Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Aleksander Kwasniewski

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski says that Poland will keep its troops in Iraq until "security is restored."

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski reiterated here Tuesday that his country will keep its troops in Iraq until security is restored to the war-ravaged country.

"We will not pull out our forces ... and we will maintain our mission to the end," he told a press conference at the end of a visit to the Gulf emirate of Dubai.

Poland maintains 2,500 troops in Iraq and has been a staunch supporter of the US-led war there.

"We will not withdraw our troops from Iraq ... but we hope to complete our mission after the transfer of power to Iraqis and once the Iraqi forces, whom we are training, are prepared" to maintain security, Kwasniewski said.

On Friday, Kwasniewski confirmed Warsaw's commitment to rebuilding Iraq during a telephone conversation with US President George W. Bush.


Mirwais Sadiq

Afghanistan's aviation minister, Mirwais Sadiq, has been killed:

The army commander at the centre of factional fighting in the western city of Herat denied Tuesday that Aviation Minister Mirwais Sadiq was assassinated and said he had died in clashes.

Abdul Zahir Naibzada, who was appointed by President Hamid Karzai last year, said fighting broke out after forces under the command of governor and warlord Ismael Khan, Sadiq's father, attacked his home and his 17th military division headquarters on Sunday.

The ensuing clashes between Khan's forces and Naibzada's troops left between 40 and 50 people dead, a presidential spokesman said.

Khan's spokesman Ghaulam Mohammad Masoon alleged Sadiq was killed by gunmen at Naibzada's house while he was trying to find out who was behind an apparent assassination attempt on his father. He had gone there because a gunman believed to have tried to kill Khan had fled into Naibzada's house, Masoon said.


Interest free

China has given Pakistan a 12 million dollar "military loan."

China's visiting defence minister has pledged a 100 million yuan (12 million dollar) interest-free loan for Pakistan's armed forces, a report said on Tuesday.

The loan is to strengthen and develop ties between the two countries' armed forces, the official Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported.

Cao Gangchuan flew into Islamabad on Monday for a five-day visit.

"China attaches importance to its friendly relations with Pakistan and this relation had been unbeatable since decades," he said during a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Rao Sikandar Iqbal.

Iqbal praised "the invaluable assistance, extended by China to Pakistan, in the field of defence and defence production," APP said.

He also briefed the Chinese defence minister about the efforts being made Pakistan "to stamp out the menace of terrorism".



Tax break

Canada's troops in Afghanistan won't have to pay income taxes:

Canada's 1,800 troops in Afghanistan will be getting a special welcome when they return home this summer — a tax break.

"Quite often the face of the Canada around the world is that of the brave men and women of our armed forces," Finance Minister Ralph Goodale said in yesterday's budget.

"For those periods when Canadian soldiers are risking their lives overseas, they will no longer pay income tax here at home."

The new measure means a corporal making a base monthly pay of $3,989 — plus a further $1,763 in hardship and risk bonuses for a six-month tour in Afghanistan — would save $4,600 in income tax.

The morale-boosting move is expected to put $30 million a year back into the pockets of Canadian soldiers who have been abroad.


Peshawar

Three missiles have struck Peshawar, Pakistan. Anti-Musharraf forces are suspected:

A guerrilla ambush killed three Pakistani soldiers Tuesday and raised the death toll for the security forces to 32 after more than a week of fighting near the Afghan border.

Thousands of Pakistanis have marched to protest the offensive ordered by President Pervez Musharraf and his cooperation with the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Violence has been growing throughout the region as Pakistani forces seek to root out suspected foreign militants and tribesmen accused of sheltering them.

Tuesday night, three missiles hit Peshawar, creating huge, simultaneous explosions in parts of the Northwest Frontier Province's capital and sparking panic among the city's residents.

Police said one missile landed in the parking lot of their headquarters, another struck near the office of the World Health Organization and the third fell in a residential area.


Recount

Recount in Taiwan:

Chen Shui-bian, leader of the Republic of China (Taiwan), yesterday agreed to support a recount of ballots to end a dispute over his re-election in Saturday's vote.

Mr. Chen won by the narrowest margin in Taiwan's history, triggering accusations of fraud and demands for a recount.

In Washington, Taiwan's top diplomat hailed the announcement as a clear indication that the wrenching election dispute was moving toward a peaceful settlement.


Nixed

The US has nixed a UN resolution "that would have condemned Israel's assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin."

The United States and Algeria could not agree yesterday on a U.N. Security Council statement that would have condemned Israel's assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

Delegations met Monday and yesterday to discuss a proposed text circulated by Algeria, the only Arab nation on the council, that would have the president of the Security Council condemn the killing.

Algeria withdrew the statement after the United States insisted on language in the document that also would have condemned recent terrorist activities by Hamas, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said.

"The essential point here was that the proponents of this statement did not want to refer to terrorism conducted by Hamas and that was the fundamental objection we had," Mr. Negroponte said


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

All protest is patriotic!

Balloon Juice reminds us that all protest is patriotic!


"Maps with circles around the Czech Embassy"

Polish police have "detained two Pakistani terror suspects."

The Czech Embassy in Poland went on high alert yesterday after Polish police detained two Pakistani terror suspects.

Czech radio reported that Polish police had searched the apartments of the two men and found maps with circles around the Czech Embassy, along with a leaflet from Italy's Alitalia airline with two crosses marked on an airplane.

Poland has been America's staunchest ally in the war in Iraq among the eight former communist countries due to join the European Union on May 1 along with Cyprus and Malta. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary signed letters of support for the U.S. position in the run-up to the Iraq war.


Russia

Russia is going to continue its "nuclear cooperation" with Iran:

Russia will pursue its nuclear cooperation with Iran, where it is building the Islamic state's first nuclear reactor, but expects Tehran to cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog, a top Russian official said on Tuesday.

"We will continue to cooperate with Iran in the peaceful civilian nuclear field as there have been no instructions to the contrary by relevant international bodies," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko told reporters.

"Russia is pushing for active cooperation between Iran and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Association) and hopes that Iran will continue to collaborate with it," he added.

Russia has faced intense pressure over its construction of the Bushehr reactor from the United States, which fears that Iran could use fuel from the reactor for a weapons program, though Washington has toned down its criticism in the past several months.


Binyamin Netanyahu

Israeli Finance Minister and former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says he can only support a unilateral withdrawl from Gaza under certain conditions:

Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu clarified this morning his stance on the disengagement plan. Yesterday he set three conditions without which he could not support the plan, but upon their fulfillment "I would definitely consider supporting the plan in a positive light." The three conditions he laid down were:

* Israel must control all entrances and exits to the Gaza Strip, including the Philadelphi route separating Egypt and Gaza.
* The counter-terrorism partition fence around Judea and Samaria must be completed before the retreat begins. Included in the "Israeli areas" must be settlement blocs in Yesha.
* The Americans must issue public declarations against the so-called Right of Return for Arabs who left Israel in 1948.

Netanyahu also said yesterday - though he did not make this a formal condition - that we must not retreat under fire, but must rather ensure that Gaza-based terrorism is neutralized before a withdrawal. He also said that though he himself would not have initiated a unilateral withdrawal, "Sharon has decided upon it and we must go from there."


Escape

It becoming increasingly clear that some Al-Qaeda have escaped the ongoing stand-off with Pakistani troops via underground tunnels:

Amid suspicions that some militants along the Afghan border had escaped a Pakistani military cordon through a secret tunnel, hit-and-run attackers in a nearby area ambushed an army convoy Monday.

Assailants firing rocket-propelled grenades damaged six military vehicles, including an oil tanker, along a highway near the town of Wana, according to witnesses interviewed by telephone. It was unclear whether Pakistani forces suffered casualties, the witnesses added, but some suggested at least 12 soldiers died in the afternoon ambush.

The attack is likely to test the patience of the Pakistani army, which announced Sunday it would hold fire to give tribal elders another chance to talk as many as 500 suspected militants in the region into surrendering. A senior commander said Monday that the lull in the fighting was not a formal cease-fire and that the offensive could resume at any time.

