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A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press.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).

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

December 25 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Baghdad. Mortar fire directed at a police barracks.

23:50 Washington. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that Iraqis would like to see the departure of US troops "as soon as possible". General Pace's comment follows Donald Rumsfeld's decision to withdraw 7,000 troops. There are currently 155,000 US troops in Iraq. More than 60 percent of Americans disapprove of George Bush's handling of operations in Iraq.

23:14 Manama. Bahrein police clashed with Shi'ite demonstrators who had organized a sit-in to protest the arrest of Sheikh Mohamed Sabad, arrested after his return from a visit to Iran. The sheikh was accused of compromising national security, said a Bahreini Interior Ministry offical.

22:25 Tel Aviv. Italian pacifist arrested. Vittorio Arrigoni, 30, has been held in the jail of Ben Gurion Airport for five day after trying to enter the country to attend a conference on non-violence in Bethlehem. Arrigoni was injured by police as they tried to deport him aboard an Italian aircraft. After being hospitalized, he was placed in custody.

20:40 Baghdad. Second US soldier dies in roadside bombing.

16:37 Dubai: Al-Qaeda announces on a web site it has executed three women and an man who worked for the Americans. An image of the photo ID of one of the women was displayed.

14:13 Baghdad. US soldier killed by roadside bomb while on patrol.

12:37 Nassiriya. Italian Senate Preisdent Marcello Pera visits the Governor of the Province of Dhi Qar, Aziz Kadum al-Agheli.

11:22 Kirkuk: Carbomb explodes.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

24 December 2005 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Fallujah. In a visit to this Iraqi rebel bastion, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced that the USA will withdraw two combat brigades (7,500 troops) between now and spring 2006.

Baghdad. Thousands of Sunnis protested the electoral win of the conservative Shi'ite alliance in Baghdad, Mosul, Tikrit and Samarra at the request of the Iraqi Front for National Accord. The protesters loudly declared their hostility to Premier Jaafari and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Najaf. Shi'ite Imam Sadreddin Koubanji, a member of SCIRI, dismissed the idea of fresh elections following Sunni protests.

Baghdad. Speaking in the presence of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Jalal Talabani proposed a government of national unity.

Baghdad. A suicide bomber detonated his payload at at Shi'a shrine north of Baghdad, killing ten.

Baghdad. Eight Iraqi soliders were killed in a rebel attack north of Baghdad.

Baghdad. An Iraqi civilian was shot dead in the capital.

Baghdad. Two US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in the capital, bringing the total number of US KIA in the last two days to 4.

Baghdad. Al-Jazeera reports that six Sudanese, including a diplomat, were kidnapped.

Baghdad. The families of four kidnapped Western Christian activists issued a series plea for their release.

Baghdad. President Talabani met with leaders of the Sunni community, calling on them to temper their language.

Baghdad. Seven bodies found in south Baghdad

Baghdad. A US solider was killed by RPG fire while on patrol in northern Iraq.

23:59 Bethlehem. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, issued a message of peace and hope, while demanding justice for the Palestinians in his Christmas sermon.

23:57 Tehran. Russia formally proposed to Iran that it move its uranium enrichment facilities to Russian territory, raising pressure on the Tehran regime to accept the Western-backed plan for restraining its nuclear program. Iran insists the program has the sole aim of making fuel for atomic reactors that would generate electricity and denies U.S. charges it is trying to develop nuclear weapons in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Washington is pushing for Tehran to be brought before the United Nations Security Council, where it could face economic sanctions over the dispute. But Russia and China, which have vetoes on the council, oppose referral and the West has stopped short of forcing the matter. In a diplomatic note sent to Iran's government on Saturday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said that «an earlier Russian offer to Iran to establish a joint Russian-Iranian enrichment venture in Russia remains valid,» the ministry said. The note was delivered by the Russian Embassy in Tehran.

23:46 Washington. The U.S. Army, fresh off missing its latest annual recruiting goal, has launched an unprecedented effort to coax former troops to sign up again for active-duty military service, officials said on Tuesday. The Army fell about 7,000 short of its goal of sending 80,000 recruits into basic training in fiscal 2005, which ended Sept. 30. Officials attributed the shortfall to the Iraq war and other factors. The fiscal 2006 recruiting goal again is set at 80,000. Bonuses ranging from $5,000 to $19,000 are being offered and the Army also dropped a rule that had blocked former soldiers from getting training in a different career field than they previously had worked. Former Coast Guard personnel also can take part in the program.

22:32 Baghdad. Monsignor Emmanuel Delly, Patriarch of Babylon, led a procession of 400 Iraqi Christians through the Christian quarter of Karrada prior to midnight mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Church. The mass, celebrated by candlelight due to lack of power, was broadcast by public TV. However, no celebration was held in Kirkuk, home on numerous Iraqi Christians.

22:54 Najaf. Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al Roubaïé has demanded that two ex-weaponry specialists under Saddam Hussein, released by the United States, be re-arrested. Houda Ammash, dubbed "Mrs. Anthrax" by the press and Rihab Taha, known as "Dr. Germ", are among twenty-two former high-ranking officials released on 17 December by the United States. Both will remain under guard inside a US military installation pending their departure from the country. Al-Roubaïé, in Najaf for talks with Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, warned they would be arrested if they set foot outside the base.

19:01 Amman. Jordan will not give in to terrorists, said Government Spokeman Nasser Jawdeh, reacting to a three-day ultimatum issued by the kidnappers of a Jordanian national, abducted on 20 December. Mahmood Salman Saïdat, married to an Iraqi spouse, worked as a chauffeur for the Jordanian Embassy. The victim was shown in a video broadcast by al-Arabiya. Meanwhile, Sajida al-Rishawi was arrested for the 9 November bombing in Amman which killed 60.

Merry Christmas

Church of the Nativity

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Road Map is Stuck in a Morass

The destiny of the Road Map. This international peace plan provides for the creation of a Palestinian state with borders to be defined by year-end 2005. But this goal will not be achieved. Even if the Gaza Strip was unilaterally evacuated by Israel in September, the West Bank remains occupied territory where the Israel Army maneuvers at its leisure and where colonization does not cease to increase. Despite being mired down, the Road Map, meant to “put an end the occupation started in 1967”, remains the only shared diplomatic vision regularly invoked even while it is progressively emptied of its content.

The drafters of the Road Map, —the Americans, the Europeans, the Russians and representatives of the United Nations acting within an ad hoc structure: the Quartet — had tried to drawn on the lessons of the last failed attempts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian question following the collapse of the Camp David and Taba negotiations in July 2000 and in January 2001 and two years of Intifada. To reverse the drift observed during the Oslo Peace Process in 1993, the Quartet embraced three main ideas:

First, an insistence on simultaneous efforts from both sides to avoid any imposed conditions which could lead to impasse; the Palestinians were to have dismantled their armed organizations and the Israelis were to have frozen colonization.

Second, the Road Map provided for the creation of a control mechanism, supervised by the Quartet, to independently evaluate the progress achieved on the ground.

Third, the plan provided for milestones in three phases: a series of measures to restore confidence in the two parties (by June 2003), the creation of a Palestinian State with temporary borders (by June-December 2003), and later a state with permanent borders established as the outcome of negotiations on the most crucial issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict: the status of Jerusalem, the future for Palestinian refugees, the fate of the Israeli colonies and the drawing of borders. This last phase was to have been completed by 31 December 2005, opening the way towards the normalization of relations in the region. As with the plans of the past, the Road Map did not honor all its commitments, and that’s the least one could say. But the Road Map is still cited in official discourse and it will serve as a signpost during the Israeli legislative elections scheduled for 28 March 2006.

The paradoxical success of a plan, which has obviously failed in terms of its declared ambitions, is due to several factors. “It is the only plan accepted by all parties”, explains a European diplomat involved in crafting the Road Map. "It’s hard to imagine anyone proposing something else." But the façade of consensus is unable to dissimulate profound divergences. If Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon now sees merit in a plan which he termed not serious at its introduction three years ago, it is because he has succeeded in modifying it to his advantage. Mr. Sharon has inserted changes into the plan, which are contrary to both its spirit and letter and which have resulted in preconditions, starting with the disarming of armed Palestinian militias.

The Israeli Prime Minister has also successfully neutralized the Quartet for more than a year with his Gaza evacuation plan, presented against all evidence as being in harmony with the Road Map. During this period, colonization continued with the green light from Israeli authorities,. The construction of the Security Wall will allow Mr. Sharon, as one of Mr. Sharon’s advisors, Tzipi Livni, has observed, to unilaterally draw the borders to his liking. Mr. Sharon could conceivably get along with the two initial phases of the Road Map but his does not see any utility in negotiating the final status of the Palestinian Territories.

