Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Venezuela Prepares For War With United States

Lawmaker Claims US Behind Al Qaeda Threat To Venezuelan Oil Facilities

Few analysts really believe that war will break out between the US and Venezuela any time soon. It would be bad news for both countries.

But there are plenty of signs that preparations are being made, if only to keep each other at arm's length. The United States is clearly unhappy about Chavez's plans to nationalise the oil industry, fearing key supplies may be cut off, or that the US may be held to ransom by Chavez over further supplies and previously contracted prices for oil.

A report in the Washington Times tries to build up tensions over Venezuela's military build up and tensions between Chavez and the Bush administration :
Venezuela says it is beefing up its military capabilities -- including plans to develop the region's largest submarine fleet -- in preparation for any "asymmetrical conflict" with the United States.
The buildup, which also includes small arms, jet fighters and potentially air-defense missiles, is being carried out in compliance with all international and regional nonproliferation treaties, Venezuela's ambassador to Washington said in a telephone interview.

But by repeatedly characterizing any conflict with the United States as "asymmetrical," Bernardo Alvarez made clear that his government was contemplating the need to defend itself against the world's lone superpower, a nation with vastly greater military resources.

"We have simply been trying to upgrade our military equipment and maintain our defense while preserving balance in the hemisphere," said Mr. Alvarez, who insisted that Venezuela's Latin American neighbors need not worry about the buildup.

Caracas is reported to have spent $3.4 billion on Russian arms, including assault rifles and fighter jets, and to be negotiating to buy a $290 million Russian air-defense system.
Now, according to remarks attributed to Vice Adm. Armando Laguna, Venezuela is planning to spend another $3 billion for nine submarines, giving it the region's largest submarine fleet by 2012. Mr. Alvarez could not confirm the report.

A Pentagon report estimated that Venezuela had spent about $4.3 billion on arms since 2005 alone, more than countries such as Iran, Pakistan and even China. Venezuela also is pursuing an estimated $2 billion worth of military-transport ships and aircraft from Spain.

Venezuela already has conducted billions of dollars in business with Russia, purchasing 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 24 Sukhoi-30 fighters and about 35 helicopters.

Most recently, Caracas has its sights set on buying Russian air-defense missiles known as the Tor-M1 system, which consists of eight missiles in a battery mounted to a launch vehicle. The short-range system is designed for use against low-flying aircraft and incoming missiles.

A Venezuela military official told the Associated Press last month that the missiles were wanted for "air defense" only -- a notion in keeping with Mr. Chavez's repeated warnings about the threat of a U.S. invasion. The Bush administration regularly denies it has any such intentions.
Washington has expressed concerns that the Russian assault rifles could wind up in the hands of leftist rebels in neighboring Colombia or be used to further the Venezuelan leader's socialist agenda in the region.

"I can see why Chavez wants to militarize Venezuela. ... He's a military man, just like Bolivar was a military man," said John Pike, director of Simon Bolivar, whom Mr. Chavez idolizes, liberated several Latin American nations from Spain during the 19th century.

But waging war with the United States "would be a foolish thing to do," he said, noting that even a minor skirmish would jeopardize Venezuela's oil sales to its largest customer

From Jurnalo :
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday accused the United States of plotting to harm Venezuela's economy, after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused him of doing the same to his own country. "Condoleezza turned again to disparaging me and said that I am destroying the country's economy - this shows that there is now an economic plan against Venezuela," he said.

Rice last week said Chavez was ruining his country's democratic institutions and economy, in some of her strongest comments yet against the Venezuelan leader.

"There's an assault on democracy in Venezuela, and I believe that there are significant human rights issues in Venezuela," Rice said at a congressional hearing. "I do believe that the president of Venezuela is really, really destroying his own country economically, politically. "

Chavez called Rice's comments the latest "imperialist" attack from a "desperate" country, and added that the US was free to stop buying Venezuelan oil if it felt strongly enough.

"We have enough clients to sell petroleum to, we are not dependent at all on the North American imperialist," Chavez said.

From EarthTimes :
Venezuela's Foreign Ministry adopted a take 'em or leave em attitude toward the United States, suggesting its petroleum industry could survive without the billions of dollars in annual revenue from its largest customer.

We are going to keep selling oil to North America because we are a serious country and we sell it to North American society, said Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro earlier this week in response to remarks by U.S. officials.

Venezuela supplies about 12 percent of the oil imported by the United States, making it Venezuela's largest customer. It is the No. 4 U.S. supplier.

Maduro was reacting to remarks by Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, who said the United States was stepping up its efforts to use biofuels to reduce its dependence on Venezuelan oil.

Maduro's remarks came as Venezuela is furthering its effort to wrest greater control of its energy assets, including oil, through a wide-ranging nationalization program.

Amid concerns Chavez is gearing up for a large-scale takeover of the oil industry, some analysts note he has historically taken small steps toward great state control of the industry and that a radical shift in policy would be neither prudent nor in line with his previous policies.

Chavez Calls For Anti-Imperialist Unity

From USA Today :
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, seeking inroads in a region where the U.S. has long been the dominant influence, called on Caribbean states to join his fight against imperialism.

During a Caribbean tour that began Friday, the leftist leader is promoting Venezuela's sales of fuel under preferential terms to Caribbean nations and highlighting its public works projects in the region.

"Today is the time of the people, of unity," Chavez said Friday evening upon arriving at St. Vincent, where he was greeted by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, met onlookers and kissed several youngsters. Chavez said the Caribbean should be a "sea of resistance" to imperialism.

Earlier Friday, Chavez was in the mountainous, forested island of Dominica, where he addressed a crowd at a new fuel storage tank built by Venezuela, one of five the oil-rich nation has pledged to construct there. "An empire of Latin America and the Caribbean will be greater than the empire of Star Wars and cannot be stopped," Chavez said.

Lawmaker Claims US Behind Al Qaeda Threat To Venezuelan Oil

From :
Lawmaker Saúl Ortega, chair of the National Assembly Committee on Foreign Affairs, Thursday attributed to the United States the threats Al Qaeda launched on Wednesday to strike oil facilities worldwide, including premises in Venezuela.

According to Ortega, such reports are a US "terrorist maneuver" aimed at intimidating the nations that are at odds with Washington and having an excuse for likely interventions.

He added that the alleged threat was not launched directly by the terrorist group, but through a translation reportedly made by US intelligence agencies under the Central Intelligence Agency.

"I do believe this is part of a US terrorist maneuver. This is very suspicious, as the information was not disclosed by Al Qaeda itself, but it is based on translation a body of the CIA allegedly made from a news report or an online magazine they attributed to Al Qaeda," Ortega declared.

He added that the real suspects are rather "the terrorists that the CIA and the US administration have to attack and perform this type of sabotage worldwide. They are the threat."

Further, Ortega claimed that the US is likely making attempts at making the world believe that US security is at stake because of a possible disruption in oil supplies following Al Qaeda's threat against Venezuela. Consequently, Washington could order a pre-emptive military intervention of Venezuela.

Iraq : Blair Retreats From Basra

UK Army's Own Maps Give Lie To Blair's Claim Of "Remarkable Progress"

There are numerous reasons why UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has decided to begin withdrawing British troops from Iraq, but the "remarkable progress" he cites having been made in Basra is probably the least of them.

