China Space, Cyberspace War Gains Impress: US
China's development of modern modes of warfare including military uses of outer space and cyberspace have yielded impressive gains that require U.S. vigilance, experts told a congressional panel on March 29.
The officials and security analysts told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission that Chinaâ€™s military modernization also raises alarms because the communist government in Beijing remains secretive about its intentions.
Chinaâ€™s test-firing of a ballistic missile that pulverized one of its own satellites about 537 miles (865 km) above Earth was not a surprise because it was Beijingâ€™s third attempt, Gen. James Cartwright, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said.
But he told the commission the much-criticized Jan. 11 anti-satellite test was "impressive how quickly they got the capability" and "should be a wake up call to others" about the systems China is pursuing in outer space.
"They have fielded a wide range of jamming and anti-satellite capabilities," Cartwright told a hearing in Washington a day after China called for a treaty to stop the spread of weapons in outer space.
In cyber warfare, China also had a well-organized program and "a long-term view, not a short-term view, in this activity and it will pay off," he said.
"Other nations are doing likewise, but I do not believe any have demonstrated the scale or the financial commitment to move in the direction that China has demonstrated," added Cartwright.
William Schneider of the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, told the panel that China was "acquiring asymmetric capabilities that reflect a studied assessment of U.S. civil and military vulnerabilities."
These new capabilities complement Chinaâ€™s rapid build-up of conventional armaments such as missiles, warships and aircraft, he said.
"The scope, though not yet the scale of these investments, is consistent with global aspirations, but by most assessments, is excessive in relation to Chinaâ€™s regional security needs," said Schneider in remarks similar to Pentagon complaints.
"China has not responded to requests for greater transparency, leaving Chinaâ€™s defense modernization open to many alternative interpretations," he added.
Andrew Erickson of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College told the commission Chinaâ€™s military build-up remained largely focused on Taiwan, the self-governing island over which Beijing claims sovereignty and has vowed to attack should Taipei declare independence.
"There is little evidence to show that the (Chinese navy) is developing the capabilities necessary to extend its ability to project power much beyond Chinaâ€™s claimed territorial waters," Erickson said.
Read more ...
Iran escalates crisis with Britain, saying it will not release female sailor
LONDON: Iran leveled new accusations against Britain in the crisis over 15 captured British sailors on Thursday and withdrew a promise to free a woman sailor, insisting that Britain admit fault before its naval personnel are released.
Now in its seventh day, the crisis seemed to have reached a point where both sides have left the other little room for a face-saving compromise. A senior Iranian official, moreover, has hinted that the captured sailors might be put on trial for unspecified offenses. It is not clear what further counter-measures Britain might take. Iran has not said where the captured sailors are being held so the prospects of a rescue attempt - similar to the failed American bid to free the embassy hostages in April, 1980 - seemed uncertain.
The increasingly intractable dispute turns on rival claims as to the whereabouts of the British sailors when they were seized. Iran says they were more than 500 yards inside its territorial waters, but Britain produced satellite navigation coordinates Wednesday to support its contention that the sailors were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters on patrols approved by the United Nations and the Iraqi government.
IRNA, the official Iranian news agency, quoted an Iranian naval official as taking Teheran's accusations significantly further, saying the Britons, in two inflatable, high-speed patrol boats from the frigate HMS Cornwall, had entered Iranian waters several times before they were seized. The Iranian official was quoted as saying Iran had film of the alleged intrusions. The Royal Navy says the sailors were "ambushed" as they completed an inspection of an Indian-flagged merchant ship in Iraqi waters.
IRNA also quoted from a letter sent by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the British Embassy in Teheran demanding British guarantees not to intrude into Iranian waters in the future.
Video: Faye Turney
Texts of purported letter and statement from captured sailor
Britain increases pressure on Iran over sailors
Today in Europe
U.S. vote on Turkey casts shadow on relations
A paparazzo's shenanigans leave Italy rapt
New charges by Iran intensify crisis with Britain
<A HREF="http://ad.doubleclick.net/click%3Bh=v8/3525/3/0/%2a/o%3B20438110%3B0-0%3B0%3B10388918%3B6734-190/90%3B12112130/12130026/1%3B%3B%7Esscs%3D%3fhttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com/products/timesselect/iht/overview.html?excamp=ts:iht_more" TARGET="_blank"><IMG SRC="http://m1.2mdn.net/518758/backup_iht_170x60.gif" WIDTH="170" HEIGHT="60" ALT="Click here..." BORDER="0"></a>
"The Islamic Republic of Iran severely protests against the violation of its territorial waters in the Persian Gulf and, while underlining the importance of international laws and respect for the sovereignty of nations, cautions the London government of the consequences of such violations," the letter was quoted as saying.
For its part, Britain said on Thursday that it would seek United Nations backing against Iran in the dispute, even as Iran hardened its stance over the planned release of Faye Turney, a 26-year-old mother of one, who is the only woman among the 15 sailors and Royal Marines captured in disputed waters on March 23.
Initially, Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, had indicated she might still be freed if Britain retreated from its intention to seek United Nations backing. He said that "if we are faced with a fuss and wrong behavior," Seaman Turney's release "would be suspended and it would not take place."
Later, though, the Mehr news agency quoted a military commander, Alireza Afshar, as saying: "The release of a female British soldier has been suspended. The wrong behavior of those who live in London caused the suspension."
The crisis again sent oil prices above $64 per barrel, close to six month highs.
Britain has already secured European Union support for its insistence that Iran acted illegally in seizing the 15 sailors on March 23 in the waters of the northern Persian Gulf. The latest exchanges between Tehran and London seemed to show the two countries in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with neither side ready to blink.
A British official spokesman, speaking in return for customary anonymity, insisted that Britain would continue with efforts to coax the United Nations Security Council to support its demand for the release of the 15 captured sailors.
Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, attending a meeting in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, insisted that Britain must admit fault in the dispute to end the standoff, the Associated Press reported.
The dispute has added to the tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran's disputed nuclear program and other issues such as Iran's demand for the release of five Iranians held by American forces in Iraq.
On Wednesday, Britain said that it would freeze its official bilateral business with Iran. Iran responded by showing Seaman Turney on state-run television.
The crisis has left Prime Minister Tony Blair in a delicate position. Britain is in Iraq as a junior ally of the United States - a position that has cost him much of the political kudos he had accumulated when he took office almost 10 years ago.
He has promised to step down this summer so his final months could well be marred by the unpalatable vision of British sailors held by Iranian captors over whom he has no evident influence. The crisis this week has overshadowed completely what should have been a ringing success in Northern Ireland, where arch-rivals Gerry Adams and the Reverand Ian Paisley agreed to form a power-sharing government on May 8.
That would bolster Blair's ambitions to mold a legacy of achievement in a way that a protracted hostage crisis would not. British newspapers filled their front pages on Friday with photographs of Seaman Turney wearing a black Islamic head-scarf served to underline the awkward position Blair is in.
"The brutal truth is that Britain is not in a strong position," The Independent said in an editorial. "Whatever the complexities of maritime boundaries, whatever the position in international law, the reality is that Iran holds British sailors and, with them, most of the cards. Iran also has oil, and a contempt for international opinion that means any threat of further isolation will have only limited effect."
Read more ...
Ivory Coast rebel leader becomes PM
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - Ivory Coast's president signed a decree Thursday naming a rebel leader prime minister as part of a power-sharing peace plan, a government spokesman said.
With the signature of President Laurent Gbagbo, rebel chief Guillaume Soro officially stepped into his new role under the plan to unite a country split between the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south.
After an attempted coup set off a brief civil war in 2002, Ivory Coast became divided. Numerous peace deals have failed to take hold.
The most recent accord signed March 4 in Ouagadougou, the capital of neighboring Burkina Faso, called for Soro to become prime minister and for elections within 10 months.
About 9,000 U.N. troops and 3,500 French soldiers are deployed in Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, to ward off all-out civil war. Many patrol the giant buffer zone that runs east to west, dividing the country.
Gbagbo and Soro promised to organize a new government within five weeks and to pare down the buffer zone to a collection of checkpoints. They also agreed to start disarmament and to issue identification cards necessary for Ivorians to register to vote. The identity documents are an especially sensitive issue, because disputes over who was entitled to citizenship helped fuel the war.
Read more ...
U.S. won't hassle Mubarak over suppression of Brotherhood
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has decided to maintain support of the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak amid its crackdown on the opposition.
Officials said the State Department has directed the U.S. ambassador and other diplomats not to criticize Egypt. They said the Mubarak regime was besieged by the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, deemed as extremely anti-American.
Officials said the administration has decided to refrain from criticizing Mubarak during his effort to revise the constitution. They said the State Department and White House have sought to avoid angering the 78-year-old Mubarak amid the U.S. effort to stabilize Iraq.
"We have found that criticism of Mubarak has always been counterproductive," an official said. "We don't want to be in the middle of what should be a domestic political event in Egypt."
As a result, the administration has been largely supportive of the Mubarak regime. Officials said that despite the crackdown on the opposition, Mubarak has been implementing democratic reforms in Egypt, which receives $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid.
"When you are able to at some point look back, you will see a general trend towards greater political reform, greater political openness, a more direct correlation between the will and needs and hopes of the Egyptian people and those whom they elect," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said March 20.
McCormack cited Egypt's multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections as well as the recent appointment of 31 female judges as positive developments. He said the 2005 elections have "changed [the] face of the Egyptian parliament."
"Despite its longstanding rhetorical support for democratic reform, Washington's response to date has been tepid at best," a report by the Washington Institute said.
