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A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press.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

Friday, March 31, 2006


US Supreme Court Justice ScAlito, er, Scalia, says, "Hello" from inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.

Update: This is not a gesture for vaffanculo. The gesture is me ne frego meaning I Don't Give a Damn! See Scott Davie's Talking Hands page.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Masters of Kurdistan

This fact was not known to me before reading Luizard's The Iraqi Question: that Kurdistan is divided into two areas of control. The northern mountainous region, with its capital at Erbil, is under the complete control of the PDK, led by Massoud Barzani. The southern region, with its capital at Sulaymaniyya, is controlled by Jalal Talabani's PUK. Nominally, the PUK portrays itself as a leftist alternative to Barzani's right-wing nationalism.

Both organizations run a couple of thriving activities: collecting tolls and tariffs at the Turkish frontier (Baghdad does not see a dime!) and smuggling out contraband oil. Luizard notes that flood of income is so high that local farming and industry have been abandoned.

Anyway, today Juan Cole is outraged on a decision by Barzani, a virtual warlord, to send a Kurdish-Australian journalist to prison for having criticized him. This Barzani character is a power-hungry, duplicitious SOB, so no surprise there. Barzani's claim to infamy is a march into Erbil in 1996 allied with Saddam Hussein's troops and supported by Turkey to combat the "Iranian-dominated" PUK, followed by a push into the PUK heartland at Sulaymaniyya, forcing Talabani into exile. The USA negotiated with Iran and Turkey to force Barzani back, but he has succeeded in claiming Erbil as his own. BTW, it is the PDK which intimidates Iraqi Christians living in the north by confiscating their land.

Of course this is not the whole tapestry of Kurdistan: There's also Kurdish Hezbollah, Kurdish Communist Party (links to the PKK), Islamic Union of Kurdistan, Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (linked to Iran), Socialist Democratic Party of Kurdistan, Iraqi Turkmen Front, Islamic Union of Turkmen (supported by Tehran), and the Assyrian Democratic Movement. But they are all minor characters in a PDK-PUK script.

US cuts off all contacts with Hamas

And they look worried!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


A little color in local politics can be amusing, but Berlusconi takes it to the level of pathetic fear-mongering.

Italian Premier Berlusconi takes up his blunderbuss of logic and fires at China and the Opposition
The Communist Chinese boil their babies. Prodi is a communist, therefore even if he does not boil babies, he is an apologist for Chinese Communist crimes of boiling.

Israeli Election Results

Excellent news. Likkud nosedives. The next government will likely be a coalition of Kadima, Labour and the Pacifists.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Straight Talk from the French on Iraq

In opposition to Bush's press conference of today, French expert Pierre-Jean Luizard answers unscripted questions.

If you have site membership at Le Monde, you can find the transcript of yesterday's chat under perpectives in the top menu bar.

By the way, if you speak French I recommend that you buy Luizard's book (show at left) at Amazon France.

With the announced troop reductions, what is the scorecard for the US-British intervention in Iraq?

The third anniversary of the invasion is particularly significant because it coincides with the placement of the last brick in the country’s institutional edifice in the context of the US-sponsored process to reconstruct the Iraqi state. It is the hour of truth because from now on, there are no deadlines for elections or referendums on the horizon. We will find out very soon if the system fostered by the US since July 2003 is viable or not.

In my opinion, this system has already demonstrated that it constitutes an impasse obstructing all actors in Iraq today, whether American or Iraqi. The principal gain of the US intervention in Iraq, namely the fall of Saddam Hussein, has not yielded the benefits expected by Washington: officially, the democratization of the Middle East with Iraq as the model.

Three years after the war, it seems obvious that the occupation condemns all Iraqi actors, whether they are politicians or clerics, to act in the name of strictly sectarian interests instead of promoting a path towards a new contract of coexistence among Iraqis within the framework of a patriotic project meant to override sectarian differences. The sectarian spiral of violence for which there is no end in sight is probably directly linked to Iraq’s status as an occupied nation and not to deliberate US policies.

What do you think of calls to withdraw US troops in Iraq?

Would a pullout lead to civil war or to cooling off tensions? If you believe that the presence of foreign occupation troops is the fuel driving sectarian violence in Iraq, then you could say that the quickest possible pullout of US troops would be the least damaging solution for both the Iraqis and the Americans.

But you have to recognize that the damage has already been done because henceforward, the escalation in sectarian violence concerns Iraqi society itself. Today, the Iraqis fear one another and the blood spilt, particularly by the unleashing of anti-Shi’ite hatred, makes it more difficult with each passing day to return to a situation of coexistence among Iraq's communities.

