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Talking With Our Enemies

At the request of the Iraqi government, the Bush Administration has agreed to join meetings in March and April with Iraq's neighbors - Syria and Iran - as well as the UK, Russia and an assortment of international bodies. Secretary Rice noted that the initiative followed a recommendation of the Iraq Study Group. Initial talks are set to be held in Baghdad, with a second higher-tier round likely to be held outside of Iraq. It is expected that topics will include issues such as Iranian weapons and training provided to groups fighting the US and Iraqi forces.

Taliban Strikes, US Must Do More

A terrorist blew himself up and killed up to 23 others outside Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. "We wanted to target ... Cheney," said Taliban spokesman Mullah Hayat Khan in an interview with Reuters. While the Vice President was unharmed, at least one American soldier was reportedly killed in the attack, along with an American contractor. In Washington, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell told the Senate Armed Forces Committee that the US must do more to disrupt al-Qaeda along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Michael Maples told the Senators that the tribal leaders of North Waziristan were not living up the the Miramshah Agreement made last September with Pakistan's government.

China Dismisses Cheney's Remarks

After Vice President Cheney said "Last month's anti-satellite test and China's continued fast paced military build up are less constructive and are not consistent with China's stated goal of a peaceful rise" the Chinese government has denied the implications of Cheney's remarks. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said "China adheres to the road of peaceful development and we are an important force in the maintenance of peace and stability in the world and the region, Our positive and important role on the nuclear issue of the Korean peninsula is clear evidence of that." Qin's remarks came during a regular briefing and did not address the issue of Chinese military expansion directly, nor the 800 guided missiles along the coast of China's Fujian province west of Taiwan.

Failed Attack, al-Qaeda On Trial

Three terrorists were killed when their bomb detonated prematurely, believed to be enroute to attack a Pakistani police funeral procession. The police forces and the Interior Ministry remain largely loyal to President Musharraf as violent opposition mounts inside Pakistan. In Pakistani trial procedings, al-Qaeda is publicly tied to a 2006 bombing that killed a US diplomat. The New York Times reports the significance of these legal events as "one of the first in Pakistan to underline in court the links between splinter cells of Pakistani jihad groups and Qaeda operatives in Waziristan."

Though it is a commentary, Dr. Farhat Taj writes of specific instances of the Pakistani government's bowing to militant Islamists that rarely get notice by Western media in Militant Islam and writ of State.

The investigation into the Samjhauta Express train bombing goes on with Lashkar-e-Taiba suspected by India. Retired Indian Major General Afsir Kareem spoke of the attack and the investigation in an interview with Gulf News, saying "Indian intelligence agencies are catching the menials involved in the terror networks. But they are not getting to the bottom of it. And they also make claims because of the intense pressure to show results."

'No Brakes' On Iranian Train

Iran claims it has launched a rocket into space, just ahead of Monday's meeting between the Security Council's Permanent-5 members and Germany regarding additional sanctions on Iran. While Iran is calling for more negotiations on its nuclear crisis, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran's nuclear quest will not end, saying "A while ago, we threw away the reverse gear and the brakes of the train and we announced to them that this Iranian train has no reverse gear or braking."

Meanwhile, Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie said that Iran has stopped much of their 'interference' in Iraq, telling CNN "In the last few weeks, they have changed their position, and they stopped a lot of their tactics and a lot of intervention or interference in the Iraqi internal affairs." He added that he truly believes Iran wants to see a secure Baghdad and Iraq. Ammar al-Hakim, the son of SCIRI leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, told Iran's al-Alam satellite network that US claims of Iranian interference in Iraqi internal affairs are "unfounded and mere propaganda." He was previously arrested by US forces and held briefly upon entering Iraq from Iran.

al-Sadr Predicts Failure

Muqtada al-Sadr, believed to be in Iran, issued a written statement read in Baghdad's Sadr City Sunday stating that the US-led Baghdad crackdown will fail. 51 Iraqis are believed to bave been killed in two Sunday attacks in Shi'a neighborhoods in Baghdad, one with mortars and one with a suicide bomber at a university. Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups are calling for revenge to recent rape allegations. "The proud among us believe that killing all of Iraq's men is easier to accept than violating the honor of one Iraqi woman," said a Baghdad Sunni imam during prayers. But the latest rape allegations are likely unfounded, according to Iraqi government officials and explained by Nibras Kazimi, who calls al-Qaeda in Iraq leader al-Masri's response 'bandwagoning' and an attempt to show he is still active after claims he was wounded in earlier operations.