Still, the State Department has criticized Egypt for the imprisonment of opposition leaders, including former presidential candidate Ayman Nour, as well as the conviction of blogger Abdul Karim Suleiman. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also expressed concern over the opposition boycott of Egypt's referendum on the revised constitution, scheduled for March 26.
"The hope was that this would be a process that gave voice to all Egyptians," Ms. Rice said on March 23 on her way to Cairo. "I think there's some danger that that hope is not going to be met. Right now I am concerned that it won't."
The Mubarak regime quickly responded and accused the United States of interfering in Egypt's domestic affairs. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al Gheit accused Ms. Rice of prejudging Cairo's reform process.
"Even if Egypt and the United States have a friendly, strategic relationship, Egypt can't accept interference in its affairs from any of its friends," Abu Al Gheit said.
Read more ...
Dissidents discover secret base is Bahraini royal playground
ABU DHABI — Bahraini dissidents, thanks to Google Earth, have discovered that a so-called closed island military base was actually a royal playground.
A dissident blogger, speaking to a Rand Corp. seminar, detailed a closed Bahraini island claimed by the military. The blogger, Mahmoud Yusef, said the so-called military base, entitled Mohamadiya, was actually a lush palace protected by the Coast Guard.
"The place has been appropriated by the rich with the Coast Guard providing protection against outsiders," Yusef said.
[The assertion was relayed as parliamentarians debated freedom of expression in Bahrain, Middle East Newsline reported. Twenty-five deputies have opposed an investigation into alleged sexual content in the Spring of Culture festival.]
In an address on March 15 in the Qatari capital of Doha, Yusef said Bahrainis learned of Mohamadiya through Google Earth, located on the Internet. Google Earth offers maps and satellite images for precise regional searches.
Yusef said the Sunni kingdom has sought to battle bloggers and other elements of the media. A critic of Bahrain's agriculture minister, Yusef said he was summoned for police investigation and charged with defamation in a blog in December 2006.
"I criticized someone from the government who is a moron," Yusef said. "The Bahrain Journalists Association got involved and a deal was struck where I would have to change a few offensive words. But when they asked me to change comments made by others, I refused."
Bahrain, a Sunni regime that presides over a Shi'ite majority, has been regarded as the most liberal of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states. Home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, the kingdom allows alcohol and has served as the watering hole for Western military and diplomatic personnel in the Gulf region.
"Bahrain has strong influences from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran," Yusef said. "Nowadays people don't ask if one is Bahraini, but whether Shia or Sunni. It [the Bahraini government] is trying to do whatever they can to marginalize one sect [the Shi'ites]."
Yusef said Bahrain's Information Ministry has banned the media from discussing allegations by a former senior official that the Manama regime paid Shi'ites to convert to Sunni Islam. He said the ministry has also tried to force websites to register.
"The modus operandi is to muzzle journalists," Yusef said.
Read more ...
Russian intelligence sees U.S. military buildup on Iran border
MOSCOW, March 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russian military intelligence services are reporting a flurry of activity by U.S. Armed Forces near Iran's borders, a high-ranking security source said Tuesday.
"The latest military intelligence data point to heightened U.S. military preparations for both an air and ground operation against Iran," the official said, adding that the Pentagon has probably not yet made a final decision as to when an attack will be launched.
He said the Pentagon is looking for a way to deliver a strike against Iran "that would enable the Americans to bring the country to its knees at minimal cost."
He also said the U.S. Naval presence in the Persian Gulf has for the first time in the past four years reached the level that existed shortly before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Col.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Sciences, said last week that the Pentagon is planning to deliver a massive air strike on Iran's military infrastructure in the near future.
A new U.S. carrier battle group has been dispatched to the Gulf.
The USS John C. Stennis, with a crew of 3,200 and around 80 fixed-wing aircraft, including F/A-18 Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers, eight support ships and four nuclear submarines are heading for the Gulf, where a similar group led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has been deployed since December 2006.
The U.S. is also sending Patriot anti-missile systems to the region.
Read more ...
Iran: Britain Must Admit Navy Trespassed
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday that Britain must admit that its 15 sailors and marines entered Iranian waters in order to resolve a standoff over their capture by the Mideast nation.
Manouchehr Mottaki's statement in an interview with The Associated Press came on a day of escalating tensions, highlighted by an Iranian video of the detained Britons that showed the only woman captive saying her group had "trespassed" in Iranian waters. Britain angrily denounced the video as unacceptable and froze most dealings with the Mideast nation.
The Iranian official also backed off a prediction that the female sailor, Faye Turney, could be freed Wednesday or Thursday, but said Tehran agreed to allow British officials to meet with the detainees.
Mottaki said that if the alleged entry into Iranian waters was a mistake "this can be solved. But they have to show that it was a mistake. That will help us to end this issue."
"Admitting the mistake will facilitate a solution to the problem," he said late Wednesday night in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he was attending an Arab summit.
It was the first time that Iran has publicly suggested a way to resolve the crisis, but British acquiescence appeared unlikely as the country has been insisting since the crisis began that its troops were in Iraqi waters and released a GPS readout on Wednesday to back up the claim.
Britain's military said the readout proved the Royal Navy personnel were seized 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters. But in the interview, Mottaki said Iran had GPS devices from the British boats that showed they were in Iranian territory.
There was no immediate comment from the British to Mottaki's statement. A call to Britain's Foreign Office in London was not answered early Thursday.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government announced it was freezing all dealings with Iran except to negotiate the release of its personnel, adding to a public exchange of sharp comments that helped fuel a spike in world oil prices.
At the United Nations in New York, Britain asked the Security Council to support a call for the immediate release of detainees, saying in a statement they were operating in Iraqi waters under a mandate from the Security Council and at the request of Iraq, according to council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the text was not released. The issue was expected to be debated Thursday.
Earlier Wednesday, a brief video of the captured Britons was shown on Iran's Arabic language satellite television station, Al-Alam.
One segment showed sailors and marines sitting in an Iranian boat in open waters immediately after their capture.
The video also displayed what appeared to be a handwritten letter from Turney, 26, to her family.
"I have written a letter to the Iranian people to apologize for us entering their waters," it said. The letter also asks Turney's parents in Britain to look after her 3-year-old daughter, Molly, and her husband, Adam.
The video showed Turney in checkered head scarf and her uniform eating with other sailors and marines. Later, wearing a white tunic and black head scarf, she sat in a room before floral curtains and smoked a cigarette.
Turney was the only detainee to be shown speaking, giving her name and saying she had been in the navy for nine years.
"Obviously we trespassed into their waters," Turney said at one point, her voice audible under a simultaneous Arabic translation. "They were very friendly and very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people. They explained to us why we've been arrested. There was no harm, no aggression."
In backing away from predictions that Turney could be freed Wednesday or Thursday, Mottaki said in the interview that Iran will look into releasing her "as soon as possible."
He said earlier the reports of her imminent release were incorrect. "I was probably misquoted," he said.
Earlier in the day, Mottaki told the AP: "Today or tomorrow, the lady will be released." The Turkish television station, CNN-Turk, had also reported him saying Wednesday she would be freed "today or tomorrow."
But the talk of releasing Turney did little to calm British anger.
Before the video was broadcast, a spokesman for Blair said any showing of British personnel on TV would be a breach of the Geneva Conventions.
After the footage was aired, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said she was "very concerned about these pictures and any indication of pressure on, or coercion of, our personnel. ... I am particularly disappointed that a private letter has been used in a way which can only add to the distress of the families."
The third Geneva Convention bans subjecting prisoners of war to intimidation, insults or "public curiosity." Because there is no armed conflict between Iran and Britain, the captives would not technically be classified as prisoners of war.
Blair told the House of Commons that "there was no justification whatever ... for their detention, it was completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal."
"We had hoped to see their immediate release; this has not happened. It is now time to ratchet up the diplomatic and international pressure in order to make sure the Iranian government understands its total isolation on this issue," he said.
Beckett said Britain would focus all its efforts on resolving the issue.
"We will, therefore, be imposing a freeze on all other official bilateral business with Iran until the situation is resolved. We will keep other aspects of our policy towards Iran under close review and continue to proceed carefully. But no one should be in any doubt about the seriousness with which we regard these events," she said.
The statement appeared to refer to diplomatic dealings rather than business relations, but Britain's Department of Trade said the country does not buy oil directly from Iran.
Oil prices rose by more than $1 a barrel Wednesday to a six-month high amid worries about the standoff, which came as the U.S. Navy is carrying out its largest show of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
President Bush discussed the 15 Britons with Blair over a secured video conference call Wednesday, White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. "The president fully backs Tony Blair and our allies in Britain," she said.
British officials have said the 15 Britons were taken captive after completing a search of a civilian ship near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which forms the border between Iran and Iraq.
In London, British military officials released new information about the seizure, saying satellite positioning readings showed the vessels were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters.
Vice Adm. Charles Style gave the satellite coordinates as 29 degrees 50.36 minutes north latitude and 48 degrees 43.08 minutes east longitude. He said that position had been confirmed by an Indian-flagged merchant ship boarded by the sailors and marines.
He also told reporters the Iranians had provided a geographical position Sunday that he said was in Iraqi waters. By Tuesday, he said, Iranian officials had given a revised position 2 miles to the east, inside Iranian waters.
"It is hard to understand a legitimate reason for this change of coordinates," Style said.
Read more ...
Iran ‘to try Britons for espionage’
FIFTEEN British sailors and marines arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards off the coast of Iraq may be charged with spying.
