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September 30, 2006

Belgium Says Terror Monitoring System Illegal

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or SWIFT, reached an agreement with the United States Treasury Department, pursuant to U.S. subpoenas, to transfer information regarding financial transactions to the U.S. subject to certain limitations in order to protect the privacy of individuals. This made it easier for U.S. counterterrorism efforts to monitor the flow of money through terrorist networks without the knowledge of the suspected terrorists. This week the program was declared to be in violation of Belgian and European Union laws on privacy by the government-sponsored Commission for the Protection of Privacy. The Commission did not demand that the program end all activities immediately, but did demand that its operations be amended in order to be consistent with the Commission’s interpretation of the law (full text of 28-page decision in French, unofficial translation of three-page summary in English [PDF]).

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt was quoted by AP Brussels as saying that the EU would pursue “negotiations as quickly as possible over the question,” because the program would have to be changed. The existence of the program was secret until this past June when classified information about it was leaked to the New York Times. As reported in the Washington Post on Friday:

The decision, announced by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, came as the country’s Data Privacy Commission released a 20-page [sic] report finding that the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, had improperly turned over data from millions of global financial transactions to U.S. anti-terrorism investigators. “It has to be seen as a gross miscalculation by SWIFT that it has, for years, secretly and systematically transferred massive amounts of personal data for surveillance without effective and clear legal basis and independent controls in line with Belgian and European law,” the report says.

Leonard H. Schrank, SWIFT’s chief executive, said in a telephone interview that the cooperative “believes we complied with everything and respected to the fullest extent possible the privacy law in Belgium. But the trouble is data privacy laws in Europe are quite difficult to follow. They’re not drafted for national security issues.” SWIFT said in a statement that it had relinquished data to the U.S. Treasury Department only after it had been “subject to valid and compulsory subpoenas” from U.S. authorities…

The Post goes on to say that “Europeans tend to support strong efforts against terrorist groups… but many Europeans believe that U.S. policies go too far…” The initial premise of this statement is not accurate; as Lorenzo Vidino notes in Al-Qaeda in Europe, most European countries do not seriously punish or in some cases even prohibit acts which constitute logistical support for terrorism, only the terrorist acts themselves (p. 110).

According to the Belgian newspaper La Libre (“Vous etes en faute, surtout continuez”), Prime Minister Verhofstadt emphasized that “the commission did not ask us to stop the program.” A member of the parliament, Version Didier Reynders added, “the commission did not want to go that far, simply because it lacked the power” to shut down the system. The Commission report is quoted as requiring “supplementary guarantees.” One of the problems emphasized is that neither the Belgian government nor the European Union were notified of the existence of the program, although the Belgian National Bank was so notified.

La Libre also interviewed SWIFT CEO Leonard Schrank for a separate article (“Schrank: Plusiers attentats ont pu etre evites”). This is an excerpt (ThreatsWatch translation):

…The guarantees that we put in place in order to ensure that the information requested by Washington would not be used except for the fight against terrorism were extremely severe… this data would not be used to track financial fraud or for economic espionage… although the risk [of privacy violation] is close to zero, zero risk does not exist. One must minimize the risk without being able to eliminate it completely.

Bear in mind that this system has allowed us to save thousands of lives and perhaps more… It has been established that terrorist attacks, from both sides of the Atlantic, to the United States, to Canada and in Indonesia have been avoided thanks to the information provided by SWIFT…

What is left unclear now is whether the changes demanded by the Commission will undermine the program’s effectiveness. An examination of the brief summary of the decision and the full document suggests that changes to the program could well hinder its effectiveness in monitoring terrorists’ financial networks, or else Belgian and EU law will need to be changed. For example, section E.1.2 of the Commission’s opinion concerns the “Obligation to Inform” under a directive on privacy passed by the European parliament. The Commission interpreted the directive to require notice to all individuals who are customers of SWIFT-affiliated financial institutions, tipping off terrorists to the need for evading detection. Although publication of the existence of the program has already done some damage in this regard, enforcement of this rule could cause further damage because financial institutions do not have to process their transactions through SWIFT; despite the company’s centrality to this aspect of the world financial system, there are other means. If alternatives to SWIFT are within the EU, they would be subject to the same regulations.

That there does not appear to be significant political opposition to the SWIFT program may mean that any impeding regulation could be modified, nevertheless this decision introduces an element of uncertainty into the continued effectiveness of global efforts to monitor terrorist monetary transfers. Whether or not there are practical impediments to counterterrorist efforts will thus depend upon the nature of any modifications made on the monitoring system.

Baghdad Offensive Expands to Seven Areas

Operation Together Forward Phase II is a joint U.S.-Iraqi military offensive in Baghdad based upon a “clear, hold and build” strategy of sweeping one neighborhood at a time and then working on rebuilding government and commercial institutions in the area. Begun the second week of August, Phase II appears to have successfully cleared a half dozen Baghdad city sections, but both attacks on coalition forces and brutal killings of local civilians continue elsewhere in the city of 6.8 million. As we discussed in our September 11 report on Phase II, July was the bloodiest of the war for Iraqi civilians, especially in Baghdad, with August seeing about a 25-30 percent drop in violence in the capital city. While recent “death squad” killings have been deliberately provocative, with victims’ mutilated corpses left in the streets, the overall death rate may have been lower than August, although that is not certain. In addition to the sweep operations integral to Phase II, there have also been targeted raids on cells belonging to Sunni insurgents and the Mahdi Army of radical Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Military press briefings, conducted by Major General James Thurman, Commander of MNF-Baghdad, and Major General William Caldwell, MNF-I spokesman, respectively, provide some update on Operation Together Forward (Pentagon Sept. 22 Briefing, MNF-I Sept. 27 Briefing). As indicated by the briefings, those areas of Baghdad in which clear and hold operations have been conducted have seen declines in violence, but some other areas have seen increases, possibly resulting in a slight decrease in violence for the first three weeks of September over August, although an aggregate picture is difficult to draw at this time. The Ameriya area of Baghdad has already been cleared as Phase II began. Ameriya is now in the build phase, and more recently Dura, Baya, Mansour, Kadhimiya and Adhamiya are the focus. Dura was identified by the Iraqi Baghdad security chief as the single worst area of the city over the summer, so if that area remains quiet it will be a very significant achievement. An examination of city maps indicates that these areas are in the south and west of Baghdad (two maps contained in the September 27 briefing linked above).

A September 14 release also reported that coalition forces had just begun clearing operations in the Baghdad neighborhood of Khadra. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that the Iraqi government had begun the process of building barriers around the city, using natural barriers where possible and otherwise restricting the flow of traffic into the city to monitorable routes.

Current foreign coalition and Iraqi forces in Baghdad were given as follows: 9,000 Iraqi soldiers, 12,000 national police (Interior Ministry forces), 22,000 local police, and 15,000 coalition forces. Maj. Gen. Thurman stated that he was requesting an additional 3,000 Iraqi soldiers from the Iraqi government to serve in Baghdad.

Maj. Gen. Thurman was asked directly about fighting with the Mahdi Army. He responded by saying that no specific organization was being targeted, but that coalition forces were taking down death squads whenever they were tipped off to them, and that likewise being a member of any organization would not protect someone deemed to be in a death squad. According to reporting by the international Arab newspaper Al-Hayat (Sept. 20, “Confrontations Between the Mahdi Army and American Forces”), there were multiple operations by coalition and Iraqi forces striking Mahdi Army members, whether the latter was being specifically targeted or not. The article reports that British forces killed Habib Jasim al-Abadi, a Mahdi Army leader, in Basra, and that multiple hits were made on Mahdi Army elements in Basra, Baghdad and Karbala. Sadrist representatives in the Iraqi parliament accused the U.S. of directly targeting the Mahdi Army in order to draw Sadrists into an open fight.

As noted above, there was significant violence in areas of Baghdad outside of current focus, and the second full week of the month saw the most gruesome effects. According to Al-Hayat (Sept. 17, “205 Corpses in a Week, Including 190 in the Capital Alone”), about 190 corpses were found in the streets in a week, usually with signs of torture. This included 60 corpses recovered on Wednesday the 13th, 50 corpses recovered on Thursday and Friday, and 47 bodies recovered on Saturday.

Al-Hayat, referring to that week as “Kill Week,” quoted Sadrists in the Iraqi parliament as blaming “Saddamist and takfiris [e.g. al-Qaeda],” while quoting Sunni members, as well as the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association, as blaming the same groups, but also blaming “political elements which are part of the government.” This statement could theoretically apply to either Sadr’s Mahdi Army or the Badr Brigades of SCIRI, the largest Shi’a faction, but the former is most likely. Sadr has openly called for calm and restraint by Shi’a in the face of Sunni attacks while Mahdi Army leaders claim that only rogue elements of their organization work in death squads. Yet the Sadrists have taken no visible steps to counter those kill squads which are operating out of neighborhoods they dominate, including Sadr City in Baghdad.

September 29, 2006

Taliban-al-Qaeda Alliance Defies Truce

In another open defiance of the truce deal signed between the Pakistani government and the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in North Waziristan, the Taliban have opened up an office near a Pakistani bus stop in the North Waziristan capital, Miran Shah. The location distributes fliers calling on Waziristan residents to contact the Taliban regarding “on all matters relating to law and order.” This is a blatant disregard for the truce agreement (as previously summarized based in part on reporting from Pakistan’s Daily Times).

mapnwfp-asiatimes.gifThis is not the first instance of disregard on the part of the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance, as the tandem have made comfortable roost in the territory handed to them and vacated by Pakistani troops in early September. As questions surround the potential hand-over of yet more territory from the nuclear power to the Taliban and al-Qaeda within Pakistani borders, it will assuredly not be the last. It was reported earlier in Newsday that a US intelligence source had confirmed to reporters in Afghanistan and Pakistan that cross-border attacks by the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance has tripled since the agreement, which on paper spelled out the end to attacks into Afghanistan on Afghan and Coalition troops.

Also today in North Waziristan, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing and public display of a man they claimed was a spy for Afghan intelligence. The man’s body was riddled with bullet holes and had a Taliban leaflet attached to his clothing entitled “Fate of the Spy.”

Even while President Bush praises Pakistani and Afghan accomplishments after their recent three-way meeting at the White House – with the atmosphere between Pakistani President Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai described as “extremely frosty” – al-Qaeda’s Waziristan territory remains outside the realm of Pakistani control and the North West Frontier Province appears in equal jeopardy of being ceded away. Pakistani madrassas continue to feed the Taliban and al-Qaeda with fresh recruits from within Pakistan proper, receiving open, public and dutiful praise from madrassa leaders. Questions remain also about the complicity of the Pakistani intelligence’s (ISI) level of complicity with and support for the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance.

In the White House meeting, Afghan President Karzai accused Musharraf of not doing enough to fight the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and warned that cooperation with the Taliban and al-Qaeda is like “trying to train a snake against somebody else. You cannot train a snake. It will come and bite you.” Currently, the snake appears coiled around the remainder of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. From there, it could conceivably strike Islamabad, the capital of a nuclear power.

Iran Declares Security Council Ineffective

With two days of talks between Iran’s Ari Larijani and the EU’s Javier Solana ending Thursday with no progress, the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki declared early Friday what has been whispered but rarely spoken aloud in Western diplomatic circles. Appearing on Iranian state-run television, Mottaki said, “There is no reason or logic to suspending nuclear activities. The foreigners have experienced that using the language of threats and referring (Iran) to the Security Council is ineffective and there is now no option but to hold talks.”

From other sources, some details of the two-day talks have emerged, most of them troubling. Frustrating those who have grown tired of ‘talks about talks’ under the guise of actual negotiations working toward a solution, the EU’s Solana said that “some important progress on the elements relating to how the potential negotiations can take place.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shed light on how any such negotiations can take place. He said of a halt to enrichment operations as reported back by Iran’s Ari Larijani, “Then they reached a point that they asked for even just a one-day halt. We said we won’t do it.” This presents itself as confirmation that Iran’s position remains that they seek the process of negotiations but will not compromise. The world appears resigned to accepting such conditions.

While the process subscribed to by the European Union through Javier Solana has been criticized widely as playing into the Iranian strategy of delay and division, even the United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared ready to dismiss sanctions that would have the harshest impact on Iran: Sanctions against their import of gasoline, as the Iranians lack adequate indigenous refinery capacity to satisfy domestic demand. Rice cites fears of isolating the Iranian public from the West rather than from the mullah regime. This after the US Congress earlier this year reduced the amount of proposed funding in the Iran Freedom Support Act to support those same Iranian civilians from $75 million to merely $50 million.

For their part, the US House of Representatives approved an Iran sanctions bill Thursday, with the US Senate expected to follow. The current bill, formerly known as the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ISLA), is apparently the result of “intense consultations with the Bush administration” and bans groups and companies from participating in Iranian oil development as well as any industries and technologies that could lend direct or indirect assistance to Iran’s development of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons or “destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons.” While the effort is to be applauded, the effect on the Iranian regime remains questionable.

The United States Treasury Department is also seeking to apply pressure to the Iranian regime by applying unilateral sanctions to international funds transfers for the state sponsor of terrorism and soliciting cooperation from other nations. The Treasury Department’s genuine attempts at doing what is within their power is doubted in its potential effectiveness. Says Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Roger Leeds, speaking to the porous nature of the disparate international finance systems, “It’s so easy to transfer funds around the world without going through some of the major financial institutions. It can be a pain in the neck for the Iranians, it will make their life miserable, but it won’t keep them from transferring funds.”

While each effort is also to be applauded, they are collectively an example of an inconsistent patchwork of policy brought on by the lack of Western unity with regard to the Iranian nuclear crisis, saying nothing of the seemingly sidelined immediate crisis of terrorism sponsorship.

September 28, 2006

Clouds Forming For 'Autumn Rains' In Gaza

A confluence of events may be driving Israel closer to re-entering Gaza with overwhelming force, as several Israeli concerns remain either unresolved or growing in threat since Operation Summer Rains was launched after the Palestinian terrorist tunnel raid into Israel in June left two IDF soldiers dead and one, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, held captive.

One of the conditions contributing to Israeli frustration is that Shalit remains held captive by the Popular Resistance Committees terrorists, a group including current and former Hamas members. But of growing concern since last year’s handover of Gaza to Palestinian control remains massive weapons smuggling and stockpiling through Egypt. Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s intelligence service Shin Bet, has has warned repeatedly of evidence of growing weapons stockpiles in the Gaza Strip. The latest estimate was stated to have grown to 19 tons of explosives alone, dispersed among many hidden caches and stores throughout Gaza. Iran and their proxy Hizballah have long been suspected of funneling weapons into Gaza, especially since the January election of Hamas into the majority of the Palestinian parliament.

