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Friday, April 27, 2007

DNI's 100 day plan

By Michael Jacobson

In mid-April, nearly two months into his tenure as the nation's second Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Michael McConnell announced a "100 day plan," outlining what he hopes to accomplish during this period. McConnell stated that his plan to improve the “integration and collaboration” of the US Intelligence Community (IC) marks the “next stage in intelligence reform.”

McConnell's 100 day plan – which is intended to build on the October 2005 National Intelligence Strategy released by John Negroponte, McConnell’s predecessor -- focuses on transforming the IC in six key areas. These include: creating a culture of collaboration, accelerating information sharing, improving collection and analysis on the hardest targets, and modernizing the IC’s security and financial practices. McConnell also reorganized his office to create a directorate to manage the IC’s acquisition of new technologies.

To succeed in achieving the ambitious goals laid out in his 100 day plan, McConnell will have to be more aggressive in this role than his predecessor. There are promising signs in this regard. McConnell complained in a recent speech about his insufficient authorities, pointing out that he does not have direct power to hire or fire 15 of the 16 IC heads, as they are part of Cabinet level departments. In fact, McConnell’s 100 day plan calls for the DNI’s duties to be clarified and aligned, and notes that “more is required to realize fully the intended benefits.”

McConnell cannot wait though for additional authorities before moving to take strong action. While McConnell may regard his powers as insufficient, the reality is that the position comes with considerable authority. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism and Prevention Act of 2004, which created the DNI, imbued the position with significant control over the IC’s budget, personnel, tasking, and acquisition. The DNI plays a particularly important role in the budgetary arena, where he has the power to “develop and determine” the IC budget. The DNI can also reprogram or transfer funds and personnel within the IC without the consent of the affected agencies (with certain limitations). In addition, the DNI can use his control over IC funds as leverage, as he can withhold money from IC agencies should the need arise. The statute also explicitly gives the DNI responsibility for managing the IC’s tasking, and assigns the DNI a key role in all IC acquisitions.

While the issue of DNI authorities is important, perhaps an even more significant issue for McConnell is that he does not have a deputy in place. This position has been vacant for nearly a year, since General Hayden vacated the slot to become the head of the CIA. As the DNI, McConnell has two primary functions: leading the IC and serving as the President’s chief intelligence advisor. As McConnell noted at a recent press conference, he is spending hours every day fulfilling the latter role – particularly in preparing for and participating in the morning intelligence briefing with the President. This leaves him with far too little time to focus on leading the IC – the primary reason the DNI position was created. A strong deputy could play an important role in managing the IC and in implementing the DNI’s strategic vision of transformation. The DNI cannot adequately perform both functions on his own.

While the success of McConnell’s 100 day plan is important to his ultimate record as the DNI, more critical is the tone he sets during this period. Taking strong actions from the outset will go a long way towards establishing the DNI’s control over the IC agencies. Without an aggressive approach, the DNI will be hard pressed to make the changes that the IC needs.


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France to pullout troops from Afghanistan

PARIS - France does not plan to stay in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Friday, hours before a deadline for a pullout of French troops in exchange for the release of two hostages.

There is no plan to continue occupying a country in the long term,’ said Douste-Blazy. ‘It goes against France’s values of respect for sovereignty, national independence and territorial integrity.’

France has contributed 1,000 men to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, as well as Rafale fighter jets in support of the international force battling a Taleban insurrection.

Taleban militants are holding two aid workers for the French nongovernment organisation Terre d’Enfance (A World For Our Children), who went missing on April 3 with three of their Afghan staff.

The deadline for Taleban demands to be met in exchange for the release of two French hostages will expire Saturday, not Friday as originally thought, Taleban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP.

Unless its demands are met, the Taleban, which has beheaded several of its captives, has said ‘the position of Islamic Emirate (the Taleban) about foreign prisoners... (will) soon be applied.’

‘We are doing everything in Kabul and Paris to being them home soon,’ Douste-Blazy said, adding that he had ‘taken note’ of a Taleban statement on Thursday saying the hostages were in good health.


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US: Iran could produce nuke weapon within 3 years

Iran has overcome technical difficulties in its uranium enrichment plan and may be able develop a single nuclear weapon within three years, American sources said on Friday morning.

According to an intelligence report cited by CBS, US officials have warned that Iran could have enough bomb-grade material to produce such a weapon before the previously estimated 1015.

"I think Iran can get enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon sooner than that," leading expert David Albright told CBS. "I think the 2015 number reflects too much skepticism about Iran's technical capabilities, and they are making progress."


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Saudis arrest 172 militants in anti-terror sweep

Saudi police have arrested 172 militants and seized large quantities of arms and money in anti-terror sweep, a Saudi state TV channel reported Friday.

The channel Ekbariya quoted the Interior Ministry as saying the detained militants were plotting to attack the country's oil fields.

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Iraq: US nabs suspected Iranian weapon smugglers

US troops detained seven suspected members of a cell smuggling sophisticated roadside bombs from Iran during a raid Friday in a Shi'ite militia stronghold in Baghdad, the military said.

The raid was targeting a network of militants helping to bring sophisticated weapons from Iran to Iraq, including so-called explosively formed "penetrators," or EFPs, which are capable of piercing armored vehicles, according to a statement.

The cell also was smuggling militants from Iraq to Iran for terrorist training and has ties to a kidnapping network that conducts attacks within Iraq, the military said.

"Individuals coming into Iraq from other countries for the purpose of endangering Iraqi civilians and disrupting security won't be tolerated," military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said in the statement.

In January, US officials said at least 170 U.S. soldiers had been killed by EFPs since 2004.


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Israel may get F-22s if nation at risk

The United States would be inclined to allow the sale of advanced stealth F-22 fighter jets to the Israeli Air Force if the State of Israel's security was in jeopardy, former US Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen told The Jerusalem Post Thursday night.

On a 24-hour visit to Israel, Cohen, who served as defense chief under President Bill Clinton from 1996 until 2000, met on Thursday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for talks on the looming Iranian nuclear threat and other regional issues.

Cohen currently heads the Cohen Group, which provides business consulting services and advice on tactical and strategic opportunities around the globe.

The Post reported last week that the Air Force has expressed newfound interest in receiving the F-22 - a US-developed fifth generation stealth fighter jet - and has requested that the Defense Ministry present the request on its behalf to the Pentagon. Defense officials have asked to receive the jet so Israel can retain its military edge in the region in face of American plans to sell smart bombs to Saudi Arabia.

"There is no stronger relationship than with Israel," Cohen said. "There could be circumstances that that level of technology would be released to Israelis."

While Congress and the Pentagon would be hesitant to release classified technology like the F-22 to Israel, "if it came to a question of Israeli security, I am confident they will come to help."

The F-22 has been forbidden for export by the Pentagon.

Cohen arrived in Israel Wednesday night after visiting a number of Gulf states, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as Jordan. Cohen said that during his talks with leaders in those counties he heard "sentiments" acknowledging that Iran was the greatest threat to stability in the Middle East and no longer Israel. Cohen visited Israel as secretary of defense in 2000.

"They understand that Iran is a threat to them all," he said. "There is a convergence of interest evolving and you can find that Israel is not being seen as the adversary."

With Iran funding Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Syria, there was a need to focus on the "center" when looking to find the catalyst for instability in the Middle East, Cohen said.

"The prospect of Iran getting nuclear weapons changes the dynamics in the region with great impact for rest of world," he said. "We try to seek ways that the Gulf states can cooperate with the US. They are not yet ready to announce diplomatic relations with Israel but the sentiment is shifting and they understand that Iran is the major threat to them and not Israel."


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Erbil, 26 April (AKI) - An Italian company has won a 40 million dollar contract with the Kurdistan regional government for an overhaul of the electricity system in the two main power plants in the region, at Dokan and Darbandikhan. The ministry of electricity has chosen ELC-Electroconsult a global consulting engineering company, for the World Bank-funded scheme. "It is one of the biggest projects of the ministry in recent decades," a spokesman told Adnkronos International (AKI).

He added that at the signing ceremony the minister reaffirmed "the urgent need of Kurdistan for similar investment projects in various sectors but especially in electricity given the major problems the region has in this field."

"He appealed to Italian companies to invest in Kurdistan where the environment is ideal for this sort of activity," the press officer added.

During his recent visit to Italy, the president of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, urged the government to "press Italian firms to promote strategic investment projects in Iraqi Kurdistan" stressing the "willingness of the regional government to provide all the neccessary support to investors."

The two hydroelectric plants of Dokan and Darbandikhan were built by the Russians in the 1950s but in recent years the deterioration of the original strucutre has led to a series of problems.

Electroconsult was established in 1955, with the objective of making available on the international scene the expertise accumulated over the years by two major Italian private firms leading and pioneering since 1930 in the planning, design and construction of hydropower schemes in the Alps mountain range of Northern Italy.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

‘Dry run’ attack forces Prince Harry retreat

Army chiefs fear that a fatal attack on two British soldiers in Iraq last week was a dry run for an attempt on Prince Harry’s life, The Times has learnt.

The attack was made on a type of vehicle that the Prince will use, and took place in a part of the country where he is due to be deployed as early as next month. The two died when their Scimitar reconnaissance vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb – the first time that British soldiers had been killed in a Scimitar as a result of enemy action.

The Army fears that extremists deliberately chose the vehicle knowing that the Prince is a troop leader for a Scimitar-equipped unit.

Prince Harry faces a kidnap threat from insurgents, who have become active this month even within bases used by the British Army in southern Iraq. Security has been tightened at Camp Sparrowhawk, a base in Maysan Province used by reconnaissance units such as Prince Harry’s.

