Friday, March 16, 2007

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Halliburton's contemptuous move

Halliburton's contemptuous move - MarketWatch: "SANTA MONICA, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- Webster's says a 'venal or unscrupulous person' is one definition of a whore. By moving its headquarters to the United Arab Emirates, Halliburton, the giant defense contractor that has profited immensely off the war in Iraq, is showing that it is nothing but the definition of a corporate whore."

4:06pm 03/16/2007

HAL32.06, -0.08, -0.2%) announced last weekend that its chief executive, along with its corporate headquarters, are moving to Dubai. The company says it isn't trying to evade paying U.S. taxes by moving operations offshore. It says the move is strategic because most of its business is being conducted in the Middle East.

Halliburton is once again showing that it has no conscience. The conglomerate has reaped more than $20 billion of revenue off the war in Iraq. It still has $6 billion worth of government contracts there. Many of its contracts have been "no-bid," which means they were exclusively granted without other companies being given the opportunity to offer better prices. Halliburton, which was headed by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney before he took office, gave its thanks for all this business by admittedly overbilling for its services.

Government contracts, remember, are funded by U.S. taxpayers.

Halliburton's corporate behavior is shameful. Lots of people say so, especially members of Congress. But Halliburton's eye is on profits and profitability. For that, Wall Street has something different to say: on Monday, the day after Halliburton announced its intentions to move overseas, its stock closed up for the day. When the news spread more that evening and trickled out to the masses, the market's reaction on Tuesday was even more rewarding: the stock spiked.

Many Wall Street analysts say the move to Dubai is a smart one for Halliburton because of all the business to be had in the region. Indeed, that part of the world is being likened to the West during the Gold Rush.
But we are now in a time of war, and Halliburton should consider its loyalty.

Good riddance

So I say if Halliburton chooses to go, it should go away with good riddance. But at the same time, its government contracts should be reallocated to other companies and it should be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. After all, Halliburton says it wants to list on a foreign exchange anyway, likely in the Middle East. The company clearly is looking to give up its American citizenship. It should then have to suffer the consequences of that decision too.
Last year, when Dubai Ports World won management contracts for six U.S. ports, controversy erupted and the contracts were eventually reassigned. The deal caused an outcry over national security.

Likewise Halliburton should be classified as a foreign company, and as such there should be consideration about its involvement with U.S. forces in Iraq; U.S. soldiers even if they aren't on U.S. soil are a matter of national security and interest as well.

To be sure, congressmen have something to say about the matter. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., says he is going to call for a Senate investigation of Halliburton's move. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., says Halliburton's decision is "disgraceful" -- and an attempt at tax evasion. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced: "It's an example of corporate greed at its worst. This is an insult to the U.S. soldiers and taxpayers who paid the tab for their no-bid contracts and endured their overcharges for all these years. At the same time they'll be avoiding U.S. taxes, I'm sure they won't stop insisting on taking their profits in cold, hard U.S. cash."

Of course, Halliburton won't stop insisting on taking its profits in U.S. cash. But who is going to stop them? I have no doubt that Halliburton can spin its case on Capitol Hill until the move is overshadowed by another hot-button issue.

It will be up to Wall Street and investors to pressure Halliburton into finding a conscience. Profitability isn't the whole game here. Many conglomerates gain a significant amount of revenue from overseas operations. But you don't see Coca Cola fleeing the country. Can you imagine the flack Altria and Philip Morris would get if it moved to South America or Europe, where it derives much of its revenues?

These companies, despite their own issues of corporate bad behavior, have chosen to stay here in the good, old U.S. of A. I bet they are even proud to be American.

It seems Halliburton doesn't take pride in what flag it flies. Investors should stop waving it for them.

[bth: well said. The thought that this corruption will go unpunished disgusts me. No one will be held to account.]

Chinese Bloggers Turned In By Yahoo, Imprisoned By Government | The Huffington Post

Eat The Press | Chinese Bloggers Turned In By Yahoo, Imprisoned By Government | The Huffington Post: "Wired News has a jarring story this week about the perils facing Yahoo users in China. Anonymous bloggers who criticize the government and express pro-democracy views are being arrested, charged with 'inciting subversion,' convicted (sometimes based on evidence provided by Yahoo), and handed prison sentences of up to ten years."

The bloggers who fall victim are viewed by the American-based company as unfortunate casualties of a sticky situation, in which Western Internet providers must abide by Chinese laws in order to do business in the country. Yahoo isn't alone - as Wired notes, Google's China search engine blocks access to sites the government deems objectionable, Microsoft's Chinese blogging service contains filters that prohibit words like "freedom" and "democracy" from blog titles, and Cisco supplies the internet equipment needed to create the country's so-called "Great Firewall" that blocks Chinese citizens from viewing websites about Tibet and Tiananmen Square. Still, Yahoo has long been fingered as the worst offender, facing continued charges of collaborating willingly with the Chinese government's Internet censorship and policing regulations after investing heavily in the country's e-commerce and web markets. In response, a Yahoo spokesman told Wired that the company is "strongly opposed to repression of free speech and is working to develop a set of operating principles to guide its engagement in countries with repressive governments" - but at the end of the day, Yahoo users are being arrested for using its product, and the Internet giant is responding by handing over evidence to convict them.

As always (particularly once the lawyers are called in), the issue isn't black and white - as Stanford Law Prof. Allen Weiner tells Wired, "when you're doing business in a foreign country, you're obligated to comply with the [country's] law," adding, "We may not like the law. But Yahoo is in a difficult position." Fair point, but come on now - is it too much to assume that a company whose product relies on supplying forums for the free dissemination of ideas and information should foresee issues like this in providing Internet services to non-democratic nations? And when situations like, say, the imprisonment of your customers and alleged violations of their human rights arise, is it unreasonable to expect that you'll turn all possible resources and energies towards coming up with a solution? Perhaps the most frightening part of Wired's report is the Yahoo spokesman's admission that he had never heard of the case of Wang Xiaoning (who was imprisoned in 2002 for distributing "prohibited" writings through his Yahoo e-mail account) until now, despite continued media coverage of the story over a span of several years. At some point, the line between legally-tied hands and indifference starts to look dangerously thin.

[bth: I remember after Tianamen, chinese graduate students at BU working in labs essentially living as illegals to avoid returning home. Freedom. Chinese can't feel betrayed by the US or its companies on this issue. Yet Yahoo and Google well those who seek the freedom to speak and to think in China out for e-commerce opportunities. Just makes you puke.]

VIP ward at Walter Reed gets scrutiny

VIP ward at Walter Reed gets scrutiny - "Disclosures of substandard housing for troops treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are prompting Congress to investigate whether the Army is running a plush ward at the complex for VIPs at the expense of ordinary war casualties."

House investigators are asking "if the allocations of resources is in any way adversely impacting the treatment of the troops," Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., told USA TODAY in response to inquiries about the six-suite ward. Tierney leads a House subcommittee investigating allegations of poor care at Walter Reed. "Our nation's military, our returning heroes, are the true VIPs," he said.

The large, comfortable suites on the hospital's top floor are reserved for the president, the vice president, federal judges, members of Congress and the Cabinet, high-ranking military officials and even foreign dignitaries and their spouses. The only enlisted members of the military who are eligible to stay there are recipients of the Medal of Honor.

The suites have carpeted floors, antique furniture and fine china in the dining rooms. That's a stark contrast to mold- and mice-ridden housing that some wounded troops had been found to be living in....

Iraq Veterans Memorial

We are proud and honored to present to you the Iraq Veterans Memorial.

This memorial was conceived as a place to honor the servicemembers who lost their lives over the past four years during the Iraq War. By watching the videos, you will have the opportunity to learn about these heroes from those who knew them best -- their family, friends, and fellow servicemembers. Each man and woman represented in the memorial had attributes and qualities that made them unique, but they all have one thing in common - they were truly loved and are deeply missed.
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Baghdad poll numbers show low confidence in security, government

Baghdad poll numbers show low confidence in security, government - "WASHINGTON - A confidential poll for the Iraq government shows Baghdad citizens harbor a bleak outlook for future security, while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suffers low job-approval ratings."