Residents of Basra are torn over the pullout. Some fear revenge attacks from the more brutal elements of the Iraqi Army and police force, others claim that the presence of UK troops made the violence only worse, encouraging attacks and insurgents. Others still claim that UK troops, or British undercover operatives, were behind bombings and assassinations.

The plan, as outlined by Tony Blair, is to withdraw almost 2000 British troops from Iraq within months, with more to leave by Christmas. A few thousand will remain through 2008, but analysts are predicting the Brits will slowly, but steadily, reduce overall numbers through next year.

The Americans and the Australian supporters of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq are frantically trying to spin the announcement as a sign of progress and success, proposing that Basra is now calm and secure enough to be handed over to the Iraqi Army and police forces.

But the British are actually pulling out of the city back into their barracks, where they will mostly stay while the withdrawals take place.

US Vice President, Dick Cheney, was his usual acerbic self talking about troop withdrawals around the same time as Blair made his announcement :
I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat. We want to complete the mission, we want to get it done right, and we want to return with honour."
Likewise, the Australian prime minister, foreign minister and defence minister, claimed they were all aware of the coming announcement by Tony Blair, but spent most of the past week hammering any talk of withdrawing troops from Iraq "before the job is done."

Juan Cole claims the withdrawal of troops from Basra "is a rout" :
"There should be no mistake. The fractious Shiite militias and tribes of Iraq's South have made it impossible for the British to stay. They already left Sadr-controlled Maysan province, as well as sleepy Muthanna. They moved the British consulate to the airport because they couldn't protect it in Basra. They are taking mortar and rocket fire at their bases every night. Raiding militia HQs has not resulted in any permanent change in the situation. Basra is dominated by 4 paramilitaries, who are fighting turf wars with one another and with the Iraqi government over oil smuggling rights.

Blair is not leaving Basra because the British mission has been accomplished. He is leaving because he has concluded that it cannot be, and that if he tries any further it will completely sink the Labor Party, perhaps for decades to come.

From the London Times :

On military charts, significant swaths of the southern city are security coded scarlet, for unsatisfactory. Other zones are marked green, satisfactory, or amber, between the two.

Levels of violence and anticoalition attacks are far lower in the Shia-dominated south than the Sunni triangle around Baghdad. But British casualties have been increasing over the last year, with more than ten soldiers killed and 60 injured since November.

Either way, the move will answer the question about whether the continuing presence of coalition troops in areas with no insurgency comparable to the north has been acting as a magnet for violence.

Followers of the radical Shia cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr — whose Mahdi Army is blamed for much of the Islamist intimidation and accused by British forces of launching many of the bomb attacks on them — predicted that Basra would soon become calm.

“The militias and militant groups in these areas only fired their weapons at the occupier and when they go, all of the violence here will end,” Salam al-Maliki, a Sadrist official, said.

Shia leaders in Baghdad, eager to fix their grip on power, applauded the announcement. “The withdrawal is the wish of the Iraqi Government and all the political powers in the country,” Sami al-Askari, an MP close to the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said.

But in Amara, the capital of Maysan province which Britain intends to hand over to Iraqi forces within months, Jabr al-Nuaimi, 40, said he felt the British had abandoned the city to the Mahdi army since withdrawing from bases around the city last September.

“The British troops left the city under pressure from the Mahdi army because there were a lot of mortars fired at their bases,” he told The Times.

“People hoped the British would control the city with a strong hand, but in reality all they cared about was protecting themselves.”

Although there is no Sunni-Shia carnage to compare with Baghdad, the Shia-dominated south has been torn by a cutthroat internal competition for power that has turned bloody. Since August, both Diwaniyah and Amara have been convulsed by clashes between the mainly Shia Iraqi Army, and Sadr’s militia.

Basra has seen the worst of the violence. Locals believe the drive-by shootings and assassinations have been fuelled by the struggle among the city’s Shia political parties for control of the Basra region’s oil reserves. Optimists hope that the Iraqi Army, while bedevilled by the same corruption, militia infiltration and political interference as other institutions, will inspire confidence more than the militia-dominat-ed police, in a country traditionally proud of its armed forces.

Patrick Cockburn writes in the UK Independent :

It is an admission of defeat. Iraq is turning into one of the world's bloodiest battlefields in which nobody is safe. Blind to this reality, Tony Blair said yesterday that Britain could safely cut its forces in Iraq because the apparatus of the Iraqi government is growing stronger.

In fact the civil war is getting worse by the day. Food is short in parts of the country. A quarter of the population would starve without government rations. Many Iraqis are ill because their only drinking water comes from the highly polluted Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Nowhere in Mr Blair's statement was any admission of regret for reducing Iraq to a wasteland from which 2 million people have fled and 1.5 million are displaced internally.

Mr Blair gave the impression that the presence of US and British forces is popular among Iraqis. In fact an opinion poll cited by the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton report of senior Democrats and Republicans in Washington showed that 61 per cent of Iraqis favour armed attacks on US and British forces.

Mr Blair painted a picture of Iraq in which political and economic progress is only being hampered by mindless terrorists. He claimed that the aim of these groups was "to prevent Iraq's democracy from working". But one of the main problems is that the constitution and two elections in 2005 have embedded differences between Sunni, Shia and Kurds.

The Prime Minister said there were 130,000 soldiers in the Iraqi army and 135,000 in the police force. He showed only limited appreciation, however, of the extent to which these forces are allied to the Shia militias or the Sunni insurgents.

British, Australian and American government officials can spin the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq however they like, even calling it "a reduction of troops", but history will record these events as a defeat for the British in Iraq, and the final death knell for the unity of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq.

Iraq Prime Minister Welcomes British Troop Withdrawal - Defines It As "Catalyst" Moment

UK Withdrawal Shows "Progress" And "Success" Claims US Masters Of War Spin

Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, South Korea Withdrawing Troops From Iraq

Australia To Increase Troops Numbers As Pressure Grows On Government To Withdraw

Beginning Of The End For Brits In Iraq?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

War On Terror Radicalises Muslims Around The Globe

Anti-Americanism Soars In WoT Ally Nations

You might expect that anti-Americanism would actually be lower in Muslim countries supposedly allied with the United States in the War on Terror. You'd be wrong.

What is starkly apparent from the following story is that hatred and dismay directed at the US has increased dramatically during the course of the Iraq War, and America's aggressive pursuit and violence directed towards Muslims in dozens of countries around the world, through CIA renditions and War on Terror related arrests and harrassments.

Whatever the reasons behind the rise in anti-American sentiment, the support for terrorism and violence is shocking. Though there is also good news to found in the survey numbers, particularly in the rise of American favouritism in Iran, and the worldwide distrust of Muslims towards Sharia law being imposed on their societies.

A hell of a lot of cliches pumped out by Western media and politicians towards Muslims must also now be retired and cast from the public debate. It is clear that the vast majority of Muslims do not oppose the "values" of the West, but they rarely support acts of aggression and violence by governments in the West.

Definitely one of the most important, and informative, surveys of the Muslim world to have been released during the course of the 'War on Terror'.

From the London Times :

The War on Terror has radicalised Muslims around the world to unprecedented levels of anti-American feeling, according to the largest survey of Muslims ever to be conducted.

Seven per cent believe that the events of 9/11 were “completely justified”. In Saudi Arabia, 79 per cent had an “unfavourable view” of the US.

