Saturday, February 03, 2007

Iranian nuclear scientist ‘assassinated by Mossad’

Iranian nuclear scientist ‘assassinated by Mossad’ - Sunday Times - Times Online: "A PRIZE-WINNING Iranian nuclear scientist has died in mysterious circumstances, according to Radio Farda, which is funded by the US State Department and broadcasts to Iran. "

An intelligence source suggested that Ardeshire Hassanpour, 44, a nuclear physicist, had been assassinated by Mossad, the Israeli security service.

Hassanpour worked at a plant in Isfahan where uranium hexafluoride gas is produced. The gas is needed to enrich uranium in another plant at Natanz which has become the focus of concerns that Iran may be developing nuclear weapons.

According to Radio Farda, Iranian reports of Hassanpour’s death emerged on January 21 after a delay of six days, giving the cause as “gas poisoning”. The Iranian reports did not say how or where Hassanpour was poisoned but his death was said to have been announced at a conference on nuclear safety.

Rheva Bhalla of Stratfor, the US intelligence company, claimed on Friday that Hassanpour had been targeted by Mossad and that there was “very strong intelligence” to suggest that he had been assassinated by the Israelis, who have repeatedly threatened to prevent Iran acquiring the bomb.

Hassanpour won Iran’s leading military research prize in 2004 and was awarded top prize at the Kharazmi international science festival in Iran last year.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to announce next Sunday — the 28th anniversary of the Islamic revolution — that 3,000 centrifuges have been installed at Natanz, enabling Iran to move closer to industrial scale uranium enrichment.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency say that hundreds of technicians and labourers have been “working feverishly” to assemble equipment at the plant.

[bth: interesting that this is reported in europe but not on cnn or fox.]

U.S. can't prove Iran link to Iraq strife - Los Angeles Times

U.S. can't prove Iran link to Iraq strife - Los Angeles Times: "WASHINGTON — Bush administration officials acknowledged Friday that they had yet to compile evidence strong enough to back up publicly their claims that Iran is fomenting violence against U.S. troops in Iraq.

Administration officials have long complained that Iran was supplying Shiite Muslim militants with lethal explosives and other materiel used to kill U.S. military personnel. But despite several pledges to make the evidence public, the administration has twice postponed the release — most recently, a briefing by military officials scheduled for last Tuesday in Baghdad.

'The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated, and we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts,' national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley said Friday. "

The acknowledgment comes amid shifting administration messages on Iran. After several weeks of saber rattling that included a stiff warning by President Bush and the dispatch of two aircraft carrier strike groups to the Persian Gulf, near Iran, the administration has insisted in recent days that it does not want to escalate tensions or to invade Iran. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates seemed to concede Friday that U.S. officials can't say for sure whether the Iranian government is involved in assisting the attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq.

"I don't know that we know the answer to that question," Gates said. Earlier this week, U.S. officials acknowledged that they were uncertain about the strength of their evidence and were reluctant to issue potentially questionable data in the wake of the intelligence failures and erroneous assessments that preceded the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In particular, officials worried about a repetition of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's February 2003 U.N. appearance to present the U.S. case against Iraq. In that speech, Powell cited evidence that was later discredited. In rejecting the case compiled against Iran, senior U.S. officials, including Hadley, Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, confirmed Friday that they were concerned about possible inaccuracies.

"I and Secretary Rice and the national security advisor want to make sure that the briefing that is provided is absolutely accurate and is dominated by facts — serial numbers, technology and so on," Gates told reporters at the Pentagon. Another reason for the delay, as is often the case when releasing intelligence, was that officials were concerned about inadvertently helping adversaries identify the agents or sources that provided the intelligence, Hadley said.

Hadley also said that the administration sought to delay the release of evidence until after a key intelligence report on Iraq was unveiled, so that Americans could place the evidence in the context of the broader conflict. That report, called a National Intelligence Estimate, was issued Friday, concluding that Iraq was deteriorating and faces a bleak future that U.S. efforts may do little to avert.

However, the report tends to downplay the role of Iran and Syria, another target of U.S. criticism, in fomenting sectarian violence, while acknowledging that Iranian involvement "intensifies" the conflict.

"The involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq's internal sectarian dynamics," says the report, compiled by experts from the nation's 16 intelligence agencies.

Few doubt that Iran is working to increase its influence inside Iraq, but many of its beneficiaries have been political groups that also are allied with the United States. So far, the U.S. government has provided scant evidence that the government of Iran is directly supporting militant Shiite groups. U.S. military leaders in Iraq have said they have evidence that Iran is behind the supply network of explosives. Military officials have blamed Iran for the increasing casualties caused by the use of "shaped charge" explosive devices that can penetrate armored vehicles.

"What we are trying to do is … counter what the Iranians are doing to our soldiers, their involvement in activities, particularly these explosively formed projectiles that are killing our troops, and we are trying to get them to stop their nuclear enrichment," Gates said. U.S. officials detained five Iranians in a raid in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil last month, accusing them of planning attacks on Americans. Gates also acknowledged Friday that there was "a lot of speculation" about involvement by Iranians in the abduction and killings of five U.S. servicemen in Karbala last month. But he refused to say whether an investigation had turned up any evidence that Iranians took part."I would just tell you flatly that the investigation is still going on, and the information that I've seen is ambiguous," Gates said. "It's not clear yet." In a major speech on Iraq last month, Bush accused Iran of "providing material support for attacks on American troops" and vowed to "seek out and destroy" weapon transport networks.S

ince then, Air Force officials have said they are planning new missions that could include flights along the Iran-Iraq border aimed at disrupting weapons shipments.

Iranian officials challenged the Americans to produce evidence of their charges, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, pledged last week to do so. The increasingly harsh words from the Bush administration stoked fears of a possible U.S. attack on Iran. In recent days, the White House and top U.S. officials have sought to counter the concern. Gates became the latest administration official to offer such reassurances.

"The president has made clear, the secretary of State has made clear, I've made clear … we are not planning for a war with Iran," Gates said Friday.

The Analysis: On the ‘Polarization’ of Iraqis and Their ‘Ready Recourse to Violence’

The Analysis: On the ‘Polarization’ of Iraqis and Their ‘Ready Recourse to Violence’ - New York Times: "Following is the text of the “key judgments” of the new National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq’s future that was released yesterday. The report, most of which remains classified, is titled “Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead” and is dated January 2007. Italic emphasis and parenthetical abbreviations are from the report."

Iraqi society’s growing polarization, the persistent weakness of the security forces and the state in general, and all sides’ ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism. Unless efforts to reverse these conditions show measurable progress during the term of this estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months, we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006.

If strengthened Iraqi Security Forces (I.S.F.), more loyal to the government and supported by coalition forces, are able to reduce levels of violence and establish more effective security for Iraq’s population, Iraqi leaders could have an opportunity to begin the process of political compromise necessary for longer term stability, political progress, and economic recovery.

Nevertheless, even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of this estimate.

The challenges confronting Iraqis are daunting, and multiple factors are driving the current trajectory of the country’s security and political evolution.

Decades of subordination to Sunni political, social, and economic domination have made the Shia deeply insecure about their hold on power. This insecurity leads the Shia to mistrust U.S. efforts to reconcile Iraqi sects and reinforces their unwillingness to engage with the Sunnis on a variety of issues, including adjusting the structure of Iraq’s federal system, reining in Shia militias, and easing de-Baathification.

Many Sunni Arabs remain unwilling to accept their minority status, believe the central government is illegitimate and incompetent, and are convinced that Shia dominance will increase Iranian influence over Iraq, in ways that erode the state’s Arab character and increase Sunni repression.

The absence of unifying leaders among the Arab Sunni or Shia with the capacity to speak for or exert control over their confessional groups limits prospects for reconciliation. The Kurds remain willing to participate in Iraqi state-building but reluctant to surrender any of the gains in autonomy they have achieved.

The Kurds are moving systematically to increase their control of Kirkuk to guarantee annexation of all or most of the city and province into the Kurdistan Regional Government (K.R.G.) after the constitutionally mandated referendum scheduled to occur no later than 31 December 2007. Arab groups in Kirkuk continue to resist violently what they see as Kurdish encroachment.

