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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

U.S. seeks to reassure Iraqi Sunni allies

This is from sfgate.com.
This is blowback from U.S. policy of enlisting Sunni militias against Al Qaeda. Now there is conflict between the militias and the Iraqi govt. The Iraqi govt. also is unwilling to keep on paying the militias as the US did. More conflict in the making.


US seeks to reassure Sunni allies
By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer
Monday, March 30, 2009
(03-30) 12:06 PDT BAGHDAD, (AP) --
The U.S. military sought to reassure its Sunni allies Monday that it would support them despite fears that the Shiite-led government plans a purge of their ranks after a weekend crackdown in Baghdad.
A major rift between the Shiite government and the Sunni groups could fuel sectarian tensions and threaten security as the Americans begin withdrawing their forces this year.
Iraqi authorities have denied plans to disband Sunni paramilitary groups, known as Awakening Councils or Sons of Iraq, which broke with al-Qaida in Iraq and joined forces with the Americans to help combat the insurgents.
But Sunni suspicions were heightened when police arrested the leader of a Sunni group in central Baghdad's Fadhil district Saturday and, after two days of sporadic fighting, disarmed his followers.
The leader of Sunni paramilitaries in Diyala province, a lawless area at the northeastern gates of the capital, threatened Monday to stop security cooperation with U.S. and Iraqi forces if the jailed leader were not freed.
Sunni paramilitary leaders in other parts of the country said they feared the government was bent on suppressing their movement now that the U.S. is committed to withdrawing all its troops by the end of 2011.
American commanders believe the Awakening Councils were the key to turning the tide against Sunni insurgents in 2007. There have been fears that some fighters may return to the insurgency if they feel threatened by the government.
U.S. spokesman Maj. Gen. David Perkins told reporters Monday that U.S. officials were contacting senior Sunni leaders to "reassure the Sunni community" that both the American and Iraqi governments have "every intent to live up to the promises" made to the Sunni groups.
He said the Awakening Council leader, Adel al-Mashhadani, was arrested under a legal warrant alleging he was involved in extortion, planting roadside bombs, robbery and other crimes. He said most people in Fadhil were glad to see him in custody.
"During his arrest, some of his closest supporters went out and made calls for neighborhood people ... to take up arms and engage Iraqi security forces ... and resist by the hundreds," Perkins said. "That did not happen. So even though there was a call to arms by some of his closest supporters, the people did not respond to it."
But some Awakening Council leaders said al-Mashhadani's arrest appeared part of a campaign of harassment by the Shiite government, which never fully trusted the paramilitaries because they include many former insurgents.
"I wonder why these accusations against Adel Al-Mashhadani were raised at this time when they depended on him before," said Sabbar al-Mashhadani, leader of a north Baghdad Awakening group and no relation to the commander in Fadhil.
"I think there are other motives by the same sides that put up obstacles" against the councils, he said — a veiled reference to Shiite religious parties that have never fully trusted the Sunni groups.
The leader of the Sunni councils in Diyala, Nazar al-Daghestani, demanded the government release al-Mashhadani and pull troops out of Fadhil — or else, he said, his followers would stop manning checkpoints and assisting U.S. and Iraqi forces with security patrols.
That would force the government to send more police and soldiers to Diyala, where Sunni and Shiite militants still operate. Two people were killed and seven wounded Monday by a bomb in the Diyala provincial capital of Baqouba, police said.
The U.S. military had been paying the Awakening Councils until last October, when responsibility was transferred to the Iraqi government. Many council members complain of delays in pay, which U.S. and Iraqi officials blame on red tape.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dr. Doom still pessimistic

Unlike some Roubini sees the recent rally as a bear market rally. Already at the end of the week it seemed to be ending. Obama seems dead set against nationalising the banks and will do everything he can to avoid it.
Over the long term the huge increase in spending by the US will no doubt cause serious inflationary pressures. It remains to be seen what the response to that will be.


Stocks Will Drop; Banks Will Go Belly Up - Roubini

By Charting Stocks

March 27, 2009 "Charting Stocks" -- - The stock market will drop as major banks go belly up says Nouriel Roubini, the NYU economist that successfully predicted the current economic collapse. Below is the text from an interview Mr. Roubini gave today on Bloomberg TV.