British soldiers are under orders not to walk around the Iraqi-run base for fear of kidnapping, either by insurgents who have infiltrated Iraqi ranks, or by Iraqi soldiers who are tempted by the possibility of ransom.

A British commanding officer at the base also said that insurgents were “trying out new devices” against his troops. He added that his men were often being tracked by militias using mobile phones and by observers on motorbikes.

The eleventh-hour review about sending Prince Harry to the area follows an alarming rise in attacks this year. Of the 17 British personnel to be killed in 2007, 11 died in the last month. Prince Harry, 22, has been trained to take command of four Scimitars when his unit, A Squadron The Blues and Royals, part of the Household Cavalry, is sent to Iraq.

The two soldiers who died in last week’s attack were Corporal Ben Leaning, 24, and Trooper Kristen Turton, 28, both from The Queen’s Royal Lancers. Their bodies were repatriated to Britain yesterday. Another soldier was very seriously wounded.

The attack has also raised further concerns that the presence of Prince Harry might increase the risk of casualties during his six-month deployment.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army who made the decision to send Prince Harry to Iraq after consultation with Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, will make the final judgment. He has about a week to decide whether to stick to his original decision or to keep him at home.

The Ministry of Defence and royal sources said that at present Prince Harry was still bound for Iraq, unless General Dannatt changed his mind.

Defence sources said that every aspect of Prince Harry’s deployment was being reassessed, and that the military and intelligence services in Iraq had been asked urgently to give their views.

They added that General Dannatt wanted to know if the insurgents had acquired a greater capability to attack British troops, if there would be a higher risk of casualties with the Prince serving as an officer, and if security conditions had significantly deteriorated since the earlier decision in February.

One of the key judgments is whether Prince Harry can do the job for which he is trained without putting himself and his men at an unacceptable risk. Defence sources said that the Prince – known in the Army as 2nd Lieutenant (Cornet) Wales – would not be spending all his time in a Scimitar vehicle carrying out operations.

“Like any other officer of his rank, he will also be required to do desk work, either as a watch-keeper or planning missions, so he will spend some of his time back at base anyway,” one source said.

However, the judgment is that there is no point in sending Prince Harry to do a permanent desk job for six months when he has trained to command 11 men as a troop leader in a reconnaissance role.

Even sitting in a base has become risky as every location where British soldiers are serving comes under fire almost daily. “Nowhere is perfectly safe in Iraq,” one defence source admitted.

But the current intelligence judgment is that the insurgents have not acquired a new capability that made it easier for them to target British units, or to close in on Prince Harry’s squadron.

Royal sources made it clear that the final decision was in the hands of the Army. They said that he was still eager to go and that he would be “extremely disappointed” if the decision was reversed.

They dismissed claims from inside the Household Cavalry that he would quit the Army if he was barred from going to Iraq. “Prince Harry is a grown-up and he’ll take whatever the decision is, but he wants to go to Iraq, and to say he would quit the Army if he didn’t is way too strong,” one said.

Friends of the Prince confirmed that he had no intention of resigning his commission.

Defence sources said that the review of the decision would continue “right up until Prince Harry is due to leave for Iraq”.

the times

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Somalia says it has defeated insurgents

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Somalia's prime minister claimed victory Thursday over Islamic insurgents in Mogadishu, where nine days of battles using tanks and artillery left hundreds dead.

Western diplomats were skeptical of the claim. The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of damaging relations with Somalia's interim government, said the insurgents had suffered many casualties and were running low on ammunition, but were not yet defeated.

Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said government forces and their Ethiopian allies had captured an insurgent stronghold in the northern part of the capital and that more than 100 fighters had surrendered. He said the city should be secure by Friday.

"We have won the fighting against the insurgents," Gedi told The Associated Press by telephone from Mogadishu, saying that small, mopping-up operations were still under way. "The worst of the fighting in the city is now over."

Machine gun and artillery fire could still be heard in the south of Mogadishu, a coastal city of 2 million people. An estimated 340,000 Somalis have fled the city's worst fighting in 15 years.

"People can now return to their homes," Gedi said. "The rest of the fighting will be over soon. We have captured the stronghold of the terrorists. We will capture any terrorists who have escaped."

The insurgents are linked to the Council of Islamic Courts, which was driven from power in December by Somali and Ethiopian soldiers, accompanied by U.S. special forces. The U.S. has accused the courts of having ties to al-Qaida.

The militants reject any secular government, and have sworn to fight until Somalia becomes an Islamic emirate.

Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then battled each other. A national government was established in 2004 with U.N. help, but it has failed to assert any real control.


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Jordan: Man arrested for honor killing of sister

Jordanian authorities arrested a man accused of killing his 30-year-old sister on suspicion that she had a love affair, even though he had earlier signed a pledge to the police that he would not harm her, a police official said Thursday.

The crime, which took place in the eastern industrial city of Zarqa on Wednesday, brings to eight the total number of women killed since January in what is known as "honor crimes."

An average of 20 women are killed by male relatives each year in Jordan, a largely conservative Muslim society where men have the final say in all family matters. Many here consider sex out of wedlock an indelible stain on a family's reputation. Some women in conservative circles of the society have been killed simply for dating.

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Iran: US seeks to undermine regime

A top security official accused the United States Thursday of seeking to undermine Iran's clerical regime by stoking sectarian and ethnic tensions in the country and using newspapers and non-governmental agencies toward that goal.

"A soft threat is the main plan of the US due to its incapability to launch a military operation [against Iran,]" Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

Zolqadr, whose comments came in a speech he made in Iran's Kurdistan province, said, "The threat is being implemented through the creation of instability and tension inside Iran as well as fanning ethnic and sectarian differences."

"The threat is being implemented through the creation of instability and tension inside Iran as well as fanning ethnic and sectarian differences," said Zolqadr.

Earlier Thursday, he said that his country would attack Israel and American targets throughout the world if Teheran were attacked over its nuclear program, Israel Radio reported.

According to the official Iranian news agency, the official, who deals with defense issues, said that no American would be safe from Iran's long-range missiles.

"We are prepared to fire tens of thousands of these missiles every day," he said.

He added that the Shahab 3 missiles, which have a range of some 2,000 kilometers, could hit Israel, as well as US Army bases in the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, expressed a more positive view of the situation, saying Thursday morning that Wednesday's talks with EU Foreign Police Chief Javier Solana had brought them closer to "a united view" of how to break a deadlock over Teheran's defiance of a UN Security Council demand to freeze uranium enrichment.

Larijani added that Iran was "aiming to reach out for a common paradigm."

The two reported progress after their six-hour meeting on Wednesday evening, and planned to meet again in two weeks' time.

"We had a good meeting," Solana told reporters. "We cannot make miracles, but we tried to move...the [nuclear] dossier forward."


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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

US considering athlete exchange program with Iran

The US Olympic Committee is in preliminary talks with Iran to bring a few of that country's rowers and wrestlers to the United States to train for the 2008 Beijing Games.

The USOC has similar exchange agreements in place with many countries, including China. The US brought Iraqi boxers, wrestlers and archers to the country before the 2004 Olympics and could strike another deal with Iraq for this Olympic cycle.

The USOC is working with the US State Department on the negotiations with Iran, which are "in the very early stages of development," USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said.

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Two Chinese companies deny dealings with Iran, Syria

BEIJING, China(AFP) - Two Chinese companies, hit with fresh US sanctions aimed at stopping banned military dealings with Iran and Syria, denied Tuesday that they were doing business with the two nations.

"We don't have any military dealings with either Iran or Syria," Wang Qing, secretary of manager of Beijing-based China National Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation, told AFP.

The Zibo Chemet Equipment Company (China), another company that is targeted by the sanctions announced by Washington on Monday, also denied any involvement.

"We used to have a little business with Iran and Syria, but no more now," said an official surnamed Wang, with the international trading department of the company that is based in the eastern province of Shandong.

The Shanghai Non-Ferrous Metals Pudong Development Trade Company, the last Chinese company on the list, was not immediately available for comment.

The three firms, along with another 11 entities from various countries, were accused by Washington of transferring to or buying from Iran or Syria materials related to cruise or ballistic missile systems or weapons of mass destruction.

Under the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act, the 14 are barred from doing business with or receiving aid from any US government agencies for two years.

US State Department officials refused to elaborate on specific charges against any of the named entities, saying this could reveal classified intelligence information.

The two Chinese firms contacted by AFP said they had not been officially informed of the new sanctions.

But Wang from China National Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation said his company was already the subject of previous sanctions from the United States.

"We have been on their list for a long time. The old sanctions are not over yet. (The sanctions) hurt our business," Wang said.

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Two Types of Splinter Groups Break from Moqtada al-Sadr

By Babak Rahimi

Moqtada al-Sadr
The recent rise of Sadrist splinter groups is a sign of a major shakeup in the Sadrist movement, so far mainly dominated by Moqtada al-Sadr. These splinter groups represent a deep-seated change in the Sadrist faction in both ideological and militaristic terms, which could have major implications for the future of Iraq. The increase in the number of these splinter groups since 2005 is mainly due to al-Sadr's growing relations with the Iraqi government and Tehran. These groups view al-Sadr as a traitor who has forsaken his father's stance against foreign threats for personal and political gain. The participation of al-Sadr's representatives in parliament and his flirtation with Tehran since 2005 have directly led to the creation of two distinct breakaway groups. These two groups are millenarian-cultic in ideology and gang-like in the organizational sense. They are mostly formed in such locations as Baghdad and southern Iraq and are made up of young men who maintain anti-occupation or anti-Sunni sentiments.