Despite real improvements, the Iraqi Security Forces (I.S.F.) — particularly the Iraqi police — will be hard pressed in the next 12-18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success. Sectarian divisions erode the dependability of many units, many are hampered by personnel and equipment shortfalls, and a number of Iraqi units have refused to serve outside of the areas where they were recruited.

Extremists — most notably the Sunni jihadist group Al Qaeda in Iraq (A.Q.I.) and Shia oppositionist Jaysh al-Mahdi (J.A.M.) — continue to act as very effective accelerators for what has become a self-sustaining inter-sectarian struggle between Shia and Sunnis.

Significant population displacement, both within Iraq and the movement of Iraqis into neighboring countries, indicates the hardening of ethno-sectarian divisions, diminishes Iraq’s professional and entrepreneurial classes, and strains the capacities of the countries to which they have relocated. The U.N. estimates over a million Iraqis are now in Syria and Jordan.

The Intelligence Community judges that the term “civil war” does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term “civil war” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.

Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources, and operations, remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq.

If coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this estimate, we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.
If such a rapid withdrawal were to take place, we judge that the I.S.F. would be unlikely to survive as a nonsectarian national institution; neighboring countries — invited by Iraqi factions or unilaterally — might intervene openly in the conflict; massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable; A.Q.I. would attempt to use parts of the country — particularly Al Anbar Province — to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq; and spiraling violence and political disarray in Iraq, along with Kurdish moves to control Kirkuk and strengthen autonomy, could prompt Turkey to launch a military incursion.

A number of identifiable developments could help to reverse the negative trends driving Iraq’s current trajectory. They include:

¶Broader Sunni acceptance of the current political structure and federalism to begin to reduce one of the major sources of Iraq’s instability.

¶Significant concessions by Shia and Kurds to create space for Sunni acceptance of federalism.

¶A bottom-up approach — deputizing, resourcing, and working more directly with neighborhood watch groups and establishing grievance committees — to help mend frayed relationships between tribal and religious groups, which have been mobilized into communal warfare over the past three years.

A key enabler for all of these steps would be stronger Iraqi leadership, which could enhance the positive impact of all the above developments.

Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics.

Nonetheless, Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq. Syria continues to provide safe haven for expatriate Iraqi Baathists and to take less than adequate measures to stop the flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq.

For key Sunni regimes, intense communal warfare, Shia gains in Iraq, and Iran’s assertive role have heightened fears of regional instability and unrest and contributed to a growing polarization between Iran and Syria on the one hand and other Middle East governments on the other.

But traditional regional rivalries, deepening ethnic and sectarian violence in Iraq over the past year, persistent anti-Americanism in the region, anti-Shia prejudice among Arab states, and fears of being perceived by their publics as abandoning their Sunni co-religionists in Iraq have constrained Arab states’ willingness to engage politically and economically with the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad and led them to consider unilateral support to Sunni groups.

Turkey does not want Iraq to disintegrate and is determined to eliminate the safe haven in northern Iraq of the Kurdistan People’s Congress (K.G.K., formerly P.K.K.) — a Turkish Kurdish terrorist group.

A number of identifiable internal security and political triggering events, including sustained mass sectarian killings, assassination of major religious and political leaders, and a complete Sunni defection from the government have the potential to convulse severely Iraq’s security environment. Should these events take place, they could spark an abrupt increase in communal and insurgent violence and shift Iraq’s trajectory from gradual decline to rapid deterioration with grave humanitarian, political, and security consequences. Three prospective security paths might then emerge:

¶Chaos leading to partition. With a rapid deterioration in the capacity of Iraq’s central government to function, security services and other aspects of sovereignty would collapse. Resulting widespread fighting could produce de facto partition, dividing Iraq into three mutually antagonistic parts. Collapse of this magnitude would generate fierce violence for at least several years, ranging well beyond the time frame of this estimate, before settling into a partially stable end-state.

¶Emergence of a Shia strongman. Instead of a disintegrating central government producing partition, a security implosion could lead Iraq’s potentially most powerful group, the Shia, to assert its latent strength.

¶Anarchic fragmentation of power. The emergence of a checkered pattern of local control would present the greatest potential for instability, mixing extreme ethno-sectarian violence with debilitating intra-group clashes.

Analysis Is Bleak on Iraq’s Future

Analysis Is Bleak on Iraq’s Future - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 — The release on Friday of portions of a bleak new National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq’s future left the White House and its opponents vying over whether its findings buttressed their vastly different views about how to arrest the worsening sectarian chaos there."

The assessment, by American intelligence agencies, expressed deep doubts about the abilities of Iraqi politicians to hold together an increasingly balkanized country, and about whether Iraqi troops might be able to confront powerful militias over the next 18 months and assume more responsibility for security.

The analysis, the first such estimate on Iraq in more than two years, described in sober language a rapidly unraveling country in which security has worsened despite four years of efforts by the administration.

President Bush acknowledged last month that his strategy had failed so far.

The estimate suggested that the United States now faced an unpalatable decision in which a rapid withdrawal of American troops would only accelerate momentum toward Iraq’s collapse, and in which Iraq faced long odds of quelling the violence and overcoming hardening sectarian divisions, regardless of how many American troops police Iraq’s streets.

The report was released a week after Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed suggestions that Iraq is in a parlous state, saying, “The reality on the ground is, we’ve made major progress.”

The administration has also intensified its criticism of Iran, accusing it of fueling the sectarian violence in Iraq and providing Shiite militias with material for bombs that the administration says have been used in attacks on American forces. The White House has thus far made little evidence public to support its case.

The intelligence report did conclude that Iran is providing “lethal support” for Shiite groups that is intensifying the violence. But it portrayed the violence as essentially “self-sustaining,” and suggested that the involvement of outsiders, including Iran, was “not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability.”

National Intelligence Estimates provide a consensus of the 16 agencies that make up the intelligence community.

In choosing to take the rare step of making public three and a half pages of “key judgments” from the classified report, administration officials seized on one conclusion — that American forces remain “an essential stabilizing element in Iraq” — to reinforce their view that more troops are needed to secure Baghdad and give Iraqi leaders breathing room to develop a political settlement, particularly between the warring Sunnis and Shiites.

But top Democratic lawmakers said the estimate’s conclusions supported their view that the best way to combat violence in Baghdad would be through new political and diplomatic programs.

The declassified portions included an assessment that an Iraqi military hampered by sectarian divisions would be “hard pressed” over the next 12 to 18 months to “execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with any success.”

The report also concluded that security in Iraq would continue to deteriorate at current rates unless “measurable progress” can be made in efforts to reverse the conditions that fuel violence.

The full classified report was said by officials to be about 90 pages in length, and was provided to the White House and members of Congress. Top Democrats said the release of the intelligence estimate would strengthen their hand as the Senate prepares for a possible vote next week on a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush’s new Iraq strategy.

“The estimate reaffirms my belief that the best hope for progress toward stabilizing Iraq lies only with the Iraqi people and their political leaders,” Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “The steps identified by the intelligence community as having the best chance of reversing the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq are all political developments, not military.”

But Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said at the White House that the estimate “gives us some evidence” of why Mr. Bush had concluded that “an American withdrawal or stepping back now would be a prescription for fast failure and a chaos that would envelop not only Iraq, but the region.”

Mr. Hadley said the estimate also bolstered the White House strategy of sending more than 20,000 new troops into Iraq.

The previous National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in the summer of 2004, detailed three possible outlooks for Iraq over the following 18 months, with the most pessimistic possibility that Iraq would descend into civil war.

By contrast the new report, struggling to describe the nature of the ongoing violence, said that calling it a “civil war” was hardly sufficient.

“The intelligence community judges that the term ‘civil war’ does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence,” the assessment read.

John E. McLaughlin, who oversaw the previous intelligence estimate when he was acting director of central intelligence, said that he believed that intelligence officials in 2004 had presciently assessed what was to come in Iraq, but that the escalation of sectarian violence over the past year had made the situation even more complex.

“Civil war is checkers,” he said. “This is chess.”

