Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Baghdad Comes to America

Illegal war begets lawless cities beget mayhem at home.

From WDSU. New Orleans has become a magnet for thieves. Bands of gunmen are roaming through New Orleans. Looters have been breaking into stores all over town to steal guns. The gun section at a new Wal-Mart has been cleaned out. The thieves are using their new guns, with shots heard through the night in the Crescent City. People commandeered a forklift on high ground to lift storm shutters and broke the glass of a Rite-Aid pharmacy. A crowd stormed the store, carrying ice, water and food. Workers at Children's Hospital huddled with sick kids and waited for help to arrive as looters tried to break in.

Much of the looting could have been prevented had the New Orleans civic authorities used their powers to seize food, drug and convenience stores in order to distribute food and water on the spot. The smart Director of Emergency Management in neighboring Jefferson Parish, Walter S. Maestri, had the foresight to seize the local superstores like Walmart, Sam's Club and K-Mart to meet the emergency needs of his people. No looting there.

Oil and Gas hit by Hurricane Katrina

Update: Three to six weeks will be needed before the Port of New Orleans can begin functioning again. The port's Executive Director Gary LaGrange said he and other port officials have begun organizing a plan to get the New Orleans port running again.
At least two of the port's five container cranes were damaged. Roofs and walls were damaged and nearly all doors were gone over 4 miles of transit shed facilities. The port stands to lose a huge amount of business, at least temporarily. The port is a major importer of steel, coffee, rubber, plywood and forest products and a major exporter of cotton, yarn and chickens. -- Associated Press

New Orleans is FUBAR and a toxic soup, but the Parish of Saint Bernard is gone and the satellite burg of Slidell has been swept off the map. There should be long and hard thought before rebuilding in that coastal area of the country, which faces continuing weather threats like Katrina.

Off topic, but since oil and natural gas make the world go round, here's the results of Katrina's passage through the Gulf of Mexico.

At least eight Gulf Coast refineries representing 2.3 million b/d of cumulative refining capacity were shut down or had reduced operations, according to company and DOE reports on Aug. 30. Units completely shut down included:

Chevron's 325,000 b/d refinery in Pascagoula, Miss.
Valero Energy Corp 's 260,000 b/d St. Charles refinery in Louisiana.
Motiva Enterprises LLC's 255,000 b/d facility in Convent, La.
Motiva's 242,000 b/d refinery in Norco, La.
ConocoPhillips' 247,000 b/d Alliance refinery.
Marathon Oil Corp.'s 245,000 b/d Garyville, La. refinery.
Chalmette Refining LLC's 187,200 b/d facility.
Murphy Oil Corp.'s Meraux, 125,000 b/d refinery.

Offshore Platforms:

Newfield Exploration Co. said its A production platform at Main Pass 138 was lost in the storm. That facility was producing 1,500 b/d of oil (gross) prior to being shut in before the storm.

Noble Corp. said its semisubmersible Noble Jim Thompson, working for Shell Exploration & Production Co. in Mississippi Canyon Block 935 off Louisiana, broke away from its mooring lines and has moved 17 miles north-northeast from that location..

GlobalSantaFe Corp. reported its GSF Celtic Sea and GSF Development Driller I rigs were listing slightly and that its GSF Arctic I drifted off its original location and was grounded in shallow waters near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

ENSCO Offshore Co.'s ENSCO 7500 semisubmersible was reported adrift.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC's mammoth Mars platform appeared to be potentially the largest Katrina casualty, with aerial photos showing significant damage to the top of the facility that normally churns out 220,000 barrels of crude and 220 million cubic feet of natural gas a day.


Two huge pipelines that ship close to 3 million barrels a day of gasoline, jet fuel, home heating oil and ther products from Texas to New York are shut down:

The Colonial Pipeline, running from Houston to New York, accounting for upwards of 20 percent of gasoline supplies east of the Mississippi was shut down along a stretch of the line running from Houston to Greensboro, N.C., after a power blackout along the Louisiana-Mississippi border knocked out pumping stations.

The Plantation Pipeline running from Baton Rouge to Washington, D.C., has been down since Sunday evening because of power outages.

Also, the Capline pipeline system, which transports crude oil from the Gulf to the Midwest is shut down.

Ports and Facilities

Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the country's largest oil import terminal, suffered "no apparent catastrophic damage" but it is still without power.

Sabine Pipe Line LLC on Aug. 28 closed the Henry Hub, the central point for natural gas deliveries in Louisiana.

Port Fourchon, a main hub and staging area for thousands of offshore workers is closed.


An accommodation unit owned by Petroleos Mexicanos was undergoing work at a shipyard when it broke free of its moorings during Hurricane Katrina and struck the Cochrane-Africatown USA bridge along US 98 in Mobile County, Ala.

Gasoline and diesel supplies ran out at some wholesale terminals in Arkansas and Tennessee on Tuesday, while rationing was seen in Ohio and South Carolina.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Banksy Strikes at Sharon's Security Wall

Stop The Wall!

How illegal is it to vandalize a wall if the wall itself has been deemed unlawful by the International Court of Justice? The Israeli government is building a wall surrounding the occupied Palestinian territories. It stands three times the height of the Berlin wall and will eventually run for over 700km - the distance from London to Zurich. The International Court of Justice last year ruled the wall and its associated regime is illegal. It essentially turns Palestine into the worlds largest open-air prison.It also makes it the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers.

Abu Dis


Israeli Soldier: What the fuck?
Banksy: You'll have to wait til it's finished.
Soldier: Safety's off.

Abu Dis

Ramallah Checkpoint
Palestinian: You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful.
Banksy: Thanks!
Palestinian: We don't want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall, go home.

Note: In prior posts, I spelled the artist's name incorrectly as Bansky! Shame on me!

Lebanese Politicians and Journalists Flee to Paris

L'Orient Le Jour reports that several Lebanese political personalities and journalists have left Beirut for Paris out of fear for their lives.

Politicians: Saad Hariri, Walid Joumblatt, Ghazi Aridi, Farid Makary, Marwan Hamadi and An-Nahar newspaper executive Gebran Tueni.

Journalists: Hani Hammoud and Ali Hamadi.

Meanwhile, the commander of the Presidential Guards, three former security chiefs and a former legislator have been named suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri by the UN commission investigating the crime. The brother of the commander of the Presidential Guards, Brig. Gen. Mustafa Hamdan, appeared before the U.N. investigation panel. Also summoned were Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyed, the former chief of General Security; Maj. Gen. Ali Hajj, the former director general of the Internal Security Forces; and Brig. Gen. Raymond Azar, the former director general of military intelligence. Nasser Qandil, a pro-Syrian former lawmaker, returned from Syria to Lebanon for questioning.

The Committee is to finish its work by September 15th.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Iraq's Constitution: All Outcomes are Bad

An AFP-Reuters dispatch today carried comments by two US area experts on the consequences of Iraq's unfinished and contested Constitution. No matter what its fate in October, it appears that the Constitution will lead to civil war.

Iraq's Constitution

American experts believe that the draft Iraqi Constitution completed Sunday is so far removed from the initial objectives of the Bush Administration that it can only worsen the violence in Iraq. We are heading down a dangerous path, says Brookings Institution scholar Flynt L. Leverett. Two things can happen and both are bad: Either the Sunnis sufficiently mobilize in advance of the October referendum to defeat the Constitution at the polls, pushing Iraq into crisis, or they don’t muster two-thirds of the vote in three provinces to kill the Constitution, plunging Iraq into crisis. We now find ourselves at the start of a countdown towards what looks like civil war.

On Sunday President Jalal Talibani announced that the Constitution, which had been signed in the morning and read before parliament, would be ready for 15 October referendum. The Sunnis, hostile towards federalism out of fear of being cut off from Iraq’s oilfields, rejected any provision threatening the unity of the country but announced their intention to continue to participate in the political process.

For Nathan Brown of The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the civil war has already begun. The only remaining question is to find out who is going to be involved and how. Those who participated in the drafting of the Constitution hope that the Sunnis will register to vote and defeat it. But if they fail and the Constitution is adopted, then they will end up discredited. The Sunni leaders behind the scenes—those who support the insurgents—will conclude that they were right. In this sense, approval of the Constitution can worsen the situation. Flynt Leverett shares this opinion: The insurgents could be transformed into the Sunni Resistance.

Both experts agree that the Bush Administration is powerless in this situation. They don’t have many options, says Nathan Brown. They could convince all parties to restart negotiations before the October 15th referendum but I am not certain that it would lead to a different outcome. They could smile in the face of adversity, support the Constitution as it is now drafted, and attempt to defeat the rebels militarily. But so far this approach hasn’t worked and it is unlikely that it will be successful in the future.

The Truth About Yellow Ribbons: Kitsch!

The London Review of Books of 7 July 2005 carried an article by Princeton Professor Hal Foster on the cultural persuasion of kitsch and its use in the Support Our Troops yellow ribbon craze tagging the automobile bumpers and rear windows of America.

Kitsch [meaning "cheap"] was born during the Fascist years in Europe between 1920 and 1930. Without going into Semiotics and tokens, Foster describes it as a blend of prudery and prurience [I guess the Barbie Doll and Brittany Spears would fall into this category--blonde, yet virgin, bimbos with big tits] and the parent of pop culture, which substitutes manufactured illusion for reality and fiction for feeling--with appeal to the masses.

