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A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press.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

Monday, October 30, 2006

Al-Qaeda 1,2,3

A 10 second lesson.

Al-Qaeda-like organizations have been around for 1,500 years. Al-Qaeda takes its inspriation from Hassan Ibn Saba's Hashasheen, an underground society devoted to the demise of the Seljuk Empire through assassination and suicides. Afghanistan served as the modern day redoubt of Alamut where Bin Laden and his followers lived in reclusion and ascetism under Spartan conditions.

Al-Qaeda is influenced by the thought of Ibn Hanbal (VIII century) and Ibn Taymiyyah (XIII century) in which Jihad is of primordial importance. Naturally, the Wahhabis draw upon them as well.

Al-Qaeda has about 5,000 members and they are mostly rich capitalists from the Arabian peninsula. It's a cult of extraordinarily rich gentlemen, who are practitioners of chaos.

Al-Qaeda really doesn't give a shit about the downtrodden. Growing one's investment portfolio and building one's warchest chief enterprise. People like al-Zarkawi are wanna-be's. There is no al-Qaeda in a hellhole like Iraq. What Bush tells the Americans is hokum. And Al-Qaeda doens't care about the outcome of the US elections.

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Madrassa Roulette

Update 11 November : Postman Patel clarifies that the madrassa in question, located in the Bajaur Agency, was specifically targeted. And there has been a reprisal:
...Earlier this week a suicide bomber killed 42 army recruits on an army parade ground at Dargai...

Is it just me, or do you have the impression that Pakistani President Musharef just drew a name out of a hat then bombed a random madrassa to please Mr. Bush?

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Terrorist Kindergarten?

Those noisy kids, huh? US warplanes bomb kindergarten in Ramadi, killing 2 teachers mothers and 2 children.

Dumbass bombs.


Go Team!

Go Team! Dieser Boney Afganers. German troops frolic in Afghanistan. See more images here.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lies for the sake of elections

Iraqi Premier al-Maliki denied the statement by US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that his government had agreed to a calendar of measures to be adopted at the request of Washington. Al-Maliki declared that no such agreement existed, saying the announcement was part of [Republican] campaign strategy for the upcoming midterm elections.

The Premier also condemned a raid by US troops on Sadr City in which four cilivians were killed and 20 wounded, saying that he would ensure that it would not happen again. Police reported that US troops fired at them as they were transporting the wounded to the hospital.

[Assembled from Le Monde and BBC]

Do they really want to go there?

Israeli warplanes open fire as they overfly German naval patrol.

Two Six Israeli F-16 warplanes overflew a Germany Navy unit on patrol off the coast of Lebanon yesterday morning discharging two warning volleys then firing two infrared rockets to confuse the ship's anti-air defenses. The incident, reported by Deputy Defense Undersecretary Christian Schmidt to the Bundestag's Defense Committee, was denied by Israel. However the incident was also confirmed by German UNIFIL-II Command in Potsdam.


Monday, October 23, 2006

This will help..

Yeah, right. US troops raid Shi'ite TV station al-Furat run by SCIRI, round up the personnel, and ransack the studios and offices.

Update: The entire Karrada district (homes, hotels, offices, etc.) being raided.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Iraq: A long and bloody road to nowhere

Pierre-Jean Luizard, a French expert on Iraq, discusses the impasse. [From a chat in Le Monde, avaiable in the paper's archives [subscription required].

Don't want to read it all? Shorter Luizard. Anybody who thinks that the Iraqi central goverment can do anything about the violence is kidding themselves. The militias hold the power. The US is training "secular" troops outside Iraq but a coup d'etat would fail. The Kurds are being strangled by a Turkish blockade. The Coalition cannot withdraw because of regional consequences.

Q. Do you think than an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq will contribute to the restoration of security in that country?

Even if the US occupation seems today to be the main factor in the division of Iraqi society along ethic and religious lines, the damage has been done and an announcement of the withdrawal of Coalition forces would mean an admission of defeat by Washington in the eyes of all the leading figures with the complete set of regional consequences that would entail.

Today, Iraq faces a series of impossibilities: the impossibility of finding national unity amidst foreign occupation and therefore the transfer of real power to an Iraqi government sufficiently stable to set a schedule for withdrawal of US troops; and the impossibility on the part of US leaders, whether Republican or Democrat, to recognize the defeat of their strategy in Iraq.

A retreat is not on in the cards, but one could imagine that if it were announced, it would be immediately interpreted by the enemies of the United States in Iraq, in particular the Sunni insurgents, as a victory which, in fact, it would be.

A retreat is not on in the cards, but one could imagine that if it were announced, it would be immediately interpreted by the enemies of the United States in Iraq, in particular the Sunni insurgents, as a victory which, in fact, it would be.

With or without a US retreat, inter-communitarian clashes are nowhere ready to end in Iraq.

Q. By acquiring nuclear energy, Iran wishes to assert its influence in the region, thereby avoiding destabilization and even overthrow of the regime by outsiders. I don’t believe that Iran desires chaos in Iraq. Can we imagine Iran playing a stabilizing role in Iraq which would in turn imply a radical shift in US policy in the region?