Nevertheless, it seems likely that the new Iraqi Parliament will include among its first resolutions achieving two-thirds majority a demand for a calendar for the withdrawal of foreign troops. Political forces in favor of such a schedule represent a large majority within the Assembly. If the Americans were well-advised, which is far from certain, they would snatch the ball on the rebound and take advantage of the chance to pull out of the Iraqi quagmire as quickly as possible, while there is still time.

How much longer will the occupation last?

The trap into which the Americans and those Iraqis who took part in the political process have fallen prevents the establishment of a sufficiently stable government with recognized legitimacy enabling the coalition to hand over the keys to sovereignty and to militarily disengage from the country.

The Americans appear to be condemned to remain in a country where their presence divides Iraqi society ever more deeply with each passing day. It is a kind of vicious cycle: the Americans can neither leave nor, in the short or medium-term, find the requisite conditions for a pullout. With each day they remain as occupiers, Iraqi society is further propelled towards divisions that cannot be easily mended.

Does the Coalition remain solid or are the USA and Britain in it alone?

It cannot be dissimulated that the Coalition is strictly American; that is, the Americans never really relied militarily on other powers. The British are there for political support –and possibly for logistical backup. Most of the occupation has been conducted by US troops. And for quite some time now there has been defection from within the ranks of the Coalition by powers that were originally allied with the cause.

One could say that the number of countries participating today in the Coalition has diminished significantly, to the extent that the Americans are increasingly relying on private contractors to meet security needs. Today in Baghdad there are more mercenaries working for private security firms than there are troops from official Coalition members.

We hear a lot about Sunni-Shi’ite opposition. Haven’t we forgotten about the significant number of Kurds, who have a desire to take part in the future of Iraq?

Iraqi society structurally comprises three big communities. The Shi’a, who are mostly Arab, represent between 52 and 55% of the population. Sunni Arabs and Kurds, who are also Sunni, account for approximately 20% of the population, respectively. These communities cannot be considered minorities because each abuts, on the other side of Iraq's border, regions where they are in the majority. All of them have a political agenda for Iraq. This is not the case for the country’s minorities –Turkmen, Christians, Sabeans and others.

Within Iraq, Kurdistan is the only region whose Iraqi identity poses a problem. It should not be forgotten that the Kurds were forcibly joined to the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq in 1925 by the League of Nations. Since then, every Iraqi government has gone to war against them. However, because of regional considerations, the Kurds have no choice but to remain in Iraq. Kurdish leaders recognize that the independence of the autonomous region of Kurdistan is impossible. But despite this, they are engaged in a policy of lone crusader and fait accompli which makes the return of Kurdistan to the Iraqi heartland very problematic.

If you visit Iraqi Kurdistan, you will realize the extent to which young Kurds are ignorant of Iraq. They seldom speak Arabic and it is difficult to imagine an Iraqi future for a region already enjoying quasi-independence.

Are political parties uniting Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’ites in an overall agenda for Iraq possible in the short or long term?

Historically, the leadership of Iraqi patriotic movements has been assumed by the marja’iyya, that is, the Shi’ite clerical leadership. It was such leadership which, during the jihad of 1914-1916 and the revolution of 1920, led the movement against British occupation. At the time, Shi’ite clerics addressed themselves to both Muslim and non-Muslim communities in the name of a plan for the independence of an Islamic Iraqi state where all communities would be recognized.

In the history of modern Iraq, there have been two parties which were able to rally the different communities to their political agenda: the Communist Party and the Ba’ath Party. The Communist Party has practically disappeared from the political scene, giving way to a religious movement which has returned from a half-century in the desert. As to the Ba’ath Party, it was hijacked by the Tikriti clan, which then created an exclusively Sunni party. The occupation of Iraq has driven all Iraqi actors towards sectarian positions and today there is no political force which encompasses all communities.

What do you think of the frequent accusations by the United States of Iranian involvement Iraq?

The Americans are in trouble in Iraq and in accusing Iran they are trying to divert attention from the failure which every Iraqi as well as their neighbors can gauge. Saddam Hussein was an indispensable partner for the United States, for without Iranian benediction, the Americans could have never put together their unspoken alliance with the Shi’ites of Iraq.

The Americans could have never relied solely on the Kurds like they did on the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. It is thanks to Iranian policies on Iraq that the Americans, despite the current impasse, were able to end their third year of occupation without being challenged by a generalized insurrection among the Arab portion of the country.

US accusations of Iranian involvement Iraq may be viewed in the context of power struggle between Washington and Tehran concerning the nuclear issue. But there is visibly an attempt on the part of the US to blame Iran for the failure of a process which, on the contrary, Tehran has done everything to support until now.

What exactly is the role of Syria in the chaos reigning in Iraq?

The chaos that reigns today in Iraq is due to internal factors and is directly linked to the occupation of the county. To look elsewhere for the causes of the US failure in Iraq is obviously a recurring ploy on the part of Washington. But if the accusations against Iran seem unfounded –although the Iranians could exploit US difficulties in Iraq to divert pressure from their regime–, those against Syria are even more groundless because Damascus possesses very few vectors of influence in Iraq.