Americans have swallowed the myth that the kitsch yellow ribbons, which Foster claims are used to blackmail us into agreement with Bush's Crusade [yes, Crusade], go back to the Civil War. But in fact the bows go back to Hollywood:, specifically John Ford's 1949 film, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in which John Wayne goes out West to fight the Injuns as his woman remains behind. With Ford's myth imprinted upon the collective psyche, the pop song Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree [about a paroled ex-con] led millions of Americans to affix yellow bows to utility poles, fences, mailboxes and front doors during the Iran Hostage Crisis awaiting the heroes' return to the homefires. Today the ribbon decals are cheap, shallow, confused and false substitutes for flag-draped coffins meant to dupe us into forgetting war's bloody mayhem. The yellow ribbons are used to bind us sentimentally to Bush's imperial project.

The Ten Commandments are also in the curiosity shop of Bush Kitsch. The placement of the Biblical tablet on Southern courthouse lawns is, once again, is a celluloid-fostered symbol. The display dates back to a 1956 publicity stunt by Cecil B. Demille to promote his film, The Ten Commandments. Demille paid for hundreds of plaster slabs to be placed in public spaces from coast to coast. Today, deployed by Bush's base, the Religious Right, the Decalogue converges church and state.

It doesn't end there. The so-called hot-button wedge issues like flag-burning and abortion cross over to frolic in kitsch space of the evangelical mind: the foetus is the Christ-child and the flag is the Cross. Welded together, they become the American Religion--the religion, says Foster, that kills to redeem.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Freedom of Speech on the March

Both La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera reported yesterday that the Farnesina Palace, home to the Italian Foreign Ministry, denied visas to Iraqis invited to speak at the Anti-Imperialist League's rally scheduled for October at the resort of Chianciano Terme.

The invited speakers were Mohammed al-Kubaisi, member of the Iraqi Committe of Ulema, Hassan al-Zangani, spokesman for Moqtada al Sadr, Salah al Mukhtar, former Baath Party member, Jawad al-Khalesi, Chairman of the Iraqi National Congress and Awni al-Kalemji, spokesman for the Patriotic Alliance of Iraq.

The decision to deny the visas was thanks to forty members of the United States Congress who delivered a letter to the Italian Embassy in Washington last week demanding that the visas not be issued:
[These] members of the Iraqi opposition will attempt to seek financial backing for terrorist activities.
Meanwhile, the matter is being brought before Italian parliament. MPs Elettra Deiana and Giovanni Russo Spena will put the issue on the agenda for debate: If the visas were denied due to US pressure, then it will become a matter of unacceptable interference with our national sovereignty.

La Farnesina issues a plausible denial: We have received visa requests from several Iraqi personalities linked to the pro-Saddam insurgency. Our decision to grant the visas will based on our obligations under the Schengen agreement, said Foreign Minister Gian-Franco Fini. We will not rely input from American Embassy.

Nice evasion. Shorter Fini: We did it to save our European partners from the swarthy terrorists from Iraq. And there was no pressure from the US Embassy in Rome.

Well of course not. The visa denial relied on input from the representatives of the Home of the Free: the United States Congress.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Sharon Swindle

It now looks to me that the invasion of Iraq, the crisis in Lebanon caused by the assassination of Hariri, the threats against Syria and the parliamentary paralysis in Jordan are diversions created with the purpose of enabling Israel (aided by the band of criminals in the White House) to annex all of Jerusalem. With the Arabs so roiled by internal crises, they cannot defence their claims on Jerusalem.

I also think Sharon is tag-teaming with Netanyahu. Now that Labour are no longer of use to him, they'll be jettisoned and Netanyahu and the hard right will take the helm--as arranged.

Story by Le Monde's Jerusalem correspondent, Gilles Paris.

8,500 Israelis evacuate Gaza, while another 12,000 settle in the West Bank

The day after the evacuation of the last Gaza settlers by the Israeli army, a public opinion poll published by the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth showed that most persons surveyed (54%) say they are favorable to dismantling more settlements on the West Bank while 42% are opposed. But according to the daily, Maariv, colonization is not slacking off. The paper reported the same day that according to figures kept by the Interior Ministry, more than 12,000 Israelis have moved to settlements on the West Bank between September 2004 and July 2005—6,000 in 2005 alone.

Since the announcement of the Gaza evacuation, more than 18,000 new colonists settled on the West Bank in radical colonies such as the ultra-religious settlements close to the Green Line. Because only 8,500 colonists were evacuated from the Gaza Strip, colonization has shown a net gain. The number of settlers on the West Bank now exceeds 250,000, without counting the 200,000 residents living in the colonized quarters of East Jerusalem.

Against this backdrop, the new confiscations of Arab land around Jerusalem announced on Wednesday were criticized not only by the Palestinians but by the Israeli Left and a portion of the national press. Faced with opposition from the US Administration, the Israeli government placed plans for a new colony, which would have completely encircled the Arab quarters where the Palestinians hope to establish their capital, on the back burner. The announcement of the confiscation of 120 hectares of Palestinian lands in this area and the building of a police barracks between Jerusalem and the big Maale Adoumim colony located to the east is certainly perceived as a new attempt to prevent a future partition of the city.

These initiatives could threaten Ariel Sharon’s coalition with Labour formed to carry out the Gaza evacuation. Labour ministers plan on opposing the new police barracks. Eitan Cabel, the Secretary-General the party led by Shimon Peres, believes that Labour will leave the government in November because the last Gaza evacuation operations will have been completed. The move will trigger early elections. Former Finance Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who resigned from the government just before the start of the evacuation, is soon expected to announce his candidacy to lead Likud—a post now held by Sharon.

If the demolition of settler houses in Gaza by the Israelis pursues its course, negotiations with the Palestinians will remain difficult on the question of border crossings into the Gaza Strip. The Israeli press reported on Friday that the Israeli government hopes to retain control over goods and persons entering Gaza from Egypt for reasons of security. The Palestinians, fearful that border controls will result in the paralysis of trade, as they do today, are pleading for the presence of a third party—hopefully the Europeans.

This quarrel is taking place as the Israelis and the Egyptians are finalizing an agreement under which 750 police would be deployed along the 20 km length of the border to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza.

Friday, August 26, 2005

War on Terror Target

This is what Sharon and Bush fear the most.

Mehlis Progress Report Out--And There's Nothing In It!

The the most recent Progress Report to the UN Security Counci from Detlev Mehlis, charged with investigating the murder of Rafic Hariri, didn't contain much, despite the swirling rumors.

The bullet-points are hardly sensational:
  • The investgation has been going on for 70 days.
  • 243 witnesses were heard, 136 depositions were recorded and 107 memos written.
  • There are still 55 witnesses to be interviewed.
  • Witnesses don't want Lebanese authorities to see their depositions.
  • The commission has a fair idea of Mr. Hariri's activities before the blast which killed him.
  • There are some leads which may lead to the discovery of the motives of the assassins as well as their identity.
  • Syria is footdragging. Bolton, of couse, raged all over that.
  • Jordan and Israel say they will cooperate.

Fafblog! A must-read today!

Meet the Democrats!

Interview with Leila Shaheed

Leila Shaheed

Yesterday, L'Orient-Le Jour carried an interview with Leila Shaheed, General Representative of Palestine to France by reporter Émilie Sueur. Mrs. Shaheed analyzes Ariel Sharon 's strategy and sounds the alarm concerning his plans for the West Bank.

Until the middle of August, the worst scenarios were imagined concerning the Sharon Plan for evacuating 21 colonies on the Gaza Strip and 4 on the West Bank. Today, a week later, the operation is all over. What are your thoughts on this?

We can congratulate ourselves for the calm conditions in which the evacuation took place and that it concluded sooner than expected. This is the result of security cooperation between the Israeli Army and the Palestinian Authority despite Ariel Sharon's continued claims concerning "unilateral redeployment". We, the Palestinians, deployed 7,500 police because we believed that the evacuation should take place in the best conditions possible.

People have been talking about a scripted evacuation.

I think that the Israeli government somewhat inflated the threat posed by the settlers before carrying out the evacuation. But, even if the government's reaction was firm yet passionate, the settlers understood very well that they could not resist a decision taken by the government and approved by the Knesset. Besides, the settlers did not wish to tarnish their image further within Israeli society. Israel took advantage of the occasion to burnish its credentials. The methods used in the evacuation were far different from those generally used against the Palestinians, who must face troops armed with M16's and tanks meant to raze their homes. Nevertheless, among the Palestinians this evacuation is seen as very positive because it is the first time in 38 years that Israel has dismantled its colonies. The evacuation, its rapidity and the conditions in which it took place have created a precedent proving that if the political will is there, the Israeli occupation forces can quickly clear out of a territory.

How to you explain the political will demonstrated by the Israelis?

There are three explanations. First, Ariel Sharon was forced to recognize that there was no way to win against the Palestinians militarily. Since the Second Intifada, we have been subjected to military repression unlike any other seen in the 57 year-old history of Israel. And yet, civil disobedience and armed resistance continued. Second, Ariel Sharon understood that maintaining the status quo translated into continuing, total paralysis. Discontent came from the ranks of his own army, which was obliged to mobilize 1,500 troops to protect 8,000 Gaza settlers; the military became really fed up and this feeling was expressed by the refuznik movement. Last, the Israeli peace movement began to make its voice heard. The USA also moved closer to the Europeans on the necessity of restarting the peace process with the 2003 Road Map. So a clever stategy was developed as described by Sharon's advisor Dov Weissglass in the columns of the newspaper Haaretz: act before international pressure became overwhelming. To escape the provisions of the Road Map, Ariel Sharon threw the international community a bone: the unilateral evacuation plan. The strategy would place the peace process in formaldehyde and prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state by annexing East Jerusalem and the settlement blocs on the West Bank.