U.S. stocks will fall and the government will nationalize more banks as the economy contracts through the end of 2009, said Nouriel Roubini, the New York University professor who predicted last year’s economic crisis.

“The stock market is a bit ahead of the real macroeconomic and financial news,” Roubini, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and the chairman of consulting firm Roubini Global Economics, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in London today. “We’ll have some major banks going belly up that will need to be taken over.”

The global equity rebound in March that sent the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to its best monthly advance in 17 years is a “bear-market rally” and U.S. Treasury yields will “remain relatively low” as investors flock to the safest assets, Roubini said. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s new plan to remove toxic debt from financial companies won’t be enough for insolvent banks, he said.

Roubini’s outlook contrasts with predictions this week from Templeton Asset Management Ltd.’s Mark Mobius and Traxis Partners LLC’s Barton Biggs, who said that equities are poised to rally as government efforts to revive the economy and banking system begin to work. Investors are “way too optimistic” about the prospects for a recovery in the economy and earnings, Roubini said.

Stress Tests

The S&P 500 surged 7.1 percent on March 23 after Geithner unveiled a plan to finance as much as $1 trillion in purchases of illiquid real-estate assets, using $75 billion to $100 billion of the Treasury’s remaining bank-rescue funds. The government is conducting stress tests of banks to determine how much more capital each will need.

Roubini, who predicts loan and securities losses in the U.S. will reach $3.6 trillion, said the stress tests will reveal that some banks need to be taken over and have their good and bad assets separated before being sold to the private sector. He didn’t name which companies he thought would need to be rescued.

Critics of Geithner’s plan including Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, a professor at Princeton University, say the government should take over banks loaded with devalued assets, remove their top management, and dispose of the toxic securities. Sweden adopted the temporary nationalization approach in the 1990s.

‘Deflationary Forces’

“Some banks are going to have to be nationalized,” said Roubini. “It’s going to be bumpy ahead of us.”

Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke this week called for new powers to take over and wind down failing financial companies. They said the U.S. also needs stronger regulation to constrain the risks taken by firms that could endanger the financial system.

With “deflationary forces” lingering for as long as three years, Roubini said U.S. government bond yields will remain low and American house prices will fall as much as 20 percent in the next 18 months. While the dollar will initially benefit as investors seek a safe haven in the U.S., the currency will ultimately drop as the nation’s trade deficit shrinks, he said.

Roubini dismissed China’s call for the creation of a new international reserve currency as a “pie in the sky idea” that’s unlikely to gain traction any time soon.

China’s central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan this week urged the International Monetary Fund to expand the use of so- called Special Drawing Rights and move toward a “super- sovereign reserve currency.” Geithner sent the dollar tumbling yesterday by saying he would consider China’s idea, only to drive it back up by affirming that the greenback should remain the world’s reserve currency.

“This was a political call and in a nut shell - it ain’t going to happen any time soon,” Roubini said.

Mobius, who helps oversee about $20 billion of emerging- market assets as executive chairman at San Mateo, California- based Templeton, said March 23 the next “bull-market” rally has begun. Biggs, the former chief global strategist for Morgan Stanley who now runs New York-based hedge fund Traxis Partners, predicted the same day the S&P 500 may jump between 30 percent and 50 percent.

The benchmark index for U.S. equities has surged 11 percent in March, poised for its biggest monthly gain since 1991. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index of equities in 23 developing nations is headed for the steepest monthly advance on record after rising 20 percent in March.

Taliban and Al-Quaida must be stopped: Obama

While the concentration seems to be on Al Quaida obviously the biggest problem is the Taliban and they were the de facto rulers of Afghanistan when the US with the help of the Northern Alliance turfed them out and later occupied the country under the fig leaves of NATO and the UN.
Obama is following the same policy as Bush with slightly different emphases and rhetoric. He is anxious to get more allies involved but is unlikely to receive much help in the way of more non-US troops. Obama is also treating the issue as a regional one because of the strength of radical Islamic movements in Pakistani tribal areas.
Obama is quite likely to come out with a greater disaster over time than Bush did in invading Iraq although the security issue there is by no means settled by any stretch of the imagination.