A website run by associates of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, reported last night that the Britons would be put before a court and indicted.
Referring to them as “insurgents”, the site concluded: “If it is proven that they deliberately entered Iranian territory, they will be charged with espionage. If that is proven, they can expect a very serious penalty since according to Iranian law, espionage is one of the most serious offences.”
The warning followed claims by Iranian officials that the British navy personnel had been taken to Tehran, the capital, to explain their “aggressive action” in entering Iranian waters. British officials insist the servicemen were in Iraqi waters when they were held.
The penalty for espionage in Iran is death. However, similar accusations of spying were made when eight British servicemen were detained in the same area in 2004. They were paraded blindfolded on television but did not appear in court and were freed after three nights in detention.
Iranian student groups called yesterday for the 15 detainees to be held until US forces released five Revolutionary Guards captured in Iraq earlier this year.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned newspaper based in London, quoted an Iranian military source as saying that the aim was to trade the Royal Marines and sailors for these Guards.
The claim was backed by other sources in Tehran. “As soon as the corps’s five members are released, the Britons can go home,” said one source close to the Guards.
He said the tactic had been approved by Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who warned last week that Tehran would take “illegal actions” if necessary to maintain its right to develop a nuclear programme.
Iran denounced a tightening of sanctions which the United Nations security council was expected to agree last night in protest at Tehran’s insistence on enriching uranium that could be used for nuclear weapons.
Lord Triesman, the Foreign Office minister, met the Iranian ambassador in London yesterday to demand that consular staff be allowed access to the Britons, one of whom is a woman. His intervention came as a senior Iranian general alleged that the Britons had confessed under interrogation to “aggression into Iran’s waters”.
Intelligence sources said any advance order for the arrests was likely to have come from Major-General Yahya Rahim Safavi, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards.
Subhi Sadek, the Guards’ weekly newspaper, warned last weekend that the force had “the ability to capture a bunch of blue-eyed blond-haired officers and feed them to our fighting cocks”.
Safavi is known to be furious about the recent defections to the West of three senior Guards officers, including a general, and the effect of UN sanctions on his own finances.
A senior Iraqi officer appeared to back Tehran’s claim that the British had entered Iranian waters. “We were informed by Iraqi fishermen after they had returned from sea that there were British gunboats in an area that is out of Iraqi control,” said Brigadier-General Hakim Jassim, who is in charge of Iraq’s territorial waters. “We don’t know why they were there.”
Admiral Sir Alan West, the former head of the Royal Navy, dismissed suggestions that the British boats might have been in Iranian waters. West, who was first sea lord when the previous arrests took place in June 2004, said satellite tracking systems had shown then that the Iranians were lying and the same was certain to be true now.
Read more ...
China, Venezuela to cement ties with oil deals
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela said on Saturday it was working on a raft of oil deals with China, giving impetus to President Hugo Chavez's attempts to break his country's dependence on oil exports to the United States.
The China National Petroleum Corp. will look to develop heavy crude oil production in the Orinoco Belt and cooperate with Venezuela in building three refineries in China and a "super-fleet" of crude tankers, the Information Ministry said.
"The United States as a power is on the way down, China is on the way up. China is the market of the future," Chavez was quoted as saying by an Information Ministry statement after meeting CNPC President Jiang Jiemin in Caracas.
China's economic expansion has turned it into the world's second-biggest oil consumer. OPEC member Venezuela was the fifth-biggest oil exporter to the United States in January. Analysts reckon it pumps about 2.7 million barrels per day.
Chavez has ambitious plans to lift oil exports to China to lessen its dependence on its arch-foe the United States, saying it hopes to send 1 million barrels per day to China by 2012.
This optimistic target follows an earlier goal of more than tripling oil exports to China of 160,000 bpd by 2009.
The Information Ministry said CNPC would sign on Monday a preliminary deal to take a 40 percent stake in various Venezuelan heavy crude projects.
CNPC is already working in the Junin 4 block but Chavez said the Chinese oil giant wanted to expand its Orinoco operations with "billions of dollars" of investment.
Chavez is pushing ahead with a nationalization of Venezuela's oil industry, stripping major U.S. companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM.N), ConocoPhillips (COP.N) and Chevron Corp. (CVX.N) of their majority stakes in heavy crude projects.
While sidelining such majors, Chavez is seeking to do more business with China, Russia and Iran, part of forming what he describes as a multipolar alliance against the United States.
He said the three proposed refineries in China would process 800,000 bpd of Venezuelan crude. The proposed new tanker fleet would not just run China-Venezuela routes but also operate in the Caribbean and take shipments to Africa, Chavez said.
Although Venezuela has signed many memorandums of understanding on commercial cooperation with countries in the developing world, many of the proposals have been very slow to turn into anything concrete.
In a sign that Venezuela's ties to China hinge on politics as well as commerce, Li Changchun, who sits of the Chinese Communist Party's omnipotent nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, will visit Venezuela next week.
Read more ...
EU politics: The enduring strength of transatlantic relations
FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT
Four years ago, the US-led invasion of Iraq triggered the most serious rift in transatlantic relations since 1945 as well as among EU member states themselves. Although some fall-out from the split over Iraq remains, talk of the two continents drifting apart is misplaced. Indeed, relations between Europe and the US are returning to normal.
More to unite than divide
During the traumatic days of early 2003, a great deal of analysis and comment focused on explaining the divisions that had emerged by reference to attitudes towards the use of force, perhaps most vividly captured by US academic Robert Kagan, in his essay “Of Paradise and Power”. Mr Kagan (an advocate of the Iraq invasion) described Europeans as inhabiting the world of perpetual peace envisaged by the German enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant. As a result, they had become incapable of dealing with other states that did not play the international relations game by their rules, whereby disagreements are solved in the committee rooms of Brussels by grinding out reasoned compromise.
There was, and is, much to this analysis. Europeans countries spend far less on defence than the does US and they are often reluctant to engage in military activity even when they agree that such action is both justified and necessary. For example, many European members of NATO declined to participate in the 1999 conflict with Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia, while the US undertook the overwhelming majority of the military action. To the US, this unwillingness to use force, even in a region bordering the EU, remains a source of frustration. But it would be wrong to overstate this as a factor in undermining transatlantic ties, mainly because this difference has existed for decades--in the 1960s even the UK declined to involve itself in Vietnam, in the 1970s West Germany's policy of "Ostpolitik" towards the Soviet Union was far too placatory for American tastes, and in the 1980s many Europeans feared that the US plan for a “star wars” missile defence system risked upsetting the strategic balance in Europe (an issue that has resurfaced today).
It is hard to argue, therefore, that there is a widening gulf between the sides on resort to force in international affairs. Rather it is one that they have managed to live with for decades. It would also be wrong to overstate European pacifism. Sizeable European contingents fought alongside the US in the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, 25 of the EU’s 27 member states have forces deployed in Afghanistan (although most not in the area of fighting) and 12 still have a presence in Iraq. Moreover, Germany, the EU’s largest member state, is gradually increasing its military engagement after decades of non-involvement. This makes the prospect of Europe punching up to its weight in the world more likely in the future.
And what of the US: is it becoming more belligerent and bullying as some in Europe and elsewhere claim? The case to be made that the US is becoming more aggressive is certainly stronger than the case for an ever more cowering and cowardly Europe, but this is based almost entirely on the Iraq war, which was an aberration rather than the start of a unilateralist trend. To see why, one need only consider briefly the context in which 9/11 took place.
Although the cold war had been over for a decade by September 2001, the US was still seeking to define a new posture in a world without a Soviet threat. Competing ideas existed, but the emergence of al-Qaida as a serious menace to the American homeland, and the rapid victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan, gave credence to the view that the US had underestimated and under-used its unique power. These neo-conservative voices persuaded President George Bush that the US's military preponderance meant that the administration no longer needed to shore-up unpleasant regimes, but could sweep them away, leaving fertile ground for democracies to flourish. This, they argued, was the only way to guarantee American security in the long run because in democracies people are too busy enjoying freedom to engage in terror. But the neo-conservative account of the transformative potential of US power has been discredited by its failure to deliver stability in Iraq, and, to a lesser extent, by the electoral success of Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Thus, the brief period in which America attempted to spread democracy through military means now appears over.
More humility and less hubris in Washington
This comes as a great relief to Europe, where even the staunchest Atlanticists in diplomatic circles were appalled by the hubris of some US officials at the height of the neo-conservative influence. In the second Bush term, the humility in foreign affairs that the president had promised when campaigning for election in 2000 has became evident, and a determined effort is being made to mend fences. Mr Bush’s first foreign visit after re-election, for instance, was to the EU. This was significant not only because he was the first US president to recognise the EU in this way, but also because it signalled a definitive rejection of “disaggregation”, a policy of divide and conquer towards the EU advocated by some in his first administration.
The American olive branch has been enthusiastically accepted. Those Europeans who opposed the war—arguing that it would open a Middle-East Pandora’s box feel—vindicated but are not gloating, in large part to avoid transatlantic relations again sinking to that 2003 low point. They are also determined to show that they are serious about tough security issues, which may explain their intense efforts at trying to halt Iran’s nuclear programme and their close co-operation with the US at the UN to impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Though there are differences—the US wishes to ratchet up those sanctions rapidly, while the Europeans prefer a more gradual approach—they have remained united in the face of the threat, despite Iran’s best efforts to divide them.