Also a growing factor in Israeli motivations is the continued rocket assaults on Israeli towns near the Gaza border. At the local Israeli levels, residents and local leaders have been applying pressure to the government to bring an end to the rain of Qassam rockets that continues to plague them. They appear to question the sincerity of national leaders like Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who said yesterday, “Hamas knows that they will pay a heavy price with every Kassam fired at Israel and if they don’t stop them they know we will consider harsher and deeper operations into Gaza.” But perhaps adding meaning behind those words was the statement that followed, in which he said “There might be no other choice but to conquer the entire Gaza Strip to stop it from turning into a second Lebanon.”

Another concern that seemingly grows deeper daily is the growing animosity between PM Haniyeh’s Hamas and President Abbas’ Fatah as the drive to form a unity government continues to fail under the weight of Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. If the situation worsens between the two, fighting could commence once more in the streets of the Palestinian Territories – primarily in Gaza, where the explosives and weapons caches are believed to exist. Historically, when there has been internal fighting, one or more groups increases attacks on Israel in apparent attempts to position the particular group as true defenders of the Palestinians. With the increased weapons stores – including advanced anti-tank weapons such as those used in the June tunnel raid into Israel and also by Hizballah in Lebanon – this threat’s lethal potential is greater than ever.

At the same time however, Israeli Prime Minister and Mahmoud Abbas plan to meet for talks, former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres urges Fatah and Hamas to settle their differences and form a unity government, and even the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) group is openly calling for Hamas to recognize Israel.

But Gilad Shalit remains held captive, the Gaza weapons caches continue to grow in both size and technology, and the rocket attacks into Israel from within Gaza continue.

September 27, 2006

Iranian Paradox: Negotiation Without Compromise

Thursday, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paradoxically said that Iran will negotiate but will not compromise regarding its nuclear program. “We are ready to hold negotiations for removing doubts and misunderstandings but no one is allowed to make a compromise on the people’s (nuclear) rights and ignore the laws (in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty),” he said.

ahmadinejad.jpgAhmadinejad rightly acknowledged that it is a matter of trust regarding Iran and nuclear technology, but refused to accept that as a principle for attempting to halt its program, saying, “Countries of the world will not accept a monopoly by certain powers of nuclear weapons while others are refused access to the nuclear fuel cycle simply because they cannot be trusted and could use this for non-peaceful purposes.”

Within the same speech, where Ahmadinejad also declared the “age of empires and emperors” over, he invited “bullying powers and dictators of the world to monotheism and justice. We urge bullying powers to end their crimes, cruelty and aggression.” Iran and others – such as al-Qaeda – seek to establish a global caliphate that would enforce ‘monotheism,’ governed by a single caliph.

Ahmadinejad appears to be making the rounds at home, delivering speeches on the heels of his trip to the West, which included an incendiary address to the United Nations General Assembly. The state-run Iranian media outlets lauded his messages which are reported as being well received at home in Iran.

Regardless of past negotiations failures, Javier Solana’s talks with Ali Larijani have caused pause in Washington’s press for sanctions against Iran for ignoring the August 31 Security Council deadline for ceasing enrichment activity. Of the EU-Iran negotiations that Ahmadinejad said will not include compromise, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “There may be an opportunity here, there may be a little opening if we just give the Iranians a little time and space. Perhaps they will come through with a positive answer.”

While Ahmadinejad was stating Iran’s stance on negotiating without compromising, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and Iranian vice-president, Reza Aqazadeh, also made it clear that negotiations will not include any discussion of the Bushehr power plant currently under Russian construction. Aqazadeh added that, with regard to the Bushehr plant, “Russia will support Iran.” Russia is contracted to complete the Bushehr construction for approximately US$1 billion.

Iraqis Reach Temporary Compromise on Federalism

Iraq’s Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish parties agreed on the formation of a committee to propose constitutional changes as a prerequisite to the establishment of a system of federal governance by region. As we discussed in a recent report (“Federalism Delayed Amid Sunni, Sadrist Opposition”), Sunni opponents of the autonomy plan argue that Article 142 of the Iraqi constitution provides that amendments to the constitution must be considered prior to the establishment of autonomous regions. The leader of the largest Sunni bloc as already declared that the committee’s proposals are nonbinding, and that he would not accept an autonomy plan that might endanger Iraq’s unity. Arguments also broke out between Sunni and Kurdish parliamentarians. Separately, British forces killed an important al-Qaeda leader in Basra, while local governments stepped up security measures in advance of Ramadan.

As reported in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn, all major Iraqi factions agreed on the formation of a 24-member committee to study changes to the constitution and make proposals, especially as related to the issue of establishing a federal system of government. Of the 24, 12 were to come from the dominant Shi’a coalition, the ruling United Iraqi Alliance, five were to come from the Kurdish Coalition, and four from the Iraqi Accord Front, the largest Sunni coalition, with one member each coming from smaller parties which supported the proposal. Only the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, a Sunni party, refused to participate, and withdrew from parliament during the discussion. The NDF holds only four percent of the parliament’s seats, so its withdrawal does not itself undermine the process.

It is questionable how final the resulting proposals would be, as Adnan Dulaimi, the leader of the Iraqi Accord Front, was quoted in Al-Hayat as stating flatly that any proposals coming out of the committee were not binding on those parties, such as his, which had agreed to, and participated in, its establishment. Furthermore, the chairman of Regions Committee, Zafir al-Ani, also a member of Dulaimi’s Accord Front, resigned in protest, saying that he thought that the effort would lead to the division of Iraq and that he would not be associated with it. The agreement on a constitutional committee seems to have been accepted by many as a way to put the issue off rather than resolve it. Al-Hayat did quote Ani as saying that the Accord Front would “get into the details” of any proposal to make sure that it was not a threat to the country’s unity, suggesting a possible opening to compromise if the proposal were to be set properly. For his part, Abd al-Karim al-Anzi, a member of the Shi’a UIA, said that participating in the committee obligated a party to not withdraw from parliament over the issue and accept the final vote, although of course each party was free to vote against it.

Aside from the debate between the largest Shi’a and Sunni parties over the desirability of the federal autonomy plan, the most heated element in the debate was a charge by a member of Iyad Allawi’s National Iraqi List, Usama al-Najaifi, that Kurdish militias were engaging in ethnic cleansing in Mosul, attempting to change the demographics of the city, which is the capital of the Ninawa Province in northern Iraq. Kurdish members rejected the charge and demanded an apology, and the List’s parliamentary leader, Hamid Najid Musa, apologized saying that the Najaifi did not represent the party, and that the accusations were wrong.

There was a separate flare up, reported in Al-Hayat, which arose when Muhammad al-Dayni, leader of the National Dialogue Front, argued against the federalism plan by saying that the Kurdish provincial constitution made no mention of Iraq whatsoever. But Fu’ad Masum, a Kurdish parliamentarian, argued that the document to which Dayni referred was a draft of the provincial constitution which was being revised. Masum stated that the Kurdish constitution would recognize the federal Iraqi constitution as supreme.

In other news from the south of Iraq, British troops killed Umar al-Faruq, an al-Qaeda leader for southeast Asia, in a predawn raid on Monday. Aside from Faruq’a own operational importance, the killing was significant because Faruq had been previously captured and had then escaped from a coalition-run prison in Afghanistan last year.

Also from southern Iraq, Al-Rafidayn reports on special security arrangements taken by Iraqi police in the Province of Maysan in southeast Iraq. The article reports that the plan involves an increase in police patrols, extra security for high-rise buildings and areas in which families would congregate, and strengthening of checkpoints. During the Shi’a religious festival of Musa in August, commemorations went mostly well but at one location enemy snipers were able to kill 20 pilgrims, so security services will be watching for that threat. Ramadan is a Muslim holy month involving daily fasting and festive gatherings by night.

Updates on security-related developments in Baghdad and elsewhere in central Iraq are to come.

Gaza Tunnels And Hamas’ Determination

Palestinian security forces have discovered yet more tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border, sheltered by structures on either side for concealment. While it is unclear which specific wing of the disparate ‘Palestinian security forces’ was responsible for the find, recent animosities between the Fatah and Hamas factions within the Palestinian territories may provide a clue.

idf-tunnel-find.jpgGaza is dominated on the ground by Hamas while much of the Palestinian Authority security forces remain loyal to their rival Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. In recent days, Hamas’ reaffirmed refusal to recognize Israel and pre-existing agreements between Yassir Arafat’s PLO and the Jewish state has quelled the optimism once held for a Palestinian Unity government. Within the context of word that Abbas planned to confront Hamas in Gaza this week and issue an ultimatum regarding recognizing and negotiating with Israel, tensions between the two factions are relatively high and may serve to exacerbate the situation.

Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said that a meeting between Abbas and Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was cancelled due to “disagreements and difficulties” without elaborating. He added that “We will overcome the problems. We haven’t hit a dead end.” But dead end or not, the distance between the two groups’ approaches is vast and no less polarizing than in American politics.

Further exemplifying the chasm between Hamas and Fatah, VOA News charcterized the position of Hamas’ PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar as believing that “it is useless to appease the West and recognize Israel since there has been no benefit from doing so in the past.”

While Hamas and Fatah battle for leadership within Gaza and the West Bank, the pressure is on Hamas from all sides as Israel has decided to keep captured Hamas legislators in jail until their legal proceedings have run their course, reversing an earlier decision to release them beforehand.

September 26, 2006

Russia Supports Iranian Program As US Flounders

While Russia holds much power in the UN Security Council proceedings concerning Iran’s nuclear program and Western fears of a weapons program, Russia continues to display its closer relationship with its cash customer Islamic Republic than the West. Iran and Russia have agreed to launch the Bushehr nuclear plant in November 2007, a plant built by Russia under a lucrative construction contract. Also included in that contract is the initial supply of nuclear fuel until Iran can produce enough of their own indigenously to support it. Russia is not only building Iran’s nuclear facilities and supplying them the nuclear fuel beginning in March – despite Iranian claims of its own abilities and intent – but Russia is also selling the regime advanced anti-aircraft missile systems to protect their various nuclear facilities from any attack by Western powers. The deep Iranian-Russian economic ties are further exemplified today by the sale of five Russian Tu-204-100 passenger airliners.

But that is only part of what appears to be a losing battle with the steadfast Iranian regime over its nuclear ambitions. The state-sponsor of terrorism is reaping the benefits that come with the West’s own divide, a forming gulf more and more evident between Europe and America.

While Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expresses confidence that President Bush is ‘absolutely determined to prevent’ a nuclear armed Iran and that Israel and America would together prevent such an outcome, few nations appear to share Israel’s determination, perhaps including the America he praises for its stalwartness.

The European Union’s Javier Solana, among others, continues talks with Iran after the regime ignored the UN Security Council mandate that it halt enrichment activities at the end of August. His office claims to be close to a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue in secretive talks between Solana and Iranian chief negotiator Ali Larijani, himself a former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander who still holds leadership sway within the IRGC that founded Hizballah in Lebanon.

What the EU-Iranian deal entails is shrouded in mystery, but many would presume that it include a cessation of enrichment activities. But according to the vice president of the Iranian National Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Saeedi, any potentially pending deal will not include a cessation of enrichment. In response to reports of the two sides nearing agreement, Saeedi said in Tehran, “The imposition of a three-month moratorium on [uranium] enrichment activities will not be discussed during the upcoming talks between Larijani and Solana.”

In a meeting between Australian and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq, Iranian state-controlled news reports that the Australian ambassador referred to Iran’s current role in Iraqi affairs as “constructive and positive.” The meeting between the two took place at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad.

Even the American position exhibits signs of moderation and weakening, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asserted that she does not think a gasoline embargo on Iran should be considered as part of any potential sanctions. She said, “You want to stay away from things that have a bad effect on the Iranian people to the degree that you can. That’s something we really do have to fight against and some believe a gasoline embargo might play into that.” While her concerns are seen by most as not without some merit, the only sanctions against the regime that appear on the table revolve around freezing certain assets and the pulling of visas and limiting the regime’s travel abroad – a move that may have pleased many Americans had it been imposed before Ahmadinejad’s performance at the UN General Assembly and former Iranian president Khattami’s cross-country US speaking tour.

So while the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, speaks of confidence that America and Israel will not allow a nuclear-armed Iran, there appear few options the US administration is willing to support in order to qualify for such praise and confidence amid dissolving resolve.

The question on the minds of many is: Is there an emerging ‘Persian Gulf’ between the US and Europe, or is America experiencing a dissolving resolve and actually drifting closer to European acquiescence?

September 24, 2006

Hizballah: Public Celebration, Private Concern

As troops from the Lebanese Army finally make their way to the Israeli border in keeping with UNSC Resolution 1701, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah held a massive Beirut rally Friday in celebration of what Hizballah calls its “divine victory” over Israel in the 34-day conflict spanning July and August. In Nasrallah’s speech to a crowd estimated at over 800,000 people, he declared that “No army in the world will be able to make us drop the weapons from our hands.”

Thumbing his nose at Resolution 1701, which calls for Hizballah to be disarmed, he proclaimed that Hizballah still has over 20,000 rockets. “I say to all those who want to close the seas, skies and the deserts and the border and the enemy, the resistance today possesses more — I underline that — more than 20,000 rockets,” he said.

But Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev offered that this supposed number is even greater than the number Hizballah claimed before the conflict began. Regardless, Regev deadpanned, under the UN Security Council resolution Hizballah “shouldn’t have any rockets.”

The following day in Harissa 17 miles north of Beirut, the leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces held a rally against Hizballah with tens of thousands of supporters on hand. Leader Samir Geagea told supporters in response to Hizballah’s victory rally, “I don’t feel victory because the majority of the Lebanese people do not feel victory. Rather, they feel that a major catastrophe had befallen them and made their present and future uncertain.” Geagea was pardoned by the Lebanese parliament and released from prison in July 2005 after serving 11 years of 3 life sentences for murder convictions, including the murder of pro-Syrian Prime Minister Rashid Karami.

Geagea went on to demand Hizballah’s disarmament for sake of Lebanon’s sovereignty, saying, “When we find a solution to (the issue of Hizballah’s) weapons, then it will be possible to establish the state as it should be.” He criticized Hizballah’s creation of a “state within a state” and the Lebanese government for allowing it. Yet, while Nasrallah called for the disbanding of the Lebanese government and the formation of a new one, Geagea defended the Saniora government on the grounds that at least it was finally a Lebanese government and not a Syrian sideshow.

While publicly Hizballah and Nasrallah are holding rallies and declaring victory, a much less celebratory picture emerges in one-on-one interviews with Hizballah’s leaders. Hizballah’s political leader, Nasrallah, is said to be privately very depressed about the state of affairs after the Israeli war. As Ehud Yaari describes for the Washington Institute, “Hassan Nasrallah is showing clear signs of “dejection, melancholy and depression,” according to the editors of the Lebanese daily al-Safir, who are counted among the most steadfast supporters of the leader of Hizballah.”

