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A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press.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, September 30, 2006

A Government of Nuclear Proliferators

As I was channel surfing in the wee hours before bed, I wandered into C-Span where I happened to catch Congressmen David Wu (D-Oregon) and Dennis Kucinish (D-Ohio) giving short but passionate orations on the plan by the Republican-controlled Congress to see fissionable material to India, thereby igniting an arms race in Asia. The US is pushing India (whose nukes are in violation of the anti-Proliferation Treaty and winked at by Washington) to bulk up with more nuclear weapons (civilian use my ass).

The pair, valiantly IMHO, kept Congress in session until 02:00 am in an attempt to seize the what moral flotsam remains in the minds of the Grand Old Proliferators in order to turn their thoughts toward the future consequences of this irresponsible legislation. For now, Congress has adjourned and won't be back until November, when the Senate will consider the bill. Sigh, a few good men --with no power. God help us.

By the way, I recall the initial reaction of some Senators, including Republicans, when Bush came back to Washington from his trip to India with a deal for which the Legislative Branch was not consulted. At the time, there was some outrage and a hint from Senator Warner, I believe, that the idea would never win the approval of the Senate. Let us hope this is the case.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

A Government of Bounty Hunters and Executioners

Does Pakistan have football stadiums? Does Romania?

[via Le Monde]

Hundreds of suspects arrested by Pakistan in the scope of the War on Terror have disappeared, according to a report on human rights by Amnesty International. Those arrested, including children, were tortured and literally sold to the USA by bounty hunters.

The organization can prove the direct complicity of CIA and FBI officials in the wave of disappearances that have swept Pakistan.

More than 85% of Guantanamo prisoners were arrested, not by US forces, but by Afganis and Pakistanis who received up to $5,000 a head. The fact that rewards were paid encouraged arbitrary arrests and disappearances.

Amnesty affirms that suspects were often transferred illegally between Guantanamo and Bagram in Afghanistan, as well as to other secret prisons around the world.

Amnesty International has demanded that Pervez Musharraf -who is meeting with Tony Blair at his country estate- to reveal what has happend to the disappeared.

The report indicates that the persons arrested were held without evidence and upon accusations by those looking for lucre.

300 prisoners held as "killers" and "terrorists" in Guantanamo have been released.

A Government of Blackguards

or Brownshirts, you decide.

The House of Representatives adopted draft legislation giving solid legal grounds to illegal wiretaps carried out by the Bush Administration since 9-11.

See historian Tom Spencer's post on the subject.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Government of Lunatics

After declaring the United States to have fallen to al-Qaeda (see Abu Aardvark), our government is arresting diplomats on charges of terrorism. That's right, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro was held at JFK Airport on suspicion of terrorism. What act of terrorism?, you may ask. Participation in the 1992 coup attempt in Venezuela. After thinking it over, ChimpCo, through aptly named spokesman Gonzo Gallegos, let him go. Aw, mighty generous, diplomatic immunity means something to them...not like the Geneva Accords or our Constitution. [The spooks at JFK had the gall to say they did not notice "diplomat" stamped on the passport.]

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Shells and Drugs and Rivers of Babylon

British troops running weapons from Iraq to the German mob.

BRITISH soldiers have been caught smuggling stolen guns out of Iraq and allegedly exchanging them for cocaine and cash on the black market.

Security officials confirmed this weekend that soldiers from the 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment are at the centre of a criminal inquiry by the Royal Military Police (RMP) into a “guns for cocaine” network. [Via the Sunday Times]

I don't blame them. Weapons for blow. Damn good idea.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bush to send expeditionary force into Pakistan

Update: Maybe Bush's chat with Musharef is about something else entirely. The French newspaper L'Est Republicain reports that Osama bin Laden died of typhoid a month ago. A Saudi intelligence source is said to have informed a French counterpart.

Oh this can't be good.

Le Monde's Islamabad Correspondent, Françoise Chipaux, reports that Bush has vowed to send US troops into Pakistan to hunt down bin Laden. [Big assumption that he's even there]. Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Tasnim Aslam has come out and declared that the Pakistani government will not permit the deployment. Pakistan had sent 80,000 troops into Waziristan, but lost 600 men in fruitless combat with the locals. It recently threw in the towel and signed an agreement with local leaders. Bush doesn't have enough troops to do much in a rugged, hostile place like Waziristan. 80,000 Pakistanis troops weren't enough.

But the madrassas are not shut down (how could they be?). Hardline Muslims are a very potent force there and they have just won a big victory in forcing the government to implement an even harsher divorce law. Musharef is on the defensive, with a pressures from militants and discontent in the army. Musharef can't go to war against Pakistan.

Apparently Musharef met with Bush yesterday. I don't know what Bush has threatened, but he's low on manpower.

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Nasrallah Rally in Beirut

Watch it. [Via La Repubbica]
When the pants get scared off of Bush and Olmert, where to they go?

