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A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press.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, April 30, 2007

Modus Operandi

The prevalent use of willing henchmen is the hallmark of the Bush Administration. Like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who deployed henchmen D. Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling to do his dirty work, we have Mr. Wolfowitz over at the World Bank who has shamelessly recruited and handsomely rewarded (+$250,000 per annum, violating World Bank compensation rules) Robin Cleveland (White House) and Kevin Kellems (DoD). As I've posted before*, this duo is riding roughshod over the institution. There are no reins on Ms. Clevelend's powers as she outranks the bank's administrators. Moreover Mr. Kellems controls the Communications Office through which he is able to act as censor.

Paul Wolfowitz must go and hopefully, this week will be his last. The nepotism he's demonsrated extends beyond the extraordinary arrangements for his squeeze: he is twisting the bank's hierarchy, roiling its staff and quite simply demeaning the institution.

The Wall Street Journal hints that Bush may be considering former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach or Indiana Senator Richard Lugar to replace Wolfowitz. Let's hope that this is so and that these men will behave with some integrity.


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Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Laws of War

Shouldn't a rule be established that if you bomb your own capital (or the one that you occupy), you lose? US heavy artillery working on Sunni neighborhoods in south Baghdad, apparently.

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Looting in Mogadishu

Waves of looting, gathered from an article by Jean-Philippe Rémy of Le Monde

On Friday 27 April, waves of looting swept over Mogadishu as the Ethiopians claimed victory over the insurgents.

On Industrial Road,one of the main arteries in the vast area held by the insurgents for a month, the Coca-Cola plant, the only factory working in Mogadishu, was emptied a crowd that included forces of the transitional government (TGF), who said they have not been paid....They left bare walls, having carted off everything from the sugar stores to the generators to tens of thousands of bottles of Coke. As Ethiopian forces extended their hold on the city, looters attacked every building that had been abandoned by security guards, fearful of being taken for Islamic fighters, who held most of the city with the held of the largest tribes.

At the Hormuud Telephone Company, near the spaghetti factory, looters took away $50,000 in Somali shillings, which they stuffed into jute bags, as well as every piece of office equipment and furniture, including computers, said Ahmed Yusuf, Coca Cola President for Somalia. "I called Ethiopian command in Mogadishu for protection but they replied that they were there to force al-Qaeda out of the capital, not to guarantee public order. They told me to call the TGF".

But at that moment, TGF were looting every warehouse in the city and the quarters that had supported the insurrection....

Most technicians, businessmen and city notables had supported the insurrection and are fleeing the city with everything they can carry because President Abdullahi Yusuf will certainly redistribute the spoils to his supporters.

The looting only worsens the terrible result of one month of fighting: massive urban destruction and 1,500 dead according to ELMAN, which was close to the insurgents. But this number represents only the unburied. 400,000 people [1/3 of a city of 1.5 million] have fled the capital. Others who are seeking to leave have found the streets barricaded by Ethiopian troops, who will conduct house to house searches looking for suspected insurgents. Dozens if not hundreds of people have already been arrested. But most high-ranking insurgent leaders left the city a few days ago.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

A glimpse of the UN report on Iraq

I do not spend a lot of time watching US television outside of a late-night channel surf, but I haven't heard a word on the recently-released US report, much less seen anything in print. Le Monde, on the other hand, has a synopsis of the damning report.

Insecurity, poverty and no rule of law: The devastating UN report on Iraq
LE MONDE | 26.04.07 | 14h57

On Wednesday 25 April United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) presented a devastating picture of the situation in Iraq, contradicting the claims of Nuri al-Maliki’s government that violence had declined in Iraq recently since the launch on February 14th of the “Security Plan” for Baghdad. In a report coving the period between 1 January to 30 March, UNAMI points out the deficiencies of the Maliki in defending human rights and restoring the rule of law, while it acknowledges the tremendous difficulties that continue to dog official efforts. It also paints a dire portrait of the humanitarian situation, which recalls the suffering of the Iraqi people when, under the dictatorship, the country was subjected to an extremely harsh international embargo that lasted 12 years.

The Iraqi government immediately rejected the report, saying that it had major reservations and deplored “the approximation and the lack of credibility with respect to several points" –which it does not identify– as well as the use of “unreliable sources”.