Gallup’s Centre for Muslim Studies in New York carried out surveys of 10,000 Muslims in ten predominantly Muslim countries. One finding was that the wealthier and better-educated the Muslim was, the more likely he was to be radicalised.

The surveys were carried out in 2005 and 2006. Along with an earlier Gallup survey in nine other countries in 2001, they represent the views of more than 90 per cent of the world’s Muslims. A further 1,500 Muslims in London, Paris and Berlin are involved in a separate poll to be published in April.

The findings come in a climate of growing mistrust between Islam and the West. Another recent survey in the US found that 39 per cent of Americans felt some prejudice towards Muslims.

The Gallup findings indicate that, in terms of spiritual values and the emphasis on the family and the future, Americans have more in common with Muslims than they do with their Western counterparts in Europe.

A large number of Muslims supported the Western ideal of democratic government. Fifty per cent of radicals supported democracy, compared with 35 per cent of moderates.

Religion was found to have little to do with radicalisation or antipathy towards Western culture. Muslims were condemnatory of promiscuity and a sense of moral decay. What they admired most was liberty, its democratic system, technology and freedom of speech.

While there was widespread support for Sharia, or Islamic law, only a minority wanted religious leaders to be making laws. Most women in the predominantly Muslim countries believed that Sharia should be the source of a nation’s laws, but they strongly believed in equal rights for women.

This finding indicates the complexity of the struggle ahead for Western understanding. Few Western commentators can see how women could embrace the veil, Sharia and equal rights at the same time.

Researchers set out to examine the truth behind the stock response in the West to the question of when it will know it is winning the war on terror. Foreign policy experts tend to believe that victory will come when the Islamic world rejects radicalism. “Every politician has a theory: radicals are religious fundamentalists; they are poor; they are full of hopeless-ness and hate. But those theories are wrong,” the researchers reported.

“We find that Muslim radicals have more in common with their moderate brethren than is often assumed. If the West wants to reach the extremists, and empower the moderate majority, it must first recognise who it’s up against.”

Gallup says that because terrorists often hijack Islamic precepts for their own ends, pundits and politicians in the West sometimes portray Islam as a religion of terrorism.

“They often charge that religious fervour triggers radical and violent views,” said John Esposito, a religion professor, and Dalia Mogahed, Gallup’s Muslim studies director, in one analysis. “But the data say otherwise. There is no significant difference in religiosity between moderates and radicals. In fact, radicals are no more likely to attend religious services regularly than are moderates.”

They continue: “It’s no secret that many in the Muslim world suffer from crippling poverty and lack of education. But are radicals any poorer than their fellow Muslims? We found the opposite: there is indeed a key difference between radicals and moderates when it comes to income and education, but it is the radicals who earn more and stay in school longer.”

Genieve Abdo, a senior Gallup analyst and author of Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11, said that the findings of a high level of religious belief among both moderate and radical Muslims had “huge implications” for Western governments.

Percentage with unfavourable view of US in 2005 (all increased since 9/11 except where indicated:


Saudi Arabia






Iran (down from 63 in 2001)


Pakistan (down from 69 in 2001)

British Troops To Begin Pullout From Iraq War

White House Spins UK Pullout As Sign Of "Success" And "Stability"

All British Troops Out Of Iraq By End Of 2008

On Tuesday, UK prime minister Tony Blair talked to US President George W. Bush by phone and told him he was planning to announce the withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq.

Blair is set to announce today a withdrawal timetable that is expected to see some 1500 UK troops return home within weeks, and at least half of all 7000 deployed troops to be out of Iraq by Christmas.

The UK Guardian claims all British troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2008.

In January, Blair reacted to calls from Liberal Democrats to set a timetable for withdrawal with the following words :
"to set an arbitrary timetable... that we will pull British troops out in October, come what may... would send the most disastrous signal to the people we are fighting in
Blair is believed to have changed his mind for a variety of reasons, including intelligence reports that the UK presence is inflaming sectarian fighting, instead of quelling it, and the likelihood that Blair is to soon hand over the prime ministership to successor Gordon Brown, who hasn't a chance of winning the next UK election with the Iraq War hanging over his head.

A White House spokesman said the US viewed the British withdrawal as "a success" and a sign of increasing stability inside Iraq.

From :

"The President is grateful for the support of the British forces in the past and into the future," (the White House spokesman said).

"While the United Kingdom is maintaining a robust force in southern Iraq, we're pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that they are able to transition more control to the Iraqis.

"The United States shares the same goal of turning responsibility over to the Iraqi Security Forces and reducing the number of American troops in Iraq."

From the BBC :
BBC political correspondent James Landale said: "We have been expecting an announcement for some time on this."

However, he said reports that all troops will have returned home by the end of 2008 was "not a fair representation of what is true at the moment".

Our correspondent said senior Whitehall sources had told him that the pullout was "slightly slower" than they had expected and "if conditions worsen this process could still slow up".

From the UK Guardian :
The prime minister is expected to say that Britain intends to gradually reduce the number of troops in southern Iraq over the next 22 months as Iraqi forces take on more responsibility for the security of Basra and the surrounding areas.

Ministers have taken on board the message coming from military chiefs over many months - namely that the presence of British troops on the streets of Basra is increasingly unnecessary, even provocative.

The reduction of just 1,000 by early summer cited by officials yesterday is significantly less than anticipated in reports that British troops in southern Iraq, presently totalling 7,200, would be cut by half by May.

A more cautious reduction may reflect concern expressed by the Iraqi and US governments about British intentions.

The US has privately admonished Britain claiming it is interested only in Basra. British ministers and officials say the situation in the Shia-dominated south cannot be compared to Baghdad, which is plagued by Sunni-Shia sectarian violence.

Under the plan due to be outlined by Mr Blair, British troops will gradually move into a single base on the outskirts of Basra. They will continue to take part in operations but in a role supporting Iraqi security forces rather than leading them, according to defence officials.

They will also continue operating long range desert patrols in Maysan province, north of Basra, along the border with Iran - a mission pressed on Britain by the US which says it is concerned about the smuggling of weapons from Iran. By the end of next year, all but a few army instructors will have left the country.


Full List Of 132 British Troops Who Died In Iraq

Other Iraq Related News

Lack Of Food Security Threatens Future Stability Of Iraq - Food Supplies Collapse

US Democrats Want Troops Restricted To Training Only Duties And Missions In Iraq

Iraq's Massive Oil Reserve Opened To Ownership By Foreign Countries Under New Law

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bush Calls For More NATO Forces To Afghanistan

200 British Troops Fight Taliban Over Dam

The US is now in control of NATO forces in Afghanistan, and President Bush and Vice President Cheney are ramping up pressure on NATO allies to supply more troops for the war. The reaction so far from NATO countries has been less than overwhelming.

Almost lost amidst the hype about the US "troop surge" into Iraq, for the Baghdad security crackdown, is the news that 3000 more US troops will be entering Afghanistan in the coming months.

But NATO field commanders are said to be annoyed that the Afghanistan "surge" has come so late, and is less in number than what is needed.

Insurgents and Taliban fighters are said to be scattered, but US intelligence claims fighters are regrouping across the border in wasteland Pakistan territory.

The United States has more than 26,000 troops in Afghanistan this year, the highest number since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.