Hizballah deputy-secretary, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said that after the war, Hizballah needs time to reconsider the nature and state of their activities. No longer does the terrorist organization have unfettered access to hardened positions along the Israeli border and they must also now keep their weapons concealed, a negotiated alternative to being disarmed in the south of Lebanon. But much of Hizballah’s firepower is being moved north into a consolidated Bekaa Valley position occupying the region along the Syrian border.

Adding to Lebanon’s internal challenges, al-Qaeda seeks a foothold in Lebanon, as noted by US Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. Al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri called for the establishment of a foothold in Lebanon in his latest statements, saying “I call on every sincere Muslim who is able to reach south Lebanon to rush to defeat the Zionist forces invading Lebanon … to strive with everything at our disposal to set up a jihad base on the borders of Palestine.” While Negroponte expressed uncertainty over al-Qaeda’s success thus far, he noted the intent as well as evidence of al-Qaeda activity inside Lebanon.

As noted by Emily Hunt and Olivier Guitta, much of al-Qaeda’s observed activity in Lebanon has been in the Sunni-majority northern parts of Lebanon, including Tripoli.

September 23, 2006

Hamas Sends Unity Gov't 'Back to Zero'

After Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said at the United Nations that a Palestinian ‘Unity Government’ to be forged between Hamas and Fatah would recognize both Israel and existing agreements between the Jewish state and the PLO, Hamas was quick to correct Abbas and declared that it absolutely would not recognize Israel. This embarrassment has caused Mahmoud Abbas to declare that any prospect of a ‘Unity Government’ was “back to zero.”

But Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Saturday that any such ‘Unity Government’ is unnecessary to begin peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. He asserted that it is not a matter of government organization or formation, but rather simply the recognition of the state of Israel by the terrorist group Hamas. Said Peretz, “What difference does it make what the government is called? If Hamas were to recognize Israel’s right to exist, I would recommend direct talks with Hamas.”

This precondition appears untenable as Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh declared bluntly Friday that he would not serve at the head of any government that recognizes Israel. Haniyeh declared at mosque services, “The government and the Hamas movement will be against recognizing Israel. Our position to solve the crisis is a 10-year truce which will be good for stability and prosperity.” The call for a 10-year truce (hudna) dates back to the day Hamas claimed their electoral victory as the majority within the Palestinian parliament.

Elsewhere, Israel has allowed the opening of the Rafah crossing on the Gaza border with Egypt ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. How long it will remain open is unclear and appears to be a day-to-day decision.

While the Rafah crossing was opened to the transit of people and goods, the Israeli Air Force carried out a double airstrike on a Gaza home along the Egyptian border. The home was owned by a suspected weapons dealer, which was used as an entry/exit point for tunnels into Egypt dug beneath the border.

Catholic churches continue to be attacked in both the West Bank and Gaza, as attacks with assault rifles, small pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails are becoming commonplace. In Nablus, Palestinian police who stood guard outside a Roman Catholic church fended off one attack, as heavy machinegun fire was reported after midnight.

Elsewhere along the Gaza and West Bank borders with Israel, the IDF has closed all crossings since Friday after unspecified intelligence of terrorist threats during the Jewish Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) holiday. The Israeli border closures are expected to last until the end of Sunday.

September 22, 2006

Ahmadinejad Proclaims ‘No Need’ For Nukes

While the UN General Assembly continued at the UN with a third day of speeches from various world leaders, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continued his bellicose string of appearances in New York at a UN press conference and a speaking engagement by invitation at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

At the UN press conference, Ahmadinejad offered the notion that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons if for no other reason than Iran does not need such an outdated weapon. He told reporters, “The bottom line is, we don’t need a bomb. Unlike what others think. Regretfully, some believe that the nuclear bomb can be effective in international relations. They’re wrong, because the time for nuclear bombs has ended.” Having stated often that archenemy Israel should be “wiped off the map,” the Iranian president did not offer to explain why Israel’s presumed possession of nuclear weapons is therefore a constant cause for Iranian concern. Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons has been used by others – including openly by some in Iran - as justification for Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Ahmadinejad’s claim yesterday was quickly followed up today by a statement from Iranian First (of 10) Vice President Parziv Davoudi that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameini, has stated that Iran is forbidden from using nuclear weapons. This is not to be confused as a new declaration or fatwa from the mullah leader. Khameini issued the declaration some time ago.

mesbahyazdi.gifHowever, Khameini’s fatwa was contradicted by a fatwa from the extremely radical Hojjetiah sect leader - and Ahmadinejad mentor - Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, whom the UK’s Telegraph called “a hardliner to terrify hardliners.” In February 2006, shortly after Ahmadinejad’s election as president, Ayatollah Yazdi pronounced that it is “only natural” for Iran to have nuclear weapons as a “countermeasure” against its enemies who possess them (Israel and the United States). A spokesman for Ayatollah Yazdi, Mohsen Gharavian, elaborated at the time that “for the first time that the use of nuclear weapons may not constitute a problem, according to Sharia. When the entire world is armed with nuclear weapons, it is permissible to use these weapons as a counter-measure. According to Sharia too, only the goal is important.”

The secretive Hojjetiah sect in Iran has seen a manifold increase in its power and influence since Ahmadinejad’s election, including a purge of the Iranian diplomatic corps and the insertion of current and former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leaders into leadership posts throughout government. It was this IRGC which founded and currently provides operational and material support for Lebanon’s Hizballah terrorist organization.

Anbar Sunnis Turn on al-Qaeda

Twenty-five Sunni tribes in Iraq’s western Anbar Province say that they have sealed an agreement to unite against al-Qaeda because of the foreign terrorist group’s indiscriminate killing of innocent Iraqis. This is actually the formalization of a process which has been ongoing for more than a year, as native Sunni Iraqis who opposed the presence of U.S. troops came to view foreign jihadists not as the allies they claimed to be, but as enemies of the Iraqi people. The Sunni and Shi’a factions which had once found common cause have now entirely turned on each other. This has coincided with progress in the reconciliation process, although Iraqi troops, now in the lead in the north central provinces of Iraq, face major challenges as terrorist attacks in Kirkuk and Tel Afar challenged their authority.

As reported in the New York Times:

More than two-dozen tribes from Iraq’s volatile Sunni Arab-dominated province west of Baghdad have agreed to join forces and fight Al Qaeda insurgents and other foreign-backed “terrorists,” an influential tribal leader said today. Twenty-five of about 31 tribes in Anbar Province, a vast, mostly desert region that stretches westward from Baghdad to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have agreed to fight together against insurgents and gangs that are “killing people for no reason,” said the tribal leader, Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh Al-Rishawi.

“We held a meeting earlier and agreed to fight those who call themselves mujahedeen,” Mr. Rishawi said in an interview today. “We believe that there is a conspiracy against our Iraqi people. Those terrorists claimed that they are fighters working on liberating Iraq, but they turned out to be killers. Now all the people are fed up and have turned against them.”

This marks the end of a broad anti-American coalition which came together in the two years following the fall of the Baathist regime in April 2003, but began to show increasing signs of strain in the latter part of 2005. This coalition was destined to come apart, as its four constituent elements had mutually exclusive goals - the foreign jihadists, led by al-Qaeda, sought to establish a globally-focused caliphate based in Baghdad which excluded the Shi’a; Sunni Islamist Iraqis sought an Islamic state under their control; secularist Baathist Iraqis sought the reestablishment of the regime of Saddam Hussein; and the Shi’a militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Mahdi Army, sought a Shi’a-led Islamic state in Iraq. This was never a real alliance, as they had little in common except hatred of the U.S. While Sadr made inroads with Sunni insurgents during 2005, attacks on Sunni civilians by his militia soured relations. At the same time, complaints by Sunni Iraqis against al-Qaeda have been heard for months, but this is the first time that a formal agreement to fight al-Qaeda has been reached by Sunni tribes. (See our August 5 report, which discusses both issues.)

This splintering of the insurgency has fed directly into increased support for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s reconciliation and amnesty plan, based on a series of conferences and working groups in which Sunni and Shi’a religious, tribal and community leaders meet to discuss issues. On July 17, the Iraqi newspaper Al-Sabah reported that a tribal conference in Karbala resulted in “more than 300” tribal leaders signing a document foreswearing the shedding of Iraqi blood, and committing themselves to the peaceful resolution of conflict. A separate agreement between the Shi’a and Sunni Waqf administrations was reported by the Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn on September 14, committing themselves to doing everything possible to keep the holy month of Ramadan safe for all Iraqis. The same article noted an agreement involving 20 Sunni insurgent factions which committed to a variety of points, including a prohibition on shedding Iraqi blood, a prohibition on attacking Iraqi infrastructure, and a commitment to help rebuild infrastructure in Sunni areas.

One ongoing issue of contention has been the continued call by many Sunnis for the release of Saddam Hussein. Not only is there no chance that the government will agree to this, but the mere fact that many tribal leaders keep repeating the demand undermines the credibility of their claims that they want to stop fighting. In the words of the Shi’a Karbala News Agency, “Analysts view the demand from Sunni tribes of releasing the dictator Saddam as making clear that they are behind all that which takes place in terms of destruction and the killing of innocents among Iraqis, and that they seek to undermine the democratic process and return to the rule of the minority over the majority…” Not all Sunni Arabs demand Saddam’s release, as recently reported in Al-Hayat (“Tribes Reject Call for the Release of Saddam”). The article notes a widely reported call for Saddam’s release by Shaikh Wasfi al-Asi of the large Abid tribe, but reports that other Sunni Arab tribal leaders differ. It quotes Shaikh Abd al-Ali al-Attiya, a tribal leader in Kirkuk, as saying that “we were surprised… we would like for tribal leaders to look again at the issue of the arrest of Saddam and his release. For Iraqis live in a difficult time and they seek to move beyond the images of the former regime and its dreams.”

As we discussed in a recent report (“ISF Steps Up in Sunni Arab North”), U.S. troop levels in north central Iraq have declined and Iraqi troops have largely although not entirely taken over responsibility for security. Yet the government’s opponents are determined not to allow this to happen peaceably. On Sunday, a series of terrorist attacks in Kirkuk targeting Iraqi police killed 26 and wounded 85. One of the bombs hit a police headqaurters, and two others targeted patrols (Reuters, Washington Post). There was also a major terrorist attack in Tel Afar, in the Ninawa Province in northwest Iraq, which killed 20 and wounded 17 (Washington Post). Ninawa is a mixed Sunni Arab/Kurdish province in which has seen both major insurgent activity and coalition operations.

September 21, 2006

IDF Not Ready For Weekend Pullout

While it was originally reported that Israel would pull its last forces out of Lebanon by the weekend, the coordination between the IDF and the international forces in place has hit a snag, causing a delay. The IDF’s General Dan Halutz had said Tuesday, “If all goes without a hitch, to the satisfaction of all sides, the working assumption is the IDF will leave all the areas it controls by the Jewish New Year holiday. If not, it would be delayed another week.” Enter the hitch as the Seattle Times reports that “final details remained to be worked out” between the IDF and the UN-sanctioned international force now at 5,000 troops.

But perhaps there is another cause, as Hizballah has planned a ‘Victory rally’ Friday in Beirut. Breitbart notes that “Villagers gathered in the southern port town of Tyre for a 80-kilometre (50-mile) march to Beirut donned the yellow T-shirts of Hezbollah and caps marked ‘Nasrallah, we respond to your call.’” Whether or not Hassan Nasrallah will make his first public appearance since the July 12 abduction of two IDF soldiers remains unclear.

Meanwhile, eight German navy vessels have set sail to join the international forces in Lebanon. This deployment is the largest naval deployment by Germany since World War II.

Even with both Israeli and international troops present, Hizballah still enjoys unbridled support from state sponsors Iran and Syria. Responding to President Bush’s statement condemning Iranian support for terrorism - including its creation of Hizballah in Lebanon - and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad said to CNN, “This is not the kind of language you speak talking with a great nation. It is an insult to a great nation.” Ahmadinejad did not reference Hugo Chavez’s much-criticized tirade at the UN in support of Iran regarding “the kind of language you speak.”

As for Syria, ruler Bashar Assad said that war with Israel is a possibility because Israel is “looking for a way out of the crisis it is in through a new [military] operation,” offering further that Israel would use Syrian aid to Iran as a justification. Assad concluded that “Syria will resist, stand strong and never give in.” Syria’s hollow military forces, however, are said to likely buckle with much alacrity as Syria sinks into insurgency with any outbreak of war with Israel. An insurgency would be the immediate end to the days of the Assads’ rule.

To Israel’s south, Hamas praised a statement by the Quartet which supported the formation of a unity government in the Palestinian Territories. Arutz Sheva quotes Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri as saying, “The decision by the Quartet… is a progressive position, and we hope that this position will contribute to stopping all forms of political and economic siege.” The same article also quotes Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Haniyeh as calling it a sign of “political flexibility and understanding.”

Yet, the primary source of disagreement between the Fatah and Hamas elected factions is Hamas’ own inflexibility and refusal to recognize pre-existing agreements with Israel, let alone recognizing Israel as a state at all. Through the negotiations in the Palestinian Territories and elsewhere, Hamas’ founding charter remains unaltered, still calling openly for the destruction of Israel.

September 19, 2006

EU, IAEA: Reset Iran’s Nuclear Stopwatch

As the UN General Assembly gets under way this week, new signs of the successful Iranian separation of European allies from the United States regarding the Iranian nuclear crisis are clear, as cracks in any unity are exploited to their fullest. Not unexpectedly, IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei voiced strong support for the European hints at scrapping the UN Security Council resolution and its calls for sanctions. Iran refused to abide by the UNSC demands of ceasing enrichment operations by August 31, a deadline that has passed without action or consequence.

Once again frustrating those who believe Iran is conducting nuclear research in pursuit of nuclear weapons, IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei has called for a return to square one with Iran, stating that negotiation with Iran is ‘long overdue’. Seemingly dismissing Iranian intransigence since the IAEA became directly involved in the investigation into the Iranian nuclear program, ElBaradei expressed hope that “conditions will be created to engage in a long overdue negotiation that aims to achieve a comprehensive settlement” between “Iran and its European and other partners.” Talks between Iran and various representatives of ‘its European’ partners have occurred at various times since the IAEA began to develop its current Iranian dossier in 2003.