UNAMI refrains from declaring victims of violence for the period covered by the report, because, it underscores, the government refused to supply the needed data with the excuse that UNAMI had exaggerated the number of human lives lost in its previous report. But those figures had be supplied by the Ministry of Health and the Coroner’s Association.. Nonetheless, based on observations from its teams and testimony and meetings with the victims, UNAMI writes a damning report.

The number of civilian dead is extremely high, especially around the capital, Baghdad. Intimidation of the population continues as politicians interfere in judicial matters. The geographic cleavages along communitarian lines are growing wider. Ethnic and religious minorities are victims of intolerance. Freedom of expression is increasingly muzzled and women's rights ridiculed. These are only a few examples of the grievous shortcomings revealed by UNAMI (which does not spare the Kurdish regions), tasked to assist the Iraqi government in promoting human rights.

The most troubling report, drawn from sources with UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), concerns the humanitarian situation. Some 8 million Iraqis are in a vulnerable situation and require immediate assistance, says UNAMI. Two million have sought refuge outside the country and another two million are displaced within Iraq. The extreme vulnerability of four million other Iraqis derives from lack of food, the escalation in violence, the lack of basis services, rampant inflation and unemployment.

More than half of Iraqis (54%) live on less than a dollar a day and 15% of them have been reduced to extreme poverty, having to get along with 50 cents a day to meet their daily needs. In July 2006, the rate of inflation was 70% and unemployment 60%. Only 32% of Iraqi have access to potable water. Hospitals and clinics cruelly lack medicine and equipment. 12,000 of the 34,000-strong medical community have left the country and another 250 of them kidnapped and 2,000 murdered since 2003.

More than 700,000 Iraqis were forced to move following the attack on a Shi’ite place of veneration in Samara on February 22, 2006 which unleashed confessional violence. Hundreds of families have had to move several times. Three-quarters of the displaced are women and children. Most displaced persons do not have access to elementary services such as electric power, clean water and medical care.

Mouna Naïm

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Via BBC:

So with tacit American approval and with other international governments looking on, Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia to support the weak transitional government.

Ethiopia is now trapped.

It wants to get out of Somalia, but cannot go until what it calls the "Islamist threat" is eliminated.

But every moment Ethiopian troops spend in Somalia stirs up more resentment and their presence acts as a compelling recruiting sergeant for insurgents, who say they will die trying to rid their country of the Ethiopian invaders.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Baghdad security Walls: Iraqi generals insubordinate

This story by Patrice Claude in Le Monde says the Iraqi Army and American military and diplomats have rejected Prime Minister Maliki's call to end construction of walls around Baghdad neighborhoods:

Controversy in Baghdad over American "walls"
LE MONDE | 24.04.07 | 14h45

Can the bombings and the ethno-confessional cleansing that have ravaged Baghdad for four years be solved by building walls? The US military and their Iraqi counterparts, who have already raised hundreds of kilometers of anti-blast barriers in the capital,–around police stations, barracks, markets, schools, hotels, hospitals, embassies, political party offices and TV and radio stations–, not to mention the Green Zone, which is surrounded by dozens of miles of two rows of ramparts topped by barbed wire, watchtowers and machine gun installations, were surprised by the negative reaction of Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki .

From Cairo, where he was making his first state visit, the head of government ordered the halt to construction of a 5 km long, 4-meter high and 70 centimeters thick wall around the Adhamiyah quarter in northeast Baghdad, said to “protect” the inhabitants against attack. Because "building of this wall in Baghdad evokes walls built elsewhere, and which we have condemned", said Mr. al-Maliki, "I ordered a halt to construction".

But the Prime Minister, who was making reference to the Israeli wall in occupied Palestine, really made his decision following protests over the last few days by hundreds of Adhamiyah residents who, refusing “to live in a vast prison”, complained that the "security wall" completely surrounds their neighborhood –the last that is entirely Sunni on the east Shi’ite bank of the Tigris, which divides the city in half–, would be “additional discrimination”. Several Sunni and Shi’ite political parties have adopted a similar position and rejected the “enclosure in separate cantons” of the 5 to 6 million inhabitants of the capital.