2006 proved the deadliest year yet for both NATO forces and for the Afghans, with more than 4000 people killed.

There is much talk about a Taliban 'Spring Offensive', and the Taliban has repeatedly boasted of having anywhere from 2000 to 5000 suicide bomb attackers ready to hit NATO forces.

But even outside of the hype and propaganda, 20007 is looking set to be the most bloody, most deadly year in the Afghanistan war so far. The British have committed to keeping its troops in country for the rest of the year, and now Cheney is hitting up Australia to send back a few hundred of its highly prized Special Forces.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

An interesting first hand account follows of a full-blown British assault on a strong Taliban position, near an an essential piece of Afghanistan's infrastructure : the hydroelectric station at the Kajaki dam on the Helmand River.

The piece not only shows the effectiveness of British troops backed by Apache helicopters, it also reveals the continuing bind all NATO forces face in Afghanistan, of securing valuable positions and territory, yet not having the manpower to stay and keep the territory. The Taliban know NATO troops will always pull back from positions won, and they can move right back in.

200 Royal Marines were sent in to battle against Taliban fighters and to clear them out of positions they'd held at the dam. It was regarded as one of the biggest missions for the 3 Commando Brigade since it arrived in country.

The Taliban had to be routed so that Chinese engineers could begin work on the power station at the dam. But the Chinese wouldn't get to work until a six kilometre radius 'security zone' had been established.

From the London Times (excerpts) :

There is much talk of a Taleban spring offensive in Afghanistan. But for the M company Marines based in Kajaki, the past six weeks have already been filled with fighting in which the initiative has been their own. Indeed, 11 troop’s 23-year-old commander, a second lieutenant who completed his training in December, has already led his men into assaults in which they have fixed bayonets on at least four occasions.

10 troop followed on into the assault immediately behind these Marines and, as the first glimmers of dawn appeared, the sky clattered with rotor blades. A huge air operation, involving a Nimrod, B1 bombers, F18 jets, Harriers, Apache attack helicopters and UAV surveillance drones, was backing the attack. From 35,000ft down to 500ft, the air was allocated.

As 10 troop moved in a fast, hunched shuffle across the open ground to their target, a neighbouring compound, the complexities of the objective became apparent quickly.

The compounds, part of Shomali Ghulbah, a large curving settlement set in an undulating plain of sand and shingle, were protected by 10ft walls.

“They are ninja,” a Marine forward air-controller had told me two days earlier. “Those walls have had hundred of years worth of baked mud and brick built into them. You can fire what you like at them with little noticeable effect.”

As the Marines scrambled inside, I saw a disorientating labyrinth of narrow internal alleys connected by crawl holes, interspersed with well shafts and tunnels.

At first, no combat was given. In classic insurgent style, the Taleban had melted away from the attack.

But just over an hour into the assault, and with the M company Marines barely a quarter of the way through clearing their objectives, the first Taleban fire came in on the west flank of 10 troop, followed by a rocket-propelled grenade.

From their positions among the wadi beds and compound roofs, some Marines returned fire. Then an Apache helicopter circled, guided to its target by a forward air-controller.

“Have an Apache guarding your flank and you know you’ll be all right,” said Captain William Mackenzie-Green, 10 troop’s commander, as the helicopter wheeled overhead. “The Taleban can’t stand it, though. We know from their intercepted communications that they call it ‘the mosquito’. They know exactly how long its flight time is to reach us, and so know exactly how long they have got to fight before hiding.”

This time though, the Taleban did not hide quickly enough. A Hellfire rocket from an Apache hit the building from which they were firing. A watching air-controller confirmed three dead.

Blown through the roof, one of the Taleban dead lay in a field. A figure rushed forward to collect the body in a wheelbarrow. Another picked up a severed arm.

Carrying no visible weapon, they could not be engaged. “Their casualty evacuation procedure is as good as ours,” Captain Mackenzie-Green said. “They sweep up their dead and wounded immediately. We seldom find the bodies.”

There is a certain sneaking respect among the Marines for their enemy. Though they do not regard the Taleban as especially competent, the Marines acknowledge their courage in the hammering they have received from British forces in recent weeks.

A sharper gunfight began soon afterwards as seven or eight Taleban again fired on 10 troop’s flank. The exchange lasted for several minutes as the Marines, deployed along the walls and roof of a compound, engaged their foes across an open field.

Captain Cairns again brought in the Apache, which strafed the Taleban with .30 cannon fire. They died.

...without the manpower to consolidate the ground that they clear, the Marines’ operations conclude with their returning to base.

By midday M company had consolidated at their farthest objective in Shomali Ghulbah as another company came up and advanced.

A few Taleban had been killed by Apaches on the flanks but the Marines’ main advance had been unchallenged.

As an F18 bombed Taleban trenches on a distant hill the clouds darkened and the rain came down in heavy, lancing sheets.

Finally, having cleared their objectives, without the loss of a single Marine, the two companies regrouped and returned slowly to base as the night fell once more. It was a lengthy march back. The wadis had been filled with knee-high running water; the flat fields turned to rinks of sliding mud. Behind the Marines, the silent, abandoned compounds disappeared back into the blackness.

And just over 12 hours later, early yesterday afternoon, 14 rockets slammed into the area around the Marines’ Kajaki base, fired from the north bank of the Helmand river.

The Taleban were back.

Bush Calls On NATO To Increase Troop Numbers

Another US Helicopter Down : 8 Killed, 14 Injured

2006 A Year Of Triumph And Disappointment For NATO Forces - 4000 Afghans Killed - Now A Taliban Spring Offensive Looms

Pakistan Tries To Mine And Fence Remote Afghanistan Border Region To Stop Taliban Returning To Fight NATO Forces

Pakistan Digs In For Spring Taliban Offensive

Roadside Bomb Kills Four Police Involved in Poppy Eradication Program

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Key Madhi Army Leaders Targeted By US & Iraqi Crackdown Flee Baghdad

A string of market bombings, 100 or so dead Iraqis and a few Americans, seems to have become a daily average of the carnage in Baghdad, and across Iraq. Even in the midst of the mega-hyped 'security crackdown'.

The pressure to get results in the Iraq War and to first lower the number of US troops, and then begin bringing them home, is causing havoc for the Bush administration, with votes of opposition raised in Congress (a rare war time rebuke for any president), threats to limit further war funding by key Democrat and Republican senators, and more calls from President Bush and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, explaining to the Iraqi government that American "patience" is limited.

The US/Iraqi joint crackdown on the suburbs of Baghdad was hailed a success by the Iraqi president, only hours before another market bombing and an insurgent attack on a US outpost in the city's north, which left two American soldiers dead.

So where's the supposed Iraqi bogeyman Moqtada al-Sadr? Those who know aren't telling. But it does appear now that the leader of the Iraqi Shias most powerful militia forces did cross the border into Iran, ahead of the Baghdad security clamp-down. He wasn't alone.

This report from Iraqslogger quotes Iraqi newspapers saying that numerous key militia leaders and fighters have fled Iraq to lay low during the city wide sweeps by US and Iraqi troops. Not exactly an unexpected strategy when this very crackdown was sign-posted by Bush and senior US officials for weeks ago.

The Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, confirmed the rumors claiming that the Mahdi Army commanders have left the country to take refuge in Iran.
Az-Zaman today quoted Talabani who said that “many of the top leaders of the Mahdi Army have received orders to leave Iraq in order to facilitate the application of the security plan by the armed forces.” Talabani saw in the decision a sign that “Sadr is concerned about the stability of Iraq and the success of the security plan.”

But sources in the Sadr Current did not take too kindly to Talabani’s claims, especially his reference to the “military leaders” in the ranks of the Mahdi Army.

Nassar al-Rubai`i, the chairman of the Sadr parliamentary bloc, contested Talabani’s statements. A;-Rubai`i told Agence France Press: “I do not know where Talabani got his information from, we have no military leaders (in the Mahdi Army), we only have religious and cultural leaders.”

The Mahdi Army officials have often claimed that the “army” is in fact not a fighting force, but a political arm and an organization for popular mobilization. And with the rise of accusations to the effect that the Mahdi Army is taking part in the violence and sectarian cleansing, Sadrist officials affirmed that all those alleged actions are done by “outside elements” who falsely claim affiliation to the Mahdi Army.

On another front, the Baghdad Security Plan, or “operation rule of law”, as the government refers to it, is proceeding apace. Al-Mada (which is generally pro-government) reported on the status of the operation in its third day. The newspaper said that there has been a noticeable decrease in violent acts, and especially in the number of “anonymous bodies” appearing in the streets, which had become a daily occurrence in Baghdad.

Al-Mada quoted the Iraqi spokesman of the Security Plan who said that, in addition to the decrease in homicides, families that were forced out of their neighborhoods are starting to return to their homes.

Az-Zaman (international edition) explained the decrease in violence by the fact that the death squads have either left Baghdad, or are in hiding, waiting for the storm to pass...

Two Market Bombings Kill 60 Iraqis Amidst Security Crackdown

Why The Iraq War Is Turning Into America's Defeat

New Oil And Gas Deposits Found Under Sunni Lands

Insurgents Launch Fierce Assault On US Baghdad Post, 2 Killed, 17 Wounded

"The American People Want To See Results And Aren't Prepared To Wait Forever"

Severe Water Shortages Drive Iraqis To Drink From Heavily Polluted Rivers

Thursday, February 15, 2007

North Korea Nuclear Deal Breakthrough Demanded By China, Hailed By Bush As Diplomacy In Action

Is North Korea No Longer "Evil"?

And then there was one. The 'Axis of Evil' announced by US President Bush in early 20o3 is now down to just Iran.

Iraq is locked up in a bitter, corpse-drenched civil war. North Korea has entered into a deal to end its nuclear programs. This now leaves Iran, but diplomacy looks to be the route the United States is intending to pursue, far more than military action. For now, at least.

In the end, the breakthrough in the China-led six party talks over North Korea's nuclear energy, and weapons, future came down to two key points. North Korea wanted enough energy aid to turn the lights back on across the country, and China and the US declared last weekend that Monday would be the final day of negotiations.

It's called taking it down to the wire.

North Korea has agreed to shut down and seal its key nuclear reactor, the biggest of all the concessions offered by the Stalinist regime, in exchange for up to one million tons of oil energy aid.

Decommissioning any nuclear weapons it may, or may not have, will come later. North Korea has been given a time line (stretching over 60 days) to show it will do as it says, but there is no lingering threat on offer from the Bush administration if they don't comply. They just won't get the energy aid they need, and they will remain cut off from entering world trade negotiations.

Naysayers like former US ambassador to the UN aspirant, John Bolton, ranted that North Korea has been rewarded for bad behaviour and won't do as it says :
"It's a bad, disappointing deal, and the best thing you can say about it is that it will probably fall apart."
But the deal struck with the full backing of President Bush, who championed it as a triumph of diplomacy, has revealed just how far the former hardline NeoCons in the White House have fallen. Vice President Dick Cheney's power base is gone, and with Bolton out of the UN, the US is now free to pursue diplomatic negotiations with North Korea and Iran without the threat of regime change or military action.

Here's what Bush had to say about the deal, and Bolton's comments, in a press conference yesterday :
I strongly disagree -- strongly disagree with (Bolton's) assessment. I have told the American people, like the Iranian issue, I wanted to solve the North Korean issue peacefully, and that the President has an obligation to try all diplomatic means necessary to do so.

I changed the dynamic on the North Korean issue by convincing other people to be at the table with us, on the theory that the best diplomacy is diplomacy in which there is more than one voice -- that has got an equity in the issue -- speaking.

And so we had a breakthrough as a result of other voices in the United States saying to the North Koreans, we don't support your nuclear weapons program and we urge you to get rid of it in a verifiable way. Perhaps the most significant voice that had been added to the table was China. But the South Korean voice was vital, as was the Japanese and Russian voices, as well. So the assessment made by some that this is not a good deal is just flat wrong."
Likewise, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice also hammered Bolton, who always favoured military action to bring about regime change :
When Rice was asked, “Do you think there's any substance to his criticism?” she replied tersely: “No, I don’t.” She then made it clear that Bolton, the one-time favorite of Dick Cheney and other hardliners, was so far out of the loop that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

A short history of North Korea nuclear negotiations : 1994, when the U.S. and North Korea negotiated an earlier deal to halt the communist nation's nuclear work, they agreed on compensation "to offset the energy foregone due to the freeze" of the North's reactor.

North Korea was to be given 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to power its generators until construction was completed on a pair of light-water nuclear reactors -- a type less suitable for making material for atomic bombs -- that would be able to generate 2 million kilowatts of power.

The North's own nuclear facilities were to be dismantled after the new reactors were completed, originally scheduled for 2003.

The Bush administration harshly criticized that deal negotiated under President Clinton, saying it gave the North too much for simply freezing its nuclear program. In late 2002, U.S. officials accused the North of operating a secret uranium enrichment program that they said violated the deal, sparking the latest nuclear crisis.

Oil shipments to the North dried up and construction of the two reactors -- already far behind schedule -- was halted. The North kicked out U.N. nuclear inspectors and restarted its old reactor at Yongbyon, north of the capital, Pyongyang.

The U.S. returned to diplomacy with the North in 2003, but this time invited other regional partners to the table -- China, Japan, Russia and South Korea -- arguing that together they would be more effective in getting Pyongyang to live up to its promises.

North Korea detonated a nuclear weapons device in an underground test in October, 2006. The action was met with sanctions from the United Nations Security Council. But NeoCon plans for military action against North Korea were hampered from day one. China and Russia made it clear that neither would tolerate military action by the United States.

The three and a half years of negotiations then continued, with added urgency, and has now reached a somewhat final conclusion. The negotiations also generated some other interesting outcomes.

Not only has US-backed diplomacy been proven to work, even with an entity as contentious as Kim Jong Il's regime, but it may also pave the way for a non-military solution to the Iran nuclear energy crisis.

And the six party talks also threw out a new international star of diplomacy. In China at least, where he features in state news broadcasts on a near nightly basis, the 'Nuclear Envoy', US Assistant Secretary of State, Christopher Hill, has become a celebrity.

He represents an image of America that the Chinese people, and government, like a lot. Pragmatic, calm, mostly patient, and set in his mission to bring North Korea to heel, even when the regime's endless demands and to-and-froing almost made him lose his steely resolve.

The next few months will prove whether or not North Korea is going to stick to its commitments, but for now China, Russia, South Korea and the US appear confident that they will do so.

