Saturday, January 31, 2004

Schroeder to visit, France to bid?

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is to visit the White House in late February and Bush is apparently contemplating allowing France and Germany bid on the next round of Iraq contracts.

Moving to further repair a rift over the Iraq war, President Bush has invited German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for a White House visit Feb. 27, officials announced Friday.

Schroeder will visit during a U.S. trip and the two leaders will discuss events in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

The White House announcement didn't mention Iraq but praised Germany as "a long-standing ally" and a "key partner in forging closer U.S.-European political and economic relations."

It said that as a "major contributor to the effort to bring peace and democracy to Afghanistan, Germany has led the way in expanding NATO's international security assistance beyond Kabul."

[...]

In December, in response to U.S. urging, Schroeder said his government would seriously consider easing requirements for Iraq to repay its debt to Germany. The chancellor's administration also has indicated that it would not stand in the way if the North Atlantic Treaty Organization chose to send a peacekeeping force to Iraq this year.

The Bush administration has been urging NATO to take charge of the international peacekeeping force that is patrolling south-central Iraq under Polish command.

Still unresolved is whether the administration will permit German companies to bid for prime reconstruction contracts in Iraq. The Pentagon said in December that Germany, France and Russia were among numerous countries excluded from the bidding.

Since then, U.S. and European officials have signaled that the Bush administration is ready to give French and German companies clearance to take part in the next round of bidding. But no decision has been announced.

I'm glad that the US and Germany can patch things up, given that Germany has been a large help in Afghanistan. However, I don't know why the US would want to open up Iraq contracts to France. France has made a conscientious, long term practice of impeding US foreign policy. Even prior to the Iraq war, France has seen itself, no matter how misguided, as the counterweight to US influence. (It is also for this reason that France is spearheading efforts to set up a European military alliance that would work outside of NATO and why French officials threatened other European countries who supported the Iraq war with exclusion from the UE if they persisted.) France has no intention of working with the US on anything of large significance, and I see little reason why we should give in and do them any favors.


Dutch embassy attacked

The Dutch embassy in Iraq has been attacked. No injuries:

Two rocket-propelled grenades have been fired at the Dutch embassy in Baghdad but no-one was hurt in the attack, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said.

"Nobody was in the office, thankfully, and there are no casualties," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Martine de Haan said.

"Two rocket-propelled grenades were fired and the embassy building is on fire," she said.

Ms De Haan added that it was not yet known who was responsible for the attack.

Earlier, a bomb exploded at an intersection in Baghdad but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

It was not immediately clear if they were one and the same incident.

The Netherlands has 1,100 troops in Iraq, in the British-controlled Al Muthanna province in the south.

The Dutch Parliament agreed last month to extend their mission by six months, ending in July 2004.


Primary numbers

Kerry is ahead in Missouri (Edwards is #2), just ahead of Clark (!) in Arizona, and behind Edwards in S. Carolina.


Scaling back some tax breaks

From the NY Times:

Administration officials said Mr. Bush would not insist on his earlier proposal to overhaul Medicaid, would not push for a big expansion of retirement savings accounts and would not back tax incentives for energy production that he supported last year.

In addition, they said, Mr. Bush will oppose extending a temporary tax break that greatly accelerates the rate at which businesses can depreciate new equipment. The tax provision was enacted in 2002 to stimulate the economy and manufacturers want to retain it. At the same time, the White House is gearing up to oppose Republican plans in Congress for highway spending that far exceed what Mr. Bush wants.

Bush has been friendly to big business (not a necessarily bad thing) but it's nice to see him scaling back the tax breaks. Cleary the budget deficit is getting quite large and is becoming a political, if not pragmatic, liability. I'm curious about the highway spending though. What was it that those certain members of Congress were proposing? Also, I'd rather see Bush pump money in to alternate energy production than drug testing for high school students or marriage counseling.


Friday, January 30, 2004

Mr. Mike

If you want some insight as to how the US is getting things done in Iraq, read this article from US News and World Report. It follows "Mr. Mike" Gfoeller as he makes daily contact with Iraqi tribal leaders. It also details the "Democracy 101" sessions the US is holding so that these tribal leaders can learn what is means to live in a democracy. In addition, the article features some fascinating quotes from Iraqi tribal leaders. Some excerpts:

Amid a grove of palm trees surrounded by farmlands, lunch is being served in the tribal guesthouse. Men clad mostly in traditional robes sit barefoot on carpets around a feast of lamb, rice, and grilled fish. The center of attention on this day isn't one of the gathered Shiite tribal chiefs or the tall, bearded cleric; it is a mustachioed American they politely call Mr. Mike.

[...]

In some ways, Mr. Mike calls to mind a soft-spoken, Midwestern version of Indiana Jones, with an olive fedora, a rumpled safari jacket, and a Buck knife (his "insurance policy") strapped to his waist. Here in the Shiite heartland, home to the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon, Mike Gfoeller (GE-fel-ler), a 46-year-old veteran diplomat, administers a swath of southern and central Iraq. He is the civilian face of the U.S. military occupation, one of the relatively few Americans Iraqis encounter who isn't sporting body armor, wraparound sunglasses, and an M-16. Instead, he is armed with a diplomat's skills. Intimately familiar with Arab culture from past postings in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, he speaks the language, which he learned in college and on a Fulbright fellowship in Egypt.

[...]

The tribal chiefs talk of American "liberation" rather than "occupation," and they enthuse about their democratic future--even if they are a little fuzzy about the details. "We want an Iraqi democracy from Iraqi traditions, not from American ones," says Farkad al-Hussainy al-Quizwiny, a towering, thickly bearded sheik who heads a Shiite religious school in Hilla and works closely with Gfoeller. "But if an unwanted man reaches power, we should force him out." This provokes a sharp debate. "Even if a man reach power with 50 percent, we should back him," insists Abdul Aziz al-Yasiri, a politician who has come from Baghdad seeking the tribe's support. The local Iraqis agree, then shift to discussing, of all things, the upcoming U.S. election and how their actions might help support President Bush.

[...]

But whether drawn by curiosity or conviction, hundreds of tribal leaders, religious clerics, community leaders, and even women from the region pack into the marble-walled meeting rooms of the old Saddam Mosque in Hilla for a lecture on democracy. "Everyone is here to be acquainted with democracy," says Sheik Thahar Abdul Khadum Mokeef al-Jabouri, a local tribal chief who heads a union of farmers in Hilla. A local farmer, Ali Madlum al-Fatlawi, agrees: "Democracy is the only solution for the Shia."

The lecture is basically an abbreviated Democracy 101, presented by Larry Diamond, a professor from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. "In a democracy, it is impossible for everyone to achieve everything they want," he cautions the crowd. "Democracy requires compromise." He also tries to argue that early elections could be counterproductive, but many in the crowd seem unconvinced, more swayed by the respected Sistani's call for a vote.

[...]

At the end of the lively question-and-answer session following the lecture, a female lawyer from Najaf shocks the male-dominated gathering by demanding to be heard. She explains that she was appointed to be a judge, but several clerics blocked her, insisting that Islam forbids women from sitting on the bench. Quizwiny quickly rises to challenge her: "Islamic law rejects that a woman can be appointed a judge." She retorts, "There is no difference between a man and a woman." Eventually, he backs down, slightly. "Iraqi law will depend on the Iraqi people, who will vote on a new constitution, which will say whether women are allowed to be judges." He adds, wryly, "This is democracy."

Afterward, Gfoeller is pleased with the discussion, even if he doesn't agree with everything Quizwiny says. "They will have to figure out what the role of women is," he says. "I'm not going to answer that question for Iraq." But some Iraqis in attendance are uneasy that Quizwiny's statements went unchallenged by the Americans. "The strange thing is that all the American officials I have met do not seem to be interested in transferring the American ideals to Iraq," says Hazim Safi, an adviser to the Human Rights Association in Babylon. "The Americans should have come with clear ideas and defended things like mixing boys and girls in school."


Relations with Iran?

Drudge had this story today, but I though I would briefly remark on it:

Iran is considering admitting a U.S. congressional delegation in what would be the first official U.S. visit since Iran's 1979 revolution.

[...]