Fierce fighting erupted last Tuesday near Wana as security forces searched for suspected Al Qaeda fighters believed to be hiding in the semiautonomous South Waziristan region near the Afghan border.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Thursday that the militants' fierce resistance indicated they might be defending a "high-value target," such as senior Al Qaeda leaders. But Pakistani officials have since backed away from suggestions that Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, was among the militants surrounded by a military cordon.

Retired army Brig. Mahmood Shah, chief of security for northwest Pakistan's tribal region, said Monday that security forces had discovered a tunnel more than a mile long in the cordoned-off zone. It connected the mud-brick houses of the two most wanted tribesmen, Mohammed Sharif and Maulvi Nek Mohammed, Shah told reporters in Peshawar.

"There is a possibility that the tunnel may have been used before the [cordon] operation," he said, adding that the tunnels begin at the homes in the village of Kaloosha and continue toward a mountain range that straddles the Afghan border.


"A recipe for the breakup of Iraq"

Ayatollah al-Sistani has written a letter to the UN "saying a U.S.-backed interim constitution is a recipe for the breakup of Iraq."

Iraq's most influential Shi'ite Muslim cleric has written to the United Nations, saying a U.S.-backed interim constitution is a recipe for the breakup of Iraq, according to a statement released yesterday.

Gunmen, meanwhile, killed two Finnish businessmen as they drove in Baghdad yesterday, the latest foreign civilians to die in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion a year ago. In the southern city of Basra, 14 British troops were wounded in two explosions during a demonstration.

In a March 19 letter to top U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani said he would not participate in upcoming meetings with U.N. officials should the world body endorse the interim law.

"This constitution that gives the presidency in Iraq to a three-member council, a Kurd, a Sunni Arab and a Shi'ite Arab, enshrines sectarianism and ethnicity in the future political system in the country," the Shi'ite leader's letter said.

It said the presidential system of the constitution "will lead to a dead end and puts the country in an unstable situation and could lead to partition and division."

The interim document stipulates that decisions by the three-man presidency must be unanimous.

Ayatollah al-Sistani said he would boycott the U.N. mission "unless the United Nations takes a clear stance that the constitution does not bind the [future Iraqi] National Assembly and is not mentioned in any new Security Council resolution concerning Iraq."

The National Assembly is to be elected before the end of January 2005.


Monday, March 22, 2004

Videotape

Video cameras have apparently captured Syrian troops firing on unarmed Kurdish protesters:

Amatuer cameramen caught on tape the Syrian state security forces firing indiscriminately on unarmed Kurdish civilians at a March 13th funeral.

Similar pictures were broadcast by the UK TV station Channel 4, which reported that the officials in the Syrian embassy in London declined to be interviewed.

In a newly released unedited videotape, the mourners are taking for burial the bodies of the Kurds who had been killed by the same state security forces during a football match the day before, on March 12th, in the Kurdistani city of Qamishlo.

The unedited videotape, along with two other edited tapes, clearly demonstrates that Syrian state security forces responded to the unarmed crowd of men, women and children by shooting to kill.

The images show that the Kurdish protestors at first think that the soldiers and militias on moving vehicles were firing into the air. Some in the crowd are trying to calm the panicking crowd. People are falling down by what seems to be the gunshot wounds they receive.

Some in the crowd are trying to help the wounded while some demonstrators put up resistance, by shouting slogans and throwing stones, many civilians are running for their lives; women and children are screaming.

The videotapes were released by a newly established Web site, serhildanaqamishlo.com. It is a news and information site, established by a number of other information providers to offer information specifically on the current situation of West [Syrian] Kurdistan.

You can watch the videos here.


100 million a month

The US is giving Pakistan 100 million dollars a month for "logistics support in the global war against terrorism."

The United States government is reportedly paying Pakistan 100 million dollars a month for logistics support in the global war against terrorism.

According to The News , this has been reported in the half-yearly review of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that was released on Sunday.

The paper said that the 'logistics support payments' increased by 83.3 per cent during July-December 2003 to total 581 million dollars, or about 97 million dollars a month.

The report further said that Pakistan and the US had signed an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA) in early 2002 to facilitate reciprocal provision of logistics support and services between the two armed forces, to be used primarily during combined exercising, training, deployments, operations or other cooperative efforts.

Items permitted under the ACSA include food, water, transportation, POL, communications and medical services and also covers use of facilities, training services, repairs and maintenance etc.


Mossad

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yahod Almarat has recently stated that Mossad is "not monitoring the Pakistani installations."

A top Israeli official again voiced his government’ strong desire for establishing diplomatic ties with Pakistan, strongly rebuffing the media reports that of Israeli intelligence agencies are maintaining a tight watch on the sole nuclear Islamic state.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yahod Almarat in a special chat with Online argued that Mossad, the Israeli secret service, is not monitoring the Pakistani installations at all. “Pakistan is not on the monitoring list of Baghdad-based investigating unit of Mosad and the media reports in this regard are merely rubbish”, he maintained.

In reply to a query, the Israeli top official stressed the need for putting up dedicated efforts by the international community for brining peace and stability in Middle East. “The intriguing Palestinian imbroglio could be resolved if the world powers come up with more sincere and serious efforts on the issue”, he said.


Iraqi banks

Iraqi banks are looking for Lebanese and Arab partners:

A number of Iraqi private banks are looking for Lebanese and Arab banks to take on as partners in a bid to prepare for the imminent entry of big international private banks into the once state-controlled banking sector.

The Central Bank of Iraq, which recently gained full independence, is expected to soon finalize licenses for three foreign banks, HSBC, National Bank of Kuwait and Standard Chartered. The three banks, which were picked out of 15 applications, are the first private banks to enter Iraq in nearly four decades.

The Iraqi banking sector was and still is dominated by two large state banks, Al-Rasheed and Rafidain, which control around 90 percent of the market. The ousted regime of Saddam Hussain only allowed Iraqi private banks to enter the market in the 1990's after the United Nations trade sanctions were imposed, restricting the inflow of cash into the war-ravaged country.

"We have held talks with Fransabank of Lebanon and we are waiting to hear from them," said Saad al-Bunnia, chairman of Warkaa Investment Bank and head of the Federation of Banks in Iraq, who attended the Iraq Economic Forum that ended Friday in Beirut.


Western plot uncovered

One area of Nigeria is refusing to take part in a UN sponsored polio "immunisation campaign" because they believe that it is a plot to "render Muslim women infertile."

A national polio immunisation campaign is due to resume in Nigeria, but one northern state is refusing to join in.

Kano opted out of a drive last year, when some Islamic leaders said it was part of a western plot to render Muslim women infertile.

Last week the government announced that the oral vaccine, promoted by the United Nations, was safe to use.


"Temporary cease-fire"

A "temporary cease-fire" has been issued between the Pakistani military and the surrounded Al-Qaeda "fighters."

Pakistani forces hunting hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda fighters near the Afghan border called a temporary cease-fire Sunday as the government gave tribal leaders a chance to persuade the militants to surrender.

Officials said the government granted 25 tribal elders safe passage into the battle zone in an effort to negotiate a peace deal with local tribesman sheltering the militants.

In calling the cease-fire, the government also demanded that local tribesmen unconditionally release 16 Pakistani troops and officials they have detained, hand over all wanted suspects and provide assurances that they will not shelter any suspects in the future.

U.S. and Pakistani officials said last week that the intense resistance suggested that the suspected militants were protecting a "high-value" target, possibly Ayman Zawahiri, the top deputy of Osama bin Laden in the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

But Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, told CNN on Sunday, "Who the particular high-value target might be, one or more, we don't have any clue."

The fighting has raged near the town of Wana, in the South Waziristan region, since Tuesday. Senior officials here said the government ordered the military to stop firing artillery Sunday after the militants' resistance dropped sharply.

"The troops have silenced their artillery guns, and helicopter gunships were hovering over the designated zone but did not fire rockets," retired army Brig. Mahmood Shah, who is responsible for security in the semiautonomous tribal belt of northwest Pakistan, told reporters in Peshawar on Sunday.