Mahmoud Abbas finds himself in a far different situation: he is ready to leapfrog the two initial phases in order to initiate immediate negotiations on the final status of Palestine. Mr. Abbas, hostile to the idea of forcibly disarming armed Palestinian militias, which have gained in popularity since the Intifada, is at odds with the steps contained in Road Map and believes that only an agreement on crucial issues can convince the groups of the superiority of a peaceful settlement to armed struggle.

This fundamental divergence in viewpoints between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders is a guarantee of impasse, which the Quartet is content to accommodate. Of course, the new chairman of the Labour Party, Amir Peretz, also believes that the Road Map is a waste of time and that is it necessary to jump to final negotiations as soon as possible, manifestly to avoid a third Intifada. But Mr. Sharon seems better placed than Peretz to win the 28 March elections.

As is always the case in the Israeli-Palestinian matters, the apparent status quo dissimulates the dynamics which will make future negotiations more difficult (should they ever start) on a definitive end to the conflict. The settlement blocs are consolidated and annexations are carried out de facto by “enclosure”, especially to the east of Jerusalem, complemented by the sanctuarization of the Jordan valley. This leaves only a hollow shell of a state and impossible to sell to the Palestinians as a receipt in full.

It is interesting to note how uninvolved the members of the Quartet are with their own peace plan and the lack of concern they display towards their unfulfilled commitments. It is equally interesting to note how political impotence gives way to activism when it’s a question of obtaining from international donors the considerable sums which make the Palestinians the most assisted people on the planet without this aid resolving the structural dysfunctions caused by the Israeli occupation and constraints imposed in the name of security.

The EU has just furnished an illustration of the diplomatic « black hole » which weighs upon the region by pathetically burying a report drafted at its request and by its own members on Israeli colonization activities in East Jerusalem since 1967. It is as if it has been ordained that diplomacy in that part of the world should have no purpose other than uselessness.

Le Monde 22.12.05


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Mad Dogs of the CIA

From L'Orient-Le Jour

The German weekly magazine Die Zeit reports that the German criminal police (BKA) placed a German national suspected of terrorism in protective custody to prevent his being kidnapped by the CIA.

Originally Egyptian, Reda Seyam was escorted by German police from Indonesia to Frankfurt. The Chancellery, under Gerhard Schröder, was informed of the operation. This German national was arrested in September 2002 by Indonesian police and interrogated by the CIA before being placed in police custody in Jakarta. According to the magazine, the CIA wanted to question him again. That someone is German or that a country's sovereignty is violated is of no interest to the Americans. They are like mad dogs, said a German policeman working in security.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

They Are Aimed at the Heartland!

One of the most successful intelligence hornswoggles of all time, the 500 kilograms of Niger Yellowcake allegedly shipped to Iraq, may take a bow and exit stage left. And let's put the spotlight on and give a big welcome to (ta-daa!): The Twelve Missing Russian Cruise Missiles Able to Carry a Nuclear Payload Recently Heisted from a Former Soviet Republic and Delivered to Iran. Hell, why not? The bigger the lie, the greater the audience.

I can only assume that the staff of Israeli General Aharon Zeevi play some sort of challenge to see who can come up with --not a big lie, not a deliberately gross exaggeration-- but the grand unified quantum lysergic hornswoggle. They're getting close.

The 12 Daily Portions of Ariel Sharon

I don't know whether to cringe or guffaw. Ariel Sharon was felled by a minor stroke on Sunday, after consuming 7 spicy kebabs, 6 marinated steaks, 5 lamb chops, 4 skewers of beef, 3 caesar salads, 2 chocolate cakes, and handmade New York rugelach. And the Israeli newspaper Maariv says this is the size of a typical daily meal for the Biggy Man of Peace.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Panorama Magazine: Niger Yellowcake

Elisabetta Burba, the Panorama reporter approached by Rocco Martino to buy the infamous Niger dossier, tells her version of the story. Link here however, site registration is required

The Scoop that Never Was 24/7/2003

There was phone call from an informer: “I have something for you...” This is how it all started, in October 2002 --the story of alleged uranium trafficking between Niger and Iraq that has become an embarrassment to the White House. After careful investigative work, I can tell you that the intelligence on uranium trafficking is a howling blunder.

Twenty million obsolete Italian lire. That was the price of garbage intelligence that has destabilized the Bush administration. That’s a little more than 10 million euros. That was the figure asked of Panorama in exchange for the forged dossier on the sale of uranium by Niger to Iraq. A sum which our magazine would refrain from paying…

This is less of a story about money than a premature scoop. It all took place in October 2002, when I was still in the Balkans investigating a story on the Kosovo Liberation Army.

I received a call from the magazine’s administrative offices on my cell phone. "Elizabeth, someone is looking for you." I place a call. On the other end is an echo from the past. Do you remember me? Of course…When I worked for Epoca [Magazine] I had two international scoops thanks to this individual. I have something for you… he told me. In a series of short phrases with hazy allusions, he presents his wares: the proof that a certain mustachioed friend bought uranium from an African nation. He tells me that he has supporting evidence: contracts, letters, and memoranda of understanding…

He has collected all the elements through this country’s embassy in Rome. So what country would this be? He refuses to tell me: I only manage to wheedle from him that it is an Islamic country. It has been days that the United States has been desperately trying to find proof that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. Not only that, but Tony Blair has just gone before the world to say that Iraq has sought to procure significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

And uranium, in a country without a civilian nuclear program like Iraq, can only mean nuclear weapons. I’ve got a smoking gun on my hands –proof that Saddam Hussein is guilty. And the evidence is presented to me on a silver platter? But what if this is a poisoned apple?

I contact Giorgio Mulè, Assistant News Director, at the Editor’s Desk. I explain everything. I reveal the name of the source. Surprise! Giorgio is acquainted with him, but through a different channel. (Giorgio is the only person, even today, who knows the identity of my source; to everyone else, he’s Mister Patacca [Garbage Intelligence].

Let’s see if there is any meat to this story, he tells me. The meeting takes place on October 7th at a bar. There’s an extra grey hat on a hat rack. This is the same person who passed me a scoop on the Balkans and a tip on direct and dangerous links between terrorism and Islam. Although he is dressed as elegantly as an English lord, Mister Patacca cannot hide working-class origins. But this gives him a certain charm. We go to a restaurant that he’s selected, one that is both down-home and pretentious.

Once we’re seated, he takes out his “wares”. 17 pages of documents. Moreover, they are in French, covered with stamps and warnings: "Confidentiel", "Urgent", "Discrétion". These are from the Niger Embassy, where there is someone who works for me, explains Mister "Patacca". I discovered them by chance while investigating a different matter: the sale of uranium to China.

The country turns out to be Niger, the third producer of uranium in the world. The conversation switches to money. I was categorical: first the proof, then the payment. And if the papers are forgeries, no deal. A gentleman’s agreement, which my informer finds hard to swallow but finally accepts. We examine the documents.

The first document is dated February 1, 1999. It is a letter from the Embassy of Iraq to the Vatican addressed to the Embassy of Niger in Rome. It announces that His Excellency Mr. Wissam al-Zahawie, Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq to the Holy See, would travel to the capital of Niger as Representative of His Excellency Saddam Hussein. But…Why is the letter written in Italian? The Iraqis speak English and the Nigerois, French.” Italian is their "lingua franca", explains Mr. "Patacca".

A juicier element is the letter on official letterhead which ends with a stamp of the President of the Republic and corresponding signature. But it is addressed to "Monsieur le Président". That’s our friend with the moustache, Saddam, says Mr. "Patacca", winking. The text references the inter-government accord 381-Ni 2000 “concerning the supply of uranium” to Iraq signed on July 6, 2000: “A total of 500 tons of pure uranium per year will be delivered in two phases” Five hundred tons per year? A hugely exaggerated quantity. We continue. The following document comes from Niamey. Something is funny: the letter, dated July 30, 1999, talks about facts which occurred in 2000. And someone has corrected ’99 to 2000 with a pen. Aye-yai-yai!

The famous Memorandum of Understanding is next: three pages plus a cover letter. Then there is a coded message. The only uncoded word is "Nitra". Is there a way to decrypt this?, I ask Mr. Petacca. We’ll see. First let’s finish going through the documents. Now we come across what should be the key document – It is our pleasure to inform you that delivery of chemical U92 (238.0289) has definitely taken place today. All the documents concerning this operation have been consigned today to the company, Nitra Transit, which will handle delivery from Niamey to Cotonou. U92 corresponds to the symbol U for uranium and its atomic number, 92. The figure 238.0289 is the atomic weight.

The icing on the cake is topped by a cherry: two documents that reveal an action plan dubbed Global Support. During the FAO conference in Rome in 2002, Niger, Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Iran formed a holy Islamic alliance. The six rogue states agreed to support governments “under international embargo”, suspected of “manufacturing nuclear, bacteriological and chemical” weapons and accused of international terrorism. But also “Islamic patriots accused of membership in criminal organizations” Well, what do you know...