The report also warned that a further sectarian splintering of Iraq could incite other countries in the Middle East to arm and finance various sects in the country: Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt supporting the Sunnis, and Iran coming to the aid of Shiite forces.

A National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that was produced in 2002 in the prelude to the American invasion has become infamous as an example of an intelligence failure, because most of its central assertions about Iraq’s weapons capabilities and ties to terrorism have since been proven to have been mistaken.

Since then, American intelligence officials have made efforts to overhaul the process to produce the reports, in part by giving new emphasis to dissenting views that were once buried in obscure footnotes.
The latest analysis is understood to contain multiple dissents, one of which concerns the role of Syria in supporting Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

Intelligence analysts have been divided over whether it is the policy of the government in Damascus to aid the flow of foreign fighters who enter Iraq from Syria, or whether that assistance is the work of lower-level Syrian officials acting on their own.

American intelligence analysts have also disagreed about the extent to which Iranian government officials are aware of the flow of Qaeda operatives between Iran and Iraq.

Beyond the current grim picture, the report described several “triggering events” that could cause the situation to worsen significantly. Among them, it listed the assassination of major religious or political leaders, a complete Sunni defection from the government, and sustained mass sectarian killings that could “shift Iraq’s trajectory from gradual decline to rapid deterioration with grave humanitarian, political and security consequences.”

Were the already fragile government to collapse, the report outlined three possible outcomes: the emergence of a Shiite strongman to assert authority over minority sects, an “anarchic” fragmentation that puts power in the hands of hundreds of local potentates, or a period of sustained, bloody fighting leading to partition of Iraq along ethnic lines.

“Collapse of this magnitude would generate fierce violence for at least several years,” the report concluded, “ranging well beyond the time frame of this estimate, before settling into a partially stable end-state.”

[bth: I think its important to realize that we have sufficient troops strength and financial strength to only influence outcomes, not control them in Iraq and the region. Not mentioned is the possibility and I think probability that we will end up supporting or creating an Iraqi shiite military strongman that we can work with, a general, that shows up running troops in Baghdad for example. Why? Well that's what we ended up doing in the Philippines, in Korea, in Latin America and even Vietnam at one point. It isn't the best solution and probably suboptimal for Iraqis but it is a means of obtaining stability when all else fails. Another viable options is letting the country break up into three statelets. Again that isn't fair, but it is viable.]

Record $622 Billion Budget Requested for the Pentagon

Record $622 Billion Budget Requested for the Pentagon - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 — The Bush administration is seeking a record military budget of $622 billion for the 2008 fiscal year, Pentagon officials have said. The sum includes more than $140 billion for war-related costs."

The administration is also seeking $93 billion in the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, to pay for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the officials said.

The requests are part of the annual budget request to Congress for all federal spending programs. The budget is to be made public on Monday, and Congress will revise it in the coming months.

Together with money for combat operations this year already approved by Congress, the new request would push spending related to Iraq and Afghanistan to $163 billion.

“It is the highest level of spending since the height of the Korean War,” said Steven Kosiak, a military budget expert with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a policy analysis organization here.

Mr. Kosiak said that in 1952 the United States spent the equivalent of $645 billion in today’s dollars, factoring in inflation, and that in the Korean War military spending exceeded 13 percent of the gross national product. The figure is now 4 percent.

With Democrats in control of Congress and opposition to the Iraq war running strong, the administration’s request may face even greater scrutiny than it has in recent years. But few if any budget experts expect significant cuts in military spending while large numbers of troops are in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a statement, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said: “Democrats pledge that our troops will receive everything they need to do their jobs. We will also subject this supplemental to the tough and serious oversight that Congress has ignored for four years.”

The regular Pentagon budget request for 2008, which excludes war-related costs but covers Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine costs as well as other spending, will be $481 billion, a Pentagon official said.
That would be an increase of $49 billion over what Congress provided this year, Mr. Kosiak said.

“As long as we’re engaged in major military operations, you are probably not going to see decreases in the baseline budget,” he said.

The Pentagon is seeking $128.6 billion for the Army, $110.7 billion for the Air Force and $140 billion for the Navy, department officials said.Background briefings for members of Congress and their staffs have begun. As details leaked out, Pentagon officials agreed to provide an outline of the request. The officials said the budget included no cancellations of major weapons systems, despite delays and escalating costs in procurement accounts in all the services.

The $141 billion request for war-related costs in 2008 represents the first time the administration has tried at the beginning of the budget cycle to provide a total estimate for how much the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other military operations will cost a year in advance.

Congress has been pressing the administration for several years to provide such estimates. Even as they comply, Pentagon officials emphasized that actual costs could be far different, depending on the course of the wars.

The budget request, which takes many months to prepare, is being released as the administration is sending an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq.

A spokesman for the Pentagon, Bryan Whitman, said Friday that that the Office of Management and Budget had estimated that the additional forces would cost $5.6 billion in the current fiscal year, which ends in September.

On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office released its estimate, which said the costs could run much higher.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, at a Pentagon news conference, disputed the office’s estimate, saying it greatly overstated the number of support troops that would be necessary to go along with the 21,500 increase in combat forces.

Mr. Gates also said he had recommended that President Bush nominate Adm. Timothy J. Keating of the Navy, now commander of Norad, as commander of the United States Pacific Command, making him the top commander in the Pacific, and Lt. Gen. Gene Reunart of the Air Force to head the Northern Command, which is responsible for defending the continental United States

[bth: the air force budget and probably the navy's is too high. major a useless programs have been kept because the administration wants to make the democrats cut them. the army budget is probably too low. The OMB has lied about this war's cost for 4 years and there is every reason to think that is occurring again with this 'surge' number because it looks like they've forgotten to account for the support troops needed as well as the combat troops. typical. this budget needs a haircut and then a shot of steroids in critical combat items.]

Friday, February 02, 2007

Good news from Iraq -- of courage and nightmares 

Good news from Iraq -- of courage and nightmares Reuters Recommends "Alastair Macdonald is about to end an assignment of almost two years in Baghdad as the Reuters Bureau Chief for Iraq. In the following story, he reflects on the difficulties of covering Iraq and on the work of the Iraqi colleagues he leaves behind.

By Alastair Macdonald - Witness

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - There is good news in Iraq."

For Reuters journalists, this week's high points were the safe return of two colleagues seized by a death squad which shot two other hostages and the survival of the teenage nephew of another employee who was kidnapped and tortured in Baghdad.

The lows, as I complete nearly two years running the news agency's operations in Iraq, were sending condolences to the family of our former driver Ismail Ibrahim, who was gunned down in Mosul this month, and trying to find out from U.S. forces why they seem intent on detaining our reporter in Ramadi for a third time.

All in all, as I write to the sound of mortars rattling our windows in central Baghdad, it's a routine week, four years into a war that has turned into a bad dream for millions of people -- and in which I discovered a cure for nightmares.

More on that later.

As a foreign correspondent, it's my job to be a witness to history but never before have I been so blind without the eyes of others: local colleagues who brave the mean streets of Iraq since attacks on foreigners turned our newsroom into my prison.

Recruited from universities and camera shops, law offices, even a barber's salon, as well as from the old state media, over 60 Iraqis now write on, film and photograph their nation for Reuters from Arbil in the north to Basra in the south.

Teamwork among expatriates and locals is the heart of our work everywhere but without the brief freedom foreigners enjoyed after the war to travel and report in relative safety, our eyes on the conflict are now nearly all Iraqi.

They have paid a heavy price, in lives and liberty, to bring the world news from across a country where Reuters had operated for decades but was mostly restricted to Baghdad.

Two have been shot dead, joining two foreign colleagues killed early in the conflict.


The ethnic cleansing that has driven Shi'ites, Sunnis, Kurds and others from homes across Iraq has not spared our journalists.

I have watched colleagues go pale and weep in the newsroom as word came in of relatives slaughtered, heard their tales of midnight flight from family homes in fear of their lives and took dazed reports from those caught up in suicide bombings.

These are the everyday stories of Iraqis today, and their ebb and flow through our office has been a vital part of gauging the state of Iraq.

