's deputy spokesman.

Wilkerson said that, in return for its cooperation, Tehran asked Washington to lift sanctions and to dismantle the Mujahedeen Khalq, an Iranian opposition group which has bases in Iraq.

Iran' also offered to increase the transparency of its nuclear program, according to Wilkerson.

Wilkerson has been a frequent critic of the Bush administration in general and Cheney in particular, holding the vice president responsible for the mistreatment of detainees and the failure of Iraq's postwar planning.

[bth: its hard to underestimate the damage this vice president has done to America.]
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Muqtada Al-Sadr Aide Arrested in Baghdad

My Way News - Muqtada Al-Sadr Aide Arrested in Baghdad: "BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested a top aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Friday in Baghdad, his office said."

during a 2 a.m. raid on a mosque in the eastern neighborhood of Baladiyat, an official in al-Sadr's office said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

The U.S. military said special Iraqi army forces operating with coalition advisers captured a high-level, illegal armed group leader in Baladiyat, but it did not identify the detainee. It said two other suspects were detained by Iraqi forces for further questioning.

The raid comes as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pledged to crack down on Shiite militias as well as Sunni insurgents in a planned security operation to quell the sectarian violence in Baghdad amid concerns that his reluctance to confront the Mahdi Army of his political backer al-Sadr led to the failure of two previous crackdowns.

The U.S. military accused the main suspect of having ties with the commanders of so-called death squads, which have been blamed for many of the killings that have left dozens of bodies, often showing signs of torture, on the streets of Baghdad.

The suspect was detained "based on credible intelligence that he is the leader of illegal armed group punishment committee activity, involving the organized kidnapping, torture and murder of Iraqi civilians," according to the military statement.

It also said he was reportedly involved in the assassination of numerous Iraqi security forces and government officials.

"The suspect allegedly leads various illegal armed group operations and is affiliated with illegal armed group cells targeting Iraqi civilians for sectarian attacks and violence," the statement said, adding he was believed to be affiliated with Baghdad death squad commanders, including Abu Dura, a Shiite militia leader who has gained a reputation for his brutality.

The official and an Iraqi police officer, who also declined to be identified for fear of reprisals, also said one of the mosque's guards was killed in a firefight during the raid that damaged the mosque walls, while four other people who were with the sheik were arrested.
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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Chinese Test Anti-Satellite Weapon

Chinese Test Anti-Satellite Weapon SpaceRef - Your Space Reference: "U. S. intelligence agencies believe China performed a successful anti-satellite (asat) weapons test at more than 500 mi. altitude Jan. 11 destroying an aging Chinese weather satellite target with a kinetic kill vehicle launched on board a ballistic missile.

The Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, NASA and other government organizations have a full court press underway to obtain data on the alleged test, Aviation Week & Space Technology reports on its web site

If the test is verified it will signify a major new Chinese military capability.

Neither the Office of the U. S. Secretary of Defense nor Air Force Space Command would comment on the attack, which followed by several months the alleged illumination of a U. S. military spacecraft by a Chinese ground based laser. "...
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SAS seizes Taliban leader in secret war

Telegraph | News | SAS seizes Taliban leader in secret war: "A team of SAS soldiers captured a key Taliban commander yesterday in a lightning raid on a heavily-fortified compound in southern Afghanistan.

Without a shot being fired, the force of fewer than 30 elite soldiers, backed by Afghan troops, achieved 'total surprise' and seized Mohammad Nabi in the early hours of the morning near Gereshk, in Helmand province."

Nabi is believed to be a key commander in the Taliban insurgency in the neighbouring province of Kandahar.

The compound, which had been under observation by Nato forces for around two weeks, was typical of the heavily-fortified homes favoured by the Pashtun tribes of southern Afghanistan, which often boast battlements and watch towers.

"We suspect that he has had a major part to play in the Taliban's operations in Zarai and Punjwai districts," said Squadron Leader David Marsh, a British military spokesman, referring to key areas of Taliban resistance in Kandahar and the scene of near continuous fighting since May, 2006.

In September, Nato forces launched their biggest offensive to date in the area in an attempt to eject an estimated 1,500 insurgents.

Though successful, Taliban fighters have since heavily re-infiltrated the area. In response, Nato has launched a series of localised attacks, codenamed Operation Baaz Tsuka, to disrupt Taliban planning for its expected spring offensive.

British commanders initially declined to confirm the name of the captured man, in the hope that usable intelligence might result from his interrogation.

One senior tribal figure from Kandahar, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the captured man was a senior commander but one of around 30 operating in the province. The raid was the latest in a largely secret war being fought by British special forces in southern Afghanistan, about which the Ministry of Defence remains hugely sensitive.

However, Gen David Richards, the British Nato commander, has made no secret of the key role to be played by special forces in the overall plan to break the Taliban insurgency.