Iran Claims Clash With IAEA Report

As the IAEA reported that Iran is building its nuclear capabilities in spite of UN Security Council demands, Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani said Friday that the US and the West are 'bullying' Iran. Helpful to the Iranian economy, the price of oil rose initially after Iranian threats once again to close the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, made after the USS John Stennis brought to bear the second US aircraft carrier in Persian Gulf waters.

al-Hakim's Son Arrested Returning From Iran

The son of Iraqi politician and SCIRI leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim was reportedly arrested at the Iran-Iraq border as he returned from Iran. In a December raid of his father's offices, the #3 Iranian Qods Force commander was captured and later released. The British pullout from southern Iraq is seen as potentially helpful to Iran's influence there, already dominant with the SCIRI and Badr groups. In the US Congress, there is political movement to craft and pass legislation curtail the President's authority to engage in Iraq, seeking to limit operations to only against al-Qaeda, training Iraqi troops and reconstruction. For the Iraqis' part, they have launched Operation Shurta Nasir to clear Hit of insurgents and terrorists and reclaim the Anbar province city.

Taliban Threats As India, Pakistan Sign Agreement

The US Embassy in Pakistan has issued a warning based on ‘unspecific information’ of potential attacks on Americans and American interests, possibly by suicide bombers. After the Taliban sent threatening letters to foreign banks and schools in the NWFP, many have closed down.
Meanwhile, seven have been arrested in India in connection with Sunday’s train bombing that killed nearly 70. Undeterred by the terrorist attack, Indian and Pakistani leaders signed a nuclear agreement intended to ensure the prevention of an accidental nuclear exchange.

AU Troops Gain Approval and Warning

After the UN Security Council's Tuesday vote to approve African Union peacekeepers being deployed to Somalia, the ICU has made clear their opposition to foreign forces (aside from those supporting them). Said one ICU leader: "The U.N. should keep its hand off our country because the Islamic forces are ready to fight any foreign troops whether they are blue helmet or black helmet."

Nuclear Victory and Bushehr Delays

Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, continued his resistence to attempts to end the Iranian nuclear development program. With the latest deadline for an updated report from the IAEA to the UN Security Council set for Friday, Ahmadinejad has this to say: "Iran will not retreat one iota in its path to nuclear victory." Previously Ahmadinejad had said "Justice demands that those who want to hold talks with us shut down their nuclear fuel cycle program, too. Then, we can hold dialogue under a fair atmosphere." It remains unclear if Russia will delay the completion of the Bushehr nuclear power plant after the announcement by Russian officials that Iran has been slow to make scheduled payments. Iran has denied any delays in their scheduled payments.

Taliban, al-Qaeda Surge In Pakistan

Both al-Qaeda and the Taliban are resurgent in Pakistan, as described in a January analysis. Musharraf said recently that the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) will be incorporated into the NWFP (North West Frontier Province) "after Taliban and al-Qaeda elements are eliminated from the region." Musharraf has yet to eliminate either from any regions in Pakistan and the Taliban and al-Qaeda are currently considered strong in both FATA and NWFP.

Levant Tensions Continue

Secretary Rice met with Abbas and Olmert in Jerusalem with little progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meanwhile, yet another Israeli official has warned that Hizballah has more firepower now than before the summer war. Nasrallah said that Hizballah "had the right to secretly transfer arms" in a speech that again attempted to co-opt the Lebanese Army as a similar 'resistance.' While the Iran-Saudi talks on Lebanon have been described as Syria’s worst nightmare, Syria and Iran pledged to confront US and Israeli 'plots' in Lebanon and Iraq.

Pakistan Denounces Train Bombing in India

Pakistan has condemned Sunday's India-Pakistan train attack that killed 66, mostly Pakistanis. Believed to be the work of Pakistani Islamist terrorists seeking to unravel the Indian-Pakistani peace talks, investigators have found four kerosene bottles used to facilitate the fire that ensued after the bomb blasts. While some militant leaders are ready for a truce in the Kashmir conflict, others clearly are not and look to ratchet violence rather than abide by any negotiated settlement. Whether or not the attack will have an effect on the process remains to be seen, but initial indications are that Indian and Pakistani leaders will not allow it.

Syria's Assad Meets In Iran

Iran has been launching missiles as part of new military exercises intended to be a show of force in the face of recent US pressure. Syria’s President Bashar Assad traveled to Tehran to meet with Iranian leaders. Even in the face of revelations of Iran's Qods Force supporting both sides of sectarian violence in Iraq, Assad said in a meeting with Iran’s Rafsanjani, "Creating conflict between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq and Lebanon is the final card that America and its allies have." In an apparent dispute over payment, Russia may halt construction work on the unfinished Bushehr nuclear plant and reconsider plans to supply nuclear fuel for it. Iran denies Russia's non-payment claims. Iran has executed who it claims was the bomber who killed 11 IRGC members in a bus bombing in southern Iran the previous day.

Operational Successes in Iraq

As part of the Baghdad security plan, Operation Polar Iron saw 49 suspects arrested and three roadside bombs captured and destroyed. Near Tikrit, seven were detained - including a foreign terrorist - and a VBIED-rigged vehicle was destroyed. Though Iran denies Sadr is in Tehran, Iraq's president said Sadr had ordered his top commanders out of Iraq.

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