Journalists face particular dangers, too. A policeman pistol whipped our Najaf correspondent this week, a commonplace occurrence.

Worse, some 130 journalists and support staff, most of them Iraqis, have been killed since 2003 in the deadliest conflict for our trade since World War Two.

Many were killed by militants exercising the ultimate censorship -- a tactic that has all but closed some areas to the media.

Text messages of the "leave or die" variety are a favorite weapon. "What can we do? We go on," one recipient told me.

Not all are killed by insurgents. When U.S. troops shot and killed our television soundman Waleed Khaled in 2005, as he reversed his car away from covering a news assignment, two bullets punctured the press card lying over his heart.

After handling it, I typed the story. Waleed's blood stained the keys. It was hard.

Perhaps harder still has been the way the U.S. military has refused to accept responsibility for the deaths of four colleagues and the detention and abuse of others.

Those who shot Waleed acted "appropriately", U.S. officers concluded. An independent report commissioned by Reuters found their actions "prima facie unlawful" but there was no inquiry.

Three colleagues were detained for several months in 2005.

Though no evidence of wrongdoing was produced, two were held again last year; not accused, but grilled for information. One of them watched a cellmate tortured nightly by Iraqi guards. The man later died.

The courage of my Iraqi colleagues and their determination to keep telling their stories has kept me going.

Finding that cure for nightmares helped too. It's not one I would wish on anyone, but it puts you into the mind of Baghdad.

Where a typical anxiety dream used to be waking up naked in the street or missing an exam, here I once dreamt I killed a man. Now justice would come and my life was ruined, I fretted.

Then, still dreaming, I remembered with relief: this is Baghdad. No one will notice one more body.

U.S. Special Forces using Taliban site

U.S. Special Forces using Taliban site - Yahoo! News: "FIREBASE MAHOLIC, Afghanistan - Osama bin Laden built it. Taliban leader Mullah Omar lived in it. But today it's the Green Berets who call it home. Firebase Maholic, a sprawling and spacious compound on the outskirts of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, is plush living by typical U.S. Special Forces standards. "

There's plenty of serious work here. A constant roar of shooting-range gunfire bounces off a towering granite peak behind the complex. Military missions are planned here. And Special Forces soldiers recently started training 130 new Afghan recruits for the country's fledgling auxiliary police force.

"The irony of this is that the home of the (Taliban's) supreme leader is being used to train forces whose mission it is to destroy the force he created," said Rusty, the team leader of a Special Forces detachment.

Teams usually consist of 12 members. Rusty, like all Green Beret soldiers in the field, is not allowed to be fully identified.

But soldiers here readily acknowledge that Omar's digs aren't a bad place to refresh in between multi-day missions conducted in the barest of conditions.

The Green Berets can relax in front of a doublewide fireplace in the cafeteria, admire the three catfish in the nearby two-tier fountain or take a dip in the swimming pool — a rarity in
Afghanistan' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> Afghanistan.

Meant to be the Taliban's presidential palace and once used as a militant training ground, the complex is big enough for a looping five-mile run through the rolling hills that obscure the complex from a distance. Canadian and other elite units are also based at the complex, which was shattered by U.S. bombs in late 2001 but has since been rebuilt.

Even the food gets extra high marks. Soldiers on Sunday night enjoyed barbecue chicken, spicy hamburgers and pork ribs roasted on a large outdoor grill.

"Oh man, it doesn't get any better than this," said one Special Forces soldier, a Sergeant 1st Class intelligence specialist. "I've been to Afghanistan enough to know living at a firebase can't get much better."

Secretive units of U.S. Special Forces have been deployed at the compound since soon after the fall of the Taliban, and were an integral part of two

NATO' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> NATO-led operations last fall in the province of Kandahar — the militia's former stronghold — that NATO say killed more than 500 suspected fighters.

Their crests — skulls with crossed arrows — and mottos like "Pressure, Pursue, Punish" and "Free the Oppressed" adorn the compound's walls. Three eagles by the pool wear green berets. A skull in another painting has evil red eyes and a yellow and green turban.

Two hundred yards outside the compound, Omar built a bunker system some 40 feet below ground that once had electricity and running water. Three large craters — the result of 2,000-pound bombs — mark each of the cave's entrances. The Taliban leader had already fled by the time American forces arrived in late 2001 and remains at large.

"Whoever was in there, I'm sure their ears were ringing," said the U.S. commander, a Special Forces major, in charge of Mulholic.

The bunker, built in a "T" shape at the bottom of a large hill, still has its lighting and shower fixtures. The metal framework holding the concrete roof in place is bent in half from the bombs' force. The cave, with concrete floors and walls, has two bedrooms, two bathrooms with squat toilets and two rooms for weapons and ammo storage.

Special Forces soldiers are training about 130 Afghans as auxiliary police, a new program designed to boost police ranks across the country. The Afghans, from three districts in northern Kandahar province, will receive weapons, driver's and human rights training. About 30 Afghans completed a similar training program in the fall.

"This is the way ahead for us. The more capable these guys are the less involved we have to be," said the captain in charge of the training. "It's definitely worthwhile."

Special Forces soldiers here said the major obstacle with the country's police was that their paychecks are often late or inadequate. The regular and auxiliary police also need more training and equipment, they said.

"If I wasn't being paid to work in a combat zone, unable to feed my family, I'd be pretty upset," said the captain. He and other soldiers said they wanted the problem publicized so that it might be fixed.

The captain said that Afghans here don't talk about the fact they are training on Omar's old compound, but they know they are. Kandahar residents still refer to the compound as Omar's.

Omar, the one-eyed leader of the fundamentalist regime that hosted al-Qaida, seldom left his heavily guarded compound. The outside world was not welcome and he rarely met anyone who was not a Muslim. In his bedroom was a trunk of money that he paid his commanders out of.

Construction on it began around 1996 — the year the Taliban took control in Afghanistan — and took about three years to complete. Rusty said Bin Laden financed it for Omar — whose whereabouts are still not known, though a Taliban spokesman captured by Afghan officials last week said he is living in Quetta, Pakistan, across the border from Kandahar province. Pakistani officials claim Omar is still somewhere in Kandahar province, directing the Taliban insurgency.

The complex was first called Camp Gecko, after the lizard-like creatures that scale the walls. It was renamed Firebase Maholic after Mast. Sgt. Thomas Maholic, of Bradford, Pa., who was killed in Kandahar province's Panjwayi district in June.

Hillary To Donors: "No Money To Anybody Else" | The Huffington Post

Hillary To Donors: "No Money To Anybody Else" The Huffington Post: "Hillary Clinton is personally putting out the word that she has no intention of sharing the wealth: 'She's calling all the big-hitter fundraisers and saying, 'I want you to understand: NO money to anybody else. You cannot play both sides of the street,'' in the '08 presidential race, says a longtime Democratic operative who has worked for the Clintons in the past but turned down a role in the current campaign, and is so far sitting this one out.
And what's the reaction been? 'People don't like it, but they're afraid of her.' Yet the far more palpable fear for Democrats, discussed constantly, is that she'll have so much money she'll sail to the nomination."

Lasseter from Baghdad: U.S. 'Surge' Might Only Help al-Sadr

Lasseter from Baghdad: U.S. 'Surge' Might Only Help al-Sadr: "NEW YORK Tom Lasseter, whose reports from Iraq for Knight Ridder and then McClatchy over the past three years has earned wide praise -- and many notices in E&P -- is back in that country after several months of reporting from Lebanon and elsewhere."

He filed the following eye-opening dispatch today. The first part follows, with the rest available at McClatchy newspaper sites or through the McClatchy Washington bureau's main site. *The U.S. military drive to train and equip Iraq's security forces has unwittingly strengthened anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which has been battling to take over much of the capital city as American forces are trying to secure it.

U.S. Army commanders and enlisted men who are patrolling east Baghdad, which is home to more than half the city's population and the front line of al-Sadr's campaign to drive rival Sunni Muslims from their homes and neighborhoods, said al-Sadr's militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that they've trained and armed.

"Half of them are JAM. They'll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night," said 1st Lt. Dan Quinn, a platoon leader in the Army's 1st Infantry Division, using the initials of the militia's Arabic name, Jaish al Mahdi. "People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory."