Today, the Syrian regime is under siege and will do nothing to lend credit to US accusations against it. If you visit Syria’s border with Iraq, you will witness the veritable paranoia that has seized the Syrian regime due to fears of some proof of Syrian implication in the troubles currently afflicting Iraq which Washington would like to wave in evidence. The border areas are under total lockdown by the army and police. Any stranger, especially if he is Arab, is arrested on the spot.

Have the Americans taken over the oilfields and been granted contracts giving them the right to develop the wells?

Contrary to what has often been said, oil was not the cause of the 2003 invasion. With Saddam Hussein defeated and placed under embargo, the Americans benefited in the 1990s from an ideal situation from an oil standpoint: without being on the front lines and spared from having to bear the political and military burdens of occupation, they were able to indirectly control the second largest oil reserves in the world by exploiting UN resolutions and its Oil for Food Program.

The situation since the fall of Saddam has not permitted the Iraqi oil industry to recover. Reigning insecurity makes the cost of oil production prohibitive and US oil companies for the most part are not interested in the Iraqi minefield, where the safety of workers cannot be guaranteed.

At the same time, oil is exacerbating inter-community divisions. In the context of escalating sectarianism, the Shi’ites and the Kurds are insisting that profits from the development of any new oilfields be reserved for their use, as is their right under the new Iraqi Constitution. Furthermore, oil deposits in the North are spread over regions of mixed ethnicities –Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Sunnis and Shi’ites– which makes the drawing of an ethnic border between Arab Iraq and autonomous Kurdistan impossible.

The obsessional preoccuptation over the oil city of Kirkuk, simultaneously contested by the Kurds, the Shi’ites, Sunni Arabs and Turkmen, symbolizes the impasse which a plan for the partition of Iraq along community, ethnic and confessional lines would create.

Can you explain why the Americans have not captured Zarqawi?

Today, the Americans do not control the terrain in Iraq. This has been a reality for the past two years. We’ve witnessed progressive usurpation of local power by militias linked to political parties or to the anti-American insurgency.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Sunni area of Iraq has been a sanctuary for foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda, even if dissention and division have recently arisen over the scorched-earth strategy apparently pursued by al-Zarqawi.

It should be recalled that 650 suicide bombers have died in Iraq, most of them in attacks on the Shi’ites. The vast majority of these individuals were Iraqis. Zarqawi disposes of a base inside Iraq and this will remain the case as long as the occupation lasts.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Fatah prepares for suicide

Whose idea is this?
Senior Fatah officials have called for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, an act that will oblige Israel to take over the Palestinian Territories. A letter, signed by Fatah leaders, was the presented to Abbas by a member of the Fatah central committee.

Buffoon Berlusconi Berates Bosses

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi (who has approximately 21 days left in office) rushed blindly into the Senator Joe McCarthy Man Trap when he accused Italy's 4 million-member strong employers' federation, Confindustria, of being dirty reds who vote for the Left because they have something to hide. Granted, Joe went after the military, but there was Berlusconi swinging punches at the nation's most prominent corporate executives.

Berlusconi, complaining of lumbago (not the first blatenly obvious false pretext for a no-show), at first refused an invitation to join prominent politicians in taking questions from a Confindustria-sponsored panel of Italian entrepreneurs at the Vicenza Fairgrounds on Saturday. As the the panel was gearing up, Berlusconi arrived unannounced by helicopter and entered the forum feigning a limp and surrounded by a dozen security guards and an equal number of hangers-on. (Earlier in the day, the organizers had noticed a suspicious spike in conference attendence). Berlusconi plants in the front row stood up and cheered as the Premier mounted the stage and demanded a microphone. No sooner did he have the mike in his hands when he spryly jogged to the front of the podium and berated the audience. "You should be home at work", thundered Berlusconi, instead of wasting your time with these dead-ender organizers and whiney industrialists.

The crowd was packed Mussolini-style with plants, who cheered the Premier after every single red-baiting remark. Most of the audience sat in stoney silence. But as Berlusconi sat back down, the hall thundered with boos and whistles which the B-goons were unable to stifle.

Friday, March 17, 2006

War Anniversary

The Iraqi crisis will serve as a standard. The course we follow in Iraq regarding arms proliferation will be adopted in any future crisis. If war is considered to be the only solution, then we are headed down a blind alley. As of today, we believe there is nothing that justifies military action. The work of the inspectors is satisfactory. At some point in the future there could be a change—but we are a nation that remains constant…it will be those in favor of military action who will change.