While regular army units are seen as key to securing areas for the redevelopment work, which is supposed to win over the local population, it is special forces that are supposed to hunt down the key figures in the insurgency.

Gen Richards said that he was "well satisfied" with the numbers of special forces placed at his disposal, both British and other nations, including members of the Australian SAS and a bewildering variety of US Army units.

In addition, US commanders retain separate command of 8,000 American troops, including many specialised counter-terrorist units, who have the task of searching for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and along the Pakistan border.

Soldiers from the Special Boat Service, the Royal Navy's sister unit to the SAS, were at the heart of last summer's fighting in the south.

In an operation not unlike yesterday's, an SBS unit captured three Taliban commanders near Sangin last June, only to be ambushed as they withdrew with their captives. Two soldiers died, one from the SBS and another from the newly-formed Special Forces Support Unit.

During fighting in southern Helmand during last September, British journalists were able to hear the sounds of gunfire and explosions at night far to the south of regular British Army units around Garmser.

Soldiers from the SBS were undertaking covert missions to disrupt Taliban supply lines and re-inforcements.

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DOD taps 4,060 mine-resistant vehicles for Iraq

Stars & Stripes: "WASHINGTON — Defense officials will send 4,060 more mine-resistant vehicles to Iraq by the end of the year, which will be used to replace up-armored Humvees on some missions."
Marine Corps force protection officials on Tuesday told Congress the $2 billion move is not designed to completely replace the Humvee as the primary vehicle for missions in Iraq. But the hope is that the heavier, more blast-resistant trucks will give commanders there more options in the fight.

Of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles ordered, 538 will be given to the Navy for ordnance detection and disposal. But officials said 1,022 assigned to the Marines and the 2,500 slated for the Army will be used for patrols, combat missions and other tasks, at commanders’ discretion.

“There is now a much wider need for these vehicles for all troops involved in patrolling,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command.

“The V-shaped hull is designed to force these blasts off the sides, away from the occupied spaces in the vehicles. And their additional height gives the blast more time to expand, lessening its impact.”

Defense Department officials said only a few hundred of the larger, V-bottomed vehicles are currently in use in Iraq.

Brogan said most of those vehicles — Cougar and Buffalo trucks, as well as other large explosive rapid response vehicles — are being used solely for anti-explosive work.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee said they were glad to hear the heavier vehicles will be made available to more troops, even though they believe military officials should have pushed for those blast-resistant vehicles earlier.

“In my mind, our biggest blunder has not been incorporating the V-shaped undercarriage for our armored vehicles,” said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., chairman of the seapower subcommittee. “This technology existed before the conflict in Iraq began. … It is well past time that we deploy this potential lifesaving vehicle.”

Brig. Gen. Randolph Alles, commander of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, said the MRAP vehicle push is just part of the recent force protection upgrades by the service.

Starting next month, Marine officials will roll out their new Modular Tactical Vests to troops in Iraq, with a goal of outfitting all Marines there with the better armor by the end of the year. New fire-resistant clothing is on its way as well.

Work is still being conducted on devices that could remotely detonate roadside bombs, although officials said that technology is still likely years away.

Alles said the upgrades are needed to keep up with adaptations by enemy fighters in Iraq.

“As we’ve armored the vehicles more heavily, they’ve increased the artillery rounds, started using more explosives,” he said. “We field a solution, they develop a countermeasure, and we have to counter that.”

[bth: the production rate sucks. Also 1500 vehicles aren't accounted for in the use of these vehicles and I can pretty well assure you that the generals and command staff will get those. Marine procurement on this matter has been ridiculous with aluminum hulled amphibious vehicles used to patrol roads in Anbar because that's the best they've got. Great vehicles are available in quantity from S. Africa and Israel and half dozen sources in Europe.]

Carbon nanofibers strengthen Humvees

Nanowerk News: "Nanowerk News) Ohio researchers are creating stronger armor to protect U.S. troops riding in Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The hope is to have the armor developed within a year to protect against the roadside bombs that cause the majority of American casualties.

Brian Rice, a chemical engineer at the University of Dayton Research Institute, is incorporating microscopic carbon nanofibers to strengthen the armor so it can withstand shrapnel and high-velocity bullets.

'If we double the effectiveness, that would be huge,' Rice said.

The armor is being developed under a five-year, $15 million Army research contract.

Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Delgado, of Columbus-based Lima Company, 3 rd Battalion, 25 th Marines, said he welcomes any improvements.

Humvees were never designed to carry the extra weight of heavier armor, he said. Suspensions, transmissions and engines suffer.

'If we had the same strength or more strength at half the weight, it would help,' said Delgado, who was wounded by shrapnel from a rocket attack in Iraq.... "
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A Taliban Spokesman's Confession

Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of harboring leading elements of the Taliban. And, they say, the confession of a leading Taliban spokesman arrested in Afghanistan on Monday further bolsters their claim. Abdul Haq, better known as Dr. Hanif, was caught just hours after crossing the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan in Nangahar province. His capture, after he was followed from the border on a tip, was a success for the beleaguered National Defense Services (NDS), Afghanistan's intelligence branch, which has long been unable to prevent suspected Taliban militants from treating the poorly guarded border as a revolving door, entering at will to assist with attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces, then melting back into the sanctuary of Pakistan's ungoverned frontier zone.