Obama: Taliban and al-Qaida must be stopped

Obama declares US must push harder against al-Qaida network in Afghanistan, Pakistan

BEN FELLER
AP News

Mar 27, 2009 12:15 EST

President Barack Obama on Friday ordered 4,000 more military troops into Afghanistan, vowing to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" the terrorist al-Qaida network in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

In a war that still has no end in sight, Obama said the fresh infusion of U.S. forces is designed to bolster the Afghan army and turn up the heat on terrorists that he said are plotting new attacks against Americans. The plan takes aim at terrorist havens in Pakistan and challenges the government there and in Afghanistan to show more results.

Obama called the situation in the region "increasingly perilous" more than seven years after the Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan.

"If the Afghanistan government falls to the Taliban or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged," Obama said, "that country will again be a base for terrorists."

He announced the troop deployment, as well as plans to send hundreds of additional civilians to Afghanistan, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top intelligence and national security figures at his side. The announcement followed a policy review Obama launched not long after taking office.

The 4,000 troops bolster the dispatch of an additional 17,000 forces to the war-weary nation.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai welcomed the additional help to train his country's army and police force, saying in a statement that Obama's strategy "will bring Afghanistan and the international community closer to success."

There are clear risks and costs to Obama's strategy.

Violence is rising. The war in Afghanistan saw American military deaths rise by 35 percent in 2008 as Islamic extremists shifted their focus to a new front with the West. Obama's plan will also cost many more billions of dollars.

And the president's plan includes no timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Yet Obama bluntly warned that the al-Qaida terrorists who masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were actively planning further attacks on the United States from safe havens in Pakistan. And he said the Afghanistan government is in peril of falling to the Islamic militants of the Taliban once again.

"So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," the president said.

"That is the goal that must be achieved," Obama added. "That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you."

Obama's plan will put more U.S. troops and money on the line. He said Pakistan and Afghanistan will be held to account, using benchmarks for progress, although those measures are just being developed and the consequences if not met remain unclear.

The president spoke just hours after a suicide bomber in Pakistan demolished a mosque packed with hundreds of worshippers attending Friday prayers near the Afghan border, killing at least 48 people and injuring scores more, in the bloodiest attack in Pakistan this year. Rising violence in Pakistan is fueling doubts about the pro-Western government's ability to counter Taliban and al-Qaida militants also blamed for attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani central government has relatively little control in some areas bordering Afghanistan and has tolerated or even ignored the creation of Taliban and al-Qaida havens inside Pakistan.

In a direct challenge, Obama said Pakistan must show a commitment to hunt down the extremists within its borders.

"We will insist that action be taken one way or another when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets," Obama said.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Israel attacks convoy in Sudan

This surely is against international law but since it is done by the Israelis no Israeli leader will be summoned by the International Court of Justice to face charges unlike the Sudanese leader who has a warrant out for his arrest.


Antiwar.com


Israel Killed 39 in Attack on Sudan Convoy
January Strike Destroyed Several Trucks, Injured Civilians

Posted March 25, 2009

Answering accusations from a Sudanese minister that the US Air Force had killed 39 people in a January attack in that nation, US officials say that in fact it was the Israeli military that launched the attack on a convoy of trucks northwest of Port Sudan city.

Reportedly, the Israeli planes used a US base in Djibouti to stage the attacks, as part of the agreement between Israel and the outgoing Bush Administration made in mid January. Israeli officials would neither confirm nor deny the attacks.

The trucks attacked were said to be smuggling small arms to Hamas, and while an exact date for the attack was not given it appears to have been shortly (perhaps just days) after the Israeli military halted its ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. Everyone in the trucks, said to include Ethiopians and Eritreans, was reported killed, and an unknown number of civilians were also said to be wounded in the attack.
Related Stories

* March 20, 2009 -- Israel Faces Uncomfortable Questions as Soldiers Point to Indiscriminate Killings
* February 24, 2009 -- Plenty of Money, But Blockade Keeps Gaza Reconstruction Stalled
* February 23, 2009 -- Amnesty Calls for Arms Embargo on Israel, Hamas

compiled by Jason Ditz [email the author]



Find this article at:
http://news.antiwar.com/2009/03/25/israel-killed-39-in-attack-on-sudan-convoy


Copyright 2008 Antiwar.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obama's Drone Policy: Bush on Steroids

It sounds from this article as if Obama's review of drone strategy includes increasing the number of attacks. Obama may also begin attacks in new areas that so far have been out of bounds. Many commentators have claimed that the attacks in effect help to recruit more to the militant cause but no one in the Obama administration seems to be listening. Any policy that avoids any US casualties is OK no matter how much collateral damage it may cause.