Should the United States decide in favor of unilateral military action, the first question to be asked is whether such an action is legitimate; the second is what the outcome of such an action will be. As to the sentiment of France regarding a second resolution in the Security Council—assuming the United States continues on its current course--my country will do what our President stated at the outset [of the crisis]: we will not associate ourselves with any military action that does not have the support of the United Nations. Furthermore, we believe that a military solution is the worst solution. As to the use of her veto, having thus clarified her position, France, as a permanent member of the Security Council, will discharge her responsibilities and remain steadfast to her principles. You may be assured that France, in standing behind her principles, wiil remain faithful to them until the end.

French Foreign Minister Dominque de Villepin, United Nations, New York, 21 January 2003

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lyin' Jack Straw

Yesterday's Israeli raid on the Jericho Prison was carried out with the connaivance of Britain and the United States. Jack Straw is a liar when he says he ordered out Jericho prison observers because of alleged "security concerns". Security was never the issue. Israel has repudiated the Sharm el-Sheikh accords of February 2005 with a wink and a nod from Washington and London.

Le Monde's Jerusalem correspondent Gilles Paris reports.

The withdrawal of the Americans and the British gave the green light to the Israeli Army.

In virtue of an agreement concluded in 2002, six Palestinians implicated in the assassination of Israeli minister Rehavam Zeevi and presumed arms trafficking had been held in Palestine’s Jericho Prison, supervised by US and British observers. The British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw justified the unilateral decision to end the mission on Tuesday 14 March for “reasons of security” after having, he says, attempted to alert the Palestinians on numerous occasions of his concerns for security.

The US State Department also justified the withdrawal of US observers on grounds of “security”. Only three British observers were present at the prison on Tuesday. When they departed, the Israelis began their attack. Neither the British nor the Americans would comment on the connection between the two events. The Israeli Army justified the operation by claiming the “violation of accords” with the Palestinian Authority.

The release of Jericho’s most important prisoner, Ahmad Saadat, Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was suggested on March 7 by the head of the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas, who feared the assassination of Saadat by Israel [should he be released], said he would release the prisoner only if he received a letter from the PFLP’s policy bureau absolving him of all responsibility.

Since February, the Israeli Army has been reestablishing its checkpoints at all the major exits from Jericho, renown for its general calm and frequented by many foreign nationals. This decision is a contravention of the agreement reached in February 2005 in Sharm el-Sheikh between Mr. Abbas and Ariel Sharon. The agreement was to have given back control of major population areas to the Palestinian Authority but in fact the accord was limited to Jericho.

The implicit green light given by the British and the Americans to the Israeli raid coincided with controversial decisions and declarations to which there was no international reaction. The Israeli Presidential Council confirmed on Tuesday the start of work on the construction of a police post east of Jerusalem in advance of a plan to build a settlement linking the Maale Adoumim colony to Jerusalem. This project aims to prevent the Palestinians from establishing their capital in East Jerusalem, conquered by Israel in 1967. In a visit on the same day to the Ariel colony, built between Nablus and Ramallah, interim Prime Minister and Kadima Party Chairman Ehoud Olmert, declared that the entire settlement block of Ariel is an integral part of Israel and will remain so forever.

Israel also shut down the Karni crossing, the only possible exit for goods to and from the Gaza Strip. This crossing had already been closed for many long weeks since the beginning of the year. Its closure has added the threat of shortages in this overpopulated territory, where certain areas are considered the poorest of all Palestine. The World Bank is alarmed by the situation. In November 2005, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice supposedly imposed an agreement on the Israelis which should have facilitated the transit of goods.

Palestine: James Wolfensohn to resign

James Wolfensohn has announced he will quit has as Special Envoy of the Quartet to Palestine. Mr. Wolfensohn, appointed by Bill Clinton to head the World Bank in 1995, was nominally handed the task of spearheading reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after the unilateral Israeli evacuation. It is a shame that his efforts were largely ignored by the press. I saw him mentioned only once --in relation to raising private funds to buy Israeli-owned greenhouses to save them from destruction.

Mr. Wolfensohn said the Quartet left him with an empty mandate. No kidding. The Road Map is path to nowhere.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Waiter! There's a Hashemite in My Port!

Update: Have been watching the 6-part BBC-2 series, entitled Dubai Dreams. There are 100,000 Britons living a life of luxury in a tax-free haven. Scores of condominiums and villas are going up everywhere, and are sold out before ground is even broken. Half the population are construction workers from India, who, obviously don't get to stay around and enjoy the good life. Dubai seems to be a cross between Disneyland and Las Vegas's Bellagio, where men making a fraction of Donald Trump's income can live like him. Of course, the Donald Trumps of the Middle East live there too! Impressive scenes are shown in the documentary of island-forming as towering ships cascade sand to create yet another residential island. And you have to wonder if Italy's about to run out of marble!