On Monday, without making a commitment to end construction, the new US ambassador, Ryan Crocker, declared that “Certainly, we’ll respect the government’s wishes.” [Oh, the hypocrisy--Nur] The spokesman for the US Army, Lt.Col. Chris Garver affirmed: “We are going to coordinate with the government and the Iraqi Army to consider how to implements effective and appropriate security measures.Apparently, the Iraqi Army wants to continue building the walls.We shall continue the preliminary work on the security wall for Adhamiyah", said a general. Qassim Al-Moussawi, an spokesman for the Iraq military said, “These walls are not eternal, they can be dismantled later", [word for word what Ariel Sharon declared-Nur] he said, suggesting that the prime minister was doubtlessly “ill informed” on the matter.

The security plan, “Enforce the Law" launched in Baghdad on February 14th and that includes the construction of towering anti-blast walls not only in Adhamiyah but in a dozen neighborhoods deemed “hot” constitutes, according to an official US communiqué, to constitute “one of the fundamental strategies”, has achieved mixed results. Car and truck bombings are on the increase but the figures show that sectarian murders have declined by one-half. Between February 14th and April 14th, 1,586 people were killed in Baghdad, vs. 2,971 over the previous two months. Of the victims, for the most part civilians, 832 were found floating in the river or on the banks of the Tigris. Over the previous two months, 1,754 bodies were discovered.

Several Sunnis, who are the minority in Baghdad, agree that the deployment of US troops in and around their neighborhoods have “reassured” them. But herein is a key to the rejection of the wall. When the Adhamiyah wall is complete, Iraqis forces will control the entries and exits. However, these forces are 95% Shi’ite and they do not have a good reputation among the Sunnis.

Patrice Claude

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Washington gets Ethiopia to invade Somalia and then....

Nine Chinese nationals and sixty-five Ethiopians working at an oil exploration installation in eastern Ethiopia were killed on Tuesday 24 April by armed men who attacked a dawn. Another seven Chinese nationals were kidnapped.

The attack, led by rebels supported by Eritrea, says Addis-Abeba, targeted installations owned by Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau in Abole, a small town in the Ogaden region according to the New China News Agency.

[Via AFP-Reuters]


Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Spaghetti Factory War

The US-financed Ethiopians, apparently panic-stricken, have begun a mortar barrage of Bakara, the central marketplace of Mogadishu. BTW, the African Union troops were never fully deployed and are 7,000 below strength.

Meanwhile, Le Monde's Jean-Philippe Rémy reports on the Sphaghetti Factory war.

Mogadishu's urban guerrilla may be laying a trap for Ethiopian troops...The military capability of the insurgents, a coalition of fighters from the former Islamic Court and clans has been underestimated.

According to the UN, the group could number as many as 3,000 fighters...Not only have they been able to resist an Ethiopian's heavy artillery offensive, but they have put the forces of Addis-Abeba in difficulty in several areas, where they are continuously hemmed in by highly-mobile insurgents.

This first phase of combat left hundreds of people dead over four days and provoked an exodus of the city's population without preventing the insurgents from controlling vast sectors of the capital, leaving only a few pockets where Ethiopian forces hang on.

Now, in the second phase, Addis-Abeba has intensified its operations. Quarters held by insurgents are under rocket attack from the presidential palace of Villa Somalia, the stronghold of the Ethiopians, since April 19ths.

The Ethiopians have been attempting to reinforce their troops in Mogadishu during the last few weeks. A 40-vehicle convoy entered the city from the south in an attempt to surround rebel positions in the north of the city.

As new fronts open up in the Somali capital, the objective of Ethiopian troops is a spaghetti factory and its environs, serving as a base for the insurgents where they run a hospital for their wounded and enjoy the _total_ support of the population. The insurgents have once again gone on the offensive by harassing the Ethiopians with mortars and anti-aircraft artillery but "vanishing" when they are pounded by artillery from the presidential palace or the former military academy. According to a well-informed source, Ethiopian forces are once again surrounded by insurgents in various points of the city. The insurgents now have anti-tank weapons which are likely to further dog the operations of the Ethiopian army.

Friday, after two days of combat, a human rights organization close to the resisting clans estimates the number of civilians killed a 113 and wounded at 229.