Contrary to official pronouncements, the United States can only congratulate itself for Iranian policies in Iraq. It is owing to the benediction of Tehran that Washington was able to establish an unspoken partnership with the Shi’ite majority in Iraq, without which the country would have been long ago transformed into a hell for Coalition troops.

Iran gave its support to the political reconstruction of Iraq along communitarian lines as promoted by the United States and called upon Iraqi Shi’ites to participate in the ongoing process, i.e., in the different elections and federal projects, so far rejected by the Sunnis.

Iran seems to have marhsalled the extent of its influence in Iraq in promoting participation in the ongoing political process. The position of Tehran is far less influent in Iraq than claimed by the US, which is seeking scapegoats to justify its failure.

Iran is now by and large a spectator of the hellish violence in Iraq, and the implosion of Shi’ite society, the prime vector of Iranian influence in Iraq, demonstrates the point to which Iraq’s neighbors, first of whom is Iran, are powerless before a situation that no one seems able to control.

The Iranians have no interest in seeing the Shi'ite members of government fail, which would also mean failure for Tehran. It seems that the desperate measures on the part of the American to find an exit from the Iraq crisis will necessarily have to include Iran.

The Americans are conscious of the fact that there can be no stabilization in Iraq without Iranian cooperation, which is shown by the fact that the US and Iran together infiltrated Iraqi political parties and the militias which may or may not linked to them.

Among the exit scenarios under study in Washington is putting an end to the Iraqi parliamentary experience and the eviction of a corrupt political class that has lost all credibility in the eyes of the Iraqis for their inability to agree and to end the insecurity.

In this perspective, a strongman, possibly a military man recruited from among non-confessional groups relying upon separation of powers among the three communities through a national pact, like that which institutionalized confessional politics in Lebanon, could find favor in Tehran.

However, such a scenario would imply an armed force more powerful than the militias, which today control the real power on the ground, is unimaginable.

If such a plan, like all the others, were to fail, Iran would be compelled, as well as the United States, to witness the eruption of the Iraqi volcano, with the consequence of watching the eruptions spill over the Iraqi crater.

Q. Does there exist today progressive and independent movements in Iraq? What do you think of the Communist Workers Party of Iraq and the Freedom Assembly of Iraq?

As it the case throughout the Arab and Muslim world, the parties that were considered progressive in the 50’s and 60’s have given way to religious forces. Everywhere, the secular movements (nationalist and Marxist parties) that were active on the scene back then have been replaced by Islam.

The destiny of the Iraq Communist Party (one of its factions participates in the current government under US military occupation) serves as a good illustration. The communist party that was once the most powerful in the Arab world (the Iraqi Communist Party) is reduced today to Westernized secular elites obsessed with the “Islamist” danger and ready to rally to the American agenda for Iraq. Numerous Marxist Arab intellectuals, especially Iraqis, began to do precisely this beginning in the 1970s.

In the face-off between the Americans and Islamist movements, whether Sunni or Shi’ite, there is no longer room for progressive and/or secular movements; the ideals of these parties have been widely discredited by the authoritarian regimes which elevated them, among which the regime of Saddam Hussein figures prominently.

Q. It is strange to note that regionalization, generally invoked as necessary in managing conflicts (Ex-Yugoslavia, Africa), has not been proposed for Iraq. Could we foresee Arab troops (those armed and supported by the Americans) replace Anglo-American occupation troops? Would such troops we welcomed by the different rebel groups? Would they be neutral in the emerging civil war between the Shi’a and Sunnis?

The option of Arabization of the conflict in Iraq is rejected by the immense majority of Iraqis themselves, who have not forgotten, especially the Kurds and the Shi’a, the complicity, not to mention the cooperation, of the Arab world (the majority of which is Sunni) with the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Today in Iraq, Arab countries are considered complicit in the conflict ripping apart the country and even the Sunnis would not welcome the presence of Arab troops, say, from Egypt, where government is conducting a war against the Islamists, in support of a manifest American agenda in Iraq.

Q. What about the oil companies? Was the US successful in realizing its objectives? Is oil a catalyst in the conflict?

Contrary to what may were saying when the invasion was launched to remove Saddam Hussein, this war was not inspired by oil.

Before 2003, with a defeated Iraq still under the control of Saddam Hussein, who saw most the of the country’s sovereignty dismantled by UN resolutions proposed by the victors, control of the second largest oilfields in the world (those in Iraq) fell into the hands of the United States without invasion or occupation of the country.

During the 1990s, the United States controlled Iraqi oil and thus, given its importance, controlled crude oil market prices in the name of the international community through the instrumentalization of UN resolutions which, with a stroke of the pen, cancelled out the 1970s nationalization of Iraqi oil.

In the current chaos, oil production is far below prewar levels and the cost of insurance renders the cost of oil production prohibitive. But oil does play an essential role as a fuel in internal rivalries, especially in Northern Iraq, where the oilfields are mostly situed in areas of mixed populations: Arabs, Turks, Turkmen, Shi’a and Sunnis.

Oil is one of the key resources for the militias and for certain political parties, which explains the efforts within the government of these parties to promote federalism, a disguised partition of the country.