Yesterday Israel ordered the confiscation of new Palestinian land to build a wall around the largest colony on the West Bank, Maalé Adoumim.

The Gaza evacuation was clearly utilized as a smokescreen to hide the expansion of colonization on the West Bank. With the building of the wall, which joins together the three settlement blocks of Ariel, Maalé Adoumim and Gush Etzion, the West Bank is going to be transformed into three Bantustans and Jerusalem will be annexed to Israel. And people are praising Sharon as if he were Charles de Gaulle! It's surreal!

As to Gaza, at what point are negotiations concerning the borders, the airport, the seaport...?

Since the arrival of Mahmood Abbas to power, negotiations haven't resulted in anything serious on a bilateral level. As to Gaza, we have had no answers to date. No answer on the border crossing between Egypt and Rafah, no answer on the crossing between Erez and the West Bank--although the Oslo Accords provided for a corridor--, no answer on the airport whose landing strips are destroyed and no answer on access to the sea. We have only just restarted discussions on a seaport. But everyone knows that building a seaport requires at least five years. Gaza has no natural resources. The only way to jumpstart the economy is through trade and for that we need free circulation of capital, goods and people. The Israelis and the Americans have always delayed discussion on this until after the evacuation. Today, there is no more excuse to prolong the delay.

What should the international community be doing about this?

The current situation is not merely the result of failure by the Israelis and the Palestinians. The international community bears some responsibility. Europe still views Israel as a state run by the survivors of the genocide of the Second World War and the United States sees it as its Fifty-first State. This has paralyzed their efforts. In any case, today I feel a renewal of concern by the international community due to the fact that the present global crisis has radicalized the Arab-Muslim world, which is no stranger to the anger of public opinion due to the legal limbo in Palestine. Today, the ball is the in court of the Quartette.

On the Palestinian side, we have just witnessed a wave a clashes and kidnappings, especially of foreigners, in the Gaza Strip. How do you explain that?

The situation in the Gaza Strip is very worrisome. It is the result of four years of pernicious Israeli strategy, which aims to atomize Palestinian society and to shread its social fabric. On the pretext of restricting the movement of suicide bombers, the Israeli authorities have built barriers around cities, towns, villages and the refugee camps. Before 2001, we were able to organize simple community meetings inviting all branches of Fatah to attend. This has been impossible over the last few years. The result? The populace has gravitated around the smallest and most backward common denominator: the family and the clan. In an Arab society which is predominately agricultural, this phenomen has conjured up the archaic demons of tribalism and vendetta. This was aggravated because the Palestinian security and police infrastructure was repeatedly smashed by the Israeli authorities. We are now seeing practices which have been absent from Palestine for the past forty years. It will not be easy to reconstruct genuine authority quickly, but we are determined to do it.

For several weeks there has been an increase in the number of vists by Palestinian officials to Lebanon. Why is this taking place?

In Lebanon, due to his history of civil war and power-sharing arrangement among its confessional communities, the plight of Palestinian refugees there is absolutely tragic. Neverthess, since the arrival of Mahmood Abbas to power there has been a return of a desire to improve the situation on the part of the Lebanese authorities. They shouldn't be afraid of the presence of refugees on their territory. We will never renounce our right of return and UN Security Council Resolution 194. In the meantime, we should be granted civil rights there. We must also have a Palestinian intermediary appointed in Lebanon.

Are the visits linked to UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarming of militias in Lebanon?

The world doesn't revolve around Resolution 1559. In any case, this is the kind of subject which requires the presence of an official Palestinian representative.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Afghanistan: Democracy in Name Only

Croneyism, backscratching and patronage. A second article by Françoise Chipaux in Le Monde today exposes the weak underpinnings of Afghanistan's democracy.

Democracy in Afghanistan Undermined by Patronage

At one month before national legislative and provincial elections, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the UN Afghanistan Assistance Mission (UNAAM)have issued a lukewarm appraisal of the political clout of the 12 million registered Afghani voters.

At first glance, the number of candidates--5,805 of which 583 are women--is a positive sign of interest by the voters in the next phase of political normalization. But the past of many of these candidates is cause for concern.

The vetting process, meant to eliminate the warlords, criminals and drug traffickers, is not immune to political patronage in Kabul. But the joint l'AIHRC/UNAAM report says that the results of the vetting process have been disappointing. The fact that the vast majority of those who were initially rejected have been rehabilitated has lead to deep disappointment.

At first, more than 1,000 candidates with links to armed groups were placed on an exclusion list. After intervention by the authorities, the list was quickly reduced to 208 names. At the end, the list had only 17 names on it. Among the remaining 208, 86 commanders cooperated so that we were able to round up between 10,000 and 18,000 weapons in a very short time, says an anonymous member of the Elections Commission. But only the marginalized commanders obeyed, because those who had connections in high places were removed form the exclusion list.

18 commanders of a total of 28 accused of keeping a large number of weapons and men were referred to the Election Complaint Commission. This independent body, composed of three international experts and two Afghanis, could have barred them from running. The ECC has the right to bar candidates at any time. But, once again, the other ten had protection. The government believed that these men were so dangerous that they couldn’t be barred, lamented one international expert.

The problem remains that candidates with power, money and support have the best chance of getting elected. Even if only 4% of the candidates are a real threat, that represents 200 people who have a good chance of getting elected to a chamber which only holds 249 representative seats, observes Nader Nadery of the Human Rights Commission.

In the provinces where local security forces are non-existent, these commanders have all the time in the world to act and, says Nadery, the atmosphere of fear has an impact on the process. The joint AIHRC and UN report confirms that a certain number of commanders try to dominate the political landscape and to influence the electoral process.

A mechanism for penalizing candidates who break the law was installed with the Electoral Complaints Commission but the process remains obscure for most voters. Many of the 600 complaints that we have received are more allegations and documented facts, says Grant Kippen of the ECC. Moreover, most have nothing to do with a violation of election law and concern candidates’ past over which we have not jurisdiction. There is a lack of understanding of the process, including by the candidates themselves.

Kicked off officially on August 17, the electoral campaign is limited to hanging posters, using regulated radio broadcasts and organizing private meetings. Insecurity, a significant obstacle, is everywhere and is not just confined to the Pashtoon Belt (area populated by Pashtoons).

Lack of security hobbles the freedom of movement by the candidates of Afghanistan’s largest parties in the south, particularly in Uruzgan and Zabul, in the southeast, in some eastern provinces such as Kunal, and in the west.

The Taliban has renewed their attacks on government agents. Any project managed by the Afghani Government or the United States military is our target, and that includes polling stations, vehicles and their employees, says Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi. The Karzai government is an entity administered by the Americans and even with support from the international community, it is unacceptable to us. To avoid civilian casualties, we will not target the polling stations on election day.

The AIHRC-UNAMA report points out that information coming from the provinces shows a alarming increase in violent attacks on candidates, election supervisors and local officials and constitutes a great threat to the elections. Even if for now no one doubts that the elections will take place, they risk not being truly representative of the desire for change by the Afghani populace.


The International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), commanded by NATO in Afghanistan, has been reinforced by three extra battalions for the elections. Its 10,500 troops are deployed in Kabul and around the capital to the north and west. Under UN mandate, ISAF has been present since 2001 and includes contingents from 37 countries. France, which furnished 500 troops, has dispatched six planes based in Tajikistan as reinforcement and will patrol the skies above the NATO deployment. Paris has offered to take command of operations in the Kabul sector but no date has been established for the transfer.

The international coalition, under US command, also directs Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban and their allies. It numbers 20,000 troops of which 18,000 are American. Its units are mainly deployed in the Pashtoon Belt (south, southeast and east).

The security of 6,000 voting centers will be provided by Afghani police inside the polling stations. More police and Afghan troops will complement them on the outside. Coalition forces and ISAF will form a more distant third circle and will have greater firepower.

Crawstuck in Crawfraud

Merkin Patriot Sends Memo to Cindy Sheehan

You don't have to go to the comedy club or The Onion for hilarity. Dislexic rube Merkin Patriot (a parody of a "winger") calls Cindy Sheehan out on the carpet [from comments @ Atrios' Eschaton (Thread: Save CNN!)]








Merkin Patriot | 08.25.05 - 12:11 pm | #

Afghanistan: Le Plus Ça Change...

Afghanistan has a Constitution but no institutions or people willing to defend it. Legislative and provincial elections will take place in a climate of fear and pessimism. Le Monde's reporter Françoise Chipaux gives the details:

Betrayed Hopes for Change Cause Widespread Disillusionment

Four years after the defeat of the Taliban and as Afghanistan prepares for the 18 September elections in the last phase of the political process of reconstruction set out by the Bonn Accords, pessimism on the future of the country is widespread among most people on the ground.

In theory, the accords signed in December 2001 in Bonn were observed and several milestones were reached. But, says Nader Nadery of the Independent Commission on Human Rights, there has been no real transformation in Afghanistan. We have a Constitution but no one to apply it. We have laws but no institutions to enforce them. Little initiative has been taken to bestow justice or to marginalize war criminals or those who violate human rights. Irresponsibility dominates the stage, he adds. There hasn't been a lawbreaker, a human rights violator or an abuser of power who has had to face the law.