While the intensification of combat threatens to destroy parts of city, an UN source complains: "With the bombardment of civilians and refugee camps, what is happening in Mogadishu could be considered a war crime."

Meanwhile, the [so-called] Somali President, Abdullahi Yusuf, is in Addis-Abeba, where he declared that the situation was not worsening.

According to a report by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a large consensus is in favor of "a phased withdraw of Ethiopian troops and the full deployment of African Union Troops [mostly Ugandans, who are by and large Christians--Nur] who could instill confidence in the population and assist in calming tensions."


Friday, April 20, 2007

They Work By Night

Baghdad could soon be known as the Forbidden City of the Middle East. Since April 10th, US troops are nightly building walls around certain districts of the capital. Works have begun in earnest in the Doura and Adhamiya quarter. The picture show work progressing on the Adhamiyah quarter. [Via Le Monde]. Hey, every home a prison!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Solace in the Flag?

There are moments when wearing the flag on your sleeve is appropriate and other moments when expression of human sympathy without the red, white and blue is more suited. While sorry for the loss of life and the tragedy at VA Tech, what in the world does the magnitude of the tragedy have to do with the Star Spangled Banner, a battle hymn? Well, this is clearly an effort by Bush to circumvent the tragedy and anger at Virgina's easy gun laws by shoveling out the patriotism.

I am particularly struck by this display because during my graduation ceremony (a second degree earned late in life), the entire first half hour was completely patrio-militarized (marching, color guard, pledge of allegiance, national anthem, honoring the troops, blah, blah). This was not the case when I earned my first degree. We sang the school song and the band played "Pomp and Circumstance" as we marched out.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bush's Surge: Shi'ites Buy a Clue

Via BBC:
But the other half of the violent equation, the deadly bombings by Sunni insurgents, usually aimed at Shias in one way or another, has continued unabated and even been stepped up.

The Shia militias are already openly asking why the security plan is so unbalanced.

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My President

Over at History Unfolding, Prof. David Kaiser posts the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Address we'd all like to hear.

My fellow Americans,

I take office this month at a difficult moment in our history. For the whole second half of the twentieth century, the government of the United States proudly led the world’s democracies under both Republicans and Democrats. We enjoyed unrivaled power and enormous prestige thanks to our part in the victory over Germany, Italy and Japan in the Second World War, and our ensuing work to limit the spread of Communism during the Cold War. We were not, to be sure, universally beloved, nor invariably wise. Like every great nation, we were tempted by hubris, and like every other, we occasionally succumbed, with serious results. At certain times we would have done better to listen to our friends and to take a calmer attitude towards some of our enemies; but on the whole, for more than five decades, we played a vital and constructive role in the world.

Seven years ago, on September 11, we were shocked by the most extraordinary terrorist attack in the history of the world. Some response was obviously necessary, and the nation briefly pulled together. Unfortunately, in dealing with this new threat, we forgot many of our principles and lost our way. Today, we shall begin once again to find it and to restore the esteem of the world community that formerly was such a source of pride.

The United States, while certainly eager during the nineteenth century to expand its territory on the North American continent, sought for nearly the first century and one-half of its history to remain aloof from the quarrels of other continents. We entered the First World War in 1917 only after two years of desperate attempts both to preserve our neutrality and to convince the warring nations to make peace. When we did enter the war, President Wilson did so on behalf of impartial principles: the freedom of the seas, the lowering of economic barriers, the self-determination of all peoples, the conclusion of a peace of equals, and the gradual erosion of empires. That was why the American people supported him—and ironically, many well-meaning Americans chose to reject the peace treaty he negotiated in Paris because they viewed it as a betrayal of his own ideals. For the next twenty years the United States stood for international economic cooperation, the observance of treaties, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, in a noble attempt to help build a more civilized world. We can be proud of that attempt as well.

Our dream of peace faded, of course, in the face of Japanese aggression in Asia and German aggression in Europe. When war broke out in Europe again in 1939, we hoped that France and Britain would defeat Nazi Germany. But when France fell in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt realized that Great Britain was truly threatened, and that Britain’s fall would endanger the western hemisphere and the United States itself. When Germany, Italy and Japan joined in a worldwide alliance later that year he recognized it as a worldwide threat to democracy. Roosevelt did not yet know when, or even if, the United States would go to war, but he wisely began an extraordinary rearmament program in 1940 that paid remarkable dividends a few years later. Meanwhile, during 1941, he defined the principles for which the United States would fight if war came and issued them in the Atlantic Charter, a joint declaration with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. That document, issued in August 1941, became the basis of our war aims after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the German and Italian declarations of war on the United States.