Economic interests are eternal
But because Europeans know that their clout in hard security issues internationally is limited they have often focused reconciliation efforts in other spheres, most notably in economic affairs. Current proposals by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to use her country's presidency of the EU in the first half of 2007 to launch a major initiative aimed at deepening economic integration in the transatlantic space is only the latest example. Even without considering Ms Merkel's big idea, huge energy is already being expended at the political and policy levels to remove many of the remaining obstacles to doing transatlantic business. Though disagreements are plentiful--some intractable, others merely technical--the two sides are talking about the Doha multilateral trade round, bilateral trade issues, competition policy, harmonisation of accounting standards, public procurement, aviation, financial services regulation and much more. Little illustrates the normality of transatlantic relations better than the daily interaction between European and American officials as they go about their problem-solving business.
Business as usual
If transatlantic relations are back on an even keel at the official level, the damage done by Iraq remains at the popular level. Positive European sentiment towards the US is far lower than it was before the Iraq invasion, according to opinion polls, and many of the continent's media often display a visceral dislike of President Bush which distorts reporting of his administration's actions and its dealings with other countries. Four years on, it seems unlikely that he will ever find a place in European hearts. But his term in office ends in less than two years, and a new president is expected to enjoy a rise in European support. Europeans know that in terms of values and interests, they are closer to the US any other part of the world. Although disagreements will inevitably persist, given the unique scope of the relationship, considerable political will exists to solve them. The portentous talk of Europe and America drifting apart has not occurred. Nor is it likely to in the foreseeable future. The ties stretching across the Atlantic are too many and too strong to allow that to happen.
Read more ...
Pentagon & CIA to Bury Hatchet?
The Pentagon’s intelligence people and the CIA were at each other’s throats during Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure as defense secretary. They now seem ready to share information.
Early this month the director of national intelligence (DNI) signed a document entitled “unified cross domain management office charter” laying out procedures allowing the Pentagon to share classified information with the country’s leading intelligence agencies. Hitherto, the absence of such a charter had been used by the Department of Defense to justify withholding information. The formal establishment of information-sharing procedures between the DoD and DNI could well be the first step towards a new division of labour between the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community. During Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure as defense secretary, Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, had set up an intelligence unit inside the Pentagon, the Strategic Support Branch, which operated independently and was headed by lieutenant-general William Boykin at Fort Bragg.
In May of last year, Robert Gates, former CIA boss who replaced Rumsfeld at the Pentagon in November, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post criticising the Pentagon’s strategy and deploring the DoD’s distrust of the CIA. During his confirmation hearings in December, Gates reiterated that position. However, a revamp of the Pentagon’s intelligence units is unlikely to take place before general James Clapper, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGO) is confirmed in his new job of undersecretary of defense for intelligence. No date for a confirmation hearing has yet been set by the Senate. The acting undersecretary at present is Robert Andrews who, like Gates, is a CIA veteran.
Read more ...
Iran holding 15 British sailors
At least 15 British sailors are being detained by Iranian navy vessels in the Gulf.
The British Ministry of Defence confirmed the detainment, adding that it was "urgently" seeking clarification from Tehran.
Details of the incident remained sketchy.
“The British government is demanding the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment,” the Defence Ministry in London said, adding that the sailors had been detained after a routine boarding of a merchant ship in Iraqi waters.
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett summoned the Iranian ambassador to seek clarification over the incident, which comes amid mounting tension between Tehran and the West over its nuclear program.
"At approximately 10.30 Iraqi time this morning, 15 British naval personnel, engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters ... were seized by Iranian naval vessels,'' the ministry said.
"The boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters.
"We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level and on the instructions of the Foreign Secretary, the Iranian ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office.
News reports had originally suggested that there were American military personnel among those detained in the Shatt al-Arab waterway close to the southern stretch of Iraq's border with Iran.
However, the US Navy later said none of its military personnel were involved.
"We can confirm that there are no US military involved or held in this incident,'' a spokesman for US Naval Central Command said.
Read more ...
A week of fighting between al-Qaeda loyalists and tribal militants in a remote Pakistani border region has almost completely destroyed camps used by a leading terrorist from Uzbekistan, Pakistani intelligence officials claimed on Thursday.
The claim, if true, could mark not only a success in Pakistan’s war against militants hiding on its soil, but could also vindicate Pakistan’s position on two controversial agreements signed by the government with tribal elders in the region bordering Afghanistan.
General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler, last year ordered his troops home from the North Waziristan border region after deals that would see local tribal elders policing the region themselves. The move has been widely criticised as giving freer rein for militants to launch cross-border attacks into Afghanistan on US and Nato forces.
Pakistani intelligence officials, however, claimed on Thursday, after a week of fighting that left more than 100 people dead, the infrastructure used by loyalists of Tahir Yuldashev, the pro al-Qaeda militant, had been wiped out. More than half the people killed so far were said to be Uzbek Islamists who took refuge on the Pakistani side of the border after US-led forces ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.
“There’s no way to confirm if Yuldashev himself may be dead. But what I know for certain is that his group has suffered heavy casualties,” said one Pakistani intelligence official. “It’s hard to imagine if the Uzbeks have any firepower remaining to carry on in the tribal areas”.
Western diplomats warned that there was no way of independently confirming the claim. “Since the Pakistanis do not let anyone from the outside to freely venture around the tribal areas, it’s impossible to know what is happening,” said one.
Abdul Sattar, Pakistan’s former foreign minister, said the challenge of militancy in the tribal areas was too complex to be resolved quickly.
“The people of the tribal area are fed up of militants present among them. But the militants have had a long-term presence in the tribal areas. You can’t get rid of them in one go.”
Read more ...
Iran accuses West of 'psychological war'
PRESIDENT Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today accused some big powers of waging psychological warfare against Iran, which is facing the prospect of tougher UN sanctions over its nuclear program.
His televised address to mark the Iranian New Year made clear again that Iran's leadership has no intention of bowing to pressure and halting sensitive nuclear activities, which the United States says is a cover for building atom bombs.
The UN Security Council is discussing a resolution that would impose new penalties on Iran for refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment work. Enriched uranium can be used to fuel power plants, or if highly enriched, to make nuclear weapons.
Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, says the program is peaceful and intended to produce electricity.
"By psychological warfare, propaganda and misuse of the organisations they have themselves created ... they are trying to prevent our nation's development," Mr Ahmadinejad said.
He has previously accused the United States and Britain of using the Security Council as a tool against Iran.
Mr Ahmadinejad also appeared to hit out at a Hollywood blockbuster called 300 that depicts a 480BC battle between Greeks and Persians. Iranian officials and the public see the film as a Western attempt to vilify Iran's image.
"Today they are trying to tamper with history by making a film and by making Iran's image look savage," he said.
The proposed UN resolution would embargo Iranian arms exports and freeze financial assets abroad of 28 individuals, groups and companies.
It is a follow-up to a previous resolution adopted by the Security Council in December and was expected to be voted on this week after Germany and permanent council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States agreed on the text.
But South Africa, the council's current chair, has called for all the main proposed sanctions to be dropped. The council could probably adopt the measure without South African backing, but the major powers had wanted it passed unanimously.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said amendments proposed by South Africa and Indonesia deserved "attentive consideration".
He also said Russia, which has commercial and political ties to Tehran, would not back "excessive sanctions" against Iran.
Russian officials say they share Western concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran but argue a policy of constructive engagement can prevent this more effectively than one that corners Tehran.
"We earlier agreed to act on Iran gradually and proportionately ... We will not support excessive sanctions," Mr Lavrov told the lower house of Russia's parliament, without specifying what measures Moscow would consider excessive.
He said: "South Africa and Indonesia have proposed amendments which among other things underline the global nature of non-proliferation and we believe these amendments deserve the most attentive consideration."
Earlier this week Russia denied a newspaper report that it had threatened to halt work on building Iran's Bushehr nuclear power station unless Tehran stopped uranium enrichment.
But diplomats in Washington and Europe said Moscow had linked sending Tehran nuclear fuel to proliferation concerns.
Separately, diplomats said Switzerland recently sent a senior official to Iran to discuss a proposal aimed at resolving the nuclear crisis, despite opposition by big Western powers.
The proposal would permit Iran to keep its current uranium enrichment array of several hundred centrifuges. Iran could run the centrifuges but would agree not to feed any processed uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into them while it negotiates a package of incentives with six world powers.
Although key Western powers are dismissive, the idea could complicate their drive to ratchet up sanctions on Tehran since both the UN nuclear watchdog and Iran are considering it favourably, the diplomats said.
Read more ...
The US and Azerbaijan are to sign a major new energy pipeline deal, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza announced on 19 March.
This major energy project would create an energy corridor from Central Asia to Europe, completely bypassing the Russian Federation. It seems the US is offering its support to this project as this would play a key role in decreasing Moscow's influence in the region. Russia has traditionally used its monopoly on export routes and the imposition of increased gas and oil prices to gain leverage over states in its near abroad. By diversifying the export options of the energy producing countries in the region, such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, it can allow them to follow increasingly independent foreign policies.
The construction of the pipelines will certainly offer valuable new alternatives for the export of Caspian and Central Asian energy in the medium term. However, the engagement may have been undertaken too late to provide much leverage in Central Asia where Russia and China have already undertaken major efforts to secure influence and access to energy.
Read more ...
Iran politics: Sanctions spanner
FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT
The fresh sanctions that the UN Security Council is considering for Iran are not, at first sight, particularly harsh. They are focused on companies, individuals and banks deemed to be involved in the nuclear fuel programme and in missile development, and include a ban on Iranian weapons exports, although not on arms purchases. An embargo on direct lending to the Iranian government has also been proposed, but may ultimately be dropped in deference to the concerns of some Council members to soften the sanctions package. The oil and gas sector will not be directly affected, enabling Iran to continue to reap the benefits of selling some 2.6m barrels/day of oil at over US$50/b (as well as covering its fuel supply gap with imports of the equivalent of some 200,000 b/d of gasoline). Most categories of imports will also be, formally, unaffected.