Regarding Iran, guests at a bipartisan dinner in the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday for Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Javad Zarif, said firm dates were discussed for visits by congressional aides as early as Feb. 11, to be followed by members of Congress.

Zarif said in a telephone interview Thursday that no dates had been set, but added, "I hope to be able to see this happen." Iran rebuffed a proposed visit earlier this month by Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., but allowed U.S. military planes to deliver aid after a devastating earthquake in the ancient city of Bam.

[...]

Both sides have much to gain from better relations. The Bush administration wants Iran to give up a suspected nuclear bomb program, to extradite al-Qaeda detainees, stop supporting anti-Israeli militants and assist Iraq's political transition. A majority Shiite Muslim nation, Iran has influence on Iraq's Shiite majority and could help — or disrupt — the transition from U.S. occupation to Iraqi rule.

Iran wants the United States to lift sanctions that prevent investment in Iran's oil industry and most trade with the United States.

What I wonder is why would we want to restore relations? Sure, the above article mentions that we hope to get Iran to halt its nuclear program, but that quite simply is not a reasonable goal. Iran wants to assert itself as a regional military power on the same level as Israel and can't do it without nuclear weapons. Iran has already placed an extreme amount of capital, monetarily and otherwise, in this "project" and realizes that if it has nuclear weapons it will have a much more powerful international voice. The US can't possibly do anything to ease these ambitions. In addition, the article states that the US wants Iran to stop its support of "anti-Israeli militants." The Mullahs that run Iran firmly believe that Israel has no right to even exist. This is a fundamental part of the world view and belief system. We're going to talk them out of that? In short, Iran is building nuclear weapons (no mater what the IAEA thinks), supports terrorist groups with money, supplies, and safe-harbor, demonizes the US and Israel and every opportunity, and brutally assaults and kills those who support a democratic Iran. And to think that the US would greatly benefit from Iranian oil is silly. The global oil market is more than sufficient to meet the needs of the world, let alone the US. Even a flood of Iranian oil in to the US would only bring the price of oil down an infinitesimal amount.

Restoring relations with Iran is bad policy and the US has nothing to gain from it.


Friedman on Europe

Tom Friedman, writing about the lack of development in the Middle East, sticks it to Europe:

So what to do? A lot of help can and should come from Europe. Although America is often the target, Europe has been the real factory of Arab-Muslim rage. Europe has done an extremely poor job of integrating and employing its growing Muslim minorities, many of which have a deep feeling of alienation. And Europe has done a very poor job of investing in North Africa and the Middle East — its natural backyard.

America is far from perfect in this regard, but by forging the Nafta free trade agreement with Mexico, the U.S. helped create a political and economic context there that not only spurred jobs and the modernization of Mexico, but created the environment for its democratization. Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo remarked to me: "I don't think I would have been successful in political reform without the decent economic growth we had [spurred by Nafta] from 1996 to 2000. Those five years, we had average growth of 5 percent." It was in that optimistic environment that Mexico had its first democratic transition from the ruling party to the opposition.

I have to agree with Friedman, however it's important not to overlook that these Arab-Muslim countries suffer from a lack of honest, altruistic, and elected leadership. If Europe, or the US for that matter, works toward improving the economies of, say, Iran, then would it further entrench their unelected Mullahs or would it spur democracy? And that's assuming that these countries would except Western help. Most Middle-East autocracies have a decided interest in keeping their people poor, uneducated, and angry at the West. With these distractions, it makes it easy to say in power and scapegoat "the Great Satan." What I hope Friedman means is that Europe must invest in its "backyard" neighbors when it is proper to do so.


Thursday, January 29, 2004

Nigeria/North Korea axis?

Nigeria might have some interest in buying missiles from North Korea. At least, they have enough interest to allow a representative from North Korea come to them and make a pitch.

The United States on Wednesday cautioned Nigeria against dealing with North Korea, after an envoy from the Stalinist state peddled advanced missile technology during a visit to Abuja.

The State Department said it had seen reports of the episode, but also noted Nigeria's hints that it had no interest in buying ballistic technology from Pyongyang.

"We'd welcome a decision to turn down any such offers from North Korea," said spokesman Richard Boucher.

"We want to stop North Korea's missile activities. And we've gone to many countries to try to encourage them not to buy. So that would be the right decision, if that's indeed the decision they've made."

A spokesman for Nigeria's Vice President Atiku Abubakar earlier said that Pyongyang wanted to sign a memorandum of understanding with Nigeria on developing missile technology, training and the manufacturing of ammunition.

"They were just trying to get us interested. There hasn't been any interest shown on our side," Onu Kaba Ojo said.

I'm unclear as to what Nigeria thinks it would gain from such a step. It certainly wouldn't make the US, Japan, and South Korea happy, and it might even peeve the Chinese. This also begs the question: doesn't Nigeria have anything better to spend their money on? Perhaps the North Koreans are selling the missiles dirt cheap, which would further prove their absolute desperation.

The NY Times has this:

North Korea has offered to share missile technology with Nigeria, and the two countries are expected to sign a preliminary agreement soon, a Nigerian government spokesman said Wednesday.

The United States said it would encourage Nigeria to reject any arms deals with the Communist government of North Korea.

A memorandum of understanding is being discussed between the Nigerian vice president, Atiku Abubakar, and his North Korean counterpart, Yang Hyong Sop, who is on a five-day visit to Nigeria.


Protests hit Tokyo

Protests occured in Tokyo ahead of Japan's dispatch of 1,000 military forces to Iraq:

Thousands of protesters gathered Sunday in Tokyo to demonstrate against the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces to Iraq on the eve of the government's expected announcement that the go order would be given to send a core ground unit.

The estimated 6,000 protesters marched through central Tokyo after hearing speeches at Hibiya Park by a relative of an American killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and representatives from a telephone counseling group in Hokkaido for SDF troops and their families.

The rally was organized by World Peace Now, a network of 47 grassroots and nongovernmental organizations.

Under a law enacted last year, Japan plans eventually to deploy about 1,000 SDF troops to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in "noncombat" zones in Iraq.

These people just never give up. Even when they have been proven to be dead wrong.


Japan/Pakistan talks

Representatives from Japan and Pakistan met recently to talk about security, Afghanistan, and India:

Japanese and Pakistani diplomats held their first security dialogue in Islamabad on Saturday, addressing the need for coordinating policies promoting peace and stability in Asia and the world, Foreign Ministry officials in Tokyo said Sunday.

Mitoji Yabunaka, director general of the Asian and Oceania Affairs Bureau, and Salman Bashir, additional foreign secretary in charge of the Asia-Pacific region, headed the delegations.

They discussed the reconstruction of Afghanistan and relations between Pakistan and India centering around disputed Kashmir, the officials said.

Yabunaka expressed appreciation for Pakistan's role in the U.S.-led war against terrorism and its efforts to promote peace and stability in South Asia.

They took up the security situation in Northeast Asia, including North Korea's nuclear development.

It's nice to see Japan taking an active role in area of international security. They have a lot to offer and can make other countries take notice. It's also nice to see Pakistan being receptive to Japanese concerns.


Howard comes out swinging

John Howard "will never apologise for, retreat from or regret the decision to invade Iraq."

Australia will never apologise for, retreat from or regret the decision to invade Iraq, Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday despite growing evidence that Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction.

Last Friday David Kay, America's chief weapons inspector in Iraq, resigned stating that he believed the former Iraq dictator had no illegal weapons.

"I don't apologise for what we did, it was in our view the right thing to have done based on the intelligence that was available," Mr Howard said.

"That intelligence was not manipulated by the Government and I stand by completely what we did, and those who criticise us in the Labor Party or elsewhere, if their advice had been followed, Saddam Hussein would still be running Iraq."


US to strike Pakistan?

Glenn and Drezner had this yesterday, but what the heck:

The Pentagon has drawn up contingency plans for a military strike inside Pakistan at Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, the Chicago Tribune newspaper reported on Wednesday citing military sources.

The daily said that the offensive could occur this year but the timing “would be driven by events in the region.”

The plan calls for the use of special operations forces, Army rangers and Army ground troops, and the deployment of a Navy aircraft carrier to the Arabian Sea, according to military sources.