And why not?

The deal struck means that Kim Jong Il will likely stay in power for another five to ten years, if not longer. Which is what he wanted to ensure more than just about anything else. Kim Jong controls virtually all media inside North Korea, so he will be able to spin the breakthrough deal as a monumental victory for himself.

If North Korea sticks to the deal, and international inspectors of its nuclear energy facilities are happy with what they see, North Korea will no longer be classed as a terror-sponsoring state by the US and the UN, and the US is likely to lift long-enforced trade sanctions.

A remarkable outcome, which should ultimately prove to be more valuable to North Korea and the United States than the kind of NeoCon-backed military action aimed at regime change that could have kicked off a full-blown nuclear war in the region.

Key Points Of The North Korea Nuclear Disarmament Agreement

North Korea State Media Refers To "Temporary Suspension" Of Nuclear Facilities

With The Middle EasOn Fire, Bush Needed North Korea Deal More Than Kim Jong Il

North Korea Agrees To Stop Nuclear Weapons Pursuit

Kim Jong Il May Use Deal To Play US Off Against China, Russia - Dictator Still Dreams Of Reunification Of North And South Korea, And Exit Of All US Troops From The Peninsula

Russian Foreign Minister Calls For Same Flexibility Shown To North Korea Be Extended To Iran

October 2006 : UN Security Council Invokes Sanctions Against North Korea After Nuclear Weapons Test

China, Russia Told United States In October, 2006 There Will Be No Military Action Against North Korea

North Korea's Biggest Bang
Saudi Al Qaeda Declares War On United States Access To Oil

News agency Reuters has picked up on threats levelled at the United States by a self-proclaimed Saudi Arabian wing of 'Al Qaeda' that calls for attacks on US oil interests across the world. The group used an e-magazine to promote their plans of attack on suppliers of oil to the US in Venezeula, Mexico, Canada and across the Middle East :

"It is necessary to hit oil interests in all regions which serve the United States, not just in the Middle East. The goal is to cut its supplies or reduce them through any means...

"Targeting oil interests includes production wells, export pipelines, oil terminals and tankers and that can reduce U.S. oil inventory, forcing it to take decisions it has been avoiding for a long time and confuse and strangle its economy...."

Canada is the biggest exporter of crude oil to the United States, followed by Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

The country, which ships about 1.4 million barrels a day of crude to the United States, tightened security around its Gulf of Mexico oil rigs in 2005 in line with international norms, a spokeswoman at state-run oil monopoly Pemex said.

Venezuela said it was prepared to investigate the threat. "The Venezuelan state's intelligence apparatus is ready to launch any investigation in order to guarantee the operation of our strategic resources ... with a view to ensuring any early warning," Venezuelan Interior Minister Pedro Carreno told reporters.

The militant group also vowed new attacks in Saudi Arabia. "For some time now, we have been preparing some quality attacks which will shake the foundations of the crusaders (Westerners) in the Arabian Peninsula..."

The group claims that the Iraq War, and the War on Terror more generally is a War On Islam, and said attackig the 'Oil Weapon' was a necessary response to United States aggression.

Rare Insight Into How 'Al Qaeda' Plans Attacks - Istanbul Bombings, November, 2001

President Bush Tolerates Al Qaeda Finding Sanctuary In Pakistan

Al Qaeda Regroups In Afghanistan, Recruits In Europe

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Al Qaeda : Haven In Pakistan, Recruiting In Europe, Regrouping In Afghanistan

From the Christian Science Monitor :
In 2006, agents of Al Qaeda, as well as those inspired by its ideology, continued their attacks. Violence in Iraq intensified, and Afghanistan saw its most violent year since 2001.

Despite worsening chaos on those fronts, counterterrorist forces arrested and killed high-profile terrorists and kept the West free from attack. But these actions don't appear to have weakened the appeal of Al Qaeda's agenda. "Home-grown" militants around the world joined its jihad, as regional fighting heightened perceptions of a global war on Islam.

Here's an assessment of some of the most significant gains and losses for Al Qaeda last year:

AfghanistanTerrorism experts say that militant jihadists shifted focus to the original Al Qaeda base to utilize experience and tactics gained in Iraq - as reflected in the increase in suicide bombings from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006, according to US estimates. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are widely believed to be hiding in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat declared an alliance with Al Qaeda in September.

Britain : In August, authorities foiled a terrorist plot with all the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda attack. British security arrested dozens of suspects whom they allege were participating in a plan to bomb up to 10 passenger flights from England to the US.

But Europe's major problem in 2006, experts say, was "home-grown terrorism." Britain's spy chief, Eliza Manningham-Buller, warned in November that the security service MI5 was "working to contend with some 200 groupings or networks, totaling over 1,600 identified individuals."

Europe is a primary recruiting base for Al Qaeda as Muslim communities there have access to wealth and freedom of movement, says Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror."

Islamic militants are "busy recruiting from the Muslim diaspora," adds Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the advisory board of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "It's very clear that the organization is still very much in business.... And that recruitment has been going on quite rapidly."

EgyptAn April 24 attack in a Sinai resort town was not claimed by Mr. bin Laden, but the hotel bombings had many similarities to an Al Qaeda strike. The attacks were a sign that the group's tactics have gained a foothold among other radical groups.

IndonesiaHundreds of members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a major terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda, were arrested, while more radical members split from the group in early 2006 to form Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad. The biggest blow to counterterrorism efforts was the release of Abu Bakar Bashir from jail in June 2006 after he spent 26 months in prison. The radical Islamic cleric, who is said to lead JI, was cleared of conspiracy charges in December for his role in the 2002 Bali hotel bombings. "Indonesian counterterrorism law is gravely weak," says Mr. Gunaratna. "Abu Bakar Bashir is the leader of the most dangerous group in Southeast Asia. His group has killed more than 250 people."

IraqThe most violent offshoot of bin Laden's global organization, Al Qaeda in Iraq, seemed to suffer a major blow in 2006 with the killing of former chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June.

But the loss of his leadership may have actually strengthened the group, says Gunaratna. "Zarqawi was a very able and ruthless man," he says, but "not a politician." His successor, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, "is following exactly the instructions of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri."

Al Qaeda in Iraq is small but vicious, says Gunaratna. It was linked to the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra - the impact of which ratcheted up sectarian killings in 2006.

In January, the UN said that more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians were killed last year, most in Sunni-Shiite violence that Al Qaeda is bent on fomenting.

PakistanIn September 2006, President Pervez Musharraf arranged his most recent peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in Pakistan's remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border. Mr. Musharraf's peace-brokering, critics warn, has allowed the Taliban to move freely between Afghanistan and Pakistan. John Negroponte, the first director of national intelligence who is expected to be confirmed as deputy secretary of state, said that the deal is allowing Al Qaeda operatives to reorganize in the area and to cultivate "stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders' secure hideout in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe."

Palestinian territoriesIn March, Israel for the first time charged two Palestinians for being members of a group possibly connected to Al Qaeda. Journalist kidnappings raised concerns that the group was infiltrating the territory or inspiring copycats.

PhilippinesThe Philippine military killed two top members of the Al Qaeda-linked militant group Abu Sayyaf. Military officials say that the killing of the group's leader, Khadaffy Janjalani, in September 2006, and his deputy Abu Sulaiman, who was killed in January 2007, have rendered the group ineffective. Still, US-trained Philippine soldiers continue to regularly engage Abu Sayyaf militants.