We must revisit the Atlantic Charter today because Roosevelt so wisely defined the needs and aspirations of the United States. The Charter renounced territorial aggrandizement, pledged the United States to “the destruction of the Nazi tyranny,” and called for an international effort to secure economic rights. It looked forward to the formation of some new international organization—as it turned out, the United Nations. But most importantly of all, Churchill and Roosevelt pledged to “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live.” They did not promise democracy to all nations, much less pledge to impose it at gunpoint. They declared the right of all nations to choose their own domestic institutions, provided only that they were willing to live in peace with the rest of the world. That, in a world far more dangerous than today’s, was all Roosevelt thought the United States needed, or could achieve, then. Today we declare that that is all that the United States needs now, 68 years later.

Roosevelt also understood that he must fight the war with the tools—military, political and diplomatic—which fate provided him. If only an alliance with the Soviet Union could defeat Nazi Germany, he was more than wiling not only to make, but to nurture it. He made agreements with Stalin for a larger purpose—to win the war. And while some inevitably consequences of the Allied victory disappointed us deeply—such as the imposition of Communism in Eastern Europe—Roosevelt bequeathed to his children’s and grandchildren’s generation a far, far more peaceful second half of the twentieth century than they had known in the first. For 45 years the United States competed with the Soviet Union on many fronts. Both sides suffered political gains and losses in various parts of the word, both became involved—sometimes unwisely—in distant military conflicts, and both built huge nuclear arsenals. But neither, we now know, ever wanted war with the other, and despite our ideological differences, and despite some frightening moments in 1950, in 1961-2, and in 1982, war never came.

This Administration shall take a leaf from Franklin Roosevelt’s book and return to the practice of maintaining relations and doing business with any government that is willing to live in peace with us. We shall attempt to end our many decades of diplomatic isolation from nations like North Korea, Cuba, and Iran—not because Americans approve of their regimes, but because we accept those regimes as the products of the history of those nations, and because we believe we can more easily spread our values through contact rather than confrontation. The case of Cuba is particularly painful. During the whole of the twentieth century our destinies, our cultures, and our peoples were intimately linked, but we also suffered a tragic estrangement that has done a great deal of harm to both sides. It has gone on too long, and we now hope to end it—to enable our peoples once again to vacation in each other’s lands, to reunite families, and to join more freely, and perhaps in new ways, in the great national game which we have in common.

In 1963, another great President, John F. Kennedy, decided that the time had come to give our relations with our enemies a new tone in the hope of establishing a lasting peace. The United States at that time faced a heavily armed Soviet Union that had just attempted to place new nuclear weapons less than 100 miles from our shores, and a far more hostile and aggressive Communist regime in China that was on the point of developing nuclear weapons. Yet President Kennedy had enough confidence in the United States to assess these threats realistically and to call for a less confrontational atmosphere. He said:
No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements--in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in acts of courage.
In the same speech, he anticipated the kind of delusion that has, sadly, crippled our foreign policy in recent years.
Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace--based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions--on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace--no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process--a way of solving problems.
The impact of 9/11 has also skewed our view of the map of the world. We are losing sight of the great achievements of the last seventy years—the creation of a broad alliance of industrial and democratic powers, followed by the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and the extraordinary evolution of China, India, and other Asian nations into increasingly modern states. For the time being these changes have removed the dangers that nearly destroyed civilization in the first half of the twentieth century, the threat of wars among advanced industrial nations. Meanwhile, the role of military power in the world has shrunk drastically. Today our military as a proportion of our population is less than 5% of its size at the end of the Second World War, about 20% of its size during the Vietnam War, and less than half its size in the latter stages of the Cold War. The militaries of other nations have shrunk proportionally. Nor is this all. Most of that alliance remains committed to the international rule of law, the universal observance of human rights, and the renunciation of military force except in self-defense. Sadly, the outgoing Administration here in the United States, for the first time in American history, turned its back upon those principles to pursue, unilaterally, its own extreme vision of the world. We shall now return to the more inspiring and more useful role that history calls upon us to play—the leader of the movement to make the world more civilized.

