Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press.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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Not the Best Use of Time

That's what Jordan's King Abdullah thinks of a 3-way meeting with Bush and al-Maliki. The President flew to Amman to have dinner at the royal palace. That's it.

Meanwhile, "Hundreds of Jordanians held a rare sit-in at Jordan’s Parliament house on Wednesday morning, and up to 500 marched through the streets in the afternoon, holding banners calling Mr. Bush a criminal and a murderer."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

War with Iran by the Back Door

You would think that Bush and Cheney would be seized by reality by now but that is a vain hope. This delusional pair actually believe that they can persuade Sunni Arab states into a Shi'ite-Sunni war. God help us.

Josh Landis writes:
Israel and the US are hoping to shore up support from their friends in order to better avoid negotiating with their enemies: Syria and Iran. Thus it is significant that both Jordan and Egypt are insisting on wider negotiations, despite Washington's efforts to draft them into a Shiite-Sunni war.

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Global Strike Force Eastern NATO

Update: Dateline RIGA
More combat troops for southern Afghanistan, where the British have sustained heavy losses over the last few months:
Germany: No. We're in Northern Afghanistan and we are staying there.
Italy: No. We're in Herat and we are staying there.
Spain: No. We're in Herat too and we are staying there.
France: No we're in Kabul and we are staying there. And we're pulling out our Special Forces, all 200 of them. But hey, you could ask the Japanese, Australians, New Zealanders, the Pakistanis and the Iranians.

p.s. We'll air drop you supplies if you getinto trouble


President Bush was in Estonia today, working that old Old Europe/New Europe divide. According to the President, old Europe are a bunch of weeny foot-draggers while New Europe is brash and willing, and not afraid to spill their blood in Bush's War on Terror. Years and gone by and the music is still the same: Bush is attempting to coerce Europe to get behind him and to pledge their armies.

In a press conference, Bush asked for thousands more NATO troops for the hinterland of Afghanistan, transforming the NATO stabilization force (ISAF) there into combat troops. Mr. Bush, who enjoys little credibility in France and Italy, especially after his cheerleading for Israel in its summer war on Lebanon, is pressuring those countries to provide more men and materiel. Italy reacted immediately to the President's words, saying it expected to be thanked for what it's already done in Afghanistan.

But New Europe is fertile ground for Washington, and it is relying on their nationalism and anti-Russian sentiment to challenge Old Europe. Reading the European papers, it appears that the EU Commissioners appointed from New Europe have formed a council within a council, promoting anti-Russian policies that have sunk EU economic/political partnership talks with Russia, much to the chagrin of France and Germany.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Stealthy Steal Flummoxes Secret Service

Retraining camp for the Secret Service agents assigned to Presidential Daughters Barbara and Jenna, on vacation in Argentina. A pickpocket lifted Barbara's wallet and cellphone...and the boyz didn't even see it happen.

That reminds we of this claim about light-fingered Colombians..."They can steal your panties without removing your pantyhose"

Reverse Clockwork Orange

Update: Couldn't wait. Bought the DVD at Amazon UK. This will end up like Porco Rosso, biography of Fidel Castro, the original British version of "Traffick" and other films that are curiously not available.

Stanley Kubrick's film "Clockwork Orange" was banned in Britain (and may still be) and now Ken Loach's film "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" may be banned (oh, sorry, you can't say that...the word is "raised an eyebrow") in the US. You see, it concerns revolution and terrorists --the Irish.

The US release date was supposedly November 6th, but I haven't seen a trace of the film.

A Peril in Turkey?

Analysis of the Pope's trip to Turkey, by Le Monde's religion reporter, Henri Tincq.

The streets of Istanbul were deserted of Istanbul when Jean Paul II went to Turkey for the first time, invited by the Patriarch of Constantinople, the primate of the Orthodox Christianity. On that November 28th, 1979, Muslim public opinion was completely indifferent to the visit. However, two days earlier, Mehmet Ali Agça, the young Turkish terrorist and member of the Grey Wolves, had threatened to kill the Pope, eighteen months before his attempt. Twenty-seven years later to the day, Benedict XVI will fly to Ankara and Istanbul at the invitation of Patriarch Bartholomew. But different from 1979, the indifference of the Turkish street threatens to be openly hostile.