Mister Patacca goes home to pick up the code book to decrypt the ciphered message. I wait for him at a filthy filling station. When he returns, there’s a pack of photocopies in his car: This is the Republic of Niger Code Book printed in 1967. We start decoding the message at a gas station, keeping a watchful eye on the parking lot. He reads the sequence of numbers then consults the code book and finds the corresponding words which he writes in my reporter’s notebook. At the end we work it out. It’s the news of the signing of an agreement between Niger and China for the sale of uranium. It is not relevant.

We spend the evening studying the papers laid out on the kitchen table. I grasp a few things that had escaped me in the restaurant. Above all, the text of the purchase agreement is missing, there’s only the cover letter. Groan…. But that’s not all. The letter which is supposed to accompany the agreement, dated Niamey, October 10, 2000, is received in Rome on September 28, 2000. Is it only an oversight? If that weren’t enough, the two letters from the Iraqi embassy have the same text (announcing the visit of Saddam’s ambassador to Niamey).

Dates and numbers are changed in the memorandum. Strange coincidence. But there’s also the document confirming the sale-purchase of the uranium. That dated August 28, 2001, does not mention the purchaser or the final destination.

The following morning, October 8th, I phone Mister Patacca: The documentation is somewhat incomplete. I’m going to require a supplementary investigation. Doing a Google search on several of the names found in the documents, some of the ambassadors, diplomats and officials do in fact exist. For others there’s no result. For example, I found nothing on Foreign Minister Ailele Elhadj Habibou. Later I realize that because the name was partially obscured by the stamp, I typed in Ailele and not Allele, who was minister between 1988 and 1989 and not in 2000 as the documents would have us believe. A result was returned for Nitra, a transportation company with branch offices in Benin and Togo. Benin, the country in which the uranium for Iraq would be loaded.

With so many doubts, I go to see Giorgio Mulè. As he reads, the Assistant Editor raises an eyebrow. When he finishes reading, he jumps to his feet: Let’s go see the Editor-in-Chief. Carlo Rossella is in his office. Giorgio suggests moving to the bunker: we call it that because it is the only room with four walls in the open space of Panorama. Giorgio summarizes everything within two minutes. He then hands the document to Rossella, who narrows his eyes to concentrate. If this is true, then we have the smoking gun, he finally exclaims. But only if it’s true. Certainly the risk of a swindle is stratospheric. What to do? I suggest going to Niger: “Agreed” says Rossella. Mulè interrupts, Yes, a fact-finding mission to Niger is absolutely essential. But it’s nearly impossible that Elisabetta will find any confirmation. You just can’t go to that kind of country and demand to know if the President has sold uranium to Saddam Hussein. We’ve got to find another angle.

Rosella has an idea: Let’s consult the Americans: they’ve done most of the investigating into weapons of mass destruction, so they’d be the only people who can establish the authenticity of the documents. At the same time, we’ll conduct an investigation of our own. And that’s the way it went. As soon as I left the bunker, I requested a visa for Niger. Meanwhile, the Editor-in-Chief makes an appointment for me at the US Embassy.

On October 9th, I’m in Via Veneto. [Location of the US Embassy.] I have an appointment with an Italian national –a press liaison officer. He introduces me to his American boss and disappears. We go to the cafeteria. I begin to speak cautiously. When the American understands what I'm talking about, he makes a phone call and takes me to his office, where three other persons join us. I explain that I’m there seeking confirmation. They ask me questions, and try to make me identify my source. In vain. But I tell them that Rossella has given his permission for them to make a photocopy. I then leave.

I go back to the office and find additional documents which have arrived via fax. It’s the coded original and a version decrypted by my source. One document says the uranium was to have been transported to Iraq via Turkey and the other says the ore would be loaded aboard a Gabonese vessel with transshipment to take place in international waters. As verification I demand the page from the code book which contains the transcription for the word, Iraq. It shows up shortly afterwards. The word Iraq corresponds to 243.19.

As I prepare for my trip, I make a wave of phone calls to my contacts in Africa. Bad news. The NGOs, reporters and missionaries tell me that Niger is a closed country, where it is difficult to work, with a strong presence of Islamic fundamentalist foragers from Nigeria. Even if no one is aware of my reason for going to Niger, they all warn me to exercise caution.

I reveal my purpose only to a missionary –that I am going in investigate uranium trafficking: Be careful. Last month a French reporter investigating uranium was kicked out of the country as "persona non grata". Move around carefully. And keep your mouth shut when you talk to the authorities.

My Editor-in-Chief suggests that I adopt an appropriate cover. I find an acceptable alibi. Some months ago in the Téneré desert, fossilized dinosaur tracks were found. Great. I’ll go to Niger to investigate dinosaurs. The next day I go to the Niger Embassy to request a visa. There, I see a person who corresponds to the description indicated by my source. Could this really be his contact? I then renew my vaccination against yellow fever. Then a family emergency arises and I postpone my trip by a few days. I decide to phone Via Veneto [the US Embassy]. We can’t tell you if the documents are authentic, the head of the press liaison office tells me. That was my last contact with US officials. I won’t hear from them again.

I arrive in Niamey on October 17 with three books on dinosaurs. I study the dinosaurs on display at the National Museum religiously (from the Ouranosaurus nigeriensis to the Afrovenator abakensis). The dues are paid and I'm ready to go.

During the 1970’s, uranium brought wealth to this country. But today, because of the nuclear energy crisis, it is difficult to find a market for the 3,0000 tons of uranium produced each year. The result? It has become the poorest country in the world after Sierra Leone. A worker here earns 30 euros a month.

I bone up on natural, enriched and impoverished uranium; isotopes 238, 235 and 234; nuclear reactors and fissile plutonium. Then I begin my quest. The Nitra company exists, but its business is on the wane. It’s not like it used to be, they tell me. We don’t do much business now. But why? Don’t you transport 500 tons of uranium a year to Cotonou? Same with the Islamic Bank of Niger for Trade and Investment, the institution mediating the purchase agreement with Iraq. It’s not a bank with real roots in Niger, neither is it the Chase Manhattan of Niger, that is, the business bank around which the main financial transactions of the country are carried out. One afternoon I run into a Western official. I throw out a question on uranium. He smiles. In theory, there is not much interest in it. But that’s not true. Here there are ten embassies, including that of Pakistan –its only embassy in Western Africa. Strange…

Right...Pakistan, a well-informed source tells me. A few years ago Niger sold Libya more than 500 tons of uranium in a official transaction. There’s a rumor that Ghedaffi resold it to Pakistan. So I throw in a question about Iraq. Don’t know anything about that….Everything is possible, but that seems unlikely to me. Because of transportation, mostly. Libya is just over the frontier. But Iraq is on the other side of the world. And here there are two installations which process uranium into yellowcake.

They put the yellowcake in 400-liter containers, filled halfway. 200 kilograms per container. Then they are transported to Cotonou, where they are loaded aboard ship. The organization required for that level of trafficking involves enormous problems of transportation and security. The highways are infested with bandits. There’d have to be a huge deployment of men, in addition to trucks. My source is not aware that 500 tons are involved which would require 2,500 containers to be moved by truck from Africa and transported to Iraq via Turkey. It seems like a political fiction thriller…I return to Italy empty-handed. As far as fact-checking is concerned, I have little or nothing. I am debriefed by the Editor-in-Chief, who decides to publish nothing. It was October 23, 2002. Nine months before the explosion of the Niger-gate scandal.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iran Observes Iraqi Elections

Boy, is Bush dumb. He can't understand that Iran doesn't have to lift a finger to further its interests in Iraq --that Dubya has lost game, set and match on his own and must deal with the consequencies. This analysis is from L'Orient Le Jour.

Iran Hopes for a Renewed Victory by Shi'ite Parties in Iraq

A Shi’ite victory at the polls will complete the political process allowing this group to install themselves at the controls of power in Iraq, according to Morad Veissi, reporter and an expert in regional questions. Veissi adds that such a result benefits Iran.

The Islamic Republic, a geographical neighbor but also a source of spirituality for the majority of the Iraqi people, has adopted a low profile concerning these elections as they did on prior occasions. The official Iranian press has observed discretion and Iranian officials have refrained from hasty remarks. Such discretion is meant to deflect accusations of its interference in Iraqi affairs.

Iran has historical ties not only to the Shi’ite Iraqi parties now in power in Baghdad but also with the Kurds, whom it supported during their revolt against Saddam Hussein. Outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari is a member of al-Da‘wa al-Islamiyya, a Shi’ite party created at the end of the 1950’s, found political asylum in Iran during the 1980 during the height of the Iran-Iraq War. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the main Shi’ite political party, was created in Tehran in 1982. It’s leader, Abdel Aziz Hakim, has maintained contacts with the Iranian regime.