It would involve thousands of US troops, many of them drawn from US forces already on the ground in Afghanistan, working with Pakistani troops, according to military planners.

A series of planning orders for the operation, which is referred to as the “spring offensive”, in internal military communications, were issued in recent weeks. The basic planning was supposed to have been finalised by January 21, according to the Tribune.

Interesting if true...however if it is true then the Tribune should be fined, or something. If this plan is carried out it would be the most unique operation carried out in decades (going in to another country with troops and air cover to take out a rouge element, then leaving swiftly). Could it be done without Musharraf's blessing?


Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Iran: 15 dead, 300 hurt

An "anti-government uprising" in Iran has left 15 dead and more than 300 hurt:

Anti-government uprising in southern Iranian town leaves behind 15 dead, more than 300 wounded Revolutionary Guards rushed in from Tehran and Kerman, impose curfew

Revolutionary Guards opened fire on anti-government demonstrators during an uprising in Shahr-e Babak in the southern province of Kerman on Saturday, killing 15 protestors and injuring more than 300 people.

The uprising came at the end of a five-day sit-in protest by 4,000 workers at Khatoon-Abad copper mines near Shahr-e Babak. After scuffles between the striking workers and anti-riot security agents, the latter opened fire on the workers, killing a 31-year-old woman and a 15-year-old girl.

[...]

A curfew has been imposed on the town since this morning. Anti-riot security troops are patrolling the town’s main streets, such as Imam Street, Vali-Asr Street and Farmandari Street. To terrorize the people, the security forces are staging military maneuvers.

All the shops are closed in Shahr-e Babak in protest against the bloody suppression of yesterday’s protests. Despite the curfew, people have gathered in several parts of the city, saying that sit-ins and protests would continue.


“Award of Unsurpassed Courage”

The American Jewish Committee has given the “Award of Unsurpassed Courage” to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) gave the “Award of Unsurpassed Courage” to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a ceremony in New York during his visit to the U.S. this week.

Erdogan thanked the committee for the award and said; “I receive this award as a symbol of our collaboration over the years. The message given by this award is that we will not succumb to terror and we will stand united in our fight against terrorism.”


UN warns...

The UN is warning against early elections in Iraq:

The United Nations' senior adviser on Iraq warned yesterday that premature elections could do more harm than good by enflaming ethnic and political divisions in a nation reeling from attacks on civilians who cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition.

The warning by Lakhdar Brahimi, who just concluded a two-year assignment as the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, came as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced in Paris that he would send an electoral team to Iraq to "search for alternatives" to the selection of caucuses this spring.

"If you get your priorities wrong, elections are a very divisive process," Mr. Brahimi said at a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington.

"They create tensions. They create competition. And in a country that is not quite stable enough to take that one has to be certain it will not do more harm than good."

That's right...the UN might be siding with the US for once. Eat your heart out, Sistani.


Georgia/US/Russia

The US is sticking it to the Russians a little this week. Firstly, the US is becoming very interested in Georgia, who just had elections bringing a new, pro-US president to power. The US even gave Georgia money to help pay for said elections. Although the US says it is not interested in placing any military bases in Georgia, there seems to be an interest in helping the Georgians get two Russian bases out.

Seeking to soothe fears of growing rivalry along Russia's borders with former Soviet republics, U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Monday said the U.S. has no plans to create military bases in Georgia.

At the same time, U.S. officials have not ruled out a long-term security presence in the strategically important Caucasus republic, once a part of the Soviet empire and still a crucial component of the Kremlin's effort to maintain an extensive sphere of influence and counter NATO's expansion toward its western frontier.

"We have no plans to set up military bases in Georgia," Powell said after meeting with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov. It was the first in a series of meetings aimed at smoothing the edgy U.S.-Russian relationship that emerged after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"We simply want to have good relations with Georgia," Powell said. "The U.S. does not want to build bases all over the world. There is no need to."

[...]

Powell's arrival over the weekend for the inauguration of President Mikheil Saakashvili underscored what the secretary said was the United States' commitment to help Georgia promote democracy, improve its economy, protect human rights and end corruption.

He said the presence of more than 200 U.S. troops who arrived in Georgia in 2002 to provide counterterrorism training was a benefit to Russia, which has suffered attacks mounted by Chechen rebels out of Georgia's Pankisi Gorge.

Responding to fears that the United States is attempting to oust Russia from the Caucasus, Powell told Russian television: "It's not a matter of kicking anybody out of anywhere. We are friends with the Georgians. The Russian Federation, they are friends with the Georgians. This is not like the old days, where we're competing for land or competing for power."

Russian fears had been heightened by reports last month that U.S. officials were considering keeping military trainers in Georgia indefinitely, possibly to help protect the new $3.6-billion pipeline designed to carry Caspian oil from Baku in Azerbaijan to the West.

The U.S. has urged Russia to accelerate its removal of two former Soviet military bases in Georgia, but Russia now says it will require at least 11 years to dismantle them. Powell told Russian reporters that the U.S. is ready to help pay for closing the bases, an offer some Russians see as interference.

In addition, Secretary of State Colin Powell recently criticized the state of the Russian democracy:

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday he was worried about Russia's democracy in unusually blunt comments that underscored widespread concerns the Kremlin is turning increasingly autocratic.

In a front-page article published in major Russian daily Izvestia, he said Russian politics were not sufficiently subject to the rule of law and made clear there were limits to the U.S.-Russian relationship without shared values.

He also challenged Russia's policy in Chechnya, where Moscow is waging a brutal campaign against separatists.


Attack in Kabul

A suicide bombing in Kabul kills one Canadian soldier and hurts three others:

A suicide bomber in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed one Canadian soldier and wounded three others, officials said. Nine civilians were hurt.

Ali Jan Askaryar, head of police in the western district of Kabul, where the blast occurred, said the Canadians were part of a three-vehicle patrol and "a terrorist jumped on one of the vehicles and blew himself up."


Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Buzz Machine/Kay

Buzz Machine:

By now we've all heard that weapons detective David Kay quit after not finding WMDs in Iraq. But listen, too, to what he told Tom Brokaw tonight:

TB: The president described Iraq as a gathering threat — a gathering danger. Was that an accurate description?
DK: I think that’s a very accurate description.
TB: But an imminent threat to the United States?
DK: Tom, an imminent threat is a political judgment. It’s not a technical judgment. I think Baghdad was actually becoming more dangerous in the last two years than even we realized. Saddam was not controlling the society any longer. In the marketplace of terrorism and of WMD, Iraq well could have been that supplier if the war had not intervened.

An imminent threat. An imminent threat.

I agree and I like the way Kay points out that someone had to step in or it would have soon gotten out of hand. Maybe not in a year, or even two or ten, but eventually. So why put off the unevitable.


"High levels of radiation"

The US military has quarantined 4 trucks that were crossing the Iraqi border from Turkey because "high levels of radiation" were detected coming from them:

The Stryker brigade's nuclear, chemical and biological reconnaissance platoon detected high levels of radiation on four trucks attempting to cross the Iraq-Turkey border, officials said Monday.

The trucks emitted radiation signatures of more than 100 centigrade per hour, which could be dangerous depending on how the measurement was taken.

Brigade officials said the platoon, from the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, was sent to the Habur Gate border crossing Monday after Turkish authorities called for U.S. military assistance. Officials said they had no information about why the Turks were suspicious of the vehicles.

The trucks were quarantined on the Iraqi side of the border, brigade officials said. The platoon also was inspecting other vehicles and a nearby scrap metal yard, they said.

A team from Iraq Survey Group, the Pentagon organization searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, was expected to arrive at the scene in the next day or so, officials said.

(Thanks to The Command Post)


In the year 2010...

Former Indian Army chief General S Padmanabhan says that by 2010 another India/Pakistan war will errupt. In this war, Padmanabhan writes, "the Americans will support Pakistan while China will change track and join Russia in supporting India."

The feel good factor emanating on both sides of the border, and in particular New Delhi's ties with Washington in the aftermath of the 12th SAARC summit, will not last long, says former Indian Army chief General S Padmanabhan.

In his forthcoming book "The Writing on the Wall", General Padmanabhan predicts that Washington will prove to be a major threat to India's national interests after 2008.

