Archives for October 2007

NEWS, ANALYSIS & OPINION: The fabrication of war

Give Fareed Zakaria a medal!

Whereas the mainstream media appears to have taken as read largely unsubstantiated claims about Iran’s nuclear program representing an existential threat to Israel and others, and similarly unsubstantiated claims about Iran’s role in Iraq (which has lately become the Bush Administration’s fallacy d’jour in explaining its failures there), more sober heads begin the discussion by asking whether Iran’s nuclear program actually represent a threat, and if so, is it a threat of sufficient magnitude to justify the risk of potentially catastrophic consequences that military action would carry. And if not, are there options besides war and sanctions for responding to Iran’s undoubted growth as a regional power in the wake of — and as a result of — the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, has acknowledged behind closed doors that even if Iran had nuclear weapons, they would not, repeat NOT, pose an existential threat to Israel. Other top Israeli security officials have said the same thing. Yet Bush and the neocons are left unchallenged when they spin this line.

In an outstanding column in Newsweek two weeks ago, Zakaria did what few mainstream media figures are prepared to do when the President glibly tells Americans that the sky will fall unless they do his bidding — eschewing the deference that so often characterizes the media corps’ approach to the Bush Administration, Zakaria leaves his readers in no doubt that he thinks the President of the United States is a bullshitter, and a dangerous one at that. [complete article]

Wider Iranian threat is feared

While the White House dwells on Iran’s nuclear program, senior U.S. diplomats and military officers fear that an incident on the ground in Iraq is a more likely trigger for a possible confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

In one sign of their concern, U.S. military policymakers are weighing whether to release some of the Iranian personnel they have taken into custody in Iraq. Doing so could reduce the risk that radical Iranian elements might seize U.S. military or diplomatic personnel to retaliate, thus raising the danger of an escalation, a senior Defense official said.

The Bush administration has charged that Iran is funding anti-American fighters in Iraq and sending in sophisticated explosives to bleed the U.S. mission, although some of the administration’s charges are disputed by Iraqis as well as the Iranians. Still, the diplomatic and military officials say they fear that the overreaching of a confident Iran, combined with growing U.S. frustrations, could set off a dangerous collision. [complete article]

Iran: prepared for the worst

The resignation of Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s national-security council and top nuclear negotiator, on 20 October has provoked been much discussion about what it might reveal of Tehran’s complex intra-regime politics. What has been less remarked is that this was the second key personnel change among Iran’s governing elite in the past two months. This sequence of events, reflecting the key arguments and calculations of Iran’s top leaders, signifies the emergence of a revised political strategy designed to cope with with the heightened threat of United States military action. [complete article]

See also, U.S. spy planes violate Iran’s territorial integrity (Mehr News Agency) and Millions of Iranians ready for martyrdom – Ahmadinejad (Reuters).

Plan B (for ‘bombs’) after Iran fantasy fails

Vice President Dick Cheney and his neo-conservative allies in the George W Bush administration only began agitating for the use of military force against Iran once they had finally given up the illusion that regime change in Iran would happen without it.

And they did not give up the illusion until late 2005, according to a former high-level Foreign Service officer who participated in United States discussions with Iran from 2001 until late 2005.

Hillary Mann, who was the director for Persian Gulf and Afghanistan Affairs on the National Security Council (NSC) staff in 2003 and later on the State Department’s Policy Planning staff, observes that the key to neo-conservative policy views on Iran until 2006 was the firm belief that one of the consequences of a successful display of US military force in Iraq would be to shake the foundations of the Iranian regime. [complete article]

New sanctions likely to worry Moscow, Beijing more than Tehran

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert, who has lived in Tehran for the International Crisis Group, says that the sanctions imposed by the United States on Iranian banks and on the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Quds Force, are unlikely to have much of a financial impact on Tehran. “With world demand for oil mounting and oil prices so high it’s very difficult to isolate Iran financially these days,” he says, adding that the sanctions will have more impact in Moscow, Beijing, and European capitals. He adds that “China and Russia are more concerned about the prospect of the U.S. bombing Iran than of Iran getting a nuclear bomb.” [complete article]

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NEWS: U.S. and Pakistan: A frayed alliance

U.S. and Pakistan: A frayed alliance

Five years ago, elite Pakistani troops stationed near the border with Afghanistan began receiving hundreds of pairs of U.S.-made night-vision goggles that would enable them to see and fight al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in the dark. The sophisticated goggles, supplied by the Bush administration at a cost of up to $9,000 a pair, came with an implicit message: Step up the attacks.