French President Jacques Chirac suggested that there be no sanctions on Iran, regardless of the UN Security Council resolution that included French support. Seemingly handing Iran a chronological victory, Chirac suggested that the Security Council resolution be scrapped and both sides return to square one. Said Chirac, “We must, on the one hand, together, Iran and the six countries, meet and set an agenda for negotiations then start negotiations. Then, during these negotiations I suggest that the six renounce seizing the UN Security Council and Iran renounces uranium enrichment.” Precisely what Mr. Chirac meant by ‘seizing’ the UN Security Council remains open to vague interpretation, but what is clear is yet another example of European distancing from America at the hands of Iran’s wedge formation.

Seemingly remiss to acknowledge the broad shift away from the UNSC resolution, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she believes Russia and China will support sanctions on Iran, as called for by the resolution. Said Secretary Rice, “We had a deal, and the deal was the following, and Iran understood that: If Iran was prepared to suspend its uranium enrichment and negotiate we were prepared to go down that road. And the United States prepared to go to the table for the first time in more than two decades. If Iran did not, then the Security Council would have to act.” But there are no indications that anyone in the Security Council intends to move forward with sanctions except for the United States. Russia and China remain opposed to sanctions, having yet to assert their implementation.

While acknowledging that she hopes the sporadic Iranian talks with the EU’s Javier Solana will end with an Iranian agreement to halt its enrichment program, she noted that the Security Council resolution remains in place and that both the UN and the Security Council faces a ‘credibility issue’ if sanctions are not sought against Iran as a consequence for thumbing their nose at the UNSC demands.

As his date on the world stage at the UN General Assembly approaches, Iranian President Ahmadinejad declared that he and Iran have ‘clear ideas’ for better management of global affairs, criticizing the UN for not taking action with affairs other than Iran’s nuclear crisis. Said Ahmadinejad, the “Iran (nuclear) issue is not that important as to deserve so much hype.”

It is, however, important enough for Iran to re-assign its Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs, Alireza Sheikh-Attar, to become the Iranian ambassador to Brussels, the home of the European Union’s headquarters and leadership which appears eager to return to square one with Iran, turning back the Iranian nuclear stopwatch three years.

Federalism Delayed Amid Sunni, Sadrist Opposition

Iraq’s most contentious domestic political issue, a controversial plan to create an autonomous region for the Shi’a in the south and for Baghdad similar to that currently in existence in the Kurdish north, came to head this past week, and was then postponed. Yet the course of the debate put the spotlight on divisions within the ruling United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) as well as more well-known divisions between the Shi’a and the Kurds, who support autonomy, and the Sunnis, who do not. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki also visited Iran, where he discussed closing the Iraq-Iran border, implementing previously-signed commercial agreements, discussed new ones, and attempted to mediate the conflict between Iran and the United States. There were further indications that the contentious issue of the design of the Iraqi flag, which divides Arabs from Kurds, might be resolved soon.

The tenor of political discussion in Iraq currently was shown in an article published in Al-Hayat Sunday, Mosque Sermons Focus on Federalism and Prosecuting Saddam. The article notes that the three most prominent issues discussed in Shi’a mosques were the federalism issue, the prime minister’s visit to Iran, and the importance of bringing Saddam Hussein to justice for his crimes against the Iraqi people. It specifically notes that Shaikh Sadr al-Din al-Qubanji emphasized the importance of Maliki’s Iran visit and the role that Iraq could play in mediating between Iran and the United States. The article states that “at the same time Sunni mosques focused on attacking statements made by the Pope, considering them hostile to Islam and to Muslims.”

Certainly the most contentious and complex political issue now is the provincial autonomy or federalism plan which was included in the constitution approved last year and which is primarily sponsored by the most powerful Shi’a faction, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), along with the Kurdish factions. Because the bulk of Iraq’s oil wealth is in the south and north-central parts of the country, Sunnis fear that the Shi’a and Kurds will use autonomous provinces to dominate the oil industry and leave them behind (for other English sources, see the Washington Post and Reuters).

According to Arab media reports (Al-Rafidayn, Al-Hayat), the three Sunni parties - the Iraqi Accord, headed by Adnan Dulaimi, the Iraqi National List, headed by Iyad Allawi, and the National Dialogue Party, headed by Salih Mutlak - all opposed the bill strongly. Both Dulaimi and Mutlak threatened to pull their parties from parliament if it were passed in its original form, which granted wide powers to the proposed autonomous regions. Al-Rafidayn notes that on September 10 the parliament decided to send the bill back to committee, to be discussed again in the middle of this week.

Interestingly, Al-Hayat reports that the opposing parties have sought a legal remedy, and have asked the Iraqi Supreme Court to declare that article 142 of the constitution, which bears on the amendment to the constitution, be interpreted to require that amendments be considered before other constitutional matters, including Article 118, which stipulates that the parliament shall set for the procedures to govern the formation of federal regions. The argument of precedence is based on the fact that 142 has a shorter time for completion than 118 ([PDF] full text of the Iraqi constitution in English). Moreover, the Accord Front, which is the strongest Sunni party, suggested that it might accept federalism if sufficient amendments were made to the bill regarding the powers of the regions, and the Kurdish Coalition indicated that it was willing to agree to Sunni demands that constitutional reforms precede final voting on the autonomy issue, while nevertheless noting that approval of their autonomy was a “red line” for the Kurds. The leadership of the UIA, meanwhile, stressed that the creation of the federal regions was a constitutional obligation, but that they did not wish to paralyze parliament and agreed to the postponement.

Separately, Al-Hayat reported that the Sadrist faction came out strongly against federalism while the smaller Fadhila, which has often aligned itself with the Sadriya, opposed implementation of autonomy now while its leader Karim al-Ya’qubi voiced support for it in principle, saying that the timing was bad, but that federalism was a constitutional right. The article quoted Dawa leader Haydar al-Abadi as saying that while the party supported federalism but had “reservations” about the bill, saying that he hoped they would be addressed as amendments were discussed.

This means that the idea of a federated Iraq has wide but qualified support. The Kurdish factions have slightly more than 20 percent of the seats, and SCIRI and Shi’a independents aligned with them have about the same, so 40-45 percent of the parliament is ardently pro-federalism. Another 13 percent of seats are held by the Dawa factions and Fadhila, which support federalism in principle but with reservations about the timing and manner of SCIRI’s current proposal. The Sadrists and the Sunnis are strongly opposed, and they make up only a third of all seats. (The UIA has four main factions, SCIRI, Dawa, Sadr and Fadhila. The remainder of the seats not accounted for here are held by small parties not prominently featured in the federalism debate.) Even some of the Sunnis, as noted, would accept federalism if sufficient conditions are attached.

The article in the Post quotes a Sadr representative, Riyadh Nuri, as saying that they were opposed to the federalism plan on principle because it would divide Iraq, and this despite the fact that “the Sadr movement enjoys wide support of the majority of the people in the center and the south.” The claim of principled opposition is constantly repeated in Iraqi debates, but the claim of majority support is not made to Arab newspapers because it is manifestly not true. While support for Sadr grew in the last elections, his faction received 22 percent of the UIA seats, or about nine percent of the entire country. The Sadriya, like Fadhila, is stronger in Basra than elsewhere in the south. We discussed the threat of the federalism plan to the Sadrists in our August 11 report, Maliki Declares Federal Control in Basra (see last two paragraphs).

The other major political topic in Iraq last week was Prime Minister Maliki’s trip to Iran, a follow-up to a recent tour of Persian Gulf Arab states and his first while in office. The trip may be of some personal significance for Maliki as well, since he himself took refuge in Iran during the Saddam era. According to an article published last Wednesday in Al-Hayat, Maliki stressed the importance of respecting Iraqi sovereignty and sealing the Iraq-Iran border. The article also quoted al-Abadi - a member of Maliki’s party - as saying that “Iraq is insistent in emphasizing to Iran that it will not wage war for any party, and that Iraq would not allow its territory to be the battleground between any regional or European country and Iran.” This seemed a way of saying that Iraq would not aid in any U.S.-led war on Iran, and that Iraq expected Iran to stay out of Iraq militarily as well.

Maliki also worked on effectuating agreements that the provinces of Basra, Amara and Najaf as well as the Kurdish regions had previously signed with the Iranian government for the provision of electricity. An article published in Al-Rafidayn emphasized that Maliki intended to press the Iranians on staying out of Iraqi affairs, and quoted a spokesman for the prime minister as saying that mediating between the U.S. and Iran was important because “we pay for the fruits of this situation in Iraq.”

The Sadrists also brought to the floor last week a vote to demand a fixed timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and obtained 104 votes for the measure (out of 275 total). They were joined by the same three Sunni factions which opposed the Shi’a federalism plan (this taken from the Al-Hayat article, “Maliki in Tehran to Execute Signed Agreements”). While Sunni factions, from the beginning opposed to the U.S. military presence, have become more willing to live with U.S. troops until they can protect themselves, they are still demanding some kind of timetable for withdrawal. The Sadrists demand an immediate withdrawal, but would not put such a motion up for vote as it would have been defeated by a much larger majority.

Some recent media reports have suggested that the Speaker of the Parliament Mahmud al-Mashadani, a Sunni Arab, might resign or perhaps be removed from his post for making positive statements about the Sunni Arab insurgent groups fighting the government. For now he has remained and there is no indication of his imminent departure. Last week Al-Rafidayn wrote a letter to Kurdish Provincial Leader Masud Barzani that the parliament would be discussing the Kurdish demand that the government change the Iraqi national flag “as soon as possible” so that it represents all the people of Iraq, recognizing “sincere feelings” expressed by various Iraqis on the issue. We dealt with this issue in our September 8 report, noting that the Kurdish leader ordered Iraqi flags lowered in Kurdish-administered areas to protest the fact that the flag of democratic Iraq still resembled the Baathist flag created by Saddam Hussein in 1991.

September 18, 2006

Somalia's First Suicide Bomb Misses President

President Abdullahi Yusuf survived an assassination attempt as Somalia’s first suicide bomb attack saw a bomb-laden car drive into Yusuf’s motorcade as he left the Somali parliament. Yusuf’s Somali government is official but powerless and its existence limited to the city of Baidoa, about 150 miles northwest of Mogadishu. The Islamic Courts Union, an al-Qaeda partner, controls virtually the rest of Somalia.

While President Yusuf survived, reportedly without injury, his brother was among the 5 killed by the blast. Yusuf’s security forces pursued the attackers, killing six of them and arresting two, who can be expected to undergo intense interrogations.

The ICU denied any involvement in the assassination attempt. But Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and the ICU remain the one enemy the Somali government has at the moment, making those denials dubious at best.

That this is the first suicide bombing in Somalia is noteworthy and an indication of an al-Qaeda operation. Somalia has no history whatever of suicide bombings and, even in Afghanistan, locals are very rarely used in al-Qaeda suicide attacks. If this was an al-Qaeda attack as appears, the bomber was most likely a foreign terrorist.

This attack follows the terror attack that left a Catholic nun serving the sick in Somalia murdered. It is believed by eyewitnesses that the killing of the nun was in retaliation for the words spoken by Pope Benedict over the weekend. Having lived and charitably served the sick in Kenya and Somalia for 38 years, Sister Leonella’s last words were “I forgive, I forgive,” according to a priest at the scene, Rev. Maloba Wesonga. She was noted as saying once that there was “a bullet with [her] name on it in Somalia.”

The ICU claimed to have arrested the gunmen and vowed to punish Sister Leonella’s killers.

NAM Declaration Echoes Iranian Positions

In Havana, Cuba, the declaration released by the Non-Aligned Movement of 118 nations declared their support for Iran in its rift with the United States and Europe over its nuclear program. The influence of Iran in the NAM declaration can be seen as it calls for immediate negotiations “without preconditions,” a phrase Iran has used for months in their effort to negotiate without ceasing enrichment first.

The American position has maintained that negotiations cannot take place unless Iran halts their enrichment program. The UN Security Council resolution demanded such a halt by August 31. Nearly three weeks have passed since that date without consequence, confirming for many the diminished meaning and value of Security Council resolutions.

The NAM declaration also condemned the Israeli campaign against Hizballah in Lebanon and condemned terrorism, but left open a caveat: “…with exceptions for movements for self-determination and battles against foreign occupiers.” This implies the tacit acceptance of terrorism in Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and, for the moment, Lebanon. Each of these theaters has been tied to Iranian arms, financial support, training and/or Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps operators.

Following the NAM conference in Havana, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flew to Venezuela as the guest of staunch supporter Hugo Chavez, where the Iranian president praised him for his continued support for Iran and defiance of the United States. Chavez’s Venezuela is wrangling intensely for seat on UN Security Council, where it can best support its Iranian ally with a stint as one of the 10 non-permanent members. American UN Ambassador John Bolton is vehemently opposed to Venezuela’s membership, especially while Iran’s nuclear docket is being considered, preferring pro-American Guatemala.

Iran also seeks to solidify its position with the permanent members of the Security Council who have lent the Islamic Republic assistance and support in the past. Iran has announced another oil and gas field development agreement with China in the Khuzestan Province in southwestern Iran. For American ally Japan, a 17-day deadline to reach an agreement was meted out by the Iranians for a separate oil field development plan within the same province. Though the fields are separate, the announcement of the Chinese deal the day after the Japanese deadline had passed was a psychological bonus handed to the Chinese over their Japanese adversaries.

This action exemplifies what we called the Iranian Wedge Formation as it continues to attempt to exploit cracks in the unity among America and her allies. At the same time, Iran is rewarding - as it can - those nations generally opposed to American policy, especially those who wield veto power at the UN Security Council, such as China and Russia.

Abbas Calls Off Talks As Hamas Balks

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called off talks with Hamas regarding the formation of a unity government in the Palestinian Territories. The rift is reportedly due to Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel or existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority reached before Hamas won the majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament in January. Said Fatah MP Saeb Erekat, “What’s the point of forming a government if this government is saying that it won’t recognize agreements signed with Israel? The whole point is to break the deadlock in the peace process and bring an end to the siege.”

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh seemed to confirm this as the cause when he said, “If we were to always bend to the will of America, we would absolutely never have a state, an existence or honor.” A spokesman for President Abbas remarked that “Hamas has undermined” Abbas’ efforts to persuade the United States and Europe to accept the potential unity government in hopes of restoring the flow of aid money that the Palestinian Authority has relied upon to exist, govern and pay employees.

Perhaps another underlying cause for the sudden cancellation of the unity government plans was an attack that left five members of Abbas’ intelligence corps dead just one day earlier. Unknown assailants in the drive-by shooting killed the Fatah members, including a general and four of his subordinates.

Yet, Hamas political spokesman Ghazi Hamad denied the unity government talks were called off, saying that they were only delayed because Abbas was out of the country, visiting Washington and attending the upcoming conference at the United Nations. He elaborated some by adding, “In general, things are going smoothly and well. We have not reached a dead end.”