Nevertheless, the initial sanctions, approved at the end of last year, and the general political tensions surrounding the nuclear dispute have already had a serious indirect impact on business in Iran, owing to the disruption of finance for both trade and projects, as banks and export credit guarantee agencies have grown increasingly concerned at the medium- and long-term risks. The changes in the balance of political power within Iran have contributed to the problem. The parliamentary and presidential elections in 2004 and 2005 bolstered the position of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), whose affiliated companies have taken a large slice of the major contracts awarded over the past two years in the infrastructure and oil and gas sectors. Khatam-ol-Anbia (Ghorb), the engineering arm of the IRGC, has, for example, won contracts for a gas pipeline, the development of phases 15 and 16 of the South Pars gasfield and for work on the next phase of the Tehran metro, quoting prices that could not be matched by local and foreign competitors. However, several IRGC-affiliated companies are thought to be included in an annex to the draft sanctions resolution, listing firms and individuals whose external assets could be frozen. This will create difficulties for IRGC contractors procuring equipment from abroad for their projects, which goes some way to explaining why the Iranian government is working so hard to prevent the sanctions being approved in their current form.
The impact of the squeeze on business with Iran has already shown up in trade and credit statistics of major suppliers. According to figures obtained by Bloomberg, Germany's total exports to Iran declined by 6% year on year in 2006 to €4.1bn, while export credit guarantees dropped to €904m from €1.45bn in 2005. (Iran tops the list of countries with total outstanding risk to the German federal government, at €5.5bn as of end-June 2006.) A survey conducted by Germany's DIHK chambers of commerce found that 10% of 120 companies doing business with Iran had felt informal pressure to reduce trade, according to Bloomberg. A further 16% said that they were starting to experience such pressure.
Dubai's gain…and possible pain
In 2003 the UAE took over from Germany the position of largest exporter to Iran, according to UN figures. These sales, mostly in the form of re-exports through Dubai, more than doubled over the subsequent two years, reaching US$7.3bn in 2005, with the UAE's share of total exports to Iran rising from 12% to 19% over the same period. Indications from the US administration that it is considering imposing stricter export controls for US-origin goods trans-shipped through the UAE, as part of the squeeze on Iran, have therefore been met with some alarm in the Gulf state. However, according to an unnamed US official quoted by the Financial Times, the administration has no immediate plans to include the UAE on a new list of countries designated "destinations of diversion concern". The official described a UAE export control law, which was recently approved by the cabinet, as a positive development.
Iran is also a significant export market for Russia, whose sales in 2005 were just over US$1bn. Part of this was presumably connected with the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power station, which has been the subject of some sharp recent exchanges between the Russian and Iranian parties involved. Russia claims that Iran has failed to meet its agreed payments schedule, and has cited this as the reason for failing to start deliveries of enriched uranium fuel for the 1,000-mw plant. Iran has denied dragging its feet on payments--although there is evidence of some disruptions caused by the Tehran government's decision to switch from dollars to euros in settling its accounts for the project. US and European diplomats have suggested that Russia has in effect told Iran that there can be no question of the fuel being delivered as long as Iran continues to defy UN Security Council resolutions calling on it to suspend its own enrichment activities. This suggestion has been hotly denied by Russia, which insists that there is no linkage between Bushehr and the wider nuclear dispute. Iran has branded Russia an unreliable partner, which casts doubt on the viability of a longstanding compromise proposal, whereby Iran would be given access to Russian facilities to carry out the critical phases of uranium enrichment, so as to ensure that there could be no military application.
Russia has at the same time called for part of the draft sanctions resolution to be modified, in response to reservations expressed by South Africa (the current chairman of the Security Council), Qatar and Indonesia. South Africa has called for a 90-days cooling-off period before any new sanctions are decided, and is said to have recommended that most of the fresh measures envisaged in the new resolution be deleted. Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, expressed his appreciation of South Africa's stance during a visit to Cape Town on March 20th, during which he met President Thabo Mbeki. Iran is a major supplier of oil to South Africa, with sales worth some US$2.2bn in 2005; South Africa's MTN, the holder of the country's second mobile-phone licence, is also one of the biggest recent foreign investors in Iran. Mr Mottaki travelled on to Indonesia, in an effort to bolster the effort to limit the scope of the new sanctions by appealing to another influential member of the Security Council that is concerned to avoid being seen as part of a Western campaign to demonise a fellow Islamic nation.
The Economist Intelligence Unit
Read more ...
U.S. concerned by Russian arms sales to Iran, Syria
BRUSSELS, March 21 (Reuters) - The United States expressed concern on Wednesday about Russia's arms sales to Iran, Syria and Venezuela and accused Moscow of bullying its neighbours.
Speaking in Brussels before talks with EU officials, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer welcomed Russian cooperation on issues such as counter-terrorism and the nuclear crises with Iran and North Korea and Middle East tensions.
But he also highlighted what Washington saw as negative aspects of Russian policy complicating post-Cold War relations.
"We have areas on which we disagree and those issues include the internal situation in Russia, some aggressive pressure policies against neighbouring states," he told a news briefing.
"We have serious concerns about Russian arms sales to states we feel countries should not be engaging, such as Iran, such as Syria and also ... Venezuela as well."
However he said there had been no significant change in the U.S.-Russia relations since Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States last month of seeking to impose its will on the world with dangerous policies.
"None of us wants to see a return to Cold War, we have been through one and that was enough," he said. "Our hope is to move forward with Russia in a way that we pursue common interests."
Kramer also said Washington hoped for positive developments in strained relations between Russia and new EU states like Poland that were once Soviet satellites.
"The challenge for the entire EU is to try to figure out a path and direction to improve relations to advance everyone's interests," he said.
Kramer said he could not rule out the possibility of a Russian veto of a U.N. resolution on the breakaway Serb province of Kosovo, which the West hopes to see move to statehood.
Concerns about Russia's internal policies ranged from concentration of power and pressures on the media, political opponents and non-governmental organisations.
"Trends unfortunately are not going in the right direction," he said. "We have concerns, worries about the trends."
Tensions between Georgia and Russia had eased since a crisis last year, Kramer said, but he warned that the region remained "very unstable and still has the potential to explode".
"Our hope and goal is that Russia and Georgia work constructively to lower the tension," he said, adding that conflicts in breakaway Georgian regions had the potential to spill over into the Northern Caucasus region including Chechnya.
Kramer said the United States was not trying to impose its values on Russia but did seek to encourage democratic progress.
"Russia is not the Soviet Union," he said. "There has been significant progress over the years. But it's our feeling that there is room for more progress."
Read more ...
The Ringleaders of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Wahhabi Movement
By Anes Alic
Recent incidents in two Bosnian cities between Bosnian Muslims and a group of radical Islamists illustrate just how deep their mutual animosity runs. The incidents also finally expose the names of some of the ringleaders of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Wahhabi movement, some of whom are linked to international terrorist networks. A month ago, Jusuf Barcic, a Bosnian national and self-proclaimed sheikh, and his followers tried to enter the Careva (Czar's) mosque in Sarajevo on several occasions. Barcic is an aggressive preacher calling for a return to traditional Islam, which is supported by the radical Wahhabis in Bosnia. To prevent problems, local Islamic authorities, who banned the Wahhabi movement a decade ago, are keeping the mosque under lock and key for the first time in its 500-year history.
The incidents did not begin in the capital, Sarajevo, but rather several months ago in Barcic's hometown of Kalesija, in northeastern Bosnia, when some 150 followers of Barcic—mostly Bosnian nationals, but also naturalized citizens from Islamic countries—occupied a building belonging to the Islamic community to preach their faith, an act which differs from usual Islamic practices of Bosnian Muslims. Local Muslims sealed the mosque where Barcic's followers lived and Barcic used for his teaching. A fight broke out after the locals threw out the Wahhabis' belongings from the mosque and set fire to them. The fight was broken up by special police forces. The locals point out that Barcic has been calling them infidels for years and asking all the local women to cover themselves with scarves. He has been telling them that they are not allowed to play music in their homes and that they should hardly ever leave their homes at night (Dnevni Avaz, March 11). Barcic, a former cleric, started preaching radical Islam after he returned from schooling in Saudi Arabia in 1996. In 2001, a local court sentenced him to seven months in jail. Barcic has also collected a number of outstanding traffic tickets, but since he does not accept the civilian government and its laws as legitimate, he refuses to obey the laws, including stopping at red lights, according to a public police report.
It appears, however, that Barcic was not the organizer of the incidents in Sarajevo and Kalesija. Instead, new information shows that a man always seen close to Barcic, Karray Kamel bin Ali, is the mastermind behind the recent incidents. Kamel bin Ali, alias Abu Hamza, is Tunisian born, but has Bosnian citizenship. He and Barcic shared prison time together, and he was released several months ago. Wartime commander of the mujahideen unit in Bosnia, Abu Hamza became known to the Bosnian public after he murdered Egyptian Hisham Diab, alias Abu Velid, in 1997 in the central Bosnian city of Zenica. After managing to evade arrest for three years, Abu Hamza was finally brought down in Germany in 2000 and deported to Bosnia, where he was sentenced to seven years in prison. An investigation into the case, however, showed that the real Hisham Diab was still alive and an active member of an organization called "New Jihad" and a former close associate of the radical Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The identity of the person Abu Hamza killed in Zenica remains unknown.