The followers of Abu Maha and Ismael al-Zerjawi represent the first type of Sadrist splinter groups (Terrorism Focus, October 10, 2006; Terrorism Monitor, November 16, 2006). They are the most anti-Sunni faction of the Sadrists, who broke away from al-Sadr primarily after the increase of sectarian tensions in 2005 (although some even splintered earlier). These groups can be found largely in Sadr City, where most of the Sunni-Shiite fighting takes place. Al-Zerjawi, also known as Abu Deraa, is best known for his attacks on the Sunni district of Adhamiya in northern Baghdad (Terrorism Monitor, November 16, 2006). Other Mahdi Army officers, like Hassan Salim and Haj Shimel, are veterans of the 2004 Sadrist uprising in Najaf against U.S. forces. These former commanders all maintain anti-occupation and anti-Sunni ideologies with an on-the-field military background.

The second type of splinter group, such as the Hussain Army, led by Mahmud al-Hassani Sarkhi, and the shadowy cult of Dhia Abdul Zahra and his Soldiers of Heaven, is the most cultic and sectarian. As Mahdistic movements, these groups are mainly led by young or middle-aged clerics who seek to overcome any form of Shiite orthodoxy, with claims to worldly power through military force. The origin of these groups dates back to the late 1990s after the death of Moqtada's father, Ayatollah Sadeq al-Sadr, who is believed to have been the most perfect representative of the Hidden Imam on earth. The bases of these groups are primarily located in southern cities such as Karbala and Basra, which have long histories of millenarian-mystical movements with anti-establishment ideologies. They represent the most anti-Iranian and Arab nationalistic currents in the Sadrist splinter groups as they vie for followers among both the tribal and urban population of southern Iraq. It is interesting to note that Sarkhi has also found followers in Iran, despite his anti-Iranianism. The conservative clerical establishment in Iran, however, identifies Sarkhi as a false representative of the Mahdi and even as an Israeli agent (Baztab, May 17, 2006).

The implication of the growing rise of these movements is complicated. First and foremost, these splinter groups can cause major instability in the Sadrist movement that is being gradually pacified by the Najaf clerical establishment. As members of the Mahdi Army break ranks and join these new groups, al-Sadr begins to lose more control of his followers and lessens the prospect of containing his movement within the boundaries of the Iraqi political process. Second, these groups can also unleash a major attack on the Shiite orthodoxy in Najaf, creating new cultic and sectarian movements in the Shiite community of Iraq that could lead to a new religious civil war.

The Najaf clerical establishment will most certainly play a major role in quashing these groups, as it did in January when, on the eve of one of the holiest days in the Shiite calendar, Ashura, the followers of Zahra were crushed by Iraqi and U.S. forces, tipped off by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's informants who had infiltrated the group (author interview with a seminary student in Qom, January 29). The key is to recognize that this new phenomenon is an internal Shiite problem and that the clerical establishment in Najaf is best prepared to match the rise of these splinter groups.

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Mapping the electronic jihad

In the wake of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, as al-Qaida and other jihadist groups lost their physical center, they turned to the internet to provide a virtual hub of communications, coordination, exchange and outreach. Simultaneously, a wave of radicalism surged through the Muslim world. Those swept up by it searched for portals into the world of radical Islam. The internet provided the access they sought. From RSIS.

By Rebecca Givner-Forbes and Clay Shwery for RSIS (25/04/07)

Jihadists stoked this support from hideouts and battlegrounds, flooding newly-created web forums with propaganda, statements, interviews and news from the field. What arose was an online jihadi presence, dynamic and energetic, which served to fill part of the gap left by the loss of a physical centre and to satisfy the new requirements of the burgeoning worldwide ideological movement.

A small, exclusive group of Arabic-language websites now forms the core of this virtual community. These forums serve as the point of interaction for active members and passive supporters worldwide. A crucial sense of community is fostered within these spaces, with members signing on daily to discuss the ongoing trials and tribulations of the international Jihad, develop consensus on current events, engage in theological debates, and even plan hypothetical attacks. This presence, dubbed "the Electronic Jihad" by its members, is fast coalescing into a virtual community of believers, steadily growing in strength, influence, and technological sophistication, and now proving as indispensable to the global jihadi movement as are guns and bombs.

While it was possible to identify this community in virtual space, the physical distribution of its membership remained a mystery. Some analysts speculated that the community was likely concentrated in European countries, where there are large Muslim communities and high internet penetration. Others pointed to the religiously conservative but technologically modern Persian Gulf states. Meanwhile, content analysis hinted at the possibility of a far-flung global distribution of membership. But speculation and content analysis had extensive limitations, and hard data on the geographic distribution of jihadi website visitors remained elusive.

A new, publicly available online tool now allows for a better assessment of where the members of this virtual jihadi community are physically located. This tool - the traffic-tracking website www.alexa.com - extrapolates from a smaller sample a general approximation of the distribution of the visitors to a given website. Running this tool against the URLs of the primary websites of the Electronic Jihad provides a basic breakdown of their traffic.
Debunking old theories

Analysis performed using alexa.com debunks previous theories. It shows that the bulk of visits to jihadi websites come from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – not the Diaspora communities of Europe. Nor are they significantly concentrated in the Persian Gulf states. However, the data also show that, though the majority may be located in the MENA region, at least forty countries on every inhabited continent have some representation in this truly global virtual community.

In an analysis of 10 of the most influential and important jihadi web forums, we observed that 78.1 percent of visits came from Middle Eastern and North African countries. Visits from nations in the Americas were at a distant second, at around 5.9 percent. Visits originating in European countries made up 4.8 percent of the total. Only 1.4 percent of visits to jihadi websites came from East Asia. Roughly 1.5 percent came from Pakistan, and another 1 percent from Australia (the remaining came from countries whose visit numbers on each site were too small to produce data in the alexa.com program).

Because data were unavailable for a significant portion of the traffic (see text box), this picture of distribution represents only a rough approximation. Still, it is more information than has been available previously, when analysis of the visitors to a given website was a painstaking matter of mining content for colloquialisms specific to the dialects of certain regions, or references to specific locations, currencies, or commercial products – a process which failed to yield enough data for an overview of distribution. The data gleaned from the Alexa analysis, rough though it is, lends some contour to the fuzzy image of this mysterious community, even if it cannot provide a precise picture.

In addition to analyzing the distribution of extremist website traffic, we also studied the relative user activity for individual countries. To do so, we calculated an estimate of the total number of unique visitors per country for each website. Numbers of visits to different websites were summed up by country to obtain a number of total visits to all the included extremist websites for each country. (Because unique users to one website could access multiple included sites, this activity metric is a measurement of visits, not visitors). We divided each number by the total amount of Internet users for the same country, in order to obtain that country's measure of activity. This measurement of activity is presented as number of visits to extremist websites per hundred users, or visits/100 users. (The calculation of this activity metric relies on estimated Internet populations of different countries, and because of this our presented activity measurements should be treated as estimations.)
Intensity of users

The results of these measurements were illuminating. The Palestinian Territories displayed an activity level of 15.72 visits per 100 users. This level of activity is extraordinarily high; no other country exhibited a level higher than 11 percent of this amount. This finding is startling given that the Palestinian Territories lack an established Salafi-Jihadi organization.

The activity measurements for most MENA countries were high. Only Israel, Libya and Turkey exhibited activity levels of less than .1 visits/100 users (or 1 visit per 1,000 users). For comparison, this threshold of 1 visit per 1,000 users was broken only once by a country outside the MENA region (in Panama, which exhibited 2.2 hits per 1,000 users).

In addition to the Palestinian Territories, high activity measurements were found in Jordan (1.72 visits/100 users), Qatar (1.05 visits/100 users), Kuwait (1.02 visits/100 users), Bahrain (.88 visits/100 users), Saudi Arabia (.65 visits/100 users), United Arab Emirates (.59 visits/100 users), Yemen (.51 visits/100 users) and Algeria (.48 visits/100 users).

The Palestinian Territories also topped the list in terms of absolute number of visits, in spite of their small population and relatively low Internet penetration. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan follow the Palestinian Territories in contributing the most visits to the websites analyzed. In East Asia, Indonesia, followed by Malaysia, has the most visitors to jihadist sites, followed by China and Japan. The US and the UK both showed significant traffic for non-Muslim countries, comprising 3.97 percent and .97 percent, respectively, of total traffic to extremist websites.

The near exclusive use of the Arabic language in these significant jihadi websites likely accounts for the concentration of activity in the Middle East and North Africa. But with a reach to more than 40 countries, the virtual community within these ten influential sites assumes a global significance. The international jihadi movement's use of the internet to fuel the exchange of ideological expansion and its corresponding influx of support will increase the vulnerability of many countries to the appeal of extremism.

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Hezbollah Training in North Korea

Hezbollah is currently re-constituting its resources with support from Iran and North Korea.

According to security service sources in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, paid a four-day visit to Tehran starting on April 2. He was accompanied by his political adviser, Hussein Khalil (IOL 537) and Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Hassan Akhtari. Nasrallah met with Iran’s spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei; president Mahmud Ahmadinejad; the commander in chief of the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdarans), gen. Yehia Rahim Safavi; the army chief-of-staff, gen. Hossein Firuzabadi; and Ali Larijani, secretary-general of Iran’s National Security Council.

The talks focussed essentially on a reorganization of Hezbollah’s military wing following the conflict with Israel last summer. Iran reportedly pledged to deliver new medium-range missiles to Hezbollah, such as the Al Fateh 110 (170-200 km), reputed to be more accurate than Zalzal missiles. Sam 7 and a few Stinger missiles recovered in Afghanistan will give Hezbollah some anti-aircraft cover as well.