Afghan investigators say that under questioning, Dr. Hanif, who had been working with the Taliban for the past 14 months, told them that the organization would never have been able to challenge Afghan military and NATO forces without the direct assistance of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. "This means that according to his confession, the ISI of Pakistan is directly involved in funding, arming and supporting the Taliban and other opposition groups against the government of Afghanistan," says NDS spokesman Sayed Ansari.

Although the ISI is believed to have played a major role in nurturing the Taliban and bringing it to power in the mid-1990s, Pakistan has routinely denied the accusation that it continues to provide support or a permissive environment for the organization. Just last week, outgoing U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte warned that while Pakistan is "a frontline partner in the war on terror," it is also the country "where the Taliban and al-Qaeda maintain critical sanctuaries." Al-Qaeda, he said, is "cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders' secure hideout in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe."

And on a visit to Afghanistan Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated the point, saying, "There are more attacks coming across the border; there are al-Qaeda networks operating on the Pakistani side of the border. And these are issues that we clearly will have to pursue with the Pakistani government."

U.S. officials are skeptical about a recent agreement between Pakistan's government and local tribes in North Waziristan, under which Pakistani troops withdrew from the area on the understanding that the tribes would police all cross-border incursions into Afghanistan. The number of cross-border attacks from the area since the agreement is double the figure for the same period a year ago, according to U.S. military spokesman Colonel Tom Collins, addressing reporters traveling with Gates. "We are seeing evidence that the enemy is taking advantage of that agreement to launch attacks into Afghanistan."

Dr. Hanif's confession is likely to turn up the heat on Islamabad. He is said to have told his interrogators that the recent surge of suicide attacks in Afghanistan were carried out by men trained at a fundamentalist madrassah in Pakistan's Bajur agency, not far from the Afghan border in Waziristan. And also that Mullah Omar, the one-eyed leader of the Taliban, was being sheltered by the ISI in the Pakistani city of Quetta. Dr. Hanif was instrumental in arranging a written interview with a Pakistani newspaper on Jan. 4 in which the reclusive leader warned, "Foreign troops should at once leave Afghanistan and then the institutions they created should be dismantled. Unless this happens, war will heat up further. It will not recede."

The past year has been the bloodiest in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Bomb attacks more than doubled, and suicide attacks increased fivefold. And far from skulking in the shadows, the organization was working to build its media profile. Dr. Hanif gave his mobile phone number to journalists, and could always be reached for a comment on the latest fighting. "NATO says 50 dead Taliban?" he would splutter indignantly. "Not one dead, and we killed 50 soldiers." And even if his count rarely matched reality, the chubby-faced 26-year-old knew how to spin a chilling quote, telling TIME last summer, after one particularly brutal suicide bombing in Kandahar had killed eight Afghan laborers working at a nearby military base: "These men were American servants, and they were punished."

Dr. Hanif's capture comes as no surprise to the journalists covering the war, because his swaggering confidence kept him moving perpetually closer to discovery — in recent months, he had begun calling up journalists himself, to correct what he termed "misreporting" in their stories. He even berated one journalist last summer for referring to Dr. Hanif as a "man who claims to be a Taliban spokesman." Hanif's confession to the NDS appears to reflect a bitterness against Pakistan and the ISI, even a feeling that he was betrayed by them. But it may be just as likely that he simply got too cocky, making one call too many on the mobile phone that had made him a media celebrity.

Coalition forces in Afghanistan are bracing for a major Taliban offensive in the spring. But with Dr. Hanif in custody, that offensive may lack the accompanying media barrage — at least until the "Doctor" is replaced.

The Missing Partner in Iraq

The Missing Partner in Iraq - New York Times: "The one crucial assumption behind everything President Bush proposed on Iraq last week was that Washington would have the wholehearted support of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. None of Mr. Bush’s ideas — his plan to send more American soldiers to fight alongside Iraqi units in Baghdad, his program for jump-starting the Iraqi economy, his hope of reconciling rival sectarian communities and heading off civil war — can possibly succeed without the full cooperation of the Iraqi government"

Yet in the days following Mr. Bush’s address, as in the days before, Mr. Maliki has demonstrated how far his own goals diverge from America’s best interests or any reasonable path for containing Iraq’s civil war. Consider, for example, Mr. Maliki’s designation of Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar — a Shiite officer known for his combative resistance to American tutelage — to be the overall military commander of the new Baghdad security drive.