The door-to-door survey of more than 4,000 residents in Baghdad Province in mid-February showed only 3 percent of respondents said security had improved in their neighborhoods in the past three months. Just 10 percent said it will improve in the next three months.

Baghdad is the central focus of President Bush’s Jan. 10 reinforcement plan of more than 25,000 troops to quell sectarian and terrorist violence.

“These numbers are bad,” said a U.S. Army source, who read the poll results to The Examiner on condition of anonymity. “They are all in the tank.”

The Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies, an Iraqi firm, conducted the poll for the al-Maliki government. Al-Maliki uses the numbers to assess public support for his policies.

There is a caveat, the Army source said. Surveyors went door to door at a time when the new counterinsurgency plan had just begun. The military reports that attacks declined in March, a trend that could bring higher numbers in the next government-sponsored poll.
“We changed strategy in part to address these issues in the poll,” the Army source said.

The United States worries that a lack of public confidence in security measures could mean residents are less likely to cooperate in providing tips on insurgent activity.

But Brookings Institution military analyst Michael O’Hanlon said poor polls numbers do not always translate that way.

“Even if people are somewhat pessimistic, it doesn’t mean they will refuse to help or actively oppose the effort,” he said. “It’s just as likely that they will hope to be proven wrong in their sentiments and give Maliki and the surge another chance.”

The survey addressed issues such as security, government approval and Shiite militias.

Al-Maliki’s job approval stood at 34 percent, down from 45 percent last September before waves of Sunni-Shiite violence rocked the capital. The number, however, was an uptick from the prime minister’s 25 percent rating in December.

On security, 32 percent of citizens considered their neighborhoods secure, compared with 43 percent in September.

In a bright spot for al-Maliki, who says he has tried to curtail militias and associated death squads, only 23 percent of residents believe those paramilitaries make Baghdad safer, as opposed to 32 percent in September.

[bth: I wish the survey had asked locals about their reaction to the surge plan - pro/con.]


Middle East Newsline -: "NICOSIA [MENL] -- For the first time, Lebanon has accused Syria of controlling an Al Qaida network."

Lebanese officials said Syrian intelligence has been directing Al Qaida operatives to attack pro-Western interests in Lebanon. The officials said the Al Qaida members, most of them Palestinians, were trained in and financed by Syria and operate under several fronts, including Fatah Al Islam.

"It is no secret that Fateh Al Islam is Fateh Al Intifada, and Fateh Al Intifada is part of the Syrian intelligence-security apparatus," Lebanese Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa said.

The Lebanese assertion came as authorities announced the capture of four Syrians who confessed to bombing two buses north of Beirut in February 2007. Officials said the Syrians were members of Fatah Al Islam, and that a fifth Syrian suspect was being sought.
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Aborted DOJ Probe Probably Would Have Targeted Gonzales

NATIONAL JOURNAL: Internal Affairs (03/15/07): "Shortly before Attorney General Alberto Gonzales advised President Bush last year on whether to shut down a Justice Department inquiry regarding the administration's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, Gonzales learned that his own conduct would likely be a focus of the investigation, according to government records and interviews. "

Bush personally intervened to sideline the Justice Department probe in April 2006 by taking the unusual step of denying investigators the security clearances necessary for their work.

It is unclear whether the president knew at the time of his decision that the Justice inquiry -- to be conducted by the department's internal ethics watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility -- would almost certainly examine the conduct of his attorney general.

Sources familiar with the halted inquiry said that if the probe had been allowed to continue, it would have examined Gonzales's role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, as well as his subsequent oversight of the program as attorney general.

Both the White House and Gonzales declined comment on two issues -- whether Gonzales informed Bush that his own conduct was about to be scrutinized, and whether he urged the president to close down the investigation, which had been requested by Democratic members of Congress. ...

BoGlo: Petraeus Seeks Still More Troops

IraqSlogger: BoGlo: Petraeus Seeks Still More Troops: "
General Petraeus has asked the Pentagon for additional troops in Iraq, the Boston Globe has learned. "

The US commander in Iraq has appealed for a combat aviation unit that would involve "between 2,500 and 3,000 more soldiers and dozens of transport helicopters and powerful gunships," according to the Globe's Pentagon sources.

The Globe story scoops any formal announcement of the request.

A "senior Pentagon official closely involved in the war planning" told the Globe, "This is the next shoe to drop . . . But you cannot put five combat brigades in there and not have more aviation guys, military police, and intelligence units."

This next lot of additional troops are expected to be in Iraq May. The aviation brigade will support combat troops in Baghdad and Anbar Province, the Globe reports.

This latest troop request is distinct from the 21,500 original "surge" troops, and from the additional 4,600 support troops (among whom number 2,200 military police and other personnel) requested last week.

After all units have deployed to Iraq, the number of additional US forces shipped to the theater in the first half of 2007 will approach 30,000, on top of the estimated 130,000 troops already in Iraq.

The Globe writes that the new aviation brigade will likely come from the Army's Third Infantry Division at Fort Stewart in Georgia, according to a Pentagon source cited in the Globe. The unit was slated to return to Iraq before the Bush escalation plan, but this deployment would acclerate their return.

With the new deployment, the unit will bring the total number of aviation brigades in Iraq to four. If that level is to be maintained, a Pentagon official said, the military will have to identify replacement units in a few months.

[bth: same as it ever was.]
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War of Words Over Casualty Figures

IraqSlogger: War of Words Over Casualty Figures: "An Iraqi opposition leader moved on Thursday to spin the government's announcement yesterday of lower casualty figures for the first month of the Baghdad security plan. "

Although the figures themselves are still subject to some dispute, Iraqi parties are already scrambling to spin the drop in violence since the start of the security plan that the Iraqi government announced yesterday.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, general secretary of the Sunni-based parliamentary opposition bloc Tawafuq ("Concordance") front, said Thursday that the government’s claimed decrease in violence resulted from the flight of militias, Al-Jiran reports in Arabic.

“We believe that the principal reason behind this improvement goes back to the migration of the Baghdad militias to the South of Iraq and outside of it,” Dulaimi said, in a thinly veiled reference to the Mahdi Army, which has been rumored to have sent its top-tier cadres to the marshlands of southern Iraq and possibly to Iran.

Dulaimi continued, saying that he hoped that the plan would succeed despite its many “gaps,” the most important of which are the random arrests and the subjecting of detainees to torture and confessions extracted by force.”

Dulaimi also called for human rights organizations to visit the detainees held by the interior ministry and the multinational forces to inspect what was happening to them, stressing that the majority of detainees were of Sunni background.

The Sunni politician also implored the government, the Iraqi forces, and the American forces to respect human rights and to avoid collective punishment which would “damage the national interest,” according to al-Jiran.

Dulaimi also said that the plan would not be successful without consultation and agreement between the various political factions in Iraq.

Sunni-based parties have bitterly opposed the security plan, saying that the force of the Iraqi state and the US military is has been primarily targeted at the Sunni community while Shi'a militias enjoy far less of a crackdown. ...

US Senate rejects Democrat Iraq withdrawal plan

The Raw Story | US Senate rejects Democrat Iraq withdrawal plan: "The US Senate Thursday rejected a plan by the Democratic majority to set a timetable to withdraw US troops from Iraq by late March 2008, but agreed a separate resolution voicing support for the forces."

The Senate rejected the measure formulated by the Democratic leadership by 50 votes to 48, in the latest showdown between Congress's Democratic leaders and Republican backers of President George W. Bush.

The bill fell short of a simple majority and the 60-vote supermajority needed to overcome Republican procedural hurdles and pass out of the Senate.

Even had it become law, Bush had threatened to veto the legislation, warning it would handcuff his ability to conduct war policy as commander in chief.

By bringing the measure up however, Democrats were hoping to critically up the pressure on Bush's Republican backers, and on the president himself over the unpopular war.