On the other hand, Iran's relations are non-existent with Shi’ite Iyad Allawi, the first head of government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, who is presenting himself as the secular alternative with the support of Washington. The two Shi’ite groups are well-placed to win the [legislative] elections. The Shi’ites, led by Hakim and Jaafari, have a better chance of winning over Allawi, observes Veissi. The nature of the relationships binding together SCIRI to Tehran remains subject to caution. Some analysts believe that the political party of Abdel Aziz Hakim has emancipated itself since his return to Iraq while others believe that the relationship remains strong.

In any case, the victory of the Shi’ite and Kurd parties last January has had the effect of considerably warming relations between the two countries. After a visit by Iraqi head of government Ibrahim Jaafari to Tehran in July, President Jalal Talabani visited Iran in November, the first official visit of an Iraqi head of state in nearly forty years. The successive visits of the different Iraqi officials to Tehran clearly demonstrate the rapprochement between the two nations, said Mr. Veissi, according to whom Iran is the first destination in the region for Iraqi leaders.

However, several officials in Baghdad have accused Tehran of interference in Iraq’s internal affairs which the US and Britain have accused it of destabilization. President George W. Bush declared on Monday that Iraq’s neighbor to the east, Iran, is actively working to undermine a free Iraq. Iran does not want democracy to succeed in Iraq because Iraq threatens the legitimacy of the theocracy of oppression in place in Iran. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said at the beginning of December that Iran pursues a dual policy : one the one hand, it supports the Iraqi goverment and fosters economic and political ties. But on the other it works with groups fighting against the new order in Iraq.

Such a vision is contested by analysts like Mr. Veissi, who observes, As Iraqi administrations and institutions are put in place, the pretext for the American presence diminishes--and that suits the interests of Iran.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Panorama Magazine: Iraq's Nuclear Centrifuges

Back in October, I posted the translation of three-part series by Bonini and D'Avanzo published in La Repubblica on the Nigergate scandal. In Part III, Nigergate: The Great Nuclear Centrifuge Scam, the authors discuss a September 12, 2002, article in the Berlusconi-owned magazine, Panorama, exposing alleged evidence of Saddam's trafficking in yellowcake and uranium enrichment equipment. I've finally gotten around to translating it.

The fantastically outrageous assertions, claimed to be corroborated by the CIA by reporter Pino Buongiorno, testify to a corrupt international press propaganda operation to deceive the public, in which unethical NY Times reporter Judith Miller participated. I call it, Marshalling the Crude Lies.

La guerra? è cominciata. The war on Iraq has begun, by Pino Buongiorno, September 12, 2002. [Note: I had to pull this from the archives of Panorama--site registration required. The link may not work.]

After coming to find out that Baghdad had been successful in obtaining a half-ton of uranium, the United States has begun the countdown. More than 30 thousand men are ready to go into action in the Gulf region and another 150 thouand troops are on alert. Specialized brigades have already received the order to prepare to strike at Saddam Hussein.

They knew but there was nothing they could do. Or rather, they did not intervene in time. This is how CIA agents explain, with some embarrassment, the recent coup by Iraqi agents on the international weapons trafficking market. In CIA parlance, it was “classic triangulation”, so timely and perfect as to push the Bush Administration to speed up preparations for a settling of accounts with Saddam Hussein.

At stake was a half-ton of uranium. Agents of Mukhabarat, the Iraqi secret service, purchased it in cash through a Jordanian intermediary in far-off Nigeria, where arms smugglers had transported it after having carried out a heist of a nuclear storage facility in a former Soviet republic.

The 500 kilograms of uranium was shipped to Amman and from there transported overland, after 7 hours of travel time, to its final destination: a facility 20 km north of Baghdad called al-Rashidiyah, known for the production and processing of fissile material. Although this transpired a month ago, CIA officials in Amman are at a loss to explain how Iraqi agents were able to carry out such a caper right under their noses.

Beset by yet another failure, George Tenet, director of the U.S. spy agency in Langley, has decided to reinforce the CIA contingent in Jordan and has dispatched the Clandestine Operations Division’s the best agents with lengthy experience in the Arab world. He has also alerted allied secret services that another operation, like that in Nigeria, could take place within the next few weeks.

Specifically, the alert concerns Germany, where in the past Iraq has attempted to purchase, for example from Leycochem, civilian technology and industrial components which could be easily converted to military use, as well that the much sought-after aluminum tubes for gas centrifuges.

But the alert also includes Italy, targeted for purchase of cutting edge agricultural equipment which Saddam Hussein’s scientists could transform into weapons of mass destruction. [Bwa-ha-ha-ha. Whew, what a whopper!--Nur]

There is no doubt, especially during the last few years, that the Baghdad dictator has accelerated his weapons programs to build a ground-to-air missile defense system and a fiber-optic communications system linking the various military installations and command centers in order to construct new chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. This has been confirmed to German, British and American intelligence by the most recent Iraqi defectors, such as nuclear scientist Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who sought asylum in the United States in 2001 via Bangkok. According to al-Haideri, beginning in December 1998, when the UN weapons inspectors were ordered out of the country, Iraq has reactivated 300 weapons labs.

Furthermore, Saddam has ordered nuclear production facilities and uranium storage depots to be secreted inside hospitals and residences. Other weaponry is hidden in subterranean bunkers which appear to be wells. Finally, according to this Iraqi scientist, crack Republican Guard outfits have made ready installations, which today are empty, where secret projects could be easily moved should their sites be revealed or bombed.

Another Iraqi physicist, Khidir Hamza, who was about to become the father of the Iraqi atomic bomb, testified before US Congress last July that “Iraq is in the final stages of its uranium enrichment program.” Hamza added that the German secret service “with which I am in contact, believes that Iraq has dozens of tons of uranium, enough to build three atomic bombs by 2005.”

Satellite photos have provided further worrisome evidence. In August, for example, seventy or so trucks have been observed near the Taji military base, near the Iraqi capital, know for the production of biological weapons. Last spring, another column of heavy equipment was photographed while unloading steel tubes in Fallujah, detected as a chemical weapons production center. More recently, a commercial satellite photo taken last week has shown that new structures had been built near nuclear weapons facilities, such as that at Tuwaitha.

Iraqi Election Rally

Photo by Ahmad al-Rubaye

Sadr City election rally yesterday.

Israel's Machiavellian Gambit

Israel continues to play the cynic's game, slow squeezing the life out of the Palestinian dream of a state. Exploiting the pretext of "security", Israel continues to devour Palestian territory and hopes. And George W. Bush provides the garrot.

Israel pulls out in order to better remain. An analysis by Marius Campean and Jérôme Drevon via L'Orient-Le Jour.

For the first time since the 1967 War, the Israeli army has completely evaculated Palestinian territory. The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon completed its disengagement from Gaza on September 12. Even if the Gaza Strip is for the moment isolated from the rest of the world, the political progress which the evacuation represents is undeniable. But a closer look reveals that the Israeli departure from Gaza, which received a great deal of media attention, was accompanied by several advances in the occupation of the West Bank. These advances are covered by silence.

By studying the new, massive confiscations of Palestinian lands around Jerusalem, the advancement of the Separation Wall and the flow of new colonists towards the West Bank, one must come to realize that Israeli zeal is merely dust in the eyes of the world. It appears that Israel has pulled out of Gaza in order to reinforce its presence on the West Bank.

The Israeli army and the 8,000 evacuated colonists who populated this narrow strip of land –5% of occupied territory– hardly make a dent compared to 450,000 colonists who live on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. A number which never ceases to increase: this year along more than 12,000 new colonists have moved to the Occupied Territories.

Neither the annexation of East Jerusalem nor the de facto shift in the borders separating the State of Israel from the Palestinians by means of the continuing expansion of colonies on the Palestinian side of the Green Line have been recognized by the international community. However, on the pretext of security concerns, Israel has been conducting a policy of colonization since 1967 on the West Bank and of forced isolation of Jerusalem from the rest of the Occupied Territories. The new Separation Wall that Israel has been building over the last three years has confirmed the results of this territorial policy.

The sprawling settlement blocks on the West Bank have already been considered as “immutable new realities” during the last peace negotiations at Camp David and at Taba in 2000-2001. George W. Bush treats the blocks as such in his recent correspondence with Ariel Sharon. The ongoing policy of colonization has not delayed in bearing it fruits.

As to East Jerusalem, it has found itself isolated over the years, surrounded by a dozen or so Israeli colonies. In addition to the colonies, there is the impact of the Separation Wall: once it is cut off on all sides from the rest of the West Bank, it is inevitable that the city will end up on the Israeli side during future final negotiations –forced legalization following illegal annexation.

It is precisely this policy of fait accompli concerning Jerusalemite land and the colonies that has been unrelentingly deployed in parallel with the evacuation from Gaza. The principal instrument of this intrepid political undertaking is most assuredly the Separation Wall.

