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A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press.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, January 29, 2007

Gone Fishing

Must escape the Republicans. So I'm in the Humanist Republic of Zapateria.

Please see my other blog this week: In Spain Like Twain.

Friday, January 26, 2007

War on Islam

Also known as "Blue Game Matrix"

Read the Washington Post story

Gunning for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Bush is "encouraging" our military to acts of provocation.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Baghdad comes to Beirut

Via La Repubblica

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

24 January 07: Events in Iraq

US forces attacked militants in Hiafa Street on the west bank of the Tigris near the Green Zone and the US Embassy.

In the Fadhel quarter, a Blackwater Security helicopter was shot down. Rebels shot the survivors of the crash in the head. A 5th person died on impact.

Two US Marines were killed in action in al-Anbar Province.

And then, there's Reuters - Factbox:

*RAMADI - U.S. forces killed nine insurgents and wounded nine in three separate incidents in the the western Iraqi town of Ramadi, the U.S. military said in a statement.

*FALLUJA - A sniper killed two Iraqi soldiers in Falluja, police said. In a separate incident, gunmen killed three butchers inside a local market.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb in Sadriya district in central Baghdad killed two people and wounded 10, police said.

BAGHDAD - A U.S. soldier died on Monday of wounds suffered after a roadside bomb exploded next to his vehicle north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said .

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces killed 16 insurgents and detained 10 suspected insurgents in the Baghdad and Haditha areas, the U.S. military said.

BAIJI - A roadside bomb exploded near a minibus carrying workers while they heading to the oil-refinery city of Baiji, 180 km (112 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

SINJAR - A car bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol wounded three Iraqi soldiers near the town of Sinjar, northwest of Mosul, police said.

MOSUL - A suicide car bomber rammed his car into the Kurdistan Youth Centre in Mosul and wounded nine people, seven civilians and two guards, police said.

TAL AFAR - Gunmen killed two teachers in Tal Afar, 420 km (240 miles) northwest of Baghdad, police said. [The "model" city (cough)]

BAGHDAD - Iraqi army troops killed eight insurgents and arrested 37 others during the last 24 hours in different parts of Iraq, the Defence Ministry said.

MUSSAYAB - Police found the bullet-riddled body of a policeman near a car bomb but the police managed to dismantle the bomb in the town of Mussayab, police said.

ISKANDARIYA - Mortar rounds killed a woman and wounded two children in the town of Iskandariya, police said.

BAGHDAD - The U.S. military said reports that a helicopter had gone down in central Baghdad appeared to refer to a civilian aircraft. U.S. and Iraqi troops backed by helicopters clashed with gunmen in central Baghdad in the area where it went down.

MOSUL - Clashes erupted between insurgents and Iraqi security forces, killing five policemen and wounding three others in several districts in Mosul, police, said.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb killed one person and wounded three others near a petrol station in central Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb targeted a police patrol, wounding three police officers in al-Baladiyat district in eastern Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb killed at least two people and wounded five others in Karrada district in central Baghdad, police said.

NEAR KIRKUK - Gunmen opened fire and killed two people and wounded another in a drive-by shooting on the main road between Hawija and Kirkuk, police said.

SUWAYRA - Several mortar rounds landed on a residential district and killed six people, including five members of a Shi'ite family, and wounded nine others on Monday in the town of Suwayra, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

LATIFIYA - Two insurgents were killed and a policeman and a child were wounded on Monday in clashes between police and insurgents in the town of Latifiya, in an area dubbed 'The Triangle of Death' south of Baghdad, police said. The police managed to release a number of Shi'ite families being held by the insurgents.

ISKANDARIYA - Police found the body of a man with gunshot wounds on Monday in the town of Iskandariya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

MUSSAYAB - Gunmen killed a contractor along with another man on Monday night in the town of Mussayab, about 60 km (40 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

RUTBA - The bodies of four people were found, shot dead and tortured, on Monday in the high way near the town of Rutba, northwest of Baghdad near the Syrian border, police said.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Update from Mogadishu

I actually read somewhere that the US was crowing about the "success" in Mogadishu and how it would be a model for future anti-Islamist actions.

Well, things are not so rosy. Via Corriere della Sera:

Firefight in Mogadishu: 3 dead

MOGADISHU (SOMALIA) – A surprise attack by a Somali who opened fire on a group of Ethiopian soldiers led to a violent reaction in which three were killed and dozens wounded. It all started in the Huruà quarter in north Mogadishu, where a huge abandoned pasta plant looms over the capital's most dangerous neighborhood, also the location of an Italian cemetery.