The hopes for change expressed by Afghanis at every step along the road of political reconstruction have vanished and as a consequence, malaise is growing. The political class is made of up returning expatriates, who are making money, the old guard of the Mujahideen, who have no intention of playing the democracy game except to stay in power by vote-buying, intimidation and threats, say one diplomat.

The upcoming national legislative and provincial elections risk perpetuating the current order, or rather, disorder, with a divided parliament and a president, Hamid Karzai, who has lost his aura. The US military is giving battle and we will certainly hold elections. But the country escapes from all authority, says a columnist for the Afghani press without giving his name. There is no Afghani political will because there is no vision. Everyone goes around filling holes but they don’t realize the general deterioration.

The government lacks any cohesion and has become more and more reticent, as if it didn’t know what to say. The depature of the powerful Afghani-American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad for Iraq seems to have paralyzed the central authority. The substance of this government has fallen away into a shadow and Karzaï and his team have been mouthing this miserable message of mendacity for more than three years: the international community must not forget us, it should send more money and more troops!, Laments Professor Khaled Madjrouh. A necessary cog in the wheels of reconstruction, the Interior Ministry, is beset by factional infighting and is splitting apart. There has been no administrative reform and nothing has been to prepare for the changing of the guard.

Governors and high-ranking officials execute the presidential will while ignoring competence and simple honesty. While the war on drugs, which represent 60% of the Gross National Product, has been given top priority, nothing is being done to marginalize those known to be involved in trafficking.

This year only 11% of the reconstruction budget has been spent due to problems in developing the projects and the capacity of absorption, says a diplomat, who emphasized that the total lack of organization in the actions of the international community. Large amounts of money are flooding the country but there is no financial oversight.

Rampant corruption has rotted system to the point that it is hard to imagine putting an end to it without starting all over again. There is an urgent need to review the policies of the last three years but neither the international community nor the government seem to have the will, said Mr. Nadery.

Most Afghanis still support the presence of the international community and the Afghani regime, which it sponsors, out of fear of the recommencement of hostilities. But the wind could soon change if combat continues to lead to more blunders and if, as is expected, the attention of the international community wanes. The large sums destined for Afghanistan are already being pared down and the window of opportunity opened bythe defeat of the Taliban and the billions of dollars funnelled into the country may soon seem a memory from the distant past.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

24 August 2005 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Baghdad. Two civilians died and thirteen others, including police, were wounded in a carbombing and shootout.

Tikrit. Two civilians were killed and three others wounded by a homemade bomb.

Baghdad. Two police succumbed to their wounds after being shot by unknown assailants while driving through the Shaila quarter on their way to Dura west Baghdad.

Baghdad. One soldier was killed and an officer wounded by a mortar round fired at at checkpoint north of the capital.

Baghdad. Four security guards were killed and five others wounded in a rebel attack on a convoy escorting Busho Ibrahim, a Deputy Minister of Justice.

Baïji. A 33 year-old Iraqi interpreter was killed by gunmen in the center of town.

Balad. An army officer was shot dead.

Samarra. The bodies of three Iraqi soliders were recovered west of the city.

Baghdad A deputy of the Iraqi justice minister, Yosha Ibrahim, escaped assassination, but four of his guards were killed and five wounded in an attack by gunmen on his convoy in western Baghdad.

Khalis. Four Iraqis were killed and seven were wounded when gunmen attacked their bus in Khalis, 75 km (46 miles) north of Baquba. Police said the dead were pilgrims returning from a visit to holy shrines in Iran.

Baquba. Four mortar rounds landed on a base used by the Iraqi police's 'rapid reaction force' in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad, wounding seven. Police said most of those wounded were recruits, but said a young girl and a child were also injured.

Musayyib. An Iraqi soldier was killed and another wounded when two mortars landed on a check point at Musayyib, south of Baghdad.

Baghdad. Sunnis, deaf to pleas from the United States, continue to denounce the draft of the new Iraqi Constitution.

Baghdad. Reuters demands the release of one of its cameramen held in a secret location by the US military. The US military refuses to say why it has detained Ali Omar Abraham al-Mashhadani.

Cairo. Israel and Egypt finalised a deal on Wednesday for Cairo to replace Israeli troops along its border with Gaza with 750 special police to prevent arms smuggling to Palestinian militants.

Jerusalem. An Israeli official said Israel would proceed with plans to fence in the largest West Bank settlement, Maale Adumim, to link it to Jerusalem. Expropriation orders were issued last week for four Palestinian-owned tracts of land, the official said. The move would effectively cut off Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal indivisible capital, a claim not recognised internationally. The World Court has ruled all Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank are illegal. Israel disputes this.

23:15 Baghdad. Supporters of an Iraqi Shi'ite cleric opposed to a new, U.S.-backed constitution clashed with police and rival militias in Baghdad and other cities overnight. Sadr, a strident nationalist whose followers deride rival Shi'ite Islamist leaders for their time in exile in Iran, has joined leaders of the Sunni Arab minority in denouncing the draft constitution as a recipe for the break up of the state. A Sadr spokesman warned of a "general call to arms" if there was no apology and criticised Najaf's governor, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, from another Shi'ite Islamist party Dawa, made an impromptu live television address after midnight to urge calm and to praise the Sadr movement.

23:46 Najaf. Clashes erupted between rival Shiite groups across the Shiite-dominated south Wednesday, threatening Iraq with yet another crisis at a time when politicians are struggling to end a stalemate with Sunni Arabs over the nation's draft constitution. Trouble in the south began when supporters of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr tried to reopen his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, which was closed after the end of fighting there last year. When Shiites opposed to al-Sadr tried to block the move, fights broke out. Four people were killed, 20 were injured and al-Sadr's office was set afire, police said. That enraged al-Sadr's followers, who blamed the country's biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SCIRI, for the Najaf trouble. SCIRI, which controls key posts in the national government, quickly denied responsibility and condemned the attack. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, a member of SCIRI, told Iraqiya television that he was dispatching a commando brigade to Najaf to restore order. As word of the Najaf attack spread, clashes broke out between the two Shiite rivals across central and southern Iraq, including the country's second largest city Basra, where several hardline Shiite groups are competing for influence. Fighting was reported in at least six Basra neighborhoods as al-Sadr's followers attacked SCIRI offices and the headquarters of SCIRI's Badr Brigade militia, setting it afire, police said. Al-Sadr's headquarters in Basra was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, according to police. In Amarah, eight mortar shells were fired at the SCIRI office, and a dozen pro-al-Sadr officials announced they were also suspending work. Gunmen from al-Sadr's militia roamed the streets. Clashes were also reported in Kut, where a SCIRI-owned building was torched, and in Nasiriyah. Faced with yet another crisis, Prime Minster Ibrahim al-Jaafari, also a Shiite, appeared on Iraqiya television shortly before midnight to call for restraint. «The battle should not be between the people of Iraq but against the enemies of Iraq,» al-Jaafari said, using language reserved for the insurgents. «The language of guns has gone forever.» Although the clashes could end as quickly as they began, they were ominous, coming at a time when Iraq faces an increasingly bold insurgency and a difficult constitutional process that has exacerbated rather than calmed religious and ethnic tensions.

23:58 Jerusalem. A British orthodox Jew was stabbed to death and another wounded by a Palestinian wielding a 30 cm knife.

23:54 Tulkarem. Israeli troops killed four Palestinians, including a leader of Islamic Jihad in a Palestinian refugee camp in the northern West Bank Israel said the four resisted arrest for their role in a suicide bombing in Netanya. The dead are Abu Khalil, 26 , of Islamic Jihad, Majdi Attia, 20 , of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Mahmoud Hdeep, 17 also of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Anas Abu Zeina, 15, a member of Fatah.

23:26 President George Bush displayed his displeasure at the resistance of Sunni leaders in Iraq over the Iraqi Constitution.

23:15 Obstinately refusing to meet with the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, George W. Bush took advantage of his visit to Idaho to praise a woman whose husband and five sons had served in Iraq.

23:16 Najaf. An internal Shia dispute degenerated into a bloody clash as debate over the Constitution continues. Local residents in Najaf were protesting the return of radical militiamen loyal to Moqtada Sadr when fighting erupted. Also, the Mahdi Army appeared in significant numbers in Sadr City and took over three Dawa Party offices. In southern Iraq, Sadr militias appeared on the streets of Nassiriyah.

15:15 Arbil. The Kurdish Parliament approved the draft Constitution for Iraq in a special session.

15:08 London. The draft of the new Iraqi Constitution was criticized for its complexity by the IISS, International Institute for Strategic Studies. The document is poorly organized and poorly written, say Iraq specialist Toby Dodge.

14:18 Baghdad. Security forces carried out several raids in the Amiriya Ghaziliya quarters of northwest Baghdad, arresting several suspected guerrillas.

14:56 Tehran. Iran's supreme leader on Wednesday accused the United States of trying to undermine his country and said Iran's civilian militias could defeat America if called upon. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's comments, aired on state-run radio, come after tensions rose this month when U.S. President George W. Bush said «all options are on the table» if Iran doesn't comply with international demands to halt its contentious nuclear program. Washington claims Iran wants to build atomic weapons, but Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

14:51 Baghdad. The new head of Iraq's biggest Sunni government organization accused «some elements» in the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry of random arrests to keep Sunni Arabs from registering to vote in the constitutional referendum. The ministry initially denied but later confirmed the arrests in Madain, 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Baghdad. The ministry said 132 people had been detained but did not say when. Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, head of the government's Sunni Endowments, said the arrests were intended to keep Sunni Arabs from meeting the Sept. 1 deadline to vote in the planned Oct. 15 referendum on the new constitution, which Sunni Arab negotiators oppose.