Much of the Muslim world remains in turmoil and stands at a crossroads. Many of its people are divided by ethnic and sectarian strife and by different visions of their future. The problem of the relationship between traditional and fundamentalist Islam on the one hand and modern industrial civilization on the other has not been solved. Today let me say one thing clearly: the United States cannot solve that problem and shall not attempt to. Only the peoples of the nations involved can decide how they will live and what they will believe, and we shall respect their choices provided only that they are willing to live in peace with us. We are through imposing our vision of democracy or our vision of Islam upon them, and they must be full partners in regulating our economic relations. If political changes in that region ever force us to seek new solutions to our energy problems, we shall do so. The United States has never been a country that needed to rule foreign lands to ensure its prosperity or survival, and we have no desire to become such a country in the twentieth century.

Nuclear weapons, which we Americans first created more than sixty years ago in order to win the war that shaped the direction of modern civilization from that day to this, remain a threat. In the wake of the Second World War, when those weapons had been used in combat for the first and, let us hope, the last time, the Americans who had built them immediately realized the humanity had only one truly sane option: to bring them under international control and to eliminate them. Sadly, we could not make that proposal come true then, but we remained officially committed to general nuclear disarmament. In 1963 most of the nations of the world took a great step forward by banning atmospheric tests. In 1969 they took a far bigger step forward by signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. That treaty, we must remember, had many provisions. Non-nuclear signatories pledged never to acquire nuclear weapons—and nuclear signatories pledged to make a good faith effort to get rid of theirs. At the end of the Cold War the United States and the nations of the former Soviet Union took major steps in that direction, but progress has now halted. We want to resume it.

The government of the United States stands ready, together with other nuclear and non-nuclear powers, to work for both the reduction and the elimination of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. In sixty years these weapons of proven themselves as useless in organized warfare if only because of the risk of retaliation, but they would serve the purpose of enraged extremists only too well. We can, and we will, do much more to secure existing stockpiles of weapons and fissionable material to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, but that is only a first step. We must actively pursue the dream of another American President, Ronald Reagan—to rid the earth of these weapons. To design an effective regime to do so will challenge us all, and some will declare it to be impossible—but can it really be more difficult than reaching the moon, building new worldwide systems of transportation and communication, wiping out entire diseases, or building those weapons in the first place? I do not believe so. The goal may be distant; it may never entirely be reached. But the alternative of taking upon ourselves the responsibility to keep nuclear weapons out of dangerous hands has proven unworkable and destructive to world order. It is alien to all our best traditions, and the new Administration will try to solve this problem on a new basis.

The new direction I am announcing today will, I know, not find favor among all our fellow citizens. They will argue that it is naïve, even dangerous. They will say once again that in a dangerous world, only the unrestrained exercise of American power can defend us. They will argue that international law and international agreements provide no real safeguards for ourselves or anyone else. They will say that we have abandoned the goal of spreading democracy. None of this is true.

It is true that we are not on the verge of a peaceful utopia such as that which has fired so many imaginations over the millennia. We can never wipe out conflict or anarchy in the world. But that does not mean that we must surrender the goal of a world ruled by law, peopled by nations with different traditions and values but living together in peace. Only by keeping our eyes on that goal can we come closer to it. To abandon it and rely only on force—as, sadly, our own government has been threatening to do for eight years—is the ultimate counsel of despair. We return to day to a more hopeful policy—but also to a far more effective one.

What lies ahead for the Islamic world and for our relations with it, we cannot tell. We must note that for several hundred years, from the fifteenth century through the eighteenth, Christian Europe lived in intermittent, deadly conflict with an armed, hostile Muslim empire on its doorstep—but these were years of great progress for western civilization nonetheless. Our future does not, in short, depend on what happens within the Muslim world. Yet we certainly do not believe that we must live in an endless state of hostility with the region, nor do we despair that it may evolve in ways that will bring us closer together. We shall however allow the peoples of that region to decide for themselves, so long as they allow us and our allies to live in peace and help build a world ruled by law. To make progress towards that dream, we must do our part as well. Within six months the United States will close its detention centers at Guantanamo or elsewhere. At that time, all prisoners held there will either be charged with crimes under the civil or military laws of the United States as they existed on January 20, 2001, or returned to their country of origin. And the great writ of habeas corpus, which has never been legally suspended, shall be restored in full vigor within the territory of the United States and its overseas possessions.