Elsewhere, the Pasdaran leadership confirmed it had reached an agreement with Pyongyang to allow around 100 Hezbollah field commanders to attend training courses in North Korea. Some Hezbollah personnel arrived in North Korea in February for training in commando tactics with Pyongyang’s special forces and to bone up on intelligence and counter-espionage methods.

Indeed, Hezbollah’s new military format calls for each chief in a military zone to also act as head of security and counter-espionage. During the clash last summer, Hezbollah suffered greatly from a separation of military and intelligence functions.

Relations between Hezbollah and the North Korean regime date back some years. In September, for instance, Intelligence Online (IOL 529) revealed Hezbollah had learned the bunker strategy it used to resist Israeli attacks in North Korea.

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How Iran Bankrolls its Projects

Western intelligence agencies are taking a close look on how Iran finances its major energy projects.

One of the mainstays of the funding effort is a Jersey-based Iranian firm Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO), which set up its leading establishment at Pully near Lausanne in Switzerland in 2002. An affiliate of the National Iranian Oil Company, it has been run since 1999 by Majid Razavi Hedayatzadeh, former Iranian envoy to Rome where he formed tight ties with ENI. NICO, which enjoys large credit lines with major banks such as France’s BNP Paribas and Calyon and Japan’s JBIC, played a big part in financing the South Pars gas fields. It has just announced that it will shortly award three contracts for the Azadegan oil project near the border with Iraq and claimed the deals would be worth a total of USD 95 billion.That announcement, however, is certainly premature because of the strong pressing the U.S. is bringing to bear on international banks. In that context, NICO could be tempted to call on lesser- known banks with which it has worked in the past, like BLOM Bank in Lebanon, to put up part of the finance.

BLOM is run by Syria’s Azhari family, which holds a majority stake in the bank, and has long been entrenched in Geneva, Paris (its affiliate in the French capital, Banorabe, was formed in 1976), London, Dubai, Damas, Amman and elsewhere. Among prominent persons sitting on its board is the Saudi businessman of Turkish origin, Ghassan Ibrahim Shaker, who holds a high French distinction, remains close to the Saudi royal family and serves as personal consultant to the ruler of Oman, sultan Qaboos Bin Sayed (he is also Oman’s ambassador to London and Geneva).

One way of avoiding pressure on banks has been to conduct clearing operations between several capitals and a number of big international groups. A number of such operations have involved a highly discreet Iranian businesswomen who divides her time between Paris and London, Shakira Zanganeh. The wife of Adnan Khashoggi, she acts on behalf of several major European groups. Her father was one of the heroes of the Iranian revolution and she is related to a former Iran oil minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh (he held the post until 2006). The latter, like Hedayatrzadeh, is a stalwart supporter of the powerful chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, Akbar Hashemi Rafsandjani.


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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Spinning the Fighting in South Waziristan

Musharraf's government continues to promote its dangerous "peace deals."
by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Bill Roggio

THE PAKISTANI GOVERNMENT has entered into two agreements in the past seven months that promise to destabilize Afghanistan and provide a haven for terrorists to plan and train for catastrophic attacks.

Under the September 2006 Waziristan Accord, Pakistan agreed that its military would no longer operate in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan; since this left the Taliban and al Qaeda free to recruit, train, arm, and send fighters into Afghanistan, the security situation in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan unsurprisingly deteriorated. On March 17, Pakistan entered a disturbingly similar agreement--handing the Bajaur agency over to Taliban-aligned tribes. But recent events show that Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's government is intent on spinning both accords as successes.

There are somewhere between a few hundred to around a thousand militants from Central Asian republics in South Waziristan. On March 6, some of them were involved in a skirmish that saw a pro-government tribal leader clash with a group of Uzbeks and their Taliban supporters in a South Waziristan bazaar. The fighting left seventeen Uzbeks and a tribesman dead. Two weeks later, a local Taliban commander named Mullah Nazir entered the fray after accusations that the Uzbeks had killed a mid-level al Qaeda commander in his care named Saiful Asad. Why the Uzbeks killed Asad is unknown, but observers suggest there may have been a criminal dimension at play since Asad was known as a moneyman.

Perversely, Pakistan quickly painted Mullah Nazir's retaliatory attacks on behalf of an al Qaeda confederate as proof of the
Waziristan Accord's success--and the gullible international media echoed Pakistan's claims.

Shortly after Mullah Nazir became involved in the fighting, Pakistani interior minister Aftab Sherpao told the media that the bloodshed was "the result of the agreements the government made with tribal people in which they pledged to expel foreigners and now they are doing it." The Pakistani newspaper the Nation echoed Sherpao's spin, noting that "Islamabad says the offensive by about 1,000 conservative local tribesmen will cut cross-border attacks in Afghanistan, and shows the success of a peace deal in the South Waziristan Agency that was criticised by the West." Western journalists likewise repeated the line that the fighting stemmed from the tribes' desire to eject foreign militants from Pakistani soil.

Islamabad's spin is implausible and, in fact, dangerous. This is an internal conflict fueled by tribal rivalries, the Uzbeks' murder of al Qaeda agents, a disagreement in strategic priorities, and land. It was the combination of these factors that gave Mullah Nazir the impetus to fight.

The first of these factors, an inter-Taliban power struggle, centers on the rivalry between Mullah Nazir and a Taliban commander known as Mullah Omar (but not the Mullah Omar). The two have been at odds since Mullah Nazir replaced Mullah Omar as head of the Ahmadzai tribe--both because of Mullah Nazir's usurpation and also preexisting clan rivalries.

The rivalry between the two men was inflamed when the Uzbeks, with whom Mullah Omar had aligned himself, killed Arab al Qaeda operative Saiful Asad. The Uzbeks also reportedly killed Sheikh Asadullah, a Saudi who was described as "the moneybags in the entire tribal belt," although it isn't known when this killing took place. Mullah Nazir was incensed by these killings, as both men were under his care when their lives were taken.

A third factor is that the Uzbeks had different strategic priorities than the local Taliban and their tribal allies. While the tribes are eager to engage U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the Uzbeks prefer to fight the "near enemy" rather than the "far enemy": they want to engage the Pakistani government. This worried the Taliban, backed by Mullah Nazir, because attacks on the government could draw unwanted attention. They figured that Pakistan's government might only turn a blind eye to jihadist violence if that violence focused outward on Afghanistan, Kashmir, or India--not on Pakistan itself.

Fourth, the fighting may be a land grab. The tribal areas are essentially set up as a feudal society, with land serving as a key component of local power. Journalist Mobarak Ali told the Pakistani press, "I have heard of the Uzbeks and Tajiks holding large properties of which some were bought, some gifted by the local people who entered into relations with them, while some were taken forcibly." Ali said that one bone of contention between the Uzbeks and locals may be these properties, which some Uzbeks developed into model farms.

These four factors best explain the recent skirmishes in South Waziristan. The only party to argue that a general desire to push foreign fighters out of Waziristan was a factor is the Musharraf regime.

That argument does not withstand scrutiny. Although Mullah Nazir's tribesmen declared a jihad against some Uzbeks and their local supporters in South Waziristan, Arab al Qaeda were not included in this jihad--and the tribesmen didn't
even target all Uzbeks in the area. Pakistan's News International notes that the tribesmen are only fighting what they describe as the "bad Uzbeks," rather than the "good Uzbeks."

The bad Uzbeks are part of the Islamic Jihad Group, a faction that splintered from the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in 2004. Islamic Jihad Group militants in Waziristan are intent on fighting the "near enemy," including Pakistan's government, rather than U.S. and Coalition forces.

And the good Uzbeks? Rather than being part of the Islamic Jihad Group, they are affiliated with the main IMU, led by Tahir Yuldashev. This faction has closely aligned itself with al Qaeda and the Taliban. Yuldashev is believed to sit on al Qaeda's global shura council and maintains tactical control of about 500 fighters in Pakistan. Intelligence sources believe that some of these fighters serve on the Black Guard, bin Laden's personal corps of bodyguards. Yuldashev enjoys a close relationship with bin Laden, and his strategic preferences align with Mullah Nazir's: he also supports attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan. The fact that these are the "good Uzbeks" undermines Pakistan's claims about the recent fighting.

Moreover, Mullah Nazir's relationships with various al Qaeda operatives shows that he's not trying to drive Arab al Qaeda fighters from Waziristan. He has been a known ally of operatives Asad, Asadullah, and Khadr Al Kanadi, who had worked with al Qaeda for more than a decade and was reportedly one of Osama bin Laden's closer associates.

When the Pakistani government intervenes militarily to aid Mullah Nazir, it isn't helping the tribes push Islamic militants out of the country. Instead, the intervention is the equivalent of the U.S. government fighting the Tattaglias on the Corleones' behalf.

But, one might ask, isn't it good that the Taliban tribes and al Qaeda-aligned Uzbeks are fighting each other? Shouldn't we celebrate this schism? The answer is that the fighting is a positive turn for us, but the long-term impact may be relatively insignificant to al Qaeda. Like an internal mafia war, one family rises to the top in the end and the criminal enterprise continues.

But there is a real danger for the West. If the fighting is incorrectly viewed as a Waziristan Accord success story, it may lead some observers to believe that future Waziristan Accords are sustainable--and thus alleviate Western pressure to avoid such deals.


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Nine Chinese and 65 Ethiopians killed on Ethiopian oil field

Nine Chinese and 65 Ethiopian employees were killed on Tuesday in an attack by armed men on an oil field in eastern Ethiopia, a spokesman for Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told AFP.