But every three months, the troops had to turn in their goggles for two weeks to be inventoried, because the U.S. military wanted to make sure none were stolen or given away, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. Militants perceived a pattern and scurried into the open without fear during the two-week counts.

“They knew exactly when we didn’t have the goggles, and they took full advantage,” said a senior Pakistani government official who closely tracks military operations on the border.

The goggles are but a fragment of the huge military aid Washington sends to Pakistan, but the frustrations expressed by Pakistani officials are emblematic of a widening gulf between two military powers that express a common interest in defeating terrorism. [complete article]

See also, Thousands flee strife in northern Pakistan (Reuters).

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ANALYSIS: A unified front in Iraqi Shiite politics

The Hakim-Sadr pact: A new era in Shiite politics?

The recent “pact of honor” made by two of Iraq’s most influential Shiite clerics, Moqtada al-Sadr and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim—aimed at preventing violence and helping to maintain the “Islamic and national interest” of Iraq—appears to signal a significant shift toward stability in Iraq. The two leaders have pledged to enhance relations between their respective groups, merging media and cultural projects, and to refrain from launching negative propaganda against each other (Fars News Agency, October 6). Yet, more importantly, the pact calls for promotion of the legal-political order of post-Baathist Iraq, a major move that could give new life to Nuri al-Maliki’s government and curtail potential violence in the south. As the first official agreement between these two prominent leaders, the forged pact can also be recognized as a huge step in improving intra-Shiite relations. Not since the formation of the United Iraqi Alliance, which brought together a number of Shiite political parties under the spiritual leadership of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in 2003, has Shiite politics seen such a unified front. [complete article]

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OPINION: Putting a country in your tank

Why did we invade Iraq anyway?

Lately, even Democratic candidates for president have been weighing in on why the U.S. must maintain a long-term, powerful military presence in Iraq. Hillary Clinton, for example, used phrases like protecting our “vital national security interests” and preventing Iraq from becoming a “petri dish for insurgents,” in a major policy statement. Barack Obama, in his most important speech on the subject, talked of “maintaining our influence” and allowing “our troops to strike directly at al Qaeda.” These arguments, like the constantly migrating justifications for invading Iraq, serially articulated by the Bush administration, manage to be vaguely plausible (with an emphasis on the “vaguely”) and also strangely inconsistent (with an emphasis on the “inconsistent”).

That these justifications for invading, or remaining, are unsatisfying is hardly surprising, given the reluctance of American politicians to mention the approximately $10-$30 trillion of oil lurking just beneath the surface of the Iraq “debate” — and not much further beneath the surface of Iraqi soil. Obama, for example, did not mention oil at all in his speech, while Clinton mentioned it twice in passing. President Bush and his top officials and spokespeople have been just as reticent on the subject.

Why then did the U.S. invade Iraq? Why is occupying Iraq so “vital” to those “national security interests” of ours? None of this makes sense if you don’t have the patience to drill a little beneath the surface – and into the past; if you don’t take into account that, as former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz once put it, Iraq “floats on a sea of oil”; and if you don’t consider the decades-long U.S. campaign to control, in some fashion, Middle East energy reservoirs. If not, then you can’t understand the incredible tenaciousness with which George W. Bush and his top officials have pursued their Iraqi dreams or why — now that those dreams are clearly so many nightmares — even the Democrats can’t give up the ghost. [complete article]

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NEWS: Blair’s pathetic choice

Revealed: how Blair rejected Bush’s offer to stay

Tony Blair turned down a last-minute offer from President George Bush for Britain to stay out of the Iraq war because he thought it would look “pathetic”, according to a new book on Mr Blair’s tenure.

Mr Bush was warned by the US embassy in London before the crucial Commons vote on the war that the Blair government could be brought down. He was so worried that he picked up the telephone and personally offered the then Prime Minister a surprise opt-out.

Mr Bush’s move is revealed in the book Blair Unbound, by Anthony Seldon, Peter Snowdon and Daniel Collings, to be published by Simon & Schuster next Monday. It is bound to heighten criticism of Mr Blair’s stance on Iraq. [complete article]

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NEWS: British Muslims and people of color victimized by anti-terrorism measures

Only 1 in 400 anti-terror stop and searches leads to arrest

Only one in every 400 stop and searches carried out under sweeping anti-terrorism laws leads to an arrest, official figures released yesterday reveal, triggering fresh pressure on the government and police over the controversial tactic.