Saudi ArabiaIn February, Saudi Arabia thwarted a bombing on an oil-processing plant. Raids and gun battles throughout the country netted more than 100 suspected Al Qaeda militants, but US officials have said that the kingdom could do more to curb terrorism, including stopping the flow of militants and funds across its borders.

SomaliaIn June, Islamists suspected of harboring key Al Qaeda operatives overran Mogadishu and took over most of the country except Baidoa, the seat of a weak transitional government. US-backed warlords could not stop the Union of Islamic Courts, which denies charges of ties with Al Qaeda. The country saw its first suicide bombing - which Somali officials blamed on Al Qaeda - on Sept. 19, a failed attempt to kill the interim president. The Islamists fled in the wake of an Ethiopian and Somali offensive that began Dec. 26.

USANorth America saw no Al Qaeda attacks. American security forces working around the world have seen "an awful lot of victories," says Arnaud de Borchgrave, director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "The CIA has carte blanche to track terrorists around the world," he says. Critics say that this has led to the use of secret prisons used to interrogate Al Qaeda suspects.

On the domestic front, officials say that they thwarted attacks on Chicago's Sears Tower and New York's transit system over the summer and arrested several people in the process - although it was unclear how serious such plans were.

YemenYemen prevented bomb attacks at two oil facilities on Sept. 15 that were, according to intelligence consulting firm Stratfor, probably commissioned by Al Qaeda. Twenty-three suspected Al Qaeda fighters escaped from prison in February. The government killed or captured many of them, but officials say that those remaining may help Al Qaeda in Yemen to regroup.

From the Washington Post :
Three months ago the Pakistani government struck a deal with pro-Taliban leaders in the district of North Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan: It agreed to abandon military operations, withdraw the army and release prisoners in exchange for promises that the militants would cease cross-border attacks and disarm the foreign terrorists in their midst. That the extremists would not respect the accord, and that attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan would increase rather than decline, obviously seemed likely at the time. Yet President Bush, ever indulgent of Pakistan's autocratic ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, accepted his promises. "When the president looks me in the eye and says the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talibanization of the people, and that there won't be a Taliban and won't be al-Qaeda, I believe him," Mr. Bush declared when he met Gen. Musharraf at the White House on Sept. 22.

As senior administration officials now acknowledge, Gen. Musharraf's assurances were empty -- as they have been many times before. According to multiple independent reports, Waziristan has been thoroughly Talibanized, and the fundamentalists are spreading their influence through adjacent border districts. Cross-border attacks and the deaths of American soldiers that they cause are up significantly. Al-Qaeda is reliably reported to be operating training camps in North Waziristan with the help of scores of foreign militants who are schooling recruits in suicide bombing and the use of improvised explosive devices. According to a stunning report in the current edition of Newsweek, they are also preparing Western citizens who could carry out major terrorist attacks in Britain or the United States.

Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte grossly understated the case last week when he told The Post that "tribal authorities are not living up to the deal" struck by Gen. Musharraf and that the Taliban cross-border activity "causes serious problems." Considering the grave threat to U.S. soldiers and the homeland itself posed by the Pakistani sanctuary, the intelligence chief sounded positively laconic. "Sooner or later the government will have to reckon with it," he said, before quickly offering excuses for Gen. Musharraf, who, he said, "has a domestic political balancing act to perform."

In fact the situation in Pakistan's border areas is starting to look a lot like eastern Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 2001. President Bush and Mr. Negroponte ought to be asking themselves if they are repeating history by tolerating the situation. They need not do so: The United States has provided Gen. Musharraf strategic cover and billions of dollars in military and economic aid since 2001. In return it should have the right to demand that he abandon his separate peace. Action must be taken against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan before spring, when another major offensive against U.S. and NATO forces can be expected unless the enemy bases and supply lines are disrupted.

As for Gen. Musharraf's political problems, these could be addressed if he stopped allying himself with Pakistan's own Muslim fundamentalists and rehabilitated the secular democratic political parties that he has repressed since his 1999 coup. He could also abolish the colonial governing system in the tribal areas, under which secular political parties are banned and mullahs empowered, and allow representative government. By tolerating the general's empty promises and excuses, the Bush administration is putting its mission in Afghanistan and homeland security into unacceptable jeopardy.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mahathir Praises Iraq Resistance, Calls For More Dead Americans

"...How Useless Are The Sacrifices Of The Young Men Sent To Iraq"

The former Malaysian premier, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, recently hosted a three day, unofficial 'war crimes trial' in Kuala Lumpur. The international court at The Hague was a uesless venue to try President Bush and UK PM Tony Blair for being "killers of children", said Dr Mahathir, because it was "biased".

During his speech at the mock trial, Dr Mahathir rolled out a long stream of praise and wishes for greater success for what he called the "Iraq Resistance".

From Middle East Online :
"Carry on with your resistance... make sure that the Americans will pay a very high price for their adventure....When you do this, unfortunately you may have to kill a lot of Americans. When the coffins go back, when the body bags are carried back to America, it will help the Americans to change their minds..."

"I'm quite sure that as more and more American soldiers get killed in Iraq, the feelings in America will change and they will begin to see, as they saw during the Vietnam War, how futile, how useless are the sacrifices of the young men sent to Iraq," he said.

"Twenty-three thousand more will be going. They will be going to Iraq and many of them are going to die, they are going to go back in their coffins. And when Americans see coffins coming back they will understand what war is all about. "That is why I congratulate the Iraqi resistance. Carry on. You have been successful...."

"Iraqi resistance has proven that it is not so easy to just walk into Iraq and take things over...If America thinks that it is going to take Iraq and use it as a base to threaten the countries around the Gulf, (so as to) not to sell oil to China, the Iraqi resistance has proven that the Americans are wrong...."

These comments, even more than the mock trials themselves, received enormous coverage in Arab and Muslim media across the world, but only passing interest from key media in Australia, the US and the UK, the three chief partners in the Coalition of the Willing.

It is important to note this widespread exposure of Mahathir's attempt to rally international support behind the Iraqi resistance because it gives great insight into how the War On Iraq is viewed by many of the world's one billion, or more, Muslims and Arabs.

Clearly, they are not the only people who feel the War On Iraq was wrong or misguided or a clear violation of Iraq's sovereignty, but there are few calls heard in the West in support of the resistance by Iraqis to American -led invasion and occupation.

The view in Arab and Muslim countries, however, is overwhelmingly in favour of Iraqis right to resist what is increasingly seen as the Coalition of the Willing's growing presence and military build-up in Iraq, and in the Middle East in general.

Recent polling in Iraq indicates that some 9 out of 10 Sunnis support attacks on coalition forces, while, more generally, 4 out of 10 of all Iraqis also favour violent insurgency against American and British forces. More than 70% of Iraqis want all "foreign" forces to leave their country sooner rather than later.

It will come as no surprise that the 'criminals' under focus in the Dr Mahathir led mock war crimes trial were US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, former Israeli leader Minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard.

One of the key intentions of the trial, attended by some high profile speakers, including a former UN high commissioner, was to catalogue "for the history books" hundreds of acts of claimed abuse and torture against Muslims in Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq by American and Israeli soldiers, interrogators and intelligence operatives.