Q. Are we going to see the establishment of a theocracy? I heard a politician say that if the West wants democracy in Muslim countries, then it must wait for the arrival of Islamic governments.

The specter of a theocracy is often waved about for Iraq but for such a “danger” to materialize, the Islamists would have to infiltrate an institution. But such institutions are totally absent and the central government really only controls the Green Zone. Power on the ground is in the hands of local groups, a paradoxical alliance of political parties, tribes and mafiosi.

The absence of a government in Iraq favors the emergency of such powers which locally act as vertible parallel government institutions, subjecting the regions they control to Islamic power such as they conceive it.

This has been the case since 2003 in the immense Sadr City quarter of Baghdad, as well as in the quasi Jihadist emirates that exist in the center of the capital, just a few steps from the Green Zone.

Q. Installed in the mountains of Northern Iraq, what is the role of the PKK in the three-way relations of Iraq/Turkey/USA. Will Turkey intervene?

The fate of Iraqi Kurdistan appears to be separate from that of Sunni Iraq in the minds of all the protagonists, American as well as Iraqi, including neighboring countries.

Kurdish leaders have evidently decided to drive their region toward independence and they will refuse to reenter Iraqi politics should a central government be built, however minimal it may be in controlling regional affairs.

The Kurdish question is a big question mark because regional considerations as well as local realities preventing the emergence of an independent Kurdish state.

Kurdish leaders have maneuvered their province into a more or less long-term impasse, which appears to be less reversible every day. Recent events in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, where Turkey has imposed a trade embargo, reveal that Kurdistan has little future, beyond fait accompli, regardless of how powerful the Kurds are.

The presence in Iraqi Kurdistan of opponents of Turkey and Iran, especially the hundreds of PKK fighters from Turkey, is an issue that remains a tool for Kurdish leaders to put pressure on the two countries concerned relating to the Kurdish question.

But the presence of a PKK army, as well as the People’s Mujahedeen in southern Kurdistan, will remain on the back burner given the growing uncertainty surrounding the future of Iraq’s Kurdish provinces.

Q. Exiting the crisis implies reconstruction of Iraq. But doesn’t the US control of reconstruction jeopardize the future of peace in Iraq?

Iraq is a rich country (oil and natural gas, water, a balanced and educated population) but the spiral that is pushing Iraq back decades is a political. Iraq's wealth is paradoxically fueling the destruction and communitarian hatred instead of constituting a factor for unification.

There will be no reconstruction of the Iraq economy without restoration of a modicum of security and as long as the official status of Iraq’s principal resources remains without consensus between the different Iraqi communities.

Q. What was the NeoCon strategy for Iraq after Saddam Hussein and why did it fail?

When the US went to war against Saddam Hussein in 2003, it did not bargain on taking responsibility for the reconstruction of Iraq. Great was their surprise when, after the fall of the regime, all of Iraq’s institutions collapsed: army, ministries, etc.

This paradox is linked to the irrational decision by the United States to invade a country which was guilty of none of the things of which the Bush Administration accused it and which had been a strategic ally of the United States in the 1980s.

This is confirmation of short-sighted policy and the blind stumbling in the weeks following the occupation. Washington initially believed that it could easily recycle what remained of the state apparatus under Saddam Hussein to perpetuate the same system, which was meant to be Saddam Hussein without Saddam Hussein. It expected Sunni Arabs to continue to dominate the other two communities (the Shi'a and the Kurds).

It was only in July 2003, after it realized it had no sufficiently representative partners within the Sunni establishment and, facing the threat of the Shi’a leadership to open a front against the occupation, that the US decided, with the tacit agreement of Iran, to partner with Shi’ite leaders, the Kurds being in no case able to suffice, as was the case the with Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, to build a new power base in Baghdad.

The political reconstruction of Iraq along communitarian lines was not intended by the United States; it was imposed by forces on the ground.

The tragic circumstances in which the Iraqi population lives today is aggravated by the recent realization that the situation in Iraq is largely out of anyone’s control. Day after day, the Iraqis see that no force outside the crisis in which they live can save them.

The chance for a UN solution was missed long ago, and the reliance on the smallest possible denominator among the Iraqi population, with the general implosion of allegiances, displays the profound despair of the population, which has lost all confidence in the political class to deliver a providential savior.

Beset by the increasingly murderous chaos, many Iraqi have come to hope in the arrival of a strongman in Baghdad, even if such a possibility is completely out of reach.

Q. What options are left to Washington today?

In the approach of the US mid-term elections, the Iraqi issue has become essential because President Bush is unable to claim that things are improving in the Iraq. Moreover, rumors concerning a shift in policy are fed by those close to the President.

Among the rumors, the possibility of a military coup d’état has been repeatedly suggested (possibly as a means to put pressure the Iraqi political class). We know today that the Americans are building an Iraqi military force outside Iraq recruited on a non-communitarian basis and that the US is probing Tehran to discover if Iran would agree to partner with it again as the Islamic Republic did in building the current parliamentary regime in July 2003.

Fantasy or reality, such a possibility is completely unrealistic if one realizes that power really resides in the hands of the militias, which currently provide most of the backing to Iraq’s political parties. The outbreak of rumors on a possible exit scenario ahead of the of the upcoming mid-term elections illustrates the impossibility of the US Administration to claim any victory whatsoever in Iraq.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

We have a hero!