Any hope that this campaign will prove more effective than past failed efforts depends on soldiers’ being able to finally move against Shiite militias. If General Qanbar and Mr. Maliki plan to continue shielding militias like the Mahdi Army, this new drive will be doomed before it begins.

What another failure would mean was underscored in a particularly grim way yesterday when the United Nations reported that some 34,000 Iraqi civilians died violently last year, a staggering number in a country of less than 27 million people. Yesterday, more than 100 Iraqis died in Baghdad alone.

Consider also the grisly decapitation over the weekend of Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s co-defendant and half brother. Two weeks of watching how the lynch mob atmosphere of Mr. Hussein’s execution instantly turned a monster into a martyr throughout the Sunni Arab world should have put Mr. Maliki on notice to get this one right. But whether deliberately or through breathtaking incompetence, the Iraqi government did not get it right, once again fanning sectarian flames.

Unless President Bush insists that Mr. Maliki accept specific and enforceable policy benchmarks and timelines — starting with the disarming of sectarian militias — the United States will remain hostage to the Iraqi prime minister and his radical Shiite agenda.

Mr. Bush needs to make clear to the Iraqi leader that continued American support will depend on his active cooperation. And that, ultimately, the Iraqis have even more to lose than the Americans from an unending civil war.

IraqSlogger: Baghdad Bombings: Who's Responsible?

IraqSlogger: Baghdad Bombings: Who's Responsible?: "Several Arab and Sunni websites have accused “Safavids” of carrying out the car bombings against the Mustansiriya University, in Palestine Street, north of Baghdad, yesterday, or held them responsible for the bloody attacks that killed and injured over 80 students, most of them female. The websites point out that the university had turned into a stronghold for Sadrist activists and student unions, since a majority of students there are from nearby Sadr City, and Shi’ite religious ceremonies are often held at the university. Some commentators also mentioned that the same university witnessed a similar bombing in the 1980 by Shi’ite Da’wa Party militants when former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz was visiting, also killing several students. The alleged perpetrators were executed themselves amid Ba’athist fanfare by being detonated with explosives, and a video clip of the execution has circulated on the Internet for years, as proof of the brutality of Saddam’s regime. However, many such websites failed to also mention that Sunni insurgent groups, most notably the Ansar Al-Sunna organization, have threatened weeks ago to target students who continue to attend colleges, as part of their “campaign to support Sunni students and professors who were killed by the death squads.” The Mustansiriya University would be the most likely target for such an attack because of its proximity to Sadr City and recent claims that three Sunni females students from the university were abducted, raped and killed by Mahdi militiamen. The Sunni fundamentalist Islam Memo website, for example, alleged that seven Mahdi Army commanders were killed in the Mustansiriya University explosions yesterday, adding that there corpses were taken later to Sadr’s Bureau in Sadr City for the funeral. The website also reported fierce clashes today between “Safavid gangs supported by U.S. helicopters” and “Iraqi resistance fighters” at Haifa Street, between Talai’ Square and the Sheikh Ma’rouf Mosque.

The Iraqi Rabita website reports that residents of the Sunni-majority Sulaikh district, near Adhamiya, north of Baghdad, said that four mortar rounds hit their neighborhood from the nearby Qahira district after sunset prayers today, and that a foul smell emanated from the remaining fragments causing sickness to people who were nearby. The alarmed residents immediately notified U.S. and Iraqi army troops, who arrived to investigate and collect samples from the explosion site. Four more mortar shells were fired shortly afterwards. The Sulaikh district, which has been sealed off by U.S. and Iraqi army troops this morning, along with Adhamiya and Qahira, is often attacked with mortar fire from the nearby Shi’ite districts of Dilfiya, Sha’ab and Qahira.

Joint U.S.-Iraqi troops detained two SCIRI officials at Kut, in the Wasit Governorate, yesterday, according to the Haqq Agency, without further information. The two officials are: Fadhil Jassim, SCIRI’s representative in Wasit, and Qasim Al-A’raji, head of the Badr Organization in Wasit.

The bronze statue of Kahramana, a mythical female character from the Arabian Nights, mysteriously disappeared from a public square in the Jeza’ir district in Basrah, south of Iraq, eyewitnesses told the Aswat Al-Iraq Agency. The statue, similar to the original in Baghdad at Kahramana Square in the Karrada district, is of a fully dressed woman representing the character of Morgiana from the tale of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, carrying a jar of boiling oil, and surrounded by jars at the base of the statue. Similar incidents have been reported in other areas of Iraq and the targeted statues or monuments are usually either controversial historical figures, such as the statue of the head of Caliph Abu Ja’far Al-Mansour in Baghdad, which was blown up months ago, or depictions deemed un-Islamic, such as this statue of a curvy woman, or monuments that glorify the Ba’ath Party, Saddam Hussein, or the Iraq-Iran war.
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IraqSlogger: Cost of Long-term Care for Veterans

IraqSlogger: Cost of Long-term Care for Veterans: "Linda Bilmes, on the faculty of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, has just released a working paper: Soldiers Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan: The Long-term Costs of Providing Veterans Medical Care and Disability Benefits.