According to police information, Abu Hamza arrived in Bosnia at the beginning of the war in 1992, and obtained Bosnian citizenship after marrying a Bosnian woman. A Bosnian police source, close to the investigation of Abu Hamza, told The Jamestown Foundation on March 15 that Abu Hamza was part of a 15-20 member group of Egypt's militant Gama'a al-Islamiyya that arrived in Zenica and Travnik in 1992. During his stay in Bosnia, Abu Hamza used several names and falsified documents. He used the names: El Akil Abdellah Ahmed, born in Yemen; Bega Kamel, born in Libya; and five other names with Yemeni and Libyan documents each with different places of birth and dates. While in prison, Abu Hamza saw several different criminal investigations launched against him, including one for the murder of a Bosnian Croat policeman and another for the torturing of non-Muslim refugee returnees.
In 2001, Italy sent a request for his extradition, but Bosnian authorities refused because of Abu Hamza's Bosnian citizenship. The Bosnian police source said that Italy sought Abu Hamza's extradition for the suspected planning of suicide attacks in Italy, including one plot to kill the Pope during his visit to Bologna in September 1997. For the same crimes, Italy also requested the extradition of Abu Hamza's associates, also naturalized Bosnian citizens, which included Tunisian Khalil Jarray and Yemeni Saleh Nidal, both members of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA). The two were arrested by international forces in Bosnia on terrorism charges, but were quickly released after Italy failed to send enough details to sustain their warrants. Their whereabouts are now unknown. The two suspects held Bosnian citizenship until 2001 when it was revoked by the government in Sarajevo.
Still, police believe that the main financier behind Barcic's group is a former Bosnian Muslim cleric, Muhamed Porca, who heads a Vienna-based Islamic community administrative unit. Porca, who was Barcic's colleague from his studies in Saudi Arabia, calls for establishing a parallel Islamic community in Bosnia, which would lean toward radical Islam. Last year, Porca donated a car to Barcic, which was confiscated by police after traffic incidents and irregular documents, according to a source in an anti-terrorism federal police unit.
The incidents, though not terribly significant in and of themselves, could be indications of a developing situation in which Bosnia will see an intensified struggle between members of the radical Wahhabi movement and moderate Bosnian Muslims. This development coincides with a recent statement by the grand mufti of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric, in which he suggested that all problems with radical Muslims in Bosnia are imported from radical Muslims of other countries. On March 6, Barcic's father, Salih Barcic, told the Sarajevo Weekly, Start, that Wahhabis here must "either respect Bosnian Muslims or to go back to Saudi Arabia."
Read more ...
By Chris Heffelfinger
The latest in a year-long series on proper beliefs and doctrine of the mujahid was released on March 14 by the Global Islamic Media Front. The series, entitled "Lessons in Doctrine (Prepared for the Mujahideen)" is a program prepared specifically for the mujahideen of Iraq (http://www.alfirdaws.org/vb/). The materials have been posted on the most widely used forums—alfirdaws.org, tajdeed.co.uk, the sites of Kuwaiti cleric Hamid bin 'Ali and others—and the contents have been widely read and reposted. Such online materials have been a mainstay of the Salafi education curriculum for mujahideen since the mid-1990s, although now they are finding a wider readership largely due to technological developments and the appeal of the culture of jihad on internet forums. Such literature is described in Arabic as manhaj, best translated as "program," here referring to a doctrinal program for the believer—essentially a programmatic reader for the mujahid-in-training that instructs him on correct Islamic beliefs and practices.
The first in the series was released in February 2006. GIMF describes learning the "correct" doctrine as a blessing from God "that must be one's first concern, as doctrine is the basis upon which we build religion, and the source of the integrity of action and conduct." The author follows this with Quranic verse and more emphasis on the importance of the correct doctrine, and that it be the guide for the believer in speech and action. The first installment was dominated by Quranic verse and sayings of the Prophet, and leaves specifics for the following lessons. The programs that follow in the series are heavy on quotations from Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn al-Qayyam and Muhammed Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, covering aspects of the oneness of God and the dangers of polytheism and disbelief. These are the basic tenets of Salafi Islam, based on the movement created by Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab and based theologically on the writings of the medieval Hanafi scholar Ibn Taymiyya and his most prolific student, Ibn al-Qayyam. Above all, these emphasize the oneness of Allah and the risks of disbelief (practiced by many Muslims, according to Salafis) of associating other forms of divinity with Him. The doctrine of God's oneness is fundamental to Islam and appeals to Muslims from a wide spectrum of beliefs, not only those already aligned with Salafis.
This series also cites the work of Nasr al-Din al-Albani, a prominent Saudi cleric of Albanian origin who died in 1999. By citing the leaders of the Saudi Salafi establishment, the author attempts to associate al-Albani with the jihadi movement, thereby appropriating his legitimacy in the eyes of many Muslims who hold respect for the religious institutions in Mecca and Medina. Although the Saudi Salafi establishment breaks with Salafi-Jihadis over armed confrontation with the West, there are a great many similarities in belief between Salafis under the influence of the Saudi royal family and those under the influence of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The risk for the United States and its allies in the war on terrorism is that these Muslims could fall outside the influence of the Saudi institutions, which are only restrained from jihad by the House of Saud and its alliance with the United States, and join the ranks of the global jihadi movement.
This 10th and most recent installment follows suit; the author discusses the testimony of faith (the shahada, "There is No god but God, and Muhammad is His Messenger"), and the importance of God's oneness in that most basic testimony of faith. One may ask why this media organization, which has effectively acted as representative and recruiter for al-Qaeda and the global jihadi movement more generally, has issued a 10-part series on these basic beliefs during the past year, while ignoring the mujahid's preparation for jihad, training, tactics or strategy. Yet, for the leaders of the global jihadi movement, ideology and doctrine are the cornerstones for recruiting and developing effective mujahideen to carry out operations and for driving the movement into the future.
Millions of Muslims have passed through Mecca and Medina as an obligatory part of the Hajj and 'Umra. These holiest of sites in Islam are under the auspices of Salafi leadership, sanctioned by the Saudi royal family. These Salafis share the same doctrine as the Salafi-led mujahideen fighting the United States, except for their policies allowing for a U.S. presence in the Gulf and banning involvement in jihad against the United States. That the global jihadi movement can tap into the beliefs of their "cousins" could present a serious long-term threat of a strong and growing core of mujahideen. It may also, however, present the fulcrum point of disparate militants fighting under this common banner, and as such, an opportunity to counter the movement and new recruits on the ideological level.
Read more ...
At Least 11 Killed in Fighting Between Militants, Ethiopian Forces in Somalia
Witnesses in Somalia say insurgents have burned and dragged the bodies of at least two soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu, after fierce fighting between militants and Ethiopian forces killed at least 11 people.
The violence erupted Wednesday after insurgents attacked Ethiopian tanks rolling through an insurgent stronghold near the headquarters of the former Defense Ministry in southern Mogadishu.
Ethiopian troops returned heavy fire and several people were wounded in the fighting. Witnesses say six soldiers were among the dead.
Ethiopia deployed soldiers to Somalia last December to help the interim government push an Islamist movement from power.
Somalia's internationally-recognized government has since been struggling to contain regular outbursts of violence by fighters loyal to the fallen Islamist movement.
The African Union has deployed troops to Somalia to replace the Ethiopian forces, which Addis Ababa plans to withdraw.
Read more ...
Heavy fighting in Sri Lanka kills 12
Sri Lankan troops and Tiger rebels fought a pitched battle in the island's restive east Wednesday, killing at least 12 from both sides and wounding more than 30, military officials said.
The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launched a pre-dawn mortar attack on an army camp at Sittandy in the district of Batticaloa, killing four soldiers and wounding about 30, a local military official said.
"Troops retaliated in kind and we have captured the bodies of eight Tigers," a military official in the area said by telephone. He said more than a dozen civilians in the neighbourhood had also been wounded.
The LTTE said in a statement that eight civilians had gone missing in the district of Batticaloa on Tuesday, but gave no details of the latest fighting in the east.
More than 4,000 people have been killed in a new wave of fighting since December 2005 between government troops and rebels fighting for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority.
The fighting comes despite a truce that has been in place, at least on paper, since February 2002.
Read more ...
Death toll hits 70 in Pakistan clashes
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan - Fighting between local and Uzbek militants escalated in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, and the death toll from three days of clashes rose to at least 70, officials said.
Militants were exchanging mortar, rocket and assault rifle fire in four areas of South Waziristan, where the clashes broke out Monday. The government has been urging tribesmen to move against al-Qaida-linked fighters in the region.
Pakistan hailed the battle as a success of its controversial aim of getting local tribesmen, rather than security forces, to crack down on foreign militants. But some observers see it primarily as a factional struggle between rival militant groups in a lawless region near
Afghanistan, where sympathies for the hard-line Taliban militia run high.
"It is the result of government policy that the local tribesmen are acting against foreign militants," Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told The Associated Press.
In the first formal government confirmation of casualties, Sherpao said more than 50 people had died in the fighting, including 40 foreign militants and their local supporters. Other Uzbeks had been detained by tribesmen or surrounded, he added.
But senior intelligence and military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to make comments to media, said about 70 had died: Some 50 Uzbeks and local supporters, and the rest local militants led by Maulvi Nazir.
The officials described Nazir as "pro-government," although he is well-known as a Taliban sympathizer.
The intelligence official said Nazir's men had given an ultimatum to the Uzbeks to leave their territory by midnight Tuesday, and had resumed attacks Wednesday after that deadline passed.