The Bush administration's plan to secure Baghdad rests on a "surge" of some 17,000 more U.S. troops to the city, many of whom will operate from small bases throughout Baghdad. Those soldiers will work to improve Iraqi security units so that American forces can hand over control of the area and withdraw to the outskirts of the city.

The problem, many soldiers said, is that the approach has been tried before and resulted only in strengthening al-Sadr and his militia.

Amid recurring reports that al-Sadr is telling his militia leaders to stash their arms and, in some cases, leave their neighborhoods during the American push, U.S. soldiers worry that the latest plan could end up handing over those areas to units that are close to al-Sadr's militant Shiite group.

"All the Shiites have to do is tell everyone to lay low, wait for the Americans to leave, then when they leave you have a target list and within a day they'll kill every Sunni leader in the country. It'll be called the `Day of Death' or something like that," said 1st Lt. Alain Etienne, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y. "They say, `Wait, and we will be victorious.' That's what they preach. And it will be their victory." Quinn agreed.

"Honestly, within six months of us leaving, the way Iranian clerics run the country behind the scenes, it'll be the same way here with Sadr," said Quinn, 25, of Cleveland. "He already runs our side of the river."

Four senior American military representatives in Baghdad declined requests for comment.

Mark Weisbrot and Robert Naiman: Ghost of Judith Miller: NYT Drinks the Kool-Aid on Claims Iran is Behind Attacks on U.S. Soldiers in Iraq

Mark Weisbrot and Robert Naiman: Ghost of Judith Miller: NYT Drinks the Kool-Aid on Claims Iran is Behind Attacks on U.S. Soldiers in Iraq - Yahoo! News: "If there's something you were thinking of apologizing for, but you were holding back on the grounds that apologizing might be taken as an implicit commitment not to make the same mistake in the future, I can now reassure you. "

No less venerable an institution than the New York Times has shown the path. You can apologize, be contrite, tear your hair, rend your garments, and then do the same damn thing again.

This is what the New York Times wrote in May 2004 about its pre-war reporting on
Iraq' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> Iraq:
"information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged...Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all."

Today the New York Times, on page A10, informs us that "
Iran' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> Iran May Have Trained Attackers That Killed 5 American Soldiers, U.S. and Iraqis Say"

Note that:- the claim that Iran "may have" trained attackers gets the headline and the lede. Of course, green Martians "may have" trained the attackers. The key question is: is there real evidence?- there is not a single named source in the article.- there is no rebuttal, no point of view different from the allegation, even though plenty of knowledgeable analysts (Juan Cole, Gareth Porter, Trita Parsi, for starters) could have easily been found to give a contrary view. A recent Los Angeles Times piece found "scant evidence" for the claim that Iran was behind attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq.- no "direct evidence" exists, as the article acknowledges (further down.) - the only "evidence" given is that the attack was sophisticated (what are they saying - Iraqis are too dumb to do this by themselves ?!) and that Iran has a motive for retaliating against the U.S. Which is no evidence at all - lots of folks have a motive for retaliating against the U.S.

In no way did this unsourced, unsubstantiated speculation deserve this article and this headline.
This is a dangerous development. Just as before the Iraq war, much of the media is drinking the Kool-Aid. That the New York Times is again drinking the Kool-Aid is particularly worrisome, given its (undeserved) role as a leader for other media

---Write the Times:
Letters to the Editor:
Public Editor:
News Editor:
Get involved:
--Robert Naiman, Just Foreign Policy, January 31, 2007

[bth: absolutely right.]

Thursday, February 01, 2007

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Iraq's PM fights for more weapons for outgunned army

Reuters AlertNet - Iraq's PM fights for more weapons for outgunned army: "BAGHDAD, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki is pressing Washington to give his military more weapons, with ordinary soldiers complaining they are often outgunned by heavily armed militants."

"We have shortages in all our equipment," said one Iraqi soldier on Thursday as he monitored traffic near Baghdad's Habibiya district.

Pointing to the plastic butt of his cheaply made AK-47 rifle, he said: "Just look at this. How can we fight terrorists using rocket-propelled grenades with small arms?"

While Maliki has not spelt out exactly what is on his shopping list, the U.S. military says the weapons in Iraq's armoury are "suitable for the current threat it faces".

But the Iraq Study Group suggested otherwise in its December report to President George W. Bush proposing a change of American strategy in Iraq.

"Units lack equipment," the high-level bipartisan panel said. "They cannot carry out their missions without adequate equipment. Congress has been generous in funding requests for U.S. troops but it has resisted fully funding Iraqi forces.

"The entire appropriation for the 2006 financial year ($3 billion) is less than the United States currently spends in Iraq every two weeks," it said.

The U.S. military says Congress has appropriated about $15 billion since 2004 to build, train, equip and sustain Iraq's security forces, which now number about 323,000. An additional $4 billion has been requested to fund their expansion.

But the weekend battle between Iraqi forces and gunmen who the Iraqi authorities said belonged to a messianic Muslim cult near the holy city of Najaf was a reminder of the Iraqi army's dependence on U.S. firepower. The battle ended only after the army called in U.S. reinforcements, including tanks, helicopters and jet fighters.

Despite that reliance, the Iraqi government says it is not looking for tanks and helicopters, but more "medium weapons" such as heavy machineguns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and armoured vehicles.

"We don't want tanks. We don't want weapons to launch a war. We just want weapons that will help us get the terrorists," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters.

The U.S. military declined Reuters' requests for specific comment on Maliki's appeals but says it plans to supply more than 500 new heavy machine guns, 600 armoured Humvees and 300 armoured personnel carriers in the coming months.


Maliki told Reuters last October some police units had to share rifles but that if the equipment problems were addressed Iraqi security forces could quell violence within six months.

He has raised the issue repeatedly with U.S. officials, from Bush himself to House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat who opposes the war, when she visited last week.

A major report by the respected U.S. think tank Brookings Institution last year said the U.S. military faced a dilemma in providing the best equipment to Iraqi units.

"Iraqi soldiers frequently sell their equipment on the black market. The result is that they no longer have the equipment and it generally ends up in the hands of organised crime, the militias, or the insurgency," it said.

"Consequently, coalition personnel must choose between properly equipping their Iraqi charges and risk having much of the gear disappear, or giving them lower quality equipment that they will find hard to sell, but in so doing, deprive them of the wherewithal to succeed."

Although that report was written last February, another Iraqi soldier at the Habibiya checkpoint in Baghdad suggested not much had changed in the intervening months.

"The Americans have promised they will get us better weapons, but they never bring them. They still don't trust us, they think we'll use them against them," he said, before stopping a minibus and checking passengers for identification. (Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny and Mussab Al- Khairalla in Baghdad)

[bth: they should be required to buy their own weapons now. When we provided a billion the first year 2/3rds of it was actually stolen according to their own audits. We could provide them used armored humvees and personnel carriers. This worked in other conflicts and frankly we need to rebuild our own rolling stock accordingly. One real reason this war hasn't become a full civil war is because we failed to provide offensive heavy weapons to any part - artillery, tanks, planes. They can't occupy each others' territories, thus there are no massacres of entire towns and so on. The time for giving them stuff is over.]
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Exxon posts record U.S. corp earnings 

Exxon posts record U.S. corp earnings Business News "NEW YORK (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM.N: Quote, Profile , Research) reported a slight decline in fourth-quarter earnings Thursday due to lower natural gas prices and shrinking profits from gasoline sales.

Still, the company recorded the most profitable year in U.S. corporate history, with 2006 earnings totaling $39.5 billion.

Net income in the fourth quarter slipped to $10.25 billion, or $1.76 a share, from $10.71 billion, or $1.71 a share, a year earlier."...
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‘Terror financier’ killed

The Manila Times Internet Edition TOP STORIES > ‘Terror financier’ killed: "

Jamal Khalifa, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and once the chief financier of militant Islamic groups in the Philippines, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Madagascar, wire reports said. "

Agence France-Presse quo­ted Khalifa’s brother as telling the Dubai-based Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television, that a gang of 25 to 30 people raided Khalifa’s room.