The dynamics of the incident recall those of July 2nd, 1993, when Italian troops participating in the UNOSOM contingent were involved in a neighborhood sweep. This time the Ethiopians were conducting a house-to-house search and had just arrested two persons when someone opened fire on them. The reply was immediate, despite the fact that Somali women had gathered to form a human shield to protect the shooter. Three Somalis were killed [obviously, the women] and twenty wounded. The streets were abandoned as people fled for their lives. It was only after the Ethiopian troops left that the neighborhood organized a demonstration against the Ethiopian occupation.

Meanwhile, in Kenya, a leader of the Islamic Courts, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, is under house arrest in Nairobi, where he declares he is ready to enter into national reconciliation talks. [This is being reported in the US as an "arrest" but it is obviously some other status].

Uganda and Malawi have indicated their availability to participate in a peacekeeping force sponsored by the UN. But the EU Commissioner for Development, Louis Michel, let it be known that the EU would contribute nothing without the start of national conciliation talks, the abolition of martial law and the lifting of the state of emergency.

In Mogadishu authorities prepare to pass legislation to muzzle the press.

Interview with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki

The Corriere della Sera published this interview last week. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was defiant in rejecting pressures from Washington on him to resign.

“Bush has never been weaker. The USA must make a more serious commitment”
"Rice is helping the terrorists with these kinds of statements.”

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, once again, in the last few hours, President Bush has repeated that the way in which the execution of Saddam Hussein was conducted was a sectarian vendetta. And in Italy and elsewhere, calls to abolish the death penalty have increased. Wouldn’t it have been better to have spared the life of Saddam Hussein?

The world forgets that we were victims of the pitiless regime of Saddam Hussein for decades. Tens of thousands of innocents were sent to their death after unmentionable torture. The elderly, women, and children died from chemical weapons. The world has forgotten the terror and brutality of the Ba’athist dictatorship. More than 160 members of my clan lost their lives, not to mention thousands in my political party (Da'wa). All were innocent.and killed for their political ideas. But regardless, I want to repeat that the trial of Saddam and his accomplices was conducted correctly. The law was observed to the letter. It had nothing to do with sectarian vendetta. Following the execution I personally ordered the washing of the remains according to Muslim ritual and had them placed in a dignified wooden coffin. No victim of Saddam ever received such treatment. Of course, I am well ware that errors were committed during the hanging of Saddam and I've ordered the arrest and prosecution of the officer who shouted abuse and slogans.

But George Bush is criticizing you and Romano Prodi has asked the United Nations to launch a campaign against the death penalty.

It seems to me that Bush is caving in to internal pressures and is overwhelmed by the media and politicians. Perhaps he has lost control of the situation. And I’m sorry to see that because, in general, George Bush has a strong character. As to Prodi, I need only to remind you who Italy treated Mussolini. Before being executed, there was no trial. His executioners told him only to state his name and admit to his identity. I’m saying that the world should respect our laws, our history and our culture. The death penalty is allowed by our Constitution. Moreover, the Koran permits the death sentence and there’s a verse that says that with death one creates life. Islamic religious law affirms that putting criminals to death protects human society.

Recently the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, stated publicly that your government is moribund. She suggested that you will not finish serving your term. Are you going to resign?

There is a media campaign deployed against me. And I certainly understand that the current US Administration is in great difficulty after its defeat at the polls a few weeks ago. And I’ve mentioned the weakness of George Bush. It seems to me it is the people in Washington who are moribund, not here in Baghdad. Our government functions better than many others. And I would advise Condoleezza Rich to avoid statements that only help the terrorists. These statements only encourage them. I would like to add that the terrorists may have delivered a defeat to America, but our government has not.

What is your opinion of the new US plan of intervention? And when to you think that Washington can begin to withdraw its troops from Iraq?

I will always be grateful to the Americans for having liberated Iraq from tyranny. It is thanks to the United States that we live in a climate of freedom and democracy, even if it is a work in progress. And our relationship will continue over the long term on economic, political and military issues. Having said this, I believe that the situation would have been far better had the United States immediately given our law enforcement authorities the weapons and equipment they need. If they had done this sooner, we would have had far fewer civilian and US troop casualties. We’ll have to wait and see. I would not exclude a drastically improved situation that, within three to six months, would permit most US troops to leave.