A local intelligence official put the toll even higher. He said fighting in Kalosha, Azam Warsak and Doza Ghundai villages had left 106 dead, including 78 Uzbeks, and 120 wounded.
The tribesmen have handed over 46 militants, many of them Uzbeks, to Pakistani security forces in the region's main town of Wana, and another 68 Uzbeks were still in the custody of the tribesmen, the official said.
Pakistan's government, an ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, has long urged tribesmen to expel Central Asia and Arab militants from Waziristan, but with little success. Many of them shifted to Pakistan's tribal regions after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001. The region is still suspected to be a hiding place for al-Qaida leaders like
Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.
While the motive behind the current fighting in South Waziristan remains hazy, the casualties suffered by the Uzbek fighters could ease pressure on Pakistan, which is facing fresh U.S. concern that al-Qaida is regrouping in an area. Waziristan is also viewed as a haven for Taliban fighters attacking
NATO and U.S. forces across the border.
A clash between tribesmen and Central Asian militants in South Waziristan earlier this month killed 18 people, apparently over attempts by Uzbek militants to kill a local tribal leader.
At least two children were reportedly killed and around 20 wounded when a stray mortar round from the fighting on Monday in South Waziristan hit their school bus.
Read more ...
Russia May Put Missile Shield Stations in Diplomatic Missions Abroad
Russian Space Forces and Foreign Ministry are currently discussing the questions of placing anti-missile radar stations in Russian diplomatic missions in foreign countries, the Space Forces commander has said.
Colonel-General Vladimir Popovkin said in an interview with the Russian magazine Novosti Kosmonavtiki (Space Industry News) that the move will give Russia the opportunity to register the first stages of missile launches “that we cannot see from Russia’s territory” and adjust the flight tasks for the anti-missile weapons if an extraordinary situation occurs.
The general went on to say that the new generation quant optical stations require virtually no maintenance and can be fitted in “half of a room”. A station which will remotely control these stations all over the world will be built in Krasnokamensk in Russia and every six months specialists will run a routine check of the stations.
Popovkin also said that Russia is planning to build two new radar stations in the South — near the city of Armavir. He said that after these stations start working, Russian military will no longer depend on the Mukachevo and Sevastopol radar stations in Ukraine.
Read more ...
Selected CRS Reports
Some noteworthy recent products of the Congressional Research Service include the following (all pdf).
"The Whistleblower Protection Act: An Overview," March 12, 2007.
"China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities -- Background and Issues for Congress," updated February 7, 2007.
"Data Security Breaches: Context and Incident Summaries," updated January 29, 2007.
"Bolivia: Political and Economic Developments and Implications for U.S. Policy," updated January 26, 2007.
"The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS)," updated January 25, 2007.
Read more ...
Al Qaeda Uzbeks, Pakistani tribesmen clash
WANA, Pakistan – At least 10 people were wounded on Monday in fighting that erupted between al Qaeda-linked Uzbek militants and Pakistani tribesmen in a region near the Afghan border, residents said.
The mountainous area of South Waziristan has been tense since 17 people, 12 of them militants, were killed in a battle between the foreign militants and tribesmen on March 6.
Hundreds of militants, most of them Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs, have been hiding in Waziristan and other Pakistani tribal areas since fleeing Afghanistan when U.S.-led forces defeated the Taliban in 2001.
The recent clashes have been the most significant between the region's ethnic Pashtun tribesmen and the foreign militants, and follow government efforts to convince the tribesmen to help keep order and stop militant raids into Afghanistan.
The latest violence erupted in Shin Warsak, a village 7 km (4 miles) west of Wana, the region's main town. Both sides fired rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars at each other, residents said.
'The situation is very tense,' said a resident of Wana who declined to be identified.
'I counted 10 wounded tribesmen were brought to Wana,' he said, adding he had no idea about casualties on the other side.
The cause of the clash was not known. The March 6 fighting erupted after the militants tried to kill a pro-government tribal leader.
Hundreds of people were killed in South Waziristan during Pakistani military operations in 2003 and 2004 to clear the region of foreign militants.
The fighting subsided after the government struck a peace deal with the militants in 2005.
Militants have killed dozens of people across Waziristan, including pro-government tribal leaders and people they accused of spying for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Read more ...
Iran to hit back at US ‘kidnaps’
The Sunday Times
IRAN is threatening to retaliate in Europe for what it claims is a daring undercover operation by western intelligence services to kidnap senior officers in its Revolutionary Guard.
According to Iranian sources, several officers have been abducted in the past three months and the United States has drawn up a list of other targets to be seized with the aim of destabilising Tehran’s military command.
In an article in Subhi Sadek, the Revolutionary Guard’s weekly paper, Reza Faker, a writer believed to have close links to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, warned that Iran would strike back.
“We’ve got the ability to capture a nice bunch of blue-eyed blond-haired officers and feed them to our fighting cocks,” he said. “Iran has enough people who can reach the heart of Europe and kidnap Americans and Israelis.”
The first sign of a possible campaign against high-ranking Iranian officers emerged earlier this month with the discovery that Ali Reza Asgari, former commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force in Lebanon and deputy defence minister, had vanished, apparently during a trip to Istanbul.
Asgari’s disappearance shocked the Iranian regime as he is believed to possess some of its most closely guarded secrets. The Quds Force is responsible for operations outside Iran.
Last week it was revealed that Colonel Amir Muhammed Shirazi, another high-ranking Revolutionary Guard officer, had disappeared, probably in Iraq.
A third Iranian general is also understood to be missing — the head of the Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf. Sources named him as Brigadier General Muhammed Soltani, but his identity could not be confirmed.
“This is no longer a coincidence, but rather an orchestrated operation to shake the higher echelons of the Revolutionary Guard,” said an Israeli source.
Other members of the Quds Force are said to have been seized in Irbil, in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, by US special forces.
“The capture of Quds members in Irbil was essential for our understanding of Iranian activity in Iraq,” said an American official with knowledge of the operation.
One theory circulating in Israel is that a US taskforce known as the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group (ISOG) is coordinating the campaign to take Revolutionary Guard commanders.
The Iranians have also accused the United States of being behind an attack on Revolutionary Guards in Iran last month in which at least 17 were killed.
Military analysts believe that Iranian threats of retaliation are credible. Tehran is notorious for settling scores. When the Israelis killed Abbas Mussawi, Hezbollah’s general secretary, in 1992 the Quds Force blew up the Israeli embassy in Argentina in revenge.
Despite the Iranian threat to retaliate in Europe, Iraq is seen by some analysts as a more likely place in which to attempt abductions.
“In Iraq, the Quds Force can easily get hold of American — and British — officers,” said a Jordanian intelligence source.
Read more ...
Hamas shoots Israeli, fires mortar bombs despite truce
GAZA, March 19 (Reuters) - The armed wing of Hamas said it carried out its first attacks on Monday against Israel since a shaky November truce in the Gaza Strip, shooting a utility worker near the border and firing two mortar bombs at soldiers.
Hamas's Qassam Brigades said the shooting attack, which seriously injured the Israeli worker, was in response to Israeli military operations in the occupied West Bank, which is not covered by the four-month-old truce. No soldiers were injured.
The group said attacks against Israel would continue.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office called the shooting a "terror" attack.
The Israeli electricity company employee was working near the Karni commercial crossing between Israel and Gaza when he was shot, Israeli rescue services said.
"The Qassam Brigades announced its responsibility for shooting a Zionist (Israeli) and firing two mortar bombs against a gathering of Zionist soldiers near Karni crossing," the statement by Hamas's armed wing said. "Our strikes against the enemy will continue."
The attack occurred two days after Hamas Islamists formed a unity government with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction.
It was the first attack claimed by Hamas's armed wing since the November truce, which it had upheld.
Other groups, such as Islamic Jihad, stayed out of the truce and continued to fire makeshift rockets into Israel from Gaza.
An explosion on Monday ripped through an Islamic Jihad member's house near Gaza City, killing him and wounding at least nine people, hospital workers and residents said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion.
Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas's armed wing, defended the Karni shooting attack as a natural response to Israeli violations.
"This is not a violation of calm. The enemy has been violating calm day and night in the West Bank and in Gaza and we had said calm was conditional," Ubaida said.
He added that the group was weighing whether to resume firing rockets against Israel.
Israeli intelligence officials say Hamas was taking advantage of the break in fighting to build up its forces and smuggle in an arsenal of rockets that could penetrate deep into Israeli territory.
Olmert has vowed to boycott the new Palestinian government in its entirety, including non-Hamas ministers, saying its platform does not meet international demands to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace deals.
"This is precisely the type of terror that the new Palestinian government steadfastly refuses to condemn, thus rejecting a principle condition placed upon it by the international community," said David Baker, an Olmert spokesman.
A year-old diplomatic boycott of the Palestinian government continued to splinter on Monday when Norway's deputy foreign minister met Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas in Gaza.
Italy's foreign minister later called Haniyeh in a show of support, Haniyeh's office said.
"We hope that this siege will collapse step by step," said Mustafa al-Barghouthi, the new Palestinian Information minister.
The unity government says it will "respect" previous interim peace agreements with Israel. Its platform does not recognise Israel and asserts that Palestinian resistance in "all its forms" is a legitimate right.
While the United States said it would boycott the new Palestinian government, it did not rule out unofficial talks with non-Hamas ministers.
Britain plans to allow diplomatic contacts with non-Hamas ministers, and the United Nations is expected to follow suit. (Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)
Read more ...