Khalifa, who traded in gems, “was killed in cold blood while sleeping in his room,” his brother, Malek, said.
The assailants stole all of Khalifa’s belongings, the brother said by telephone from the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah.

Al-Arabiya quoted unspecified sources as saying the gunmen stormed a precious stones mine owned by Khalifa at dawn Wednesday and killed him, making off with documents and other possessions.

Malek Khalifa insisted that his brother had no links with bin Laden despite being a brother-in-law of the Saudi-born terror chief, who has been disowned by his family.

“He has no relation whatsoever with Osama bin Laden. He had told all international [television] channels that he has no links with Osama bin Laden’s organization or any other organization,” Malek said.
World Trade Center

United States antiterror groups say US authorities first glimpsed Khalifa in 1992, when Ramzi Yousef—convicted of masterminding the 1993 first World Trade Center bombing—entered the US with another companion, Ahmed Ajaj, who was arrested for carrying bomb-making manuals.

Khalifa’s alias Abu Barra appeared on the manual. Because INS holding cells were overcrowded, Yousef was released and told to return in one month. He slipped away to plot the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

In the Philippines, Khalifa was better known as the bin Laden’s trusted lieutenant who managed charities that provided funds for extremists, including the Abu Sayyaf and, at one time, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The first extremists in the Philippines were recruited from the 1,000 veterans who fought against Afghanistan’s Russian invaders in the 1980s. They received initial guerrilla training and indoctrination in fundamentalist Islamic doctrines under the supervision of bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaeda (The Base) network.


As early the 1990s, police officials here said Khalifa fronted for al-Qaeda in the Philippines, setting up nongo­vernment organizations (NGOs) to court “social acceptance.”

NGOs identified with the bin Laden network include the International Relief and Information Center (IRIC), International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), Daw’l Imam Al Shafee, the Islamic Students Association of the Philippines Inc. and the Mercy Foundation of the Philippines.

The IIRO was the target last December of a freeze order by the Court of Appeals, following representation by the US government and the local Antimoney Laundering Council. The US government includes IIRO on its list of “terrorist fronts.”

But many of the Khalifa charities did engage in legitimate welfare activities like out‑reach programs to depressed Muslim communities in Mindanao, where government presence was, in the past, sketchy at best.

Khalifa was likewise linked to charities and legitimate businesses in neighboring countries like Singapore and Malaysia, including the Konsanjaya group whose top officers were all tagged as having directly or indirectly participated in several urban bombings. Funding from these networks provided the engine for the activities of many NGOs but there is no clear data on how much of these funds found their way to local armed groups.

While in the country, Khalifa married a local woman, Alice “Jameelah” Yabo, the sister of Abu Omar, an employee of the IRRC.

Police reports say Omar funneled money to an account of an Adam Salih, an alias of Yousef.

Yousef used the funds while hatching a plan, called Bojinka, for the simultaneous bombings of commercial jets. Yousef worked on Bojinka with Riduan Isamuddin, aka Hambali, a senior al-Qaeda officer who is now in US custody.

Khalifa was arrested in Saudi Arabia shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, but was released.
He publicly condemned Osama bin Laden after the September 11 and later publicly distanced himself from the al-Qaeda
.--AFP, with The Manila Times staff

[bth: curious that robbers took his documents too.]
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Iraqis abandon their homes in Middle East's new refugee exodus

Independent Online Edition > Middle East: "Iraq is experiencing the biggest exodus in the Middle East since Palestinians were forced to flee in 1948 upon the creation of Israel.

'We were forced to leave our house six months ago and since then we have moved more than eight times,' said Abu Mustafa, a 56-year-old man from Baghdad. 'Sectarian violence has now even reached the displacement camps but we are tired of running away. Sometimes I have asked myself if it is not better to die than to live like a Bedouin all my life.'

Iraqis are on the run inside and outside the country. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said 50,000 Iraqis a month are abandoning their homes. Stephanie Jaquemet, regional representative of the UNHCR, said that two million Iraqis have fled abroad and another 1.5-2 million are displaced within the country - many of them from before the fall of Saddam Hussein."

They flee because they fear for their lives. Some 3,000 Iraqis are being killed every month according to the UN. Most come from Baghdad and the centre of the country, but all of Iraq outside the three Kurdish provinces in the north is extremely violent. A detailed survey by the International Organisation for Migration on displacement within Iraq said that most people move after direct threats to their lives: "These threats take the form of abductions; assassinations of individuals or their families."

There are fewer mixed areas left in Iraq. In Baghdad, militias now feel free to use mortars to bombard each other knowing that they will not hit members of their own community. Shia and Sunni both regard themselves as victims responding to provocation.

The most common destinations are Jordan and Syria which have taken 1.6 million people. At first it was the better-off who fled, including half of Iraq's 34,000 doctors. Now it is the poor who are arriving in Amman and Damascus with little means of surviving.

Only Syria has formally recognised a need for temporary protection for Iraqis. Others, including the US and UK, are loath to admit that one of the world's great man-made disasters is taking place. The UNHCR thinks every Iraqi should qualify as a refugee because of the extraordinary level of violence in the country. "This is the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world," Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International told the US Senate Judiciary Committee.

Some do not run fast enough. Ali, a Shia businessman who also had a job with the government, was slow to abandon his fine house in a Sunni part of west Baghdad. One day he was picked up by a gang, whipped and only released when he had handed over all his money. "The kidnappers told me to leave the country," he said."

But not all succeed in getting out of the country. The land routes to Jordan and Syria run through Sunni territory. Shia trying to reach safety have been taken from their vehicles to be shot by the side of the road. But Shia can move to safety in south Iraq and therefore make up the bulk of the internally displaced.

For Sunni there is no real place of safety in Iraq. In Baghdad they are being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas. Cities like Ramadi and Fallujah are partly ruined and very dangerous. Mohammed Sahib Ali, 48, a government employee, was forced out of the al-Hurriyah area by Shia militiamen. A Sunni, he took refuge in a school in Salah ad-Din province. "We are dying here," said Ali. "Not enough food, not enough medicines. I can't go to work and my three sons can't attend their classes. We don't know what to do."
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Brother-in-law of Bin Laden killed

Gulf Daily News: "ANTANANARIVO: Gunmen shot dead a brother-in-law of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a raid on his home in Madagascar.

Malek Khalifa told Dubai-based Al Arabiya television that the aim of the killers appeared to have been to rob his brother, Jamal Khalifa, who mined and traded in precious stones.

Malek said a gang of 20 to 30 gunmen broke into his brother's bedroom, shot him dead 'in cold blood' and stole his belongings. "

Al Arabiya said the businessman was staying at a precious stones mine he owns in Madagascar when he was killed early yesterday.

"We still don't have a complete picture of the incident," Malek said. "I don't think it was politically motivated," he added.

A police official in Madagascar said the attack took place in Tulear, about 650km southwest of the capital Antananarivo.

He said there were 10 attackers who stole a computer and a briefcase in the assault at Jamal's house, named in the police report as Jamal Hamed.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer, in what it said was the last interview given by the leader of the Abu Sayyaf group before his death, quoted Khaddafy Janjalani as saying that his group had received funds from two men close to Bin Laden, identifying one of them as Jamal Khalifa.

But CNN reported that Jamal called reports he had funded the Abu Sayyaf group in return for volunteers to fight in Afghanistan "completely false".

"I have never given any money to any group or persons that include the Abu Sayyaf," CNN quoted Jamal as writing in an e-mail.

Malek also denied his brother was involved in political activity, and said that apart from family ties, Jamal had no links to Bin Laden.

A Saudi foreign ministry source said Riyadh had contacted authorities in Madagascar through its embassy in Tanzania to find out the circumstances of the killing.

The source did not say Khalifa was related by marriage to Bin Laden, but said the embassy in Tanzania was in contact with the victim's family to facilitate the repatriation of his body.

The US named Jamal as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing in New York, and arrested him the following year on a visa violation in San Francisco. But he was deported without standing trial.