You’ve promised a crackdown on the militias over the next few days. But you are suspected of connivance with Iran and of being a staunch ally of Moqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army.

We will reign in all the militias. We will display no discrimination or preference. All armed groups will be reigned in, whether Sunni, Shi’ite or Kurdish. We will hit them everywhere, every base and every group. The law will be equally applied to all. The State must have a monopoly on force and this is the sole possible premise on which a functioning state can be built. We wish to have normal and good relations with our neighbors. Our foreign policy is independent from that of the United States. I personally met with Moqtada al-Sadr twice in the last four years. And in the last few days, the police have rounded up more than 400 members of the Mahdi Army. I think that is sufficient proof to show that I don’t have a special relationship with any militia or political faction.

Do you agree that the violence in Iraq has degenerated into ethnic cleansing?

There are violent elements within the former Iraqi intelligence apparatus and groups that are led by ignorant people that are pursuing ethnic cleansing. This has taking place among Shi’ites as well as Sunnis. But I don’t believe that we will lapse into civil war. Peaceful coexistence triumphed in the past and I am confident that we will defeat the extremists. This is our plan: to wage war against terrorism. Forever –no matter how long it takes and without exception. If we fail the first time then we will try again.

Lorenzo Cremonesi
January 18th, 2007

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Conversation with Bertrand Badie

I have tremendous respect for French political scientist (Sciences-Po) Bertrand Badie. In a chat session at Le Monde, Mr. Badie examines the current state of US hegemony (including the intelligence shakeup paving the way for "microsocial" intelligence).

The US hegemony: Failure or revision?
LEMONDE.FR | 10.JAN.07 | 18:19 • Updated 17.JAN.07 | 11:28

Debate with Bertrand Badie, Professor at Sciences-Po, Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Q. What is the difference between hegemony and imperialism? Which of the two terms term better suits the United States?

A. The meaning of these two words is in constant evolution. But we are accustomed to use the word hegemony to designate forms of domination that are in part allowed and desirable through what we call "soft power". Etymologically speaking, imperialism means something else entirely, that is, any political project aiming at building an imperial order, either explicitly through conquest, and therefore involves the overt use of force, or implicitly by means of relationships, and that means client states, sometimes puppets, which sacrifice a substantial part of their sovereignty to the imperial power.

It is obvious that an empire held together only by force would be very costly to those who would undertake it and weak, subject to incessant challenges. But in any imperial project, hegemony plays a role. On the other hand, one can imagine forms of soft power that make occasional use of force and that build around them a network of influence that no longer fits the imperial model. So as entangled as they are, these two concepts concern two distinct practices.

Q. Do you think until political Europe comes to be, American hegemony will continue to expand?

A. That is undeniably an important consideration. I tend to think that in today’s world, hegemony has never been more difficult, costly and uncertain. But it is also certain that the absence of a countervailing power contributes to its success, or at least in imparting the illusion of success. When the Berlin Wall fell, the question was whether the United States would become an unrivaled empire. In the 1990s, Europe was the only player in a position to challenge it.

The United States quickly became very worried, and, through the active reform of NATO, sought to turn the EU into a vast NATO territory on the Old Continent. In attempting to superimpose itself on Old and New Europe, the United States demonstrated its desire to prevent Europe from becoming a countervailing power. From a certain standpoint, enlargement of the European Union has helped the United States in this enterprise: the Iraq crisis, in deeply dividing Europe, has contributed to more loss of unity and of the European diplomatic identity, and constitutes an encouragement to the United States to reaffirm its imperial policies.

Q. Does the US have choices in its hegemony?

A. Perhaps that is a fundamental question. There is a law of mechanics that induces the powerful to use their resources towards hegemonic ends. Undeniably, after having done strategic due diligence, not only the Neocons but by the whole of the US political elite since 1990 has shown the desire for hegemony and its use in the service of certain values and political projects.

The question is now whether, on the one hand, this hegemony in today’s world will become costlier and costlier and therefore less and less useful, and, on the other, whether hegemony still makes sense in the context of globalization. Let us not forget, moreover, that during the Cold War, the power of the Russian bear fed that of the American eagle. The disappearance of the bear makes a single hegemony far more weak and uncertain. We might ask ourselves if a unipolar world is achievable and if, following a period of hegemonic stability, we are now heading away from, that is, toward a new era of hegemonic instability.

Q. How is ideology important to the United States in its constant struggle to maintain its hegemony? Is it only a façade? Why are the Americans not happy with only its economic and geostrategic advantages?