Earlier, the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives succeeded in forcing their bid to demand withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq by September 2008 at the latest though a key congressional committee.

The Appropriations Committee voted to retain the deadline in a provision in President George W. Bush's 120 billion dollar budget request for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Republican minority in the House had opposed the move, which also threatened to compel withdrawal even before September next year, if Bush cannot certify benchmarks for progress are being met in Iraq.

The full House was expected to debate the measure next week.

Bush has threatened to veto that legislation.

Democratic leaders, while trying to curtail Bush's ability to continue to wage war in Iraq, have stopped short of wielding their power to cut funding for the conflict -- wary of being seen as deserting US troops.

And in a separate move the US Senate voted 96-2 to pass a resolution expressing support for troops in Iraq.

That resolution, offered by Democratic Senator Patty Murray, states that Congress and the president have shared responsibility for troops in wartime and for their medical care when they are wounded.

The largely symbolic measure states that supporting the troops also means giving them proper training before they are deployed.

Some Democrats have accused the Bush administration of sending soldiers into harms way before they are ready to enter combat, or are properly equipped.

[bth: so when the dust settles, there is nothing restrictive on the president - not the war powers, not the troops readiness, not the funding. congress accomplished nothing.]
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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Woman, two men stoned, publicly executed

Woman, two men stoned, publicly executed -DAWN - Top Stories; March 15, 2007: "LANDI KOTAL (Khyber Agency), March 14: A woman and two men were publicly executed in Bara on Wednesday on charges of adultery, official sources said. The sources said that a local council of elders, including activists of the Lashkar-i-Islam, accused Allah Noor and Shahzada of the Kukikhel tribe of having illicit relations with a divorced woman, Taslima, in Akkakhel area."

Announcements were made on loudspeakers from mosques and the three ‘accused’ were brought to an open place after they had been ‘caught’. A large number of people gathered to witness the execution, said a witness.

The council of elders stoned the three before two masked activists of Lashkar-i-Islam shot them with Kalashnikov rifles. Lashkar-i-Islam Amir Mangal Bagh was reported to have been present during the execution.

The local administration has registered a case.

[bth: hard to imagine a group so consumed with adultery that it will do this and at the same time have no trouble selling more opium than anyone else in the world and protecting murders of thousands after 9-11.]
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49 Police Officers Killed in India

49 Police Officers Killed in India - "NEW DELHI, India -- Communist rebels armed with rifles, hand grenades and petrol bombs attacked a police post in the jungles of eastern India on Thursday, killing at least 49 officers, police said."

The pre-dawn attack Thursday was the latest in a series of increasingly bold assaults by the rebels, who have been fighting for more than two decades in central and eastern India's long-impoverished hinterlands.

Equipped with rifles, hand grenades and homemade petrol bombs, the insurgents appeared to have caught the 79 officers guarding the remote post by surprise, Swarnkar said. Another 12 officers were wounded in the attack.

The post is located in the state of Chattisgarh, nearly 930 miles southeast of New Delhi.

Before fleeing with weapons stolen from the police post, the attackers scattered land mines around the area, Swarnkar said. By midday, police reinforcements had reached the post and were fanning out into the jungle to search for the attackers.

Rebel operations have become increasingly bold over the past two years _ and increasingly deadly....
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Iranian envoy says Iranians may be freed

Iranian envoy says Iranians may be freed: "BAGHDAD -- Five Iranians detained during a U.S.-led raid in northern Iraq in January could be released as early as next week, Iran's ambassador said Wednesday."

Hassan Kazemi Qomi said U.S. officials had informed Iranian delegates at a weekend security conference here that they were in "the final stage" of the investigation into the case.

Qomi said he hoped the five could be released before the Iranian New Year, which falls on March 21.

The U.S. military said the five Iranians, who were arrested in the northern city of Irbil, were part of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard force that provides funds, weapons and training to Shiite militias in Iraq. Two days after the raid, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said President Bush approved the strategy of raiding Iranian targets in Iraq as part of efforts to confront Tehran.

Iran had insisted that the five detained Iranians were engaged exclusively in consular work.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman on Wednesday referred all questions about the detained Iranians to the State Department, while a State Department official said reporters should ask the Pentagon about the matter.

The release of the Iranians could pave the way for more cooperation between Tehran and Washington on stabilizing Iraq. Delegates of the two nations held their first direct talks in years at a weekend conference in Baghdad on resolving the crisis in the country, although U.S. and Iraqi leaders remain skeptical of Iran's commitment of support.

On Sunday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said intelligence reports indicated weapons were flowing into Iraq from Iran. He said the Iranians "need to match their statement of support for the Iraqi government with actions and words on the ground."

In an interview with The Associated Press, Qomi said any effort to stabilize Iraq would succeed only after the U.S. hands over the country's intelligence and security services to "an empowered and sovereign" Iraqi government - led now by Shiite religious parties with ties to Iran.

Without such a hand-over, he said, "the government cannot structure its defense and security to tackle the threats it faces," nor can it build relations with neighboring countries.

"We believe an empowered government here will be able to fight terrorism and play a role in regional security," Qomi said.

He dismissed allegations than Iran has become a major arms supplier to Shiite extremists.

"To those who make such allegations, I say, where is your evidence?" Qomi said. "Frankly, they (Shiite groups) don't need our weapons and the Islamic Republic of Iran has not given them weapons."

He added: "Why should we give them weapons if we believe insecurity in Iraq only prolongs the presence of the occupation forces?"

Qomi said Iran will continue to control its long border with Iraq to make sure no weapons or extremists infiltrate the country. He said that since the beginning of the war in March 2003, not a single terrorist attack had been carried out by anyone arriving from Iran.

"Have you ever heard of any car bomb that came from Iran?" Qomi asked. "No weapons have come through our borders."

However, he said weapons had been smuggled from British-controlled southern Iraq into southwestern Iran for use in terrorist attacks there

Qomi said Iran had much to offer Iraq including sharing intelligence information on terrorism, providing security expertise and training Iraqi police. He said Iran was prepared to host meetings between Sunni and Shiite religious leaders to ease sectarian tensions.

"What's important is what the Islamic Republic of Iran's policy is going to be. Our path is clear. What we want is an Iraq where there's security, is independent, free, able to start reconstruction, a strong government that is capable of getting foreign occupation forces out of here," he said.
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Iranians and Americans Believe Islam and West Can Find Common Ground

World Public Opinion: "Concurrent polls of the United States and Iran reveal deep antagonism between the two publics: Iranians and Americans have largely negative views of the other’s government, current president, people and culture. "

But the polls also show that both Iranians and Americans support international law and institutions and share the conviction that the divide between their two countries and cultures can be bridged. Both favor a stronger United Nations, approve of taking specific steps to improve bilateral relations and believe that—despite their differences—Western and Islamic nations can find common ground.

Similar majorities of Americans and Iranians agree with the statement, “Most people in the West and the Islamic world have similar needs and wants, so it is possible to find common ground.” About a third of Americans and only a quarter of Iranians choose the counter-argument that “Islamic and Western religious and social traditions are incompatible with each other.”, in partnership with Search for Common Ground, designed the parallel studies. Both polls used probability-based national samples of 1,000 respondents or more. The U.S. poll was fielded by Knowledge Networks during late November and early December 2006. The Iranian poll, which included 134 questions, was executed by an independent Iranian agency that interviewed respondents face-to-face from late October through December...
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Afghan Approval of the Karzai Government and Western Forces,Though Still Strong, Is Declining

World Public Opinion: "A majority of Afghans express support for both the government of President Hamid Karzai and the presence of NATO forces. A new poll for finds that this support is declining, however, and that a majority of Afghans express frustration with the pace of reconstruction. "

Nonetheless, the Taliban remain overwhelmingly unpopular and few Afghans believe the religious militants are likely to regain power, despite their recent attacks on NATO forces.

Nine out of ten Afghans (90%) rate President Karzai positively. Attitudes toward the foreign troops in Afghanistan are also positive: 75 percent have a favorable view of US forces and 77 percent describe NATO forces as effective.