The terrain is a minefield for three reasons. The first is the dispute caused by the Pope’s address in Regensburg on September 12th. His remarks inflamed even the countries of mainstream Islam like Morocco, Egypt or Turkey. Second, after his pronouncements of September 2004 (“Historically and culturally, Turkey has little in common with Europe”), the reputation of former Cardinal Ratzinger as an adversary to EU admission by Turkey precedes him. Third, although the Patriarchy of Constantinople, unlike that of Moscow, remains the best disposed ally of Roman Catholicism, the weakened Orthodox world has reacquired its old anti-Roman reflex reaction. “Dostoyevsky’s old myth of the Grand Inquisitor has returned”, observes François Thual.

Following his address in Regensburg, which pointed the finger at the risk of violence within Islam, Benedict XVI did not issue an apology as the Muslim street had demanded and which the Islamist nationalists of Turkey still hold against him. The Pope is unlikely to cave in to their pressures. And then there is the absence on his scheduled day of arrival of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, connected to the upcoming Turkish elections in 2007, in which Islamist candidates are expected to do well.

In Rome, the fact that this speech was a “gaffe” has been acknowledged and the Pope has since expressed contrition never before seen in history. And he at least had the merit of reopening the debate on faith and reason and the seeds of violence within all religions. Muslim intellectuals clung to his words. They say that they have been disinherited by the radical from the legacy of Greek reason (the philosopher Averroes) which Islam had brought to Medieval Christianity. For them, reopening the doors of ‘ijtihad, i.e,. the interpretation of sacred texts, is no longer a taboo subject. At the Jesuit University of St. Joseph in Beirut, a colloquium was recently held on faith and reason attended by Shi’ites. There is nothing in the Koran, they insist, that justifies bombing. In Tunis, a conference on the same subject is soon to take place in Tunis and will include Christian, Jewish and Muslim researchers on religion.

Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Turkey is both a risk and an opportunity. He could worsen tensions if he gives another speech viewed as provocative to Islam or if Islamist nationalists demonstrate their impatience. But there is also the chance of a new understanding between Christianity and Islam in a secular Muslim country whose 20th century experience showed that it is, despite crises and repression, able to be melded with democracy (although of the strong-arm variety) and secularism.

However, Turkey is such a powder keg that this bet is far from being won. It is the cradle of the worse ethno-religious fractures in history. It was in Constantinople in the 11th century that Christianity exploded into pieces, divided between Byzantines and Latins. Their burning hatred led to the sack of Constantinople in 1204, seared into the memory of all Easterners, even unto today. In 1453, Constantinople, the Second Rome, fell under the blows of its Muslim enemy, whose threat then extended as far as Vienna. And there is the memory of nations such as Greece, Serbia and Romania which is marked by five hundred years under the Ottoman yoke. Even today, in secular Turkey, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Syrian and Chaldean Christians, are reduced to tiny minorities without status and rights. They live in a climate of insecurity. A priest was killed in Trabizond in a climate of passion stirred by the Muslim cartoon scandal.


The Muslim memory is also streaked with blood (François Thual), marked by episodes of sectarian violence with Christian Europe and by the massive expulsions of Balkan and Caucasian populations during the 19th century wars of “liberation” as the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating. It also suffered from the brutal secularization carried out in the 20th century by Mustafa Kemal, for who all the sorrows of empire were the fault of Islam. Turkey under the Ottoman sultans quickly became a secular Nation-State, having nothing over its French Jacobin model.

The themes of Benedict’s trip –Islam, Orthodoxy and Europe– are confused. Benedict XVI is haunted by the collapse of the Christian faith in Europe. Never before has a pope drawn the attention of the world to the issues of civilization which to him represent the weakening of Christian values and its vulnerability vis-à-vis the rise of Muslim radicalism. This is the key to understanding his combat in the defense of Christian identity of the Old Continent and the preservation of the traditional legacy of the Church (Latin Mass), his rejection of militant secularism, his intransigence concerning his speech on Islam and his skepticism on the entry of Turkey into the European Union. He is coming to Turkey to seek the support of the Orthodox world by visiting the Patriarch of Constantinople, before going to Moscow.