And another military man steps up to the plate. Général Alain Pellegrini.

Any general who upsets the Israelis is ok in my book.

From Le Monde via AFP:

"Israel deplores the statement by Général Alain Pellegrini, Chief of UN Forces in Lebanon, suggesting that he may change UNIFIL rules of engagement to allow the use of force to prevent incursions of Israeli warplanes."

Yeah, and if they attempt to bomb his positions:

"if French positions are attacked by Israeli warplanes or helicopters, we shall reply with our missiles."

And how deadly is the Aster(AéroSpatial TERminal)? Well, they say it is peerless.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

As Rome Burned...

At a time like this, and all they could do was rejoice over legalizing torture.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The North Korean Nuclear Test

Ever hear of "Calendar Syndrome"? The schedule and the appointment book seem to be a typically Western practice on which North Korean capitalizes. French academic Bui Xuan Quang makes a level-headed assessment of Pyongyang's moves on the chessboard during a chat session at Le Monde. (By the way, Mr Quang made me realizes how nuked-up Asia is...5 genuine nuclear powers (Israel, Pakistan, India, China, Russia) and another two on the way. Nuclear anti-proliferation? That is a moot question. Too late.

The stakes in Asia of the North Korean nuclear test

Chat with Bui Xuan Quang, Director, Center for Asian Research of the University of Paris (X-Nanterre). Wednesday, October 11th, 2006.

Should North Korea’s nuclear tests be viewed as a provocation? If the answer is yes, how is the situation different from the nuclear tests ordered by President Chirac at the beginning of his term of office?

First of all, you have to keep your wits about you as well as patience and a sense of responsibility. The watchword here is arm-waving, a call for help, and an admission of weakness rather than provocation. When Mr. Chirac took power in 1995, it was the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan and Asia viewed the resumption of French nuclear testing as a lack of compassion and understanding of the historical symbolism of this cruel anniversary.

How does this test change the equation for Koreans for whom, whether from North or South, the situation is already difficult?

It changes nothing. The South Koreans enjoy growth and prosperity while providing generous assistance to the North. In Asia, as elsewhere, the equation of life involves harmonizing needs, interests and values in a defined space-time. The North Korean president seems indifferent to this equation, which his people must deal.

What position does North Korea now occupy in Asia with its nuclear weapon?

An insignificant one. Nuclear arms have never represented a sign of power in the eyes of Asians, who have suffered from them, with the Japanese in the forefront. The test reflects herd mentality because, in the 21st century, power resides in influence, not in an armed or military demonstration.

Why did Koizumi, the former Japanese Prime Minister, go to Yasukuni? What possible advantage did that represent? Doesn’t that play into the hands of the North Koreans? Or was it just a simple blunder?

Oh, there are rarely simple blunders in Asia. Mr. Koizumi’s actions were calculated down to the last millimeter in the full knowledge of the symbolic meaning of the gesture and memory. They were planned as part of the succession of Mr. Koizumi and the selection of the current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, to the extent that the reputation of Mr. Abe is one of a conservative and a hawk, and have marked the path of future negotiations to normalize relations with the two Koreas and China. As proof of this, Mr. Abe is on a diplomatic mission to Beijing and Seoul now.

The West suffers from the calendar syndrome, in which appointments announced in advance facilitate the ideological, political and diplomatic manipulations surrounding them. Kim Jong-il must have carefully scrutinized international and national agendas to exploit the Japanese mission to China and South Korea, of Japan’s presidency of the Security Council, and the impaired vision of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan and it is War on Terror. It was a thief’s opportunity. Kim Jong-il stole the media stage and put the spotlight on himself at a time when the international community regards North Korea as a “rogue” or failed state.

If it turns out that North Korea is on the path to a nuclear arsenal, what are the stakes of this rearrangement of the cards in the regional balance of power and the reaction of China?

The question of whether North Korea really has the bomb is secondary, even a non-event. Asia has become accustomed to living with the atom bomb over the last half-century. One more nuclear power does not change the regional balance of power in terms of domination. The North Korean test is a message that China, proclaimed as the 21st century power, is weak: the acquisition of the right of veto in the Security Council by China is a diplomatic transaction in the interests of the Chinese but in no way defends the interests of China’s partners. Moreover, the North Korean gesture holds the power of Russia, which also has veto power in the Security Council, as negligible. In fact, the Security Council, the United Nations and the UN Secretary General seem, in the eyes of a country on which they have designs, completely incidental.

Why did North Korea act in this way? What are the political, economic and strategic reasons for this ratching up of aggression toward the United States and Japan?

Again, it’s the calendar syndrome. North Korea has continually lost face since the end of the Korean War. For example, North Korea didn’t even qualify for the 2002 World Cup, organized by South Korea and Japan. It was reduced to flailing about on the day of the Germany-South Korea semi-final by ordering commandos into South Korea and an insignificant warship off the Japanese coast, much to the amusement of Asians.