A. This would take a very long time to explain. The messianic ideology created by the United States is also responsible for its unity and cultural development. It is very unlikely that this valorization of ideology would be abandoned –certainly not by the Neocons, who have made it their calling card– by any political current, specifically the Democratic Party, which resolutely deploys American values as a principal of their foreign policy. Let us recall how Jimmy Carter, in 1976, immediately after the defeat in Vietnam, completely revamped US foreign policy, and grounding it precisely in the founding principles of the rights of man and democracy. The difference does not result from the strength of ideological references but from the content, and above all, its insertion into concrete challenges which American foreign policy must face.

Q. Does the stinging embarrassment of American intelligence services caused by 9-11 and their further discrediting by various scandals and events constitute proof that US hegemony is in decline, compared to other blocks of nations?

A. Intelligence is a fundamental and commanding weapon in modern forms of international competition and conflict. This is why it appears today to be a tool undergoing complete technological revision and policy transformation. Every country in the world must come to terms with this necessary upgrade in resources in modern intelligence warfare.

This readjustment is not easy, because intelligence has relied until only recently on the classic and reassuring figure of the enemy. To transform intelligence into an instrument of microsocial, even individual, investigation, is a tremendous task that involves a transition time far longer than the interval that separates us from the Cold War. The intelligence crisis must be followed and periodically causes the White House to modify the institutional and human profile of its services. Of course, it will be in its reactive capability that most of its challenges, quite real, will play out, but let's not forget that there are also imaginary challenges with which US policymakers believe they face.

Q. Following the collapse of the Doha Round of trade talks, is the US is now oriented toward the signature of bilateral conventions with no end in sight. Does this strengthen or weaken the position of United States in the short and medium term?

A. You are correct to bring up this issue. It should not be forgotten that one of the constants of US policy, all things being equal, is to discard multilateralism the moment it becomes no longer useful. We see this tendency again today, especially in trade, but not only in this area. We see it at work in privileging bilateral agreements.

This constitutes three tremendous advantages: It allows the United States to reap the dividends of inequality of resources and power in its favor; it permits the United States to disrupt various forms of regional integration that we are witnessing around the world, to the point of transforming trade negotiations into interregional negotiations; last, it allows the United States to selectively inject doses of political conditionality that is very attractive to the countries with which the US deals and which a global agreement could never produce. The advantages are so significant that we will see this tendency endure.

Q. Can Iraq be compared to Vietnam? And independent of that, could we see another US failure?

A. Any comparison is dangerous. The defeat of the US in Vietnam was that of a superpower losing to a small, determined state, which is not the case in Iraq, where the US is facing a society, or, more precisely, a multitude of social actors who are intermingled with the purveyors of violence. The cost of the Vietnam War was far greater in human life compared to the costs of today’s war: 60 000 GI’s in Vietnam and 3 000, for the moment, in Iraq.

But the Vietnam War belonged to a two-pole world and was a result of competition with the Russian and Chinese enemies, while Iraq has thrust the United States at the center of the Middle Eastern crater owing to totally different strategic considerations. There remain, however, three elements of similarity: First, it has earned the distrust, even the hostility, of the entire international community together with causing embarrassment to the oldest allies of the United States; second, we see, once again, the reflex of an injured great power in two manifestations: Military escalation and the almost desperate desire to get rid of the client government, which compels Washington to talk of the Iraqization of the conflict as it once did of Vietnamization. Finally, we are going to see the same skepticism take hold of the American public, which, after every election, is going to make the US political elite more an more cautious concerning the Iraq commitment and, like the Vietnam quagmire, is going to be resolved only with time. There are major strategic differences, but similarity in the political vectors.

Q. What lies beyond a simple US failure in Iraq?

A. Decisive stakes are being played out in Iraq. The United States is in the process of discovering the extremely high cost of unilateralism and the usefulness of “burden sharing”, which Neoconservative enthusiasm had always discounted. Defeat in Iraq means above all else defeat for unilateralism. But it’s also a defeat of intervention in its simplest formulation: the thinking that that copious political resources can solve any societal crisis.