Had the wall had followed the Green Line —the Arab-Israeli 1967 armistice line— this enormous security enterprise would have been defensible before the law and in the court of international opinion. But a Security Wall around the Gaza Strip is never mentioned.

Effectively, whether or not a wall like that of Berlin, Korea or China is justifiable in the absolute in the 21st century, Israel has the right to make its frontiers impenetrable. Israel could even conclude that the only way to stop a few dozen suicide bombers from the West Bank is this form of collective punishment in which millions of Palestinians are interned in their territories. Effectively, sensitized by the televised images of busses, cafés and shopping centers bloodied by the 2001-2003 bombings, the Western world could come to the following conclusion: as long as this type of violence against Israeli civilians continues, the whole of Palestinian society must be put under quarantine —in much the same way as a country experiencing an outbreak of mad cow disease is isolated from neighboring markets until the disease disappears.

But the wall is far from following the Green Line. In fact, the difference between the 300 km of the Green Line and the nearly 670 km of the Security Wall can be calculated by the incursions made into Palestinian territory. The wall takes a deep bite out of 22% of Palestine which is rightfully Palestinian and transfers a tenth of that land to the Israeli side. This is to integrate the sprawling settlement blocks of Ariel, Gush Etzion and Maale Adumim, built on Palestinian land, into Israel.

In Israel, the needs of security are presumably do not include recognition of Palestinian desires, particularly those of mobility and territorial contiguity inside the lands which are left to them. In a paradigm where Israeli military force exceeds not only that of the Palestinians but that of the Arabs countries of the Middle East combined, the strong have ignored the needs of the week for some time now and will continue to do so into the future.

Unilateral action —such as the annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 War— has become the rule of the game despite the formal protest of other countries (although with the tacit approval of the United States). It is a cynic’s game, practiced by a series of Israeli governments. Since 1973, there has not been a single prime minister who has not allowed, even encouraged, the expansion of Israeli colonies on the West Bank, especially around Jerusalem.

Let us take the example of Maale Adumim, an Israeli colony situated 15 km east of the Green Line separating West Jerusalem (Israeli) from East Jerusalem. The colony is in the heart of the West Bank, because between Jerusalem and the Jordanian frontier, there is only 30 km of Palestinian territory. Israel has unilaterally decided to keep possession of it even in the possibility of a future Palestinian State. Prime Minister Sharon has never missed an occasion to reiterate this, and it seems confirmed in his exchange of letters with President Bush in 2004.

In order to keep this colony, Israel plans to extend the Separation Wall to surround Maale Adumim, leaving only a micro-corridor of 15 km for the passage from north to south within the West Bank. In fact, when the wall is finished in this area, East Jerusalem and more than 150 km2 of Palestinian territory will be entirely enclosed within Israel.

Besides the fact that a future Palestinian State would not be viable in conditions of territorial contiguity gravely reduced by the Security Wall, the price paid by the Palestinians is more than immediate: the wall separates Jerusalemite villages from their arable land, workers from their jobs, students from their schools, traders from their markets and pilgrims their from holy sites. Paradoxically, it is easier for an Argentinean Christian to go to pray at the Holy Sepulcher or for an Indonesian Muslim to pray in the Esplanade of the Mosques than for a Palestinian who lives 15 km away to enter the center of Jerusalem’s Old City.

When one considers the destructive effect of the Israeli occupation on every facet of Palestinian life, one must ask if the Israelis seriously intend to conclude a viable peace or whether they intend to maintain the status quo of infinite occupation –or until “Palestine becomes Finland”, in the words of Dov Weinglass, Ariel Sharon's foreign policy advisor.

This past August 18th, Israel concluded its evacuation of 65 km2 of colonies in Gaza in the thrall of a global public touched by the tears of Israeli children, who refused to yield the land taken by their parents to their legitimate Palestinian owners. The same day, Israeli authorities ordered the expropriation of 67 km2 of Palestinian land, two square kilometers more than it evacuated, to complete the Security Wall around Maale Adumim, with the declared intention of linking Jerusalem to a new colony. Thus, any future Palestinian claim to a portion of the Holy City will be rendered null and void by its total encirclement.

Although it has withdrawn from Gaza, Israel has not ceased to extend itself into the West Bank while annexing East Jerusalem and another 10 per cent of Palestinian territory conquered in 1967. One cannot help but ask, outside the anti-terrorist rhetoric which has developed since September 11, if the Jewish State is not in the process of Machiavellian expansion of its territory to then wash its hands by abandoning the Palestinians who live beyond the Security Wall.

It is of these Palestinians, deprived of education, heath care, markets, holy sites, and even their historical, logical and legitimate capital, that the world demands the renunciation all armed resistance. But the world has not understood that a needed generalized rational spirit to permeate through Palestinian society cannot emerge due to the inherent desperation of living in the knowledge of death foretold –the slow and inexorable death of a dream for a viable state.

Marius Campean, PhD, Political Science at EHESS (Paris) and McGill (Montréal), is in training in Ramallah with the Canadian International Development Agency. Jérôme Drevon is a student in International Relations at IUHEI, Geneva, Switzerland.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

US Trains Georgian Troops for Deployment to Iraq

From a story by AFP reporter Simon Ostrovsky via L'Orient-LeJour

Twenty soldiers fire on an angry crowd and a man who has thrown a grenade into their midst. But their weapons have fired blanks. This is an exercise planned by the US Army to train Georgian troops to serve in Iraq.

They fired on the crowd. That’s not good, comments Lt. Roberto Ingham, as other US instructors evaluate the possible consequences of such an action. Two of the 538 Georgian troops trained to serve in the Coalition, as well as numerous civilians, would have been killed.

This is just one of the many situations which Georgian soldiers must face in Iraq next year. The United States, more and more visible in the Caucasus, a strategic area and formerly turf belonging to Moscow, have considerably reinforced their military cooperation with Georgia and Azerbaijan as part of the War on Terror.

The Georgians are participating in the War on Terror. They are playing a genuine role, says the US Ambassador to Tbilissi, John Tefft, who is visiting the former Soviet air base outside the Georgian capital where the training exercise is taking place. US instructors have trained nearly 3,000 Georgian troops, or one soldier in five, since the beginning of the program in 2002.

Located between Russia and Iran, the Caucasus is a strategic area lusted after by the United States, which hopes to us it as a logistics operations center for the NATO effort in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but also for its proximity to the giant hydrocarbon reserves of the Caspian Sea. In total, the USA has spent more than $250 million in military aid to Georgia and neighboring Azerbaijan, where they trained the Coast Guard and built radar installations close to the frontiers of Iran and Russia.

One of the important stakes in the region is to ensure the security of the Baku- Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, a $4 billion project supported by Washington and which is soon to start pumping Caspian oil to Western markets. It is very important for the United States and for Europe, given the enormous quantity of gas and oil that the pipeline will transmit.

Observers say that Georgia, like Azerbaijan, beset by unresolved separatist conflicts, willingly participated with the American in missions in Afghanistan and in Iraq in order to give its troops experience. Thanks to the Americans, our boys are accustomed to modern combat, terrorism and insurgency, says Alex Rondeli, Director of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. The US has been careful to state that they support a peaceful solution to the conflict between Tbilisi and the separatist governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Day at the Egyptian Elections

Le Monde's special correspondent Cécile Hennion covers voting in Egypt.

Egyptian authorities panic in the face of an Islamist victory.

Three men are concealed at the end of Khorshid Street, in Sharqueyya, the fief of Mohammad Morsi, the highest ranking member of the Muslim Brotherhood permitted to run for office in the Egyptian elections. One of the men has a pail filled with rocks, pieces of concrete and glass bottles. These men are the baltagueyya, a term untranslatableterm meaning means faithless,lawless individuals paid by the National Democratic Party to commit acts of vandalism in order to spread panic. One hundred meters away, a colorful assembly of veiled women is waiting in front of the polling station reserved to women of the neighborhood.

It is 8 o’clock in the morning, Wednesday, December 7th. Some have been waiting for more than two hours, fanning themselves with their pink voting cards. The station is open, but a dense cordon of police with helmets, club and shields bar the entrance and are deaf to the pleas from the women who hope to enter. They know that we are going to give our vote to the Muslim Brotherhood because we are in Islamic dress, explains the elderly Ashgan. I don’t care, I’ll wait all day long if I have to. A female voter, waving her membership card in the NDP in the face of the police, is able to cross the security cordon with no problem.

One of the baltagueyya gives the signal. Suddenly, glass bottles shatter against the walls, dispersing dangerous shards. Rocks and concrete rain down on the women, who flee screaming. A dozen baltagueyya, posted at the other end of the street, make a charge at them from the rear. They toss rocks and Molotov cocktails as well as bottles of sulfuric acid. Within the space of a minute, Khorshid street is transformed into a battlefield, furrowed with plumes of smoke. A little girl falls down, her food severely burned. From the surrounding buildings, men begin enter the streets.