Official government figures covering 2005/6, the first since the July 7 2005 bombings on London, show a big increase in the use of the power, with Asian people bearing the brunt. One force, City of London, carried out 6,846 stops of pedestrians and vehicles without finding enough evidence to justify a single arrest.

Stops under the Terrorism Act 2000 rely more on an officer’s discretion than other powers to search, which require reasonable suspicion. The number of stops under terrorism laws in 2005/6 showed a 34% rise on the previous year to 44,543. Asians faced an increase of 84%, black people an increase of 51%, searches of “other” ethnic groups rose 36% and white people faced a 24% increase.

The biggest increases were in London, with the Metropolitan police carrying out more than half of all terrorism stop and searches and the City of London force 15%.

Experts believe anti-terrorism stop and searches have not led to a single person being caught who was later convicted of a terrorist offence. [complete article]

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ANALYSIS: Russia did not lose the Cold War

Losing Russia

Faced with threats from al Qaeda and Iran and increasing instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States does not need new enemies. Yet its relationship with Russia is worsening by the day. The rhetoric on both sides is heating up, security agreements are in jeopardy, and Washington and Moscow increasingly look at each other through the old Cold War prism.

Although Russia’s newfound assertiveness and heavy-handed conduct at home and abroad have been the major causes of mutual disillusionment, the United States bears considerable responsibility for the slow disintegration of the relationship as well. Moscow’s maladies, mistakes, and misdeeds are not an alibi for U.S. policymakers, who made fundamental errors in managing Russia’s transition from an expansionist communist empire to a more traditional great power.

Underlying the United States’ mishandling of Russia is the conventional wisdom in Washington, which holds that the Reagan administration won the Cold War largely on its own. But this is not what happened, and it is certainly not the way most Russians view the demise of the Soviet state. Washington’s self-congratulatory historical narrative lies at the core of its subsequent failures in dealing with Moscow in the post-Cold War era. [complete article]

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NEWS: Rice says Karen Hughes “has done just a remarkable job”

Hughes, loyal Bush adviser, leaving State Dept.

Karen P. Hughes, one of the few remaining members of President Bush’s circle of longtime Texas advisers, said today that she will return to private life, stepping down as the head of public diplomacy at the State Department sometime in December.

Ms. Hughes is credited with injecting new energy into the administration’s efforts to improve America’s image around the world, more actively spreading good news about the United States while more aggressively addressing bad news.

But Ms. Hughes herself has said that hers was “the work of generations,” an imposing challenge at a time when the United States was fighting wars in two Muslim countries and when terms like waterboarding and names like Abu Ghraib have entered the world’s vocabulary.

Opinion polls indicate that the image of the United States in Muslim countries — the chief target of Ms. Hughes’s labors — has not improved, and in some cases has deteriorated, since she took office two years ago. [complete article]

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NEWS: Romney: “A world without America as the leader is a very frightening place”

Mitt Romney: I won’t let U.S. go the way of U.K.

The United States is in danger of becoming a “second-tier” nation like Britain and other European countries if Hillary Clinton wins the White House, according to Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential contender.

Although he gave a Hallowe’en warning of a “house of horrors” if Mrs Clinton is elected, the main bogeyman for the former Massachusetts governor’s stump has become Europe, with Britain’s national health service being singled out for special mention.

Speaking, ironically, to employees of BAE Systems Inc, the US subsidiary of the British defence company, in the elegant New England town of Nashua on Monday, Mr Romney said that America was at a crossroads in history.

“The question is whether we’re going to become a stronger nation leading the world or whether we’re going to follow the path of Europe and become a second-tier military and a second-tier nation.” European countries had chosen to “become a wonderful nation but not the world’s power”.

America’s health system should remain privately rather than government run, he insisted. “I do not want to go the way of England and Canada when it comes to healthcare,” he said.

He added: “For me what America should do is strengthen our military, strengthen our economy and strengthen our family structure so that we always remain the most powerful nation on earth. A world without America as the leader is a very frightening place.” [complete article]

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NEWS & ANALYSIS: Monks march and Burmese government forces children into military

Myanmar monks said to march again

More than 100 Buddhist monks marched in northern Myanmar for nearly an hour Wednesday, the first public demonstration since the government’s deadly crackdown last month on pro-democracy protesters, several monks said.