But both sides continued to fire lighter weapons during intermittent clashes in several villages in an area cordoned off by several thousand Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary troops, witnesses said by telephone.

Pakistani soldiers killed two Chechen fighters as they tried to break through the ring, Shah said. He did not provide exact casualty figures, but several dozen civilians, government troops and militants have been reported killed in the last week.

Government forces continued house-to-house searches and had cleared 152 houses by Sunday. Officials said the search operation might take a month and that security forces had demolished houses used to shelter suspected militants.

Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain, who is leading the offensive in the tribal areas as commander of the Pakistani army's 11th Corps, told a local TV channel that his forces would "teach a lesson" to the Yargulkhel tribe, which is accused of harboring foreign militants.

Meanwhile, some of the Al-Qaeda might have escaped through a tunnel:

Top al-Qaida terrorists may have escaped a siege by thousands of Pakistani soldiers through several secret tunnels leading from mud fortresses to a dry mountain stream near the border with Afghanistan, a security chief said Monday.

The longest tunnel found so far was more than 1 mile long and led from the homes of two local men - Nek Mohammed and Sharif Khan - to a stream near the frontier, said Brig. Mahmood Shah, head of security for Pakistan's tribal regions.

"There is a possibility that the tunnel may have been used at the start of the operation," Shah told journalists in Peshawar, the provincial capital. He said the tunnels began at the homes in the village of Kaloosha and led in the direction of a mountain range that straddles the border.

Three senior officials have told AP that they believe al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri may have been at the site, though the government has repeatedly said it does not know who is inside. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Thursday that a "high-value" target was likely involved.

The militants may have used the tunnel to escape during the disastrous first day of the operation on Mar. 16, when at least 15 soldiers were killed in fierce fighting. Still, Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain, the commander of the operation, said over the weekend that authorities believe an important terrorist remains inside, based on the level of resistance of the holdouts.


Friday, March 19, 2004

"Some nuclear thing"

The US, in 1990s, asked Malaysia to halt a shipment of "suspected nuclear parts". This indicates that the US suspected even then that a Malaysian company was producing parts for black-market nuclear programs:

The United States asked Malaysia to halt a shipment of suspected nuclear parts in the 1990s, years before a local company was linked to a network that supplied Libya, Iran and North Korea with weapons-making technology, Malaysia's former leader said on Thursday.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told The Associated Press in an interview that Malaysia stopped one shipment years ago of stainless steel pipes at Washington's request.

"We didn't know where they were headed," Mahathir told The AP. "They didn't say if it was for centrifuges. There were some reports submitted to me, saying that there was this American objection. They said it was meant for some nuclear thing."

Mahathir retired as prime minister Oct. 31 after 22 years in power that saw Malaysia develop as a high-tech manufacturing center. The nuclear parts incident is believed to have occurred in the early 1990s.

A U.S. official posted in this Southeast Asian nation at the time recalled that Washington suspected a Malaysian factory of making parts that could be used for nuclear purposes and were possibly bound for Pakistan. Malaysia contended that the parts had other possible applications.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, recalled that a ship was searched but no parts were found. He was unclear on details given the many years that have lapsed.

Last October, a shipment of 25,000 Malaysian-made centrifuge parts for enriching uranium to make nuclear arms was seized in the Mediterranean en route to Libya, uncovering a secret network led by Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan.


Asharq al-Awsat

A Saudi paper published in London is calling for Islamic religious institutions to condemn terrorism:

We want our religious institutions to be concerned with people's lives as much as they are concerned with the rules of sexual intercourse. We suppose that our religious institutions in the Arab and Islamic world have heard about the terrorist attacks that defame Islam and Muslims. We also suppose that they know that the majority of victims of these attacks are Muslims. What is surprising is that these attacks have not stimulated Islamic religious institutions. Their silence and hesitation has a bad influence, and this position encourages terrorists to go further. The institutions should have reacted at least as human beings not as religious people. The religious institutions should have followed the example of the Pope in the Vatican who immediately condemned the attacks in Madrid last week. He also officially participated in the victims' funerals in spite of his old age. This good initiative of the Pope must have left a good impression among not only followers of the Catholic Church but also among irreligious people who represent the majority in Europe.


Khan's family leaves

AQ Khan's family has fled Pakistan:

Supreme Court was informed on Thursday that family of the detained nuclear scientists Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan has gone abroad.

At the very outset of the hearing of petitions challenging detention of Dr Khan and other scientists, Chief Justice Supreme Court Nazim Hussain Siddiqui asked, "why petition was not filed by any relative of Dr Qadeer Khan?.

Advocate Ikram Chaudhry submitted that, family of Dr Khan including his spouse and daughters have gone abroad.

CJ asked had his son-in-law also gone to London?.

Counsel submitted that he has been trying to contact family members of Dr A Q Khan, but failed to make any contact.


Iraqis more optimistic than Germans?

Dean's World notes that "Iraqis are considerably happier and more optimistic than most Germans."


VDH

Solomonia points out an interesting interview with Victor Davis Hanson.


Threats issued

Al-Qaeda has issued recent threats against Saudi Arabia, Japan, Italy, Britain, Saudi Arab, Pakistan and Australia:

The Al-Qaeda network has threatened the United States and its allies of Madrid like bomb blasts soon.

In a statement forwarded to an Arabic Newspaper, Al-Hayat, carrying a letterhead of Al-Qaeda associated organization, Abul-Hafzul Masri, it was said that US allies including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would face bomb blasts in the coming days.

The statement said Japan, Italy, Britain, Saudi Arab, Pakistan and Australia would be targeted at an appropriate time.


Coup?

A plot to overthrow the Pakistani government is apparently in the works. The coup would replace current president Pervez Musharraf with AQ Khan, the "father" of the Pakistani atomic bomb and nuclear proliferator:

A plot is being organized to replace Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with the nuclear engineer who sold the country's secrets to America's self-avowed enemies, according to one of the political and religious leaders involved.

Details of the plan were discussed at a meeting in late February in Akora Khattak, near Peshawar, following the death of the wife of Sen. Sami ul-Haq, vice president of a coalition of six religious parties known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), said a politician who attended the meeting.

The source said the mastermind of the plot to install Abdul Qadeer Khan as president is his close friend, Gen. Hamid Gul, a former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency who is the "strategic adviser" to the MMA.

Gen. Gul, according to the participant, told others at the Akora Khattak meeting that he was assembling "a strong team of faithful Muslims to take control of the country to serve the nation and the Muslim world with true Islamic spirit."

Gen. Gul then added, according to the source, "A.Q. [Khan] is our natural leader."

Mr. Khan, a religious fundamentalist with a penchant for the good life, is the most popular man in Pakistan because of his role as the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, which gave the nation a counterweight to India's nuclear capability.

He publicly confessed last month to selling nuclear secrets to North Korea, Libya and Iran after U.S. and British intelligence services confronted Gen. Musharraf with evidence of the operation. But he was given a full pardon and allowed to keep assets including lavish homes in Pakistan and Dubai.


"Secret" talks

Ariel Sharon and Jordan's King Abdullah have recently concluded a "secret" meeting regarding the West Bank security fence:

Jordan's King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have met secretly for talks at Mr Sharon's ranch in southern Israel.

The two men spoke for several hours, Israel public radio reported.

No other details have been given, but a senior political source quoted by Israel's Haaretz paper said the meeting addressed the West Bank barrier.

The king is said to be concerned that construction of the barrier would prompt Palestinians to flee to Jordan.

Jordan has in the past criticised the route of the barrier in the West Bank.

A large Palestinian influx would threaten Jordan's delicate demographic balance, correspondents say. At least half of the country's population is Palestinian.


Thursday, March 18, 2004

900 suspended in SA

900 religious officials have been suspended in Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia has suspended 900 local religious officials "for negligence", according to press reports.

"Various flaws and shortcomings were noted," the head of an advisory committee in the Ministry of Islamic Affairs was quoted as saying.