In 1826, on the eve of his death, Thomas Jefferson meditated on the future significance of the great document he had drafted fifty years before, the Declaration of Independence. Here is what he said as he regretted his inability, for reasons of health, to attend the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the signing of that great document in Washington, D.C.
I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
This remains our hope—but while continuing to anticipate the gradual spread of our principles, we must renounce the foolish attempt to impose them by force, while turning to the equally great task of re-invigorating them at home. As Jefferson, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt all understood, democracy requires periodic renewal to thrive—and we have never needed such a renewal more than we do now. Ultimately the key to our influence in the world lies in the restoration of our traditions at home. We shall undertake that great work as well, while assuring the world around us that we are returning to our best traditions abroad.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Wolfowitz Affair

Le Monde reveals extent of the sordid Wolfowitz scandal which goes beyond the golden round-trip glider for his squeeze, Shaha Ali Riza, chief of World Bank Communications for the Middle East.

When Wolfowitz is named President of the World Bank, he goes before the Board of Directors on what to do about his paramour and potential conflict of interest. They tell him to keep her in the bank, albeit in an annex, and out of his line of supervision. Ms. Riza rejects their proposal.

Because his squeeze objects, Wolfowitz then decides without consultation to put her "on loan" to the US department of State. He then goes back to the World Bank Board of Directors to declare that he has taken care of the conflict of interest issue. But has he really?

An anonymous email is circulated at the bank denouncing the exorbitant terms terms of the departure of Ms. Riza. The news is also leaked to the Washington Post and the Financial Times. Meanwhile, the World Bank Employees Association demands an investigation, which peels back the lid on the impropriety and arrogance of Mr. Wolfowitz.

Violating bank rules, Wolfowitz has ordered the Human Resources Director to write a contract giving Ms. Riza a $60,000 raise and a guaranteed slot for her return to the bank. Afterwards, she is to be given big promotions every five years until her retirement. This type of treatment is unheard of at the bank. The Board publishes the findings:

Paul Wolfowitz had summoned three henchmen from the White House and the Department of Defense engaged via nebulous and presumably generous contracts. He made Robin Cleveland No. 2 at the bank through a position created especially for her: Adviser to the President. Cleveland is despised by the bank's staff, to whom she is known as The Dragon. The job of Kevin Kellems is apparently official censor. Suzanne Rich Folsom runs the internal police, The Integrity Department, like the Spanish Inquisition. Wolfowitz has also appointed Juan José Daboub of El Salvador as Director-General, someone who is very close to Opus Dei (as are Bush's Supreme Court picks).

Barricaded in his office behind his 4-headed dog demon (and emulating his boss, George W. Bush), Wolfowitz issues fiats left and right, including instructions to staff to report "traitors" to the law firm of Williams & Connoly. He also metes out punishment. For example, Christiaan Poortman is fired as head of the Middle East Department because he advised against opening a World Bank office in Baghdad. Indeed, Wolfowitz wields the anti-corruption club depending on who is in Bush's good book, cutting off funds of those on the White House's enemies.

Fed up, 22 of his 24 administrators tell Wolfowitz to his face in January that they are dissatisfied in his leadership.


We see that in the Defense Department, in the Justice Department, in the State Department, in the Supreme Court, at the UN and in the World Bank, to mention only a few institutions, the White House has installed hand-picked individuals who answer only to Bush and Cheney. These people have no moral clarity or respect for what the United States has traditionally stood for. They live by the medieval Mafia code and fealty to the gang leader, their overlord.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Our Provisional Government

A Congressional delegation headed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is to arrive in Damascus tomorrow. With the Executive under the control of George W. Bush and his veto power, it is unclear what the delegation can hope to bring back that would change anything.... It is at least a thumb in the eye for the President, and perhaps the first signs of a materializing provisional government in Washington. The visit follows that of Senator John Kerry a few months ago. But apart from the question of bringing back something, what could they possibly offer that regime?