From the abstract:"

"This paper analyzes the long-term needs of veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and the budgetary and structural consequences of these needs. The paper uses data from government sources, such as the Veterans Benefit Administration Annual Report. The main conclusions of the analysis are that: (a) the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is already overwhelmed by the volume of returning veterans and the seriousness of their health care needs, and it will not be able to provide a high quality of care in a timely fashion to the large wave of returning war veterans without greater funding and increased capacity in areas such as psychiatric care; (b) the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is in need of structural reforms in order to deal with the high volume of pending claims; the current claims process is unable to handle even the current volume and completely inadequate to cope with the high demand of returning war veterans; and (c) the budgetary costs of providing disability compensation benefits and medical care to the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of their lives will be from $350 - $700 Billion, depending on the length of deployment of US soldiers, the speed with which they claim disability benefits and the growth rate of benefits and health care inflation. Key recommendations include: increase staffing and funding for veterans medical care particularly for mental health treatment; expand staffing and funding for the “Vet Centers,” and restructure the benefits claim process at the Veterans Benefit Administration."

Court to Oversee U.S. Wiretapping in Terror Cases

Court to Oversee U.S. Wiretapping in Terror Cases - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 — The Bush administration, in a surprise reversal, said on Wednesday that it had agreed to give a secret court jurisdiction over the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program and would end its practice of eavesdropping without warrants on Americans suspected of ties to terrorists."

The Justice Department said it had worked out an “innovative” arrangement with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that provided the “necessary speed and agility” to provide court approval to monitor international communications of people inside the United States without jeopardizing national security.

The decision capped 13 months of bruising national debate over the reach of the president’s wartime authorities and his claims of executive power, and it came as the administration faced legal and political hurdles in its effort to continue the surveillance program. ...

Iraq Resolution May Expose GOP Divide

: "WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Democrat-driven resolution on Iraq that has attracted the support of at least two Republicans threatens to expose fissures within the GOP over the unpopular war.

Republicans are deeply divided on the war in Iraq and how Congress should react to President Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to join the estimated 130,000 already there.
Ten Republicans met behind closed doors late Wednesday with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in a bid to generate consensus on Iraq. The senators emerged from the meeting to announce that no deal had been reached.

'This is a very fluid situation,' said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz."...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Kuwait media: U.S. military strike on Iran seen by April

KUWAIT CITY, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- U.S. might launch a military strike on Iran before April 2007, Kuwait-based daily Arab Times released on Sunday said in a report.

The report, written by Arab Times' Editor-in-chief Ahmed al-Jarallah citing a reliable source, said that the attack would be launched from the sea, while Patriot missiles would guard all Arab countries in the Gulf.

Recent statements emanating from the United States indicated the Bush administration's new strategy for Iraq doesn't include any proposal to make a compromise or negotiate with Syria or Iran, added the report.

The source told al-Jarallah that U.S. President George W. Bush recently had held a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other assistants in the White House, where they discussed the plan to attack Iran in minute detail.

Vice President Dick Cheney highlighted the threat posed by Iranto not only Saudi Arabia but also the whole Gulf region, according to the source.

"Tehran is not playing politics. Iranian leaders are using their country's religious influence to support the aggressive regime's ambition to expand," Dick Cheney was quoted by the source as saying.

Indicating participants of the meeting agreed to impose restrictions on the ambitions of Iranian regime before April 2007 without exposing other countries in the region to any danger, the source said "they have chosen April as British Prime Minister Tony

Blair has said it will be the last month in office for him. The United States has to take action against Iran and Syria before April 2007

Claiming the attack will be launched from the sea and not from any country in the region, he said "the U.S. and its allies will target the oil installations and nuclear facilities of Iran ensuring there is no environmental catastrophe or after effects."

The source added that the U.S. has started sending its warships to the Gulf and the build-up would continue until Washington has the required number by the end of this month.

"U.S. forces in Iraq and other countries in the region will be protected against any Iranian missile attack by an advanced Patriot missile system," the source noted.

The Bush administration believes that attacking Iran will create a new power balance in the region, calming down the situation in Iraq and paving the way for their democratic project, which have to be suspended due to the interference of Tehran and Damascus in Iraq, according to the source.

Texas Sells Electric Chairs to Iraq | brainsnap

Texas Sells Electric Chairs to Iraq | brainsnap: "AUSTIN, Texas - A Texan firm has secured a major contract to supply three hundred electric chairs to Iraq, it was revealed today."

Justice officials in Iraq describe the purchase as 'timely, and indispensable for the future of peace and security in Iraq'. The Iraqi government has been using the more traditional means of hanging via gallows with limited success since 2003.

"We're hoping that the new chairs from Electric Solutions, Pty Ltd., can resolve the many wardrobe malfunctions and accidental decapitations that have plagued Iraqi executions."