Internal Divisions Threaten Kurdish Unity
By Lydia Khalil
After years of infighting and repression by Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq's Kurds were finally able to seize the opportunity for autonomy and influence presented by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Since then, they have solidified the de facto autonomy that was established under the No Fly Zone and retained power and influence over Iraq's national policies. The Kurdish leadership was able to accomplish these significant achievements by maintaining a unified front and overcoming years of disarray and distrust. In June 2006, the Kurdish leadership in Northern Iraq announced the long awaited unification of a Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Despite their success, Iraq's Kurds must now wrestle with deep-seated and long-standing issues that may be even more difficult to overcome than the legacy of civil war and repression. Iraq's Kurds must not only overcome their past, but also chart a singular future. As Kurdish fortunes improve and their power increases, so do the stakes. There are a number of issues that will come to a head that could spell trouble for Kurdish unity and continued stability within the newly unified KRG. The issues affecting Iraqi Kurdish unity and stability can be broadly broken down into internal and external factors. This analysis will focus on the internal factors that may affect Kurdish unity.
The first internal factor is the full implementation of the unity agreement. Internally, the KRG must address the greater demands for democratization and good governance as well as address systemic corruption. They also have to manage constituent desires for independence and tackle the ongoing power struggle between the so called "old guard," which includes the mid-level politburo members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the "new guard," consisting of younger, Western-educated and reform-minded politicians within the KRG leadership. In addition to this, they will have to come to a workable resolution on Kirkuk. Administrative unification and transformation of the KRG will unfold in an environment of intense internal political competition.
Although the administration of the Iraqi Kurdish region was officially unified under the KRG, they still have yet to implement the unification agreement fully. This means that there are still unresolved issues and rivalries between the preeminent Kurdish political groups—the KDP and PUK. For one, unifying the administrations will mean dismantling old patronage networks. In doing so, the PUK-KDP leadership will be forced to manage the ramifications of the fallout within the mid-level political ranks in order to strengthen their institutions and ministries. The so-called "old guard" still has long standing feuds, rivalries, personal interests and patronage networks that could be threatened by unification or by greater democracy in the region.
The other obstacle to unification is the armed forces of each party—the peshmerga. The Iraqi constitution calls for the creation of a unified National Guard—ostensibly made up of the same peshmerga fighters that had previously fought one another—to provide internal security for the North. This is no easy task. The challenge is to unify their command and control so that they can comply with the constitution, provide adequate security, link up to the central command in Baghdad and prevent the temptation to call in the peshmerga whenever there is an internal dispute between the KDP and PUK. Despite the unification agreement, there remain two separate peshmerga ministries. Peshmerga fighters are loyal to their political bosses, not to the KRG. The peshmerga are affiliated with the parties and they perceive themselves as PUK and KDP peshmerga, separately. Looming in the background are past grievances from the civil war that raged from 1994-1998.
Like the peshmerga ministries, the Ministry of Finance is still not unified. Implementation agreements have stalled because the two parties could not agree on how to split or consolidate revenues, or how to unify their financial administrations. The split in government inhibits the efficient distribution of services and hinders the pace of reconstruction. Kurdish civilians are becoming increasingly frustrated with this as they see more and more reconstruction money coming into the region with little result.
The Kurdish leadership has touted the success of their democratic experiment in Kurdistan and offers it up as a model for the rest of Iraq. Yet how democratic is Iraqi Kurdistan? According to one Kurdish official, in the recent elections "there were all kinds of intimidation; there was ballot stuffing and a variety of things…It shows that as 'democratic' as the north is and as developed of a civil society it has, it is still fragile" . Although there are freedoms in the KRG, political expression and civic participation have been hampered by the overwhelming presence of the KDP and PUK, who monopolize the political space and resources. Kurds feel that there is little they can do to change the policies of the KDP and PUK. The March 2006 riot in Halabja was a clear sign of this tension. Hundreds of protesters threw stones and even destroyed a memorial dedicated to the victims of Saddam Hussein's 1988 chemical attack on the town (KurdishMedia.com, March 24, 2006). The demonstrators marched through Halabja chanting, "We don't want government officials here…You have done nothing for the city…All government officials are corrupt" (AFP, March 16, 2006). Some analysts have labeled the Halabja protest as the most serious challenge to the KRG since its inception.
Corruption is also rampant. In the rush to implement reconstruction projects, money is flowing everywhere, and often into the coffers of the respective parties. Anecdotes such as the following are not uncommon: "I had somebody come to me and say I have a deal for a cement factory in Kurdistan. It will cost $120 million. Can you find some funding? So I was able to communicate with some people [in Kurdistan] and they said if it's a sovereign contract we'll fund it. My connection…called the office of the prime minister. They told him 50% on top of it and we'll give it [the contract] to you" .
Ordinary citizens and political leaders are beginning to speak out, frustrated by the two parties' lack of movement and buoyed by the promise of democracy throughout all of Iraq. The problem, however, is that there is only enough political openness to encourage civil society and political participation, but not enough to broaden it. This is a dangerous situation now that Iraq's Kurds have been given the promise and taste of political and civil life outside of the old KDP/PUK framework.
The arrests of Kamal Sayid Qadir and Hawez Hawezi for allegedly "defaming" KDP and PUK leaders drew the unwanted attention of the international community to the lack of political freedoms in Kurdistan (KurdishMedia.com, December 28, 2005). Qadir wrote a series of high profile articles in the Kurdish media, outlining corruption and nepotism within the KRG. Peshmerga associated with the KDP seized Qadir and detained him for weeks without charges and without communication with a lawyer or his family. He was later released and officially charged with defamation, but his ordeal put in doubt Kurdish leaders glowing accounts of a free Kurdistan.
Other political parties besides the KDP and PUK have had a difficult time penetrating politics. Many parties have either been co-opted by the KDP and PUK or have been suppressed. The Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) is arguably the most serious opposition to the two parties, challenging the long standing commitment to secularism in the Kurdish region. The KIU is gaining traction among the population by criticizing the government for corruption and economic mismanagement. The KIU was established in 1994 and has been led by Salahadin Bahadadin . It was originally part of the "unity" list with the KDP and PUK during the first round of elections. It has long been active in social work in Kurdistan and is becoming increasingly popular with students. The KDP feels threatened by the gains of the KIU, and it sent its supporters to mount an attack on its offices in December 2005. Seven were killed and many injured (RFE/RL, December 9, 2005). The Kurds also have to find a way to better incorporate the religious and ethnic minorities living in Iraqi Kurdistan—namely the Assyrians and the Turkomen . The Kurds should reach an accommodation with the Turkomen especially, because both communities have a historical claim on the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
Much of this is contingent upon who is driving the policies and leadership of the KRG. The future will depend on how much influence the old guard has in determining the future direction of Iraqi Kurdistan. If the old guard leadership maintains their hold on decision making, then tensions will surely continue. As it stands, they have the most to lose in the unification process. With the two administrations joining, somebody is going to lose a position or influence over a sector or neighborhood. The young guard, for the most part, has a "big picture" view. They are more concerned about developing institutions and encouraging investment. The new generation of leaders is not hampered by resentment over past conflicts, and grew up at a time when Kurdistan was largely independent. The younger leadership will emerge only if the insecurities of the old guard are alleviated. To what degree the younger leaders can work around or with the old guard is still uncertain. For now, they have found it necessary to work with rather than against them, at least until they shore up enough of their own power to confront them.
The status of the oil-rich province of Kirkuk is a hugely contentious issue in Iraqi politics. The Kurds claim this territory as rightfully theirs, but their claims are contested by other Iraqi groups who do not want Kirkuk to be part of the KRG. Analysts focus on the potential of Kirkuk to spark a civil war within Iraq, but there is a sub-level conflict as well. Kirkuk is a point of rivalry between the KDP and the PUK. Kirkuk will be a big political victory for whichever Kurdish group brings it into the Kurdistan region. The party that accomplishes this will be lauded by the population as the group that brought back their historical city. It will also upset the balance of the North. As of now, the governorates are split evenly between the KDP and PUK, with the KDP having a slight advantage. Who will be the majority in Kirkuk if it comes under the KRG? For the two parties, it is a new political space to fight over. Outwardly, the Kurds present a unified front on Kirkuk. According to Qubad Talabani, the KRG representative to the United States, "Kirkuk is a Kurdish issue, not a KDP or PUK issue…It will be a joint exercise. We may have difference of opinion, we may have other political battles, but not over Kirkuk. We should not and we will not have this competition" . If the Kurds stay unified on this issue, they may succeed in bringing Kirkuk under the KRG. Unfortunately, a unified front will be difficult to maintain.
The issue of Kirkuk, if forced too soon, could have a severe destabilizing affect on Kurdish security. It could become a cause for greater internal tension, and even if the Kurds are successful in integrating Kirkuk into the KRG, it could invite interference by Turkey. Yet Kirkuk is not the only issue. Good governance, greater civil liberties and true opportunities for political participation are also critical to ensuring the KRG's security in the long-term. Although it is unlikely that the KDP and PUK will revert back to violent conflict over issues of unification, resources and political control, it is likely that the region could see more violent protests like the Halabja demonstration if demands for better governance are not met.
1. Interview with a senior Kurdish official, January 2006.
2. Interview with a senior Iraqi advisor, February 2006.
3. For more information on the party, see http://www.kurdiu.org.
4. Interview with Fawzi Hariri, Iraq's minister of industry and minerals, who is Assyrian and is part of the KDP.
5. Interview with Qubad Talabani, the KRG representative to the United States, January 2006.
Read more ...