Do we have objections to discounted luxury, opulence and fountains bubbling sparkling water from under the sands? And, um, hey Israel! You look shabby! That's right. Weenie and shabby in comparison! So much for the "beacon of democracy" and "making the desert bloom" talk. You're not so special anymore.

Le Monde's Marc Roche exposes Dubai and its Prince. As we can well imagine, George W. Bush has an unremitting desire for absolutism and the security state amidst mounds of cash and wants to hand his pal a piece of the action. Although, it may be that the US is broke and can't afford the modernization necessary for port security.

LE MONDE | 09.03.06 | An emir eyes a piece of America

Has Dubai been placed in the infamous Axis of Evil, denounced by the US Administration? Over the last few weeks, Congress has directed a veritable artillery barrage in the name of national security at the tiny emirate. Congress has in its sights the takeover of six large US ports, including New York, Miami and New Orleans, by the maritime transport group Dubai Ports World. President George W. Bush supports the $10 billion dollar takeover but he hasn’t been able to sidestep sharp criticism from within the Republican Party. The President of Dubai Ports World, Ahmed Bin Sulayem, has been forced to accept a new study by the US Treasury.

The 10th in succession of the Bedouin Maktoum dynasty, traditional friends of the United States in the region, the new emir, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, hasn’t recovered after being labeled by some in Washington as a sort of “public enemy No. 1”. At 56 years of age, the Emir, who succeeded his deceased brother, Sheik Maktoum, on January 4, 2006, is the proponent of a tolerant and modernized Islam.

He cultivates a demeanor acquired at Britain’s Mons Officer Cadet School and sports Ray-Ban sunglasses MacArthur-style. An experienced equestrian who enjoys endurance races in the desert, the man has been the de facto head of the country since the death of his father, Rashid, in 1990. With a keen anthracite gaze, his dry lips seldom part to reveal a smile. When I met him at the Nad al-Sheba Racetrack, his princely handshake was glacial.

A temple to American-style consumption, Dubai is considered to be a melting pot, with McDonalds and kebabs, mosques and gleaming 4 × 4’s. Prostitutes from the East are permitted to frequent the bars along Sheikh Zayed Road, where rivers of alcohol flow. Women dressed in the abaya, the traditional black ankle-length veil-drape, are seldom seen. Brokeback Mountain, the gay Western all the rage in London and New York is showing in the cinemas.

The former chief of police cleaned out the dens of Islamist activism following 9-11. Since then, the admirers of Osama bin Laden have kept their heads down. In their sermons, imams self-censure their words. Hawala, an informal system of payments used by immigrants from the Indian subcontinent (80% of the population), is severely regulated. It is considered to be one of the means of laundering money for terrorism.

This tough monarch hates discretion and believes only in action. He is a visionary and the true founder of modern Dubai, says journalist Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, waxing lyrical. Knowing that around 2010 its petroleum reserves will run out and hoping to avoid dependence on neighboring Abu Dhabi, whose oil wealth seems inexhaustible, Mohammed has played his tourism, finance and maritime cards well in the mini-kingdom. The meteoric rise of this principality of 1.5 million inhabitants was financed through the recycling of Gulf petrodollars. In fact, the rich men of the region can hide away their assets in a politically stable Arab country, which they believe is likely to remain a capitalist bastion for a very long time.

Every year during Ramadan, a hundred foreign corporate executives are brought to dinner at the palace. A supporter of unfettered economic liberalism, Sheikh Mohammed walks from table to table, inquiring about their business in halting English with a heavy Arabian accent. His fawning assistants take notes. The innumerable construction sites are evidence of an irresistible urge to erect the skyscrapers of the “Little Grasshopper” –one of the Arabic meanings of dubai. Towers of apartments, which foreigners are now permitted to buy, sprout like mushrooms on artificial palm-shaped islands.

In the distance, the port of Jebel Ali, surrounded by its customs-free zone, seems gigantic. Close-up, the largest artificial seaport in the world is simply monumental. The back and forth of machinery on the wharves where giant containerships, filled with merchandise, are docked, is incessant. The cranes in perpetual motion are like zebra stripes on the horizon. This “Middle Eastern Singapore” is developing in every direction: yesterday an obligatory trading crossroads for India, the African continent and Russia. Today the East Coast of the United States is at the heart of the “Dubai World Ports Affair”. Jebel Ali is considered on of the greatest successes of Dubai Incorporated, a family enterprise of which the prince-builder is the single owner and stockholder.

The love of horses united us, but it was destiny which has joined us, explains Princess Haya, his fourth wife and half-sister to King Abdallah of Jordan. And what has happed to the other three wives, who gave the Emir 17 children? It’s a state secret. Beautiful, proud and the image of her mother, Queen Alia, Princess Haya, married in 2004, symbolizes dynastic anchoring, encouraged by the United States, with Jordan. Since the wedding, Dubai manna fills the empty coffers of the Hashemite Kingdom.