According to the Daily Times, which has been given exclusive access to the contents of the book, Padmanabhan has also predicted a fifth war (including Kargil 1999) taking place between India and Pakistan by 2010.

In this war, he says the Americans will support Pakistan while China will change track and join Russia in supporting India.

Presenting a brief history of the Westphalia model of nation-states, he claims that the US policy of demanding the "right of way" for pursuing its national aims will possibly be the catalyst for a confrontation with India.

"To India, this tendency of the US poses dangers to her hard-won independence and her right to chart her own course to progress and prosperity of her people," he says.


Direct elections?

Is the US open to direct elections in Iraq before June 30?

The US-led coalition in Iraq is on the verge of bowing to Shiite Muslim pressure for direct elections before the handover of power on June 30, according to British officials.

The officials told The Guardian that the Blair Government had been swayed by Shiite arguments and the US was also shifting ground.

They said they believed that Paul Bremer, the US head of the Coalition Provisional Authority running Iraq, had been persuaded of the need for direct elections, provided it could be shown that they were practicable.

"Iraq could become a reasonably functioning democracy, or else it will eventually fall apart," one British official said.

"Jack (Straw, the British Foreign Secretary) has been telling Colin Powell (the US Secretary of State) that the process is a bit like riding a bike. You've got to keep it moving, even if it wobbles all over the place."

In Washington, President George Bush met a delegation from the Iraqi Governing Council on Tuesday, amid growing signs that the United Nations would soon agree to send a delegation to Iraq to help decide whether elections were possible before June 30.


“Substantial” reduction

Saudi Arabia has pledged to reduce the amount of money owed to it by Iraq:

US envoy James Baker wrapped up a four-nation Gulf tour yesterday by securing a promise from Saudi Arabia to negotiate a “substantial” reduction of Iraq’s estimated $28 billion debt to the Kingdom.

The promise came after Baker won pledges from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar to write off most, or at least a substantial part of, Iraq’s debts to the three Gulf states.

Crown Prince Abdullah, deputy premier and commander of the National Guard, told the US envoy on the Iraqi debt during a meeting that Riyadh was ready to “enter into negotiations with other principal Iraqi creditors to substantially reduce the Iraqi debt,” said Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal.


N. Korean sanctions

Japanese leaders are considering sanctions against North Korea:

Diet lawmakers who have adopted a hardline stance on North Korea agreed Tuesday to submit bills during this legislative session that would allow the government to slap economic and other sanctions on Pyongyang.

The most controversial piece of legislation advocates banning the re-entry of ethnic Korean residents of Japan who are deemed to be members of groups plotting subversive activities, once they have left the country. This legislation was drafted by Democratic Party of Japan member Shingo Nishimura.

The other two bills would allow Japan to impose unilateral economic sanctions, including blocking money remittances to North Korea, and to prevent North Korean vessels or foreign ships that have stopped at North Korea from entering Japanese ports.

The group said these measures are needed to help "maintain the peace and security" of Japan.

North Korea has said in the past that economic sanctions, if imposed by the US, would lead to war.


Brookes

Peter Brookes writes that if the narcotics trade is not wiped out in Afghanistan it could lead to "narcoterrorist mayhem."

'Long, hard slog" might soon describe Afghanistan as well as Iraq. Despite reports of progress coming out of Kabul, there are signs of serious trouble ahead.

First, the good news: The Afghans, under President Hamid Karzai, have agreed on a constitution, laying the groundwork for democracy and building civil society. National elections are set for June. The economy is booming in the capital, Kabul. Major roads linking the country's north and south have been completed, promising progress for the nation's economy and security.

But here's the bad news: Our efforts to snuff out the Taliban and al Qaeda remnants in Afghanistan could shift into a protracted guerrilla war.

The two groups are using funds from the country's booming drug trade to fund fighters and buy weapons - and so increasing their attacks in the provinces along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

If the security situation doesn't improve, aid workers will leave, and the June elections could be jeopardized. (Only 350,0000 of 10 million potential voters have registered so far.) Without drastic action, the newly-minted Afghan state could dissolve into a morass of narcoterrorist mayhem.


Street name changed

The Iranian government has changed the name of a street once dedicated to one of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's assassins.

In response to Egyptian pressure, the Iranian government has changed the name of a street that was named after one of the assassins of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat.

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is urging the Bush administration to pressure the Palestinian Authority to change the names of streets and summer camps that are named after Palestinian Arab killers of Israelis and Americans.

"Iran's decision proves that international pressure can work," said ZOA National President Morton A. Klein. "Egypt refused to restore normal relations with Iran until the street's name was changed, so the Iranians finally gave in. The Bush administration should use its $213-million in annual aid as leverage to pressure the Palestinian Authority to change the names of its many streets, public squares, and summer camps that are named after Palestinian Arab terrorists who have murdered Israelis and Americans."


Monday, January 26, 2004

Mohammed Mehdi Akef

Mohammed Mehdi Akef, the "new spiritual leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood" is calling for Arab countries to "oppose the United States."

The new spiritual leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood called on Arabs and others in the Muslim world Thursday to oppose the United States, which he said was threatening Syria and Iran after having occupied Iraq.

Mohammed Mehdi Akef, 76, and a member of the authoritarian old guard, was appointed last week following the death of Maamoun al-Hodeibi, who died a week earlier at the age of 83.

Akef said the "American project in the region is clear: they have established permanent military bases, occupied Afghanistan and Iraq and control the most important oil reserves in the world.

"They are threatening to strike Syria and Iran now that Libya has surrendered," a reference to Tripoli's renunciation last month of its program of weapons of mass destruction after nine months of talks with the United States and Britain.

"Arab and Islamic regimes are looking on powerless at all this, as if they were not concerned," he said. "Hope lies with the people, but if they do not rise up at the opportune moment, catastrophe will result, and other capitals could fall after Baghdad."

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said it is "shameful to remain silent" in the face of the drama faced by "our brothers in Palestine."

"Both as governments and as peoples we would stand at their side and provide them with all the material and moral support" they need. he added, saying the least that could be done would be to "boycott the products of the Zionist enemy and those who support it."

I wonder if Mohammed Mehdi Akef "opposes" the 2 billion in aid the US gives Egypt every year.


Ashcroft

Attorney General John Ashcroft recently stated that even if WMD are not found in Iraq the war was justified due to "Hussein's past use of "evil chemistry" and "evil biology."

Saddam Hussein's past use of "evil chemistry" and "evil biology" and the threats they posed justified the war in Iraq even if no weapons of mass destruction are ever found, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday.

Ashcroft, in Vienna for talks with top Austrian officials on measures to fight terrorism and drug trafficking and improve air travel security, told reporters that Saddam's arsenal remained a menace and was sufficient cause to overthrow his regime.

"I believe there is a very clear understanding that Saddam Hussein continued to pose a threat," Ashcroft said.

"Weapons of mass destruction including evil chemistry and evil biology are all matters of great concern, not only to the United States but also to the world community. They were the subject of U.N. resolutions," he said.

Although I agree that even if no WMD are found the war was just, perhaps Ashcroft shouldn't be making foreign policy statements.


Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher says that Arab countries need to take a strong stand against suicide bombing and explain to Israelis that suicide bombing is "wrong from a moral and political point of view."

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said Arab states need to explain their peace proposals to Israelis and take a strong stand against suicide bombings.

"We have not publicly, clearly, unequivocally taken a stand against suicide bombs," Muasher declared at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. "We have not told the average Israeli citizen that suicide bombs are wrong from a moral and political point of view." But he said Israel must also state unequivocally that it will implement the "road map" peace plan in full.


Friday, January 23, 2004

Friedman

Thomas Friedman writes the following:

God bless the Democratic Party's primary voters in Iowa. They may have rescued our chances of succeeding in Iraq and even winning the war of ideas within the Arab-Muslim world. Go Hawkeyes!

How so? Well, it seems to me that Iowa Democrats, in opting for John Kerry and John Edwards over Howard Dean, signaled (among other things) that they want a presidential candidate who is serious about fighting the war against the Islamist totalitarianism threatening open societies.