But the numbers expressing strong approval are declining. The percentage rating Karzai very favorably has dropped 13 points from 68 percent in November/December 2005 to 55 percent in November 2006. Similarly, the percentage having a very favorable view of US troops has dropped 11 points and those saying NATO troops as “very effective” has fallen 14 points to 34 percent from 46 percent in 2005.

Stephen Weber of, said that this erosion of support for the Afghan government seems to reflect frustrations with the slow pace of reconstruction.

“The Taliban is far from winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people,” he said, “but there are signs that the Karzai government and NATO are gradually losing them.” ....
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Israel and Iran Share Most Negative Ratings in Global Poll

World Public Opinion: "A majority of people polled for the BBC World Service across 27 countries believe Israel and Iran have a mainly negative influence in the world with almost as many saying the same about North Korea and the United States."...
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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Clinton Ducks Answer on Whether Homosexualty is Immoral

Clinton Ducks Answer on Whether Homosexualty is Immoral - The Caucus - Politics - New York Times Blog: "Asked if she believed homosexuality was immoral, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton declined to answer the question in a television interview this morning and said it was for “others to conclude.”"....

Murtha: "Hillary, I Don't Know Where She Is'' On Iraq..."McCain Is Too Old..."

Melinda Henneberger: Murtha: "Hillary, I Don't Know Where She Is'' On Iraq..."McCain Is Too Old..." | The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON - Congressman Jack Murtha is just not that interested in what his critics have to say: When it comes to Iraq, 'Everything I've said from a year and a half ago has turned out to be true!' he said, jabbing the air with both index fingers for emphasis during a wide-ranging interview in his office. "

The decorated Vietnam vet, who has been speaking out against this war since 2005, says he still sees nothing wrong -- either substantively or strategically -- with his plan to tie funding for a troop escalation to a requirement that troops actually be ready to fight when they arrive in Iraq.

"You have people try to spin it, but you've never heard anybody say they should go back before they're ready." Instead, "They say, 'Al Qaeda will be here!' or that I'm slowly bleeding them."

He laughs -- though not like he thinks it's funny -- at fellow Democrats who claim he botched the play by announcing his proposal "prematurely" through "They blame me - ha! -- because I talked to some organization? It got such wide dissemination and that's what they didn't like."

The real obstacle to redeployment, he suggests, is that so many of his colleagues in both parties agree with him but are too afraid to vote their own conscience -- or even to follow their constituents: "The majority of members understand what I'm doing, but they worry about things I think they should overlook" -- not just political considerations, but incorrect political considerations.

Though news reports generally insist otherwise, he said, there is not such an obvious correlation between the conservatism or liberalism of any given district and the way House members intend to proceed on Iraq: "Some people from very conservative districts are going to vote with us, and Bush almost won my district" in Pennsylvania. "He only lost by 3,000 votes."

As we get closer to '08, however, Murtha expects more and more lawmakers and candidates in both parties to get religion on redeployment: "The public will have their say, and the public was well ahead of me" on the war.

"Our candidates haven't been the strongest," in recent presidential races, he noted, "worrying more about earth tones. But Al Gore has learned it's not the color of your shirt, and Al Gore now I think has the best shot" of taking the White House in '08, ahead of all of the announced candidates.

"And Hillary, I don't know where she is" on Iraq, even now. "I told her, 'You take on this issue and you'll be in the forefront,' but she didn't." And on the Republican side? "McCain is too old in the first place to run for president," he said, "and they all know more troops is not the answer."

The latest iteration of the House bill to wind down the war includes benchmarks for the Iraqi government, a timetable for troop withdrawal, and the readiness standards Murtha wanted all along - but with an out for the president, who could waive those standards if he deemed that action necessary.

Wasn't that tantamount to having no readiness standards at all? No, Murtha insisted -- and ever-so-obliquely raised the president's presumed fear of impeachment as a consideration: "I'm not sure how much access he has to the real world...But if he sends troops in untrained and unequipped, I don't want to say what would happen to him. And all of us are used to being misled. But I'm not sure he'll certify" that troops are ready if they are not.

He did not seem particularly hopeful that the timetable for withdrawal would stay in the bill, but given the current lack of support for a speedy exit, said there was really no alternative to the "glacial" pace of the current Congress.

"Don't get discouraged, kid," he said, and swatted my knee. Though I didn't swat him back, I think he was talking to himself as much as to me.
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Allawi Fears U.S. will Torpedo his Government Over Oil Money

Naharnet News Desk

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fears the Americans will torpedo his government if parliament does not pass a law to fairly divvy up the country's oil wealth among Iraqis by the end of June, close associates of the leader told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The legislature has not even taken up the draft measure, which is only one of several U.S. benchmarks that are seen by al-Maliki as key to continued American support, a crucial need for the survival of his troubled administration

Aside from the oil law, the associates said, American officials have told the hardline Shiite Muslim prime minister that they want an Iraqi government in place by year's end acceptable to the country's Sunni Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

"They have said it must be secular and inclusive," one al-Maliki associate said.

To that end, al-Maliki made an unannounced visit Tuesday to Ramadi, the Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold, to meet with tribal leaders, the provincial governor and security chiefs in a bid to signal his willingness for reconciliation to end the bitter sectarian war.

Compounding al-Maliki's fears about a withdrawal of American support were visits to Saudi Arabia by two key political figures in an admitted bid to win support for a major Iraqi political realignment. Saudi Arabia is a major U.S. ally and oil supplier.

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a Shiite Muslim, flew to the Saudi capital Tuesday, a day after the arrival there of Masoud Barzani, leader of Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims.

"Allawi is there to enlist support for a new political front that rises above sectarian structures now in place," the former prime minister's spokesman, Izzat al-Shahbandar, told the AP.

Barzani spokesman Abdul-Khaleq Zanganah said the two Iraqis met in Kurdistan before the trip for talks on forming a "national front to take over for the political bloc now supporting al-Maliki

It appears certain the United States was informed about the Allawi and Barzani opening to the Saudis, who are deeply concerned that al-Maliki could become a puppet of Iran, the Shiite theocracy on Iraq's eastern border they view as a threat to the region's stability.

Washington has been reported working more closely with Sunni Arab governments to encourage them to take a greater role in Iraq, particularly in reining in the Sunni insurgency that has killed thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiites.

The Bush administration is believed to be trying to win support for its operations in Iraq among Arab neighbors by assuring a greater future role for the Sunni minority that ran the country until Saddam Hussein's ouster four years ago.

One al-Maliki confidant said the Americans had voiced displeasure with the prime minister's government even though he has managed so far to blunt major resistance from the Mahdi Army militia to the joint U.S.-Iraqi security operation in Baghdad. The Shiite militia is loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose political backing secured the premiership for al-Maliki.

"They have said they are frustrated that he has done nothing to oust the Sadrists, that the oil law has not moved forward, that there is no genuine effort on reconciliation and no movement on new regional elections," said the official, who like the other associates agreed to discuss the situation only if not quoted by name because of the political sensitivities.

Passage of the oil law, which seeks a fair distribution of revenues among all Iraq's sectarian and ethnic groups, has become a major issue for the United States, which had initially counted on financing Iraq's post-invasion reconstruction with oil revenues.

But the decrepit oil infrastructure and violence have left the country producing oil at about the same levels as before the war, at best, and those figures are well below production before the 1991 Gulf War that resulted in U.N. sanctions against the Iraqi oil industry.

The major Sunni bloc in parliament, along with Allawi loyalists in the Shiite bloc, openly oppose the draft measure. Al-Maliki also has lost the backing of the Shiite Fadila Party, and independent Shiite members are split on the bill. Those willing to speak about their opposition voice fears about what they see as too much possible foreign involvement and profit sharing.

The al-Maliki associates said U.S. officials, who they would not name, told the prime minister that President Bush was committed to the current government but continued White House support depended on positive action on all the benchmarks — especially the oil law and sectarian reconciliation — by the close of this parliamentary session June 30.