US plans new drone attacks on Pakistan: report

1 hour ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Washington is planning new drone attacks on militant targets in Pakistan as part of its overall review of military strategy there and in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Intelligence officials from the United States and Pakistan are composing a "fresh list of terrorist targets for Predator drone strikes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border," the newspaper said citing officials involved.

However, cooperation between the two allies is complicated by the belief held by US officials that operatives within Pakistan's top intelligence agency are "directly supporting the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan, even as the US targets those groups," the report said.

In particular, Washington is reviewing its drone program, which the administration views as "a success" and is not expected to be cut, and is seeking to clarify under what conditions drone attacks should be used.

Adjustments could me made to "change the pace and size of the program, and make some technical refinements in an effort to hit targets faster," the report said.

Details of the administration's broader reassessment of military strategy in the region could be released as early as Friday.

Earlier Thursday, officials in Pakistan said a suspected US missile strike killed at least four militants in a tribal region of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan.

"Two missiles fired from a suspected US drone hit the compound of a local pro-militant tribal elder Malik Gulab Khan, killing four residents," a local security official told AFP.

The strike was the second in as many days by US drones, with a missile on Wednesday killing up to seven alleged Al-Qaeda militants in the nearby Makeen area of South Waziristan.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Afghanistan: A Surge Toward Disaster.

This article traces the increase in troops and activity by the US led NATO occupation of Afghanistan. The article fails to mention that Obama is also continuing the drone attacks that Bush initiated. It seems that he may also actually increase the area covered by drone attacks. He may end up being responsible for creating a civil war in Pakistan. Maybe he wants that so that the army will take over. Obama has spoken about talking to the Taliban unlike Bush but this is just a rather transparent attempt to create splits in the Taliban. Moderate Taliban are by definition those that go along with the US NATO occupation. Already the Afghan govt. has many of the same laws as the former Taliban regime including the death penalty for Muslims who convert to Christianity.

Socialist Project - home The B u l l e t Socialist Project - home
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 193
March 17, 2009
Afghanistan: A Surge Toward Disaster
Anthony Fenton

As United States President Barack Obama simultaneously escalates and crafts a new strategy for the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led counter-insurgency war and occupation in Afghanistan, critics say that the “surge” will send the country toward an “unmitigated disaster,” the brunt of which will be borne by the civilian population.

Since Obama announced an increase in the U.S. footprint by 17,000 soldiers on February 17, the debate over the escalation of the war in Afghanistan has reached a fever pitch. The topic now garners more headlines than the ongoing war in Iraq.

During his presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly pledged to escalate the war. In a speech last July, Obama called for “at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan,” and said that “we need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones.”[1]

Although unreported at the time, Obama's campaign pledges were already beginning to be fulfilled by the outgoing Bush administration. While Obama has made frequent references to the U.S.'s having “taken [its] eye off the ball” in Afghanistan, and that his administration will correct the course, he has omitted mentioning that a “quiet surge” had already begun under his predecessor, George W Bush.[2]
Dating the Surge

While the presence of foreign occupation forces have risen steadily in Afghanistan since at least 2004, when an anti-occupation resurgence became increasingly evident, the first signs of a more concerted escalation emerged in January 2008 when it was announced that 3,200 members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit would deploy to bolster NATO's efforts in the south of the country.[3]

By April 2008, Bush announced that an additional 7,500 to 10,000 soldiers would be added in 2009. According to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the time, it was owing to “very broad bipartisan support” for a surge in Afghanistan that “this was a very safe thing for [Bush] to say.”[4]

Several bipartisan reports, beginning with the report of the Iraq Study Group, of which Gates was a member, began to emerge by late 2006. In late 2007 and early 2008, several other reports, including two co-chaired by Obama's eventual National Security Advisor (retired) General James L. Jones, were published. All advocated more soldiers, a better counterinsurgency strategy, and “unity of effort” among allies.[5]