In exchange, Sheikh Mohammed disposes of a solid ally, his brother-in-law King Abdallah, to oppose his traditional rivals, Saudi Arabia, the main investor in the prosperity of Dubai, and neighboring Iran. The Saudis have territorial ambitions toward the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a member. Iran is considered the prime instigator behind Shi’ite expansionism in the region. The Head of State is his brother Hamdan, responsible for finance and the municipality of Dubai. His uncle, Ahmed Bin Saaed, who directs the national air carrier, is also one of his confidantes. In order to realize his vast, ambitious plans, Sheikh Mohammed counts on them, but he is also surrounded by a small circle of sure and devoted State Assistants.

Mohammed Gergawi, who heads the Executive Office, a post equivalent to Chief of Cabinet, is in charge keeping the government machine running. This young Emirati also controls Dubai Holdings, managers of the city-state’s strongbox where the bonanza of industrial and financial holdings are kept. Mohammed Ali Alabar, the Managing Director of Dubai Development, is also president of the real estate promotinon compay, Emaar.

Last, Sultan Bin Sulayem, in charge of ports and duty-free zones, has control of two other concerns: Nakheel (real estate) and Istithmaar (finance).

Although the prince gladly wears the local jellaba, the dis dasha – his collaborators cultivate US managerial style. The sheikh listens to their advice. But this omnipotent monarch with overwhelming authority carefully monitors the smallest details and decides alone and quickly behind his desk, stacked high with architectural drawings. Distrustful and secretive, Mohammed often gives ambiguous directives. He does not care for those who succeed too obviously. His liegemen compete like horses at the track where the only the best are victorious, jokes an Emirate habitué, alluding to the celebrated Godolphin Stables, housing 3,000 thoroughbreds owned by the ruling family.

Beset by the chaotic traffic jams, often worse than in Los Angeles, the Head of State removed his own brother as roads and highways supervisor. It is, however, impossible to meet with Sheikh Mohammed without first dealing with his three Cerberus, with all the run-around you can imagine, deplores an international attorney. In fact, they keep the Sheikh isolated from discordant voices and help to reinforce his megalomania…

On the one hand, there is ostentatious prosperity with nothing too beautiful or too expensive. On the other hand, there is the shady aspect to the “miracle”. Just as in other Gulf monarchies, the personal fortune of this nabob from out of The Arabian Nights is confounded with that of the State. There is no public accounting worthy of the name. Despite the strains of an ode for reformism, the city remains an immense boomtown where, if its detractors are to be believed, everything is allowed: clandestine immigration, human trafficking, product counterfeiting and money laundering. Foreigners can buy a luxurious apartment in cash, without revealing the source.

The Dubai International Financial Center, the brand new extraterritorial financial center, has some form of regulation but it is directly controlled by the Palace. The first regulator, Philip Thorpe, recruited from London for his weight in gold, was fired without indemnity in the summer of 2004 after officially protesting against speculative purchase of three lots by men close to the sovereign.

In the age of the War on Terror, the occupation of Iraq and the arm-wrestle with Iran, the strategic importance of the former Pirate Coast has caused the United States to turn a blind eye to dysfunction in Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed is a precious ally. But from there to permitting his takeover of six large US ports is a line which Congress is evidently not prepared to cross.

Marc Roche

The Hangman Returns

Wasn't one of the complaints against Saddam public hangings? The Shia-Kurd goverment has just strung up 13 Sunnis for sedition. Upwards of 30,000 Sunni Iraqi prisoners in outdoor detention centers, Shi'ite hit squads running amok and their militias are raiding the jails and summarily executing inmates.

Bush has put himself behind the opposite faction. That's all that has changed in Iraq --for the worse.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Italy: April 9th is a fateful decision day

Umberto Eco has penned an editorial today for La Repubblica on the necessity of getting out the vote --of the disappointed and disallusioned Left-- in Italy's upcoming national legislative elections. Hopefully, a great tide will wash Berluconi and his clowns out to sea --and that this event will portend that the same awaits George and the Monkey Korps in November.

April 9: Appointment to save democracy

The obligation of the Libertà e Giustizia organization to convince the disillusioned on the Left.

We have come upon a decisive moment in history. From 2001 to today, Italy has been taking a terrible fall in terms of its laws, the Constitution, its economic situation and its international prestige. Should we have five more years of Polo [Berlusconi’s alliance] government, represented to the world by people like Calderoli and the new mass of recruits (just registered with Forza Italia) from among the least repentant survivors of Salò, the decline of our country will be unstoppable and perhaps we will be able to undo the damage.

The appointment at the polls on April 9th is different from all other election appointments of the past. Those occasions were attempts to decide who would govern, without the suspicion that a change in government would threaten our democratic institutions. Today, however, the survival of these institutions is at stake.