"Al-Maliki is committed to meeting the deadline because he is convinced he would not survive in power without U.S. support," one of the associates said.

Standing in the way of forward movement is a recalcitrant Cabinet, which al-Maliki has promised to reshuffle by the end of this week. So far, however, he is at loggerheads with the political groupings in parliament that are threatening to withdraw support for the prime minister if he does not allow the blocs to name replacements for Cabinet positions.(AP)

Beirut, 14 Mar 07, 08:35

The Blotter - Exclusive: Curveball, the Defector Whose Lies Led to War

The Blotter: "The Iraqi defector known as Curveball, whose fabricated stories of 'mobile biological weapons labs' helped lead the U.S. to war four years ago, is still being protected by the German intelligence service, an ABC News investigation has found."

Intelligence sources, who provided with the first known photo of the man, say he has been resettled in a small town near the Munich headquarters of the German service, which has continued to honor its original commitment made when he fled Iraq in 1999.

Curveball's false tales became the centerpiece of Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech before the United Nations in February 2003, even though he was considered an "unstable, immature and unreliable" source by some senior officials at the CIA.

Powell told ABC News he is "angry and disappointed" that he was never told the CIA had doubts about the reliability of the source.

"I spent four days at CIA headquarters, and they told me they had this nailed," Powell said.

Behind the scenes at the CIA, however, a former senior official says he was trying to keep the Curveball information out of the Powell speech.

"People died because of this," said Tyler Drumheller, the former chief of European operations at the CIA, who has written about it in a new book, "On the Brink." "All off this one little guy who all he wanted to do was stay in Germany."

Drumheller says he personally redacted all references to Curveball material in an advance draft of the Powell speech.

"We said, 'This is from Curveball. Don't use this,'" Drumheller says. Powell says neither he nor his chief of staff Col. Larry Wilkerson was ever told of any doubts about Curveball.

"In fact, it was the exact opposite," Wilkerson told ABC News. "Never from anyone did we even hear the word 'Curveball,' let alone any expression of doubt in what Secretary Powell was presenting with regard to the biological labs," Wilkerson said.

Drumheller also says he met personally with the then-deputy director of the CIA, John McLaughlin, to raise questions about the reliability of Curveball, well before the Powell speech.

"And John said, 'Oh my, I hope not. You know this is all we have,' and I said, 'This can't be all we have.' I said, 'There must be another, there must be something else.' And he said, 'No, this is really the only tangible thing we have.'"

McLaughlin adamantly denies any such meeting or warning from Drumheller and also denies knowing that Drumheller had attempted to redact the Curveball portions of Powell's speech.

"This man never came into my office, sat down, looked me in the eye and made a case that Curveball was a fabricator. That didn't happen," McLaughlin, now retired, told ABC News.

The CIA has since issued an official "burn notice" formally retracting more than 100 intelligence reports based on his information.

Watch "World News With Charles Gibson" and "Nightline" for the full report.

[bth: and people died because of this.]

Al Qaeda, Taliban stronger, elusive

Al Qaeda, Taliban stronger, elusive - 03/14/2007 - "The first and most unfortunate orphan of the Iraq War is Afghanistan."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls Afghanistan ''a war that is unfinished and nearly forgotten.'' For all the political drama that is unfolding over the Democrats' decision to use the upcoming debate over war spending to challenge President Bush's policies in Iraq, the Democratic congressional caucus is also using the spending measure for a purpose equally crucial. It is redirecting funds toward Afghanistan in a last-ditch effort to rescue the country that was the original ''central front'' in the war on terror.

''It's not lost,'' says Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan research organization that studies conflicts around the globe. ``There's still a much greater opportunity than in Iraq to strengthen the beginnings of institutions in Afghanistan.''

Assaults from Pakistan

Afghanistan is being sucked back into civic chaos by extremist violence, factional warfare, rampant government corruption and unchecked opium production that helps finance the Taliban and other militants. The country is assaulted from across the Pakistan border by Taliban forces and an emboldened al Qaeda.

The terrorists operate with impunity, despite the Bush administration's long-standing alliance with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a strongman to whom the White House gives aid and often praise although he has persistently failed to clean out and control the border area. Only two weeks ago, as Vice President Dick Cheney was ensconced for meetings at a heavily fortified U.S. air base in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber detonated explosives outside the gates, killing 23 people and providing a newsreel, of sorts, that advertised the terrorists' growing strength.

Osama bin Laden has long since disappeared from the wanted poster of America's collective conscience. The man who masterminded the 9/11 assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon may or may not be in Pakistan, but most terrorism experts say he no longer really matters. The resurgent al Qaeda is less centrally organized, its adherents linked by ideology and dispersed around the globe. For example, Iraqi militants now holding a German woman and her son hostage demanded over the weekend that Germany withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, where a small German contingent is part of NATO's force.

Afghanistan continues to be a dusty and demoralized terrorist proving ground. And why not? The United States and its allies never fully stepped up to the task they began immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Security outside the capital of Kabul never was restored -- whole regions drifted back under the control of regional warlords and drug kingpins. From the start, Schneider says, the United States underfunded the civic rebuilding effort. Per capita aid to Bosnia and Kosovo in the two years following the end of armed hostilities in the Balkans was $1,400 per person, Schneider says. In Afghanistan, it's been $52 per capita.

The number of peacekeepers in Bosnia was 18.6 per 1,000 people and in Kosovo 20 per 1,000. In Afghanistan, he says, the international force amounts to 0.2 peacekeepers per 1,000. ''Remember `light footprint, no nation-building'?'' Schneider says, referring to the Bush administration's early theory that the United States should not be heavily involved in rebuilding societies.

The result of ineptitude, underfunding and, of course, the calamitous distraction of Iraq, is an Afghanistan that teeters on the brink of becoming what it was before 9/11 -- a failed state and terrorist sanctuary. Last month, a Canadian parliamentary committee on national security issued a grim report on the situation, concluding that ''it is in our view doubtful'' the Western mission can be accomplished, ``given the limited resources that NATO is currently investing in Afghanistan.''

More U.S. troops

House Democrats intend to add $1.2 billion for Afghanistan in their version of the war spending bill, with $226 million of it dedicated to reconstruction and countering the drug trade. Bush, in announcing on Saturday that he wants still more American troops -- beyond his previously announced escalation -- sent to Iraq, says he also wants more military personnel in Afghanistan to quell an expected Taliban spring offensive.

The good intentions come late. And in any case, a presidential veto of the spending measure -- which the White House has promised because of the Democrats' insistence that Iraq money be tied to clear progress and an eventual withdrawal there -- would leave Afghanistan wanting for an unforeseeable number of months.

Spring will come and go. The Taliban and al Qaeda will count on American inertia as their ally. And once again, the toxic politics of Iraq will be a root cause of Afghanistan's catastrophe.

©2007 Washington Post Writers Group

U.S. Isn't Only Country Surging Troops in Iraq

World Politics Watch - Blog: "On Friday, Nikolai Rurua, head of the Georgian Defense commission announced that Georgia's current 850-strong Iraq contingent will be expanded, bringing the total to 2,000 Georgian boots on Iraqi ground in 2007. The deployment is intended to last around a year. Rurua also announced a smaller surge in Georgian presence in Afghanistan. "

With refreshing earnestness, Rurua laid out the logic behind the move: "Our strategic partner needs help. This is why we are doing this." He described the additional deployment as "a form of political support for the United States." In fact, it would have been hard to imagine tiny Georgia otherwise deciding to throw its weight behind a renewed commitment to stabilize the region, just as all the big boys are scrambling to find a face-saving exit strategy. A Jamestown brief noted:

These contributions to U.S. and NATO operations illustrate Georgia's advance from the role of full consumer of security to that of net provider of security.

Georgia, a country of less that 5 million stuck in an extremely delicate situation, seems to be playing its geopolitical hand rather well. Last year, following the jailing and expulsion of four Russian spies, Georgia faced Russian anger in the form of doubled gas prices, suspension of troop withdrawal from Georgian territory, a general blockade and all sorts of other nasty things.