Make that, Our Provisional State Department

Update: Half of Congress is in the Middle East for the Easter recess. Senator John McCain and Lindsay Graham are in Baghdad, demonstrating how "safe" the city is (provided you travel with a 50-man platoon, armed to the teeth).

Speaker Pelosi was in Jerusalem Saturday. According to L'Orient-Le Jour, Pelosi has volunteered to deliver any message Ohlmert might have for Assad. On Monday, the Speaker goes to Lebanon for talks with Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. She then goes to Saudi Arabia. Apparently, she is seeking the release of the three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah (2) and Palestinian groups (1)last summer.

Strangely, Pelosi's visit follow that of Republican Congressmen Frank Wolf, Joseph Pitts and Robert Aderholt. They met with President Assad, Syrian businessmen, religious officials and opposition figure Riad Seif. The Republicans claimed they discussed "sealing" the Syrian border with Iraq. But there is certainly more to it than that.

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Update (Somalia) via L'Orient-Le Jour: 10,000 people have fled Mogadishu in the last three days, bringing the number of refugees fleeing the capital to 96,000 since February.

Most Iraqis exiles seek refuge in neighboring Arab States

LE MONDE | 27.03.07 | 14h32

In 2003, on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began preparations in neighboring countries to meet the needs of a wave of Iraq refugees, which never happened.

Its fears materialized only two years later, a result of the unleashing of violence between US occupation forces and Iraqi insurgents beginning in 2004, then between Sunni and Shi’ite militias after the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a sacred Shi’ite site, in February 2006.

The UNHCR today estimates that there are 1.9 million Iraqis who have been forcibly displaced inside Iraq. The number of exiles is estimated at 2 million people, a massive exodus which can be added to the many departures confirmed during the decade of international embargo that followed the First Gulf War in 1991. The majority of these Iraqis are settled in Arab countries: Syria (more than a million), Jordan (750,000) and Egypt (more than 150,000) and at least 40,000 in Lebanon. High Commissioner Antonio Guterres believes that the phenomenon constitutes the largest population displacement in the Near and Middle East since that of Palestinian refugees in 1948. It touches one Iraqi out of eight.

Those who choose Syria automatically get a three-month visa, renewable once, without having the leave the country. At the end of six months, they must exit the country in order to be granted another three-month stay. A quick exit and entry at the Iraqi frontier suffices.

For Laurens Jolles, UNHCR representative in Damascus, the phenomenon is difficult to gauge because there are no reliable statistics and the refugees themselves “do not perceive themselves as refugees".

The phenomenon has also been largely underestimated by the international community, beginning with the West.

The United States admitted less than 5,000 refugees in 2006 and a little more than 7,000 are planned for 2007. However, although the United States recalled its ambassador to Damascus in 2005, the recent visit of the Deputy Secretary of State for Humanitarian Affairs, Ellen Sauerbrey, is a sign of awareness. “From now on, says Jolles, the issue will now be found on the international agenda." The UN High Commission is to hold conference in Geneva in April in order to raise funds. But for now, the UNHCR has available only half the $60 million it estimates that it needs.

Peter Kessler, the UNHCR representative in London, is furious. “Europe lives in shameful denial of the danger posed by the war in Iraq,” he laments. "This war is not going to end tomorrow and it is going to create more refugees."

In the human tide flowing out of Iraq, a small minority have encountered particular hardship. These are the Palestinians, who have lived in Iraq since the creation of Israel 1948 and who were relatively well treated by Saddam Hussein. They are now targets of the Shi’ite militias.

According to the director of UNRWA, Panos Moumtzis, half the 30,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq have left the country. “The wealthiest were able to buy an Iraqi passport illegally for enormous sums to escape abroad with little impediment", says a Western diplomat. "But they’re a minority."

Syria at first welcomed a group of Palestinians, installed in the al-Hol camp. But to avoid creating an official precedent on this politically sensitive issued, it later closed its borders to new arrivals.

Many are trapped on the Iraqi side of the border (approximately 500) while others (nearly 400) are in no-man’s-land on the Syrian side. They are forced to camp in the open desert.