About 200 unidentified gunmen launched an attack on the oil field in Somali state where China's Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau was exploring for oil, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The attackers engaged more than 100 soldiers protecting the field in a fierce 50 minute gun battle, the report said, citing Xu Shuang, the manager of Zhongyuan petroleum, a subsidiary of China's oil giant Sinopec.

The attack was also confirmed by China's embassy in Ethiopia, Xinhua said.

The oil field is located in Abole, a small town about 120 kilometres (75 miles) away from the Somali state capital of Jijiga, it said.

China has stepped up investment and exploration in African oil fields in recent years as its appetite for energy has boomed along with its growing economy.

Chinese workers have also been plagued by a spate of killings and kidnappings in Nigeria in recent months where Beijing is also aggressively seeking to develop the nation's oil reserves.

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Criticism mounts over Iran headscarf crackdown

The police force were facing increasing criticism on Tuesday for their handling of a nationwide crackdown aimed at making women abide by Iran's Islamic dress code.

Thousands of women have been warned and hundreds arrested for wearing overly loose headscarves or excessively tight coats, prompting warnings in the press that the authorities should be focusing on other economic priorities.

Even the overall head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who is appointed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged police against heavy-handed actions against women found to have broken the rules.

"Hauling women and young people to the police station will have no use except to cause damage to society," the reformist Etemad Melli newspaper quoted Shahroudi as telling a meeting of local governors.

"Tough measures on social problems will backfire and have counter-productive effects," he warned.

Witnesses have said that the drive, launched on Saturday, has not been universally popular on Tehran's streets, with parents of the women apprehended in particular unafraid of making their feelings clear to the police.

Reformist newspapers and the ISNA student news agency reported that 2,000 students at a prestigious university in the southern city of Shiraz staged a protest on Sunday night over new restrictions on conduct and clothing.

The protests were triggered by a new code of conduct banning the students from wearing shorts and sleeveless vests outside rooms in their strictly segregated dormitories and an extended curfew.

It is not clear whether the new directive was in line with the nationwide clampdown on dressing, which also applies to men.

Critics in the media also complained that the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had more important issues to deal with, citing the country's soaring inflation and high unemployment rates.

"Mr President, I wonder if what the police, supervised by your interior ministry, are doing to women stems from a misunderstanding?" asked Masih Alinejad, a columnist in the Etemad Melli daily.

"Or are people's major problems of injustice and poverty have been resolved?" he asked.

Alinejad recalled that Ahmadinejad asked during his 2005 electoral campaign whether the problem "in our country was two strands of women's hair or fighting poverty, creating jobs and implementing justice?"

Two-thirds of Iran's 70-million population is under 30 and the official unemployment rate stands at about 11 percent. Economists have warned against rising inflation, estimated to hit 24 percent in the current Iranian year.

Even the hardline daily Kayhan said that "being badly-veiled is not the only vice" in the country.

"There are major vices such as going to bed hungry, being deprived of higher education, unemployment and the inability of a large number of people to provide for their basic needs," it said.

"The officials should prove they have plans to resolve these as well," wrote Kayhan, whose chief editor in also appointed by Khamenei.

Some conservatives have applauded the crackdown as important at a time when many women are pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable by showing off naked ankles and fashionably styled hair beneath their headscarves.

But Ahmadinejad's government on Tuesday sought to distance itself from the clampdown, which it said was being carried out by police as "agents of the judiciary".

"The police work as agents of the judiciary to confront crimes. The government as an executive body does not interfere in the affairs of the judiciary," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.

Iran has issued 3,500 warnings nationwide and detained around 200 women in the new drive launched on Saturday, according to the latest police figures quoted by local media.

The campaign is aimed primarily at women seen to infringe the rules of covering their heads and bodily contours that have been in place since the Islamic revolution in 1979.


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Turkey's military prepares for May invasion of N. Iraq

ANKARA — Turkey has drafted plans for a major military operation in northern Iraq within days or weeks.

On April 20, Turkey's NTV television said the Turkish military has set a "specific timetable" for the offensive against the Kurdish Workers Party in Iraq. NTV said the proposed force would attack PKK camps in the Kandil mountains.
Turkish sources said a force of at least 10,000 troops, backed by main battle tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, was being formed for the invasion. They said the operation could take place in May.

NTV said the military would monitor the PKK insurgency campaign until May. At that point, the military would be ready to send forces into Iraq.

Over the last two weeks, Turkish military commanders have been urging the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to approve an offensive against the PKK. The commanders were said to have assessed that U.S. efforts to block PKK activities in northern Iraq failed.

At this point, the Erdogan government has refused to approve the invasion. Instead, the military was being allowed to operate along the Iraqi border.

A senior Turkish official, however, discussed the prospect of an invasion of northern Iraq with the Bush administration. Turkish coordinator of Kurdish affairs, Adip Bashar, was said to have told the administration that Turkey would wait till the end of April before deciding on the invasion.

The Turkish military has assessed that about 500 PKK operatives were in secret bases in southeastern Turkey. Another 5,000 have crossed into Turkey from Iraq and were attacking Turkish troops and police.

world tribune

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Russia to build eight nuclear submarines by 2017

MOSCOW: Russia will build eight nuclear submarines armed with Bulava intercontinental missiles by 2017, junior Defence Minister Alexi Moskovski said Sunday as the first of them was launched.

"Seven submarines of the Borei (type 955) will be built and launched by the navy between now and 2015. The eighth will be received in 2017," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

The Yuri Dolgoruky submarine, launched at the northwestern naval base of Severodvinsk, is the first strategic nuclear submarine built in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Bulava missiles can carry 10 nuclear warheads with a range of up to 8,000 kilometres (5,000 miles).

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Iraq economy: Kurdish promise


You would be hard pushed to find an area keener on attracting foreign investors than Iraqi Kurdistan. The region is almost entirely dependent on imports, as the authorities search for ways to rebuild an economic base that was all but destroyed during the Anfal campaign of Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s.

Local industry and, especially, agriculture (once the dominant employer in Kurdistan) were all but annihilated by the time Kurdistan gained its autonomy in late 1991. Large parts of the local population had been forcibly evicted from their razed villages to the towns by Saddam, and subsequently employed in the public sector in an effort to ensure their dependence on Baghdad (even now some 1.1m people out of the Kurdistan population of 5m still work in the public sector). Meanwhile, infrastructure was left to deteriorate, and several universities and schools closed. From such an unpromising beginning, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was born, comprising the three governorates of Dohuk, Erbil (the regional capital) and Suleimaniyah. A civil war between the two main Iraqi Kurdish parties--the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)--between 1994 and 1996 hardly helped matters, and led to a splitting of the administration into their respective strongholds in Erbil and Suleimaniyah. Since that time, however, the region's fortunes have revived, as the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the descent into anarchy in Baghdad and much of central Iraq, combined with a rapprochement between the PUK and the KDP (most state ministries are now merged and located in Erbil), has seen the KRG area emerge as a relative haven of stability.


This has allowed the KRG to project itself as a "gateway to Iraq", aiming to draw in foreign companies seeking to take advantage of the reconstruction opportunities in "Arab Iraq", but which are deterred by the lack of security throughout much of the rest of the country. However, even this is proving a challenge. Despite there having being only two bomb attacks in Kurdistan since the fall of Saddam in 2003, the region's image continues to suffer from the headline-grabbing horrors witnessed daily in other parts of the country, and Western officials and businessmen still often prefer to hire private security firms to ferry them around. Such attitudes exasperate some in the KRG--as well as the general public--and it is easy to sympathise with their frustration. At least in the cities, the Peshmerga maintain a reassuring, albeit somewhat pervasive, presence, and the locals are friendly, and, as such, Westerners are often seen walking unaccompanied.

The government has sought to supersede security concerns by passing one of the most foreigner-friendly investment laws in the entire Middle East. Under the investment law of 2006, foreigners not only enjoy some of the advantages on offer in various other Arab states--such as a ten-year tax holiday, and free repatriation of capital—they can also purchase land (for only a "symbolic" fee), which will be theirs for perpetuity. The law has been widely praised by both local and foreign businesses in the area, and, according to the head of the Board of Investment, Herish Muhamad, as of March some 17 firms had already registered. Yet his admission that most of these were connected to property projects highlights the unbalanced nature of the region's current economic recovery.

Real estate boom

The property sector in Kurdistan is booming. The massive US$1bn "Nishtiman" shopping mall is under construction in the centre of the Erbil, and a swathe of housing projects, including notably "Dream City" on the outskirts of the city, are presently in-build. A leading local businessman, Ahmed Rekami, whose US$20m "New City"--which boasts a shopping mall, and 52-room hotel--recently opened in the centre of town, likens the situation to Dubai in the 1990s. Indeed, the bullish Mr Rekami relates that he has turned down the opportunity to move to the emirate because the opportunities in Kurdistan are so vast.

Yet, with this economic upturn has come associated inflationary pressures--according to Professor Almas Heshmati, head of the department of economic and finance at the newly-constructed University of Kurdistan Hawler, house prices have doubled over the past few years--and Mr Rekami says that the price of cement has risen from US$50/tonne in 2003 to US$170/tonne. A new cement plant built by Egypt's Orascom Construction Industries (in partnership with the local Farouk Rasool Group) near Suleimaniyah is set to open in August, but this will provide only partial respite. In addition, not all the blame for inflation can be laid at the door of the property sector--intermittent influxes of budgetary cash from Baghdad cause sudden fluctuations in the money supply, and fuel prices have leapt because of a shortage of refined products (leading to a thriving black market). However, perhaps more importantly, it is not excess cash but the supremacy of cash that is holding back the Kurdistan economy at present.