"Turkey serves today as the “catharsis” of European identity", explains Nilüfer Göle, Professor at the High Institute of Social Sciences in Paris. “We have never heard so much about European values as since the start of the debate on the admission of Turkey. European values, which had been tacit in Europe before, and Christian identity, have now become explicit.” And this is what is worrying the Turks, who are impatient before stalled negotiations on admission. The mission of the Pope in Turkey is a dual one: To reassure Christian minorities and to explain to them that Islam and Christianity have an interest in working together if only to defend the idea of the sacred and of transcendence in Europe. Given its position and its history, Turkey is well placed to play the role of a bridge between two religions and cultures at odds.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

More Big Bucks for Clusterf**k

Compared to Peter Pace's request for ANOTHER $130 BILLION for Iraq, Reagan's MX railroad missile defense system was a highly deserving project.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Correcting the course of US foreign policy

There are so few assessments on what is likely to change with the Democrats having taken control of Congress, that I had to resort to foreign America watchers. My big question was, given the traditional closeness of the Democrats to Israel, would Middle East foreign policy change at all? Guillaume Parmentier casts some light on the subject. If you don't feel like reading it all, nothing is likely to change unless the Administration is willing to negotiate with Congress, and that does not appear to be the case. The Administration will cast the Democrats as responsible for the resulting gridlock.

Chat: Will there be a new US policy toward the Middle East?
LE MONDE | 13 November 2006 | 18:42 • Updated 15 November 2006 | 12:57

Debate with Guillaume Parmentier, Director, French Center for Study of the United States, the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), Wednesday 15 November, 12:00

Q. How are the results of the mid-term elections going to change US policy in the Middle East?

Relatively very little. Most Americans view Israel as the potential victim of a possible mobilization of the Arab world. In other words, they see Israel as isolated from the region, and threatened. Traditionally, the Republicans, who are more sensitive to the influence of oil interests, are more independent of Israel than the Democrats. But that does not mean that they are closer. Over the last few years, the Republicans have come under the influence of the evangelical wing of Protestant activism, which is unconditionally favorable to Israel from their reading of the Bible. This has led the Administration of George W. Bush to unconditionally back all Israeli initiatives, even when these actions have undermined the traditional peace process conducted by the United States. From this point of view, the November 7th elections may produce some softening, because the evangelical wing of the Republican Party has been weakened. But this softening shouldn’t be overstated because there could be compensation for it by the degree of support that the Democrats general give to Israeli initiatives.

Q. What element could modify US policy in the Middle East?

The United States has always been viewed in the region as the power responsible for the degeneration of crises. But this is less so during the presidency of George W. Bush, although he is often apt to foot-drag before addressing conflicts. Since his reelection two years ago, we have nevertheless witnessed a return to a more traditional posture. Mrs. Rice regularly visits the region and the United States has adopted an attitude that, without being as engaged as that of President Clinton during his second term, is not as distant as it was during Mr. Bush’s first term.

Q. Do you believe that the foreign policy of the United States has been changed by the radical behavior of Iranian President Ahmadinejad or do you believe that the United States has fixed rules for dealing with any country belonging what has been termed the “Axis of Evil” since September 2001?

Truth be told, both statements are true. On the one hand, there is no doubt that since September 11th, the US tends to view in the dictatorial nature of the Iranian regime and its possession or desire to possess weapons of mass destruction as a threat to its security. On the other, the bellicose and racist statements of the President of Iran have provided credibility to the assertions of the Bush Administration and reinforced the mistrust of all Americans and political circles concerning the regime. But this does not mean that all Americans believe that there should be no relations with Iran. The leaks coming from the Baker-Hamilton Commission, which was appointed recently to find a solution to the Iraqi conflict, suggest the establishment of dialog, albeit informal, with Iran.

Q. Does the US Jewish community more or less support the Bush Administration?

The Jewish electorate is largely Democrat. On the one hand, it is true that when American Jews, as well as all other Americans, witnessed the consequences of suicide bombings targeting civilians by Palestinian extremists, they rallied to the stern position of the Administration. The Jewish community supports Israel. But it is wrong to say that it supports Israeli policies unconditionally. Remember the 1996 statement by the American Jewish Committee that condemned the policies of Mr. Netanyahu, whose government fell a few weeks later.

Q. What exactly is the amount of influence of the American Jewish community has on Republicans and Democrats?

The Jewish community is very powerful because it is composed of successful individuals in terms of education and enviable affluence. But I repeat, the Jewish community is very largely loyal to the Democratic Party. But its influence in intellectual circles, the media, etc. is undeniable. Above all, Americans, beyond the Jewish community, see Israel as a democratic, Westernized country, which is obviously not the case for the Arab countries that surround it. The reflex reaction of support for Israel extends far beyond the Jewish community. The “pro-Israel lobby” is not a Jewish lobby.