In July of 2008, according to the March 2009 issue of Freedom Builder Magazine, a publication of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan, a small group of soldiers arrived in Afghanistan “to do the base camp master planning and infrastructure design ... for an estimated 17,000 to 30,000 soldiers and marines, and their equipment.”[6]

With all of this already underway, president Bush boasted to a National Defense University audience in September 2008 that the increased foreign presence from 2006 to 2007 from 41,000 to 62,000 “represent[s] a 'quiet surge' in Afghanistan.”[7]

By late 2008, during the transition from Bush to Obama, reports indicated that the escalation was “already so detailed that the Pentagon has plans down to the last latrine and bullet.”[8]

All told, the 17,000 additional U.S. forces combined with additional forces pledged by U.S. allies – the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Australia – will raise the foreign troop presence to 90,000 by 2010.[9]
Obama Owns Bush's Legacy

Some critics of the war have decried the continuity that Obama has shown with the policies of his predecessor. In a statement e-mailed to Asia Times Online, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) stated that “we can clearly see that there is no difference between Obama and Bush for our country.”

According to RAWA, Bush and subsequently Obama's “wrong and devastated strategy ... has pushed Afghanistan and the region toward disaster and deeper conflicts.”[10]

While the Obama administration will surely try and put its own mark on the prosecution of the war, following the completion of a series of strategic reviews that are currently underway, one analyst is skeptical of the outcome.

As'ad AbuKhalil, a professor in the Department of Politics at California State University, Stanislaus, feels that Obama is repeating the same practice as the Bush administration by re-defining the parameters of the purported success of the “surge” in Iraq.

During a telephone interview, AbuKhalil, who also runs the popular Angry Arab blog, told ATol that “the ability of these governments to deceive on these types of decisions is so easy because they redefine the goals and then claim success” after the fact.[11]

Indeed, one of the first things the Obama administration did was publicly redefine the goals of the war. In testimony to Congress at the end of January, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that “our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United States and our allies, and whatever else we need to do flows from that objective.”[12]

In an interview with Canada's CBC prior to his first official visit to one of America's closest allies in the war on terror, Obama reiterated that the war is “winnable, in the sense of our ability to ensure that it is not a launching pad for attacks against North America.”[13]

As with the case of Iraq, the purported goal of implanting Western-style democracy has been abandoned.

Despite the perception that Obama is scaling down the war in Iraq, AbuKhalil also cautioned that an end to that war is still not in sight, “The language [Obama] has used about Iraq and about the so-called withdrawal is so vague and flexible that it gives him room for leeway in order to back out of it.”

If he's not careful, Obama could find himself with two quagmires on his hands. Thomas E. Ricks, author of the recently released book about the U.S. surge in Iraq, The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, writes, “I don't think the Iraq war is over, and I worry that there is much more to come than any of us suspect.”[14]
Greater Risk for Civilians

Drawing from the lessons learned from the Iraq surge, U.S. generals have acknowledged that the expansion of the war in Afghanistan will result in higher levels of violence.

During a February 18 press briefing at the Pentagon, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, David McKiernan said, “I would expect to see a temporary time where the level of violence might go up until we transition into holding and setting conditions to build.”[15]

Any increase in violence will add to the already skyrocketing levels of civilian casualties in recent years. According to a report released last January by the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, the 2,118 civilians killed in 2008 was an increase of 40% over 2007.[16]

Highlighting the anticipated effect of the war's expansion on Afghans, RAWA stated, “The very first outcome of the surge for Afghan people will be increase in the number of civilian casualties ... In the past seven years, thousands of innocent people have been killed or wounded by the U.S./NATO bombardments. In the past weeks under Obama's rule, around 100 Afghan civilians have been killed.”

One U.S.-based analyst of the war in Afghanistan, Marc Herold, who has been compiling a database of Afghan civilian casualties since 2001, agrees with RAWA's assessment.

Herold, a professor of Economic Development and Women's Studies at the University of New Hampshire, told ATol that the surge will prove to be “an unmitigated disaster” that is likely to “make the situation much, much worse for everybody.”[17]

Herold has calculated that the “lethality ratio” of Afghan civilians under Obama, measured as averaging 2.2-2.3 civilians killed per day, is slightly higher than the ratio in the final days of the Bush administration.[18]

Adding that the “basic rule of thumb is for every civilian killed you get three or four resistance fighters,” Herold estimates that under Obama “we've created 3-500 Taliban and resistance. This is absolutely a losing proposition.”