The monks in Pakokku shouted no slogans, but one monk told the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based short-wave radio station and Web site run by dissident journalists, that the demonstration was a continuation of the protests in September. [complete article]

Report: Brokers supply child soldiers to Burma

Burma’s military government has been forcibly recruiting child soldiers through brokers who buy and sell boys to help the army deal with personnel shortages, which have been exacerbated by desertions and public aversion to its brutality, Human Rights Watch concludes in a detailed report being released today.

Private militias and ethnic insurgent groups in Burma have also been using child soldiers, though in far smaller numbers, according to the New York-based group’s 135-page study, based on an investigation in Burma, China and Thailand.

“The brutality of Burma’s military government goes beyond its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch. “Military recruiters are literally buying and selling children to fill the ranks of the Burmese armed forces.” [complete article]

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NEWS: Madrid train bombings convictions

21 guilty, seven cleared over Madrid train bombings

A Spanish judge today found 21 people guilty – but acquitted seven – of the Madrid train bombings that killed more than 190 people in one of Europe’s worst terrorist atrocities in recent years.

To the consternation of some survivors and relatives of the victims, one of the accused masterminds, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, known as “Mohamed the Egyptian”, was acquitted along with six others. He is in prison in Milan, Italy, after being convicted of belonging to an international terrorist group.

A representative from a victims’ association said he was unhappy that some of the accused were still walking free. [complete article]

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OPINION: We are drowning in a bottomless sea

This is the era of wise men

I am certain it is possible and feasible for us to solve all our issues here, yes here, in the alleyways of Gaza or Nablus or Ramallah, without the need to wait at the gates of the capitals that have grown tired of our frequent visits! There is no need to search for mediators of oriental or foreign skin. Yes we can succeed with distinction if all devote themselves to the national interest and give up all narrow calculations. We do not need to travel far. We do not need round or square “tables;” what we need are clean hearts and conscious minds.

As there are those who are concerned for and enthusiastic about the homeland in Hamas, there are also the same in Fatah, the two fronts [the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine], Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and all other forces. All these hands can join together and bring us out of the cycles of misery and wretchedness. I say to you that our people are fed up with the strife, fed up with the dialogues, fed up with the multiplicity of governments and authorities, and with waiting for the unknown. They are fed up of blocked horizons and lost hopes. Do not torture them further. Show mercy on them. Show mercy on their elderly and youths who are unable to find work or breathing space. Show mercy on their students who are not allowed to travel, on their merchants who have gone bankrupt. Be a gentle hand to this people rather than a whip scalding their backs. Be a smile of hope to them, instead of these frowning expressions that appear from time to time to menacingly threatening!

Each side can say what it wants to say and claim what it wants to claim, but the voice of the homeland (the cleaner and clearer) is the voice that must be heard now. All must be silent to hear the voice of the wounded exhausted homeland, which says that we are walking in the wrong direction, the direction going against our liberation and independence march, the march of our unity and dignity. The homeland says: “No to the direction of war and estrangement. No to the direction of hate.” The voice of the homeland says that Gaza is not for Hamas and the West Bank is not for Fatah, but the homeland is one and the people are one. [complete article]

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ANALYSIS: The Israeli military advantage over Hamas is shrinking

The IDF in Gaza – advantage over Hamas is shrinking

Until recently, it was obvious who was winning this confrontation. The IDF has an enormous advantage in terms of firepower, observation, control of the air, armored vehicles and troop training. Dozens of IDF operations in the strip following the abduction of Gilad Shalit in the summer of 2006 resulted in hundreds of Palestinian dead. During that period, the IDF suffered one dead soldier, killed by friendly fire.

But in recent months, the efforts by Iran and Hezbollah to improve Hamas’s military capabilities are beginning to be felt. It is not only better weaponry, but also careful study of the lessons of the Second Lebanon War. Dozens of militants trained in Iran and Lebanon have managed to enter the strip and have subsequently created a system of control and coordination. There is a chain of command for every area, which operates a coordinated network of observation posts, infantry and antitank forces. [complete article]

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NEWS: Warning of Somali ‘catastrophe’

Warning of Somali ‘catastrophe’

International aid agencies are warning of an “unfolding humanitarian catastrophe” in parts of Somalia after recent fierce fighting in the capital.

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says about 36,000 have fled Mogadishu since Saturday and the worsening security means relief cannot be given to them. [complete article]

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NEWS, ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Why America uses torture

U.S. accused of torture

The United States’s willingness to resort to harsh interrogation techniques in its so-called war on terror undermined human rights and the international ban on torture, a United Nations spokesman says.

Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, said the US’s standing and importance meant it was a model to other countries which queried why they were subject to scrutiny when the US resorted to measures witnessed at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison.

Mr Nowak was speaking after releasing his finding that the use of torture was routine and widespread in Sri Lanka ,despite laws against it.

“I am very concerned about the undermining of the absolute prohibition of torture by interrogation methods themselves in Abu Grahib, in Guantanamo Bay and others, but also by rendition and the whole CIA secret places of detention. All that is really undermining the international rule of law in general and human rights but also the prohibition of torture,” said Mr Nowak. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — The renewed debate on torture that has been provoked by statements made by AG-nominee Judge Mukasey on the legitimacy of waterboarding, has resulted in numerous assertions that torture is un-American. As Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said today, “I remain very concerned that Judge Mukasey finds himself unable to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal and below the standards and values of the United States.”

To my mind, this is a rather weak moral argument. To say that we don’t torture because we’re American, is to imply that the majority of humanity, not being endowed with American virtue, might find the use of torture more acceptable than their high-minded stateside counterparts. But on the contrary, it is this notion that there is some intrinsic moral foundation to Americanness that is itself the great enabling force beneath a national trait that most of us would rather ignore: American hypocracy. The self-agrandizing virtue that this nation so often wants to celebrate is a mask that conceals a plethora of contradictions: that a nation that identifies itself as religious is so profoundly materialistic; that a nation that predominently identifies itself as Christian has such a strong preference for pre-Christian values; that a nation that sees itself as a moral beacon to the world has with such frequency chosen military engagement as its point of contact with the rest of the world. Americans can and do engage in torture not in spite of this being un-American, but because as Americans they find it all too easy to sustain an image of themselves that is a glaring contradiction with their actions.

If the Senate wants to assert that America will no longer condone torture, then first we need to acknowledge that the climate of fear engendered by the war on terrorism has in fact led many Americans to regard torture as an acceptable tool of national defense. And secondly, that if America wants to now change course and unequivocally renounce the use of torture, it will not be reclaiming moral high ground; it will be returning to an internationally recognized set of moral standards that for most of this decade it has chosen to ignore.

Waterboarding is torture… period

1. Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one’s duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor.

2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again. [complete article]

On torture, 2 messages and a high political cost

Six years after the Bush administration embraced harsh physical tactics for interrogating terrorism suspects, and two years after it reportedly dropped the most extreme of those techniques, the taint of torture clings to American counterterrorism efforts.

The administration has a standard answer to queries about its interrogation practices: 1) We do not torture, and 2) we will not say what we do, for fear of tipping off future prisoners. In effect, officials want Al Qaeda to believe that the United States does torture, while convincing the rest of the world that it does not.

But that contradictory catechism is not holding up well under the battering that American interrogation policies have received from human rights organizations, European allies and increasingly skeptical members of Congress. [complete article]

Squeezing Mukasey on torture

George W. Bush has always wielded moral clarity as a weapon, beating Democrats by declaring his high purpose and principled resolve. But in recent months, as critics have shined new light on domestic spying and harsh interrogation techniques in the morally ambiguous world of counter-terrorism, Bush has had to retreat to gray-area defenses, using tailored definitions and legalisms to dodge questioners. And now, as Democrats raise the pressure on embattled Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey to state his opinion on whether or not waterboarding constitutes torture, it is the President’s opponents who are using moral clarity against him.

Mukasey’s (and the White House’s) problems began during his Oct. 18 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing to replace Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. At the hearing veteran Illinois Senator Dick Durbin asked Mukasey a deceptively simple question: Is waterboarding torture? Waterboarding simulates drowning, and involves constraining a person, restricting their breathing and pouring water on all or part of their face. Some version of it is widely reported to have been used by U.S. interrogators in an attempt to extract information from high-level terrorism suspects in the wake of 9/11. [complete article]

See also, Dozens of ‘ghost prisoners’ not publicly accounted for (WP) and Judgment day for the CIA? (Christopher Dickey).

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NEWS & ANALYSIS: It’s not about the West

Turkey is risking ties to the U.S. and Europe for a simple reason: its eyes are on the eastern front

Along its eastern borders, Turkey is forging closer ties with its neighbors—reinventing relationships that date back to when Ottoman Turkey was the colonial master of much of the Middle East. And small wonder, considering what is happening on Turkey’s western flank. In Brussels, Turkey has found its hopes of joining the European Union snubbed by Turko-skeptics like France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany’s Angela Merkel, who have talked of a kind of second-rank “associate” membership instead.