In this difficult situation, the opposition parties are obviously trying to capture the votes of the undecided, who in prior elections voted Polo and who now feel betrayed. The opposition is doing its duty but I believe that it is necessary to call upon our friends and supporters at Libertà e Giustizia, to take a different approach.

The biggest unknown in the upcoming elections is not represented by those who voted Right the last time (they are motivated by dynamics that are difficult to assess and whether out of conviction or laziness, they will continue to vote as they did before or will not vote at all). Moreover, their numbers, as opinion surveys have shown, change. I believe that the people at Libertà e Giustizia must engage themselves to convince the disillusioned Left –and not the undecided.

We know who they are. They are many but this is not the place to discuss the reasons for their disaffectedness. But they are the people whom we should remind that, if they give in to their discontent, will have collaborated in putting Italy into the hands of those who would lead her to her ruin. There is no justifiable discontent for allowing the fatal regression of our democracy, with all the indignation that it inspires in every sincere democrat, and the mockery made of our laws, separation of powers and our government. This is what each of us must repeat to our uncertain and disillusioned friends. It is on them and their commitment to turn out at the polls on which will depend whether Italy avoids five more years of pillaging by the defenders of special interests.

If our friends wish to give substance to their sense of criticism and of fairness (because knowing how to critique one’s own party is the purpose of a sense of criticism and fairness --I would even say intellectual honesty--), this time they must sacrifice their emotions and join us in this common undertaking.

It is the duty and obligation of those who have participated over the years in discussions at Libertà e Giustizia to carry out this mission of persuasion. The ship could go down. All hands on deck and at their stations.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Anniversary of the murder of Nicola Calipari

A memorial service was held today for Italian hostage negotiator Nicola Calipari, who was gunned down a darkened checkpoint on the road to Baghdad Airport by a US patrol. President Ciampi of Italy was in attendance.

For my part, I am convinced that the dark hand of some DOD operative and Rummy chum decided to put a stop to negotiations between Italian agents and rebels on the release of Italian hostages which resulted in multi-million dollar ransom payments. A stern telegram from Rumsfeld delivered in cold blood. At the service, the Undersecretary to the Prime Minister, Gianni Letta, finally suggested that Calipari's death was not the result of fate.

Meanwhile, Wayne Madsen, former NSA agent, told Sigfrido Ranucci of 'Rai News24' in an interview today that the NSA knew the exact position of Calipari on the night of the ambush. Madsen affirms that the NSA monitors all cellphone conversations continuously and the phone numbers are recorded.

Saddam Hussein, the obstacle in the way of civil war

Every time Bush says, "Iraqi forces", someone should remind him that the term means Shi'ite and Kurdish forces under unified command.

Since January 2004, a chorus of foreign political and military analysts has been chanting, "Before it's too late, before it's too late."

Analysis by Reuters, via Le Monde | March 3, 2006 (Available to subscribers only, sorry!)

Civil war in Iraq, the worst-case scenario for the US military

Should Iraq fall into civil war, the United States will confront the worst of situations since the March 2003 invasion and may be forced to withdraw its troops. The risk of civil conflict has risen sharply since the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque of Samarra on February 22. The bombing sparked a wave of violence and reprisals between Shi’ites and Sunnis bearing in them the seeds of a conflict more deadly than the Sunni insurgency, active in the last few years against US forces and the new Iraqi government. According to information released by the Pentagon, more than 2,300 US soldiers have already paid with their lives for the military action decided by George Bush against Saddam Hussein. If total war breaks out – and Iraq seems very close to it – then the 134,000 men of the US contingent could find themselves in a situation of extreme vulnerability, especially if one considers the number of combat troops that we have there, says Ted Carpenter, an expert on defense matters at Washington’s Cato Institute. Any question of US troops breaking up factional clashes in Iraq is taboo -- and the Pentagon has reduced its combat brigades in Iraq from 17 to 15. The rest of the US contingent consists of troops assigned to support or logistical operations with no combat training. Should religious civil war break out, the British and Australian combat units present in Iraq will prove insufficient.

DEGREE OF LOYALTY. One possible option available to US military strategists is to support Iraqi security forces, which are slowly finding their strength in deploying a 20,000-man backup combat division and Iraqi special forces. But this scenario is based on the assumption of the loyalty of Iraqi troops and police to the Iraqi government above ethnic, tribal or religious affilation. Such an assumption is far removed from reality, says Ted Carpenter, who believes it plausible that large-scale clashes between rival factions will occur. If these cleavages explode into massive violence, the United States will find itself in a desperate situation, he adds, suggesting a forced and rapid retreat of US troops following the Lebanese example when US forces evacuated Lebanon after the 1983 bombing of Marine headquarters in Beirut. Their departure this time would allow Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds to engage in a wide-open struggle and would seriously jeopardize the preservation of the territorial integrity of the country.