The Americans are also discovering in Iraq that the greatest power in the world can do nothing against societies and that inter-nation war cannot transposed to conflicts that derive from the collapse of social compacts. These last few years, especially in Iraq, have been black years for the idea of intervention. In the future, the Iraq Syndrome will have a far deeper impact than the Somalia Syndrome years ago.
In the short term, perhaps Iran and Syria will escape the politico-military enterprise planned against them by the United States. In the long term, it is the idea of intervention, and therefore, at the end of the day, the idea of a duty to protect that risks being weakened. Finally, Iraq is the fermata of the great misunderstanding that divides the United States from the Middle East. We are already sensing the tremors of a complete revision of US policies in the region, at a time when some in the United States are beginning to question the cost of the unconditional support of the state Israel by Washington.

Q. But do you not seriously think that things in the Arab World would have remained at a standstill if Uncle Sam hadn’t decided to kick over the anthill?

A. Things are at a standstill more than ever in the Arab world, and it is probably because of the intervention in Iraq. There has been no "regime change" anywhere. The idea of the Greater Middle East Initiative has already been discarded. The timid elections which burgeoned here and there only delivered success to the Islamists and to denunciation of them by the Western “conscience”.

None of the conflicts that have been roiling the Middle East for years have been seriously tackled. Israel-Palestine relations, Darfur, Iran and Syrian have never been more at an impasse. The Jordanian and Egyptian regimes are weaker and sicker than ever. The Lebanese crisis has never been more acute. I see only negative and funereal consequences for the Arab world because it is crystal clear that knocking over the anthill has sent the ants scurrying everywhere, joining in the incredible imbroglio within each of these societies.

Q. Current US policy toward the Middle East serves neither the interests of the Americans nor those of the West. Is the United States a victim of its alliance with Israel? Is Iran the next target of US “hawks”?

A. Concerning the US-Israel alliance, I believe and have said that the United States is questioning more than ever the consequences of its policy of unconditional support for Israel since 1967. The balance sheet is very disappointing: this alliance has blocked any voluntary and cooperative action vis-à-vis Arab states. Any cooperation displayed by certain Arab governments has immediately created rejection and impasse within those societies; anti-Americanism has spread to every part of the Arab world and has reached a peak, especially where local governments have compromised with Washington.

Simultaneously, the efforts at mediation pursued by US diplomacy and in which it has a great deal vested have produced meager results. The failure of Camp David in the summer of 2002 bringing together Clinton, Arafat and Barak, was one of the bitterest diplomatic defeats America has ever faced. In short, the US has been weakened in all its endeavors in addition to its military and diplomatic efforts.

Added to this is the weight of a significant event: the failure or quasi failure of Israel in Lebanon during its war of July/August 2006 has profoundly troubled the Pentagon and the White House. The brutal discovery of the impotence of Israeli power has led US strategists to believe that the use of force, at the center of Israeli strategy, cannot be taken for granted. This has given way to strategic revision but it is too early to tell where it is going. But I think that in August 2006 something broke and that his rupture will be become apparent in the annals of this long conflict.

As to Iran, it is well known that more than one strategist at the Pentagon has made the country the mechanical target of the next stage of US policy in the Middle East. The departure of Donald Rumsfeld, which was far more important and significant than widely believed, the slow and inevitable revision of US policy in Iraq and the policies of support for Tel Aviv are likely leading to a reconsideration of what formerly appeared to be inevitable. But there is reason for caution. The diplomatic game is also very dependent on rhetoric. The United States has too often and too explicitly threatened Iran to reverse course to the point of completely eliminating the idea of military action. I’m afraid that the White House is a prisoner of the diplomatic discourse it created at the outset that is far too compelling to be purely circumstantial.

Q. Do you think the ballistic defiance of North Korea and Iranian intransigence are evidence of a significant erosion of the power of dissuasion of the United States? Has the United States lost its position of policeman of the world and is incapable of containing the recent proliferation revival?

A. This is a complicated question. Non-proliferation arrangements clearly belong to the era of bipolar policies, when the US-soviet diarchy had the means to guarantee them. I am not sure that in the post-bipolar era non-proliferation can work in the same way. The NPT is perhaps, in fact, far more obsolete than generally admitted. In any case, it is too late to brandish non-proliferation instruments as a means of dissuasion. Too many exceptions, of which everyone is aware, have been chalked up: India, Pakistan, Israel.

As to India, its violation of the NPT has been rewarded by the United States, which has signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Delhi.

Finally, nuclear weapons have entered into the realm of political contest as opposed to military challenge. Over the years a nuclear aristocracy has been built up that constitutes a genuine global oligarchy and a club of prestigious states to which all weaker powers aspire—like playing football in a better conference.