These days, it is internal disputes over the status of the western region of Abkhazia (which wants to secede and join Russia) and doubts over Russian ability to restrain itself from meddling trouble the young democracy. In fact, Abkhazia was bombarded just last night.

But with the Caucasian winter behind, and relations with Russia slowly warming (diplomatic relations have been restored), Georgia likely feels less vulnerable, and able to assert its national interest with greater confidence. GDP grew by 8.6-8.8 percent last year, the country has recently subscribed an energy pact with Turkey and Azerbaijan, and it is discussing the possibility of replacing Russian troops occupying separatist territories with EU forces, as noted by the WSJ.

"Everything that Russian nationalists threatened has happened to us, yet we are still alive," Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili told the Journal.

Georgia's biggest asset, however, is its location. Georgian pipelines offer prospects of energy diversification for Europe, which dreads leaving its energy needs in the hands of politically whimsical Russia. The United States has also been working to support Georgia as an alternative distribution route for natural gas.

Wayne Madsen Report - Why Halliburton is moving to Dubai

Wayne Madsen Report - News Archives -Feb 1-11, 2007: "March 13, 2007 -- The actual reason Halliburton and its chairman David Lesar are moving their corporate digs to Dubai is that the UAE's lax laws on corporate record keeping and the opaqueness of business transactions in the emirates will allow the firm to avoid responding to congressional subpoenas for its scandalous war profiteering in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations. A source with extensive ties in Dubai also reports that after leaving office, Dick Cheney will be spending 'a lot of time in Dubai.' WMR was told that Cheney will likely start looking for property in the emirate -- there are a number of highly-secured gated communities springing up in Dubai, which is fast becoming the 'Hong Kong' of the Middle East.

Halliburton will also be able to avoid paying U.S. corporate taxes as a UAE-headquartered corporation."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

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The Army is ordering injured troops to go to Iraq

The Army is ordering injured troops to go to Iraq Salon News: "March 11, 2007 COLUMBUS, Ga. -- 'This is not right,' said Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins, who has been ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged further by heavy Army protective gear. 'This whole thing is about taking care of soldiers,' he said angrily. 'If you are fit to fight you are fit to fight. If you are not fit to fight, then you are not fit to fight.' "

As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.

On Feb. 15, Master Sgt. Jenkins and 74 other soldiers with medical conditions from the 3rd Division's 3rd Brigade were summoned to a meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon. These are the men responsible for handling each soldier's "physical profile," an Army document that lists for commanders an injured soldier's physical limitations because of medical problems -- from being unable to fire a weapon to the inability to move and dive in three-to-five-second increments to avoid enemy fire. Jenkins and other soldiers claim that the division and brigade surgeons summarily downgraded soldiers' profiles, without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq. It is a claim division officials deny.

The 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade is now leaving for Iraq for a third time in a steady stream. In fact, some of the troops with medical conditions interviewed by Salon last week are already gone. Others are slated to fly out within a week, but are fighting against their chain of command, holding out hope that because of their ills they will ultimately not be forced to go. Jenkins, who is still in Georgia, thinks doctors are helping to send hurt soldiers like him to Iraq to make units going there appear to be at full strength. "This is about the numbers," he said flatly.

That is what worries Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs at Veterans for America, who has long been concerned that the military was pressing injured troops into Iraq. "Did they send anybody down range that cannot wear a helmet, that cannot wear body armor?" Robinson asked rhetorically. "Well that is wrong. It is a war zone." Robinson thinks that the possibility that physical profiles may have been altered improperly has the makings of a scandal. "My concerns are that this needs serious investigation. You cannot just look at somebody and tell that they were fit," he said. "It smacks of an overstretched military that is in crisis mode to get people onto the battlefield."

Eight soldiers who were at the Feb. 15 meeting say they were summoned to the troop medical clinic at 6:30 in the morning and lined up to meet with division surgeon Lt. Col. George Appenzeller, who had arrived from Fort Stewart, Ga., and Capt. Aaron K. Starbuck, brigade surgeon at Fort Benning. The soldiers described having a cursory discussion of their profiles, with no physical exam or extensive review of medical files. They say Appenzeller and Starbuck seemed focused on downplaying their physical problems. "This guy was changing people's profiles left and right," said a captain who injured his back during his last tour in Iraq and was ordered to Iraq after the Feb. 15 review.

Appenzeller said the review of 75 soldiers with profiles was an effort to make sure they were as accurate as possible prior to deployment. "As the division surgeon and the senior medical officer in the division, I wanted to ensure that all the patients with profiles were fully evaluated with clear limitations that commanders could use to make the decision whether they could deploy, and if they did deploy, what their limitations would be while there," he said in a telephone interview from Fort Stewart. He said he changed less than one-third of those profiles -- even making some more restrictive -- in order to "bring them into accordance with regulations."

In direct contradiction to the account given by the soldiers, Appenzeller said physical examinations were conducted and that he had a robust medical team there working with him, which is how they managed to complete 75 reviews in one day. Appenzeller denied that the plan was to find more warm bodies for the surge into Baghdad, as did Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., the brigade commander. Grigsby said he is under "no pressure" to find soldiers, regardless of health, to make his unit look fit. The health and welfare of his soldiers are a top priority, said Grigsby, because [the soldiers] are "our most important resource, perhaps the most important resource we have in this country."

Grigsby said he does not know how many injured soldiers are in his ranks. But he insisted that it is not unusual to deploy troops with physical limitations so long as he can place them in safe jobs when they get there. "They can be productive and safe in Iraq," Grigsby said.

The injured soldiers interviewed by Salon, however, expressed considerable worry about going to Iraq with physical deficits because it could endanger them or their fellow soldiers. Some were injured on previous combat tours. Some of their ills are painful conditions from training accidents or, among relatively older troops, degenerative problems like back injuries or blown-out knees. Some of the soldiers have been in the Army for decades.

And while Grigsby, the brigade commander, says he is under no pressure to find troops, it is hard to imagine there is not some desperation behind the decision to deploy some of the sick soldiers. Master Sgt. Jenkins, 42, has a degenerative spine problem and a long scar down the back of his neck where three of his vertebrae were fused during surgery. He takes a cornucopia of potent pain pills. His medical records say he is "at significantly increased risk of re-injury during deployment where he will be wearing Kevlar, body armor and traveling through rough terrain." Late last year, those medical records show, a doctor recommended that Jenkins be referred to an Army board that handles retirements when injuries are permanent and severe.

A copy of Jenkins' profile written after that Feb. 15 meeting and signed by Capt. Starbuck, the brigade surgeon, shows a healthier soldier than the profile of Jenkins written by another doctor just late last year, though Jenkins says his condition is unchanged. Other soldiers' documents show the same pattern.

One female soldier with psychiatric issues and a spine problem has been in the Army for nearly 20 years. "My [health] is deteriorating," she said over dinner at a restaurant near Fort Benning. "My spine is separating. I can't carry gear." Her medical records include the note "unable to deploy overseas." Her status was also reviewed on Feb. 15. And she has been ordered to Iraq this week.

The captain interviewed by Salon also requested anonymity because he fears retribution. He suffered a back injury during a previous deployment to Iraq as an infantry platoon leader. A Humvee accident "corkscrewed my spine," he explained. Like the female soldier, he is unable to wear his protective gear, and like her he too was ordered to Iraq after his meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon on Feb. 15. He is still at Fort Benning and is fighting the decision to send him to Baghdad. "It is a numbers issue with this whole troop surge," he claimed. "They are just trying to get those numbers."

Another soldier contacted Salon by telephone last week expressed considerable anxiety, in a frightened tone, about deploying to Iraq in her current condition. (She also wanted to remain anonymous, fearing retribution.) An incident during training several years ago injured her back, forcing doctors to remove part of her fractured coccyx. She suffers from degenerative disk disease and has two ruptured disks and a bulging disk in her back. While she said she loves the Army and would like to deploy after back surgery, her current injuries would limit her ability to wear her full protective gear. She deployed to Iraq last week, the day after calling Salon.