Many commentators in the West have blamed religious discourse in the Kingdom and its educational system for laying the ground for extremism.

Schoolbooks have already been purged of lessons inciting hatred to non-Muslims.

It is not clear when the Islamic officials were suspended, but the government has tried to rein in those who refuse to take a moderate line.

Last year some 1,400 imams were suspended and many of them were ordered to undergo training.

"The reason for the suspension is that various flaws and shortcomings were noted, mainly to do with failure to do what is required of imams and khateebs (prayer leaders and sermon-givers)," said the head of the advisory committee, Saleh Al-Sadlan.

Seminars are to be held to help those found making frequent errors, he added.

The committee would have branches in every region of the kingdom, he added.


Iraqi Community Association

The Iraqi Community Association has released this statement:

Iraq One Year Later

A year has passed since the invasion of our country, and while we Iraqis do not claim that we are safely and irrevocably on a course to liberal democracy, the honest and rather remarkable truth is that we have made enormous strides in that direction. The signing on March 8 of the interim constitution - containing the strongest guarantees of individual, minority, and women’s rights and liberties to be found anywhere in the Arab world, is the most obvious success. The capture of Saddam has damaged the Baathist-led insurgency, although jihadists continue to launch horrific attacks on Iraqis. “The ruthlessness, the cruelty and the life-denying viciousness of evil suicide bombers must be eradicated. They are the enemies of humanity and barbarians in the crudest sense”. Said today the director of the CA, Jabar Hassan..

What’s more, there are hopeful signs that Iraqis of different religious, ethnic, and political persuasions can work together. This is far cry from predictions made before the war by many, both here and in Europe, that a liberated Iraq would fracture into feuding clans and unleash a bloodbath. What we need now is the support towards rebuilding our country towards peace, democracy and the respect for human rights.


New assault

Pakistan has "launched a new assault...against al-Qaida and Taliban suspects in a tribal region near Afghanistan." Pakistan just recently stated that no new operations would take place.

Pakistani troops and paramilitary forces using artillery and helicopter gunships launched a new assault Thursday against al-Qaida and Taliban suspects in a tribal region near Afghanistan, two days after a fierce assault that left dozens dead.

The new push began in Azam Warsak, Shin Warsak and Kaloosha villages in South Waziristan, the tribal region that borders Afghanistan, said Brig. Mahmood Shah, the chief of security for the area. Army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan said there have been casualties in the new offensive, but he had no details of how many or on which side.

The operation follows a clash between security forces and suspected Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts in a fortress-like compound in the village of Kaloosha, just miles from the border. Some 39 people - including 15 troops and 26 militants, died in the raid on Tuesday, the military said Thursday in a statement. Eighteen other suspects were captured.

The statement said most of those killed Tuesday were foreigners, but it gave no details of nationalities and acknowledged that only two of the bodies had been recovered. No senior al-Qaida figures are believed to have been among those killed or captured.

More information on the assault...

Pakistani forces launched a fresh offensive on Thursday against suspected Al Qaeda fighters and their Pakistani tribesmen allies hiding out in a remote western area near the Afghan border.

Earlier, army helicopters rattled overhead as authorities used loudspeakers to urge villagers out of the area where paramilitary troops and militants on Tuesday fought their bloodiest battle in Pakistan’s new drive against militants.

“We gave a warning to the local population to vacate the area and move to safe areas. We gave them three hours and at around 10 a.m. (0500 GMT) we started engaging the area,” Mehmood Shah, a senior civilian official in the the area, told private GEO television.

“Heavy arms are being used. These foreign elements are using heavy weapons and we are too,” he said.

Sixteen 16 soldiers and 24 rebels were killed in the fighting on Tuesday. The dead rebels included men believed to be foreigners loyal to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network, an official said.

Amry spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan confirmed the offensive had begun. He described it as a “major operation”, involving the army as well as paramilitary forces.


Mohammed ElBaradei

Mohammed ElBaradei claims that he is not sure whether or not Iran is trying build nuclear weapons.

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency says he has no "specific proof" that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. "The jury is still out," Mohammed ElBaradei told members of Congress.

Choosing his words carefully - he said a careless statement could make the difference between war and peace - the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency said U.N. inspectors were seeking to determine whether Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

"I have to be certain," ElBaradei told lawmakers Wednesday. He also called at the White House and suggested to President Bush that the United States talk directly to Iran about its nuclear program.

"Clearly, it is an idea that they will have to mull over," ElBaradei said after the 45-minute meeting with Bush followed by a session with Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security assistant. "In my view, they will mull it over and see if it is useful."


Abu Bakar Bashir

Solomonia notes a recent raving by Abu Bakar Bashir and Australia's Foreign Minister's responce to it.


Chebavs

Local Iraqi teenagers, called chebavs, risk their own lives to rescue others from bombed or burning buildings:

They have had nearly a year now to grow accustomed to the sight of bombed-out buildings on fire. But it is quite another thing to enter them, as many Iraqi youths did last night, even before the first fire trucks arrived.

The heroics of the local chebavs, Iraqi teens who know no fear, were readily visible from the middle of the chaotic aftermath of a massive car bomb explosion in central Baghdad.

The blast and the flames it ignited killed at least 17 people and was blamed — by the U.S. authorities and by ordinary Iraqis in the street — on the deadly insurgency that has bedevilled the American occupiers and the beleaguered provisional authority that is attempting to restore order amid Iraq's postwar chaos.

On one side of the downtown Karada district street sat the four-storey Mount Lebanon Hotel, its outer walls shorn clean, each guest room exposed and ablaze. Across the street, seven residential buildings were similarly shorn of their facades, revealing a dollhouse-like jumble of beds, tables and burning bookshelves three storeys high.

Even as the fire trucks approached, a dozen or more acrobatic teams were inside, alternately rappelling down ropes from nearby rooftops or climbing up through rubble-strewn stairwells.

The Star watched them rescue at least two people — one elderly, kaffiyeh-clad man and a weeping dazed woman who appeared in her 50s — among an estimated 45 injured.


Afghan delays

National elections in Afghanistan might be delayed by two months:

President Hamid Karzai suggested Wednesday that Afghan national elections may be postponed by a month or two, the latest sign of the instability that has hampered the war-torn country's recovery.

The Afghan leader's statements during a meeting here with U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell are the strongest indications to date that presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June may be delayed.

Only about 15% of the estimated 9.9 million eligible voters have been registered, because of threats against aid workers, poor access to remote villages and difficulties enlisting the participation of Afghan women, United Nations officials say.

"The Afghan government is keen to have elections in June, July or August," said Karzai, surrounded by security guards in the fortress-like presidential palace here in the capital. "At this point, it looks like we should be aiming for elections in midsummer 2004."


Iran offered talks?

SWLIP notes that an Iranian request for talks with Washington regarding "nuclear weapons, terrorism and Israel" has been on the table for 10 months. Washington has apparently not agreed to the talks due to "divisions within the Bush administration."


Benon Sevan

The UN has begun an investigation in to claims that "a prominent U.N. official took kickbacks from the multibillion-dollar Iraqi oil-for-food program that ended last year."

The United Nations has begun an internal investigation into accusations that a prominent U.N. official took kickbacks from the multibillion-dollar Iraqi oil-for-food program that ended last year.

The accusations have also prompted U.S. congressional concern. The General Accounting Office, which has been examining Iraq's finances since May, is preparing to brief staffers of the House International Relations Committee tomorrow afternoon.

"There are important implications here in how the U.N. operates that are vitally important to the oversight committees of the House and Senate," said committee spokesman Sam Stratman.

Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, "wants to pull together information about the extent of this problem to determine the options the committee has for proceeding," he said.

Benon Sevan, the executive director of the Office of the Iraq Program at the United Nations, is accused by some Iraqi officials of accepting oil vouchers from Saddam Hussein's regime. The charges are based on papers found in the Ministry of Oil listing kickbacks and bribes.