The manufacturer say that their product offers superior executions for a wide range of justice recipients and body types, with less noise, blood or other gory surprises.

Electric Solutions is a subdivision of Pride Mobility, a Pennsylvanian company who has been manufacturing motorized chairs for the elderly since 1986.

"We have 20 of experience in providing our customers with multi-functional chairs - we are the natural choice for our friends in the Middle East," Pride Mobility CEO told Brainsnap on Tuesday.

Basam Ridha, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office, told press, "The United States has offered our young country all its invaluable expertise in the subject of dispensing with pigs and traitors.

"As we move forward into a new technological era of executions, we hope that accidental decapitations will become fewer and fewer."

Lay-Z-Boy, who have manufactured chairs in Michigan since 1928, narrowly failed in their bid to secure the contract. Iraqi officials claimed described the Lay-Z-Boy models as 'potentially too comfortable' for their clientèle.

[bth: I'm assuming this is a spoof.]

Over 34,000 Civilians Killed In Iraq In 2006

Scoop: Over 34,000 Civilians Killed In Iraq In 2006: "New York, Jan 16 2007

Nearly 6,400 Iraqi civilians were killed in the November-December period, slightly less than in the preceding two months, as rampant and indiscriminate killings, sectarian violence, extra-judicial executions – and impunity for the perpetrators – continued virtually unchecked, according to the latest United Nations rights report released today. "

It puts the total civilian casualty figure for the year 2006 at 34,452 dead and 36,685 injured.

“An unprecedented number of execution-style killings have taken place in Baghdad and other parts of the country, whereby bodies were routinely found dumped in the streets, in rivers and in mass graves – most bearing signs of torture with their hands and feet bound, and some were beheaded,” the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) human rights report for the period says of “the modus operandi” of both Sunni and Shiite groups.

Without significant progress on the rule of law sectarian violence will continue indefinitely “and eventually spiral out of control,” thwarting efforts by the Government in the political, security or economic spheres, according to the report, which stresses the urgent need to fight impunity and seek accountability for crimes.

In virtually every sphere, and building on earlier reports, the latest study amounts to a litany of abuses ranging from attacks on women, minorities and professional groups to forced displacements, to the activities of the police and security forces and the United States-led Multi-National Force (MNF-I).

According to information made available to UNAMI, 6,376 civilians were killed in the two month period – 3,462 for November and 2,914 for December – compared with 7,054 for the previous two months, when October’s toll reached a new high of 3,709. Despite the “slight reduction… it is evident however that violence has not been contained,” the report warns.

It notes that law enforcement agencies do not provide effective protection. Increasingly militias and criminal gangs act in collusion with, or have infiltrated the security forces, while operations by security and military forces, including MNF-I, continue to result in growing numbers of individuals detained and without access to judicial oversight.

“Armed operations by MNF-I continued to restrict the enjoyment of human rights and to cause severe suffering to the local population,” the report says, citing use of facilities protected by the Geneva Conventions, such as hospitals and schools, as military bases, allegations that MNF-I snipers killed 13 civilians in one week in Ramadi, and lack of access to basic services, such as health and education, affecting a larger percentage of the population.

The report reiterates previous calls to security and military forces to respect fully international law and to refrain from any excessive use of force.

It notes that since the bombing of the Shiite mosque in Samarra in February, some 471,000 people have been forcibly displaced. It calls the situation in Baghdad “notably grave,” with insurgents including foreign terrorist groups remaining particularly active.

“No religious and ethnic groups, including women and children, have been spared from the widespread cycle of violence which creates panic and disrupts the daily life of many Iraqi families, prompting parents to stop sending their children to school and severely limiting normal movement around the capital and outside,” the report says, also citing a “dramatic increase” in abductions in recent months.

It notes a rapid erosion of women’s rights in the central and southern regions. “Women are reportedly living with heightened levels of threats to their lives and physical integrity, and forced to conform to strict, arbitrarily imposed morality codes,” it says, with cases of young women abducted by armed militia and found days later sexually abused, tortured and murdered.

“Female corpses are usually abandoned at the morgue and remain unclaimed for fear of damaging the family honour,” it adds. “More than 140 bodies were unclaimed and buried in Najaf by the morgue during the reporting period.”
In a suspected honour crime case, a secondary school student was publicly hanged in east Baghdad by armed militia and her brother shot dead when he tried to rescue her.

In the north it cites “honour killings” with 239 reportedly women burning themselves in accidents or suicide attempts the first eight months of 2006. “Most victims of suspected honour crimes suffer horrific injuries which are unlikely to have been accidentally caused whilst cooking or refuelling oil heaters,” it says.

Attacks have also continued or escalated against minorities such as Christians, homosexuals, and the thousands of Palestinian refugees who are seen as having supported the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein.