"It was a good night for the [Tony] Blair Democrats in Iowa," said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute. By "Blair Democrats," Mr. Marshall was referring to those Democrats who voted for the Iraq war, and conveyed "a toughness and resolve to face down America's enemies," but who believe the Bush team has mismanaged the project. This is so important because there has been no credible opposition to the Bush foreign policy since the Iraq war. Democrats have been intimidated either by Mr. Bush or by Mr. Dean.

I wonder if Friedman really believes that Kerry and Edwards could win "the war of ideas within the Arab-Muslim world." So far, I have seen absolutely no evidence of it and plenty to the contrary. For example, Kerry chides Bush's foreign policy as an "ideological foreign policy", the inference being that his would not. But, Mr. Friedman, isn't that what Kerry would need in order to win "the war of ideas within the Arab-Muslim world?" Is this a war that can be one without ideology?


"Christian terrorism"

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi states that if western countries could just stop " injustice and discrimination" toward other countries terrorism would end. She also boasts that "In Bosnia, when so many Muslims were killed, we did not consider it Christian terrorism." I wonder if she realizes that it was Christians, for the most part, who ended the massacre in Bosnia, even though the UN would not endorse it.

Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi says punishing those who commit acts of terror will not rid the world of terrorists and might even make the problem worse.
The outspoken lawyer, who has repeatedly accused the United States of using the September 11 attacks as a smokescreen to violate human rights, said terrorism had only increased despite years of cracking down on militants around the world.

"The solution for eradicating terrorism is not just to punish terrorists. We must go to the roots of terrorism," Ebadi told Reuters in an interview in Bombay late on Wednesday.

"Terrorism is the reaction, the wrong reaction, to injustice and discrimination," said Ebadi, the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to win a Nobel prize.

[...]

Iran's first woman judge, who became a hate figure among the country's religious hardliners for her outspoken support of social and legal reforms, denounced people who misinterpret Islam and misguide Muslims to commit heinous acts of terror.

"People who believe human rights, democracy and Islam are incompatible are only justifying dictatorship. They use it to impose their beliefs," she said, speaking through an interpreter.

Not one to mince words, Ebadi is equally critical of the U.S.-led war on terror.

"America and the West should know that Islam does not support terror. In Bosnia, when so many Muslims were killed, we did not consider it Christian terrorism," said Ebadi, who was without a headscarf — compulsory under Iranian law — to cover her close cropped auburn hair.


India: Strike prevented

A major terrorist strike has been prevented in the Indian capital of Delhi:

Amid high alert in Delhi ahead of the Republic Day, police on Friday claimed to have foiled a major terrorist strike in the national capital by arresting a Hizb-e-Islami terrorist and recovering 3.5 kilogram of high explosives from him.

Ayaz Mohammad Shah, who had allegedly planned to strike in the capital to disturb the Republic Day celebrations, was nabbed near welcome metro railway station in northeast Delhi on Thursday, Joint Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) Karnal Singh said.


500 million "misspent"

500 million dollars has been "misspent" by the Russian military:

Some 14 billion rubles, or nearly 500 million dollars, were "misspent" by the Russian military last year, the head of Russia's audit chamber said Thursday.

"We are not talking about theft, but money allocated to the defense ministry being misspent or used ineffectively," Sergei Stepashin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

He said some generals were inflating the figures for the number of troops serving in their contingents in order to receive greater financing, and that hundreds of millions of dollars allocated by the government for one use were then spent on something else.


Anti-French feeling

It seems some anti-French feeling is taking hold in the Ivory Coast. Whether it is deserved or not is debatable:

The French have good reason to try to quell tension in the former colony.

About 20,000 nationals were living in the country prior to the crisis.

Although some 5,000 have left, French investors still play a significant role in the economy, to the irritation of some men who are close to the president.

"The French think they run the place. It is fine for them to live here but I don't see why they should benefit so much," one of them told me.

Anti-white feelings are new to Ivory Coast, according to a diplomatic source who says that racism has only occurred since an army mutiny 15 months ago.

"Since September 2002, anti-French sentiment has been whipped up. Obviously that impacts on other white people but it's been artificially manufactured," the source said.


Thursday, January 22, 2004

Libya bound

Members of Congress are set to visit unconventional weapons sites in Libya.

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) will lead a historic congressional delegation to Tripoli this weekend to hold talks with Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi.

He and other members of Congress will also visit one of the unconventional weapons sites that Libya has agreed to open to international inspectors.

The touchdown of Weldon’s five-member bipartisan delegation aboard a U.S. Navy plane in Tripoli Sunday morning will mark the first official visit to Libya by American elected representatives since relations were severed in 1979.


Update on the Bam rescue effort

Returning from rescue operations in Bam, Iran "German relief workers" report that the Iranians were "giving priority to men over women and children in the distribution of aid." Also, there seemed to be some confusion as to where the women and children were being sent for medical treatment. In addition, and "according to reports", young female survivors of the earthquake are being kidnapped by "criminal gangs with ties to government officials."

German relief workers who spent four days searching for survivors in the earthquake-hit city of Bam in southern Iran told the government-run German radio, Deutsche Welle, that the rescue mission was “the most frustrating and tragic” in their whole career. The head of the group told the radio: “Normally our rescue workers are not overcome by emotion, but they have been extremely frustrated and shocked this time.”

The relief team spoke of complete anarchy in the rescue effort and rescuers were horrified to discover that government agencies were giving priority to men over women and children in the distribution of aid. The team’s leader said: “The Iranians changed this behavior only after protest by foreign doctors. It was not clear where women and children were being taken and we were curious to know.”

Other foreign aid workers have complained of mismanagement of the rescue effort by government officials, who even hampered the activities of foreign crews. Many said the government’s announcement of the end of the search and rescue phase came too soon.

Criminal gangs with ties to government officials have been kidnapping children, especially adolescent girls, who have survived the quake, according to reports from Bam.

Great work Mullahs!


Breyer, the only-show

Stephen Breyer, a Democrat, was the only Supreme Court justice to attend the most recent State of the Union Address.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer is a Democrat, who was appointed by President Clinton, but he was the only member of the Court who witnessed the State of the Union.

In fact, the former Harvard law professor has been the only member of the judiciary branch to join lawmakers, Cabinet members and other dignitaries on the House floor in three of the four past years, according to the Court’s public information officer, Kathy Arberg.

While all members of the Court are invited to attend, “It’s an individual decision whether they decide to accept, and they don’t give any explanation for their decision,” Arberg said.


Worley Group to rebuild Iraqi oil industry

An Australian company has won a one billion dollar contract to rebuild the oil infastructure in Iraq:

An Australian company has won a $1 billion contract to help rebuild Iraq's oil industry, with the Federal Government urging greater Australian involvement in postwar Iraq despite continuing terrorist attacks.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the coalition must keep working for peace in Iraq following at least 25 deaths in a weekend car bombing of its Baghdad headquarters.

Worley Group, a Sydney firm that won the Iraq contract in conjunction with two US companies, said yesterday the security of its staff was paramount, but plans were in place to ensure their safety.

But I thought this was a war fought to make Halliburton rich?


More on the ICC

Another reason why the ICC is a terrible idea:

British use of cluster bombs in the Iraq war could count as a war crime and justifies further investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor in the Hague, a group of international lawyers say.

Does the ICC (or "international lawyers") realize what the objective of war is? Is it the goal of the ICC (and their "international lawyers") to handcuff every Western military power to the point where they can't even use their military hardware?

I'm still waiting for the ICC case against OBL.


500 deaths is an unbearable war-time loss?

I couldn't have said it any better:

"The Iraq war has cost the lives of about 500 American soldiers. Some would have you believe that this makes Iraq a quagmire. But the truth is, if Western nations have come to the point where 500 deaths is an unbearable war-time loss, then we should also say we are no longer prepared to fight wars, because about the same number of soldiers die every year, in peacetime."

There is going to be a presidential election in the United States in November and George Bush is going to win. President Bush's approval rating is around 60 per cent. That's comparable with Ronald Reagan in 1984, who redefined the term "landslide" when he won 49 of the 50 states.

Naturally, this makes some people crazy. How can Americans vote for a guy who went to war over weapons of mass destruction that did not exist?