The Middle East became nuclear at very fast pace and has placed Iran before a nuclear power on its western flank, a nuclear neighbor on its eastern border, and an old nuclear power on its northern frontier.

The same observation is true for eastern Asia, dominated by Chinese power, where the survival of North Korea no longer depends on the the display of political power. Acquiring a nuclear arsenal represents its last chance to survive, after it has failed in every other domain. This is why the quest for nuclear capability is increasingly a political contest, that is, the worst of practices to which the US must face up and which condemn it to powerlessness.

Q. Regionalism (Europe, Asia, Russia, South America) could legitimately counter US hegemony. But how much does NATO interfere with a common European foreign policy?

A. First, the United States has always been distrustful of regionalism. It came very late and timidly, and solely for economic advantage, to the table on NAFTA. As a superpower, it has everything to fear from a coalition of others and the risk of losing its ability to control such coalitions. An interregional world is far more difficult to dominate than a world comprised of 194 individual sovereignties. This is the reason why the United States has been seeking to substitute large continental entities that are looser and more controllable to more limited and stronger regional constructions. Thus, it today backs the OAS or NAFTA against MERCOSUR. And it has mobilized for EU enlargement to the maximum and the integration of Turkey. This is why it promotes the policies of India of overture to the east and its long-term integration in one large Asian structure. This is why it backed the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation project –to block the start of Southeast Asian regional integration– then enlarged it more or less formally to include China, Japan and South Korea.

As to Europe, the challenge is in its size. NATO has expanded faster than Europe and constitutes a vast entity under US domination. In having European enlargement coincide with NATO enlargement, the US hopes to attain a dual goal: injecting pronounced diversity into the political options available to the European Union, making common European foreign policy an impossibility, and having European integration coincide with the political-military integration of the NATO alliance. Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and former Secretary General of NATO, is a case study and we should observe his statements and policy choices.

Q. Does American economic exceptionalism translate into hegemony? How much longer can the United States continue to spend borrowed money without creating goods?

A. That’s a real question. The United States suffers from several imbalances, but most of all from a hegemonic position that is too exclusively dependent upon military superiority. Empires are weakened when they cannot rely on a single sure resource. Today, the military resource allows the US to distinguish itself form the rest.

As to trade, the US is threatened by the European Union, whose volume of exports exceeds that of the United States. As to economy and finance, it is subject to the rules of interdependence which, obviously, limit its sovereignty, including in the direction of Asia and, in particular, China. Culturally, whatever the strength of its hegemony, the United States is increasing aware that soft power doesn’t mobilize consumers to support policies.

A colossus with singularly shackled feet, the United States suffers from an imbalance in leadership that not only costs it dearly but places it increasingly in contradiction with the rigors of a globalized economy. All empires come to an end…

Chat moderated by Gaïdz Minassian

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Surge: making the daisies grow

Geez, day one of the "surge" and 13 US troops die in Diyala and another 7 in Karbala.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Italy: Nobody Elected You... build a new US base in the country.

Premier Prodi has clearly made a very unpopular decision by permitting US Defense Department to enlarge its base in Vicenza. Reading the press, it seems the US threatened to move the Vicenza airbase to Germany if Italy didn't allow it to expand the base.

Protester's make a good point by saying, "We didn't elect you to build new US bases".

If I were Premier, I might be pretty peeved that naked US airmen were hotdogging their aircraft through the Alps, severing a cable cars loaded with skiers. I might be outraged that CIA agents from the base kidnapped one of my nationals off the street and spirited him to a torture cell. If I were an Italian leftie, I'd be angry that the US was flying bomber squadrons out of my country to drop their payload on Iraq and on possibly on Iran in the future. I might also be concerned about by my fragile coalition.

Prodi seems to have jeopardized his government by refusing to say "No". Indeed, this may be the last straw for his coalition.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Rice gets roughed up by Israel

Juan Cole is certainly right about the contradictions in Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. As PM Olmert held talks with President Abbas last week, the Israeli Army carried out a major incursion into Ramallah. Now, as Secretary Rice is there to re-re-restart the Road Map, Israel announces a major expansion of the Maale Adoumim settlement.

Either Olmert is complicit in these actions, or he's a Prime Minister in Name Only

Conference in Riyadh without a name

The US press hasn't given it much attention, but Riyadh in the last few days has become a revolving door for diplomats and dignitaries.