From the balconies, neighbors organize a counterattack, throwing anything they can get their hands on at the attackers.

As the baltagueyya retreat, a small metal cannister launched by police lands in the middle of the street. It’s a pepper bomb, someone shouts! Panic gives way to choking. People are holding their stomachs to vomit, everyone’s coughing, their eyes are reddening and their skin is burning. When the smoke clears, the baltagueyya are gone and the street is deserted. One by one, the women return to assemble in front of the police cordon. Seated on the sidewalk, the elderly Ashgan sobs, immodestly displaying her wounded leg. The baltagueyya are the down-and-out of the neighborhood, she says. Election time in Egypt is baltagueyya season.

In the Sharqueyya district in the heart of the Nile delta, the tension was predictable. During the last day of voting in the Egyptian elections on December 7, 11 of the 35 Muslim Brotherhood candidates faced off against the NDP. Khorshid Street is a strategic position in the struggle between the party in power and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Across the street from the polling station are the headquarters of Mohammad Morsi. This physician, who runs the Zagazig hospital, is a member of the “guidance” bureau, the Muslim Brotherhood control center. In the outgoing Parliament, he was the Brotherhood’s party whip. This year, with or without the reelection of Dr. Morsi, the Brotherhood will have at least 76 seats in Parliament, an historic record and a political breakthrough which the government is trying to limit.

After the explosion of violence, the women lost their composure. Judges! Hey, judges! You are our only hope besides God! The ringleader is Abir, a young woman veiled in black. This country will never change as long as we remain silent, she shouts. Why do we have to live in fear? She turns to the police. May you be covered in shit—you’re defending corrupt men and dictators! "Shut up", the women whisper, "You’ll get yourself arrested!" I’m going to shout the truth! cries Abir sharply, so I don’t go to hell on Judgment Day!

A family walks out of the neighborhood. They are Christian Copts, who are numerous in the region. They were not permitted to vote. We don’t have an NDP membership card, explains Sabet Morqos, the father. But we wouldn’t have just voted for anyone, except the Islamists. Today we officiously enjoy few rights. Tomorrow, with the Brotherhood in power, we’d lose everything, officially.

Khaled, a forty year-old accountant, wanted to vote for the Brotherhood. To tell you the truth, he admits, the Brotherhood scares me a little. I like what they say, but nobody knows exactly what their agenda is: the Iranian model? The Saudi or the Turkish model? But we are so stifled that any change —even for the worse— is better. By sending in the baltagueyya, people hate them even more. A vote for the Brotherhood is a protest vote, and they're gaining ground every day.

Back in the quarter, the violence has resumed. Every street is under siege. Knives and sabers are unsheathed. The clashes oppose the Muslim Brotherhood to the baltagueyya. It’s the Palestinian war! cries a child, who is delighted to throw his stones as he’s seen on television. A pause intervenes when teargas is deployed or it is time for prayer. Inside the Muslim Brotherhood offices, doctors tend to the wounded. A baltagueyya mishandled his Molotov cocktail and became a human torch. A photographer is brought in after being struck in the face with a projectile. He’ll lose that eye, comments a doctor.

The legislative elections, which began on November 9th in an atmosphere of remarkable calm, ended on December 7th in unprecedented violence and with a death toll of 6, including two in Sharqueyya, and hundreds of wounded. In Khorshid Street, the police condon remains immobile until the polling station has closed. The city returns to calm. Baltagueyya season is over.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wolfowitz: "Because I don't have to"

Le Monde's Washington correspondent, Corinne Lesnes, reports via WaPo that World Bank President and Iraq war conspirator Paul Wolfowitz was at the National Press Club yesterday, where he spoke about peace, poverty and multilateralism, but refused to answer questions on the war on Iraq.

Q. How do you account for the intelligence failures regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
A. (After a pause) Well, I don't have to.

A crowd of protesters was waiting outside and Wolfowitz decided to leave though an underground exit.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Egyptian Elections: You Got to Die for Your Right to Vote.

23:26 Egypt, clashes at polling stations, seven shot dead by police.

An independent Egyptian human rights organization confims that at least one of the dead was killed by fire from police. Hundreds of polling staions were closed nearly all day long. In other locations, only voters registered as NDP supporters were permitted to vote.

Hysterical air marshals; collective punishment

The Alpizars

Update: The air marshals who shot Alpizar may be in trouble over their lethal intervention. Via Yahoo News:
The two federal air marshals involved in the deadly shooting of a threatening air passenger in Miami have been put on administrative leave pending investigation of the incident, officials said on Thursday.
Witnesses have come forward to say Alpizar never said anything about a bomb.

Rough and tough US air marshals shot dead a man who was off his meds, literally.
The man, identified as Rigoberto Alpizar, a 44-year-old U.S. citizen, was gunned down on a jetway just before the American Airlines plane was about to leave for Orlando, near his home in Maitland. The man's wife says her husband was bipolar - a mental illness also known as manic-depression - and had not had his medication. Four to five shots were fired. After the shooting, police boarded the plane and told the passengers to put their hands on their heads. Investigators then spread passengers' bags on the tarmac and let dogs sniff them for explosives, and bomb squad members blew up at least two bags.

Harold Pinter's Nobel Lecture

Harold Pinter, the 2005 Nobel prizewinner for literature, said today that he believes US President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair should be brought before the International Criminal Court of Justice for having initiated the war on Iraq. "The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law.", said the British playwright in a pre-recorded address that Swedish academy has made available in several languages:
How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? (...) Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice....But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution....We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

[The USA's] official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'.... 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources....The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. (...) The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning....Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama Bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Blow? China? Paris ? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity – the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons – is at the heart of present American political philosophy.

Both audio and text files may be found

The clouds above, the muck below

Pancho in Le Monde, 4 December 2005

As we all know, Condoleezza Rice is the pretty face on Dick Cheney. The Secretary of State has the title, all right, but the policies are dictated by the balding, crooked-mouthed firebreather under Dubya's desk.

This extract is from a report by Le Monde's Berlin correspondent, Antoine Jacob, on Condoleezza Rice's visit to Germany, where the subject of secret prisons and renditions was discussed with Germany's new Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The upshot is evident footdragging. In comparison, just look at the speed with which French Interior Minister Sarkozy announced deporations of "trouble-making" youth following the suburban riots in France. But on the subject of secret prisons and torture, there will be a long ballet of hand-waving, innuendo, shrugs, committee-forming, rule-checking, report-writing and feigned surprise with the hope that it can all be swept under the rug. So much for high-minded principles of sovereignty and justice. As in the novels of John Le Carré or Graham Greene, no revered principle is absolute--it's all pragmatics in the shadows of dusk.

Mrs. Rice is unable to erase all doubts on the actions of the CIA in Europe.

...In the last few days, the German people learned from the press that the former team in power, led by Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, knew much more than it admitted concerning the activities of the CIA in Germany. Normally, this information would have been manna from heaven for Mrs. Merkel. Mr. Schröder had built his popularity on his opposition to American policies in the Middle East. But following the September legislative elections, the CDU had to work out an accord with the Social Democrats to govern.

Mrs. Merkel’s foreign minister is none other than the former head of chancellery during the reign of Mr. Schröder, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. This Social Democrat had been informed in Spring 2004 of a blunder on the part of the CIA committed against a German national, Khaled Al-Masri. Likewise, Otto Schily, former Interior Minister, was informed. To prevent the destabilization of her government due to questions that could be raised among public opinion by the revelations, Mrs. Merkel has taken the issue by the horns and has announced that Mr. Steinmeier would testify before a parliamentary commission.

After Berlin, Mrs. Rice went to Romania while refusing all comment on the possible existence of CIA-run secret prisons in that country. Human Rights Watch has accused Romania and Poland of allowing the CIA to interrogate presumed al-Qaeda terrorists on its territory. Bucharest has denied the allegations. However, President Traian Basescu admitted on Tuesday that CIA planes had landed in Romania within the framework of cooperation between clandestine services.

Other European countries, traditional allies of the United States such as the Netherlands, have raised their voices to demand explanations, including the role of governments in the affair. Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot has let it be known that will raise the issue during the NATO Ministers Meeting on Wednesday. On Tuesday, he was unable to get precise answers on six CIA flights observed over the last few months. An investigation is underway in Holland, as well as in Belgium and in the Scandinavia. In Italy, the Milan daily, Il Corriere della Sera, interviewed an ex-CIA agent. According to this source, the Italian government was informed on plans to abduct former imam "Abu Omar" by US agents on 17 February 2003 in Milan. On Tusday, the British daily The Guardian published for the first time a list of 210 CIA-owned or chartered flights which had stopped in the UK.

Update: The Portuguese daily Diario de Noticias reports that some CIA-chartered flights have landed at Portuguese airports since June 2002.