Some 270 people, organizations and corporations were subsequently accused of taking bribes by an Iraqi newspaper, though the claims have not been authenticated. Nonetheless, the inclusion of Mr. Sevan in the list has fueled long-held suspicions about the U.N. program, which sold more than $60 billion worth of oil in 6 years.

According to reports published in Iraq, Mr. Sevan, a native of Cyprus, received a voucher for 1.8 million barrels of Iraqi oil. At today´s prices, the oil would be worth more than $67 million. Presumably the bearer of the voucher could claim the oil, or consign it to a middleman and pocket the proceeds when it was sold.

Mr. Sevan, currently on vacation and about to retire, has denied all accusations through a U.N. spokesman.


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Nine arrested

Yemen has recently arrested nine suspects in the USS Cole bombing:

Nine suspects in the 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole have been arrested, the Yemeni government said yesterday, including eight who escaped from jail last year.

Interior Minister Rashad al-Eleimi said authorities were closing in on two suspects still at large since their April jailbreak in the southern port city of Aden. The breakout came as a major embarrassment to the Yemeni government. The bombing in Aden killed 17 U.S. sailors and has been blamed on Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

Separately, Yemeni security officials said seven terror suspects were arrested in the past two days in the provinces of Aden and Abyan in the country's south. They did not provide their names.

But the ruling Congress Party's Web site reported that Ali Mohammed Omar Sharbagy, one of two arrested in Abyan, was suspected of having connections to the attack on the U.S. destroyer.

Sharbagy is not among the 10 who broke out of jail last year.


The Syrian presence in Lebanon

The Lebanese media has noted that the US is not ignoring Syrian involvement in Lebanon:

As promised by the US Administration, Washington’s decision to implement economic sanctions against Damascus in accordance with the Syrian Accountability Act is final, and will be put into effect “within a week or two at the most,” diplomatic sources close to US circles told The Daily Star.

But the US will keep the political dialogue with Syria open, in particular through diplomatic channels. Depending on how this dialogue evolves, Washington will decide whether or not other sanctions ­ possibly of a more political nature ­ will follow, including measures involving the Syrian presence in Lebanon.

For the time being, these sanctions are of a purely economic nature, and include in particular a boycott of the Syrian markets by US investors, as well as an expected US embargo of Syrian airspace. The sources described the US move to start implementing the sanctions as a political decision, adding that it was a warning addressed to Syria that it needs to show a more positive attitude.

In the meantime, efforts will be deployed to maintain and improve political and diplomatic talks with Damascus ­ talks that have always been frank, as described by the sources, but which currently seem to have reached a rather critical stage.

The sources also remarked that cooperation between the US and Syria “has gone through ups and downs.” While this cooperation appears to be at its “lowest” level presently, the case was recently much different, in particular following the dreadful events of Sept. 11, 2001. At that time, the sources said, Syria proved to be extremely cooperative with the US on specific security matters. It would be fair to say that this efficient cooperation “saved American lives,” the sources noted.

But although this cooperation still exists, it US believes it can still be improved, which is why it will continue to pressure Syria. This pressure may extend to the question of the Syrian presence in Lebanon, since this topic is among the items listed in the Syria accountability law. The Lebanese and Syrian authorities tend to consider this question as one of minor importance in the eyes of the US, which is why there is little concern in these circles about it. Syria and Lebanon usually believe that the US administration pays more attention to issues related to terrorism and questions affecting the security of US troops in Iraq.

But the diplomatic sources said it would be wrong to believe that the Syrian presence here was not among the US priorities. There is no prioritized order to the various items included in the Syrian accountability law, the sources asserted. Just because one item is mentioned lower on the list of items hardly means it is less important in the eyes of the US administration.


France and Rwanda

HipperCritical notes that French responsibility for the Rwanda massacre has never been fully investigated by anyone, including, I conjecture, the UN.


Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat

Pakistan's Minister for Interior and Narcotics Control, Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, recently stated that Osama bin Laden is not in Pakistan:

Osama Bin Laden is not hiding in Pakistan as its military has 'virtually sealed the border' with Afghanistan, Pakistan's Minister for Interior and Narcotics Control, Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat claimed on Wednesday.

Participating in the BBC World programme Hardtalk Pakistan, Faisal Saleh Hayat said "We do not believe Bin Laden is in Pakistan because if he had been in Pakistan, certainly by now in view of the nature of the operations, the scale of the operations which have been initiated and conducted over the past two years, certainly he would have been apprehended".

"He's not in Pakistan, certainly not. He could be somewhere -- this is again a matter of conjecture -- he could be somewhere along the border belt, because it is a very long border as we all know, a 2,500 km long border in which we have the most inhospitable terrain anywhere in the world," he said.

He said "the reason why I said he could not be in Pakistan is because we have these 70,000 paramilitary forces patrolling the border. We have virtually sealed the border", he said.

"The operations which are going on in Wana and south Waziristan recently, they are the outcome of an apprehension that some of the elements connected to the Al-Qaeda network's hierarchy might be hiding in these areas. That is the reason why we are going ahead with these operations but certainly that doesn't mean that Osama Bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan." the Minister said.


Halabja

The 15th of March marked the 16th anniversary of Saddam's chemical gas attack at Halabja.

Iraq's US governor Paul Bremer has promised the country's Kurds that Saddam Hussein and his aides will face justice for a chemical attack that killed 5,000 people.

The poison gas attack on Halabja in 1988 is the most notorious chapter in a brutal campaign waged against the Kurds to punish them for pushing for autonomy in the north.

Mr Bremer has assured the Kurds that Saddam and Ali Hassan Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" would answer for their actions.

He says the incident 16 years ago serves as proof that last year's US led invasion of Iraq was justified.

"For those in my country and elsewhere who unaccountably still wonder if the war was worth fighting, come to Halabja," Mr Bremer said.

"Come see the tombstones of the 5,000 men, women and children who died here.

"Look in the faces of the survivors here today.

"See how a peaceful village was turned into a hell overnight by evil."


"JEWZ SUK"

More on the recent anti-Semitism in Canada:

The crudely sprayed swastika left Maria Leib speechless.

And it cruelly carried her back to the Jewish ghetto in the Ukraine where Nazis confined her during World War II.

"That was a bitter time," Leib said yesterday as York Region police continued their probe of anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on 13 homes and vehicles in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood in Vaughan early Monday.

"I feel at home in Canada," Leib said haltingly. "But for the first time I felt afraid."

Ichil Leib said he immediately sensed something was wrong when his mother opened the front door of their townhouse Monday morning.

The words JEWZ SUK had been scrawled above the Nazi symbol.

"This isn't the first time such hateful things have happened and it won't be the last," the 57-year-old man said.

"My mother wants to remove it, but I want to leave it so people can see that it's a crime."

This picture accompanies the story:




Unrest in Syria

Dean's World notes that the US media has not picked up on the revolts currently occuring in Syria. A crime...


Gaza operation

Israel has begun an anti-terrorist operation in the Gaza strip:

Israeli helicopter gunships fired missiles into a slum building in Gaza City at dusk Tuesday, killing a member of the radical group Islamic Jihad and a Palestinian policeman, wounding more than a dozen bystanders and inaugurating what could be a broad and prolonged offensive against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Before dawn Wednesday, at least two more Palestinians were killed when Israeli tanks and armored bulldozers swept into the volatile town of Rafah, in southern Gaza. The army said Israeli forces fired on gunmen who were trying to plant a bomb in the path of the Israeli vehicles.

The airstrike in Gaza City occurred less than four hours after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security Cabinet, a small group of top advisors and ministers, authorized a sustained military operation in the crowded seaside territory to retaliate for dual suicide bombings Sunday at the bustling Israeli seaport of Ashdod that killed 10 workers.

One of those killed in Tuesday's air raid was a member of Islamic Jihad, the group confirmed, but the man believed to be the Israelis' primary target — Mohammed Haroubi, a local Islamic Jihad commander — escaped.


Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Survey

A new BBC survey finds that most Iraqis feel that their "lives have improved since the war in Iraq began about a year ago."