With Abbas’ trip planned long in advance, any delay or interruption in the Hamas-Fatah negotiations would likely have been announced beforehand. Haniyeh’s comment and the attack Sunday seem to suggest the nature of the disagreement.

The Palestinian effort to see American and European aid money return is not helped when Palestinians attack and burn churches in both the West Bank and Gaza or Qassam rockets continue to be fired from Gaza into Israel. Thursday saw two more rockets fired into Israel and on Sunday five churches were fired upon and fire bombed in a response to Pope Benedict’s recent speech.

September 17, 2006

ISF Steps Up in Sunni Arab North

As Operation Forward Together continues in the Baghdad area and the relatively peaceful south faces turbulence from Shi’a militia activity, the Sunni-dominated areas in the north-central part of the country - Salah al-Din, al-Ta’mim, and Diyala - are improving, with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) now largely in the lead. The large western Anbar Province, by contrast, appears to have given way to a stalemate, as U.S. and Iraqi forces have succeeded only in preventing al-Qaeda in Iraq from establishing a stable base without being able to clear insurgent activity sufficient to rebuild. While political and economic structures in the former three areas are in place, albeit in need of development, such structures have been almost entirely destroyed in the Anbar. Significant change in the Anbar will likely await success in Baghdad, as the capital with its overwhelming importance to the government’s success is now the focus of U.S. security operations.

The decline in U.S. troop presence in the Arab Sunni north and the parallel rise in Iraqi security responsibility was detailed in a September 13 press briefing given by Maj. Gen. William Caldwell:

…In multidivision area north, we observed Iraqi security forces assuming the lead over the past 12 months. As we have always said, as the Iraqi security forces stand up, the coalition forces will stand down. And this is evident in the fact that coalition forces in multidivision north area have been reduced from approximately 31,000 down to 21,000. And along with that, we saw a reduction in the number of operating bases from 35 operating bases down to 11 operating bases. Also in November of 2005 there was only one Iraqi battalion in the lead in that same area. Today there are now two Iraqi division headquarters in the lead, eight Iraqi brigades in the lead, and 35 Iraqi battalions in the lead.

There is a clear sign of progress by the Iraqi security forces. As we yesterday observed the transfer authority from the 101st Air Assault Division to the newly arrived 25th Infantry Division, this transfer of authority highlighted the increased capabilities that the Iraqi security forces have assumed in the northern area…

The decrease in U.S. troop levels in the north and west is in part mirrored by increased ISF responsibility. On September 2, the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Iraqi Army Division became the “third and final” battalion to take over security in the mid-sized northern city of Tel Afar (MNF-I). Probably the clearest indication of the trend in the north is the fact that the 4th Iraqi Army Division has taken over the operational lead in the “Sunni triangle” cities of Tikrit, Kirkuk and Samarra. This transfer of operational command involves the 4th Iraqi Army Division, and this follows the transfer of the 8th Iraqi Army Division (discussed in a September 6 press briefing linked in our September 8 report). Recent operations of importance in the north and west include a series of operations in Hit, Rawah, Sa’ada and the Haditha Triad.

Leaked elements of a classified intelligence report described in media reports, including a September 12 article in the Washington Post, as well as a follow-up article on September 16 relying in part on comments from Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, describe the situation as essentially that of a military stalemate. Reportedly 30 percent of all attacks in Iraq from May to August took place there (the latter source notes that attacks in Baghdad, while far deadlier, were a slightly lower percentage, meaning that close to 60 percent of all attacks were in two provinces). The point made of strategic significance is that Baghdad is considered to be the area of more important operations. MNF-I issued a statement noting that there had been measurable progress in the functioning of Iraqi forces in the Anbar in recent months, while acknowledging that the rebuilding of economic and governmental institutions lies in the future. We also discussed the slow but measurable progress in Ramadi in our July 21 report.

Looking at the big picture, the two most problematic areas in Iraq are Baghdad and the Anbar. Any strategy for security would have been a choice between a focus on one or the other, as a simultaneous approach would have either required significantly more U.S. troops, which has not be considered acceptable at a policy level, or waiting for sufficient Iraqi divisions to be capable of independent operations, which is unlikely for several months, an unacceptable wait considering civilian deaths in Baghdad.

A detailed look at what is required was contained in a highly informative May 29 article in the Weekly Standard by Frederick W. Kagan, A Plan for Victory in Iraq, which argued for a focus on in north and west. While the article has much to recommend it, subsequent events have militated in favor of a focus on Baghdad. Insurgent attacks in the Anbar have remained high, but have not resulted in civilian casualties even remotely close to those in Baghdad. With Iraqi forces seeming capable of keeping security in the north but not in Baghdad, a shift of focus to the latter has seemed a logical choice. Kagan’s article nevertheless provides a useful roadmap to likely security operations in the Sunni areas once the time comes.

September 16, 2006

Pakistan Returns 2,500 Terrorists To Jihad

In what could be the most troubling development in the War on Terror since it began, Pakistan has released nearly all of the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists it has had in custody since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Since the invasion, Pakistan has taken into custody thousands of al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban fighters. But with Pakistan’s inability to defeat or control the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance on the Pakistani side of the Afghanistan border, Musharraf has ceded land, arms and now all terrorists held prisoner.

The Telegraph cites Pakistani lawyers who claim that the Pakistani government has “freed 2,500 foreigners who were originally held on suspicion of having links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban over the past four years.” This number includes virtually all al-Qaeda prisoners in Pakistan’s custody, including those held for the beheading of Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl.

These terrorists can now be considered on the road to return to carrying out their terrorist duties, with destinations not only in Pakistan, but around the world. Of the interviewed, one is headed to Bangladesh and the other to Algeria.

Just who is facilitating their travel is of particular note: al-Khidmat Foundation.

While the al-Khidmat Foundation is described as a “welfare organisation run by the hard-line Islamist party Jamaat-i-Islami,” it is far from that. It is the Maktab al-Khidmat, the group founded in 1980 by Usama bin Laden’s mentor and ideological inspiration, Abdullah Azzam. Its primary purpose was then and is now to serve as “a support organization for Arab volunteers for the jihad in Afghanistan” and elsewhere today. Usama bin Laden financed this group from its inception. It is from this group that al-Qaeda sprang to life in 1989.

To separate the ‘al-Khidmat Foundation’ from al-Qaeda today is to separate the Department of Transportation from the United States Federal Government. This is who the Pakistani government released the terrorists to under the guise of a charity foundation.

While NATO commanders warn of a forming new Taliban sanctuary in Afghanistan’s Farah Province along the Iran border, an already-created Taliban sanctuary exists – officially – in Pakistan along Afghanistan’s southern border.

Seeking a way out of the bloody mess in the Waziristan provinces, Pakistan ceded North Waziristan to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance to add to South Waziristan. Talks are ongoing for the same treatment throughout the North West Frontier Province to achieve an expansion of the forming Taliban-al-Qaeda empire, creeping persistently closer to Islamabad. But Musharraf granted far more than just land.

But, as Pakistan cedes more and more, the Taliban are failing to honor their end of the agreement on a regular basis, an agreement which contained their promise to cease kidnappings and targeted killings, particularly of Pakistani government officials.

It was indeed previously mentioned that Pakistan was releasing Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists as part of the North Waziristan deal, but no one expected a wholesale release of nearly all imprisoned since as long ago as 2001.

At the behest of Pervez Musharraf, over 2,500 jihadis have stepped foot once again on the road to jihad. This is a potentially devastating development when considered within the context of recent Pakistani ‘terms of defeat.’

This is a nuclear power that is currently ceding swaths of its own territory to Islamic terrorists with a global reach. Seemingly in an effort to seek personal peace, its secular leader is returning thousands of able, experienced and trained terrorists to the hands of an encroaching enemy with violent religious motivation. Yet the bulk of Pakistan’s professional army stands watch over the Indian border or waging an intense and bloody war for control of Baluchistan’s natural resources. al-Qaeda seeks to control something else.

The consequences are grim and the outlook is not good.

September 14, 2006

Hamas-Fatah Unity Gov't Deal Reached

Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, has reached an agreement with the terrorist organization Hamas to form a new unity government. Since the installment of Hamas in the leadership of the PA in March, the refusal of the United States and the European Union to continue providing aid has brought the Palestinian government to a standstill, as public employees have gone on strike to protest not being paid. This new Hamas-Fatah unity government, in which Hamas would be the dominant partner, is intended to ease international pressure, although only the EU and not the U.S. appears willing to resume aid. Hamas leaders have made statements regarding talks with Israel which have been vaguely reassuring to many, but comments made in the Arabic-language press make clear that they are not agreeing to peace talks with Israel or committing to past agreements signed with Israel. Hamas ministers in the government resigned on Wednesday, in preparation for joining the new unity government.

Meanwhile, efforts are ongoing to secure the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, and 18 Hamas lawmakers were ordered freed. The New York Times reported that on Tuesday an Israeli court ruled that Hamas lawmakers could not be held on charges of being members of a terrorist organization because Israel had taken no action to prevent their election, even though they stood openly. On Tuesday, the Jerusalem Post published an article (“Hamas MPs May Be part of Shalit Deal”) by Khaled Abu Toameh and Yaakov Katz which suggested that a deal had been made between Israel and the PA by which the Hamas leaders would be freed once a unity government was announced, that Shalit would then be freed and then afterward about 800 Palestinian prisoners would be released.

This report from the Jerusalem Post, if accurate, would suggest political influence on an ostensibly judicial decision. At the time that this article was published in print, the article had been removed from the paper’s website, including archives. It is not clear whether this is due to retraction, a technical problem or some other reason. [TW Note: The article is apparently back online - as noted by a reader, and has been linked above.]

The U.S. and the EU have insisted that any Palestinian government including Hamas accept three conditions in order for aid to be resume: Hamas must renounce violence, accept previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and recognize Israel’s right to exist. So far Hamas has not accepted any of the three in an unqualified way, although its leaders appear to be engaging in constructive vagueness.

As reported in the New York Times on Tuesday, “Officials said the new government would accept all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, an implicit recognition of a two-state solution. It would call for the negotiation of an independent Palestine outside of Israel’s 1967 borders… on the basis of an Arab League initiative…” The article goes on to say that statements made by a spokesman were “vague” as to recognition of Israel’s right to exist. As reported in the Washington Post the same day,

…Details of the agreement mark the first time Hamas has tacitly endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not explicitly the Jewish state’s right to exist… Palestinian officials said the deal does not require Hamas to explicitly recognize Israel or renounce violence. Instead, Hamas would accept previously signed agreements with Israel and the principles of a 2002 Arab peace initiative that calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

Hamas’s charter calls for the creation of an Islamic state across territory that now includes Israel. Party officials deny that the agreement amounts to a recognition of Israel. “Our program has not changed,” Sami Abu Zouhri, a Hamas spokesman, said on al-Jazeera television…

This is how Al-Hayat reported the issue based on a source in the office of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya:

…High-level sources in the prime minister’s office revealed to Al-Hayat that the program of the unity government would contain two major poles, one granting Abbas and the PLO the right to represent the government in political negotiations with Israel, and the second ‘respect’ by the government of previously-signed agreements between the PLO and Israel but not “commitment” to these agreements… [also noting] that recognition of Israel is not mentioned in the unity government agreement and that it is not acceptable at all for Hamas…

This is how the issue was reported in Al-Quds al-Arabi, in an article headlined “There Will Be No Peace Talks Between the Government and Israel”: “Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya put a lid on any hope that the national unity government to which he had agreed would engage in peace negotiations with Israel… And Haniya, who is expected to head the new government, also said that he was not opposed to allowing Abbas to negotiate with Israel as leader of the PLO, but that any agreement would need to be approved by the legislative assembly, in which Hamas has a majority.”

In discussing this issue in the past, Hamas leaders have said that they do not object to “talks” or “negotiations” with Israel, and at the same time rejected “peace talks,” suggesting that this language would only refer to issues such as prisoner exchanges. Likewise “respect” for past agreements but refusal to be obligated by them might be interpreted as being consistent with Hamas’ willingness to engage in temporary cease-fires with Israel without making peace, and while other Palestinian terror groups launch attacks on Israel from Gaza or the West Bank. The language used by Hamas leaders to describe their stance toward Israel has been broadly consistent over the past year.

In terms of the make-up of the new government, Al-Hayat reported that Hamas would have eight ministries and Fatah four, with others being held by independent “technocrats” or members of smaller parties. Some reports, including the second Times article linked above, have suggested that the government might include the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, both terrorist organizations. Al-Quds, however, quoted an Islamic Jihad spokesman as saying that they would not participate, while not commenting on the PFLP. A report earlier Wednesday on IBA News stated that Third Way member Hanan Ashrawi was asked to become foreign minister while its leader, Salam Fayyad, was asked to become finance minister. Fayyad and Ashrawi are the only members of the reformist Third Way Party in parliament. If such a deal were reached, then the two ministries which deal with international actors would be held by West-friendly figures, while those ministries controlling Palestinian society, including the Education Ministry, would be controlled by Hamas.

September 13, 2006

US Embassy Strike Follows al-Qaeda Threat

Syrian forces reacted swiftly to derail a terrorist operation as the US embassy was attacked in Damascus yesterday by four members of al-Qaeda-connected Jund al-Sham (Army of the Levant). Four members of the Syrian terrorist group, armed with small arms and hand grenades, drove two car bombs to the embassy, apparently intent on detonating them outside and then charging through the blast zones with a small arms rampage to kill US embassy occupants.

Three of the four attackers died at the scene as well as one of the Syrian security team. The fourth terrorist later died at a hospital before any interrogation could take place. Only one of the bomb-laden vehicles were detonated and the second, a pick-up truck loaded with pipe bombs and propane tanks, was defused by Syrian authorities.

Jund al-Sham was described by Syrian authorities as the most active terrorist group in Syria, though that label requires clarification. The al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group may be responsible for more attacks in Syria than any other group, but if global activity is considered, it should be acknowledged that the Syrian government does not accept the anti-Assad group’s activities in context with Damascus-based and Syrian-sponsored groups like Hizballah and Hamas. Syria describes them in the manner they do because Jund al-Sham, unlike Hizballah and Hamas, execute attacks against the regime rather than receive their financial, training and arms support.

Jund al-Sham’s members are not necessarily centered in Syria, but rather are spread throughout the region. To this end, they have claimed responsibility for attacks elsewhere in the Middle East, including Lebanon and Qatar.

The Baltimore Sun reports that some terrorism analysts believe Jund al-Sham’s order could have been given as a directive from al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Syria’s quick response is being attributed to the fact that the US embassy exists in thee same Damascus neighborhood as Bashar Assad’s presidential offices as well as other embassy grounds.