RAWA added that “The surge in level of troops will also [result in a] surge in protests against the U.S./NATO in Afghanistan and it will also push more people toward the Taliban and other terrorist groups as a reaction against occupation forces and their mistreatment against people.”

Others, such as neo-conservative academic Max Boot, charge that those who focus only on the number of civilians killed are “naysayers,” and encourages Obama to “ignore” them and not “lose his nerve” in the face of mounting criticisms.[19]

By contrast, commenting on the Western media's banal treatment of the war's toll on Afghan civilians, AbuKhalil said, “it can only be explained in terms of utter racism ... that the country or the media of a country can tolerate such high levels of civilian casualties on a regular basis.”

For AbuKhalil, the persistent loss of Afghan life which tends to get swept away by the “propagandistic term of collateral damage,” indicates that policy-makers and the media “decided this is something we can live with, this very high toll of the civilian casualties of the country we are supposedly liberating.”

Washington-backed President Hamid Karzi has repeatedly decried the air strikes and other incidents, often carried out by secretive special forces units, that have led to civilian casualties. A poll conducted by the BBC and ABC News in February indicated rapidly declining support for both Karzai and the presence of foreign soldiers among the civilian population.[20]
No End in Sight

As McKiernan has stated repeatedly, it is actually wrong to characterize the occupation's escalation as a “surge,” which connotes a temporary influx in the military footprint, as was the case in Iraq.

Recently, McKiernan said “this is not a temporary force uplift ... it's going to need to be sustained for some period of time ... I'm trying to look out for the next three to four or five years.”[21]

Three to five years may itself be an underestimation of the anticipated duration of the U.S.'s stay in Afghanistan. In recent testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, (retired) Lieutenant General David Barno, a former commander in Afghanistan, said the counter-insurgency campaign that he and other experts are advocating could last until at least 2025.[22]
Ignored Option: Ending the Occupation

Contrary to the elite, bipartisan consensus inside North America that supports the war's escalation, and echoing fears that are common among Afghans, RAWA argues that “We think the 30,000 extra troops will only serve the U.S. regional strategy in changing Afghanistan to its military base, it will [have] nothing to do with fighting the terrorist groups, as they claim.”

AbuKhalil adds that poor coverage of the conflict, combined with the “cloak of the United Nations,” whose sanctioning of and presence in Afghanistan helps provide legitimacy to the war, means that “the president of the United States can do anything that he really wants, and that's what I think may allow for the worsening plight of the conditions of the civilian people of Afghanistan.”

For AbuKhalil, “anything short of complete withdrawal and allowing [Afghans] to determine their future totally and independently of the United States is going to be a compromise with the principle of self-determination.”

Herold feels that mapping out a way to withdraw from Afghanistan should be Obama's top priority: “I think that is what we really should be talking about here, rather than entering into a much greater degree.”

While all signs indicate at least a temporary escalation of the war under Obama and General David Petraeus, who oversees the war as head of U.S. Central Command, an immediate exit strategy appears, for now, to be off the table.

Regardless, RAWA feels that “Today many people in Afghanistan ask for withdrawal of the troops and regard them [as] useless to do anything good for Afghanistan.” •

Anthony Fenton is an independent researcher and journalist in British Columbia, Canada, who covers Canadian and U.S. foreign policy.

Notes

1. See, A New Strategy for a New World July 15, 2008.

2. The Obama interview Canwest News Service, February 17, 2009.

3. DoD Announces Units For Afghanistan Deployment DoD release No 0037-08 January 15, 2008.

4. Bush Pledges More Troops to Afghanistan, Gates Says by The Associated Press, April 5, 2008.

5. For the Iraq Study Groups Afghan recommendations, click here; also see the Atlantic Council's Saving Afghanistan; the final report of the Afghanistan Study Group; and the Center for American Progress' The Forgotten Front.

6. See the Freedom Builder magazine.

7. Remarks by the president to the National Defense University’s distinguished lecture program, September 9, 2008.

8. Reid, Tim. Pentagon plans troop surge in Afghanistan Times (London) December 6, 2008.

9. The additional 17,000 will bring U.S. levels to at least 54,000 from the current level of 37,000. On the UK, click here; on Australia's increases, click here and here.