Update 2: Prisoners from Poland and Romania have been supposedly moved to secret CIA prisons in the Sahara, evoking the notorious prison camps of General Franco.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Iraq, The Report Card

In the comments @ Atrios, Jade has prepared the Report Card on Iraq. (Personally, I think the aims Jade mentions are the politically correct and polished aims fed to the US public. The reality the aims were much along the lines of Operation Barbarossa, only genocide lite.)

Let's chart up Iraq: what were our objectives and have they been met? Why we went in.....

  • 1. The Hope: To remove a despot.
    The Reality: We replaced one despot with another. One torturing regime with another. Which was something Powell learned about in Mogadishu, even called it The Powell Doctrine in Black Hawk Down. The idea that no matter who we think we're helping, they have a bad side too.
    Report Card: Failure
  • 2. The Hope: Remove WMD (that we generally gave Saddam to fight Iran.)
    The Reality: Saddam had none! He was in UN compliance!
    Report Card: Failure.
  • 3. The Hope: To install a Democracy beacon.
    The Reality: We installed a theocracy!
    Report Card: Failure
  • 4. The Hope: Advance Human Rights.
    The Reality: To quote Bush's State of the Union token Iraqi lady, Women's rights have been set back 30 years. She won't be invited back this year!
    Report Card: Failure
  • 5. The Hope: Military Success
    The Reality: Iraq is on fire! We got our ass kicked. We hide in our little hidey holes like Saddam in his spidey hole. Any half wit can see that we are losing the fighting part of the war.
    Report Card: Abject Failure, with notation, "flippant".
  • 6. The Hope: Spread Democracy! Let the Statue of Liberty's torchlight burn bright!
    The Reality: we have energized the opposition as never before, driving an impotent wooden stake into a hornets nest. We ever lost teh sympathy of the Iranian students!
    Report Card: Abject Failure.
  • 7. The Hope: Make the US military shine again!
    The Reality: It's broken.
    Report Card: Failure.
  • 8. The Hope: Establish the US as the clear leader for the new millenium.
    The Reality: Quite the opposite has occured. Losing the benefit of the doubt being the worst part probably.
    Report Card: Failure.
So, by all metrics, Iraq has been an umitigated disaster. What have we learned? That incompetence is consistent? As in, everything Bush tries to do, it ends up just the opposite of how he envisioned it.

If Bush were half honest he'd come to the next cabinet meeting and demand that we try our hardest to lose the damn war! Only then would he meet with success.

What we do not talk about yet is the psychological damage our nation has endured. Rummy wanted to rid us of the vestitges of our Vietnam guilt and sense of failure. A twent five year-old emotion. What's sad is that it's not the Statue of Liberty's beacon that burns bright in our minds. It's the spectre of war and failure and incompetence and dead babies and lost opportunities. In John Lennon's words, Just imagine what the world, the new millenium, might be like if we hadn't voted in the Worst President Ever. What if we'd had a true Republican, the original in fact, in office? Abe Lincoln makes GW Bush look like a Head Start reject, the Child Left Behind. And it was he who said Do I not destroy my enemy when I befriend them. Georgie Boy took the opposite tact, and we will all suffer for generations accordingly.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Teach Your Child

Beppe Grillo has a beautiful and righteous open letter today from Frei Betto on what to teach your child in today's mire of lies, agression, war and privilege. Here are a few extracts (I cleaned the text up a little to make it gender-friendly):

Teach your child that not having a talent for sport, or not having the face or body of a top model, or feeling ugly in comparison with the current fashion for defining beauty, is not a good reason for losing self-esteem. Happiness cannot be bought, nor is it a trophy that can be won by beating competitors; it is bound up with values and virtues, and which creates, in our existence, that sense of what is worth living or dying for.

...Teach your child to avoid the privileged lane of this neo-liberal society that tries to brainwash them into thinking that being a consumer is more important than being a citizen, that esteems what brings fortune, that exalts the aesthetic rather than the ethical. Convince your child that happiness is not the result of the sum of pleasures, and that the spiritual route is a treasure that is conserved in the depth of the heart -- those who manage to open it will enjoy indescribable happiness.

...Teach your child that it is not necessary to agree with the established disorder and that he or she will be happy by joining those who fight for social transformation, who make this country free and just. He or she will thus transmit to your grandchildren the inheritance of your wisdom.

...Teach your child to vote according to his or her conscience and to never be disgusted by politics, in as much as those who belave in this way are governed by those who have no politics, and if the majority should happen to feel like that, it will be the end of democracy.

Biometrics-Free or Die!

Philosopher Georgio Agamben evokes the horrifying scenario of total population control through identification. If we love liberty and democracy, it is essential to mobilize against biometric control. The United States is at the forefront of this despicable practice, the child of white supremacy and xenophobia.

Burn Your Passports: No to Biometrics

When at the end of the 19th century, Francis Galion in England began his research into fingerprints and Alphonse Bertillon invented the criminal mug shot for “anthropometric identification” (that was the term at the time) in France, such procedures were exclusively reserved for repeat criminal offenders.

Today, proposals are in the works to profile society—to apply to every citizen means that were once reserved for delinquents. According to one program already in development, the normal relationship to the State, which Rousseau termed members of the Sovereign, will be through biometrics, that is, generalized suspicion.

As citizens under pressure from the increasing depolitization of post-industrial society withdraw from all political participation, they see themselves treated more and more as virtual criminals. The corps politic has become the corps criminal.

The dangers of such a situation are evident to everyone except to those who simply refuse to open their eyes. How well we know that photos on identification and professional membership cards not only allowed the police in Nazi-occupied countries to find and register Jews but to facilitate their deportation. What is going to happen one day when a despotic power possess the biometric record of an entire population?

It is even more alarming that European nations, after having imposed biometric controls on immigrants, are now preparing to impose it on their citizenry. The security reasons invoked in favor of these odious practices are not convincing, because even if they may somehow hinder criminal recidivism, they are completely useless in preventing a first offense or an act of terrorism. On the other hand, they are completely efficient for the mass control of the population. The day when biometric controls will be generalized or when camera surveillance will be placed in every street, all criticism and dissent will be impossible.

The young students who destroyed the biometric readers in the cafeteria of Gif-sur-Yvette High School have demonstrated that they are more concerned with individual liberty and democracy than those who accepted their installation without flinching.

I express my solidarity with those French students and publicly declare that I shall refuse any and all biometric control and that I am prepared to renounce my passport and any document serving to identify me.

LE MONDE | 05.12.05 | 14h48

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Fallujah Bomb That Killed 10 US Marines

Update: 6 December 2005
Hoo-boy. What kind of dropdown lists accompany the software used to create these venues?--Flour mill, turnip patch, donut shop, schoolhouse, potato shed...?
BAGHDAD, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Ten U.S. Marines killed near the Iraqi city of Fallujah last week had been at a promotion ceremony (...) in a disused flour mill on the outskirts of the city to celebrate the promotion of three soldiers, a military statement said. As the ceremony ended, the Marines dispersed and one of them is thought to have stepped on a buried pressure plate linked to explosives that caused the devastating blast

It may be true but it sure sounds like someone labored to contrive it.

These images, broadcast by al-Jazeera, are said to be the before, during and after of the December 1 roadside bomb near Fallujah that killed ten Marines. However, the US military has announced that the images do not correspond to that event.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ski Dubai

Bigger than three football stadiums, with ski trails inside giant metal tubes 35 feet wide, it is the world's largest indoor ski park. The $272 million Ski Dubai will open on December 14th, with room enough for 1,500 skiiers.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Code Name Z for Zombie

The 1936 film, Revolt of the Zombies tells the tale of a Cambodian monk who uses a spell to raise a regiment of zombie troops. He commands them as mercenaries to WWI France where the French generals hire them for the front. No sooner deployed and sent over the top, the zombies overwhelm Austrian positions to score a victory for the French and payday for their master. As you might guess, though the zombies are impervious to machine gun fire, they make for highly unreliable units. They soon tire of their overlords and return to the ranks as an enraged lynchmob bent on payback.

A variation on the theme is spun by Joe Dante in his Showtime series*, Homecoming. The irate Iraq War fallen burst out of their coffins on Election Day to stagger to the voting booth to turn the President out of office--the man who sent them to die for a dodgy dossier. And God help anyone who stands in their way!

Mind you, that's awfully affirming of democracy on the part of the undead, especially when they could simply settle the score by ripping the heads off the Prez, the Veep, the SecDef and Congress.

Review here.

*Also submitted as an entry at the Turin Film Festival

2 December 2005 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Baghdad. Iraqi Vice Premier Ahmed Chalabi criticized the purchase of refurbished Sovient-era armaments from Eastern Europe to equip Iraq security forces. The deal had been arranged by former PM Iyad Allawi.

Doha. The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdel Rahman al-Attiyah, urged NATO to help make the region free of WMD's, without exception.