Cash economy

The banking sector in Kurdistan is severely underdeveloped. Cash dominates, to such an extent that when asked what people buy their houses with, Adham Darwesh, the general manager of the Central Bank of Kurdistan, replied (through a translator): "piles of cash". In interviews, the trade and planning ministers, as well as the head of the investment board, all acknowledged the lack of a developed financial system as a serious hindrance. However, there may well be room for optimism. Although Mr Rekami's complaint that the banks offer little more than a money transference service may be true at present, the arrival of new foreign banks, including Dar Es Salam (80% owned by HSBC) and most recently Lebanon's Byblos Bank, should help increase capacity. The head of the investment board also revealed that another Lebanese bank, Bank Audi, is in negotiations about setting up in the region, and he argued that the banking situation will be "sorted out very soon". Achieving this will be crucial, and not just because of the extra support it will offer to private-sector ventures. The opacity associated with having to deal almost solely in cash can often prove a deterrent to foreign businessmen, and corruption in Kurdistan is a widely-acknowledged problem.

However, for those within Kurdistan, the most urgent need is for substantial foreign investment. The government is seeking foreign money to finance the huge infrastructure upgrades needed—including a proposed road linking all three of Kurdistan's main towns with their borders—and Mr Muhamad floated the intriguing option of "sharing management services" usually associated with the government, such as greater private-sector participation in the education sector, and even potentially PFIs in road and bridge construction. With the constitution confining sovereign debt issuance solely to the federal government, and the KRG allocated just 17% of federal oil revenue (after current spending)--the planning minister, Othman Shwani, among others, has argued that Kurdistan needs more, considering Saddam's legacy in the Kurdish areas—foreign money is desperately needed.

Local businessmen are extremely keen on forming partnerships with foreign firms, with Baz R. Karim, the president of local KAR Group, putting forward the argument that joint ventures are the most successful model for doing business in the country as a whole. His firm's record would seem to support his view, having completed a raft of projects across both the civil and oil sectors. For example, in partnership with USAID, the firm has supplied furniture to over 2,800 schools all over Iraq, successfully installed a fibre-optic cable in Baghdad and further north with Bechtel of the US, and says it is more than halfway through the US$175m Hamrin oilfield project, a joint venture with OGI Group of Canada, located south of Kirkuk. Yet finding sufficient foreign enthusiasm for such joint ventures is perhaps proving the greatest challenge.

Although Turkish firms have poured into Kurdistan over the past ten years, the much sought-after Western firms, with their up-to-date technology and high-quality products, have so far proved more reticent. Legal concerns have deterred the arrival of new oil firms--although five small- and medium-sized companies have signed contracts with the KRG--as the federal oil law awaits approval in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, security concerns also still appear to predominate, and not just among Western companies. Despite the warm words of Western governments towards the KRG, these sentiments do not seem to be shared by their visa offices. Dara Jalil al-Khaymat, the president of the Erbil Chamber of Commerce, highlighted EU countries' regular refusal to issue local businessmen with visas as a major impediment, while Mr Muhamad pointed out that one of his keynote official speakers could not attend a business forum in London because UK immigration had refused his visa request. Meanwhile, direct bilateral aid has been in short supply and often misdirected--a finance official in Suleimaniyah said that the area has received only US$80m from the US in direct aid, most of which was spent on police stations they did not want. A plan to set up two free zones in the region may help, although it is not entirely clear what extra incentives these could provide beyond those included in the Investment Law. As such, the KRG is still struggling to attract the Western firms and finance it so desperately needs. Although the old lament that the Kurds have "no friends but the mountains" may no longer be entirely true, it appears, at the moment at least, that some in Kurdistan still need convincing.

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Iran politics: Ahmadinejad's show


The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has enjoyed one of his finer moments of populist political theatre in announcing the release of the 15 British sailors and marines captured by Iranian naval forces on March 23rd. By taking charge of the issue, which had hitherto been handled with little evident authority by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Ahmadinejad has given the impression of mastery over key political decisions in Iran. However, the abrupt resolution of the affair could also signify that the radical wing of the Iranian regime, of which Mr Ahmadinejad is the figurehead, had been placed under pressure from other power centres anxious at the implications of a prolonged stand-off.

Softly softly

The original incident is likely to have been planned by Iran, or elements within the regime, with a number of objectives in mind. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which forms an important part of Mr Ahmadinejad's power base and whose naval units were involved in the capture of the British personnel, had good reason to take action of this kind as a means to bring pressure on the US for the release of five of its officers who were arrested in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Erbil in January. It has been suggested that the US operation may have been aimed at capturing two senior IRGC figures who had been in the area at the time. Other factors may have included the passage of fresh UN sanctions on Iran in light of its nuclear programme, with Iran intent on showing that it would not be passive in the face of this growing pressure on it to trim its nuclear policy. The incident could also be construed as an attempt by Mr Ahmadinejad to hit back at critics of his confrontational approach in both foreign and domestic policy.

The UK's initial reaction to the crisis was to assert in forceful terms that the Iranian action was illegitimate, as the interception took place in Iraqi waters, and to secure international support through the UN and the EU. Thereafter, the UK took a more subtle approach, perhaps heeding counsel from within Iran and, reportedly, from Syria that confrontation would merely play into the hands of Mr Ahmadinejad. While rejecting any notion of an apology, let alone a deal, the UK expressed "regret" that the incident had occurred. This left open the interpretation that it could have been the result of a misunderstanding. Iranian honour was also partially assuaged by the release of one of its diplomats, who had been abducted by Iraqis in Baghdad, and the Iraqi government said that it had asked the US to allow Iranian consular access to the five suspected IRGC officers arrested in Erbil.

Mr Ahmadinejad said that Iran had decided to release the British sailors and marines as a seasonal goodwill gesture, marking the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed and the impending arrival of Easter. On the occasion of his speech he also pinned medals on commanders of the IRGC coastguard, commending them for their valour in confronting the alleged UK incursion.

The decision to bring the affair to a rapid close could also have been influenced by concern that the deliberate, and illegitimate, nature of the original operation could have been exposed if proposals to set up an independent international commission of inquiry to adjudicate between the British and Iranian claims had been put into practice.

Mr Ahmadinejad has once more shown his flair for the occasion, but it is by no means clear that he has advanced his cause within the Iranian political system. Iran's professional diplomats, by contrast, have offered a hint of flexibility in their dealings with the crisis, which could yet prove to be significant as the wider disputes over the nuclear programme and Iran's regional role develop.

The Economist Intelligence Unit

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Fears That New Chinese Warhead Could Seep into Iraq

By John C.k. Daly
Two months ago, Chinese arms company Xinshidai (New Era) displayed its latest weapons products at the International Defense Exhibition arms show in Abu Dhabi, seeking to establish its own niche in the world's lucrative arms market. Xinshidai is a conglomerate of several Chinese state-run armament manufacturing enterprises. Given Xinshidai's interest in expanding its presence in the Middle Eastern market and its ties to Iran, the possibility exists that weaponry sold to the region could "bleed" into Iraq. Xinshidai's prior record of flouting international regulations on arms trafficking makes it unlikely that the company would insist on tight export controls. Especially worrying is that the company has reportedly developed a thermo-baric fuel air explosive warhead for the RPG-7 handheld anti-tank grenade launcher; the warhead is known as the WPF 2004.

Xinshidai's new shoulder-fired warhead weighs seven pounds and has a reported accuracy range of 650 feet (International Defense Review, March 16). The new missile warheads would allow users an increased capability not only against buildings, but also against forces deployed in bunkers or underground facilities. The warhead's explosive potential is far greater than a conventional round and could collapse a multi-story building while killing all inside. Since the Middle East is now China's fourth largest trading partner, and given Xinshidai's past role in illicit arms sales, it is possible that the new weaponry will eventually emerge in Iraq and be used against U.S. forces. Indeed, in September 2004, the U.S. Federal Register announced that Xinshidai was to be subjected to two years of U.S. sanctions for illicit sales of missiles and related goods to Iran.

The Russian-made RPG-7 is the most widely used RPG in the world and is a favorite among insurgents. Adding the WPF 2004 warhead to the RPG-7 would pose an even greater threat to counter-insurgent forces. In 1993, for example, RPG-7s downed the U.S. Black Hawk helicopters in Mogadishu during Operation Restore Hope. In Iraq, guerrillas regularly use the RPG-7; according to an April 1 report in Mafkarat al-Islam, Iraqi guerrillas launched an attack with RPG-7s in al-Hasy, just south of Fallujah, and allegedly killed four Iraqi soldiers. Moreover, Turkey just recently uncovered an arms cache belonging to the PKK that was well-stocked with RPG-7s, believed to have been brought into southeastern Turkey through northern Iraq (Today's Zaman, April 5). Given their relative inexpensiveness and availability, RPG-7s modified with the WPF 2004 warhead could give Iraqi insurgents a significant new cost-effective element in their arsenal of weapons to combat coalition forces.

While it is too early to tell, a previously sanctioned Chinese armaments company seeking to expand its market share in the Middle East with longstanding trade ties to Iran, combined with porous Iraqi borders, leads to the unsettling conclusion that it is perhaps only a matter of time before such inexpensive and potent weapons enter the insurgents' arsenal.

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(AKI) - Spanish authorities are hunting for two Moroccans, both alleged al-Qaeda members believed to have attended an al-Qaeda training camp in Mali and to have recently fled from Morocco to Spain, daily ABC reported on Friday. Police believed the two militants know how to make an explosives belt and that at least one of them is hiding in the southern Andalusia region, the paper said. One entered Spain via a people trafficking network operating in northern Morocco, where security has been steppped up in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla - both with significant Muslim populations - said ABC.