First, the US economy is growing at an estimated 5 per cent a year. Interest rates are low. Bush's tax cuts are in people's pockets, and they are spending happily.

Second, Americans like Bush. They see him as patriotic, family-centred and self-disciplined. He is also teetotal, conservative, and Christian. He supports marriage, and opposes abortion and homosexual marriage. There are people who think this makes him a bit old-fashioned but millions of Americans like old-fashioned values.

Most Americans also support Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq. They are not stupid. They know that the so-called intelligence about Saddam Hussein was wrong. Despite this, 67 per cent still believe the US did the right thing.

Because I live in New York, I rarely get to hear the voice of this majority. Instead, I get magazines such as Vanity Fair, which last month had a column by the editor angrily listing statistics from the war in Iraq. Such as: number of American soldiers killed: 500. Number of weapons of mass destruction found: 0.

But, as some readers pointed out, there were statistics missing from the list. These include: number of mass graves uncovered in Iraq: around 260, containing as many as 20,000 bodies. Number of people liberated from brutal, murderous leadership: 12 million. And number of times Bush lied about receiving oral sex from a White House intern: 0.

The Iraq war has cost the lives of about 500 American soldiers. Some would have you believe that this makes Iraq a quagmire. But the truth is, if Western nations have come to the point where 500 deaths is an unbearable war-time loss, then we should also say we are no longer prepared to fight wars, because about the same number of soldiers die every year, in peacetime.

Americans are not casual about casualties. Each and every one of the lives lost was precious to them. I remember sitting on a small plane, travelling from North Carolina to New York, when the war was a few weeks old. I was reading USA Today and, as I opened it to study a map of Iraq, one half of the newspaper fell into the lap of my fellow passenger. I turned to apologise, but he said: "No problem. Actually, do you mind if I have a look?"

Together we studied the picture, trying to work out how far the Americans were from seizing power. It was clear from the diagrams that troops were near Saddam's airport, and close to the centre of Baghdad. I turned to my seat mate and said: "I don't think this is going to be a long battle, after all."

It was only then that I noticed, with horror, that he had started to cry. And then I noticed something else: a photograph, wrapped in plastic, pinned to his lapel. It was a picture of his 20-year-old son, a young marine who died in the first days of the war. The man's wife was sitting across the aisle from us. She had a round bowl on her lap, filled with water and some drooping tulips. The movement of the aircraft was making the water slop around. She was trying to wipe her hands, and her tears.

The couple told me they had just been to a private meeting with Bush to discuss the loss of their son. At the time, it was already clear that Saddam didn't have any weapons of mass destruction.

"But I never thought it was about the weapons," my seat mate said. And, although I can't remember his exact words, he also said something like: "We have always stood up for freedom, in our own country, and for other people."

Any student of history knows that this is true. America saved the Western world from communism. America saved Australia and, for that matter, France from a system that would stop you from reading this newspaper.

Americans support the war in Iraq and, by extension, Bush because they see it as part of a bigger picture. Like everybody, they now know that Saddam was not the threat they thought he was (at least, not to them) but they still think it was a good idea to deal with him, before he became one.

The price of freedom is high. You might think you would not sacrifice your life for it, but maybe you don't have to. After all, 20-year-old Americans are doing it for you, every day.


Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Iraqis want Saddam dead

Iraqis march...for the execution of Saddam.

Shi'ite Muslims marched through Baghdad for a second day yesterday, this time demanding the execution of Saddam Hussein — whose Sunni-dominated regime repressed the Shi'ite majority for decades.

An estimated 5,000 people joined the march that wound its way from Sadr City, a poor Shi'ite neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad, to Firdous Square, the plaza in the center of the capital where Saddam's statue was pulled down April 9, marking the ouster of the Ba'athist regime.


"Mama America"

The play "Mama America" is apparently very popular in Egypt. The play portrays the US as a "simpering, conniving matron in silly hats. Israel is her cousin, lurking maliciously around the edges of the action." The play explores whether or not Egypt should despise the US because "America interferes with the Arab countries" or if Egypt should "marry America" so that it can feed its country and salvage its economy.

This is how the world looks from a drafty playhouse in the downtown caverns of this capital: America is a simpering, conniving matron in silly hats. Israel is her cousin, lurking maliciously around the edges of the action. Arabs are a fractious and dysfunctional clan, sickly, spaced out and self-involved.

Then there's the sorry spectacle of Egypt, a heavy-hearted man torn between his bickering brethren and the possibility of salvaging his family's ancestral lands by marrying America.

"If I put my hand in her hand to live, my brothers and sisters will look down on me," he says miserably. "But if I don't, I'll die of hunger."

Egyptian playwright Mohammed Sobhi has wrought this anthropomorphic world in his newly revived satire, "Mama America." The play is a sensation, packing in the weary workers of Cairo even now, when the economy is so rotten that many people couldn't afford to buy meat for Ramadan feasts. Still, they fill the darkness, babies in their laps, and turn their faces upward to soak up the parody.

"For the first time, we feel somebody personifies our pain," said Shaime Amin, a skinny, bright-eyed business student. "You see how America interferes with the Arab countries? We're sitting here laughing, but deep down we're crying, because this is happening to us."


"Blatant racism"

Indian columnist Ashok Mitra writes that the new US law stipulating that some foreign travelers be photographed and fingerprinted "smacks not only of authoritarianism, but of blatant racism." Mitra also adds "Besides, if Americans are terror-stricken by visitors from non-white countries, including Brazil, Brazil has even greater reason to be wary of visiting US citizens, a fair contingent amongst whom could well be CIA or FBI agents."

The American administration, in a blue funk over how to crush terrorism as defined by it, has clamped an order concerning visitors to the United States of America. Such visitors will be fingerprinted and photographed before they are allowed entry into God's Own Country. Not all visitors though. Those from Canada, 26 west European countries, and Japan are exempt from the ambit of the order. The rest of the human population, black, brown, yellow and of other non-white hues, will however be treated as criminals, and subjected to regulation fingerprinting and photographing.

Beyond question, this is an outrageous order. It smacks not only of authoritarianism, but of blatant racism as well. The Americans have every right to take measures which will provide them with extra security. They, however, have no right to infringe upon human dignity, and in such a discriminatory manner. The rest of the world nonetheless continues to be in awe of the US. Not a murmur of protest from the United Nations. Not a murmur of protest from the countries whose citizens have been grievously affected. No sign of embarrassment from Japan either, despite its being honoured -- or dishonoured -- by conjunction with the whities in the manner the US notification has done.

But at least one nation has decided to defy the US. It is Brazil, the same Brazil which organized the developing countries at the World Trade Organization ministerial conference at Cancun last September and sabotaged, with spectacular success, the US-European conspiracy to appropriate for themselves, lock, stock and barrel, the economic sovereignty of the poor nations. The US authorities are trying hard since then to make Brazil pay for its insolent behaviour. Concerted attempts have been launch- ed by American trade diplomats to set up, under their leadership, a free trade area of the Americas, which would include all Latin American nations, barring Brazil.

[...]

Tit for tat, decreed the judge. If Brazilians are to be fingerprinted at the point of entry in the US, US citizens too deserve to be treated similarly at Brazilian ports of entry. Were he sufficiently worried, President Lula could have gone on appeal against the judge's order to a higher court. He has not. His country's tourist trade, he is aware, is likely to be severely affected if the judge's decision is not reversed. He is equally aware that, should he not budge, the US administration might contemplate even graver measures. Brazil's president is unshaken. He has his own theory, and has plenty of logic to back it up: a bully can be brought to heel only when counter-bullied.

The US, the hyper-power, has been taking the rest of the world for granted. In case the rest of the world keeps shying away from protesting, the US authorities would begin to behave even more atrociously. Checkmating it is an imperative necessity. If the other victimized nations are hesitant, Brazil will show them the way to be cheeky. And one nation's courage will, sooner or later, bloom into collective valour.

Besides, if Americans are terror-stricken by visitors from non-white countries, including Brazil, Brazil has even greater reason to be wary of visiting US citizens, a fair contingent amongst whom could well be CIA or FBI agents. As regards the possible adverse impact on tourist earnings because of the Brazilian riposte, the point might be made, with a touch of levity, that, whatever the circumstances, the Copacabana girls will never lose their fatal attraction.