46 to 45

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has parliamentary support for his evacuation of the Gaza strip:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has won narrow backing from parliament to pursue his proposal to evacuate Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

In a speech to parliament, Mr Sharon ruled out negotiations with the Palestinians, charging that they were failing to stop attacks on Israelis.

Israel has launched a rapid review of security after a double suicide bombing in Ashdod, which killed 10 Israelis.

Israeli helicopters destroyed two alleged weapons factories in Gaza City.

Also on Monday, troops at a West Bank checkpoint arrested a 10-year-old boy carrying a bomb into Israel, the army said.

"It was a pretty serious bomb, between seven and 10 kilograms (about 15-22 pounds)," an officer told Israeli Army Radio.

"It was ready for detonation, apparently with a mobile phone."

Sources said the boy - a porter known to the Israelis - had no idea what he was carrying, and that he was released after questioning.

Mr Sharon won a non-binding vote in the Israeli parliament by 46 votes to 45, on his plan for disengagement from the Palestinians.

He gave no details of the plan, saying discussions were continuing and the proposals had not been finalised.

But Mr Sharon pledged to co-ordinate his unilateral move with the US - and ruled out political negotiations with the Palestinians.


Canadian anti-Semitism

Another wave of anti-Semitism has broken out in Canada:

A rash of anti-Semitic vandalism in York Region has left police and Jewish groups scrambling for answers.

Residents close to Beverley Glen Blvd., near Dufferin St. and Steeles Ave. W., awoke yesterday morning to find swastikas and other racist messages spray-painted on cars and the fronts of houses.

"I don't know why they do it. They get nothing from it because they don't scare us," said Moshe Levy, whose car was vandalized.

There were 13 acts of vandalism throughout the area, which took place between the hours of 11 p.m. Sunday to 7 a.m. yesterday, police said.

"I have never seen so many (incidents) over such a short time period during my time with the hate crimes unit," said Sergeant Heidi Schellhorn, a diversity and cultural resources unit officer for York Region police.

An upset neighbour told Levy that both their cars had been vandalized. A cross and the letters X and either S or P had been spray-painted in black on the passenger side of Levy's silver car. Levy said he didn't know what the letters meant.

Levy, who was born in Israel and has lived in Canada for 30 years, said he's never seen anything like this.

"I come from a country which doesn't teach hate. It doesn't matter what colour you are or what religion," he said.


Venezuela recall

The recall of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has moved a step closer:

Venezuela's Supreme Court gave a major boost Monday to opponents of President Hugo Chavez, ruling that signatures on recall petitions do not need to be validated.

The court overturned a decision by the National Elections Council to force more than 870,000 citizens to confirm they signed the petitions seeking a vote to recall Chavez. The court ordered the council to accept those signatures unless citizens come forward to say they had not signed.

The ruling, while not guaranteeing a recall, was a big victory for Chavez's opponents, who had said the council's decision had made the referendum nearly impossible. If the citizens don't come forward, the opposition will have more than enough signatures to trigger the vote.


"...China is using French weapons to fight the Americans."

The French and Chinese militaries recently held joint military drills, making Taiwanese leader nervous:

AS French and Chinese warships engaged in the "most comprehensive" joint military drills yet between China and a foreign power yesterday, the spectre of war hung heavily over the last days of Taiwan's presidential election campaign.

But for once it was not China talking up the threat to scare off the Taiwanese over independence moves. Rather, it was campaigners for Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian who warned that further military co-operation between China and Europe - specifically the resumption of arms sales to China - could significantly destabilise the region.

Taiwan would be "very, very much" concerned if yesterday's China-France exercises involved anything more than search and rescue, Mr Chen's campaign manager, Chiu Yi-jen, said.

Lifting the European embargo on arms sales to China would "definitely ... lift China's military capability and we don't want to see that", said another Chen spokesman, Joseph Wu.

"We don't want to see the situation where China is using French weapons to fight the Americans."


Monday, March 15, 2004

Car bomb

A car packed with explosives has been found outside the US consulate in Pakistan:

A car filled with explosives, a timer and detonators was found outside the US consulate in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi Monday, two days before US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to the country and almost two years after a car bomb attack on the consulate.

A Suzuki high-top vehicle, which had been parked outside the heavily fortified building by two men at 7:30 am (0230 GMT), contained a “huge quantity of chemical explosives,” provincial police chief Kamal Shah said.

“It could not have caused major damage to the consulate but the purpose was to create harassment and terrorism,” Shah told AFP.

Army bomb defusal experts have taken the car away to test the chemical substance and determine its intensity, police said. A spokesman for the United States embassy in Islamabad confirmed the car was found but refused to go into details.

“All I know is that a car was found and with the collaboration of Karachi police it was removed,” spokesman Andrew Steinfeld told AFP.


"Failed to meet democratic standards"

"European election observers" believe that Russia's recent election "failed to meet democratic standards."

Russia's presidential election has failed to meet democratic standards, European election observers say.

Sunday's poll did not meet criteria "necessary for a healthy democratic election process", said chief observer Julian Peel Yates in Moscow.

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe took part in the mission.

President Vladimir Putin won more than 70% of the votes cast.

After his victory, he vowed to proceed with economic reforms and said he would safeguard democracy.

He also dismissed criticism from US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had suggested that Mr Putin's rivals had been denied media access.


The Iran game

Iran kicked the inspectors out, now they are letting them back in.

Iran will allow a resumption of inspections by the UN nuclear agency that it halted last week, the country's chief nuclear negotiator has said.

Hassan Rowhani said the suspension of IAEA's visits was a technical problem that would be solved by an agreement.

On Sunday, the IAEA urged Iran to allow inspectors back as soon as possible.

Iran imposed an indefinite ban on Saturday in reply to an IAEA resolution accusing Tehran of keeping some nuclear activities secret.

The United States has accused Iran of developing a secret weapons programme and wants the International Atomic Energy Agency to declare the country in breach of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Tehran insists its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes such as the generation of electricity.

Isn't the world tired of this game yet?



Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar

Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar, the two Indians being held in Spain, are suspected of supplying mobile phone cards to the perpetrators of the Madrid bombing:

Two Indian nationals, arrested by Spanish authorities, are being questioned for their alleged involvement in selling mobile phone cards, following the recovery of a cell phone and pre-paid card from an explosives-packed gym bag in one of the trains rocked by explosions in Madrid.

While investigations are still under way, the two Indian nationals, Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar, are suspected to be illegal immigrants. The two were picked up from a downtown suburb, Lava Pias outside Madrid, noted more for the large presence of illegal immigrants.


ElBaradei in Washington

Mohamed ElBaradei and George W Bush are set to meet this week in Washington:

Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief U.N. nuclear inspector and a critic of U.S. claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, will meet with President Bush this week to discuss ways to tighten controls on nuclear technology and expertise.

The meeting, requested by the White House, comes as the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is headed by ElBaradei, and nations worldwide search for the means to prevent advanced nuclear technology from being sold, as it was to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Bush wants to discuss proposals to make the sale of nuclear technology a crime, strengthen the IAEA's ability to monitor nuclear proliferation and reduce access to equipment used to enrich uranium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons, according to U.S. officials in Washington and diplomats in Vienna, where the IAEA is based.

The agenda is also expected to include Iran's decision Saturday to freeze IAEA inspections of its facilities. Tehran acted in response to a strongly worded resolution approved by the IAEA board that criticizes Iran for concealing some of its nuclear activities, which Washington alleges are part of a weapons program.

A senior U.S. official in Washington said Bush was eager to talk with ElBaradei despite their differences over Iraq and how tough to be in condemning Iran's halting disclosures and omissions about its nuclear program.

In addition to his talks with Bush, which are scheduled for Thursday, ElBaradei is to meet with CIA Director George J. Tenet to discuss ways to share intelligence on nuclear proliferation and black markets. The issue took on added significance with the recent disclosure of a Pakistani scientist's role in providing nuclear technology and know-how to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

"He's obviously not someone we've agreed with on everything going down the road," the U.S. official said of ElBaradei. "But he's a serious guy, and somebody that we have worked with and look forward to working with."