Spain's interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba on Thursday decided to boost security in the provinces where the highest number of ililegal immigrants arrive from North Africa and where the authorities fear Islamist extremists could infiltrate - Cadiz, Malaga, Almeria and Alicante - as well as in Ceuta and Melilla.

Despite this week's bombings in Algeria and in Morocco, Spain's authorities have decided not to raise the alert level from 'moderate' currently to 'high'. Twin bombings in the Algerian capital on Wednesday that killed 33 and injured over 200 came a day after a police raid in the Moroccan city of Casablanca in which three suspected Islamist militants blew themselves up after a police raid in which a fourth was shot dead.

The Moroccan authorities on Thursday announced they had arrested two suspects at least one which is believed to belong to an alleged Islamist terror cell cornered by police in Tuesday's raid on the al-Fida district of Casablanca. Morocco's interior minister Chakib Benmoussa said late on Wednesday he suspected three to four members of the suspected Casablanca cell might still be on the run.

A team of police and civil guard officers has gone to Morocco to assist their counterparts' investigation of an alleged plot to carry out suicide attacks in the country, ABC reported on Thursday.

The al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb claimed the Algiers attacks in a message sent to Arabic satellite TV network Al Jazeera. Morocco's interior minister Chakib Benmoussa has stated there was no link between Tuesday's raid in Casablanca and Wednesday's attacks in Algiers. Nontheless, the bombings are stoking fears of a widening conflict that could spread from North Africa to Europe, analysts say.

Spain raised its alert level to moderate in February when the trial of 29 people for the deadly 11 March 2004 train bombings opened in Madrid. Many of the defendants are of Moroccan and most of North African origins. The Madrid attacks - the deadliest in Western Europe since the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland - killed 191 people and injured over 1,000.

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Mohammed VI: Morocco at risk of terror attacks

Moroccan King warns his country is potential target of terror attacks similar to Agliers’ deadly bombings.

RABAT - Morocco risks attacks similar to the "odious terrorist" bombings that struck Algeria, King Mohammed VI warned in a message Friday to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

"We believe that your sister nation, Morocco, is also among the targets...", the king said in the message of condolence over Wednesday's suicide bombings in Algiers.

"We are convinced that the security of our neighbour, our sister Algeria, is an integral part of the security of Morocco, even the stability of the Maghreb region and in a wider sense of North Africa, of the southwestern Mediterranean and the Sahel and Sahara regions," he said.

Two suicide car bombings in Algiers on Wednesday killed 33 people and injured more than 220. They were claimed by Al-Qaeda's branch in North Africa, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

Those attacks came only a day after three suicide bombers blew themselves up and a fourth was killed by police in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, fueling regional fears of a resurgence in militant activity following crackdowns by north African governments.

Mohammed VI expressed his "strong condemnation" of the attacks in Algiers, which he termed "odious terrorist acts that go against all religions and all laws.

"We are all targets, and all those in the world who believe in religious values and in democratic norms, especially those advocating Islam, today constitute a potential target," he said.

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One soldier, nine rebels killed in Turkey clashes

TUNCELI, Turkey (Reuters) - Nine Kurdish separatist guerrillas and one soldier have been killed in clashes in Turkey's restive southeast region, security forces said on Monday.

They were killed on Sunday in separate incidents during a military offensive involving 10,000 troops in the mainly Kurdish region against the rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The clashes, which occurred in Tunceli, Siirt and Hakkari provinces, follow similar incidents over the past couple of weeks.

Spring usually sees a pick-up in violence, as the mountain snows melt and more rebels cross into Turkish territory from hideouts in northern Iraq.

Last week, the head of Turkey's powerful military General Staff called for an offensive against the rebels in northern Iraq, saying U.S. forces and the Baghdad government had failed to act against them despite Ankara's repeated pleas.

More than 30,000 people have been killed since the PKK launched its armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984. The United States and the European Union, like Ankara, classify the PKK as a terrorist organization.

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Europol: Europe's potential FBI

As the EU discusses boosting Europol's reach to fight terrorism and crack down on organized crime, experts express concerns about civil liberties violations and the security implications of information sharing.

By Brooks Tigner in Brussels for ISN Security Watch (16/04/07)

The EU's goal to strengthen the European Police Office, otherwise known as Europol, could help to maintain the agency's more passive coordinating role vis-à-vis the bloc's 27 nations. But it also could expand investigative powers and create a new legal status that might eventually convert it into a European equivalent of the powerful US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

While most national law enforcement stakeholders support Europol's forthcoming transformation, civil liberty experts, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and the EU's own data protection watchdog worry about the new kinds of personal data Europol will collect - and whether it will be handled responsibly when shared with other EU agencies, national authorities or non-EU countries.

One of their main concerns is the new freedom Europol would have to collect data from private bodies such as banks, retailers and private security companies. This possibility "calls for a great deal of thought, since such data may not have been obtained by safe, reliable means," says Spanish MEP Agustin Diaz de Mera, in a new draft report for the Euro-parliament's Civil Liberties Committee. "Additional safeguards - including judicial review - must be introduced."

At issue is a European Commission proposal, unveiled in December, to convert the 12-year-old Europol multilateral organization into a bona fide EU agency, paid and staffed from its resources. The proposal would strengthen Europol in three main ways, by:

* Extending its present mandate beyond investigation of organized crime to include other forms of so-called serious crime such as sex trafficking and child pornography, gun-running, terrorist activities and money-laundering

* Enabling it to receive information and intelligence from private bodies

* Authorizing Europol to participate in investigations with individual national authorities or in joint investigative teams.

The proposal would also require Europol to make its data-procession systems, and in particular the Europol Information system, interoperable with those of the 27 member states and with other EU bodies involved in investigative or judicial work. Examples of the latter are OLAF, the union’s anti-corruption watchdog, or Eurojust, the EU agency that coordinates national judicial activities.

"This will create the technical conditions for the smooth exchange of data, provided legal frameworks to allow such an exchange and without prejudice to basic principles of data protection," the European Commission blandly notes in the explanatory memorandum to its proposal.
Civil liberty concerns

Few dispute the need for a more organized pan-European approach to fighting terrorism or money-laundering. The number of terrorism investigations supported by Europol last year, for example, jumped 50 percent from 40 in 2005 to 60 in 2006.

But civil liberty proponents are especially worried about the privacy implications of two aspects in the proposal: allowing Europol to broaden the scope and sources of intelligence it can trawl and retain, and the notion of linking national law enforcement databases into what effectively will function as a super - and supranational - European database of information.

Europol and other public-sector officials argue this is a necessary condition if Europe is to deal with today's proliferating crime networks.

"We need a mandate wider than that for just organized crime. We are seeing more and more networks of criminals. We have to fight traveling hooligans, the distribution of child pornography and the movement of serial killers. The only way to confront these threats is to create networks of law enforcement authorities as a counterweight," Max-Peter Ratzel, Europol’s director, told a 10 April public hearing of the Civil Liberties Committee.

"We need to move from a need-to-know to a need-to-share basis [among law enforcement authorities in Europe]," he said.

Others are not so sure.

The EU's data privacy watchdog in Brussels, known as the European Data Protection Supervisor, say the proposal's requirement that Europol make its data system interoperable with national ones goes far beyond the mere technical challenge of linking the systems together.

In its 10 March opinion on the Commission’s proposal, the EDPS notes that once databases become interoperable "there will be pressure to actually use this possibility. This poses specific risks related to the principle of purpose limitation" since data can easily be used for purposes different from those for which it was collected.

Civil liberty proponents argue that such implications are all the more worrying in view of disparate national rules covering the collection of personal data by commercial entities, individual freedom-of-access rights to police and judiciary dossiers, and the transfer of intelligence to third countries.
Reputation to consider

Though expressing support for the Commission's proposal in general, Willy Bruggemann, professor at Benelux University Centre in Brussels and former senior deputy director of Europol, told the hearing, "I regret that the EU has no global view on security," regarding the way in which police intelligence should be shared and used.

EU member states are still doing "intelligence shopping," he said. "Sometimes they use Europol, sometimes Interpol [the global equivalent to Europol] and sometimes their own national and regional networks and databases. There's no consistency."

Paul de Hert, a law and criminology expert at the University of Brussels, pointed to another problem: Europol's lack of a proper "adequacy process" for evaluating whether the privacy/confidentiality rules and judicial procedures of third-countries are sufficient to justify sharing data with them. The European Commission applies adequacy procedures when dealing with third countries, for instance.

De Hert noted that EU member states still did not want Europol to have very much power, despite the proposal's provisions.

"If member states bear down too much on Europol [in terms of restricting what it can do with information] but not on themselves, then you may see Europol simply handing over requests from third countries for investigative data to those EU countries whose [less strict] rules allow them to meet the request. This could harm the reputation of the EU as a whole regarding data protection."

Europol officials admit they have an "adequacy problem."

Dietrich Neumann of Europol's legal affairs unit told the hearing that the organization's legal foundation "does fall a little short" of the adequacy criterion. "This is a legal gap," he said, but added that adequacy provision "are not very clear in other EU legal instruments and bodies either."

Calling for the Commission's adequacy process to be incorporated into Europol, de Hert went even further, suggesting that "maybe it would even be a good idea to let Europol handle and evaluate requests for transfers of data to third countries on behalf of all member states."