14:43 Baghdad. Guerrillas launched as sustained attack with grenades against an Iraqi several police checkpoints in west Baghdad. Following the attack, forty men, their faces masked and armed to the teeth, were seen celebrating in Hay al-Janna quarter. Six police vehicles were set ablaze. Iraqi police called in US troops in support during the attack. At least three people were killed and 30 wounded.

12:42 Messina. A 10 year-old Iraqi child, Shafa, wounded by a stray bullet as she slept, will be operated on in Messina at the expense of the Italian Red Cross and the Defense Ministry. Shafa remains paralyzed after a high-caliber bullet lodged in her spine.

The Moscow-Tehran-New Delhi-Beijing Alliance

Debarkation in Shandong Province

Marie Jégo, Le Monde's capable correspondent for Central Asia, has written an analysis of the recent joint Russian-Chinese military maneuvres. Beyond the maneuvres, Russia has at last satisfied its centuries old pursuit of warm water ports in Asia though a new alliance.

LE MONDE | 24.08.05 | 13h25

On Thursday 25 August, China and Russia are scheduled to complete their joint military maneuvers which has engaged 8,880 troops: 7,000 Chinese, 1,800 Russians, 17 planes and 140 warships and submarines for an entire week. The exercises, which initiated in Vladivostok, the great Far Eastern port, and concluded in the Yellow Sea off the Jiaodong Peninsula of eastern China were the first of its size between the two countries.

The goal of the maneuvers is to test the combat ability of our forces to better face the new challenges which await us in the Asia-Pacific region and in the world in general, explains the Russian Chief of Staff Yuri Baluevski. Meant to test the ability of Russian and Chinese forces to meet new threats, the maneuvers gamed a Russo-Chinese intervention in a third country caught in the throes of "an ethnic conflict", and victim of "terrorist attacks".

According to the scenario created by their general staffs, China and Russia acted out Peace Mission 2005 (the name of the exercise) in which they would be asked by the United Nations to land on the Jiaodong Pensinsula. However, it was a strange “peace” mission because, as Russian military experts point out, Russian strategic bombers (Tupolev 95’s) and long-range bombers (Tupolev 22M’s) took part in the exercise.

On Saturday, the debarkation by Russian commandos of the Pacific Fleet and paratroops from the 76th Division on the Jiaodong Peninsula was carried by Russian TV. In announcing the dates for the exercises at the beginning of August, the Russian Defense Ministry was careful to make clear that the exercise gamed a fictitious scenario and that the theatre was in no way meant to suggest "North Korea or Taiwan." Since then, Russian commentators have been theorizing as to why the maneuvers took place. If it was meant to be a warning to Taiwan by Beijing, then what was the point of involving the Russians?

Alexander Duguin, the "Pope" of Russia's Eurasian Movement, has one opinion. According to him, the "color-themed revolutions of 2003 and 2004 in the post-Soviet space" have pushed Moscow and Beijing to strengthen their military partnership. The American influence has been felt in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. This proves that Washington is intent on reforming the post-Soviet space and on pursuing its own interests to the detriment of Russia and China, whose positions have become more vulnerable, explains Duguin.

Since 2001, Moscow and Beijing have formed the nucleus of a new regional coalition: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Inspired by the War on Terror, the alliance also includes four central Asian republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. On July 5th, it was the through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that Uzbekistan demanded the departure of US troops stationed at the Karshi-Khanabad base in the south of the country since 2001. Recently, the group has granted observer status to Pakistan, India and Iran.

Ivan Safrantshuk, Director of the Moscovite Center for Defense Information, believes that the exercises are meant, above all, as far as the Russians are concerned, to be a showcase for the Chinese of the Russian military hardware which it has already purchased from Moscow or for future arms sales. Since 1992 Beijing has become Moscow’s best client and purchases nearly $2 billion per year in weaponry. (Russia sold $5.7 billion worth of weaponry in total in 2004). The local press wonders if the Chinese will purchase TU-22 and TU-95 strategic bombers used in the exercises.

Beyond strictly commercial purposes, the theme of the rapprochement with China is airpower. The Russian President never foregoes an occasion to emphasize to Beijing the importance of a trading partnership. Since coming to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his country's Eurasian ambitions.

The creation of a Moscow-Tehran-New Delhi-Beijing axis which guarantees Russia, a continental country, “access to warm water ports” while conferring on it the status of a Third Rome (according to the Manifesto of Eurasian-ness created by Alexander Duguin ) is viewed favorably by the Kremlin which is happy to show that it can turn towards the East incase of rejection by the Europeans. It is India, Russia’s largest buyer of weaponry, with whom Russia will hold its next large-scare military exercises in October.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

23 August 2005 Events in Iraq

Ramadi. Three car bombs exploded in quick succession near U.S. forces in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, in an apparently coordinated strike by insurgents, police and witnesses said. In the first blast, a car blew up as a U.S. convoy passed through the centre of the Sunni city, police said. Minutes later, a suicide truck bomber rammed his vehicle into a building frequently occupied by U.S. troops in an industrial zone on the edge of Ramadi, witnesses said. As U.S. troops arrived, a third bomb, concealed in a car parked near a mosque, went off, a reporter for Reuters near the scene said. There was no immediate word on U.S. or Iraqi casualties.

Najaf. Government-run television showed wild rejoicing in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf after news of the ruling coalition's plans to force through its charter.

Washington. President George W. Bush, campaigning at home to quell mounting disquiet over the costly occupation of Iraq, said it was a key front in the "war on terror" and he would not bring troops home prematurely: We will finish the task, he said.

Khan Yunis. Mayor Osman al-Farra revies plans for projects in Gush Katif, abandoned by the Israelis. Farms, a private beach, hotels, homes and a sports stadium are in the planning.

Cairo. Kurds on the road to independence. The adoption of a federal Constitution by Iraq has provoked fears of the spread of "federal fever" to all the Arab countries in the Middle East and beyond where religious minorites or ethnicies feel oppressed. The federalist demands in Iraq will impact the state "mosaics".... Federalism was never before part of the Arab political vocabulary, said Nabil Abdel Fattah of the al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies. Meanwhile Jordanian researcher Hassan al-Barari underscores that the Kurds are working towards secession from Iraq because of their experiences with a central Iraqi state. They find themselves now in an ideal situation. The have an historic opportunity to leave the Iraq orbit due to their relations with the United States, Israel and the West. Neither Syria nor Turkey, which have sizeable Kurdish minorities, can stop the birth of a Kurdish state on the ruins of Iraq which will be recognized by the United Nations and the international community.

Amman. The group, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, claimed on several websites that it was behind the rockets fired at US warships in the port of Aqaba. Intelligence experts believe that the extension of al-Zarqawi's group into Jordan is "a grave development for the region."

Sydney. Austrialian Muslims pledge to fight terrorism.

Baghdad. The Chaldean Patriarch Monsignor Emmanuel Delly harshly criticized evangelical proselytism in Iraq. These evangelists do not wish for the welfare of Iraq nor of Christianity. Delly says that they are plying Iraq's youth with money. We were here before them. We are apostolic Christians and our origins are here in Iraq. Why are they trying to convert us? Delly also emphasized that Chaldean, Syrian and and Assyrian Christians represent distict enthicities to be recognized by the Constitution.

Paris. French Prime Minister Sarkozy says he will introduct a package of anti-terrorism laws that will provide for video, telephone and computer network surveillance.

Cairo. Egypt says it has arrested most of the suspects in the Sharm al-Sheikh bombings without releasing the number of persons arrested during a dragnet in northern Sinai.

Cairo. Ex-jurist Noomane Gomaa, leader of the neo-Wafd, told Egyptians that he is the only presidential candidate able to let in fresh air into Egyptian politics. Meanwhile, Wafd Vice-Chairman Moustapha Abaza said he expected the usual ballot stuffing and said a free and transparent election would be "surely an unexpected gift from the Almighty."

Washington. US President George W. Bush called on Sunni Iraqis dissatisfied with the draft of the new Constitution to adopt the text.

Baghdad. Ignoring the complaints of Iraq's Sunnis, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari praised the draft constitution and claimed it was nearly finalized.

Baghdad. Sunni negotiator Saleh al-Motlak told AFP that the draft Constitution will divide Iraqi society and contains several negative provisions.

Baghdad. President Jalal Talabani has restarted consultations with Iraq's political factions to find a compromise. Kurdish Parliament is also debating its position on the Constitution. Meanwhile, US diplomats continue to press for keeping to the schedule and insist that the Constitution will end the Sunni insurgency.

Washington. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said there would be a temporary troop increase before the national referendum on the Constitution scheduled for October 15th.

Riyadh. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal expressed dismay at the "attraction of sectarian divisions" in Iraq.

23:59 Tokyo. The UN says it has made progress in restoring the flow of water through Iraq's marshes and have started restoring the former ecosystem.

23:38 New York. The Metropolitan Transit Authorities has signed a $200 million contract with Lockheed Martin for anti-terrorism surveillance equipment for the NYC transit system.

23:24 Paris. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy says there is a race against the clock in the political transition of Iraq and calls for acceptance of a constitution that satisfies all political factions. Meanwhile Judge Raëd Jouhi rules that Saddam and other prisoners of the former regime may see their attorneys at any time.