10. RAWA statement e-mailed March 3, 2009.

11. Telephone interview, March 9, 2009. Click here.

12. Afghanistan 'top priority' for U.S. al-Jazeera, January 28, 2009.

13. See Obama in Canada; transcript of Obama's interview.

14. Ricks, Thomas E (2009) The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008. New York: The Penguin Press, pg 315.

15. DoD News Briefing with Gen. McKiernan from the Pentagon February 18, 2009.

16. Number of Afghan civilian deaths in 2008 highest since Taliban ouster, says UN UNAMA, February 17, 2009.

17. Telephone interview March 3, 2009. For Herold's most recent assessment of the civilian toll, click here. For ongoing coverage, click here.

18. Lethality rate calculation e-mailed to ATol, March 3, 2009.

19. Deja vu in Kabul Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2009.

20. Afghans Grow Skeptical of State of Affairs Angusreid, February 15, 2009.

21. DoD News Briefing with General McKiernan from the Pentagon DoD briefing, February 18, 2009.

22. Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, David W Barno, February 26, 2009.

This article is copyrighted to Asia Times Online.
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Monday, March 16, 2009

Zardari boxed in after judge reinstated

This is from Monsters and Critics. I gather that the other sacked judges as well are also to be reinstated. It seems that the armed forces were crucial in forcing Zardari to give way. He now appears as a very weak leader although no doubt the US still stands behind him in preference to Sharif. There are still umpteen problems facing Pakistan and no doubt ordinary Pakistanis will not see much change in their situation for the short term. At least this is a step forward for democracy in Pakistan.


ANALYSIS: Zardari boxed in after judge reinstated
South Asia News


By Nadeem Sarwar Mar 16, 2009, 16:14 GMT


Islamabad - The reinstatement of the Pakistan's sacked top judge is a healthy sign for the fragile democracy but a bad omen for President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, analysts said Monday.

Pakistan's judiciary, under the reinstated and independent-minded Iftikhar Chaudhry, plus re-energised opposition parties with massive street power, is expected to curtail Zardari's tendency to amass powers and run the country by himself.

'He is definitely cornered and probably he is going to remain there,' said a political analyst Ayesha Siddiqa.

Zardari had resisted reinstating Chaudhry and his colleagues after taking office last year from fear that the defiant judge might renew corruption charges against him.

And he remained defiant last week when opposition groups led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the country's influential legal community launched a cross-country rally dubbed the 'Long March' from southern Pakistan to the capital Islamabad.

But Zardari caved in when Sharif left the eastern city of Lahore in a massive rally and headed for Islamabad. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in an early morning televised address on Monday, announced that all judges, including Chaudhry, would be allowed to return to office on March 21.

The announcement came after Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani pressed Zardari for a deal with Sharif to avoid a major political showdown in Islamabad which could threaten the country's stability, media reports said.

Defying a ban on public gatherings and a week-long crackdown on opposition workers, tens of thousands of people thronged the streets in Lahore, removing roadblocks and forcing riot police to flee, as they made their way to the city.

'He failed to understand what the people were thinking,' said Rasool Bux Raees, a political analyst and a professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

'The image Mr Zardari has now is of a leader who stands against the public, at least in Punjab where more than 60 per cent of the population lives,' Raees said.

'He was under false impression that by just amassing power he would be able to control everything and did not realize that you have to take people along,' he added.

Zardari was not particularly popular when he took office in September 2008, after his wife was assassinated at a political rally in December 2007.

He was labelled 'Mr 10 Per Cent,' a reference to allegations of receiving kickbacks on government contracts during his wife's two stints as prime minister in the 1990s.

He had spent 11 years behind bars on corruption charges, which he dismissed as 'politically motivated.'

Zadari's popularity further plunged when he reneged on promises of reinstating the judges, and giving up the controversial presidential powers that Musharraf had accumulated through constitutional amendments during his nine-year military dictatorship.

Two ministers from his party recently resigned from the cabinet as a protest against his policies, while a couple of senior party leaders have publicly criticized his policies.

Media reports have been rife with speculation about widening rift between Zardari and Gilani, who reportedly wants the president to reconcile with the opposition.