Another potential risk for personal privacy is Europol's forthcoming absorption of information and intelligence from private entities. In Europol's vastly expanded database "there is no way to separate data collected for counterterrorism purposes from data that citizens will have provide to private companies for other reasons. I repeat: no way to do this. We must address the issue of databases that are created for one purpose but mined for another," said Juliet Lodge, who works at the University of Leeds' Jean Monnet Centre.

"I see another problem, too, with divergent terminology. We need standard, common intelligence terms that everyone understands the same way," she said. "Take biometrics, for example. The US government considers that this includes information about behavior. That opens the door to profiling. Do we want that here in Europe? There must be EU rules on governance in this regard. I see an urgent need for a universal EU code on access to networked intelligence databases."

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Report: China hopes Sudan will be flexible on UN

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official visiting Sudan said China hopes Khartoum will show flexibility over a UN proposal to stop the fighting in the country's Darfur region, state media reported Monday.

Xinhua News Agency said Zhai Jun, an assistant foreign minister, met Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during his four-day trip, which started Friday.

China buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports and sells it weapons and military aircraft, but has been criticized for not using its influence to do more to stop the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region that has left at least 200,000 dead and forced more than 2.5 million from their homes since 2003.

The United Nations and Sudan agreed in November on a plan backed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the incremental deployment of a joint African Union-UN force of 20,000 peacekeepers, but al-Bashir has since backed off the deal, saying he would allow only a larger AU force with technical and logistical support from the United Nations.


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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Report: US Intelligence Says New Generation of Al Qaida Leadership Emerging

Report: US Intelligence Says New Generation of Al Qaida Leadership Emerging By VOA News 02 April 2007 A published report says the United States is aware that a new generation of al-Qaida leadership under Osama bin Laden is emerging in Pakistan's tribal areas. The New York Times reports Monday that U.S. intelligence officials say the new leaders rose within the group's ranks following the death or capture of operatives following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. But authorities are quoted as saying they know little of how the new leadership in Pakistan communicates with bin Laden. The officials also say the new al-Qaida hierarchy is not reliant on constant contact with the terrorist group's leader.

Officials told the newspaper that new information has led the U.S. intelligence community to reassess al-Qaida's strength, and to realize its leadership has not been as badly crippled by counter-terrorism efforts as previously thought. Officials and analysts describe the new generation of terrorist leaders as being in their mid-30s, battle-hardened, and more diverse in their origins than previous al-Qaida leaders. The Times reports that experts say even though the group al-Qaida in Iraq is largely separate from the main al-Qaida organization in Pakistan, the fighting in Iraq will likely produce the terrorist network's future leaders. Officials say U.S., European and Pakistani authorities are learning about the new terrorist leaders from investigations, and from interrogations of terrorist suspects. Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ukraine politics: Another constitutional crisis


On April 2, Ukraine's president, Viktor Yushchenko, signed a decree dissolving the country's parliament, and setting fresh elections for May 27th. With parliament, dominated by Mr Yushchenko's opponents, promptly rejecting the decree, banning the government from funding the election, and ordering it to continue operating as usual, the country faces its biggest political crisis since the 'Orange Revolution' of late 2004.

The latest events are the culmination of eight months of tense relations between the president and the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Mr Yushchenko's Orange Revolution rival. Mr Yanukovych returned to government in August 2006, thanks to the Orange parties' failure to put together a coalition following the March parliamentary elections of that year. Since then, the two men have been involved in an increasingly debilitating power struggle, as Mr Yanukovych has tested the president's authority at every level.

Constitutional loose ends

At the heart of the struggle lie the constitutional changes agreed in late 2004 at the height of the Orange Revolution, as a way out of the impasse. The changes came into force at the beginning of 2006, and transferred a number of presidential prerogatives to parliament, including the right to nominate the prime minister. Crucially, however, many of the constitutional provisions have proven open to interpretation, significantly increasing the rivalry as the president and prime minister have sought to define the rules in their own terms and challenge the legality of each other's actions. In recent months the government has also intensified the pressure on Mr Yushchenko by ousting nearly all of his allies from the cabinet, encroaching on his foreign policy remit, and challenging his authority in the regions. In January, parliament passed a Law on the Cabinet of Ministers, which further limits the president's powers, including the right to nominate the foreign and defence ministers. Mr Yushchenko views the law as unconstitutional.

Mr Yushchenko's erstwhile Orange ally, Yuliya Tymoshenko, has long been urging early elections as a way out of the deadlock. She remains a popular politician, and her party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (YTB) would stand to gain the most from an fresh poll. Although the popularity of Mr Yushchenko's own Our Ukraine bloc is at record lows, he appears to have been persuaded to push for new elections following the recent defection of several Our Ukraine and YTB deputies to the ruling coalition, which is led by Mr Yanukovych's Party of Regions (PoR). As many as 11 are said to have defected, giving the coalition control of around 260 legislators in the 450-seat chamber—dangerously near to the 300 constitutional majority that would allow the government to overturn presidential vetoes and change the constitution. Mr Yushchenko has justified the dissolution of parliament by saying that the government acted unconstitutionally by accepting individual deputies into its ranks. He argues that the constitution provides for coalitions to be composed of factions, rather than individuals.

Calculations of self-interest

Mr Yushchenko's action has, unsurprisingly, been welcomed by Ms Tymoshenko. The PoR has opposed it. Although the PoR would likely win a new election, it already enjoys a more than comfortable position in parliament, and has little incentive to take on the risk of another vote. The PoR's main coalition partner, the Socialist Party, is also loath to risk its position and in particular, that of its leader, Oleksandr Moroz, as parliamentary speaker. The smallest party in the coalition, the Communists, would also be likely to lose seats in an early election.

The latest stand-off is unlikely to be resolved quickly. Although the government will challenge Mr Yushchenko's decree on dissolving parliament at the Constitutional Court—and faces a good chance of success, given that the grounds for dissolution appear far from solid—a ruling will take time. In the meantime, there is at least the possibility of dialogue: on April 3rd, Mr Yanukovych urged Mr Yushchenko to return to the negotiating table to "avoid the worst". However, such talks would also likely be protracted, and unproductive, given the stakes involved. Few had believed that the famously indecisive Mr Yushchenko would push things this far, but now that he has, he risks being virtually eclipsed if he climbs down—further defections from his camp could well follow.

It is unclear what Mr Yushchenko might demand in return for backing down on his dissolution threat, but clearly the issues at the forefront of the president's concerns are the poaching of his supporters and the erosion of his constitutional powers: before the latest developments, Mr Yushchenko had already applied to the Constitutional Court over the legality both of the original constitutional changes agreed in 2004, and of the more recent Law on the Cabinet of Ministers. He has also called for a national referendum to be held on the constitutional reform. Mr Yanukovych, for his part, has threatened to attempt to force early presidential elections should Mr Yushchenko not relent, although this would not be an easy thing to do: parliament would need to impeach the president, on the grounds that he had committed a "state treason or other crime", and the final resolution would need to be supported by three-quarters of the deputies in parliament, after review by both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. The PoR will also be aware that the popular Ms Tymoshenko would be a very strong contender for the presidency. With the next scheduled presidential contest in 2009 firmly in her sights, Ms Tymoshenko has recently been busy building her international image with a high-profile trip to the US.

Spilling onto the streets

If the crisis is indeed drawn out, the risk of it escalating to the levels seen during the Orange Revolution would increase. The key players—Messrs Yanukovych, Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko—have already mobilised their supporters onto the streets in Kiev. In a sign of how tense the situation already is, Defence Minister Anatoly Gritsenko, who is one of only two Yushchenko allies left in the cabinet, has seen fit to state that the country's armed forces would follow the president's orders, while the EU and Russia have expressed their concern. But although the PoR in particular has sufficient financial resources to mobilise considerable support, the population in general, disenchanted with the performance of the country's politicians since the Orange Revolution, appears far from the level of spontaneous political engagement seen then. And while brinkmanship may tempt both sides to talk up the danger of re-opening the ethnic and regional fault-lines that appeared during the Orange Revolution, an awareness of the risks should at the least be an inducement to limit the dispute to the legislative arena.

Although early elections are far from certain, they would in any case be unlikely to resolve Ukraine's political difficulties. Although the parliamentary configuration would certainly change, the fundamental problem would remain: the need for a decision on what kind of political system the country should have —parliamentary, mixed parliamentary/presidential, or presidential—and for the constitution to unambiguously delineate the authority of the respective branches of power accordingly.

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Russia Rejects US Offer to Jointly Create Missile Defence System

Russia has no plans to allow a U.S. missile defense shield onto its soil, Reuters quoted Russian Foreign Ministry as saying on Saturday, after a senior source said Moscow was ready to discuss a collective system against any attack by rogue states.

“This information is incorrect and absolutely does not reflect Russia’s position on missile defense,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a brief statement.

On Friday a senior Russian Foreign Ministry source said Russia could host the shield on its own territory if the United States rethinks plans for a system on Russia’s borders.

President Bush telephoned his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, this week to offer consultations on his plan to base a radar station in the Czech Republic and a missile battery in Poland.

Washington says the system is needed as defense from “rogue states” like North Korea and Iran. Russia rejects that argument and says the shield threatens its security.

The senior foreign ministry source said he hoped the consultations would eventually lead to Washington switching to a collective defense system, involving Russia.

“If there is a threat from North Korea or Iran then it would make sense to use our territory. And why shouldn’t we do that?” said the source.

He said a year ago NATO and Russia had been in talks about a joint missile defense system but those negotiations had been broken off “apparently because the United States wanted to develop its own, unilateral system”.

Since Bush and Putin spoke on Wednesday “we are hearing from U.S. representatives a readiness for partnership on the missile shield”, he added.

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