Q. Is it true that without the United States, Israel is powerless?

Israel is a difficult country to defend from a strategic point of view. Its land mass is very small. But it was able to achieve peace with Egypt and Jordan, which gave it a certain peace of mind that it did not enjoy before. But the United States played a major role in establishing that peace. However, it remains in a perilous situation. One the one hand, it has a large Arab minority living within its borders which is unhappy with their status because the Palestinians do not yet have a viable state, which they believe is their right. Moreover, several states in the region (Syria, but above all Iran) have had a consistently hostile attitude towards Israel. In these circumstances, Israel is heavily dependent on political and military support from the United States. But it is an overstatement to say that Israel can do nothing without the United States. We recently saw the Israeli government go far beyond the wishes of the United States in Palestine and in Lebanon. But the strategic dependence of Israel on the United States is undeniable.

Q. What is the United States doing to improve its negative image in the Middle East and, more generally, in the Arab world?

This is a very difficult task. President Bush is hated throughout the area and this has carried over to the image of the United States. But let us entertain no illusions: the image of the West and Westerners is also negative. The most effective steps to counter this situation would be in the use of more balanced rhetoric and, above all, to force a certain number of concessions from Israel so that the fledgling Palestinian state has a chance to develop under satisfactory conditions. In other words, so that the state is viable. Such a policy could be implemented by the current administration. Let us not forget that President George W. Bush is the first United States President to have officially evoked the need for a Palestinian state. However, it is also true that the personal image of the President in the Arab and Muslim world is extremely negative to the point that, in my opinion, it is unlikely that esteem for the United States would return under his presidency.

Q. Can we hope that one day Americans will adopt a more objective position on Israel? I refer to the veto imposed on the UN resolution condemning Israel for Beit Hanoun.

It’s possible, but it is far from certain. It’s difficult to read the tea leaves, but I repeat, for the great majority of Americans, Israel is seen as the victim. So its harsh policies are viewed as a natural response to the de facto situation. The fact that this perception is different in Europe does not change the reality.

Q. Will there be a change in US policy toward Turkey (Iraq, Cyprus, and the Southern Caucasus)?

The problem with Turkey is that the American Right has never forgiven it for prohibiting the transit of US aircraft through its airspace and the passage of ground forces through its territory during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. That is far less the case with the Democrats, who have arrived at a far different stance on the war since then. I don’t doubt for a minute that Congress will seek to restore cordial relations with Turkey given the new circumstances. However, although the Turkish elite continue to view the United States with a certain amount of benevolence, Turkish public sentiment in this regard is extremely negative. It is not certain that relations can return to the status enjoyed previously.

Let’s not kid ourselves, this situation will only encourage the United States to continue to use demagogic rhetoric concerning the entry of Turkey into the European Union. And when I say demagogic, I am obviously referring to the statements of the United States urging the European Union to admit Turkey rapidly and under relaxed criteria.

Q. And where are the Europeans in all this? Can they influence the position of the United States in the Middle East? Can the Middle East become an area for reconciliation between the EU and the United States or will it be a casus belli?

I hope it will not become a casus belli, or even the stage for verbal clashes. But there will be no real rapprochement unless Israel is directly threatened. This would lead the Europeans to reaffirm their support for the existence of Israel, which would then bring them closer to their US partner. Beyond such circumstances, which are certainly not desirable, I don’t see how the positions of these transatlantic partners, which are now far apart, can be reconciled.

Q. Do the United States or the UN really have the means to carry out their threats of sanctions against Iran, following the reports issued by the IAEA?

The international community recognizes that Iran is playing a very dangerous game. For this reason, the position of the United States is not isolated. It remains to be seen what policy it will implement. Until now, the United States has acted relatively distantly from certain statements by the Administration, which has enabled the US to escape isolation. The reality is that the US Administration cannot tolerate Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear weapons, nor can it use force. This has created for the United States, as for the rest of the world, extremely powerful constraints. The occupation of Iran is inconceivable and targeted strikes would have little likelihood of destroying Iranian nuclear potential and would render ineluctable an acceleration on the part of Iran of its nuclear program. It is a problem that can be resolved only by convincing Iran that a nuclear arsenal is not in it interests But for this, flexible individuals or groups in Iran must be sought out. It is not certain that the US and the rest of the world can do so.

Q. What is the Bush Administration prepared to offer to the Democratic majority in Congress in terms of foreign policy?

It is the President who possesses the initiative for foreign policy. If the Administration wishes to lead effective foreign policy, it has to engage its Democratic partners in Congress in a genuine and systematic fashion. If it fails to do so, it's going to find itself in a very difficult position. The Senate is going to put obstacles in the way of nominations to the Defense Department and the Department of State and the House will cut funding for initiatives which it does not support. Everything depends on discovering whether the Bush Administration is willing to compromise. The least that can be said is that, given its natural persuasion until now, it will seek to push the Democrats into a trap, which consists of assigning them the blame for a possible governmental gridlock. However, from this point of view, domestic issues will be far more important than international issues.