“Killings, threats, intimidations, and kidnappings are becoming the norm for Palestinians in Iraq. Many of these actions are reportedly carried out by the militias wearing police or special forces uniform. Most of the victims are found dead or simply disappear,” the report says.

“The ability of new security plans to effect real change in Iraq will depend on a comprehensive reform program that can strengthen the rule of law and deliver justice for all Iraqis,” it stresses.

“It is essential that the State and the Government of Iraq are seen as united in their efforts to contain and eventually eradicate sectarian violence, to ensure the rule of law and, through that, remove the popular basis of support for the perpetrators of this violence.”


Gates: Increase in Cross-Border Attacks in Afghanistan

Gates: Increase in Cross-Border Attacks in Afghanistan - "KABUL, Jan. 16 -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, on his first visit to Afghanistan Tuesday, said there had been a 'significant increase' in cross-border attacks from Pakistan, adding his voice to a chorus of U.S. and international officials who have begun taking Pakistan to task for harboring Islamic insurgents.

Gates praised Pakistan as a 'strong American ally in the war on terror,' but he also said there was a 'problem' in Pakistan's border areas and that 'al-Qaeda networks are operating on the Pakistan side.' He said that the United States needed to 'work with Pakistan' to reduce the violence and attacks emanating from within its borders."

Speaking at a news conference here with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Gates was the latest of several American and U.N. officials to publicly raise the border issue after several years of international silence because of Pakistan's collaboration in the hunt for al-Qaeda fugitives.

U.S. military officials cited year-end statistics showing a sharp increase in insurgent attacks here, especially by the revived Taliban militia, and predicted a strong new surge of violence in the spring.

Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told journalists traveling with Gates that the number of suicide attacks increased from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006, remotely detonated bombings more than doubled from 783 to 1,677, and armed attacks quadrupled from 1,558 to 4,542.

The violence led to more than 4,000 deaths in Afghanistan last year. It was by far the bloodiest year in the country since 2001, when a U.S.-led invasion drove the Taliban from power.

Gates, who was sworn in last month as defense secretary, said he was "strongly inclined" to recommend a troop increase if commanders believe it is needed, the Associated Press reported. Eikenberry said he wanted to extend the combat tours of 1,200 soldiers in Afghanistan to help stem the rising violence, the news service reported. There are currently 24,000 American troops here, 11,000 of them operating under command of the NATO alliance and the rest under U.S. command.

The senior U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, Col. Thomas Collins, said that enemy forces were taking advantage of a peace pact reached in September between Pakistan's government and tribal leaders near the Afghan border. The government had promised the agreement would curb extremist activity and cross-border movements into Pakistan.

Other U.S. military officials said Pakistani forces had been turning a "blind eye" to insurgent border crossings despite official policies against such activities. In the past, U.S. officials have been reluctant to criticize Pakistan, whose military leaders are under pressure from domestic Islamic and tribal groups that sympathize with the Taliban.

In the past few days, several incidents have appeared to bolster the new international concern about Pakistan's role in violence.

Last Wednesday, officials said that two groups of insurgents were tracked crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan, where they were attacked by U.S. and Afghan forces. At least 30 insurgents were killed. Taliban officials reportedly called on villagers in the Pakistani tribal areas to hold special funerals for them as Islamic martyrs.

On Tuesday, Afghan police said they caught a suicide bomber attempting to blow up a foreign military compound in Kabul. They said he was from North Waziristan, the Pakistan border region where officials made the truce with local officials in September.

Pakistani officials deny they are abetting Islamic terrorists or cross-border attacks. On Tuesday, the Pakistani army spokesman reported that military forces had attacked an al-Qaeda training camp in North Waziristan, killing 20 to 30 suspected insurgent fighters.

Gates' visit was the third by a senior U.S. official in a week, a flurry of attention that has perplexed many Afghans. Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for the region, visited Kabul en route to Pakistan earlier this week. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), a likely presidential candidate in 2008, also visited both capitals.

[bth: we need to be careful that we don't lose control of Afghanistan/Pakistan while putting our reserves into Iraq.]
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What's next -- war with Iran?

What's next -- war with Iran? - The Boston Globe: "ONE OF the more far-reaching aspects of President Bush's new strategy was his stunning rebuke of the Iraq Study Group recommendation that the United States should try to 'engage' Iran and Syria 'constructively.' Instead, the president has made more threats and promises more confrontation. He promised to 'seek out and destroy the networks providing advance weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq,' opening up the possibility of cross border operations."

Congress was quick to react. Senator Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware, made it clear that any move to expand the war into neighboring countries would need congressional approval, and Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, compared the prospect with the invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

It is ironic that while Bush ramps up confrontation, the Iraqi government -- presumably our ally -- is trying to make diplomatic efforts toward both Iran and Syria to explore areas of mutual interest.