MILITIAS AND SELF-DEFENSE. Displaying absolute mistrust towards the Iraqi security forces, of which Kurds represent a large part, several militias, including the Mahdi Army of Shi’ite imam Moqtada Sadr, have already announced their intention to ensure the defense of their territory. Sunni Iraqis consider the “national” defense forces and police to be Shi’ites and Kurds on steroids, writes Stephen Biddle, an expert on defense questions for the Council on Foreign Relations. Ordering US troops into the fray would result in eliminating the actor most faithful to a stable and unified Iraq. In Baghdad, US military command is still confident, even if officers recognize that many Iraqis are terrified by the course of events. We receive emergency calls every day saying a mosque is on fire, even when it is only garbage burning. There is a great deal of tension and a lot of scared people, underscores Col Mike Beech. In Washington, George Bush insists that Iraq must have a government of national unity and excludes the idea of a schedule for the withdrawal of US troops. For the Iraqi people and its leaders, the moment of decision has come, says Bush, while rejecting the notion that the country is on the brink of civil war. General George Casy, Commander-in-Chief of US forces in Iraq is less categorical. Anything could happen, he said on Friday, but added: Is the violence now beyond control? Certainly not. It is premature to come to an opinion, says Anthony Cordesman, military analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies de Washington. A few more weeks are needed to determine the trend.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Council of Europe: Report on CIA prison flights

The report is accessible via Le Monde (.pdf) here.

Get this: reams of rules of police agents of other countries operating in EU territory, but nothing on the agents of clandestine services even if operating overtly.

1 March 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Vienna. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reaffirmed Israel's refusal to unblock funds due to the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik underscored that the EU saw no reason to end its economic development program to the Palestinians. The European Commissioner for Foreign Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, called upon Israel to unblock $50 million in tax revenue per month due to the Palestinian authority.

Moscow. The US ambassador to Russian, William Burns, praised Russia's intention to respected the decisions of the Quartet in its negotiations with Hamas.

Doha. Mahmoud Abbas met with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad ben Khalifa al-Thani.

Amman. Mahmoud Abbas is expected to meet with Israeli Labour Party Chairman Amir Peretz at a location near the Allenby Bridge.

Amman. An al-Qaeda suicide attack on a "vital civilian installation" was foiled. A Libyan and two Iraqis were arrested.

Hawija. Sunni tribal leaders declare war on resistance groupls linked to al-Zarqawi in Hawija, 220 km north of Baghdad. Over the last five weeks, the chief of the al-Nouaïm tribe, Ibrahim al-Nouaïmi, and a powerful member of the Joubour tribe, Ahmad Mehdi Saleh, were assassinated. Dr.Khaled Abel Hussein of Hawija General Hospital was shot dead as was Police General Hatem Khalaf Matroud al-Obaïdi.

Baghdad. Premier Ibrahim Jaafari rejected criticism of his trip to Ankara by President Jalal Talabani, saying it was perfectly legal. Talabani called the trip was "worthless".

Baghdad. Saddam Hussein admits for the first time signing the death sentences of persons suspected of attacking his convoy in 1982.

Najaf. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged the population to resist provocations which could lead to civil war. Sistani also met with Moqtada al-Sadr.

Baghdad. 28 people died in the explosion of a car bomb in the al-Jadida quarter.

Baghdad. Three people died in the bombing of a fleamarket.

Mahmoudiyah. Three people were killed by mortar fire south of the capital.
Kirkuk. Three police wre killed, eight wounded and sixteen missing after an ambush.

Baghdad. Iraqi tanks were deployed in Baghdad to prevent rioting following the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra.

13:40 Brussels. Several countries, including Poland and Italy, have returned inadequate or incomplete information on a Council of Europe questionnaire on secret CIA activities in Europe. Italy, Poland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia returned inadequate information. Italy refused to provide information on the CIA kidnapping of Abu Omar.

13:40 One-third of US soldiers repatriated after service in Iraq required mental health consultations. 19.1% were diagnosed with psychological problems, according to a report published in the USA. The rate of psychosis among returning troops from Afghanistan is is 11.3%. It is 8.5% for other regions.

17:24 Amman. Mahmoud Abbas arrives in Amman for talks with Joranian PM Maarouf Bakhit to discuss the Palestinian situation. Abbas is also to meet with the Speaker of the Sudanese Parliament, who will formally invite Abbas to attend the next Arab League Summit in Khartoumon March 28 and 29. This is the last stop on Mr. Abbas' tour of Yemen, the UAE and Qatar Emirats.

17:06 Gaza. Reserves of wheat, sugar and oil are nearly depleted following Israel's closure of the Karni crossing.