ElBaradei contradicted the administration last year by saying inspectors had found no evidence of a continuing nuclear program in Iraq. Some U.S. officials have criticized him for not coming down harder on Iran after the discoveries of its concealed activities and for not detecting Libya's nuclear program.

ElBaradei will complete his second four-year term as IAEA director in September 2005, and he is required to tell the governing board this September whether he intends to seek another term. An official close to ElBaradei said he had not yet decided about another term.

Names of possible replacements are circulating in the corridors of the IAEA headquarters, and some diplomats said successors were being pushed by hard-line elements of the Bush administration.

"It started quietly last year after ElBaradei spoke out about Iraq, but it has heated up in the last few weeks," a Western diplomat in Vienna said.

The U.S. provides 25% of the IAEA's annual budget, far more than any other country. The Bush administration decided last year to keep the figure at that level despite reducing its contributions to other United Nations organizations to 22%.

Jamal Zougam

Jamal Zougam, one of the suspects in the recent Spanish bombing, was investigated by Spain in 2001:

A Moroccan arrested in last week's train bombings here surfaced nearly three years ago in an investigation that indicated he had wide-ranging contacts with Islamic extremists, including a group later accused of complicity in the Sept. 11 attacks, according to court documents and interviews Sunday.

Spanish police searched the Madrid apartment of Jamal Zougam in August 2001, according to investigators. The search revealed that Zougam, 30, associated with key figures in a Madrid Al Qaeda cell whose alleged leader, Imad Eddin Barakat, was jailed three months later on suspicion of helping plot the attacks in the United States that year, according to Spanish court documents.

Police determined that Zougam was a follower of Barakat, a Spanish citizen born in Syria, and they wiretapped at least one phone conversation between the two, documents show. Zougam also had ties to Ansar al Islam, the largely Kurdish group now active in terrorist attacks in Iraq, and to suspects in last year's suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, that killed 45 people, including 12 bombers.

This same article goes on to note that Iran is harboring known terrorists:

Police found that Zougam had phone numbers for the alleged Ansar operative as well as three suspected members of the Madrid Al Qaeda cell. One of them was Amer Aziz, who allegedly helped organize a strategy meeting of two Sept. 11 plotters on Spain's northeastern coast in July 2001.

Aziz, a Moroccan, eluded arrest in late 2001. Intercepts last year showed that Aziz had taken refuge with known Islamic terrorists in Iran, investigators say.


"Libyan member of al-Qaida"

Pervez Musharraf has, for the first time, stated that it was Al-Qaeda that tried to kill him in December:

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Monday that a Libyan member of al-Qaida was behind two assassination attempts against him in December, and vowed to rid Pakistan's tribal regions of hundreds of suspected foreign terrorists.

Musharraf, who escaped the attacks unhurt, did not name the Libyan suspect, who he said funded Islamic militants to carry out the bombings.

"The man who organized the suicide attacks against me was from Libya and a member of al-Qaida," he told a meeting of tribal elders in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Musharraf has previously said al-Qaida could have played a part in the attacks, but this was the first time he explicitly identified a suspect.


Sunday, March 14, 2004

Al-Qaeda and Spain

Al-Qaeda proves that they can influence elections--in their favor:

Voters ousted Spain's ruling party in elections Sunday, with many saying they were shaken by bombings in Madrid and furious with the government for backing the Iraq war and making their country a target for al-Qaida.

The Socialist Party declared victory with 79 percent of the votes counted, as results showed it winning 164 seats in the 350-member parliament and the ruling Popular Party taking 147. The latter had 183 seats in the outgoing legislature.

"According to the available data, the Socialist Party has won the general election. It is a clear victory,'' said Jose Blanco, the party's campaign manager.

Turnout was high at 76 percent. Many voters said Thursday's bombings, which killed 200 people and wounded 1,500, was a decisive factor, along with the government's much-criticized handling of the initial investigation.

"The Popular Party has made me lose faith in politics,'' said Juan Rigola, 23, a biologist in Barcelona. ``It deserves to lose and to see the Spanish people turn against them.''

The electorate of 34.5 million included about 1.9 million mostly young voters added to the rolls since the 2000 general election.

Until the bombing, the conservative Popular Party was projected by most polls to beat the Socialists, although perhaps without retaining their majority in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies.

But the disaster, which the government initially blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA, threw the election wide open. The attack was followed by emotional rallies across the country.

Critics accused the government, which had trumpeted its crackdown on ETA, of manipulating the investigation for political gain. That struck a chord with voters.

"I didn't intend to vote, but changed my mind,'' said Javi Martin, 30, who works for a TV station in Madrid. ``And not because of the attacks, but because of the responsibility of the Popular Party. They gave out information drop by drop. It would have benefited them if it were ETA.''

Some voters were angry at outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, accusing him of making Spain a target for Islamic extremists because of his support for the Iraq war, despite the opposition of most Spaniards. Aznar sent 1,300 Spanish troops to Iraq after the conflict and 11 have died.

"I wasn't planning to vote, but I am here today because the Popular Party is responsible for murders here and in Iraq,'' said Ernesto Sanchez-Gey, 48, who voted in Barcelona.

What a sad day for democracy...


Friday, March 12, 2004

"This opportunity must therefore be used to produce a nuclear bomb"

The National Council of Resistance of Iran has released a report detailing the outcome of a meeting between senior Iranian officials. The meeting dealt with Iran's nuclear program and produced four theses:

1. The world would soon be divided into two poles, “members of the nuclear club and those without nuclear capability. Those with nuclear weapons would be the masters of world and others would be enslaved… Membership in this club would end in 10 years. The Islamic Republic, therefore, should impose itself on this global club as soon as possible.”

2. Under the current circumstances “Europe is focusing on convincing Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program. Because of its problems in Iraq, the United States has no choice but to go soft on Iran. Thus, there is no resolve to refer the Islamic Republic’s file to the United Nations Security Council. This opportunity must therefore be used to produce a nuclear bomb.”

3. It is necessary that “the Islamic Republic continue the manufacture of a nuclear bomb. To the extent that’s possible, this effort must move forward secretly and by looking cooperative to the rest of the world. Nonetheless, the tensions must be accepted so as not to be enslaved. If some risks and tensions are accepted, Iran would be able to finalize the project [to make a nuclear bomb] between one to two years.”

4. The SNSC meeting discussed and approved several “important tactics”. They included:

- In sites such as Natanz, which are under IAEA monitoring, “infra-structural projects must continue, but because the Islamic Republic has accepted a temporary halt to uranium enrichment, the work [at such sites] would stop.”

- “Smaller research laboratories that have already been set up extensively [throughout the country] will continue their work non-stop.”

- Officials in the diplomatic arena, such as the SNSC Secretary Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi “must use the diplomatic language to defend the right of the Islamic Republic to possess the nuclear bomb by underscoring the right to have nuclear technology and set the stage for further revelations on other nuclear activities.”


Gaza

Egypt has agreed to protect the Gaza/Egypt border when Israel pulls out of the Gaza strip:

Egypt says it will take responsibility for its border with the Gaza Strip if Israel withdraws from the territory.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher made the pledge to maintain border security during a visit to Cairo by his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom.

But he said Egypt would not deploy troops in the Gaza Strip if Israel carried out its disengagement plan.

Mr Shalom's visit is part of a flurry of diplomatic activity prompted by the Israeli proposal to withdraw from Gaza.

It is the highest-level contact between the two countries since Ariel Sharon became Israeli prime minister in 2001.

Mr Shalom said any withdrawal would be co-ordinated with Egypt and the US.

The Israeli foreign minister also had talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, which he described as "very promising".

Mr Maher said at a joint news conference with Mr Shalom that Egypt would defend its border against any spillover of violence if Israel withdrew from Gaza.

"Every country is responsible for protecting its own border. We will assume this responsibility," he said.