While the United States praised the swift Syrian response, saving the lives of officials and employees inside the US embassy, Syria was quick to deflect back at America in a statement released buy Syria’s embassy in the US. The statement read in part, “It is regrettable that U.S. policies in the Middle East have fueled extremism, terrorism and anti-U.S. sentiment. The U.S. should … start looking at the root causes of terrorism and broker a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.” This statement is a curious response, especially considering the fact that the anti-Syrian-regime Jund al-Sham was founded in part as a response to Hafez Assad’s deadly crackdown on Sunni extremists in the Syria in the 1980’s.

The MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base (TKB) describes Jund al-Sham:

Jund al-Sham (Army of the Levant; Soldiers of Greater Syria) is a title claimed by several Sunni Islamic extremist entities, all or none of which may be tied together. Despite variations in their origin and focused area of operations, these elements were founded upon the common goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the greater Syrian region.

The first incarnation of Jund al-Sham occurred in Afghanistan in 1999 when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi led exiled militants and recruits from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine in planning and training for operations to be conducted in the Levant. As Zarqawi’s affiliation with al-Qaeda grew, his Jund al-Sham offered the potential to boost al-Qadea’s relatively weak presence in the Levant region.

With such an al-Qaeda foundation and origin, the attack should be viewed in the context of al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri’s latest released message that called for attacks not in the United States but rather throughout the Persian Gulf Region and Israel instead. Meanwhile, the Asia Times reports that bin Laden is in improved health and on the move, noting that he “recently traveled from the South Waziristan tribal area in Pakistan to somewhere in the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nooristan, or possibly Bajour” in the Pakistani NorthWest Frontier Province.

September 11, 2006

Baghdad Ops Expand to Adhamiya, Mansour

U.S. and Iraqi forces expanded Phase II of Operation Together Forward, which is a neighborhood-by-neighborhood clear-and-hold operation in which buildings are searched, weapons registered and insurgent cells targeted with Iraqi police left to hold afterward. According to MNF-I, through September 2, “Iraqi and Coalition forces cleared more than 45,868 buildings, discovered 26 weapons caches, seized more than 1,066 weapons and detained 75 persons in connection with terrorism or sectarian violence.”

Recent expansions of the U.S.-Iraqi sweep of Baghdad neighborhoods expanded most recently to Mansour and Adhamiya. Soldiers from the 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, which is based in Baghdad’s International Zone, have expanded into Mansour, and are focused on search operations. Meanwhile, the 172nd Stryker Brigade has been doing patrols in Adhamiya with Iraqi police. Adhamiya is a heavily agricultural area which has seen a lot of violence in recent months.

The most severe successful terrorist attack recently was the August 31 attack on a residential complex in a Shi’a area of Baghdad that killed 72 and injured 236 (Washington Post). It was a sophisticated operation in which terrorists rented apartments and then planted bombs in them in order to bring them down, flattening a multi-story apartment building. Five minutes later there was a bombing at a primary school and fire station nearby.

The Post article also mentions a clash between U.S.-Iraqi forces and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army which has been capturing and executing Sunni insurgents and at times targeting Sunni noncombatants. The article reports that coalition forces initiated the clash by raiding the east Baghdad offices of the Mahdi Army in the Kamaliya, Obaydi, and Fedaliya areas. Dozens of Mahdi Army fighters were killed and about 50 local leaders and members arrested. The article also notes some Iraqi army casualties but none American in this context. The Post relies entirely on information provided by the Sadrists and the Iraqi Interior Ministry, the latter speaking on condition of anonymity, noting that U.S. military officials declined to comment.

The most important recent operation was that leading to the capture of Hamed Jumaa Faris Juri al-Sa’idi, and a series of operations against cell leaders based on information gleaned in his interrogation (Washington Post). Sa’idi is believed by some to be the number two man in al-Qaeda in Iraq, and while that is not certain, it seems clear that he was at minimum a senior leader with knowledge of and supervisory authority over cells executing terrorist attacks (this issue further discussed by the Fourth Rail). Perhaps of greatest importance, Sa’idi supervised the suicide bombing on a Shi’a shrine in Samarra on February 22 which has been used as a pretext for revenge kills by the Mahdi Army and others.

The degree of progress which Operation Together Forward has made in Baghdad is a matter of dispute. The Washington Post, however, published an article on September 8 which somewhat overstated claims of progress which have been made by U.S. military officials. Titled Body Count in Baghdad Nearly Triples - Morgue’s Revised Toll for August Undermines Claims by Leaders of Steep Drop in Violence, the article reported in part:

Baghdad’s morgue almost tripled its count for violent deaths in Iraq’s capital during August from 550 to 1,536, authorities said Thursday, appearing to erase most of what U.S. generals and Iraqi leaders had touted as evidence of progress in a major security operation to restore order in the capital…

At the end of August, Baghdad’s morgue initially reported receiving 550 bodies during the month. U.S. military and Iraqi government officials hailed what they said was a massive decrease in violence, calling it a sign of the success of Operation Forward Together. The joint U.S.-Iraqi security push had placed at least four of Baghdad’s most violent neighborhoods under cordons and search operations, which were welcomed by many residents as bringing a relief from violence…

By late August, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell was claiming a 46 percent decrease in the murder rate in Baghdad for that month. “We are actually seeing progress,” Caldwell said at the time. A U.S. military Web site on Thursday continued to assert a roughly 50 percent drop in killings in Baghdad…

For the month of July, Iraq’s worst, Reuters reported that the body count was about 2,000, up from 1,595 in June. This makes August about 25 percent less deadly than July and perhaps 2-3 percent less than June. As we noted in our August 29 report, military sources claimed a drop in daily Baghdad attacks from 52 to 31, about a 40 percent decline (the month’s bloodiest attack, discussed above, took place on August 31). A recent military statement put the daily murder rate at a 52 percent decline, but this was based on the estimated daily murder rate from August 7, not the beginning of the month. This makes sense because Phase II did not begin until the second week of August (this is clear from our report, Second Battle of Baghdad Underway). Phase I had only featured sporadic operations against specified terrorists in Baghdad, not systematic operations.

So what we are seeing is a difference between a 25 percent drop and a 40-50 percent drop, not a 75 percent drop. It therefore seems clear that U.S. military commanders were never under the impression that Baghdad experienced a the vast 75 percent improvement suggested by the Post morgue numbers. Nevertheless, the murder rate may have been higher than initially thought.

September 10, 2006

Iran Offers 2-Month Nuke Freeze – Or Not

Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani may have offered a 2-month moratorium on uranium enrichment as a carrot to entice further talks with the European Union’s Javier Solana, according to an unnamed EU diplomat. But, while Iran’s ambassador to the UN’s IAEA, Aliasghar Soltanieh, denied any such offer was put forth, the value (and Iranian purpose) of any 2-month moratorium is already questioned.

Solana and Larijani touted the talks as definite progress. Said Solana, “The meetings … have been productive. We clarified some of the misunderstandings we had before.” Larijani echoed this in saying that “many misunderstandings had been removed.” Which ‘misunderstandings’ remain a mystery – as much a mystery as the content of Iran’s formal response to the European incentives package that these talks center upon.

While Larijani seeks a European ally in Solana, it is possible that such an offer was casually made during the talks between the two, which are face-to-face personal interactions, without the knowledge of Soltanieh and others in the Iranian diplomatic foreign services. But the question at hand, presuming the offer was made, centers around the value of a brief 2-month freeze.

As the same diplomat reporting the offer put it, “We don’t know any details about when it would begin; whether before or after negotiations with Iran. Two months is nothing.” Perhaps the details will surface in the next scheduled meeting between Larijani and Solana, due to occur in five days’ time.

Details are hard to come by in the EU’s dealings with Iran. In fact, very few details have been revealed about Iran’s formal response to the incentives package offered to the Iranian regime. Finding its way into today’s coverage of “progress” in the EU-Iran talks, the International Herald Tribune cites one European diplomat familiar with the 21-page Iranian response and calls it “convoluted,” adding that it “failed to address our real concerns and indeed the content of the incentives.”

That Iran’s ‘formal response’ failed to address the specifics of the incentives it was said to be responding to is indicative of the Iranian approach thus far. Iran employs the practice of offering formal communications holding little substance under important title for the purpose of prolonging talks, buying time and forestalling any action against it.

Israel’s head of Military Intelligence, Major General Amos Yadlin, said before the Israeli cabinet that he doubts that international pressure - with or without UN sanctions - will stop the Iranian march toward nuclear weapons. The Jerusalem Post noted that advised the cabinet that “the Iranians are playing for time, and the UN Security Council was acting slower than expected regarding clamping sanctions on Teheran.” Israel faces the greatest risk should Iran attain nuclear weapons.

Yet, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought to assure concerned observers and the Iranians that a price will be exacted for Iranian intransigence. The Secretary of State said on CNN, “This isn’t the United States hyping a threat. This is the United States trying to build a coalition of states, all of whom know that Iranian nuclear activities are unexplained and troubling.”

Rice added, “The world is prepared to act.”

But, as demonstrated by the continuing Solana-Larijani talks in Vienna and the wide resistance to the imposition of sanctions, even among America’s allies the world is clearly not prepared to act.

September 9, 2006

Iraq and al-Qaeda Untied

Much is being disputed about the contents and conclusions asserted within the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report attempting to compare, in three major sections, prewar Iraq intelligence estimates with postwar Iraq findings regarding ‘Iraq’s WMD Capabilities,’ ‘Iraqi Links to al-Qaeda’ and ‘Regime Intent.’ While it is being currently touted in media reports with the air of a comprehensive and definitive assessment, it is decidedly neither. This is the introduction of a collaborative series of analytical reviews of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report titled, “Postwar Findings About Iraq’s WMD Programs and Links to Terrorism And How They Compare With Prewar Assessments.”

By the report’s own acknowledgement, there has yet to be produced a “‘fully researched, coordinated and approved position’ on the postwar reporting on the former regime’s links to al-Qa’ida” by the Intelligence Community with which to compare to prewar assessments. Furthermore, especially with regard to WMD capabilities and ‘Regime Intent,’ the incredibly thorough Iraqi Perspectives Project postwar study produced by United States Joint Forces Command, Joint Center for Operational Analysis, was not even considered with other postwar assessments.

Rather than cite such reports for its postwar input, the SSIC preferred to quote testimony in several instances from both Saddam Hussein and his Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz (among others). Both are in custody and on trial. As Tom Joscelyn rightly points out, these men—“all of whom have an obvious incentive to lie—are cited or quoted without caveats of any sort.”

Nor, apparently, did the Committee consider the prewar intelligence cited by Stephen Hayes in November, 2003. Hayes exposes in the referenced article many connections, not the least of which were multiple sources corroborating multiple Iraqi meetings with bin-Laden in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Iraqis – including the deputy director of the Iraqi Intelligence Services. Included in an October 2003 memo from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy to the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee was a clarifying note saying, “Reporting entries #4, #11, #15, #16, #17, and #18, from different sources, corroborate each other and provide confirmation of meetings between al Qaeda operatives and Iraqi intelligence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

This is seemingly dismissed and not included as noteworthy prewar intelligence for consideration, just as the Iraqi Perspectives Project was dismissed from consideration for postwar findings.

While early in the SSIC report it mentions the attempt to create an intelligence “baseline,” the conclusions are written in a language that purports them as definitive. In fact, Conclusion 9 on page 112 reads, “While document exploitation continues, additionalreviews of documents recovered in Iraq are unlikely to provide information that would contradict the Committee’s findings or conclusions.”

This is an ill advisedly bold statement, and notes Michael Tanji, who has been involved in the Iraqi document exploitation process, “[S]aying that you have a strong grasp on what was and wasn’t going on in Iraq based on an “initial review” is akin to saying that you don’t need to read the bible because you’ve memorized the ten commandments.”

This hardly scratches the surface of the report’s inadequate considerations, inconsistencies and, therefore, erroneous conclusions. There are a great many aspects of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report that must be swiftly addressed, in particular the data used and conclusions asserted regarding the connections between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaeda.

It is imperative that the American public be presented with a more complete picture than the seemingly selective data points utilized by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report.

To this end, ThreatsWatch and Mark Eichenlaub of Regime of Terror are working together in order to provide an extensive analysis to the general public in a more easily digested format. This analysis will be produced and published as a series of focused examinations of the conclusions tendered by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s report as it pertains to the connections between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaeda terrorists.

September 8, 2006

Maliki Becomes Commander-in-Chief

On Thursday, September 7, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki signed an agreement with the Commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq General George Casey taking over command authority of Iraqi Security Forces, on ground, sea and air (New York Times/AP). News reports indicated that Maliki would only be taking over tactical command on one of the ISF’s ten divisions. Yet Major General William Caldwell made clear at a September 6 press conference that the prime minister could take tactical control of the remaining divisions just as quickly as his administration felt comfortable doing so, with a takeover rate of two divisions per month expected:

…that’s the prime minister’s decision how rapidly he wants to move along with assuming control of his — he’s going to assume complete control of the naval forces, the air forces, and the decision is made that tomorrow be the 8th Army Iraqi Army Division. They can move as rapidly thereafter as they want. I know conceptually they’ve talked about perhaps two divisions a month as they work through all the systems, the reporting procedures, the command and control.

So it’s going to be up to the prime minister how rapidly they move after that. Our anticipation is, from what we understand from his staff, is that it may be about two divisions a month thereafter. But again, I’d really defer to the government of Iraq on how rapidly they want to move. It’s not our decision. And we’re prepared to support whatever they want to do… And again, not just the division, but the navy, too, the air force. And then, of course the chain of command will run directly through his joint force headquarters to his Iraqi ground forces command headquarters, down to the division and down to the individual soldier…

The Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn, in reporting on the issue, wrote of the agreement as “making the prime minister commander-in-chief of the Iraqi Army. The agreement provides for the establishment of an Iraqi joint chiefs of staff having full authority over all Iraqi military units, whether on land or on sea or in air, and which includes now 115,000 soldiers.”

The same article also reports on a tribal reconciliation conference taking place in the Kirkuk area in north-central Iraq. It notes that some of the Sunni tribes, not supportive of al-Qaeda and other foreign jihadist groups, have demanded the release of Saddam Hussein as a condition to reconciliation. Leaders from several tribes were quoted by name, and they tended to stress that they did not seek to return Saddam to power but to reintegrate Baathists into Iraqi society, suggesting that freeing Saddam was a way to do this. One tribal leader stated that he supported attacks on American troops but not on Iraqi troops, while another said that he supported Maliki’s reconciliation plan because it brought security and “satisfied the Americans.” All supported the reconciliation plan in principle. Sunni tribal leaders are not entirely monolithic in their views, but they consistently emphasize the importance of stopping debaathification, which is natural since it targets them. As there is no chance that the release of Saddam will be granted, at least for some the reconciliation process still has some distance to go. Yet these statements, which are typical of views reported in the Iraqi media by Sunni political leaders, suggest that the transfer of security control from U.S. to Iraqi forces and perhaps a more forgiving policy toward former Baathists could bring them into the government.