The series of speakers at last weekend's conference included victims of physical and sexual torture in Abu Ghraib and on US and British military bases in Afghanistan.

Dr Mahathir also used his speech to the 1500 strong audience gathered in Malaysia's capital to push his ongoing campaign to "criminalise war," claiming war was now only a brutal way for Western arms manufacturers, and in particular the families and friends of President Bush, to make money.

Dr Mahathir also called on world public opinion, overwhelmingly against the continuation of the War On Iraq, to spread the simple concept that "War is not an option. War is not a way of settling any dispute".

He described the strength of mostly united global opinion as "a superpower on par with the US".

Malaysia's foreign minister defended the speech supporting Iraqi resistance :

"I think (Dr Mahathir) has taken that approach and I would not say that the Government supports nor objects to it," Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said, adding that Dr Mahathir was free to express his views as a "citizen of Malaysia".

"This is a free and democratic country and it's very nice to see freedom being exercised," he said.

From the International Herald Tribune :
Malaysia's government sought to distance itself on Thursday from a war tribunal set up by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to try world leaders, including U.S. President George W. Bush, for alleged war crimes.

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Mahathir's move was an "independent effort" and would not hurt Malaysia's ties with the U.S. and other countries whose leaders were also accused of committing crimes against humanity.

"Even in the (United) States, there are groups who don't agree with the war," he told reporters. "If you are mature enough in international relations, we must allow for existence of differing views."

For an insight into the kinds of displays and visual information on display during the three day conference, there is this report from the BBC :
The message is made quite clear by an exhibition staged in parallel with the conference. Its style is Madame Tussauds on a shoestring, and it features tableaux illustrating the carnage of the world wars, the Palestinian problem, Vietnam and of course Iraq.

There's a section comprising a cage and a couple of dummies wired up to electrodes with the song Rivers of Babylon pumping away in the background.

A helpful notice tells us that the "cheerful" music of Boney M was used as an instrument of torture in the Iraq prison at Abu Ghraib.

World Public Opinion Against The War On Iraq - "A Superpower On Par With The US"

Mahathir : Real Threat Of Future US-China Conflict

Dr Mahathir Nominated For Nobel Peace Prize - "He Deserves It"

Bush and Blair Are More Evil Than Saddam Hussein, Claims Mahathir

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Putin Warns United States Over Military Expansion On Russia's Borders

Claim : US Build Up "Even Greater Threat Than The Cold War"

There are plenty of well-placed fear and tension over the United States' advanced planning to take out Iran's nuclear energy facilities through a series of air-strikes, most likely via Israel, using ground-penetrating nuclear weapons. On the day a United Nations Security Council deadline for Iran to stop uranium enrichment, February 21, the US will have two carrier strike groups in position in the Persian Gulf.

But a second, far more troubling confrontational threat has fully emerged in the past week.

A possible full-blown clash between the United States and Russia, not only in retaliation for possibles strikes on Iran, but over the US' increasing military build-up on its European bases, close to Russia's borders, and the US announcements that it will expand the scope and reach of its 'missile defence' system into countries, literally, bordering with Russia territory.

In a move that has sent earthquake-like rumblings through the world's diplomatic and military communities, Russia's President Vladimir Putin has now come out and directly warned the United States, both subtly and starkly, that it has "overstepped its national borders in every way" as he warned of a new global nuclear arms race.

Putin's astounding remarks followed a flurry of similar 'back off' warnings from Russia's foreign and defence ministers in recent weeks.

From the Associated Press :
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Saturday that the United States' increased use of military force is creating a new arms race, with smaller nations turning toward developing nuclear weapons.

Speaking at a conference of the world's top security officials, including the Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, Putin said nations ''are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations.''

''One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way,'' he told the 250 officials, including more than 40 defense and foreign ministers.

''This is nourishing an arms race with the desire of countries to get nuclear weapons,'' Putin said, but did not elaborate on specifics and did not mention the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Russian leader also voiced concern about U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in eastern Europe -- likely in Poland and the Czech Republic -- and the expansion of NATO as possible challenges to Russia.

''The process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with modernization of the alliance or with ensuring security in Europe,'' Putin said.

''On the contrary, it is a serious factor provoking reduction of mutual trust.''

On the missile defense system, Putin said: ''I don't want to accuse anyone of being aggressive'' but suggested it would seriously change the balance of power and could provoke an unspecified response.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had little to say about Putin's remarks, noting only that ''he was very candid.''

Putin's spokesman Dimitry Peskov said the Russian leader did not intend to be confrontational, but acknowledged it was his harshest criticism of the United States since he was elected in March 2000.

''The reason for his comments is Russia's concern about the growing amount of conflicts and the malfunctioning of international law,'' Peskov told the AP.

Russia spent just $8 billion on military defence in 2001. In 2007, that budget has shot up to well over $30 billion, and the development of a new generation of nuclear submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles and aircraft carriers is underway.

The United States budget for 2007 will be in the vicinity of some 20 times the total Russian military budget. In comparison, Australia (a nation of only 20 million people, but with a land mass of similar size to the United States) will spend more than $18 billion in 2007, much of which will go towards making it a more useful, valuable military ally of the United States.

A prominent Russian general was quoted, on February 8, by the RIA Novosti news agency as saying, "NATO is expanding, and it is expanding directly toward Russia."

General Makhmut Gareyev, president of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, was reacting to the US plans to place key elements of its missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland.

The United States has claimed it needs missile defence in these two key NATO allied counties as part of its 'umbrella' world defence against the possible threat posed by Iranian and North Korean nuclear missiles.

But the Russians regard such claims as rubbish. They see clearly that the US wants to have the ability to knock Russian missiles out of the sky almost as soon as they are launched.

From the Financial Times :

A chill descended on relations between Washington and Moscow on Friday as Russia’s top defence officials criticised what they called US military expansion in Europe.

Sergei Ivanov, Russian defence minister and a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin, said he did not believe the Bush administration’s claims that its planned missile defence programme was aimed at protecting the US from Iran, North Korea or terrorist groups.

Speaking after meeting his Nato opposite numbers in Seville, Mr Ivanov spelled out Moscow’s plans to counteract the US programme.

“What is the real intention of these activities?” he asked. “This will not harm the Russian deterrent. We will develop our own strategic system, which will have the capability to surpass any missile system. We want to be absolutely sure that under no circumstances are we under pressure.”

But he added: “We will not get back in the arms race.”

Mr Ivanov’s comments came after Russia’s army chief of staff warned that expansion of the US military presence in Russia’s traditional zones of influence was a top security threat.

General Yuri Baluyevsky said Russia faced even greater military threats than during the cold war, and needed a new doctrine to respond to them.

Tensions over the missile defence programme have grown since Washington announced last month that it was negotiating installing a radar station for the scheme in the Czech Republic and interceptor rockets in Poland.

Mr Ivanov said the two countries, both former Soviet satellites, were too far away to play a part in disabling missiles from North Korea or Iran. “Take a look at the map,” he said. He added that he did not believe the system would be effective against terrorist groups.

“They just don’t need missiles,” he said. “They have other forms of delivery – human bodies and civilian aircraft.”

(US Defence Secretary Robert Gates) sought to soothe Russia’s concerns on the anti-missile scheme. “We have made it quite clear that it is not directed at them,” he said.