23:23 Ottawa. Canada says it applauds the Iraqi evacuation of Gaza.

23:20 Paris. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy sais that the Gaza evacuation is meaningless without implementing the Road Map.

21:26 Camp Cropper. Saddam Hussein confirms that his legal team has been dismissed and that he will keep just one attorney, Khalil Doulaïmi. More than 2,000 had lawyers volunteered for Saddam Hussein's defense, including Ramsey Clark and the daughter of Muammar Qadhafi.

17:20 Baquba. Seven persons were killed, including two Americans, and twenty wounded, including 10 Americans. A suicide bomber on foot blew himself up inside a "Joint Coordination Center" in Diyala Province.

17:19 Basrah. The bullet-ridden body of General Ibrahim al Mansouri, a former officer in Saddam Hussein's army, was found in a Basrah cemetery

17:07 Iraqi. Suicide bomber blows himself up in the mess hall of the Baquba Province Administration Building. Eight Iraqi police are dead and 11 wounded.

16:10 Washington. Price of oil rises to $66 per barrel.

15:51 Baghdad. A mortar strikes police HQ in Diyala. Four police, including Colonel Hafid Hussein, were killed and 14 wounded.

14:50 Baghdad. Shi'ite-led government on Tueseday ruled out any major change to a draft constitution that parliament looks set to pass this week in the teeth of minority Sunni objections that it could ignite civil war. Sunni leaders, who largely shunned a January election that gave Shi'ites and Kurds control of parliament, said they were mobilising support for a "no" vote in the October referendum. If it passes, there will be an uprising in the streets, said Sunni negotiator Saleh al-Mutlak.

14:47 Baghdad. The Islamic Party has rejected the draft Constitution presented to Parliament yesterday. We are opposed to both the spirit and the letter of the text, said a party spokesperson.

14:19 Ramallah. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will travel to Cairo for meetings with Hosni Moubarak concerning the Gaza evacuation.

14:07 Ad Dawr. Hundreds of Sunnis demonstrated against the draft constitution, yelling Long live the honourable insurgency. Several tribal chieftans and local leaders participated. .

14:05 Fallujah. A US soldier was killed by a roadside bomb.

12:11 London. British police will prepare a report on the death of Jean Charles de Menezes in the Stockwell Tube station.

10:21 Suleimaniyah. The Iraqi Minister for the Environment, Mrs. Narmin Othman, escaped an assassination attempt when her convoy was attacked in Suleimaniyah. Six bodyguards were wounded.

07:32 Baghdad. US Command confirms that a US soldier was killed by a rocket in the capital yesterday afternoon.

02:31 Seattle. An ex-photographer for the US Army threatened to blow up a veterans' office if they did not meet his demands. A police search of his home found weapons, ammunition and a bombmaking manual.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Anti-Bush Protest in Salt Lake City

Mayor Anderson of Salt Lake Greets Anti-Bush Demonstrators

22 August 2005 Events in Iraq and in the Region.

Joan Baez in Crawford

Karbala. Provincial Governor Akil Kaazali welcomed persons from fifty Shi'ite families displaced from Tel Afar and has lodged them at the Polish general headquarters. The displaced say that Sunni Salafists and fighters form Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and Syria have taken over the city and that US and Kurdish peshmergas are powerless to stop them.

Gaza. Palestinians rename evacuated settlements. Radicals and moderates vie in renaming campaign. Neve Dekalim has been renamed Arafat City. Morag may be known as The Land of Victory, Cheikh Khalifa ben Zayed al-Nahyan City or City of Hope. Atsmona may be named after a Palestinian martyr. Kfar Darom may be renamed Sheikh Yassin City, Hamas' spiritual leader assassinated by Israel.

Baghdad. Iraqi Vice Premier Ahmed Chalabi congratulated Iraqis on the presentation to Parliament of the draft Constitution and stated that the national referendum on the document will take place on October 15. Meanwhile Kurd Barham Saleh told Dubai based al-Arabiya that disagreements have not been settled and will be debated in parliament in the next few days. Paradoxically, President Bush says he is "full of hope."

Basrah. Oil exports resume after 16-hour power outage.

Ramallah. Palestinians wish to keep the "occupied" legal status of Gaza following the evacuation while Israel will ask the UN Security Council to pass a resolution declaring the end of its occupation. Besides the UN, the Israeli Supreme Court considers the Gaza Strip to be occupied. Palestinian legal advisor Younès al-Jarou, says that the proclamation of the end occupation of Gaza by the Israelis means that it intends to avoid its obligations which compel it to protect the occupied populace and to provide for their essential needs in health, education and food. Gaza will be cut off from Israel--which we don't mind--but it will also be cut off politically, socially and economically from the West Bank and Jerusalem and that's a problem. Al-Jarou says that Israel will permit neither the opening of a seaport nor an airport. If a Palestinian wants to travel by air, he will have to go to Cairo, 450 km away. He won't be able to import or export except through the Egyptian ports of Damietta and Port Saïd, more than 300 km away To say that Gaza is free is an unprecedented hoax in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It permits Ariel Sharon, 38 years after the 1967 defeat and 12 years after the Oslo accords to transform military disengagement into the end of the occupation. , says Palestinian Jurist Raji Sourani. Israeli disengagement is going to suffocate Gaza whose population will not be permitted to use the port of Ashdod or the Tel-Aviv airport and will not be permitted to work in Israel.

Crawford. Singer Joan Baez joined protesters near George Bush's ranch: I think the question which no one wants to answer and which the demonstrators are asking is the following: Did my child die for nothing?. Baez gave a concert to the crowd on Sunday.

23:56 Washington. The White House expresses satisfaction at "developments" in Iraq surrounding the Constitution.

23:38 Amman. Jordanian intelligence source says Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is behind the katiushka rocket attack on US naval vessels.

23:48 Baghdad. The majority Shi'ites and their Kurdish allies has presented the draft Constitution to Parliament just before the midnight deadline. However, Sunnis have not approved the draft and the situation remains confused. Parliamentary Speaker Hadjim al-Hassani announced that the draft was presented on time but the adjourned the session saying debate would be delayed three days. It is not know if it is possible to override Sunni objections on federalism but the Shi'ites said they would proceed without the Sunnis. Shi'ites and Kurds are expected to maintain their positions despite US pressure.

23:10 Beirut. Ten persons were wounded by a blast in rue Monnot in the Zalka commercial district, a Christian suburb. Four suspects were arrested. The blast occurred in front of the Promenade Hotel. The building's façade was heavily damaged. A Starbucks cafe was also damaged by the blast. The explosive device was placed in an underground parking garage at the Moussa shopping center, causing the roof to collapse. The hotel was evacuated. Most guests were from tourists from the Gulf States. Meanwhile, enterprising owners of damaged shops immediate put their inventory on sale at 75% off.

23:10 Amman. Jordan says it has arrested a Syrian national for the katushka rocket attack on US naval vessles in Aqaba. Authorities says Syrien, Mohamad Hassan Abdallah al-Sehli" and his two sons along with a group of others entered Jordan with the intent of carrying out the attack. All are said to carry forged Iraqi passports. The group "rented a warehouse in the Harafiyeh quarter and transported the rockets from Amman to Aqaba." However, a just a few days, Jordan reported that "four Egyptians and some Iraqis" were responsible. Authorities say four rockets were found in the warehouse and that the group planned to launch 7 rockets at US naval vessels. [Oh, this sounds not completely honest. A Syrian? Isn't that a little too convenient? And what about that nifty 1900 scenario of Arab rebels firing on imperial gunboats?--Nur]

21:38 London. Brazilian delegation to meet with IPCC on death of Jean-Charles de Menezes. Deputy Attorney General Wagner Gonçalves and the the Justice Ministry's Deputy Director of International Judicial Cooperation Marcio Pereira Pinto Garcia are in London.

22:27 Beirut. Blast in the northern suburbs of Beirut wounds at least 2.

22:02 Baghdad. Iraqi parliament delays vote on draft Constitution by three days.

21:53 Beirut. Blast in the north of the city.

21:48 Salt Lake City. Bush says that he is "full of hope" that an agreement on the Iraqi Consitution will be reached and says he doesn't foresee a risk of a breakup of the Iraq.

21:04 Salt Lake City. Bush says Bin Laden wants an Islamic state in Iraq in an address to war veterans. Meanwhile a protest organized by the city's mayor greeting Mr. Bush outside the venue.

20:41 Baghdad. Iraqi forces arrest 68 suspected rebels.

19:47 Baghdad. Constitution still awaiting approval by the Sunni negotiators.

19:22 Samarra. Carbomb kills two US soldier and wounds two others.

18:39 Rome. Remzi Issac, brother of Hamdi Issac, has been in reclusion for more than 36 hours at his residence in Largo Pettazzoni in the Pigneto quarter of Rome and receives visits only from his attorney.

18:04 Gaza. Israeli evacution of the Gaza Strip is complete.

16:32 Kabul. The US military says it has killed 105 Taliban over the last three weeks.

16:00 Baghdad. Agreement reached on Constitution. Assembly to vote on text within the next two hours.

15:23 Baghdad. Massive power outage due to sabotage of transmisison pylons. All of Baghdad and most of the south of the country is without power.

15:00 Gaza. Mohammad Quathi, an employee of the French TV network France 3 has been released.