Troops frisk troops

Law 'n Order frisks Law n' Order via L'Orient Le-Jour. Bush wants to eliminate Sadr. As if.

Monday, September 18, 2006


It's not going to stop, large-scale offensive or not.

KANDAHAR - Four Canadian soldiers participating in the NATO contingent in Afghanistan wre killed in a suicide bicycle bombing this morning in Kandahar. The soldiers were distributing school materials to a crowd of children, 27 of whom were wounded, when the bicyclist detonated his payload.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Today's quotation

It takes three days to make a terrorist and thirty years to make an analyzing intellectual.
-Mark Chebel, author of Islam and Reason. Tempus, 2006, €7.5.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

John Le Carré on Lebanon

John Le Carré wrote this piece for Le Monde on September 7th. It is now available in the paper's archives (subscription required).

Take a moment to answer this question, please. When you kill a hundred innocent civilians and one terrorist, have you won or lost the war on terrorism? “Ah,” you’d answer, “but this terrorist could have killed two hundred people, or a thousand people, or even more!” So I ask another question: If in killing 100 innocent people, you create five new terrorists and give them a popular base that then vows to give them aid and support, have you guaranteed an advantage to future generations or have you created an enemy you deserve?

On July 12, the Israeli Chief of Staff gratified us with a glimpse into the subtleties of military thinking in that country. The military operations in Lebanon, he says, “are going to push that country back 20 years”. Well, I was in Lebanon twenty years ago, and it wasn’t pretty. Following the statement, the general kept his word. I am writing this exactly twenty-eight days after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, such a highly fashionable military practice the Israelis use it themselves.

Over these twenty-eight days, nine hundred thirty-two Lebanese were killed and more than three thousand wounded. Nine hundred thirteen thousand people became refugees. Israeli victims were eighty-two dead and sixty-seven wounded. During the first week of combat, Hezbollah launched ninety rockets a day at Israeli. A month later, despite eight thousand seven hundred sorties by the Israeli Air Force unmet by the slightest resistance that paralyzed Beirut Airport and destroyed power stations, fuel depots, fishing fleets, one hundred forty-seven bridges and seventy-two highways, the daily Hezbollah missile launch decreased to to sixty-nine. And the two Israeli soldiers who were the official justification for the war have not been returned.

And yes, as we were warned, Israel did to Lebanon what it had done twenty years earlier. It wrecked its infrastructure and inflicted collective punishment on a fragile, multicultural and resilient democracy which was trying to reconcile its confessional differences and to live in harmony with its neighbors.

Barely a month ago, Lebanon was held out by the United States as a model for the rest of the Middle East. With a possible excess of optimism, it was thought that Hezbollah would cut its ties to Syria and Iran and transform itself into a political, and not merely a military, force. But today all of Arabia celebrates this armed militia and the reputed military superiority of Israel lies in tatters and the image of dissuasion so important to it no longer dissuades anyone. The Lebanese have become the latest victims of a global catastrophe that is the work of misguided zealots for which there is no end in sight.

Another 9-11 post

Folks, the US Government was in bed with Osama bin Laden for 20 years. A cockamamie scheme by Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzeziński to hire Saudi extremists to give the Russians a bad time in Afghanistan was lunacy. I’m told that when Arabists in the British diplomatic service heard of the plan, they went straight to the Foreign Secretary and urged that he warn the Americans that it was an incredibly bad idea and would certainly produce unforeseeable if not unmanagable problems of the worst nature down the road. Indeed, they were right.

Brzeziński’s immoral impulse to deploy Wahhabi Islam in the belief that it was a one-edged sword exclusively turned against communism was uncurbed. A decision was taken that would lead to the recruitment of an Apocalyptic criminal on our dime. The US State Department, the CIA, the Joint Chiefs, the Senate, the DIA and a series of presidents bear responsibility for turning a blind eye a disaster-laden (no pun intended) miscalculation. And they never gave a damn about the Afghani people, who suffered the reign of terror, and they never bothered to keep an eye on the danger they unleashed. After all, Bin Laden was just a righteous man of faith. Not even when the Taliban rhetoric turned violently anti-American in 1996 did the US bother to infiltrate the organization. After the embassy bombings in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi in 1998, they resorted to high-tech surveillance of some of Bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan, but they couldn’t be arsed to hire a rug seller in the bazaar to keep his ears open.

And then, Osama Bin Laden didn’t fit the intelligence profile of a homicidal criminal or a dangerous revolutionary. Why, he was a privileged millionaire. He’d gone to university in Britain. He was of noble stock. And the 9-11 highjackers? Why, they were western-educated men of ease. Beyond suspicion. They weren’t long-suffering Palestinians. They weren’t Iraqis oppressed by the embargo, or starving Sudanese, or miserable Tchadiens –someone with a reason to espouse terrorism, at least of a revolutionary sort.