This week also saw the eruption of a flag controversy between the Kurdish autonomous administration led by Masoud Barzani and the central government in Baghdad. The spat began late last week when Barzani ordered that Iraqi federal flags, which resemble the old flags of Baathist Iraq, be pulled down (picture of Iraqi flag here; only the style of the Arabic script and the spacing of the stars was changed). Iraqi Arabs argued that this threatened the unity of the country, while unionist Kurds said that this move was necessary to force Baghdad to change the design of the flag.

Thus the Iraqi parliament is now working on designing a new flag. As reported by Al-Jazeera, a “constitutional gap” was created when a new flag was adopted in 2004 by the interim government but then rejected by the new government, which made some style changes but kept the basic design adopted by Saddam Hussein in 1991. Al-Jazeera quotes Barzani as directly challenging the prime minister over the issue, referring to the murder of members of his own party by the former regime, saying that “Maliki knows very well that it was under this flag that Saddam signed an order for the execution of 600 members of the Dawa Party in a single day.”

September 7, 2006

Pakistan's New 'Hands-Off' Agreement With al-Qaeda

Following Pakistan’s agreement with the Taliban and pullout from North Waziristan along the Afghanistan border, Wednesday was a day for political damage control for Pakistani leadership. President Pervez Musharraf traveled to Kabul assuring both Afghanistan and the United States that Pakistan still aims to confront any Taliban militant activity with military force.

Said Musharraf in Kabul, “Any militant activity will be addressed with force. No Talibanisation. No Taliban activity on our side of the border and across the border in Afghanistan.” This assurance was welcomed by both Kabul and Washington. Yet, the fear of disengagement remains, evidenced by the precedent set by Pakistan in South Waziristan.

Since a similar agreement with the Taliban in neighboring South Waziristan, cross-border attacks have been launched against coalition and Afghan forces from there as well as serving as a safe haven fallback for retreating attackers. With the leadership of North Waziristan even more fervently religiously motivated, expectations that the Taliban leadership there would ignore their promise of ending cross-border attacks is seen as not unreasonable. Nor is it seen as unreasonable that Pakistan would hesitate to react decisively as Musharraf assured in Kabul.

But the more troubling and perhaps telling detail comes in the news regarding another part of Musharraf’s deal with the Taliban of North Waziristan.

As General Sultan disavowed the characterization of his earlier statement that Usama bin Laden would be allowed to stay in Pakistan if he were “being like a peaceful citizen,” claims that his words were presented out of context, the transcript of the questions and his answers clearly reveals otherwise, and that he indeed was speaking of bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri essentially receiving an effective pardon if they adopted good behavior and were “staying like a peaceful citizen.”

It will be difficult for Pakistan to nuance away the apparent revelation that the Pakistani government has reportedly agreed that “key al-Qaeda figures will either not be arrested or those already in custody will be set free.” This includes the owner of the property where Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl was tortured and beheaded, Saud Memon. Ghulam Mustafa, regarded as the head of al-Qaeda in Pakistan, is expected to be released from secretive custody within days.

While it should be noted at this point that General Sultan is a spokesman for Pakistani policy and not the creator of it, perhaps the existence of such a ‘Hands-Off’ policy towards al-Qaeda and aligned terrorist groups explains the logic behind General Sultan’s initial comments.

The picture emerging is one of an apparent Pakistani realignment, shifting from an alliance with the United States to an open understanding with al-Qaeda and other connected Pakistani Islamic terrorist groups, perhaps in an attempt by Musharraf to extend his own survival.

Following their capitulation to Taliban demands in North Waziristan, Wednesday may have proven to be a day of damage control by Pakistan. But for Thursday and beyond, it will be incredibly difficult to satisfactorily explain the apparent revelation that Pakistan is freeing al-Qaeda-connected terrorists in their custody – custody that some contend is more protective than punitive in nature in order to keep them from falling into American hands, potentially damaging Pakistan’s position with America through their dangerous revelations.

Currently most see as remote the possibility of any overt military action by the US inside the new Islamic Emirate of Waziristan or anywhere in Pakistan proper for fear of causing an insurgent toppling of Musharraf’s secular government, currently a precarious ally in the War on Terror.

But, if Musharraf is perceived by the US as either irrevocably weak domestically or allied with al-Qaeda terrorists for self-preservation, all bets at that point may then be off.

At current, the threat posed by a Musharraf-led Pakistan – for all its thorns - is far from that of a potential Usama bin Laden-led ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’, complete with nuclear weapons. That possibility, along with a neighboring and potentially nuclear armed Islamic Republic of Iran, would prove an imminent threat and a horrifying new Axis.

Fear is a prime motivator of men. In 2001 and 2002 during the Afghanistan invasion, Musharraf clearly feared America more than he feared al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda aligned terrorist groups and became an unlikely ally in the War on Terror. If the apparent Pakistani agreement to free and ignore al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan proves true, this dynamic of fear will have clearly shifted with potentially dire consequences for America and the West in the War on Terror.

Islamic Courts Union Consolidates Hold in Somalia

It was reported on Monday that Somalia’s secular interim government had reached an agreement in principle to form joint security forces with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist socio-political and military movement which bears many resemblances to the Taliban. The agreement, which was negotiated in Khartoum and was to be monitored by the Arab League and the Sudan, was conditioned upon the reaching of a “broader political solution,” and included a provision barring intervention by “any neighboring states,” although it has been disputed since then whether or not this barred outside peacekeepers.

This latter issue is of special significance because both the United States and neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa are highly concerned that Somalia may already be well on its way to being a new base for global terrorism. A regional group, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is made up of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, the Sudan and Somalia, has been discussing sending in peacekeepers. Because of the special threat it could face, Ethiopia has threatened to send in troops on its own, and the ICU is alleging that it already has.

The ICU’s takeover of Somalia got a boost in July as it defeated the U.S.-backed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism and took Mogadishu, and has since then expanded control over much of the rest of the country, enforcing Islamic law, bringing in weapons and setting up training camps for its forces. Now the “legitimate” government based in the provincial town of Baidoa, vastly outnumbered and outgunned, has reached a lopsided agreement with the ICU that appears to be more an act of desperation than anything.

The reason that the rise of the ICU raises so much concern is in part related to the background of some of its leading figures, but also to the ICU’s conduct in areas it has controlled. While the ICU’s original leader, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has been viewed as relatively moderate, power has shifted to Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is believed to be an al-Qaeda ally and whose protege, Adan Hashi Ayro, reportedly trained in Afghanistan prior to the U.S.-led intervention there in 2001. Allied with the ICU is the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (AIAI). As they have moved through the country, province-by-province, the ICU has acted like the Taliban of the 1990s, inviting militants from the Arab world and Pakistan to work in training camps, disarming those not belonging to the ICU’s militias, banning music and even shooting two people who protested not being able to watch the World Cup semifinal. (Jamestown Foundation, Weekly Standard - Night Falls on Mogadishu, Weekly Standard - The New Taliban)

The problem for the IGAD, aside from its own internal divisions, is that there is still a United Nations embargo in place which prevents the bringing of weapons into the country. It seems that Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda are the countries pushing to intervene with “peacekeepers” and prevent the establishment of an ICU government. Like the UN arms embargo on Bosnia during the 1990s, this weapons ban will merely empower the more aggressive party. While the interim government, led by President Abdallahi Yusuf, is seeking IGAD intervention, ICU leaders are declaring that sending IGAD peacekeepers will mean war. If the embargo is not lifted, then Ethiopia and its allies could simply ignore the embargo, as the United States was apparently doing by backing the anti-ICU coalition before. Also, the African Union will need to release the funds necessary for the mission. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal/AP)

The fact that this “agreement in principle” to unify security forces was made dependent upon a political resolution likely means that it will collapse or that it will be implemented by the surrender of the interim government. Denied reinforcement from outside and vastly outmatched at this point, Yusuf’s government really has no hope aside from an IGAD intervention. Furthermore, that the talks were mediated by the Arab League and the Sudanese government in Khartoum should reinforce the impression that this agreement provides no security to the weaker party. The Arab League, it should be remembered, has unconditionally defended the Sudanese government over the crisis in Darfur regardless of how many reports have surfaced of government-backed militias pillaging villages, raping women and making refugees of hundreds of thousands of people.

Coming To America

While Iran suddenly cancelled the scheduled meeting with the EU’s Javier Solana over the Iranian nuclear program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that he is anxious to address the UN General Assembly once more in New York City on September 19, the week following the 5-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

While the Solana meeting was reportedly cancelled due to an “Iranian reluctance to attend,” they are said to be rescheduling the meeting to occur in a few days.

But Ahmadinejad would ideally like to turn his controversial UN appearance into a debate with President Bush. Said Ahmadinejad boldly, “The American side can even take part in the debate side by side with his advisors, and as a full team, if they wish so.” Their scheduled speeches are nearly eight hours apart.

Many hold a perplexed if not angry view of another Ahmadinejad visit. It was for the UN General Assembly last year when Ahmadinejad was granted an entry visa, speaking to the assembly professing Iran’s peaceful nuclear intentions, closing with a call for the return of the 12th Imam. Ahmadinejad later claimed in Iran that literally no one in the assembly blinked while he was speaking and that there was a divine green aura around him during his delivery.

This year’s visit is no less controversial, considering the uproar generated by former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s permited visit this week, where he proceeded to deliver speeches at various American universities and included a Chicago speech where he criticized US policy as fomenting terrorist.

Yet the visas are granted, angering observers frustrated that, in the middle of the War on Terror when airline manifestos are scoured for the names of potential terrorists, the leaders of the state sponsor of terrorism are invited to deliver public speeches. Addressing government bodies and – in the case of Khatami - criss-crossing the United States speaking at universities, they bitterly criticize America and the prosecution of the War on Terror.

Yet back in Iran, the Iranian military announced a new Iranian jet fighter, complete with Iran’s first guided 2000-pound bomb, and that they had successfully tested the Saegheh (Thunderbolt) and claimed it to be “100 percent Iranian made and no foreign country has collaborated in its development.” It was also claimed to be “similar to the American F-18 but stronger.”

However, the Iranian Thunderbolt is actually not an indigenous Iranian plane at all nor similar to the F-18 Hornet employed by both the US Navy and Marine Corps, but rather a redesigned American F-5 supplied during the era of the Shah in the 1970’s.

Iran is not hesitant to employ both foreign and domestic media to wield information as a weapon – whether fact or Taqiyya.

While Iran continues to underwrite international terror, including but not limited to bankrolling Hizballah in Lebanon and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Iraq, it’s leaders continue to engage in information warfare, employing speeches and public appearances on their proclaimed enemy’s soil at their enemy’s own invitation.

September 6, 2006

Pakistan Cedes North Waziristan to Taliban

Two years after signing a similar peace pact with the Taliban in South Waziristan, the Pakistani government signed another deal with the Taliban in North Waziristan, effectively ceding an entire region of Pakistani territory on the Afghanistan border to the Taliban and, therefore, al-Qaeda. This is an especially troubling development and a black day in the War on Terror, with more to follow as a result, as the similar arrangement with the Taliban in South Waziristan in 2003 was broken in short order. This fact is a sign that this deal is less a Peace Agreement than an acceptance of the terms of defeat on the part of Pakistan.

The known terms ceded to the Taliban – indeed most of the terms demanded by the Taliban - ceded by Pakistan are as follows:

• All captured fighters freed & returned to Waziristan.
• All captured weapons & vehicles returned to Waziristan.
• Restoration of ‘perks & privileges’ for tribesmen.
• Cessation of all air & ground assaults on the Taliban in Waziristan.
• Withdrawal of Pakistani troops, including checkpoints in Waziristan.
• Undisclosed monetary payment compensating for deaths/damage.

In fact, the Pakistani army had begun withdrawals from inside North Waziristan before the agreement was signed. And while the Taliban cash demand remains an unknown figure, a Pakistani government official “said the figure was enormous.”

In return for these material gains, Pakistan accepted Taliban promises to:

• Cease attacks on Pakistani assets in the area.
• Cease cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
• Ensure ‘no one else’ uses their border for attacks.
• Not to assassinate gov’t employees, elders or journalists.
• Force all foreign fighters in North Waziristan will leave.

There exists a huge caveat to the Taliban’s commitment to force ‘all foreign fighters to leave.’ It is reported in the PakTribune that “albeit those who are unable to do so for certain genuine reasons shall respect law of the land and abide by all conditions of the agreement. They shall not disturb the peace and tranquility of the area.”

There is truth to this caveat, though it is not reported in many places. As ABC’s Brian Ross details, its truth can be evidenced in a telephone interview with Pakistan’s Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan, where he said that even Usama bin Laden would not be taken into custody. [Video of Brian Ross’ ABC Nightly News Report] The general said, “No. As long as one is being like a peaceful citizen, one would not be taken into custody. One has to stay like a peaceful citizen.”

It is also worth noting that, according to an Asia Times article that has proven prescient in many ways, the already existing foreign fighters “including Uzbeks, Arabs and Chechens” had already “been asked to join the central mujahideen force of commander Gul Badar [North Waziristan’s Mullah Omar], or simply to scatter into ordinary tribal society.” Perhaps fighting a holy war with Badar’s mujahideen will be considered by the ruling Taliban to be a “certain genuine reason” not to be sent away. It is certainly a vague and troubling caveat that Pakistan is clearly in no position to enforce regardless.

It is also widely reported that there will be no ‘shadow government’ by the Taliban in North Waziristan. But a Pakistani government release openly stated that “a 10-member committee of tribal elders, clerics and administration officials was set up to monitor the progress and implementation of the agreement.” This committee is called the Mujahideen Shura Council.

Even before the signing, in the previously referenced September 2 Asia Times article on the situation in North Waziristan aptly named The knife at Pakistan’s throat, Syed Saleem Shahzad notes the Mujahideen Shura Council at a meeting that was designed to map out the “future setup in the Waziristans.” To the extent that they do or do not have the power to command the new Waziristan – shadow or no shadow – Shahzad remarks that “Pakistan has offered a general amnesty for all previously wanted people… The Taliban, meanwhile, call the shots everywhere.”

Let there be no doubt, al-Qaeda has carved a new safe haven from Pakistani territory. Similar negotiations are ongoing for more territory within Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) which neighbors North Waziristan. While there may be written agreements to cease cross border attacks into Afghanistan, heeded or not, a power shift of arms and men from the newly established safe haven into the North-West Frontier Province to bolster efforts there is only logical. Musharraf has clearly set the precedent for disengagement and concession.

On this day, if there is a shadow government in Waziristan, it is the long shadow cast by a distant Pakistani government. For today, the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan lives.