13:50 Basrah. Eleven Pakistani hostages taken in Nassiriya are released, as well as three Egyptians and two Indians. All are preparing to leave for Kuwait. The Pakistanis worked as bricklayers in Nassiriya.

13:01 Baghdad. Five persons, including a Turkish engineer were kidnapped in the Iraqi capital by armed men.

12:29 Baghdad. Negotiations meet in extremis on Constitution. Facing a midnight deadline, Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni negotiators meet to finalized delayed Constituion.

12:00 Babil. Guerrillas attempting to carry out ethnic cleansing in several villages. Police General Kais al-Mamury of Babil Province says Shi'ite are being driven out of several towns and villages: Yussufiya, Daiyra, Latifiya and Jurf al Sakhr. Victims were ordered out of their homes and threatened with death. Some homes have been dynamited.

11:30 Baghdad. General Ali Hamdi al-Mussawi was wounded by friendly fire in the Hindiya quarter of south Baghdad. US troops at a checkpoint opened fire, wounding the general and three bodyguards.

11:10 Kabul. US military says it killed 40 Taliban in northeastern Afghanistan.

11:04 Ankara. Clash between PKK guerrilas and police kills one Kurdish separatits in Macka in northern Turkey. Two police were wounded. Police attempted to intercept three known PKK fighters inside a supermarket. One was killed and the two other escaped.

10:01 Baghdad. Big power blackout strikes capital. The cause is said to be a cut in the power supply from the Beiji generation plant. In the port of Basrah, oil lading pumps have quit.

09:31 Kirkuk. Captain Ibrahim Said, chief of antiterrorism in Kirkuk, was slain together with his wife when armed men opened fire on the car they were travelling in.

08:01 Tel Afar. Two US soldiers die in road accident. Their vehicle flipped over while on patrol.

07:40 Baghdad. Eight police were killed in a carbombing in the Karada quarter. Another eight are wounded. Meanwhile police say they recovered five unidentified human remains.

White roses

Sunday, August 21, 2005

What noble people? What noble cause?

Update: 30 September 2005 Christian Science Monitor Reporter and blogger Helena Cobban wrote a post on this story on her blog, Just World News, on 24 August along with several follow-up posts since then. Le Monde Diplomatique cites Helena in its rubrique La Valise Diplomatique. Helena is bird-dogging this issue and has the clout to make the issue reverberate.

Sadly, the US Department of Defense has stated it will not investigate the gross display of barbarity, trophy-taking and desecration for "lack of proof." It's just distressingly galling to know it went to war against Iraq with less proof than the photos uploaded to NTFU.

Update: 27 September 2005 The on-line German technology magazine, Heise Online, linked to the story on these pages in its Telepolis rubrique in an article penned by Thomas Pany, Der viehische Krieg.

Update: 26 September 2005: Please see Mark Glaser's excellent article on this scandal in the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review.

Apparently Don Rumsfeld's orders banning cellphone and digital cameras to US military personnel exists on paper only. Today's headlines in La Repubblica and Il Corriere della Sera concern a website where US troops upload their images from Iraq of the burnt and mutilated corpses of their Iraqi and Afghani enemies. The damage may be worse than the Abu Ghraib scandal because accompanying the images are the most inhuman and cynical comments--by Americans.  

I ask, What noble people? What noble cause? If you question the President's lies, you're a subversive. If you hold a candle in solidarity with Cindy Sheehan, your an old hippie consigned to the dustbin of history. If you complain to your Senator, you don't understand the nobility of our cause. If you go downtown and carry a sign, you're part of a flakey focus group. But if you hate the human race, if you're devoid of compassion, if you sell your soul for a peep show, if you ambush Italian reporters, if you stalk "foreign-looking" civilians on the Tube, if you murder the wounded and the imprisoned, if you torture for information then to our twisted masters, or so-called Executive, the you are a twenty-first century hero for democracy.

Below is a translation of the Corriere article:

Rome. Horrible images from the war in Iraq in exchange for free access to a port site. The "deal" has been accepted by a number of US military personnel. A website is born--a genuine chamber of horrors. The discovery was reported by an Italian blogger and the story has been carried by the Italian press agency ANSA, which has a a long description in a dispatch written by correspondent Gioia Giudici:

As if they were figurines, terrifying images of Iraqis and Afghanis dismembered by explosions are exchanged on-line for free access to a porn site. The invitation to post photos of shocking cruelty is propsed to US combat troops who are asked to post their horror shots in order to enter the porn section of the site. Once gaining entry, many site visitors have been unable to resist the deal offered by : "If you are a US soldier deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or any other theatre of war and you would like free access to the site, upload the photos which you and your buddies took during your service."

The site, primarily pornographic, is structured like a forum where users exchange pornographic material, not covered by copyright, which runs from voyeur photos to hardcore shots of lovemaking with girlfriends and wives. In two special sections, soldiers can receive free access by publishing the most audacious photos taken during their deployment. One is a general section displaying photos of soldiers, including war humor. The other section is a veritable chamber of horrors with photos of dead Iraqis and dismembered bodies. Once you enter this section you are immediately advised that you will be seeing cruel images and that persons not wishing to view this type of material should not enter.

Browsing through the posts is like a descent into hell. Each post contains the most graphic of images, escalating in barbarity and viciousness and accentuated by the comments left by posters. The posts exalt the violence of the images, shot in a theatre of war. You see headless, armless burnt bodies, a face in a bowl, the remains of suicide bombers, an arm or a leg accompanied by inhuman comments, extolling the horrors..."the only good Iraqi is a dead Iraqi." The comments are stupefying in their cynicism...there is even a barbaric quiz, asking the question, "what body part is this"...?


Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Gaza Pullout: A Step Towards Peace

This is the transcript of a live chat at Le Monde with seasoned reporter Gilles Paris, Le Monde’s correspondent in Jerusalem.

LEMONDE.FR | 15.08.05 | 16h12 • Mis à jour le 16.08.05 | 16h20

What political interests does Ariel Sharon have vested in the evacuation?
This is a question which many Israelis are asking. Ariel Sharon has switched his political position. After promoting force, now he promotes concession. Once cannot help but notice that the move wins him time in avoiding the moment of truth when he will have to engage in a genuine political process as expected by the international community.

Is this a genuine step towards peace or only a way of rooting himself on the West Bank?
The Palestinians, who are very skeptical about the intensions of Ariel Sharon, believe that any Israeli pull-back is a good thing. It is true that the questions being asked about the West Bank are legitimate when one considers Ariel Sharon’s statements or, yesterday, those of Shaoul Mofaz, his Minister of Defense.

Is the evacuation a victory for Hamas?
It is taboo for the Palestinians to suggest who the real winner is. Public opinion seem to believe that that it is beyond question that Hamas has proven that armed struggle is superior to any negotiation strategy.

Can the Israeli Left recover from this situation?
The Israel Left saw a part of its platform for the 2003 legislative elections stolen by Ariel Sharon. Since then, the Left gives the impression that it is no longer capable of distancing itself from Sharon or to make any serious proposals which do not compromise security in the eyes of the Israelis. The Israeli Left does not have a real leader. The difficulties that it is experiencing in its daily activities, beginning with the phony voter registration scandal, are but another sign of its weakness.

Is the evacuation going to cause a lasting split within Israeli society?
There is a genuine, deep split, including among the colonists, between those who believe that at the end of the day the decisions of the State are binding on everyone and those who believe that the State has betrayed the ideals of Judaism—because it is a question of Judaism and not of Zionism, which that must be resissted. However, those who adhere to this radical interpretation are a minority within the minority—certainly they are very active and are trying everything to cause the evacuation plan to fail.

Will the majority of Arab states feel some gratitude towards Israel?
Arab states made a proposal to Israel during their March 2002 summit in Beirut: normalization of relations in exchange for a return by Israel to its 1967 borders in the Gaza Strip as well as on the West Bank. Arab states will not be satisfied with the evacuation from Gaza and four isolated colonies on the northern West Bank.

What is being offered to the colonists to allow them to reintegrate themselves into Israeli society?
In theory, an indemnity plan for the colonists who have lost their homes—and those who have lost their jobs—is supposed to help them reintegrate. But in reality, the consequences of the evacuation plan have so far shown that this is very limited in terms of the payment of the indemnity and of temporary housing for the evacuated colonists. Even if their number is quite small, it is certain that many among them will pay a very high price for the evacuation plan.

Were the settlements the only way to provide housing for foreign Jews immigrating to Israel? Is the State of Israel going to find itself short of construction space for all those immigrants?
The Israeli authorities are counting on welcoming another million immigrants over the next few years. In theory, they won’t want to live on the West Bank, which will remain the last settlement area in the aftermath of the Gaza evacuation. In the past and in particular during the big wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union, the Israeli authorities have shown their ability to make room for more and more immigrants inside their formal, recognized borders.

When we hear Europeans use the term, colonists, is it misplaced?
Semantic questions are often explosive in the region. It is true that the English term, settler, does not have the same connotation in French. In the past, the colonists often preferred to call their colonies “settlements”. Is the term, “settler” necessarily more poetic? By the way, all of Europe does not share the same colonial past.

Do the forces of the Palestinian Authority have the means to control Gaza following the evacuation?
Palestinian “Authority” is a misnomer. It is profoundly disorganized and the Israeli evacuation is going to present a real challenge to it. Everything depends on the abilities of the two main political factions, Fatah and Hamas, to find common ground.