And what was 9-11 supposed to be? An attack on our liberties, as George Bush says? Not at all. It was a plot straight out of the imagination of Ian Fleming. Bin Laden was an attentive student of economics. He intended to bring about worldwide economic collapse. The destruction of the Trade Towers would set off a global recession. There’d be hundreds of millions of unemployed around the world. There’d been even more misery in Africa. The West would curtail its purchases of raw materials. Misery redoubled in the “South”. It was a cruel, dastardly plot for global chaos hatched by a megalomaniac who never spent a moment pondering what he could do for some Arab cause. He spent all his time running his investment portfolio and preparing for the end of times.

So once the smoke settled, Bush and Cheney realized that they had in fact received a big gift from Bin Laden. A chance to spy on the opposition. A chance to take out an Arab state. An occasion to insult Old Europe. An opportunity for international industrial espionnage like never before. An excuse to batter multilaterialsm. A chance to stampede the US towards totalitarianism. An occasion to worship fireballs. An occasion to stick a thumb in Castro’s eye by reopening a Devil’s Island at Guantanamo. And a chance to talk the same Manichean language of Bin Laden. They would call it the Global War on Terror.

I don't know where we go from here. There needs to be a sea change in Washington. The Democrat hawks must be plucked. Bush must pay for his mistakes. Our democracy needs work. Our elite have to wise up. And yet, it looks grim. Ideologues of the nasty sort control the media. National debate is strangled. The insanity and immoral conduct seem likely continue. What gets me is that when chastisement comes, it likely won't be delivered by the American people.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Blair in Beirut

Popular like Nixon in Caracas in 1958.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Operation Medusa: A slide into open war in Afghanistan

Update 8 September: 4 Italian troops killed wounded by a roadside bomb in Kabul Farah in western Afghanistan. Just before that, a bombing near the US embassy in Kabul killed 16, including 7 unidentified foreigners. Iran's al-Alam TV says 5 US soldiers were killed. Al-Jazeera says they were British.

A few months ago, I heard a very famous economist berate Bush and Blair for pursuing imperalist policies without imperial will. If you want to rule as an empire, he said, then you must act like one. And this would mean garrisoning the territory, launching punitive missions, razing towns, summoning colonists, handing out lands to your officials and generals, etablishing and administering institutions, conscripting the males to serve in your army and police, taxing the locals, building monuments to your conquest, creating a Ministry for Colonies at home and generally making the population feel the weight of your presence –for generations. He also suggested that taking on the drug war as part of NATO's mission was a recipe for massacre –of NATO troops. I can't help but hope that War Nerd soon issues his assessment.

If you have been scanning the headlines, 23 British and 5 Canadian troops have died since August 1st in Operation Medusa and scores have been wounded. Le Monde's Jean-Pierre Langellier pens an analysis. More can be found at the Guardian website.

A general declares that the British are running hot in Helmand Province

The faces of the 14 British soldiers killed in the crash of their Nimrod aircraft in Afghanistan on Monday 4 September were published on the front page of every newspaper in Britain –a media tribute on the par with the emotion caused by this “sad tragedy”, in the worlds of Tony Blair, the highest loss to the British Army since the Falklands conflict.

Contrary to what the Taliban has proclaimed, it was almost certainly an accident. In addition to the many credulous people in the Muslim world who will believe the propaganda, meant to raise the standing of the insurgents, the tragedy reflects the change in the type of NATO operations in Afghanistan and the limits the military materiel available to the 4,000-strong British contingent, deployed mainly to the Helmand Province.

For the last few weeks, the British contingent has been involved in a veritable war against the Taliban as evidenced by their casualties: 28 dead, of whom 14 were killed in action since June. 37 British soldiers have been killed since the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. It seems a distant memory when Defence Minister John Reid declared in April 2002 that British troops would withdraw from Afghanstan within three years at the latest, and without having fired a shot.

Of course, the rules of engagement have been modified since then without a formal acknowlegement from London. The activity of British troops is no longer confined to maintaining the security necessary for the rebuilding and development of the country. They are involved in more and more massive and bloody operations against a resolute and audacious enemy which now employs suicide bombings and who is strengthened by his alliance with the drug lords. In recognizing that its rules of engagement have been permanently changed and that its officers are no longer obliged to observe strict rules of self-defense, London has confirmed the slide into open war.

In the province of Helmand, the Army sought to pry off the hold of the Taliban by building five forward positions ahead of their main base, Camp Bastion. Each forward base immediately came under fire from the Taliban. With the span of a few weeks, these forward positions were on the receiving end of dozens of attacks, some so frequent as to prevent convoys from resupplying them.

The intensification of combat reveals the logistical difficulty in which the British army finds itself. We are running hot, certainly running hot. Can we cope? I pause. I say 'just'., admitted General Sir Richard Dannat, Commander-in-Chief, in a Monday interview with the Guardian.