Even the ballistic tests over the Sea of Japan killed only fish. But they drew attention to the dreadful living conditions inside the autistic North Korean state and used and abused the generosity of the South Koreans, the international community and international agencies. Raising then calling the bet. North Korea is familiar with the Asian definition of crisis: block coupled with opportunity. It plays on both: it is a good student of communist rhetoric: negotiate while fighting, fight while negotiating ("danh dàm, dàm danh"). Two irons in the fire and the winner is the player who makes the first move.

What about the North Korean people themselves? Are they for or against nuclear weapons for their country?

A generic answer would be this. South Korea, while participating in the Group of Six negotiations, is well aware that if the North were to acquire a nuclear weapon, then when the time comes for reunification, it will be a Korean weapon. In the calculation of opportunity, one should keep a close eye on the line of action adopted by the UN Secretary General designate, Ban Ki-moon, a Harvard graduate, who is not insensitive to the interests of the United Statea and the Security Council on the world stage. The North Korean President is not indifferent to this sequence of timing and dates.

What is the goal sought by North Korean with the testing? Civilian, military or expansionist?

If you spend 50 years then end up in a state as reduced as that of North Korea, this is proof that North Korean “expansionism” is an international commodity. The testing has no military, civilian or expansionist purpose --is a call for help, a demand for ransom payable in foodstuffs and blackmail to extort public generosity.

What type of sanctions should the international community invoke against North Korea?

Did it really test a nuclear device? On the strategic chessboard, North Korea has shown itself to be an astute player. The strategy of Chinese chess [Xiangqi] is to "sacrifice the pawn to win a turn". The effect of announcing a North Korean nuclear test, while creating much ado about nothing, was a test of international sangfroid. In soccer parlance, just enough to earn a yellow card without being ejected from the game. As to sanctions, it should not be forgotten that North Korea prefers South Korean wealth and generosity to Chinese firmness, which it is now evaluating in a diplomatic tango. Sanctions would be acceptable, provided they are proportional, as the Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations declared. That says everything.

Do you think that other nations will now pursue a path towards acquiring nuclear weapons, following in the footsteps of Iran and North Korea?

The parallel with Iran is above all pedagogical for Tehran. To be a nuclear power in the 21st century only satisfies citizen pride or national vanity. You can have a bomb…but you have to acquire the means to deliver it. Few countries have the possibility of undertaking the long march. On the other hand, within the context of Asian and global balance of power, you have to take a good look at countries like Indonesia (which stepped aside to allow Pakistan the honor of becoming the first Islamic power with the bomb), Thailand (a pivotal nation in Southeast Asia and Malaysia (an emerging economic power).

Since military action is fraught with complexity, what other levers exist to put an obstacle in the way of Pyongyang ? Can you strangle it economically or cause the regime to collapse from within?

In the 21st century, it is mistaken to us a lens from a prior century to interpret international realities. Gunboat diplomacy has its limits and it’s dangerous to ride the tiger without knowing how to get off.

Europe, which has invested so much in the Iranian crisis, seems silent on that of North Korea. How do you explain that?

Europe is far from Asia, which expects symbolism stronger than market research, a refined taste for oriental antiquities or an unconscious forgetfulness of the past.

If I’ve understood you correctly, there is really no reason to be worried and the test is merely a laughable communications gesture?

There is always a reason for vigilance and responsibility. No one, especially the North Koreans, intended to be ridiculous. But the interpretation of this event puts into perspective the cost-efficiency relationship of the North Korean gesture. Just another way to prove that the world is an echo chamber and that attention focused on one of the globe’s hot spots must be reinterpreted within the dynamics of a global quest for security.

Do you doubt the reality of the North Korean test? That’s what you seem to be saying. What makes you say this?

The experts…well, we'll have to wait for confirmation that the North Korean test was indeed nuclear. The world is experiencing such nervousness that each spike in tensions suggests the worst. However, even if the North Korean test was unsuccessful, it was an excellent opportunity for isolated Pyongyang to turn the spotlight on itself.

With all due respect, I find that you've given a lightweight analysis of the crisis. For several years, we’ve been hearing reassuring words about the “North Korean menace”. Will there not come a time when this menace proves to be genuinely concrete and will we recognize that when it occurs?

No international reality is approached lightly. But any appreciation of Asian temporality tells the analyst that he is looking at a veritable call for help from North Korea. Kim Jong-il is also approaching from the other side of the mountain. Problems relating to succession are raging in Pyongyang right now. One should be aware of the interests of the North Korean Army, which has been cooped up for fifty years. This aspect deserves greater attention.

Does a relationship exist between Iran and North Korea on military and economic matters and in what way does it exist?

There are observers who see a link between these two nations. These two countries are reciprocal customers for conventional weapons. But national interests are always the priority for both Iranian and North Korean leaders.

Thank you for your reassuring and sensible words. But I believe that a unilateral strategy -a concert of nations-, which seems to underlie your analysis, is far from reality. Would you, as perhaps an exercise in style, develop what is the nuisance threat of this episode?

That is a banal formulation, but pertinent. Today, the international community, left only with after-acquired property, can be defined as multilaterally bilateral. North Korea, as well as every other actor, it so conscious of it that it holds action by the current UN Secretary General negligible and the future influence of the UN as inconsequential. I see it as a wakeup call for international monitoring rather than an annoyance threat, albeit local.