F5-E jets collide

Reportedly, two South Korean jets have crashed over the Yellow Sea:

Two F5-E jets collided today over the Yellow Sea during a training mission.

The fate of the two pilots is unknown, according to a Defence Ministry spokesperson. A rescue mission has been launched.

The jets were practicing aerial maneuvers, air force officials said. The accident occurred 30 kilometres off the west coast of South Korea.


Shaukat Sultan

Pakistan's "military spokesman" has stated that no new military operations will be carried out in the tribal areas near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border:

Pakistan military spokesman Maj General Shaukat Sultan on Thursday dispelled the notion that a new large military operation is being planned in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“Pak-Afghan border is fully sealed and no one would be allowed to enter in Pakistan from Afghanistan illegally,” he said talking to Online.

He said Afghan and allied forces are engaged in Paktika province of Afghanistan along Pakistani border and their activities are a routine matter. One should not assume that it is part of preparations for another military operation in tribal areas, he added.

“These are routine security measures and there is no immediate plan for another big operation in tribal areas,” he maintained.


160 million

Canada's military is investigating a "scheme that bilked the defence department of almost $160 million in bogus computer contracts."

The RCMP is investigating a "sophisticated" scheme that bilked the defence department of almost $160 million in bogus computer contracts over 10 years, Public Works Minister Stephen Owen said yesterday.

"Our suspicion to date, because of the internal audits and the forensic audits and now the RCMP investigations, (is) that this was a very sophisticated criminal scheme," Owen said after a cabinet meeting.

Auditors discovered problems with a contract with Hewlett-Packard and that information was passed along to the Department of National Defence last April. The department hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a forensic audit.

Critics yesterday demanded to know how $160 million could go out the "back door" without the government being aware of it.

"When 10 soldiers were given $50 for daily food allowances, this government was quick to pounce on them and get every nickel back," Conservative MP Elsie Wayne (Saint John) said during Question Period.

"At the same time, $160 million was walking right out the back door, in a phony invoice scheme."


Impeached

South Korea's President has indeed been impeached:

South Korea's parliament has impeached President Roh Moo-Hyun for endorsing a pro-government party and incompetence ahead of next month's general election.

The opposition parties which dominate the chamber impeached Mr Roh by a vote of 193 to 2, suspending his powers pending a Constitutional Court ruling.

Scuffles broke out before the vote as security guards ended protests by MPs loyal to Mr Roh, dragging them outside.

The vote looked set to spark a period of mounting political uncertainty.


"Youth militia program"

More information is emerging about Zimbabwe's "youth militia program", previously mentioned here:

Deserters from a youth militia program set up in Zimbabwe say they suffered a harsh regimen of hunger and beatings and, in some cases, were sent out to attack and rape opponents of the government.

An estimated 50,000 youths have passed through the militia — nicknamed the "Green Bombers" for the color of its drill uniforms — since it was established in 2001.

The state allocated $37 million in 2002 to what is described as three months of national service and doubled the budget in 2003.

Deserters reaching neighboring South Africa often look like Bongani Moyo, who stands 6 feet 3 inches tall in his worn-out tennis shoes but has spindly legs and has lost the fat below his eyes, pushing the sockets back and giving his head a skull-like appearance.

"We would be sent out into the countryside to punish people who support the opposition," the 25-year-old told The Washington Times after his escape from a militia base near Zimbabwe's second-largest city, Bulawayo.

"We would beat people and sometimes burn down their homes. Other times, we were ordered to rape women who did not support the ruling party.

"If a militia refused to do this, he himself would be raped, and I saw this happening to other young men. I was not brave enough to refuse, so I did what I was told, and I fear now that I must have AIDS."

In late February, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported that it had interviewed nearly 100 women who had been held in the militia camps. Half of them, including an 11-year-old girl, had been raped, they said.


Thursday, March 11, 2004

"In breach of its obligations for many years"

Iran is accusing the US of "bullying" the IAEA in to passing a UN resolution "censuring Tehran over its nuclear programme."

Iran has accused the US of "bullying" the UN's nuclear watchdog into drafting a resolution censuring Tehran over its nuclear programme.

Iran's foreign minister warned that Tehran may end co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency if Europe did not resist the US.

Kamal Kharrazi also insisted Iran would resume its uranium enrichment programme after resolving its case with the IAEA.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei warned such a move could prove very damaging.

"Iran has been in breach of its (nuclear non-proliferation) obligations for many years and we need to build confidence," Mr ElBaradei said.

"I think suspension is a confidence-building measure and, as I said, Iran needs to do everything possible right now to create the confidence required."

I find it interesting that ElBaradei himself admits that "Iran has been in breach of its (nuclear non-proliferation) obligations for many years" and yet no one is doing anything about it.


"Warm"

The BBC reports that Egypt might support the idea of an Israeli pullout from the Gaza strip. It is, however, still "not prepared to take on responsibility for Gaza security."

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has described as "very promising" his talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.

Mr Shalom indicated that a proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was discussed but gave no details.

Earlier, Mr Mubarak said Egypt was not prepared to take on responsibility for Gaza security after a pull-out.

Mr Shalom's visit is part of a flurry of diplomatic activity prompted by the Israeli proposal.

An US team led by Assistant Secretary of State William Burns is due to hold talks in Israel later on Thursday, while Mr Sharon is expected to have his first meeting next week with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.

The BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem says Israel's declaration about its proposed withdrawal from Gaza was initially criticised for being one-sided and for failing to involve the Palestinians.

But our correspondent adds that while there are still a number of questions and concerns over the Israeli plan, it is clear that the idea is gathering support and credibility.

In Cairo, Mr Shalom wanted to gauge Egypt's views on the pull-out and establish how it could stop weapons crossing over its border into a Palestinian-run Gaza.

But last week Mr Mubarak dismissed the idea, saying it would be a trip that could bring Egypt into conflict with the Palestinians or even the Israelis in what is likely to be a volatile situation in the territory.

It was the first visit to Egypt by a senior Israeli official in 18 months, the BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo reports.

Relations between the two countries had deteriorated as Israel and the Palestinians sank into deeper violence, but now - with a prospect of an Israeli pull-out from Gaza - some warmth has crept back into relations, our correspondent says.



Plot uncovered...

After the recent arrest of 67 "suspected mercenaries", Zimbabwe has "accused Britain, the United States and Spain" of "plotting a coup in the oil-rich African nation of Equatorial Guinea." Zimbabwe, however, is a little short on evidence:

Zimbabwe accused Britain, the United States and Spain yesterday of plotting a coup in the oil-rich African nation of Equatorial Guinea and threatened 67 suspected mercenaries arrested at the Harare airport with the death penalty.

Zimbabwean Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi said Simon Mann, the British leader of the group and a former member of the British Special Air Service, confessed under police questioning to a plan to oust President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

The leader of the small West African state said yesterday that he was certain the arrested men had been preparing to oust him. He also said President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa had warned him that mercenaries were heading to his country.

The accusation by Zimbabwe is likely to further poison its relations with the West. It could be exploited by the regime of President Robert Mugabe, which constantly refers in the state-run media to "white, imperialist, British plots to destabilize Africa."


NATO to take minor role in Bosnia

NATO is soon to have only a minor role in Bosnia, with the EU taking over the operation:

NATO will only have a "residual role" in Bosnia once the EU takes over peace-keeping operations there, it was affirmed yesterday, following a dispute over who will run the show.

After what were reportedly tense negotiations on just how much say NATO would have over the EU-led operation, it emerged that NATO will only keep ‘a couple of hundred’ people, mostly civilians in the former Yugoslav republic.

The US has been keen to retain some control of the operation, something which has not gone down well in Brussels


Syrian Accountability Act

The US will soon inforce the Syrian Accountability Act:

The Bush administration will act soon to impose firm sanctions against Syria which it accuses of sponsoring terrorism, according to a US State Department official.

William Burns, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, confirmed the move to a committee in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

He said: "I think you'll see the implementation very shortly, and I think it will be a very firm implementation of the Syrian Accountability Act and the intent behind it."