A portion of ground matériel is unsuited to this type of combat. The Land Rovers and Jeeps poorly protect their occupants from bombings. Reconnaissance aircraft, insufficient in number, operate under stress. The Lynx helicopters can only fly at night because of the extreme daytime temperatures. To this is coupled the pressure created by the dual mission imposed on the army: Fight the insurrection and neutralize the warlords who control the opium.

These problems do not yet seem to jeopardize the legitimacy of these operations as seen from London. Most observers demand more equipment but underscore the progress made since the installation of a pro-Western regime in Kabul. A hasty military pullout would only worsen the situation, they say.

6 September 2006

Saturday, September 02, 2006

In the rubble of Qaim

L'État, C'est Moi Hezbollah

Report by Le Monde's Sophie Shihab, Special Correspondent to South Lebanon
01.Sept.06 | 13h35

Camped out on what they laughing they call the new terrace of their home –a first floor room with its outer walls half destroyed by the bombing– the women are taking a short break. They’ve cleared the debris out of three other rooms and the kitchen. Their home is one of those exceptionally classified as “reparable” in Qaim, the town in Lebanon that has been 85% destroyed, say engineers –an estimate that any visitor would confirm. A Hezbollah bastion located 7 km from Israel, Qaim was bombed every day during the 34-day war, affirms Baria, on her terrace. She got this information from the men who stayed behind –a thousand fighters hidden underground, they say- because Baria, like the 20,000 other residents of Qaim, fled to the north or to Syria when the shooting starting. This is why only one civilian and two fighters died, declares Baria. True of false, the atmosphere in the repopulating rubble is far from mourning.

Ka-ching, I have $6,000, says Baria, laughing. She has hidden the wad of bills received three days ago from Hezbollah in her blouse. They are helping us anyway they can…water, medicine. But there’s nothing to buy, except meat if you really want it. Her neighbor, whose home cannot be repaired, received $10,000. She’s living for the moment with Baria, whose parents are sleeping in a small outdoor tent –another gift from the Party of God on the caved-in roof of their home. This is nothing, she says.

This is the fourth time we’ve fled Israeli bombs. But this time, the monster was defeated, and we still have Seyyed Nasrallah and we are confident. Everything’s going to be all right, she adds.

The sentiment is echoed on the yellow banner hanging outside Qaim. We shall be victorious in reconstruction as we were in the war. A promise facilitated by the Emir of Qater, who has agreed to finance the entire rebuilding of the town, as well as Bint Jbeil and two other villages among the most damaged.

While they wait, the inhabitants have plenty to do. Thousands have returned, although some do not spend the night and others are preparing to leave as autumn approaches. Auto repairmen, carpenters and other artisans having generators –Iran has recently supplied them– and are busy in make-do workshops. Sweating youth lay electric cable along the upturned street, others in the distance are pulling cable. Until 2:00 pm, I’m a government official. Then, until nightfall, I serve as a volunteer so that the lights return to my town. Within 20 days, we’ll have everything done, God willing, chimes in another. A Hezbollah volunteer? Ha! The entire town is Hezbollah, says Ali, throwing his head back and laughing. He admits that some support the other Shi’a organization, Amal, and that the 50 Christians of the town (30% of the population was once Christian) back the PPS, a pro-Syrian party. Rahmas Qasis, an Orthodox Christian who has just reopened her shoe store, says in a measured tone, Returning to a destroyed Qaim is better than returning to a Qaim occupied by Israel.

The Christian owner of a destroyed home also received $10,000 from Hezbollah, whose members are devout people who don’t lie or steal, unlike those Amal characters, who got rich on reconstructonn during the 1970's. But it would be better if the government were paying the indemnity.

The State, in Qaim, is downtown city hall. The acting mayor, jovial and sporting a short beard, receives us seated under a portrait of the Lebanese President, Emile Lahoud, and hands us a business card with his name, Ali Zreik, director of an Islamic charity in Beirut’s southern suburbs, the bastion of Hezbollah. Ali’s office doesn’t empty out. He warmly greets some visitors, who have an air of comrades-in-arms under their civilian clothes, with a shout out of “Victory”.

The Stockholm Conference? It brought together those countries who gave the green light to Israel to destroy us, he says. They’re plotting against Hezbollah. They are attempting to win politically what they could not achieve militarily. The urgent aid they’re talking about we’ve already received from UN organizations, the Red Crescent organizations of the Gulf, and Algerian, Italian and Turkish NGOs. When asked whether “we” means the Lebanese Government or Hezbollah, he answers with a laugh, Why, it’s the same thing!

In this border area, emergency assistance has also come from FINUL and other NGOs, who are helping the area’s isolated villages to avoid overlap, they say, with the Party of God.