Someone should mention to mention to Mitra that there are about 56 million "non-whites" in the US. And we're not sacred of them.


Japanese aid to Iraq

Japan is going to buy the Iraqi police new cars, hopes to be able to "provide aid for the construction and reconstruction of schools", and has already spent 90 million on Iraqi hospitals.

Japan will help Iraq buy about 600 police cars as part of its reconstruction efforts, government officials said Wednesday.

The vehicles, aimed at enhancing security in Iraq, will mainly be deployed in the southern city of Samawah, where Japanese ground troops will be dispatched, the officials said. The government will disburse about $28 million, or 3 billion yen, to help with the purchase, they said.

The plan will formally be approved at a Cabinet meeting Friday, they said.

Japan hopes to provide aid for the construction and reconstruction of schools and houses through international organizations, but it has decided not to move ahead with such assistance for now due to the worsening security situation, the officials said.

Japan has so far disbursed about $90 million in grants for reconstructing hospitals.


Tuesday, January 20, 2004

"Exaggerate the influence of Islamists"

First France, now Belgium:

After France, Belgium is now mired in an emotionally-charged debate on whether to ban Islamic headscarves and other overt religious symbols in state schools.

Inspired by a planned French law, two Belgian senators have sponsored similar legislation to combat what they say is Islamic sexism.

"The veil amounts to oppression of the individual in the name of religion," said one of the senators, socialist Anne-Marie Lizin.

French President Jacques Chirac called last month for a ban on religious insignia in schools following months of fierce debate over whether to allow Islamic headscarves in state schools, which are officially secular.

The draft law, which parliament is likely to pass next month, has drawn protest across the Muslim world and in France.

Belgium has no such laws at the moment. But school boards have the right to take their own action, a right exercised recently by the Athenee Royal high school in Brussels, which has a high number of immigrant pupils.

"We have changed our rules to forbid the wearing of headscarves in the school because the situation was no longer tenable," said the school's administrator, Francis Lees.

"Some pupils have since left the school, but we have been able to break out of our ghetto," he said.

A French teacher of Moroccan origin at the school said he was convinced that if Belgium passed an anti-headscarf law, "most of the girls would conform with it."

"They're not going to play with their futures for the sake of that. We shouldn't exaggerate the influence of Islamists," he said.


US: negotiating with Hamas?

Is the US negotiating with Hamas?

The Palestinian Islamist resistance group Hamas has had contacts with US officials and does not rule out further talks.

Muhammad Nazzal, a member of the Hamas political bureau based in Damascus, said on Monday on the group's Internet website:

"In principle, we are not hostile to contacts or meetings with the American administration. In the past we have had such contacts without revealing their existence or contents."

Nazal added: "We are leaving the door open to all, except representatives of the Zionist entity (Israel)."

He denied reports about an attempt at mediation by Qatar based on getting Hamas to suspend its anti-Israeli violence in exchange for a US commitment to lift the freeze on its bank accounts and remove it Washington's list of "terror" groups.

Sources close to the group told AFP that meetings with American representatives had taken place in Beirut and Qatar, though no indication was given of when they had occurred.


"Purify"

A Palestinian woman who carried out a recent suicide bombing did so to "purify" herself of adultery.

A Palestinian mother of two small children, who killed four Israelis by blowing herself up at a border crossing, carried out the suicide bombing to atone for having committed adultery.

The attack last week marked the first time the militant group Hamas had used a female bomber, part of an evolving belief that women who are disgraced by sexual activity outside marriage can "purify" themselves by becoming "martyrs," Israeli security officials said.


Dutch nuclear technology leaked

"Sensitive nuclear technology developed by a Dutch company may have been transferred to Libya and North Korea along with Iran and Pakistan."

Two government ministers in the Netherlands acknowledged Monday that highly sensitive nuclear technology developed by a Dutch company may have been transferred to Libya and North Korea along with Iran and Pakistan.

The disclosure in the Dutch parliament marked the first public confirmation of assertions that centrifuge technology for enriching uranium apparently found its way to Libya and North Korea. It was already known that Pakistan and Iran had the technology.

The Dutch officials said it was not clear how the potentially arms-related technology may have been transferred. But diplomats elsewhere said the public comments were likely to increase pressure on Pakistan, which has already been linked to Iran's capability and is suspected of providing the technology to North Korea and Libya.

U.S. officials have long suspected that Abdul Qadeer Khan, who led the development of Pakistan's atomic bomb, stole the centrifuge secrets in the 1970s while working for the Dutch company Urenco. He was convicted of the theft, but the verdict was overturned.

Urenco is a British-Dutch-German consortium, and officials said it has not been implicated in the spread of the centrifuge technology.

A Urenco spokesman told the Reuters news agency that the company did not do business with Iran, Libya or North Korea and that the technology may have been passed to those countries by means outside its control.


Bahrain FTA

Bahrain is set to become the third Arab country (behind Jordan and Morocco) to have a free trade agreement with the US:

A high-level US delegation will be in Bahrain later this month for the first round of negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries.

The 30-member delegation of US government negotiators will be headed by Assistant US Trade Representative (AUSTR) Catherine Novelli.

Finance and National Economy Minister Abdulla Saif will lead the Bahrain side for the negotiations, scheduled for January 26 to 29 at the Sheraton Hotel.

Several rounds of negotiations will follow, so that a formal FTA may be signed by the end of the year, said US Embassy First Secretary-Political and Economic Affairs Gregory Hicks.

"Bahrain will then become the third Arab country after Jordan and Morocco which has an FTA with the US," he told a round table media discussion at the US Embassy yesterday.


Monday, January 19, 2004

Libya/Egypt rift

A rift has opened between Eygpt and Libya, catalyzed by Libya's decision to come clean on its WMD and to allow UN inspectors inside the country. The latest development between the two sparring countries involves Libya closing its border, at least partially, to Egyptian nationals:

Problems at the Egyptian-Libyan border began on Friday when -- according to Egyptian border police -- about 300 Egyptians heading for Libya were turned back at the Salloum border crossing. Another 400 were reportedly sent back on Saturday. About 30 lorries were also denied entry. Libyan border authorities demanded that the Egyptians show them they had valid work contracts and at least $350 before letting them cross.

Egyptians had previously needed only their identity cards to cross the border. The more stringent regulations were an especially surprising development for the many Egyptians who live in Libya who were trying to head back after celebrating the New Year in Egypt.

Egyptian authorities have responded to Tripoli's move by refusing entry to more than 1000 Libyans since Friday. Exceptions were made for 113 Libyans with health problems who were allowed to enter Egypt on Sunday.


India/Russia

India to buy an old aircraft carrier from Russia:

India and Russia are likely to clinch a 1.8-billion dollar contract for the sale and refurbishment of a Soviet-era aircraft carrier during a visit here by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, officials said Monday.

Ivanov, due in New Delhi late Monday, is scheduled to meet his Indian counterpart Tuesday and then head a Russian delegation in the negotiations over the sale of the 44,570-tonne Admiral Gorshkov carrier to the Indian navy, which currently has only one such ship, defence ministry officials told AFP.


Angry Left protest GWB at MLKs grave

Balloon Juice points out that the Angry Left never miss an opportunity to make themselves look ridiculous.


Saddam: 2 billion stashed

Unconfirmed reports suggest that Saddam has 2 billion dollars stashed away in Syrian and Lebanese banks:

Syria's Central Bank and the Medina Bank in Lebanon are holding at least $2 billion in cash, as well as gold bullion and platinum, that was smuggled out of Iraq, according to a letter written on the stationery of the Syrian army's intelligence department.

The letter says $1.3 billion was deposited in the Syrian Central Bank in an official "presidency" account, while another $700 million was placed in the Medina Bank. The document does not state the value of the gold and platinum, although it says these are also in the Syrian Central Bank.

The handwritten letter to a Syrian exile in Europe, which also bears what appears to be the official stamp of the Syrian army intelligence department, says the deal was struck not long before a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq early last year.