September 5, 2006

Gaza: Trouble Brewing with Hizballah Support

As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has been asked to name a mediator to serve as a third-party conduit between the Israelis and Hizballah, trouble brews in Gaza as the flow of arms and personnel is reportedly at an unprecedented level.

Annan is to appoint a secret mediator for indirect negotiations between Israel and Hizballah seeking the release of the two IDF soldiers whose abduction sparked the month-long Israeli campaign against Hizballah in southern Lebanon.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert looked south and east rather than north however, saying Israel has “no more urgent problem than that of the Palestinians.” For their part, the Palestinians would likely tend to agree.

The harsh realities of freely electing the terrorist organization Hamas into power are having devastating effects on the Palestinian people, especially in the Gaza Strip. A general strike has been underway in the Palestinian Authority as workers insist on receiving their salaries for services rendered. Said to be instigated by Fatah-member-led workers unions, Hamas officials decried the paralyzing strike as a conspiracy to destroy the Hamas-led government. Said Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad, “This is an illegal strike that won’t help lift the sanctions imposed on our people. This move won’t accelerate the payment of the salaries and will only increase the suffering of our people.”

Perhaps sensing a rapid decline of public support for Hamas, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is hinting once again at early parliamentary elections, this time to include a vote for his own presidential seat in the Palestinian government. Abbas’ last call for early elections sparked violent clashes between Hamas militias – some formed just prior to the fighting – and Abbas’ Fatah-controlled official PA security forces, including police. The in-fighting only subsided with Israel’s incursion with Operation Summer Rains, brought on by a Hamas-led Palestinian tunnel raid in which IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted.

But while the political in-fighting continues in the Palestinian Territories, the leader of Israel’s intelligence agencies warns of a dark cloud forming in Gaza. Yuval Diskin sounded the alarm that an unprecedented level of weaponry is being smuggled into Gaza along the southern Palestinian-Egyptian border Israel no longer controls. Diskin reported to a closed-door meeting with the Knessett’s foreign affairs and defense committee leaders that “Katyusha rockets with a 10-mile range, dozens of anti-tank missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, 15 tons of explosives, 15,000 guns and four million rounds of ammunition” are known to have been smuggled through a 20-tunnel system underneath the border. Yuval Diskin has warned of the Palestinian buildup before.

Seeing Hizballah’s tactical successes against the IDF in Lebanon, particularly with their anti-tank weapons and tactics, Hamas terrorists seek to emulate this and according to Diskin, are receiving direct aid and assistance from Iran-sponsored Hizballah. Said Diskin directly, “If we don’t move to counter this smuggling, it will continue and create a situation in Gaza similar to the one in southern Lebanon.”

Trouble brews beneath the earth’s surface in the Gaza Strip.

It is within this context that former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami’s statement that Iran ‘accepts two-state answer’ in the Arab-Israeli conflict must be considered. No longer holding elected office within the Iranian government, his statement that Hamas “is ready to live alongside Israel” if Palestinians are granted the right of return to Israel – and thereby eventually overpowering the Israeli democracy through a resultant Arab/Muslim population majority – can be seen as the ‘long view’ approach to “wipe Israel off the map.”

As can be seen through the actions of Hizballah and Hamas – let alone Hamas’ own charter calling for the destruction of Israel - there are other means.

Though Khatami couched this support for a two-state solution saying, “Of course whatever Palestinians think is respected by us,” perhaps it is no mystery what Iran hopes the Palestinians think, considering Hizballah’s direct support for the Hamas weapons buildup in Gaza – not to mention the Palestinian terrorists’ admission of Hizballah, al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad coordinating attacks on Israel.

Less Than Zero

Making his rounds in the midst of an 11-day jaunt through the Middle East, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan met Sunday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seeking to find a solution to the Iranian impasse with the West and, presumably, the UN Security Council.

ahmadinejad-annan-20060903.jpgAs well as seeking Iran’s cooperation with UN Security Council demands that it cease its uranium enrichment program, Annan lightly criticized Iran’s Holocaust exhibit, an art contest in Tehran doubting the deaths of six million Jews in World War II that is still on public display. Though he could have seen the exhibit for himself in his two-day stay, a spokesman offered that “From what he heard, he would find them pretty distasteful, as he did the Danish cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad, which he strongly condemned at the time.”

But Annan was sent away with less than zero, for Ahmadinjead reiterated his demands that negotiations precede any enrichment and defended the exhibit. Not only did the Iranian president refuse to participate in Annan’s post-meeting press conference, he followed it by announcing that Iran will host a conference bringing into question the Holocaust.

This is why Iran lauded Kofi Annan’s two-day visit as ‘positive’. Iran ceded nothing and in the process got a smile and a handshake from the leader of the world body that can determine how difficult Iran’s path to nuclear weapons will be.

The EU is having more success in attempts to forge the way once more for talks with Iran over its nuclear program, be those talks wise or ill-advised.

Spain’s Javier Solana, Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union, is due on Wednesday to meet with Iran’s nuclear chief, Ari Larijani. Expected are initial talks that may lead to further negotiation, though Iran has repeatedly insisted that its nuclear enrichment program is non-negotiable and an inalienable right.

Like Solana, German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed further talks with the Iranians. Said Merkel, “The deadline has passed and things cannot continue as they are. Diplomatic pressure should increase. But I say clearly ‘diplomatic’. There is no military option here.”

But things have been ‘continuing as the are’ for three years running.

And even though the Security Council’s deadline of August 31 has passed and Iran’s enrichment program continues unfazed, little has changed on either side. Iran still insists on continuing - and indeed has continued uninterrupted - its nuclear enrichment program. The West still insists verbally that it shut down that program and UN sanctions remain discussed but are far from being materialized. Even though they voted for the UNSC resolution that set the deadline for Iran’s program at August 31, China and Russia both continue today to adamantly oppose economic sanctions listed as a consequence.

Yet, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier made it clear to German diplomats that further talks with Iran are pointless if Solana’s coming talks with Ari Larijani fail to be successful in bringing the Iranian enrichment to a halt. Calling to mind what many are referring to as an embarrassment, Steinmeier said bluntly, “We agreed that Solana will have another meeting with the Iranians, but we have to be skeptical about whether it will work after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s meetings in Tehran.”

September 4, 2006

Sistani to Maliki: Security Vacuum Intolerable

Several important meetings have been held in Iraq this past week, the most important was this weekend’s meeting between the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over the security situation in which Sistani warned Maliki that militias might fill any void left by the failure of the government to maintain security. Sistani has previously demanded that the Shi’a militias - mainly the Badr Brigades and the Mahdi Army - be supplanted by official Iraqi military and police forces. The point was driven home by the murder of a Sistani aid in the Shi’a city of ‘Amara shortly thereafter. Also of potential importance was a meeting recently in Salah al-Din Province between Shi’a, Sunni Arab and Kurdish Iraqi representatives with American and British diplomats and the Iranian ambassador to Iraq. Despite uncertainty about the details, the secrecy surrounding the meeting and its broad representation suggests some significance. Also, senior Shi’a figure Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim met with high-level Iraqi officials in Baghdad, as did, separately, former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.

Following up from our report last Thursday on the major showdown between the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr in Diwaniya, it now appears that U.S. and Iraqi forces have deployed throughout all areas of the city. There was a compromise ceasefire agreement between the ISF and the Sadrists, but Iraqi Defense Minister Abd al-Qader al-‘Abaydi abrogated it, and asserted that there would be no compromise with militias. As reported by the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada (fourth article from top) on Sunday, U.S. forces have entered the city and with Iraqi forces have taken control of the entire city. The article specifically mentions the Nahda neighborhood as one under U.S. security control, and this was one of the two neighborhoods that the Mahdi Army had originally maintained control over.

The meeting between Sistani and Maliki was described thus by Al-Hayat:

The Shi’a religious authority the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani ‘rebuked’ the Iraqi government over its shortcomings in implementing security for civilians, warning against the rise of non-governmental armed groups attempting to fulfill this role in case of failure by the government. As stated in a release issued by Sistani’s office after a meeting with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Najaf, ‘the failure of the government to fulfill its duty in maintaining security and protecting the lives of citizens opens the way for non-official powers to betake themselves of this role.’

In a press conference following the meeting, Maliki told journalists that ‘Sistani stands as a support for the government,’ emphasizing that the government was able to solve the problems in the country and not ‘a salvation government’ which ‘enemies of the political process’ call for.

Sistani’s reference to “non-official” powers is clearly meant to indicate the Shi’a militias. Maliki’s reference to “salvation government” refers to the phrase used by leaders of the former Baathist regime who recently have called for an overthrow of the elected government and its replacement with one having a stronger hand which would “save” the country from violence. The article quoted two Sunni points of criticism. One, Salih al-Mutlak, head of the National Dialogue Party and a member of parliament, decried the reliance on Sistani and warned against the establishment of waliyat al-faqih, the religious doctrine which provides for rule by Islamic scholars and is the basis of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This concern is overblown, as Sistani, although of Persian origins, has been the main opponent of Iranian political theology and the leader of the “quietist” school in Iraqi Shi’ism, and has always supported the elected government in Iraq, insisting that it be inclusive.

There was also a negative reaction from the Muslim Scholars Association, an insurgent-linked but relatively moderate group of Sunni scholars who, as described by Al-Hayat, seemed to be reacting more to a Kurdish decision to stop flying the current Iraqi flag, which resembles the old Baathist Iraqi flag, in order to pressure the government to change it. The Kurdish policy change happened to take place at the same time as the Sistani-Maliki meeting, and the MSA argued that Sistani’s implied warning about militias pointed to similar developments in the Shi’a south.

Meanwhile, a top aid to Sistani, Shaikh Hassan Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawadi, age 65, was murdered in the city of ‘Amara, which is the capital of the Shi’a-dominated province of Maysan in southeast Iraq. According to a report in Al-Mada (fifth article from top), early Sunday morning unknown gunmen stopped Jawadi’s car in front of the Hussein Mosque in the Sarai neighborhood and opened fire. The Mahdi Army is known to have a heavy presence in ‘Amara, and this may have been payback for Sistani’s tacit approval of the anti-Mahdi Army operations which took place in Diwaniya last week.

Separately, an August 24 article in Al-Hayat discussed what appears to have been an important meeting of Iraqi Shi’a, Sunni and Kurd representatives with the presence of American and British diplomats and the Iranian ambassador, Kathmi Qomi. It appears to have been a “Camp David-style” meeting at a summer residence in the Salah al-Din Province. Citing sources close to Shi’a and Kurd leaders in the government, Al-Hayat described the meeting as having been focused around persuading the Iranian ambassador that Iran should pull back its involvement in Iraq in exchange for a “lowering of American pressure on Iran.” The article notes that the immediate flashpoint for the meeting may have been a 20-kilometer incursion by Iranian ground forces into Iraq, but the location of the alleged incursion was not given, and no specifics were given regarding the alleged American concessions to Iran.

The sources were not sure of the precise level of American and British representation (the presence of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was suggested but not confirmed), while the most senior officials named as being present - aside from the Iranian ambassador - were Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani (a Shi’a) and Muhassan abd al-Hamid, head of the Shura Council of the (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP). The political office of SCIRI (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq), Iraqi’s largest Shi’a faction, also sent representatives, as did the two main Kurdish factions, the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Kurdish National Union. Kurdish sources indicated that Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani met separately with the Iranian ambassador, the interior minister and Sunni Arabs from the IIP.

Over the weekend the head of SCIRI, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, met in Baghdad with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hushyar Zubari and Iraqi National Security Advisor Muwaffaq Zubaei. According to Al-Mada (twelfth article from top), Hakim, Zubari and Zubaei discussed issues related to security and the prime minister’s reconciliation plan with Sunni insurgents. The same source reported on meetings between former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Foreign Minister Zubari (second article), and Iraqi Interior Minister Bolani (tenth article). No details were given aside from the fact that they discussed matters relating to the two officials’ respective areas of responsibility.

September 1, 2006

Khatami Lands In America After Deadline Ignored

The so-called Security Council deadline for Iran to cease enrichment activities and come clean on their nuclear program has come and gone. The IAEA report has been penned and issued to members of the Security Council, reporting that due to the Iranian regime’s non-cooperation, the Agency cannot verify the nature of the Iranian regime. The Iranians have made various statements, each of them defiant but couched in calls for more talks and negotiations. Yet, it is also made clear that the issue at hand – Iran’s enrichment program - is strictly non-negotiable.

In response to Iran’s refusal to comply with UNSC demands, President Bush said that that there “must be consequences for Iran’s defiance.” And so it is reported in the UK’s Telegraph that “Western powers were last night preparing crippling sanctions against Iran.” This begs the question: What is the definition of “crippling”?

The only sanctions being seriously discussed with regards to Iran at present are travel restrictions on its leadership and forbidding the sale of ‘dual use technology.’ The effectiveness of this approach is questionable at best, considering that President Bush’s own State Department has issued a visa with no restrictions to former Iranian president Khatami.

Khatami will not only address the United Nations, but the Islamist will speak at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, and embark on a cross-country speaking tour, invited by various universities including Harvard and Virginia. But the most controversial of all is that the Islamist former president of the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism has been invited and will be permitted to keynote address at the Islamic Society of North America convention in Chicago Saturday night, with 40,000 American Muslims expected to be in attendance.

The criticism of the situation has been direct and from many sources. Said Dr. Michael Ledeen, “For those who believed Bush is serious about regime change, this is a numbing blow. Would FDR have given Goebbels a visa while the Reich was attacking Czechoslovakia?”

Restricting the sale of ‘dual use’ technology and equipment is a step that many believe should have been implemented long ago. But its implementation’s effect on the Iranian nuclear program would likely be minimal. Iran has already acquired such single-use technology as centrifuge parts and even actual bomb designs through the AQ Khan proliferation network from producers in many countries.

With the UN unlikely to pursue any strict sanctions while veto-wielding Russia is under contract to build Iran’s nuclear facilities and veto-wielding China is increasingly dependent on Iranian oil, dual-use bans at this stage would regardless prove of little tangible effect on a nuclear program that has already successfully subverted all aspects of the Nonproliferation Treaty it threatens to withdraw from.

Members of the Security Council are ignoring their own deadline just as Iran has. Russia is rejecting Iran sanctions and, in the words of Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, China is calling for Security Council members to “exercise restraint and keep pushing for the early resumption of talks.” Iranian nuclear chief Ali Larijani is set to meet the EU’s Javier Solana in Berlin Tuesday for talks.

Meanwhile, Islamist and former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami has landed in New York City and Iran’s uranium enrichment and surely projects unknown continue unabated, as directly acknowledged by the IAEA’s August 31 report to the UN Security Council.

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