Significantly the, Iran's No. 2 and a person with real power in the Islamic Republic, Ali Larjani, is there. So is Prime Minister Siniora of Lebanon.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Walls of Anbar

Via L'Orient-Le Jour

Using the same armored bulldozers as those used by the Israelis, US troops have erected "sand walls" with observation towers, barbed wire, the works, around towns in Western Iraq.

Welcome to the Wild West...Bank

Palestinians welcome Condoleezza Rice to Ramallah

Friday, January 12, 2007

Somalia: War on Shepherds

Oxfam reports that 70 nomad shepherds were targeted and slain by US warplanes in Southern Somalia. [Via L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut)

So this is sovereignty?

US troops, dropped by helicopter on the roof, barged into the Iranian Consulate in the Kurdish capital of Irbil and kidnapped detained its diplomats. Moreover, Irbil is a sovereignty within a sovereignty. It certainly compromises the Kurds, who have paid heavily for their friendship with the Islamic Republic.

16 Mar 1988: Iraq uses chemical weapons against Kurds supporting Iran in Halabja, killing 4000, an attack which begins the Anfal campaigns against Kurdish villages.

11 Mar 1970: Iraq deports 40,000 Shi‘a Faili Kurds from region of Khanqin & ‘Amara to Iran.

The US troops then took their prisoners to Irbil Airport, where they were surrounded by Peshmerga fighters. Presumably the Irbil goverment will not permit US troops to transport the Iranian diplomats elsewhere as a standoff lite continues...

Update: Ali Larijani, Secretary of the Iranian National Defense Council, is in Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdallah and Prince Saud al-Faisal to discuss bilateral relations.

Update: Iranian diplomats held by the Korean contingent near Irbil Airport.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Phony War in Somalia: Playing the Al Qaeda card

The United States is conducting a phony war in Somalia against benign Islamists who likely have nothing to do with al-Qaeda. In fact, I understand that the financing sent to the Islamic Courts came from the governments Qatar of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran.

Anyway, the US has deployed the aircraft carrier Eisenhower, which sent out warplanes this morning to bomb the villages of Badel, Bankajira, and Aayo, killing 30 civilians. It also sent out helicopters to strafe the border with Kenya as refugees sought shelter. Yesterday a C-130 strafed a village. I imagine that the US military doesn't even know who it is targeting, but hey, it's getting revenge on Aideed!

Washington has been slammed by Italian Foreign Minister Massimo d'Alema and the EU's spokesperson, Amedeu Altafaj Tardiu.

Palestinian Art

Nice exhibit, here.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A New Way Forward

It translates, "Kadima". Who comes up with these names, anyway?

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

The "Surge" Option

Le Monde has a brief article taking a sober look into the President's surge plan, which is to deploy five additional brigades to Baghdad for one year within the next 45 days. Bush will make the announcement on Wednesday. Premier al-Maliki accepted the plan in a video conference with Bush last Thursday and declared that he would send in Iraqi troops to assist. However, those additional troops are not "Iraqi" troops (and let us be frank, there are no national troops; there are only Shi'a and Kurdish troops): they are Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

The surge also represents a challenge to Congress, which will forced to supply the the necessary funding or fall into the propaganda trap of not supporting our troops.

But the plan hasn't been fully fleshed out and there has been no request to Congress for the funds needed.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The bears come out

A friend remarked a couple of years ago that the season had come to buy prime waterfront property on Hudson Bay...and damn if he isn't right.

I was just reading that the Alpine bears are out of hibernation about 8 weeks early and are surprising the hell out of skiers. Meanwhile, in Quebec Province, the blue herons haven't bothered to fly south to Florida this year.

A European Commission report on Italy says the south of the peninsula will become too hot for summer holidays by 2070 and will lack drinking water.

So it's a fine season to purchase prime beach front property on the Gulf of Bothnia too. Saint Tropez? Ha. Vaasa, baby.

Demonstrations in Mogadishu

Some Somalis actually quite liked the government of the Union of Islamic Courts. There is quite a bit of coverage in the Italian press (having controlled the area as a colonial power. The war that the US got up in concert with Ethiopia may have opened a new front in the War on Islam.

"Ethiopian soldiers and Somali police fired on a group of demonstrators protesting in Mogadishu and shot dead at least one person, a 13 year-old child. Another 17 were wounded. The announcement was made by a government source, claiming that the police came under fire. An Ethiopian soldier was killed when he mishandled his grenade." [Corriere della Sera]

Friday, January 05, 2007

Iraq: Change in Command

What is General David Petraeus going to tell Bush that is different from what Generals Casey and Abizaid have been telling him? In any case, they're gone. Petraeus (A Princeton Ph.D.) will replace Casey as Commander of the International Forces in Iraq and Admiral William J. Fallon (who graduated from the same Catholic college as my Dad) will replace Abizaid at CENTCOM.