Would the Palestinians like to live in the houses abandoned by the colonists?
Once the settlers leave, the Israeli Army is supposed to raze every house. The fate of the rubble has not yet been decided. Theoretically, the space to be used by the Palestinian Authority for reconstruction should be completely vacant.

Is the evacuation a good thing for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip since many of them were employed by the Israelis?
The number of Palestinian workers inside the colonies was very small. Especially when compared to the numbers who were permitted to work in Israel before the most recent Intifada. The evacuation is not going to have a particularly negative impact on the job market, which, by the way, was very bad. Reconstruction-- the numerous projects planned by the Palestinian Authority—should provide jobs for a large majority of the unemployed for months and years to come--if the situation stabilizes.

What does it mean that this event took place after the death of Arafat?
Ariel Sharon’s announcement to evacuate the Gaza Strip took place on February 2, 2004-- six months before the brutal death of Yassir Arafat. The conditions for the evacuation changed when Mahmood Abbas took power on January 9, 2005, because of his relationship with Ariel Sharon. But basically, the evacuation, from beginning to end, was the result of a unilateral Israeli decision with no involvement by Palestinian politicians.

What’s the latest on the “security wall” being built by Israel? Will there be any impact?

Absolutely not. To the contrary. The wall is presented by Ariel Sharon as an indispensable component to the Gaza evacuation. The Hebrew term for the evacuation, translated into French as “disengagement” or “severing”, is illustrated by the construction of the wall, of which the objective is to physically separate Palestinians from Israelis, even if—and this is not insignificant—the wall will leave 70,000 colonists “on the wrong side”. This represents an obvious contradiction.

What do you think of the kidnapping of the France 3 reporters in the Gaza Strip? Does this act create a feeling of insecurity among the press on the scene?
The kidnapping is due to the disorganization, rivalry and clannishness inside the Palestinian security forces. The reporters who work in Gaza—I was there a few days ago—rarely have a sense of insecurity. Nevertheless, the kidnapping should be condemned in the strongest terms.

How will Mahmood Abbas be able to restore calm in Gaza? Does the strategy of kidnapping used by armed groups have anything to do with his firmness or his desire to disarm them? Can he get the upper hand?
At the present time, there is no real strategy of kidnapping in practice by the main Palestinian armed militants. Any comparison to Iraq is inappropriate. The strategy of Mahmood Abbas is to come to an agreement with the armed groups and to integrate them into the political process is praiseworthy. That is, he wants to show that the strategy of negotiation with Israel—which he has done for the last 30 years--can pay of. However, it depends on the actions of Israel after the evacuation from the Gaza Strip. Is also depends on what Hamas will do: to participate in the electoral process, as it has done for the last six months, or to raise the stakes by armed resistance. Until now, kidnappings in Gaza have been carried out by tiny rogue groups which have splintered off from Fatah, the party of Mahmood Abbas, and not by Islamist groups.

Could Ariel Sharon lose the next elections? Will we expect to see a more conservative politician elected?
Ariel Sharon has only a minority position within the institutions of his party, which is more to the right and the Likud electorate. The situation could change if the Gaza evacuation goes off without major problems. If calm prevails over the next few months, Ariel Sharon could win his bet and come out of the Likud primary ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu. Should the opposite occur, he could be forced out of Likud and be compelled to form a more centrist party.

Do you think that the young generation of Israelis is more willing to make concessions toward peace?
Today’s Israeli youth is less interested in the dilemma of peace than that of the generation ahead of it, who were able to mobilize in the 80’s during the invasion of Lebanon and the first Intifada. The political position of young Israelis on the Palestinian questions is no different from that of the rest of the population.

Does the evacuation represent the starting point of a new and long-lasting phase of negotiations over the future of Palestine and Israel?
That’s what all the countries, near and far, involved in the conflict hope for, beginning with the United States. But we can already see that after the evacuation, Ariel will stake out positions far more inflexible in the hope that he can win back his party. There will be no breakthroughs over the next few months. We will have to wait until after the Palestinians elections, which instead of taking place in November 2005, have been moved to January 2006.

Who is going to finance the reconstruction in Gaza after the pullout by the Israelis?
The United States, the European Union and the Arab states will once again have to dig into their pockets. Proportionally, the Palestinians receive more aid than any other population in the world. This is because it is easier for the international community to give money than to give impetus to a genuine peace process.

What effect will the evacuation have on the colonies on the West Bank?

Over the last few weeks, the Israeli authorities have been announcing new construction programs one after another while the “Roadmap”, the only international peace plan acknowledged by Israel, provides for the freezing of new settlement activity. The decisions by Israel worry the Palestinians and the international community. In the end, the new construction, especially around Jerusalem, will lead to new catastrophes.

As thing are, what can put the breaks on the evacuation or transform it into a catastrophe?
Yes--A Palestinian attack causing many casualties or bloody anti-Palestinian attacks, especially in Jerusalem. The risks are very great, even if as time goes by the chances of them happening lessen.

20 August 2005 Events in Iraq

Fallujah. Twenty civilians were injured in Fallujah after attackers tossed two hand grenades into a crowded marketplace.

Baghdad. Four Iraqi policemen were killed in a gunfight in western Baghdad.

Baghdad. U.S. troops raided an insurgent hideout in central Baghdad, rescued a hostage and arrested three kidnappers.

Kirkuk. 1,500 followers of Moqtada al-Sadr joined hundreds of Sunni Arabs and Turkmen protesting federalism.

Baghdad. Four rebels killed in clashes for security forces

Baghdad. The Special Representative of Kofi Annan, Ashraf Qazi, has ask Iraq to repeal a decree legalizing the death penalty.

Kirkuk. Three guards were wounded in an attack on the offices of the aKurdistan Democratic Party.

Baghdad. Washington is likely to agree to yet another delay in drafting the new Constitution even though the 15 October referendum and the December elections are likely to be postponed.

Fallujah. Four Iraqi soldiers were killed and three wounded when an insurgent hurled a hand-grenade at a passing Iraqi army patrol.

Mosul. An Iraqi police patrol killed three gunmen as they repelled an insurgent attack in the northern city of Mosul. An officer was wounded in the incident.

Latifiyah. Tribal leader Intifadh Abbas was kidnapped in the town of Latifiya, south of Baghdad. Abbas heads the Khuza'ee tribe in the town of Samawa.

Baghdad. U.S. concessions to Islamists on the role of religion in Iraqi law marked a turn in talks on a constitution, negotiators said as they raced to meet a 48-hour deadline under intense U.S. pressure to clinch a deal. U.S. diplomats, who have insisted the constitution must enshrine ideals of equal rights and democracy, declined comment.

Gaza. Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas said it would fight to drive Israel out of the West Bank and Jerusalem after the Jewish state completes its withdrawal from the occupied Gaza Strip this year.

Amman. Jordanian security forces sealed off a derelict quarter of the port city of Aqaba in their hunt for suspected Arab militants who fired rockets at two U.S. warships in the harbour, officials said.

23:56 Basrah. Britain's Prince Andrew made a surprise visit to British troops in southern Iraq.

23:42 Baghdad. Sunni Arabs complained they were being sidelined in talks on the new constitution only two days before the deadline and warned that their community will reject the document if it is submitted to parliament without Sunni consent. But a Shiite politician, Khaled al-Attiyah, was upbeat and said the negotiations were in the final stage. He said the Shiites submitted a new proposal on the distribution of Iraq's oil wealth, one of the remaining obstacles to a deal by the Monday night deadline. Sunni Arabs also object to demands by Kurds and the largest Shiite party for a federal state, and oppose a major role for Shiite clergy in Najaf. On Saturday, it appeared that only Kurds and Shiites were negotiating. Sunni Arabs were not present at the deliberations.

23:04 Washington. Two Iraq war vets involved in shootings. Discharged Army vet Matthew Sepi shoots dead a woman and wounds her companion in a Las Vegas alley. Former marine Daniel Cotnoir shot at noisy revellers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, wounding two.

21:22 Baghdad. An Iraqi general commanding border defense forces was wounded when US troops opened fire on his vehicle. General Ali Hamadi was wounded in the abdomen as he was driving.

21:26 Damascus. Iraqi Transportation Minister flew to Baghdad for three days of talks on resuming flights between Damascus and Baghdad.

19:34 Baghdad. The family of former Iraqi Vice Premier Tarek Aziz were permitted to visit him in his prison cell for the first time.

16:34 Baghdad. Iraq's Kurds have let it be known that they are ready to give up self-determination if it will lend itself to a compromise on the Constitution. However, Kurdish legislator Mahmoud Osman remains opposed to the incorporation of Islam as the sole fundament of law. Meanwhile, the United States has relaxed its position on Islam as the main source of legislation.

16:33 Gaza. Mortar rounds are fired at the kibbutzes of Netiv Haasara and Nahal Oz.

16:13 Baghdad. An American MP was killed when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb.

15:46 Baghdad. Iraq's National Security Advisor Mouaffak al Roubaï says federalism is the best way to prevent civil war.

14:39 Cairo. Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood will not back Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt's first contested presidential election because he failed to deliver political reforms, a pan-Arab newspaper reported on Saturday.

06:06 Crawford. George W. Bush says the best way to honor the fallen is to win the war against terrorism.

03:39 Tehran. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran has no intention of building nuclear bombs, but it will not give up its right to enrich uranium as it aims to be self-sufficient in nuclear reactor fuel.

02:42 Washington. The White House condemns the rocket attacks in Aqaba and Eilat.