The document was sent to Nizar Nayouf, an exiled Syrian human-rights activist and past winner of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's World Press Freedom Prize who is living in Paris.

While the claims in the letter could not be further verified, Mr. Nayouf, a journalist and democracy activist who was released from a Syrian prison in May 2001, said past information provided by the same person had proved reliable.


IRAQ: 20 Jordanians sent home

The US has "sent home" 20 Jordanians who went to Iraq to fight in support of Saddam:

U.S.-led forces in Iraq sent home 20 Jordanian detainees Sunday, a portion of the Arab volunteers who arrived last year to support Iraqis during the war and after, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced.


Sunday, January 18, 2004

Outsourcing, India, Sowell

While I agree with most of what this article says, India does take advantage of the situation, perhaps not maliciously or intentionally, by having such a glut of talented computer engineers willing to work for very low wage, as Thomas Sowell writes:

The grand fallacy of those who oppose free trade is that low-wage countries take jobs away from high-wage countries. While that is true for some particular jobs in some particular cases, it is another half-truth that is more misleading than an outright lie.

While American companies can hire computer programmers in India to replace higher paid American programmers, that is because of India's outstanding education in computer engineering. By and large, however, the average productivity of Indian workers is about 15 percent of that of American workers.

In other words, if you hired Indian workers and paid them one-fifth of what you paid American workers, it would cost you more to get a given job done in India. That is the rule and computer programming is the exception.


Saturday, January 17, 2004

Musharraf heckled

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf gave his first ever (!) speech to parliment this month and was consistently heckled throughout.

Noisy hecklers from opposition parties asked Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf to quit office on Saturday as he made his first-ever speech in parliament since seizing power in a military coup more than four years ago.

Meanwhile, a Pakistan International Airlines flight carrying a high-profile opposition lawmaker from Lahore to the capital was diverted without explanation to the northwestern city of Peshawar, preventing her from attending the speech.

Musharraf, who survived two assassination attempts last month, spoke on the needs to crush terrorism, to keep India's nuclear weapons secure and to resolve the Kashmir problem. Security around parliament was tight.

"A few people are committing the curse of extremism in our society ...who want to impose their narrow-minded ideas on others," Musharraf said, swapping his army uniform for a white jacket for the occasion.

Opposition legislators chanted "Go Musharraf, go Musharraf" and "Friends of dictators are traitors" as soon as Musharraf took the podium. They kept up the cry throughout his 40-minute speech. The noise worsened as Musharraf's supporters countered by thumping on tables in a show of applause and support.


Friday, January 16, 2004

Al Arabiya: No more "martyrs"

The Al Arabiya satellite station will no longer call suicide bombers "martyrs":

The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya satellite station, confronted with terror attacks in Saudi Arabia, has stopped referring to suicide bombers as "martyrs," provoking anger among Palestinian officials.

Irritation with the network, which has carried several reports critical of the Palestinian cause, is so intense that one of its reporters was pulled from his car and beaten last week.

Yussef al-Qazzaz, a senior official with the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp., directed an angry outburst mainly at local correspondents working for the popular Saudi news channel.

Al Arabiya, concerned about terror attacks in Saudi Arabia, recently ordered its reporters in the Palestinian territories to stop using the word "martyr" to describe Palestinian victims or suicide bombers, and make do with the word "dead" so as not to glorify those who carry out similar acts at home.

The Saudis are finally figuring out that they are destined to reap what they sow.


Israel to target Sheik Ahmed Yassin?

Israel may target Hamas' "spritual leader" in retaliation for recent Hamas attacks on Israelis.

Israel will kill the founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in retaliation for a deadly attack on Israeli border guards, Israel's deputy defense minister said in the bluntest warning yet against leaders of the Islamic militant group.

The official, Zeev Boim, later softened his comments, saying the government had not made a specific decision to kill Yassin.

Israel has assassinated a number of Hamas commanders - but killing the Islamic movement's spritual leader, respected even by many Palestinians who do not support Hamas, would be a dramatic escalation and likely provoke revenge bombings.

Israel has targeted him in the past.


Bomb targets Christians

Someone has bombed a Christian establishment in Pakistan:

At least 12 people, including three policemen, were injured and 15 vehicles destroyed when a bomb planted in a stolen car went off outside a church in downtown Saddar area on Thursday.

“Actually two blasts occurred here,” city police chief Asad Ashraf Mallick told reporters at the site, “First, two motorcyclists hurled a grenade at the Holy Trinity Church’s reading room, which injured a library employee and when the police reached the spot, a bomb fitted in a nearby car exploded, injuring 11 people, including three of our officials.”

Witnesses said two men - both wearing helmets which covered their faces - pulled over outside the Christian Reading Room, part of the historic Holy Trinity Church, and threw a grenade. The grenade hit the footpath and exploded, which shattered the glass of the library and injured its manager, Peter Pervez. Police had reached the site after an anonymous phone call warned of a bomb put in a popular hotel facing the Christian Reading Room.


The other "fence"

Israel isn't the only one building a security barrier. India is building one along the line-of-control in Kashmir and has been for some time:

Indian Army Chief General N C Vij on Thursday said New Delhi would go ahead with the fencing along the 590-km stretch of the Line of Control (LoC) from the Chenab river to the Gurez sector in Held Jammu and Kashmir. Sixty per cent of the work had already been completed and the remaining would be finished by the end of May, he said at the Army Day parade here.

Observing that the gigantic work, being backed by thermal and ground sensors, has ensured a substantial reduction in infiltration, he said, “Much greater efforts are already under way and hopefully we will be able to curtail infiltration to a large extent.”

The army chief said once the fence was erected, it would make infiltration extremely difficult, adding that the militants would have no option other than to illegally cross the international border or through tough terrain in Kargil sector.

Where is the outcry?


US policy malleable?

Canada will be allowed to bid on primary construction work in Iraq:

President Bush said yesterday he will let companies in Canada begin bidding on primary construction contracts to rebuild Iraq, a privilege not previously granted to America's antiwar northern neighbor.

Mr. Bush said the deal to let Canada in on the prime contracts was broached when the president placed a call to newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin late last month.

"I told him that Canada would be given serious consideration for contracting," Mr. Bush said in remarks to reporters after meeting with Mr. Martin on the second day of the Special Summit of the Americas.

I don't quite understand the flip-flop. Either primary work will be done by those in the coalition only, or it should be open to everyone. To allow the work to be done by the coalition, plus Canada, makes US policy look malleable and just less than serious. Perhaps there is some strategy behind this in that by allowing Canada to do primary work the US can claim to be flexible and understanding of countries who were not part of the coalition but are helping in other areas, like Afghanistan. But does that mean we have to allow Germany to do bid on primary work in Iraq too? Their credentials are no worse than Canada's and might even be better, considering the number of German troops in Afghanistan and the fact that Germany is allowing us to fly wounded soldiers from Iraq to Germany for medical treatment. So then, if we are to allow both Canada and Germany to take part in the primary work in Iraq, the US is really just sticking their finger further in to France's eye. And while that perhaps it not such a bad thing, it is a little unnecessary and doesn't even hurt them bad enough to be worth the effort, considering that French companies can still be subcontracted for Iraqi work. The US should adopt more consistent policy regarding the primary construction in Iraq and either only allow coalition members to do the work or, alternatively, allow anyone to bid on the work.


UN: Annan "merely giving in?"

This is what is wrong with the UN:

People close to Mr. Annan say he has rarely been in a more uncomfortable position. For months, he has wanted the United Nations to oversee Iraq's transition to self-government. But he did not want it to be seen as merely giving in to an American plan worked out with Iraqis chosen by Mr. Bremer.

In summary, Annan knows it's a good idea to get the UN in there to help, but he doesn't want to be perceived as "merely giving in" to the Americans. So, to avoid this label, he is willing to allow the UN to turn its back on the people of Iraq, who for years lived under a brutal and treacherous dictator who defied the UN at every opportunity and, quite frankly, made the UN look worse than any American plan could.

However, at least some "U.N. officials" have the common sense:

U.N. officials said yesterday that direct elections could not be organized in Iraq before the July deadline, placing the international body on the side of the United States in a looming confrontation with Iraq's Shi'ite community led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani.