The movement of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said Saturday that it would not take part in provincial elections this year, one day after it formed a new paramilitary group to fight U.S. troops.
The back-to-back moves suggested that Sadr is trying to bolster his position as the chief opponent of both the American troops in the country and the Iraqi government, following a year in which he ordered his Mahdi Army militia to observe a cease-fire and moved deeper into the political process.
Sadr’s aides said he is recalibrating his strategy as the American military drawdown transforms the U.S. role in Iraq.
“We don’t want anybody to blame us or consider us part of this government while it is allowing the country to be under occupation,” said Liwa Smeisim, head of the Sadr movement’s political committee.
Following the manic preaching of Ayman Zawahiri from his far-off cave, it’s hard not to think of Leon Trotsky. It’s not just the beard and the granny glasses, or the feverish fantasies about the imminent collapse of his enemies and the “betrayals” by those in his own camp.
Trotsky, with his insistence on ideologically pure “world revolution” in contrast to the more nationally based communism adopted by Joseph Stalin, found himself holed up in Mexico City by the 1930s, frenetically firing off communiqués inconsequential to the actual unfolding of events. He had become irrelevant.
Like Trotsky, Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden have become irrelevant to the unfolding of events in the Middle East, even at a moment when US hegemony faces an unprecedented nationalist-Islamist challenge throughout the region. (That may be the reason Zawahiri reserves so much bile for the likes of Hamas, Hizbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood over their participation in democratic elections, and their willingness to consider truces with their enemies. Vintage Trotsky.)
The outgoing top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Friday that attacks increased 50 percent in April in the country’s eastern region, where U.S. troops primarily operate, as a spreading Taliban insurgency across the border in Pakistan fueled a surge in violence.
In a sober assessment, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, who departed June 3 after 16 months commanding NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, said that although record levels of foreign and Afghan troops have constrained repeated Taliban offensives, stabilizing Afghanistan will be impossible without a more robust military campaign against insurgent havens in Pakistan.
The Taliban is “resurgent in the region,” particularly in sanctuaries in Pakistan, and as a result “it’s going to be difficult to take on this insurgent group . . . in the broader sort of way,” McNeill said at a Pentagon news conference.
The jirgas, or traditional tribal gatherings, continue late into the night.
And every few weeks, from some remote corner of Pakistan’s untamed frontier region, word filters out: Another truce has been struck between the government and a local warlord who commands a band of pro-Taliban fighters.
For nearly two months, Pakistan’s new government has been engaged in intensive negotiations with Islamic militants who use the rugged tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan as both a sanctuary and a springboard for attacks.
President George W Bush has enlisted British special forces in a final attempt to capture Osama Bin Laden before he leaves the White House.
Defence and intelligence sources in Washington and London confirmed that a renewed hunt was on for the leader of the September 11 attacks. “If he [Bush] can say he has killed Saddam Hussein and captured Bin Laden, he can claim to have left the world a safer place,” said a US intelligence source.
Bush arrives in Britain today on the final leg of his eight-day farewell tour of Europe. He will have tea with the Queen and dinner with Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah before holding a private meeting with Brown at No 10 tomorrow and flying on to Northern Ireland.
The Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment have been taking part in the US-led operations to capture Bin Laden in the wild frontier region of northern Pakistan. It is the first time they have operated across the Afghan border on a regular basis.
Many in the West and Israel would very much like to believe Hamas is in trouble. And it is easy to find people here who hate the government and its black-clad police, even among some who voted for Hamas in the January 2006 elections that gave it a majority in the Palestinian legislature and led to 18 months of tense power sharing before the takeover.
But those in Israel who watch most closely — Arabic speaking security officials — say that while the closure is pressing Hamas, it is not jeopardizing it.
“Gaza is totally under Hamas’s control,” said one of three such major officials, all of whom agreed to speak only if identified in this vague manner, and all of whose assessments were the same.
“What happened in Gaza a year ago was not really a coup,” a second official said. “Hamas’s takeover was a kind of natural process. Hamas was so strong, so deeply rooted in Palestinian society through its activities in the economy, education, culture and health care, and Fatah was so weak, so corrupt, that the takeover was like wind blowing over a moth-infested structure.”
For months before the takeover, life in Gaza, with its 1.5 million inhabitants, was deeply insecure as Fatah and Hamas gunmen fought for control of the streets and institutions. Hamas had a parliamentary majority but Fatah, through the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas, still officially controlled the security apparatuses and ministries.
Now, even many of those who detest Hamas say that security has returned to daily life as a result of its takeover.
“Hamas is strong and brutal but very good at governing,” observed Eyad Serraj, a British-trained psychiatrist who runs a group of mental health clinics and is a secular opponent of Hamas. “They are handing out coupons for gas. They have gotten people to pay for car registration. They are getting people to pay their electricity bills after years of everyone refusing to. The city and the hospitals are cleaner than in many years.”
American and international investigators say that they have found the electronic blueprints for an advanced nuclear weapon on computers that belonged to the nuclear smuggling network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist, but that they have not been able to determine whether they were sold to Iran or the smuggling ring’s other customers.
The plans appear to closely resemble a nuclear weapon that was built by Pakistan and first tested exactly a decade ago. But when confronted with the design by officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency last year, Pakistani officials insisted that Dr. Khan, who has been lobbying in recent months to be released from the loose house arrest that he has been under since 2004, did not have access to Pakistan’s weapons designs.
In interviews in Vienna, Islamabad and Washington over the past year, officials have said that the weapons design was far more sophisticated than the blueprints discovered in Libya in 2003, when Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi gave up his country’s nuclear weapons program. Those blueprints were for a Chinese nuclear weapon that dated to the mid-1960s, and investigators found that Libya had obtained them from the Khan network.