Q. What transformations do you predict in US policies on the Middle East in the next 15 years?

I can’t read the tea leaves. However, I hope that the recent tendency to adopt generic recipes for all the countries which the United States has involved in the ambiguous and hazy “Greater Middle East Initiative” will give way to policies that are far more differentiated. Many Democrats have expressed strong reservations on the validity of the initiative. If the Administration is willing to compromise, we can hope for positive change. As to 15 years from now, remember that Harold Wilson, the former British Prime Minister, used to say that a week is a long time in, 15 years are….

Chat moderated by Gaïdz Minassian

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Massacre at Beit Hanoun

Sabbah has a slide show of the Israeli-spawned carnage at Beit Hanoun.

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Iraq: Bush ups the ante on a brutal occupation

US troops attacked Shi'ite northwest Baghdad, Shouala, killing 6 civilians with assault helicopters and bombs.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Bush rejects the Baker Report

Get ready for a battle royale when the new Congress convenes. Bush has rejected the Baker Report. Don't expect help from Gates.

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New Prime Minister for Palestine

Academic Muhammad Shbeir is to assume the post of Prime Minister, replacing Ismail Haniya.


Seeking refuge in Kurdistan? It will cost you.

L'Orient-Le Jour has a story on Erbil, saying property rentals for refugees from the south of the country are through the roof. Moreover, Kurdistan is raising the bar for future non-Kurdish refugees, demanding a sponsor, a pre-arranged job and a permit that has to be renewed every three months.


George W. Bush, Olmert's Poodle

Supposedly, the US is to begin talks with Syria and Iran on establishing peace in Iraq, says White House aide Joshua Bolten on the Sunday political talk shows. Mr. Bolten either doesn't speak for his boss, the President, or Bush is beguiled by Israeli prime ministers. After 5 minutes in a room will Olmert, Bush exits ga-ga and declares that Iran must be contained and strangled to death economically.

Too bad we can't force Bush to talk to Jacques Chirac only. Bush turns to jello when he's around these musky, authoritarian central/east European types like Putin and Olmert.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Modest Agenda

The cat's out of the bag. The Democrats seem have bought wholesale the notion of redeploying into super-bases in Iraq or in Kuwait. Redeployment apparently means "out of harm's way". There will be no pullout. I even read that Howard Dean said the US has to stay in Iraq to prevent a Turkish invasion of Kurdistan.

Truth be told, a pullout from Iraq was not expected, for, as Mr. Luizard pointed out, a pullout would strengthen radical Islam with all the attendant regional upshots.

So, the Democratic Congress is not going to change the President's tax giveaways to the hyper-wealthy, not going to leave the Iraqi theater and not going to impeach Bush and Cheney. But they are going to prevent John Bolton's confirmation as Ambassador to the United Nations and to boycott some of Bush's judicial nominees.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Israelis attack French FINUL forces

In a third incident, 12 Israeli jets feigned a bombing raid on the French at Deir Kifain in southern Lebanon. The computer-controlled French batteries prepared to launch their missiles, aborted at the last second as Zion's flyboyz pulled away. Back in Paris, the French government summoned Israeli Ambassador Daniel Shek to give account. Ambassador Shek, as expected, denied that the incident occurred.

Friday, November 10, 2006

War on America

Read in USA Today that 2 days after stinging, humiliating defeat at the hands of US voters, the Republican-controlled Department of Defense is gearing up to fight the lefties of South America once again. As if the DoD doesn't have its hands full in Iraq, it's returning to its old ways of kidnapping and torturing popular revolution to death in Latin America. The School of the Americas returns with a vengeance.

They learn nothing. If the bastards had let Che live, they might have learned a thing or two about insurgency.


Culture for War

From La Repubblica

The Berlusconi government diverted 100 million euros in revenue from a tax to support arts and culture to fund the Italian contingent in Iraq.

Hmmm, I wonder how much money from the Endowment for the Humanities has been diverted to fund the war in Iraq by the Bush Administration?

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Popular Resistance

From L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut).

Women in Hanoun, Gaza Strip, offer themselves as human shields to save their sons and husbands, inside a mosque, from Tsahal. The Israelis shot dead two of them. How many of us love so much that we would have the courage to pay the price in blood?


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Global Warming Edition - Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg, Germany, yesterday. Wow.