It can be no coincidence that an Iranian "office of relations" in Kurdish Erbil was attacked by Americans almost as the president was speaking last week. At the same time the president reminded Americans that he is sending more naval strength to the Persian Gulf and anti missile systems to America's Sunni allies on the Gulf's western shore to confront Iran.

The confrontation escalation also shows that the hoped for revival of influence by the "realist" wing of the Republican Party is not coming any time soon and that the influence of the party's high priest of confrontation, Vice President Dick Cheney, remains strong. But having unleashed Shi'ite power by overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and thereby tremendously increasing the influence of Iran, the United States is going to have a difficult time putting that toothpaste back in the tube.

There remains, of course, the nuclear bomb issue, which the Iraq Study Group hoped to put on a different track than Iranian influence in Iraq. But are we now feeling a renewed undertow toward military action against Iran?

The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh has been writing about the Pentagon's plans to strike Iran, which he says are far beyond anything that ordinary contingency planning could account for. Time Magazine ran a cover story a while back titled "What War With Iran Would Look Like."

The American Jewish Committee took out a full page ad in The New York Times showing Iran in the center of concentric circles, including all the Middle East and beyond, asking: "Can anyone within range of Iran's missiles feel safe?"

Professor Efraim Inbar of Israel's Bar Ilan University has written that military action against Iranian nuclear installations "has many risks and is complicated, but the difficulty is exaggerated, and inaction is bound to bring about far worse consequences."

And recently The Times of London carried an article -- quickly denied in Jerusalem -- that Israel has a secret plan to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities by using a low-yield nuclear weapons, about "one fifteenth of the Hiroshima bomb."

The Times quoted Israeli military sources as saying that, unlike Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility, which the Israelis destroyed by air in 1981, the Iranian sites were too well protected to destroy with conventional bombs. The Israeli Air Force has been making practice runs far out into the Mediterranean, according to The Times. It quoted an unnamed official as saying "as soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished."

The Israeli foreign office dismissed the report as "absurd," and said that Israel was 100 percent behind the diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to give up nuclear ambitions. Are such reports sheer nonsense? Or just contingency plans? Or perhaps leaks designed to dismantle the plan? Or leaks designed to put more pressure on Iran -- or perhaps to put pressure on the United States to get serious? One doesn't know, but Cheney long ago said that perhaps the Israelis will one day act on their own, which sounded suspiciously like a green light.

Every Israeli prime minister has had to fear in one remote corner of the brain that the effect of Zionism might be to gather all the Jews in one place for destruction. This fear has been brought front and center by Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's criminally irresponsible call for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Yet a widening of the Iraq war will be as destructive as was widening the Vietnam War in the last stages of that conflict. If ever there was a time for everyone to step back and take a deep breath, it is now.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
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IraqSlogger: F-22A Raptor to Iraq

IraqSlogger: F-22A Raptor to Iraq: "Posted 20 hr. 1 min. ago

Aviation Week . The Pentagon and aviation specialists say 'the F-22 with its advanced electronic surveillance and analysis capability is being considered for deployment into theater from Okinawa this year during the stealth fighter's first air expeditionary force assignment.' Experts say the main task of the F-22 'will be focusing on are electronic emitters, primarily communications used by insurgents.' Expected to arrive this summer, it will be the first deployment of the Raptor in Iraq. The F22A Raptor began official service in January 21st, 2006 and has yet to be used in combat.

Other high tech players to appear in Baghdad are Boeing's 250-lb. Small-Diameter Bomb (SDB) and the Focused Lethality Munition (FLM). Both are smart, small-impact range munitions designed to work in urban environments.

Defeating IEDs will be a big part of the high tech push. Grumman's carrier launched EA-6Bs equipped with the latest Northrop Grumman ICAP III electronic attack systemand the U.S. Air Force's EC-130 with Compass Call electronics will be used to detonate IED's along main routes.

L-3 Communications' Network-Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) system and operational versions of the BAE Systems-developed Suter communications network are being sent in country.

The article also points out a number of potential problems as Baghdad is saturated with multiple electronic warfare tools and the inability of the Raptor to deal with other systems. "

[bth: what this is about is the Future Combat Crap crowd who diverted the JIEDDO Task Force money are now trying to get some friendly PR (showing how they are helping win the war against a third rate enemy with billions and billions of dollars) before congress breaks their punch bowl. Its bull shit like this that causes a great nation like ours to lose wars and have its procurement system suitable for some third world country.]
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Iran Shots Down US Spy Plane-(drone)

Iran Shots Down US Spy Plane-(drone): "TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Iranian military troops have shot down a spy plane of the US army during the last few days, an Iranian MP said here on Tuesday.

Representative of Dasht-e Azadegan at the Islamic Consultative Assembly, Seyed Nezam Mola Hoveizeh also told FNA that the aircraft has been a spy drone of the US army and that it has been shot down when trying to cross the borders.

'Americans send such spy drones to the region every now and then,' the lawmaker further pointed out."
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