Her husband, who has served three combat tours in the infantry in Afghanistan and Iraq, said he is worried sick because his wife's protective vest alone exceeds the maximum amount she is allowed to lift. "I have been over there three times. I know what it is like," he told me during lunch at a restaurant here. He predicted that by deploying people like his wife, the brigade leaders are "going to get somebody killed over there." He said there is "no way" Grigsby is going to keep all of the injured soldiers in safe jobs. "All of these people that deploy with these profiles, they are scared," he said. He railed at the command: "They are saying they don't care about your health. This is pathetic. It is bad."

His wife's physical profile was among those reevaluated on Feb. 15. A copy of her profile from late last year showed her health problems were so severe they "prevent deployment" and recommended she be medically retired from the Army. Her profile at that time showed she was unable to wear a protective mask and chemical defense equipment, and had limitations on doing pushups, walking, biking and swimming. It said she can only carry 15 pounds.

Though she says that her condition has not changed since then, almost all of those findings were reversed in a copy of her physical profile dated Feb. 15. The new profile says nothing about a medical retirement, but suggests that she limit wearing a helmet to "one hour at a time."

Spc. Lincoln Smith, meanwhile, developed sleep apnea after he returned from his first deployment to Iraq. The condition is so severe that he now suffers from narcolepsy because of a lack of sleep. He almost nodded off mid-conversation while talking to Salon as he sat in a T-shirt on a sofa in his girlfriend's apartment near Fort Benning.

Smith is trained by the Army to be a truck driver. But since he is in constant danger of falling asleep, military doctors have listed "No driving of military vehicles" on his physical profile. Smith was supposed to fly to Iraq March 9. But he told me on March 8 that he won't go. Nobody has retrained Smith to do anything else besides drive trucks. Plus, because of his condition he was unable to train properly with the unit when the brigade rehearsed for Iraq in January, so he does not feel ready.

Smith needs to sleep with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine pumping air into his mouth and nose. "Otherwise," he says, "I could die." But based on his last tour, he is not convinced he will be able to be in places with constant electricity or will be able to fix or replace his CPAP machine should it fail.

He told me last week he would refuse to deploy to Iraq, unsure of what he will be asked to do there and afraid that he will not be taken care of. Since he won't be a truck driver, "I would be going basically as a number," says Smith, who is 32. "They don't have enough people," he says. But he is not going to be one of those numbers until they train him to do something else. "I'm going to go to the airport, and I'm going to tell them I'm not going to go. They are going to give me a weapon. I am going to say, 'It is not a good idea for you to give me a weapon right now.'"

The Pentagon was notified of the reclassification of the Fort Benning soldiers as soon as it happened, according to Master Sgt. Jenkins. He showed Salon an e-mail describing the situation that he says he sent to Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley. Jenkins agreed to speak to Salon because he hopes public attention will help other soldiers, particularly younger ones in a similar predicament. "I can't sit back and let this happen to me or other soldiers in my position." But he expects reprisals from the Army.

Other soldiers slated to leave for Iraq with injuries said they wonder whether the same thing is happening in other units in the Army. "You have to ask where else this might be happening and who is dictating it," one female soldier told me. "How high does it go?"
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The Pelosi Plan for Iraq

The Pelosi Plan for Iraq - "THE RESTRICTIONS on Iraq war funding drawn up by the House Democratic leadership are exquisitely tailored to bring together the party's leftist and centrist wings. For the Out of Iraq Caucus, which demands that Congress force a withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of this year, there is language that appears to deliver that mandate, albeit indirectly. For those who prefer a more moderate course, there is another withdrawal deadline, in August 2008. Either way, almost all American troops would be out of Iraq by the time the next election campaign begins in earnest. And there are plenty of enticements on the side: more money for wounded veterans, for children's health, for post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction."

The only constituency House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ignored in her plan for amending President Bush's supplemental war funding bill are the people of the country that U.S. troops are fighting to stabilize. The Democratic proposal doesn't attempt to answer the question of why August 2008 is the right moment for the Iraqi government to lose all support from U.S. combat units. It doesn't hint at what might happen if American forces were to leave at the end of this year -- a development that would be triggered by the Iraqi government's weakness. It doesn't explain how continued U.S. interests in Iraq, which holds the world's second-largest oil reserves and a substantial cadre of al-Qaeda militants, would be protected after 2008; in fact, it may prohibit U.S. forces from returning once they leave.

In short, the Democratic proposal to be taken up this week is an attempt to impose detailed management on a war without regard for the war itself. Will Iraq collapse into unrestrained civil conflict with "massive civilian casualties," as the U.S. intelligence community predicts in the event of a rapid withdrawal? Will al-Qaeda establish a powerful new base for launching attacks on the United States and its allies? Will there be a regional war that sucks in Iraqi neighbors such as Saudi Arabia or Turkey? The House legislation is indifferent: Whether or not any of those events happened, U.S. forces would be gone.

The House bill lists benchmarks for Iraqi political progress and requires that President Bush certify by July 1 that progress is being made toward them. By October, Bush would have to certify that the benchmarks all had been reached. This is something of a trick, akin to the inflexible troop readiness requirements that Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) wanted to impose to "stop the surge." Everyone knows that the long list of requirements -- including constitutional changes, local elections and the completion of complex legislation -- couldn't be finished in six months. In that case a troop withdrawal would have to begin immediately. If there was no "progress" by July, it would have to begin then and be completed by the end of the year.

Congress should rigorously monitor the Iraqi government's progress on those benchmarks. By Mr. Bush's own account the purpose of the troop surge in Iraq is to enable political progress. If progress does not occur, the military strategy should be reconsidered. But aggressive oversight is quite different from mandating military steps according to an inflexible timetable conforming to the need to capture votes in Congress or at the 2008 polls. Ms. Pelosi's strategy leads not toward a responsible withdrawal from Iraq but to a constitutional power struggle with Mr. Bush, who has already said he will veto the legislation. Such a struggle would serve the interests of neither the Democrats nor the country.

[bth: the president's plan and the congresses is now about winning elections in the US and not about winning a war in Iraq.]
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Talabani: If US pulls out, Iraq will be overrun by Shiites, Kurds

Talabani: If US pulls out, Iraq will be overrun by Shiites, Kurds - Middle East: "Amman - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani warned in remarks published Tuesday that if US troops pulled out prematurely from Iraq, the country 'will be overrun' by Kurdish and Shiite militias. "

'Frankly speaking, we believe that if the US army withdraws, there will be a Kurdish and Shiite military domination of the country,' Talabani said in an interview with the daily newspaper al-Rai.

'Hundreds of thousands of trained Kurds and Shiites are ready and they can overrun all of Iraq. We in the Kurdistan province can dominate the city of Musel and all Arab areas there in a few hours,' added Talabani, who is recovering at King Hussein Medical Centre where he was transferred two weeks ago after a sudden illness.

The Iraqi president, who himself leads a Kurdish party backed with a militia, said that a US pullout from Iraq at this juncture 'will not be in the interest of the country.'

'A real Iraqi force involving all components of the Iraqi people should be ready before a US withdrawal,' he added.

Talabani pointed out that he attached big importance to the conference that was held earlier this month in Baghdad with the participation of Iran and Syria.

'US President George W Bush has taken a risk when he agreed that Americans and Iranians meet, because the United States so far absolutely rejected any encounter with the Iranians before they stop the enrichment (of uranium),' he said.

'Iraq will benefit more than any other country from the US-Iranian rapprochement, because if the Americans and the Iranians agree to achieve security and stability in Iraq, I am confident there will be some results on the ground within one month or two months,' he added. 'This is because the Iranians have information and capabilities to deal with terrorists,' he said.
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AFGHANISTAN: 'TALIBAN SEEKING SPOKESMEN FOR JOURNALIST SWAP': "Lahore, 12 March (AKI) - (by Syed Saleem Shahzad) - One of the main reasons behind the Taliban kidnapping of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo is to exchange his life for the release of two Taliban spokesmen who have been detained by Afghan authorities. This is according to well-known Pakistani journalist, Rahimullah Yusufzai. In an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI), Yousufzai said that the Taliban is currently involved in backchannel talks with the administration of Afghan president Hamid Karzai to secure the exchange."