At the same time, Ankara’s old NATO ally the United States has—in Turkish eyes—not only destabilized its neighborhood with a reckless war in Iraq, but also failed to clean up the mess it has made by refusing to crack down on Kurdish guerrillas in Qandil. And while dozens of Turkish soldiers have died in Kurdish rebel ambushes, the U.S. Congress has been spending its time considering a resolution that would label the massacres of Ottoman Armenians a “genocide,” one of the most controversial episodes in modern Turkish history. “Turkey will not move away from the West by its choice,” says Ahmet Davutoglu, chief foreign-policy adviser to Turkey’s prime minister. “But if Western countries continue to make the same mistakes, Turkey has other alternatives.” [complete article]

In Turkey, pressure builds to attack Iraq

The Turkish government is coming under enormous domestic pressure to crush Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, but even as rebel positions are shelled and tens of thousands of troops moved to the border, leaders are reluctant to invade, fearing international isolation and a military quagmire.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would prefer to avoid a full-scale invasion, according to people familiar with his thinking, and is pursuing diplomatic options. His government is also considering using economic leverage by rerouting valuable trade away from Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdistan region, where the Turkish Kurd rebels have found safe harbor. [complete article]

In the rugged north of Iraq, Kurdish rebels flout Turkey

A low-slung concrete building off a steep mountain road marks the beginning of rebel territory in this remote corner of northern Iraq. The fighters based here, Kurdish militants fighting Turkey, fly their own flag, and despite urgent international calls to curb them, they operate freely, receiving supplies in beat-up pickup trucks less than 10 miles from a government checkpoint.

“Our condition is good,” said one fighter, putting a heaping spoonful of sugar into his steaming tea. “How about yours?” A giant face of the rebels’ leader — Abdullah Ocalan, now in a Turkish prison — has been painted on a nearby slope.

The rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., is at the center of a crisis between Turkey and Iraq that began when the group’s fighters killed 12 Turkish soldiers on Oct. 21, prompting Turkey, a NATO member, to threaten an invasion.

But the P.K.K. continues to operate casually here, in full view of Iraqi authorities. The P.K.K.’s impunity is rooted in the complex web of relationships and ambitions that began with the American-led invasion of Iraq more than four years ago, and has frustrated others with an interest in resolving the crisis — the Turks, Iraqis and the Bush administration. [complete article]

See also, Amid war drums, Turkey’s Kurds fear loss of rights (CSM) and A missed moment In Iraq (Henri J. Barkey).

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NEWS: Gunmen in Iraq kidnap eleven tribal leaders allied with U.S.

Gunmen in Iraq kidnap eleven tribal leaders allied with U.S.

Eleven tribal leaders who had banded with U.S. troops to fight the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq were kidnapped Sunday morning, the latest in a string of such attacks, fellow tribesmen said.

The Shiite and Sunni sheiks, members of the al-Salam Support Council, a group fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq in volatile Diyala province, were taken from their cars by gunmen as they were returning home from a meeting in Baghdad with a government official, the tribesmen said.

Hadi al-Anbaki, a spokesman for the mostly Shiite council, said the attack was carried out by the Mahdi Army, a militia controlled by the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. “This was an ambush,” Anbaki said.

The kidnapping highlighted the complex and quickly shifting nature of the bloodshed convulsing Iraq, with Shiite and Sunni groups increasingly targeting members of their own sects who align themselves with U.S. forces. [complete article]

See also, Iraq hampers U.S. bid to widen Sunni police role (NYT).

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NEWS: Iraqi Cabinet votes to repeal immunity for American mercenaries

Iraqi Cabinet votes to repeal immunity for U.S. guards

The Iraqi Cabinet today approved and sent on to parliament a proposed law repealing the immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts that has been extended to foreign security contractors operating in the country.

A government statement said foreign security companies, their employees and contractors would be subject to Iraqi laws and the judicial system, and “all immunities they have are canceled.” It also said the law would require them to cooperate with Iraqi rules governing visas, weapons possession, vehicle licensing and taxation.

“The reason this law is being passed is basically to stop these security companies and American contractors from thinking that Iraqi blood is cheap and that they couldn’t be prosecuted,” said Adil Barwari, a member of parliament from the Kurdistan Democratic Party who sits on the security and defense committee, which will now review the legislation. “It’s something to make them think before they act.” [complete article]

See also, Immunity jeopardizes Iraq probe (WP) and Officials: Blackwater guards offered limited immunity (CNN).

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