Jerusalem. Israel tests the new Hetz (Arrow) antimissile system.

Gaza. 200 hectares of land under greenhouse have been planted and Palestinians hope to export the harvest to Europe soon. Israelis had sabotaged the irrigation systems and vandalized the greenhouses before evacuating.

Fallujah. US and Iraqi forces begin a new anti-insurgency operation known as Lance.

Baquba. A Shi'ite cleric was shot dead by men disguised as Iraqi soldiers.

Kirkuk. An Islamic Party official was found dead afte being kidnapped earlier in the day. His bullet-riddled body showed signs of torture.

Basrah. British Defence Minister John Reid made a surprise visit to Iraq, saying he wanted to assess the preparedness of Iraq security forces in southern Iraq.

Washington. Lt. Colonel Michael Wheeler, 47, was arrested on corruption charges Wednesday and is being held in Wisconsin. Wheeler is accused of accepting kickbacks from reconstruction contracts he awarded in Iraq.

Washington. President George W. Bush spoke with Jordan's King Abdallah by phone to discuss the situation in Iraq and the fight against "radical Islamism". The President expressed his strong support for the actions decided by King Abdallah to fight extremism, said presidential spokesman Scott McClellan.

22:46 Baghdad. The kidnappers of four Western hostages have threatened to kill them unless all prisoners in Iraqi and American prisons are freed. The ultimatum expires on 8 December.

20:43 Washington. The US is "concerned" by the news that Russia will sell 29 Tor-M-1 antimissile systems to Iran. [First they threaten, then they wonder why the Iranians want to defend themselves--Nur]

20:14 Warsaw. Poland's new defense minister said Friday that his country will decide «in the next few weeks» whether its area of responsibility in Iraq is stable enough to turn over to Iraqi troops. Defense Minister Radek Sikorski, who heads to Washington on Saturday, told the AP that he wants to hear «what the United States advises us, asks for» in helping make a decision. [How much the US is willing to pay?--Nur].

20:12 Paris. 27 year-old Tunisian Ahmed Bentaieb has been arrested in Paris in connection with an inquest into a suicide bombing in Baquba carried out by a Belgian woman.

20:06 Washington. Senator John Warner and the country's top military commander, General Peter Pace said Friday that a Pentagon propaganda program was part of an effort to «get the truth out» in Iraq.

19:28 Brussels. The US permanent representative to NATO, Victoria Nuland, says the question of secret CIA flights would not disrupt the work of the alliance.

18:18 Moscow. Russia and Iran are about to initial a $1 billion defense contract for for the supply of Russian tactical ground-air missiles and military equipment. Tehran is to purchase 29 TOR-M1 systems, which can be used against low-flying planes and missiles.

17:28 Fallujah. Ten U.S. Marines conducting a foot patrol outside the Iraqi city of Falluja were killed in the explosion of an insurgent bomb on Thursday. Another 11 Marines were wounded in the blast caused by an "improvised explosive device" fashioned from several large artillery shells. Seven of those wounded have been able to return to duty.

17:06 New York. Over U.S. and Israeli objections, the U.N. General Assembly approved six resolutions criticizing Israeli policies and calling for stepped-up international effort to revitalize the Middle East peace process.

16:37 Japan's defense chief left his country Friday on a trip to visit Japanese troops in Iraq, news reports said, amid rising expectations that Tokyo would extend its mission into next year.

16:36 New York. Oil opens at $59 per barrel.

16:36 Washington. A Zogby International poll reveals that Arab nations are acutely suspicious of the Bush administration's "democracy" agenda in the Middle East and believe the U.S. invasion of Iraq has made the region less secure, said a poll released on Friday.

13:57. London. Oil rises above $59 per barrel.

09:18 Rome. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas begins a two-day visit to Rome.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

1 December 2005 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Baghdad. US General Martin Dempsey, responsible for the training of Iraqi security forces, told AFP that 33 Iraqi battalions now control their own "combat space."

Baghdad. Gunmen wounded Saad al-Obeidi, an advisor to Iraq's defense minister, and killed one of his bodyguards on Thursday in an attack on his convoy. Two other guards were wounded.

Berlin. German government attempts to contact the kidnappers of archaeologist Susanne Osthof.

Jerusalem. Ariel Sharon's old adversary, Shimon Peres, has joined Sharon's Kadima party.

Damascus. Syrian Airlines announces that Baghdad has asked Syria to ban Arab citizens from flying to Baghdad except for passengers with a special permit.

Ramallah. The human rights agency B’Tselem affirmed that the security wall under construction by Israel was deliberately build to extend existing Jewish settlements and to create others.

Gaza. Israel and Palestine reach an agreement on the removal of rubble from Jewish settlements in Gaza. Timothy Rothermel of the United Nations Program for Development made the announcement.

Gaza. Dozens of armed members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades invaded a building housing the Interior and Finance ministries in Gaza to demand that the primaries continue. Meanwhile, the "new guard" of Fatah made stunning breakthroughs against the organization's current leaders.

Ramadi. "Reports of insurgents taking control of Ramadi are completely unsubstantiated," Marines Captain Patrick Kerr said in an emailed statement. "There have been a few sporadic small-arms engagements, but nothing out of the ordinary."

Hit. Residents of Hit demonstrated against the U.S. offensive on Thursday, complaining about excessive force and calling on foreign troops to leave their city.

Baghdad. Iraq's Interior Minister dismissed his deputy, responsible for probing ministerial corruption and abuses. Nouri al-Nouri was fired on Nov. 28 nearly two weeks after the discovery of a bunker at the Shi'ite-run ministry where more than 170 prisoners, most of them Sunni Arabs, were held, beaten and half-starved.

21:30 Baghdad. Radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Sadr says the Iraqi people demand a schedule for the pullout of US troops.

19:46 Dubai. A video was uploaded to an insurgent websit showing a man who was beaten for spying. The man, Nasser Hadi Ali, is shown being interrogated in the video by men who threaten him with assault weapons.

21:41 Ankara. Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki, on a visit to Turkey, made it known that his country has no intention of negotiating with the United States over Iraq. According to Newsweek, the US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced the opening of a dialog with the Iranian government.

19:40 Washington. The White House said it was "very worried" about the news that the US Army's Information Operations Task Force distributed payola to Iraqi newspaper editors to plant stories to better the image of the United States.

19:37 Amman. Jordan's prime minister met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday and renewed Jordan's support for the Palestinian Authority to help it consolidate control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. New premier Marouf al-Bakhit, a former ambassador to Israel, said Jordan will remain a strong supporter of its Palestinian brothers in their efforts to regain their legitimate rights and establish their state on their national soil.

19:34 Hebron: Israeli forces arrested a reporter for al-Jazeera in Hebron. Reporter Awad Radjoub, 29, was arrested at his home in Hebron. Israel gave no reason for his arrest.

19:04 Amman. Royal Jordanian airlines has banned citizens of Arab nations from flying to Iraq on a request from the Iraqi government, turning away five Arabs on Thursday, an airline official said. Officials at Iraqi Airways and the Iraqi Embassy in Amman were not immediately available for comment.

19:03 Baghdad. Insurgents are winning the intelligence war against U.S-backed troops in Iraq, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi said on Thursday, but he promised to tackle the problem.

19:02 Washington. Iraq is moving closer toward securing a fresh loan with the International Monetary Fund. Thomas Dawson, a spokesman for the lending institution, said the IMF's board is likely to take up the matter before the end of December.

17:20 Rome. Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi said a Coalition pullout from Iraq would result in chaos.

15:43 Baghdad. Insurgents launched a brief assault west of Baghdad on Thursday, firing mortar rounds and rockets at a U.S. base and local government buildings, the day after Washington unveiled its new strategy for victory in Iraq. Residents said heavily armed men wearing masks attacked a U.S. garrison in the centre of Ramadi, a rebellious city 110 km (65 miles) west of Baghdad, and fired on nearby council offices before seizing several streets. Leaflets were distributed saying that al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was taking control. But after a couple of hours, most of the militants dispersed and the city appeared to return to relative calm.

14:01 Baghdad. Academic assassinated. Aqil Abdel Al Jabbar, Professor of Medicine at Al Nahrein University, was shot dead.

13:23 Washington. The military hasn't done a good enough job of explaining to the American people what is going on in Iraq and the political and military progress there, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday. Even so, Gen. Peter Pace, warned that battling terrorism will be a long war.

10:33 Ramadi. 400 insurgents control city. Masked men equipped with heavy weapons have entered the city, organizing street patrols and checkpoints.

09:55 Ramadi. US bases attacked. Several US military bases around Ramadi were attacked by rebels with mortar and rocket fire. Rebels also targeted the Governor's residence during a meeting between US officials and local tribal leaders.

08:29 Baghdad. 2 US soldiers killed, one in a firefight in Fallujah, the other by small arms fire in the capital.