Japan has declared that it is in favor of invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for armed intervention, among other things. Is this foreseeable?

It is an oft-suggested scenario but Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter it is so difficult to mobilize that it is really a virtual weapon of limited utility.

North Korea does’t have a strategic vehicle to carry the bomb. But couldn’t it use a dirty bomb?

In Asia they know that if you spit in the air, it falls back on your nose.

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Stability First, Containment Later

The special commission on Iraq led by James Baker is going to produce these recommendations. Baker told Charlie Rose that the commission would release its report after the elections but then must have thought better of it and leaked it to the Los Angeles Times, a likely ploy to boost the Republicans.

1) Engage Iran and Syria in stabilizing Baghdad, and if that works,
2) Redeploy US troops to permanent bases in Iraq, from which the US could strike the guerrillas and the militias.

Maybe it's me, but I see the story of a failure foretold. If you are Iran, are you going to help the US stabilize Baghdad so it can then fortify permanent military bases directing a threat at you? One thing is certain, neither country is likely to play ball without big concessions. I really don't believe that Washington will offer the right things, like WTO membership, dropping of economic sanctions, guarantees of sovereignty, financial assistance and so forth. Maybe Washington should be thinking of something more realistic, like getting the Georgians out of hot water with the Russians.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Revolt of Her Majesty's General Staff

British General Sir Richard Dannett, Colonel Commandant of The King’s Division, The Royal Military Police and Army Air Corps, President of the Army Rifle Association and the Soldier’s and Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association, Vice President of The Officers Christian Union, Commander-in-Chief Land Command, Chief of the General Staff and a buncha medals and decorations says OUT OF IRAQ NOW!.

Big debate at "Have Your Say", the boards at BBC News website, where the Cheetoh Boys, i.e. US freepers, are chewing the British out. Of course, British reader comment is 95% pro General Dannatt and they're taking no guff from the wingers.

What's most amusing is Tony Blair's attempt to throw the military a bone: "Look chaps, no income tax!" But it's not about the money, is it?

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Frieze Art Fair in Regent's Park

Emerging young artists know what they're doing.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Another day, another 155 deaths

Why is it that every day another American commits some heinous and shameful act of homicide and/or murder --not in his own home (although I'm sure there's plenty of that)-- but by preying upon someone else in grand public view?

Two thoughtless and arrogant US pilots flying in Brazil decided that they didn't have to follow their flight plan or remain at assigned altitute and thus wiped out 155 Braziliian innocents. Pilot Joseph Lepore and Copilot Jan Paul Paladino couldn't be arsed to obey flight regulations and clipped a Brazilian airliner. They now claim they lost radio control with Manaus (denied by the Brazilian authorities) and therefore they had the right to do as they pleased because, one assumes, there's a jungle in Brazil.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Gasoline supplied to Kurdistan by pack mule

When little countries are located on the rump of big former empires that remain large and dangerous, it is a sorry fate. As Georgia, so Kurdistan, although the Kurds have it worse. There is no doubt that Barzani and Talibani yearn for independence and have every intention of annexing Kirkuk, but the Turks are clamping down and may force the Kurds to have a big rethink of their plans. But that is not the only darkening cloud on the horizon.

Le Monde's Sophie Shihab reports from Erbil:

On the Iraqi-Turkish frontier, the tanker trucks loaded with oil have disappeared

The atmosphere has changed at the Turkish frontier crossing at Habour on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan. The nightmarish lines of oil tank trucks that formed for dozens of miles on both sides of the border in December 2005 have disappeared. The crossing itself has been enlarged, with new, modern and almost elegant facilities.

But the situation can be counted as positive only by the occasional traveler. The area is almost deserted. The daily flow of trucks has dropped from several thousand a day to several hundred. The result is disastrous for the Kurdish population on both sides of the frontier whose future depends on relations between Ankara and Erbil, the “capital” of Iraqi Kurdistan --viewed with suspicion by its neighbors.

Turkey refuses to recognize the quasi state that is forming at its periphery. It will negotiate only with Baghdad out of fear of seeing an independent Kurdistan encourage Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

It is with Baghdad that Ankara wishes to negotiate the import of Iraqi crude, which, once refined, would then be re-exported back to Iraq, whose refineries are moribund. But in Habour, the brisk trade has ended as both sides trade mutual accusation of blame.

The crisis is damaging a large number of people. In Iraqi Kurdistan, gasoline is sold only on the black market. All the services stations are closed to be benefit of an underground network whose points of sale are the thousands of hawkers lining up along the roads with their jerricans of gasoline, of which the price has quintupled.

On the Turkish side of the border, an economic depression has struck local Kurdish households, which use to earn a living from the border traffic as truck drivers and taxi drivers and who are no longer authorized to bring back gasoline from Iraq where the cost is the lowest in the world to Turkey --where it is nearly the highest.

The Kurds claim that Turkey has imposed an undeclared embargo on their main inland port to punish them for their drive toward independence, to force them to crack down on the PKK rebel bases in extreme northern Iraq and to dissuade them from annexing the oil capital of Kirkuk.

Ankara rejects the charges and points to the number of Turkish corporations working legally in Iraqi Kurdistan, the electric power that Turkey supplies to Kurdistan in increasing quantities or the export of other products such as LGN, cement, automobiles, etc. entering through Habour. Turkish officials attribute the end to the flow of petroleum across the border to the “reorganization of all services concerned”.

Local translation: Thirty officials accused of corruption have been fired. Among them was the public prosecutor in charge of the investigation corruption who himself became the man who decided which trucks would cross the border. When last heard from this official is still in charge of directing traffic –but so is the Turkish Army, say local residents.

Another version reported to the Le Monde by Safeen Dezai, chief of international relations for the KDP (the party led by Massoud Barzani). Before, dozens of Turkish companies transported oil thorough Habour, but Iraq reduced that number to three. The Turks then proposed twelve companies, but Baghdad insisted on selecting them, he declares. Failing to explain, however, why Kurdish security forces don’t put an end to the local black market trade.

Their gasoline now comes from elsewhere in Iraq and Iran, partially on pack mules through the Kurdish mountains. It is one of the paradoxes of the soaring economy of Kurdistan of which certain distortions (corruption, kickbacks…) are typical of oil states. There are a small number of foreigh oil companies doing some oilfied development –including a Turkish company— but no production is expected for two year.

If before then the division of Iraq’s oil among its regions remains unsettled and the civil war extends into Kurdistan, it is certain that its Turkish and Iranian neighbors will get involved.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Another trillion, if you don't mind

The Army to argue for another division and the tune of a half trillion dollars

Friday, October 06, 2006

My Blog Bloom

Hat tip to Happening Here. Make your own.

It's Hispanic Hertitage Month

The Senate celebrates by erecting the Tortilla Curtain. Way to go, boyz.

Viva la revolución

Teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico, still on strike. They also sabotaged the national radio station trasmitter. (Wouldn't it be nice to sabotage a Fox News transmitter?) It was only for 15 minutes but good for them.

Update: Somebody means business. Jaime René Calvo Aragón of the Consejo Central de Lucha, the government-sponsored dissident movement in Oaxaca, was found in a ditch with his throad cut. Apparently, he opposed the Asamblea popular de los pueblos de Oaxaca, which has blamed agents provocateur.

More Murder and Mayhem from the Marines

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) -- A Navy corpsman testified Friday that Marines in his patrol seized an Iraqi civilian from his home, threw him into a hole and put at least 10 bullets in his head after growing frustrated in their search for an insurgent.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos said he saw a Marine [John Jodka or Marshall Magincalda[ put fingerprints from the victim onto a rifle and on a shovel to implicate him as an insurgent.

Via The New York Times

p.s. I once read that in Viet Nam, the US military took hispanic recruits aside and urged them to ultraviolence. It looks like it is continuing.

Reporter hunting a regular sport practiced by US forces in Iraq. Another body floats to the surface:

ITN's reporter Terry Lloyd, who was killed on 22 March 2003 in Iraq, was shot dead by US troops as he sought shelter. Nicholas Walshe told British justice officials that Lloyd was deliberately shot in the head. His Lebanese cameraman, Hussein Othman, was also killed and Belgian cameraman Daniel Demoustier wounded. French cameraman Fred Nérac remains missing. [Via AFP]

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

If Turkey were to join the EU

...the EU would end up with a border on Syria, Iraq and Iran. Not to mention absorbing 73 million Turks, making Turkey the second largest nation after Germany in the EU, with corresponding voting rights. Not going to happen.

Grand Old Pedophiles

Forgot to add this to the list....


Condi in Baghdad to put an end to inaction

Yeah, right, after she had to wait an hour to land owing to mortar fire directed at the airpot.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What I Witnessed in Rochester, NY

I, Nur al-Cubicle, do declare having witnessed the following:

An on-line special feature published by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in 2004 showing a wounded Marine who had his face blown off in Iraq, with only a mouth and two holes for a nose left, supported entirely by his mother. The story was wiped from the website within an hour.

Radio jamming. Any time some interviewee on NPR would lapse into a Chomsky-style rant against the immoral use of US power, the interview would be zappped.

A posse of ambulance drivers + vehicles disrupting a legal anti-Bush rally.

The airing by local radio stations of the worst and most rabid right-wing talk show hosts, despite the city's large black population and significant numbers of liberal urbanites.

There. I feel better now.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Goodbye, Tony, the Man Who Would Be Poodle

Cartoon by Sardon, from Le Monde

I am not British, so the finer points relating to the transformation of Labour intended by Blair are somewhat blurred. But I do understand that the Third Way, celebrated by Bill Clinton, was meant to remove the Labour Party from the influence of the unions and the Marxists.

As an aside, the West is supposed to be undergoing some kind of neoliberal transformation but there is an abundance of reticence on the subject. There are no public intellectuals to give us the information and our governments are using the surprise assault technique to destroy the welfare state such as it is in the United States without clearly establishing what is going to replace it. An Italian intellectual remarked that nobody really knows where all this dismantling and free enterprise talk is taking us and that it's more of a fashion statement.

German historian Wolfgang Nowak examines what Blair intended to accomplish and how his fatal embrace of Bush's War on Iraq spoiled his legacy in an interview conducted by Le Monde's foreign affairs correspondent, Daniel Vernet.