"The real purpose for the kidnapping of the Italian journalist is to swap him for the detained Taliban spokesmen about which the Taliban is talking to the Karzai administration through various backchannels," said Yousufzai who works with the Pakistani daily The News International in Peshawar and is also a correspondent for the BBC Pashto service.

Yousufzai is a known expert on Afghan affairs who has reportedly interviewed fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar in the past and other Taliban leaders and is very popular among the Taliban because of his Pashto commentary on the BBC.On Friday, a Taliban commander called for the withdrawal of Italian troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the release of an Italian journalist.

While the Taliban's demands for the withdrawal of Italian forces is still on the cards, Yousufzai said that the real emphasis is on the release of the Taliban’s spokespeople such as Abdul Latif Hakimi who was arrested in Quetta in Pakistan two years ago and Dr Mohammad Hanif who was arrested on the Afghan side of the Torkham border two months ago."

The Taliban has conveyed the message to the Karzai administration that it is irrational that all Western journalists who are embedded with the Western coalition in Afghanistan, can move freely in the name of the freedom of the press but the Taliban’s non-militant spokesmen are arrested and given no leeway in the name of the freedom of expression," Yousufzai maintained.

Report: Dirty bomb materials still available - Lisa Myers & the NBC News Investigative Unit

Report: Dirty bomb materials still available - Lisa Myers & the NBC News Investigative Unit - "WASHINGTON - International inspectors working in the former Soviet republic of Georgia last summer tracked down dangerous radiological materials in an abandoned military complex. "

It was an important mission. But a new report by U.S. government watchdogs says a parallel effort overseas by the U.S. Department of Energy has made only "limited progress securing many of the most dangerous sources" — waste disposal sites and abandoned generators across Russia, each with enough material for several devastating dirty bombs.

The new report by the Government Accountability Office says that DOE is doing an admirable job securing low-risk radiological sources — the proverbial low-hanging fruit — at the expense of more dangerous materials that remain vulnerable to terrorists.

“Many of the highest-risk and most dangerous sources still remain unsecured, particularly in Russia,” the GAO writes. “Specifically, 16 or 20 waste storage sites across Russia and Ukraine remain unsecured while more than 700 RTGs [radioisotope thermoelectric generators] remain operational or abandoned in Russia and are vulnerable to theft or potential misuse.”

RTGs can contain up to 250,000 curies of Strontium-90. Experts say an explosion with that amount of Strontium-90 could be dangerous.

"You would cause a significant contamination over a square mile — many, many city blocks, and with the right city blocks, Wall Street or the White House,” says Leonard S. Spector, deputy director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute. “The impact could be very devastating.”

A test explosion by U.S. scientists working at the Sandia National Labs near Albuquerque, N.M., showed how a dirty bomb works: Conventional explosives spread the radioactive material, which can contaminate large areas.

The new report says the DOE has focused most of its energies in the last three years on securing small sources of radioactive materials in Russia and abroad — largely found in medical equipment stored in doctors’ offices.

Meanwhile, the report says, major waste disposal sites sit protected by primitive fences. And more than 700 generators are vulnerable to terrorists.

"If you look at the past six months, we see, I think, an upsurge in criminal and terrorist activity using radioactive materials,” says Charles Ferguson, a science and technology fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Last year, according to the International Atomic Energy Association, there were 85 confirmed thefts or loss of nuclear or radioactive materials worldwide — mostly small amounts. Most of those have not been recovered.

Last fall, al-Qaida’s leader in Iraq called on militant scientists to create dirty bombs to be tested on U.S. bases in Iraq.

“I am disturbingly concerned about this because it can grow into a huge threat,” says Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, who will chair a hearing Tuesday on the issue at a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. “These generators are sources that can be used for dirty bombs, and [they are] there for the taking. I feel that DOE is not meeting the priority of our nation in security.”

The report also criticizes the DOE for a “steady” decline in its budget for the International Radiological Threat Reduction program. It says, “[F]uture funding is uncertain because the agency places a higher priority on securing special nuclear material” than it does in protecting dirty-bomb material.

The DOE points out that the GAO report also applauds its efforts in many areas. The agency also says it has made progress, having upgraded security at 500 sites in more than 40 countries. DOE officials say they are now moving to secure more of those high-risk generators and waste sites in Russia, and that their budget request for next year represents a slight increase.

“DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration are committed to securing and removing vulnerable radiological sources around the world,” says Andrew Bieniawski, who heads up the DOE’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative, run under the National Nuclear Security Administration.

As of January, the agency has spent approximately $120 million to secure vulnerable radiological sources, an expenditure that demonstrates a strong commitment to a program that has produced tangible results and reduced the risks of terrorists acquiring the materials to make a dirty bomb, Bieniawski said.
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ABC News: Neutralizing a Nuclear Nightmare

ABC News: Neutralizing a Nuclear Nightmare -- Online: "March 12, 2007 — An explosion rocks a local high school. Minutes later, casualties flood into a hospital emergency room.

Only after the first wave of wounded arrive is the hospital informed that the explosion was a result of a dirty bomb — a weapon designed to scatter radioactive material throughout its blast radius. "

And one by one, weaknesses in the system take their toll on emergency efforts.

Hospital administrators call their local radiation safety officer, but he is on vacation and can't be reached.

Health workers search for but cannot locate radiation meters that could help them determine which patients suffered the highest degree of contamination.

Confusion builds as medical professionals wonder about the appropriate way to deal with so many patients as radioactive patients lay waiting for appropriate treatment, possibly contaminating other patients and health professionals.

At the climax of the disaster, the emergency bays of the hospital close down. The system of medical treatment grinds to a halt. All that remains now is a slim hope that casualties and contamination can somehow be kept to a minimum.

Fortunately, the above was just a drill — one of many conducted in communities across the country since the 9/11 attacks.

But the scenario was frighteningly realistic. And the ways in which the situation was mishandled exposed the weak spots in the medical system of one county when it came to a possible radiological disaster.

"They flubbed it terribly," says Dr. John Moulder, professor of radiation oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Moulder, who did not reveal the location of the scenario described above, says the missteps in the response could have happened anywhere else in the country.

It is a nightmarish scenario. But federal officials hope a new online tool could help health professionals cope with such an episode more effectively.

Preparing for Impending Disaster

The words "dirty bomb" have been on the lips of health and law enforcement officials since the terrorist attacks of 2001. But even now, a surefire solution for dealing with such a catastrophe has been elusive....
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Bosnian Al-Qaeda Member Arrested in Pakistan

Javno - World: "Nihad C. has been charged with organising terrorist training in Al-Qaeda camps. Bosnia has no information about his arrest."

German media have published that Nihad C., a citizen of Bosnia-Herzegovina, had been arrested in Pakistan under charges of organising terrorist training.

But, the Bosnian Foreign Ministry has no information about his apprehension.

-- We have no final information about this arrest. It is possible that Bosnian diplomatic and consular offices in Belrin or Islamabad received information over the weekend, but we cannot verify that now – a spokesman for the Bosnian Foreign Ministry, Nebojsa Regoje, told Nezavisne novine yesterday.

He was an instructor in terrorist network training camps

The German weekly “Spiegel” says that Nihad was apprehended by the Pakistani intelligence service ISI in the town of Ravalpindi. He allegedly visited training camps for the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and is suspected of being an instructor in these camps.

The arrested Bosnian, who lived in Germany, is well known to the German security services because he was allegedly in contact with jihad supporters in Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A German national, Mihael N., was also arrested in Pakistan, who Nihad was supposed to transport to a terrorist camp on the Pakistani-Afghanistan border. Nihad and Mihael, a German who converted to Islam, met in a mosque in Pakistan.