[bth: good. perhaps his compter will show up on ebay.]
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Chinese army 'harvesting body parts' |

Chinese army 'harvesting body parts' "CHINA'S military is harvesting organs from unwilling live prison inmates, mostly Falungong practitioners, for transplants on a large scale - including to foreign recipients- according to a study."

The report's authors - Canada's former secretary of state for the Asia Pacific region David Kilgour and human rights lawyer David Matas - implicated dozens of hospitals and jails throughout China in July, after a two-month investigation.

Chinese officials denied those allegations.

Mr Matas and Mr Kilgour's second report, released today, includes interviews with organ recipients in 30 countries and Canadian hospital staff who cared for more than 100 patients who had undergone suspicious transplant surgeries in China.

"The involvement of the People's Liberation Army in these transplants is widespread,'' Mr Kilgour said at a press conference.

Like many civilian hospitals in rural China, military hospitals turned to selling organs to make up for government funding cuts in the 1980s, the report said.

But military personnel could operate with much more secrecy, it said.

"Recipients often tell us that even when they receive transplants at civilian hospitals, those conducting the operation are military personnel,'' the report said.

Hospitals in Canada's biggest cities - Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto - confirmed "a substantial number'' of Canadians had travelled to China for dubious organ transplants, Mr Kilgour said.

"We're in the three digits, up over 100 (from Canada each year), and the trend is accelerating,'' Mr Matas said. ...
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Novak: 2008 elections force a December '07 pullout from Iraq

The Raw Story Novak: 2008 elections force a December '07 pullout from Iraq: "Conservative columnist Robert Novak writes in the latest Evans-Novak Political Report that a US military pullout from Iraq will likely occur at the end of 2007, in order to give Republicans 'a chance' in the 2008 elections."

"Although President George W. Bush officially is opposed to setting any time table for getting out of Iraq," says Novak, "senior administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress privately say there cannot be U.S. boots on the ground or blood being spilled in Iraq when 2008 begins if Republicans are to have a chance in next year's elections.

"That effectively sets a December 2007 deadline for getting out."

President Bush said Monday in an interview with NPR's Juan Williams that he was "reluctant to put timetables on the situation because there are people who listen to what I say and others in America say, and are willing to adjust their timetables to our timetable."

Meanwhile, 2008 presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) yesterday offered an alternative "Obama Plan" which would pull troops from Iraq by March 31 of next year.

Elsewhere in Novak's latest subscriber-only report, he says that "Republicans are reacting to their '06 defeat by showing how terrible the Democrats are, and that is usually a sign of trouble for the opposition party. Typically, Republicans are shutting down debate about what course their party should take."

He also writes of the Democrats that they are finding out that the Senate is "a sluggish, quirky and madly frustrating body that slows all progress and stops most legislation in its tracks."

General: Shiite Militia Leaders Leaving Baghdad Strongholds

General: Shiite Militia Leaders Leaving Baghdad Strongholds - "Shiite militia leaders already appear to be leaving their strongholds in Baghdad in anticipation of the U.S. and Iraqi plan to increase the troop presence in the Iraqi capital, according to the top U.S. commander in the country.

'We have seen numerous indications Shia militia leaders will leave, or already have left, Sadr City to avoid capture by Iraqi and coalition security forces,' Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said in a written statement submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of his confirmation hearing today to be Army chief of staff."

Casey, who has been the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq since summer 2004, also stated that as part of the campaign to improve security in Baghdad, he expects that U.S. troops will be stationed in Sadr City with Iraqi army and national police units. U.S. plans call for five combat brigades, or about 17,500 troops, to move into Baghdad over the next four months and help occupy about 35 outposts across the city....

Lie Low, Fighters Are Told

Lie Low, Fighters Are Told - "BAGHDAD, Jan. 31 -- The instructions delivered by emissaries of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr at a recent meeting in Baghdad were clear to militiaman Massan Abdul Hussein.

'They informed us to hide the weapons,' Abdul Hussein recalled of the Jan. 21 meeting in the Shula neighborhood. 'They said: 'We will not allow anyone to carry any arms, even if it's a pistol under their shirt. This is not acceptable.' '"

Abdul Hussein, 30, considers himself a minor figure in the Mahdi Army, the powerful yet amorphous band of thousands of Sadr followers that the Pentagon said in November had "the greatest negative effect on the security situation in Iraq." But Abdul Hussein said the militia's foot soldiers had received a clear message from Sadr's headquarters in southern Iraq as Iraqi and U.S. troops prepared an intensified security crackdown in the capital.

"We should try at all costs to avoid any confrontation with the American forces, and even if they raid our offices or our houses, we should try to avoid a confrontation," he said. "We do not want this to lead to a larger outbreak of violence."

Sadr's followers waged fierce battles against the U.S. military in 2004, but militiamen and Iraqi politicians close to Sadr say this time he wants to avoid violent clashes and maintain a lower profile.

In recent weeks, Mahdi Army leaders have left Baghdad to avoid being targeted, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office has received reports that some Mahdi Army leaders are moving to Iran and Syria, according to an aide to Maliki who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. military has stepped up operations against Shiite militias and said recently that 600 Mahdi Army members, including 16 high-level figures, are in detention. The arrest of senior Sadr spokesman Abdul Hadi al-Daraji on Jan. 19 by U.S. and Iraqi forces has concerned Sadr followers, said Nassir al-Saedi, one of 30 parliament members in Sadr's bloc.

"We asked the leadership to leave their houses, because we do not trust the Americans," he said.

Sadr's followers say publicly that they embrace the new Baghdad security plan and are willing to support the Iraqi government's efforts to impose the rule of law in this chaotic city. But some Iraqi and U.S. officials said they are concerned that the stance is a pose and that Shiite militias intend to lie low only until U.S. forces withdraw.

"There's absolutely no reason to believe that these groups have changed their tune in any significant way" since the 2004 battles, said a U.S. official in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity. "You could make an argument that there's just a level of exhaustion that's set in, but I find that not believable."

A more likely scenario is that the militia leaders believe they can "win the whole thing" if they are not too damaged by the time the United States withdraws, the official said.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zobaee, who oversees security affairs, said he is skeptical of statements by Mahdi Army leaders indicating a passive posture. "The Mahdi Army should hand over its weapons to the government, not put down their weapons or hide them," Zobaee said in an interview Wednesday. "This should go for every armed group. I don't think I can say I see that in the horizon."

Maliki is aware of concerns that the militias may be biding their time rather than sincerely taking peaceful steps, his aide said.

"This is a classic insurgency tactic, to hide when the troops are around and then reappear when the troops are gone," the aide said. "This is very much understood by the government and by the prime minister, and measures are being taken to make it a failure."

A Mahdi Army neighborhood leader from the Dakhil area of Baghdad's Sadr City slum, Ahmed Khawam, said the militias are not making major preparations for the security plan because they do not know what it will entail.

"As for targeting our city, by God's will, this will not happen, because the Imam Mahdi's army is in control of the whole area," he said. "But in case anything happens, we will get ready. We will not let any arrests take place."

For now, he said, the Mahdi Army is primarily concerned with providing services -- food, cooking gas, religion lessons -- to the impoverished people of Sadr City.

Another Mahdi Army member in Sadr City, Laith Abu Baqir, said he is willing to give the Iraqi security forces a chance to impose order and protect his neighborhood. "If they provide security for me from the terrorists, why not?"

"The only threat we have is from the American army," Abu Baqir said. "As for the others, we are not concerned."

Special correspondents Naseer Mehdawi, Naseer Nouri and Saad Sarhan contributed to this report.

[bth: in a way, perhaps this is the best we can hope for with an occupation army and it might not be a bad thing.]

Germans Charge 13 CIA Operatives

Germans Charge 13 CIA Operatives - "BERLIN, Jan. 31 -- The CIA's clandestine program of abducting suspected terrorists and taking them to secret sites for interrogation unraveled further on Wednesday as German prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 13 agency operatives in the kidnapping of a German citizen in the Balkans in December 2003.

The case is the second in which European prosecutors have filed charges against CIA employees involved in counterterrorism operations. Italian prosecutors have charged 25 CIA operatives and a U.S. Air Force officer with kidnapping a radical cleric on a Milan street in 2003 and taking him to Cairo, where he says he was tortured."...