Q. Ten years ago, one might have paraphrased a remark by André Malraux on DeGaullism: Everyone was, is or will be Blairist. Today, the statue has been toppled from its base.

A. It is sad that the Blair era ends in such a horrible way: by a sort of Labor Party death wish. But I do not believe that the time of Tony Blair has ended. I believe that his formula, We must control the future, remains one of the main tasks of political parties that are mean to be progressive. Blair has a vision of the future that I see in a phrase by François Furet: “The past is an illusion”. I think that this is the starting point of Blair’s thinking. Blair is a politician who takes seriously the last phrase of Furet’s book: Nous voici condamnés à vivre dans le monde où nous vivons [Here we are condemned to live in the world in which we live]. The old social democracy has made an art of regretting the past and offers no vision of what the world will look like in twenty and thirty years. (...)

Q. You portray Tony Blair if not as an ideologue, then as a thinker, whereas his success owes primarily to his ability to communicate.

A. I see Tony Blair as theoretician inside small circles. Of course, to go from theory to practice, you must be an able tactician. Blair is a good actor and a good orator. Blair the intellectual and Blair the tactician are not mutually exclusive. I don’t believe that I can condemn him for exploiting the media in a culture of entertainment. He gave an interpretation of grand ideas which he intended to put into practice, even if the implementation never quite measured up to the rhetoric.

Q. Do you know that Blairism is no longer fashionable in France and to be called Blairist is almost an insult?

A. Let’s take the example of the German Left. When the Blair-Schröder declaration was published in 1999 (Europe, the Third Way and the New Center), the old school social democrats were in a state of shock because their beliefs had been shaken and their reason for existence was questioned –above all, the notion of class struggle. The merit of Blair was to have said that class struggle was an artifact of the past and to have brought social democracy into the present -an extremely difficult task. The German social democrats had been basking in the past. As to the French, they missed their chance five years ago, during the presidential elections. I think that Lionel Jospin was a modernizer although he did not consider himself to be Blairist. He used Socialist language, which Blair never did. Blair developed his own vocabulary.

Q. You were the organizer of the 2000 Summit of the Modernizers (Blair, Clinton, Jospin, etc.) How would you characterize Blairist principles in a few words?

A. First principle: the responsibility of the citizen cannot be nationalized. This is a typical social democrat attitude. For Blair, the citizen must capable of deciding his life in society. The second concerns the State. The social democrats believe in an all-powerful state that resolves all problems. Blair’s idea is that the State is there to provide guarantees but it doesn’t do everything itself. This is the new partnership principle between the State and the citizen, who must assume his responsibilities. Blair tried, not always with success, to replace dependence on the State with a kind of equality in equal opportunity. The goal was to emancipate the citizen from the supervision of the State, which is not there to relieve the the citizen of his responsibility. The State is a facilitator, having created the conditions for a takeover of the citizen by himself. The problem with Blair is that he believed in the salvation of globalism. His shortcoming was his inability to demonstrate how the state would influence globalism. His strength was his desire to make the citizen a partner of the State and society -a citizen who would be the entrepreneur of his own life.

Q. So Blairism has an international component?

A. Blair attempted to gather people who had the same convictions but not necessarily the same solutions. In India, Korea, in South Africa or in Latin America, his ideas not only could have helped to climb out of the impasse of Westernization or Americanization but they could have been useful to Germany, where the welfare state is in the process of strangling the State and compromising the future. His ideas remain attractive; even if he does not enjoy the success of a prophet in his own country. I’m thinking of the internationalization of the rights of man, which was manifested in Kosovo but derelict in Iraq. Blair was convinced that it is our values themselves that do not permit our values to be trampled elsewhere in the world. If we take this declaration of faith seriously, then we should be intervening everywhere, from Darfur to Byelorussia. But he believed a community of values should be created within the UN that would rally those who share Western values. For him, these values are anchored in the Enlightenment and in the French Revolution. The plan was thwarted by the crusader mentality of George Bush and by Blair’s inability to understand that a difference exists between Bush and America. By make the distinction, he disoriented a number of his friends.

Q. For what reasons did he avoid drawing the distinction?

A. I first would like to underscore that on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, I did not understand why Schröder, for purely electoral reasons, was so critical of the United States. I did not understand Chirac, either. As a matter of fact, I did not understand Blair. All three of them knew that Bush was going to war at all costs. They saw the looming catastrophe and Europe remained on the sidelines. Perhaps Blair thought that as an ally, he could have prevented George Bush from foolish acts. He failed. I would have liked to have seen France, Germany and Great Britain find a way to force the Americans to reflect on the consequences of their actions in Iraq. Blair could have been a great statesman of the 21st century, like De Gaulle, Adenauer and Churchill were in the 20th, if he had not participated in that fateful war.

Q. Is the war the principal cause of Blair's demise?

He would have had a chance to recover if the war had ended quickly, if a better Iraq had emerged out of the adventure. As terrible as the regime of Saddam Hussein was, I now think things are worse there. It is a mistake that will forever tarnish Blair’s reputation.


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Just so you know the age in which the mind of Abu Gonzales lives.