So are we to assume that Casey and Abizaid were fired for opposing the so-called "surge option"? They can't be dumb: Abizaid is Harvard and Casey is Georgetown. It's certain that George W. Bush is repositioning his pieces on the game board, but I really have no clue of what's in store, other than possibly going after Sadr, who went to Najaf U.

In any case, what's the point of sending in good people to do something that will end up bad, no matter how they perform their mission? Remember World Bank President Wolfensohn? Bush sent him to Palestine as High Quartet Commissioner and after a few months, he admitted the intractability of the crisis and quit. He was thanked by no one.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Israeli Incursion into Ramallah

Photo via L'Orient-Le Jour

I've been reading many reports that Israel is attempting to shore up President Abbas against Hamas. So today's raid on a Fatah-dominated West Bank city is completely incomprehensible and typically brutal. The fact that it occurred while Olmert was holding talks with Abbas and Hosni Mubarek in Sharm al-Sheik makes the action even more questionable.

BTW, I've been reading that the Israeli Defense Ministry is in revolt and is not taking orders from the Prime Minister's Office as Olmert's popularity in opinion polls takes a nosedive. So quite possibly the Tsahal action was meant to embarrass the Kadima government.

Here's a piece of the story from L'Orient-Le Jour:

Four Palestinians were killed on Thursday and at least 20 wounded during a large-scale incursion by the Israeli Army into downtown Ramallah. Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, criticized by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was in Sharm al-Sheikh to receive him, declared his regret at the loss of "innocent life"….Mubarak condemned “recourse to military action”…The two men seem out of-phase if not in complete disagreement. Mubarek refused to propose to step up security on the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip...and was evasive on the subject of Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Palestinian militants….

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Abbas, who denounced the bloody incursion, declared that “the operation is proof that Israeli calls for peace and security are lies”. A source close to Mr. Abbas told AFP that he demanded $5 million in damages from Israel.

US Naval Units Deployed to Somali Waters

US deploys its Navy against, well, a beach. [Via Le Monde]

There are Islamists and there are Islamists, and the ones that were in Mogadishu seemed rather benign, allowing women the right to work outside the home as office assistants, doctors and teachers. The photo above shows a woman conducting a class in English. For the first time, under the "Islamists", people could go to the beach or to the local river for a swim or even leave their homes without being fired upon by the war lords.

Meanwhile, after ordering the populace to to surrender weapons, 18 shotguns have been turned over to the provisional government by the Abgal clan, loyal to provisional Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi.

The Le Monde story also includes this:
On Wednesday Kenya sealed its border with Somalia at the request of the provisional government, reinforced its patrols and turned by 700 Somali refugees. The Somali and Ethiopian armies, were able to demolish the defenses of the Islamic Courts, first in Baidoa, then in Mogadishu and Kismayo, have been hunting the Islamists down without success. Tuesday, four Ethiopian helicopters missed a convoy of all terrain vehicles monitored by US satellites which were probably were transporting Islamic leaders toward the Kenyan frontier, say Kenyan police. A Kenyan military helicopter patrolling the border was forced down Wednesday by small arm one was injured.
This suggests that the Ethiopians are unwilling to do any dirty work.

The claim trumpeted that the Islamic Courts were run by al-Qaeda is disinformation, deployed by Washington and Addis Abeba. Look at this silly quote from the State Department: "We are afraid that the leaders of the Islamic Courts are linked to terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, and will flee and leave Somalia" [so we want to kill them right here before they follow us back to Washington]

Apparently, the US has adopted a "no tolerance" policy for Islamic organizations of any stripe.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Five Brigades

20,000 more US troops in Iraq is approximately 5 brigades, a number that Christian Merville of L'Orient-Le Jour says is too small to be deployed against the Sunni in Anbar Province. They will be deployed to target Moqtada al-Sadr. In fact, the paper reports that a big anti-Sadr campaign is to begin on 5 January.

Over the balcony

Baghdad. Sheikh Hamed Mohammad Souheil, chief of the powerful Bani-Tamim tribe which includes 2/3's of Iraq's Shi'a and 1/3 of its Sunnis was tossed over the balcony of his high rise home in Shuala quarter of Baghdad.