[bth: this is not going to be good.]

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

With Gratitude In Every Stitch

With Gratitude In Every Stitch - "The carefully packed boxes stack up daily in the chaplain's quarters at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, about 50 a week. The instructions read simply: 'Please give this to a soldier.' Chaplain John L. Kallerson, an Army major, gently opens each one and places the contents around his windowless office. Then he lays his big hands on the piles and says a blessing."

His is the ministry of the quilts.

A phone call to the chaplain four years ago has created a national movement to say thank you to soldiers wounded in the war on terror.

More than 7,900 "comfort quilts," each carefully stitched with love and gratitude, have been sent through the Quilts of Valor Foundation to the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed and 70 other U.S. military medical centers. Kallerson prays over and hands out quilts from church groups, schoolchildren, quilting bees. Quilts made from accomplished artists whose designs sell for thousands. Quilts with bears, fish, basketballs. Quilts with hot-pink flowers for wounded women.

Amish and Mennonites have sent them anonymously. Children at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind have created Braille quilts for soldiers who have lost their sight. Some donors, such as Native Americans who sent quilts bearing warrior symbols, have requested that their quilts be given to kindred spirits. Many have special messages: "You are our hero." "You are very brave."

Some arrive with letters, tapes or prayers.

"This is a gift from the heartland," Kallerson said. "Soldiers get CD players and iPods and DVDs, but this is the greatest gift of all. It comes from people's hearts. This is a simple thank you for your service."

Deborah Francisco, a defense contractor from St. Leonard, spent a year making one with the black and gold Army 1st Cavalry logo. "I hope the soldier who got it feels like someone is thinking of him," Francisco said.

This is how it got started: An accomplished Delaware quilter, Catherine Roberts, contacted Kallerson. She wanted to sew a blue and white Ohio Star quilt and donate it to a wounded service member. For every soldier killed, she knew there were 10 wounded.

"I had this vision in my head of a soldier waking up with horrible flashbacks," said Roberts, 57, a midwife and a quilter for 25 years. "I saw him wrapping himself up in a quilt."

Kallerson talks to a lot of people who want to donate things, but the hospital doesn't have the space or staff to handle them. Still, he was intrigued by Roberts's offer. He had someone in mind, an amputee from Minnesota, who was experiencing phantom pain. He gratefully received the quilt.

Then Roberts realized that she needed to reach more soldiers. "I got all my quilting people together and told them we had to start making quilts for all the wounded. Plenty of people were sending goggles and rat traps and things like that to the soldiers in the war, and there were programs for the families of our fallen heroes. But I didn't see anything targeting service members who had been wounded."

She put out the word online to the 19 million-strong quilting community. E-mails started flooding back. "Many quilters remembered Vietnam days," said Roberts, whose son, Nathanael Vinbury, served a year with the Army in Iraq. "They didn't want our troops coming back to that kind of reception."

Today, comfort quilts are part of the fabric of life at Walter Reed, helping to humanize the 308 government-issue beds, overlit hallways and hushed visitors lounges. As soldiers are wheeled to physical therapy or the endless tests, there is a rush of color from hand-stitched covers as they roll by. Many of the 600 wounded who come in daily for outpatient treatment have quilts folded under their legs or tucked around their bodies. Soldiers clutching the quilts have turned up at inaugural balls and Army-Navy football games.

Daniel Peters, 22, an Army combat engineer from Goffstown, N.H., received his red, white and blue quilt three months ago. It rarely leaves his side. "I use it every day to prop up my foot," he said. All the toes on his right foot were severed in Afghanistan when the Taliban shot a rocket under his Humvee; he has had surgery to reattach them.

"It brought him a lot of comfort," said his mother, Beverly Peters. "It showed him that someone cared."

Quilting has been part of wartime America since the early 19th century. "It's always been in the nature of quilters to have the urge to make something to cover soldiers, warm them and give them comfort," said Karey Bresenhan, a nationally known quilting expert and co-founder of the Alliance for American Quilts.

During the Civil War, soldiers used quilts as bedrolls. Supporters of the Union Army banded together to send quilts to their men, and Southern women cut up their dresses to make quilts for Confederate soldiers. The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has 400 quilts in its collection, including one made in 1863 by Mrs. Gilbert Pullan's Sunday school in Augusta, Maine, for Union soldiers in Washington hospitals. The Maine quilt is inscribed with Bible quotations, recipes for medicines and jokes.

In World War I, the Red Cross sold quilts, and in World War II quilts were sent to Europe to be given out to the wounded.

Today, soldiers aren't taking quilts to war as much as using them during recovery. Kallerson conducts his wartime ministry from a cart. He loads it up and wheels it down Walter Reed's halls. If men are skeptical about receiving a quilt, he approaches their wives or mothers. Many soldiers ask if the quilt is free. "They are shocked that someone has gone to the trouble of making this for them," he said.

Eric Frazier, 20, of Altamont, Tenn., a Marine lance corporal, doesn't even remember choosing a quilt because he was on morphine. He was wounded in October in Fallujah and lost both legs, one above the knee and one below, and suffered a head injury. "He could have chosen a pink one, he was so out of it," said his father, Kary Frazier. Eric's quilt is waiting for him at home, on his bed.

One person sent a Purple Heart quilt. Kallerson handed it to a decorated double amputee. "He told me he wasn't sure he deserved it," Kallerson recalled. "I thought if you don't deserve a quilt, then I don't know who does."

Some of the quilts are becoming family heirlooms to be passed down to future generations.

Quilting groups across the country have used Roberts's Web site -- as a clearinghouse for information on comfort quilts. Roberts has made it possible for the groups that piece together quilt tops to connect with longarmers, people who own large machines that efficiently stitch the tops to batting and a backing. Hand quilters can take hours and hours to do this; by machine it takes three to 20 hours, depending on the design.

Lisa Langlais, a longarmer from Springfield, said she has donated her services for more than 60 quilts, including 30 she pieced herself. Longarmers can make $75 to $400 for machine-finishing a quilt.

Langlais has never met any of the service members who have received her quilts.

"This is an anonymous project," she said. "I don't expect a thank-you card. I just put all of my good, positive thoughts in the quilt."

Kallerson has personally distributed 3,069 quilts. "One father brought me to tears," he said. "He brought a quilt back to me because his son did not survive."

Kallerson placed the quilt back into the father's hands.

[bth: wonderful idea and actions.]

Iraq audit sees U.S. squandering money

United Press International - NewsTrack - Iraq audit sees U.S. squandering money: "WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction reported to Congress that millions of dollars have been wasted on police training facilities. "

The report did not address the quality of the training programs but found numerous problems with companies contracted to construct the facilities, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The report cited the $73 million Baghdad Police College, where shoddy workmanship led to potentially unsanitary conditions for recruits. That was first reported by the auditing staff in September but Tuesday's report said the problems hadn't been fixed.

The report also highlights $4.2 million worth of work DynCorp, of Falls Church, Va., did at a camp for its security trainers. Auditors said Iraqi officials requested a swimming pool and 20 VIP trailers that were not authorized. They were built but the camp has never been used because of security concerns, the newspaper said.

The audit was also critical of the Army Corps of Engineers in some cases. The corps is charged with overseeing civilian contracts but auditors said in some places oversight was "essentially non-existent."

Somali Islamists threaten AU peacekeepers

Somali Islamists threaten AU peacekeepers - 31 Jan 2007 - World: "ADDIS ABABA - A Somali Islamist group threatened today to fight any peacekeeping troops sent to their country as African leaders struggled to put together an international force for the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.

The European Union released 15 million euros ($28 million) to finance peacekeeping operations, but leaders at an African Union summit were still seeking the 4,000 troops they need to bring the projected force up to strength.

A total of 8,000 troops are seen as necessary to fill a power vacuum when Ethiopian troops pull out after having backed the government in a brief war that defeated the Islamists who had run much of the country for the previous six months.

'If African troops are not in place quickly, then there will be chaos,' African Union commission chief Alpha Oumar Konare told the summit."...