'Even the restoration of judges would not improve Zardari's standing because the public will give credit to Sharif, who took a bold stance on the issue of judges and succeeded,' said retired general Talat Masood.

According to Masood, miscalculations have now placed Zardari in a position where on the one hand he faces an opposition leader who is more respected by the public than he is.

On the other, Chaudhry, who is known for his judicial activism and neutrality, will keep a check on him.

'In such a situation Zardari will have to accept a considerable cut in his control over the state affairs. He will have to set certain limits for himself. He might not be used to restrictions given his nature but he doesn't have any other choice,' said Masood.

This can be generally very healthy for democracy, said Raees. 'A democratic set-up functions well when power is properly distributed in various state actors and institutions,' he added.

Despite the current political defeat Zardari has no shortage of friends. Washington and other western countries still consider him as reliable ally in the fight against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants launching cross border attacks on US-led international forces in Afghanistan.

'Whatever Zaradri's popularity level, the west prefers him to Sharif who is known abroad for his close ties with the Islamic religious parties. Americans would like to see him in power in the coming years no matter what,' said Raees.





Read more: "ANALYSIS: Zardari boxed in after judge reinstated" - http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/southasia/news/article_1464988.php/ANALYSIS_Zardari_boxed_in_after_judge_reinstated_#ixzz09zQPWZ80

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sharif calls off long march.

This is from Reuters.

Although the chief justice is to be reinstated there is no word about the dozens of other senior judges who were also sacked by Musharraf being re-instated. This seems more of a clever ruse to defuse the situation.


Pakistan's Sharif calls off "Long March" protest
Sun Mar 15, 2009 10:39pm EDT
GUJRANWALA, Pakistan, March 16 (Reuters) - Pakistani opposition leader Nawaz Sharif on Monday called off a "Long March" protest after the government decided to reinstate Iftikhar Chaudhry as chief justice.

"I hope after this, we'll implement the charter of democracy and true democracy in Pakistan. We'll make the judiciary stronger and parliament supreme," Sharif told supporters in Gujranwala, a town north of Lahore, where the protest procession stopped on its way to Islamabad when news came through of the government's backdown.

"We have got the fruit of our two-year struggle. Now the destiny of this country will change. This development will lead to a revolution in Pakistan," the former prime minister said. (Reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Editing by Dean Yates)



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You know you are in the Philippines when.....# 17- 20

You know you are in the Philippines when....


17. Stopping at a stop sign when no one is coming is a sign of dementia or that you are a foreigner..

18. Cutting off oncoming vehicles is a normal way of entering traffic.

19. At intersections the largest vehicle has the right of way.

20. Malls all have backup power generators so they can remain open during frequent power outages.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You Know you are in the Philippines when...# 13- # 16

# 13 No motorized tricycle has a functioning speedometer.

# 14 Use of headlights at night is regarded by some as optional.

# 15 At pedestrian crosswalks vehicles still seem to have right of way.

# 16 As soon as children can walk they have the skills to jaywalk.

You Know you are in the Philippines when...# 9- # 12

You know you are in the Philippines when......


# 9 Only wimps and foreigners shower with warm water.

# 10 Every flat roof attracts many clothes lines.

# 11 It takes over two hours for your bus to exit Metro Manila--when traffic is light.

# 12 Street vendors sell anything and everything in Manila traffic jams.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Karzai may help Iran join Afghan talks

Karzai trip may help Iran join US-led Afghan talks.



The United States, other world powers and neighbours of Afghanistan meet later this month to explore ways of restoring stability to a country where international forces are battling a resurgent Taliban insurgency.

In what is being seen as an overture by President Barack Obama's administration towards arch-foe Iran, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said Tehran will receive an invitation to the gathering.

Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari will meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ahead of a Tehran summit on Wednesday of the regional Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO).

Although supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has Iran's final say on issues of strategy, the meeting of the three presidents is expected to see Karzai urge Iran to accept the invitation to the March 31 talks.

"Karzai will push Iranians to attend this conference as it will reinforce his own position and also help to secure support in stabilising the situation in Afghanistan," Iranian political analyst Mashallah Shamsolvaezin told AFP.

A decision on whether Iran will attend is expected over the next few days.

Clinton did not say where the meeting would be held, but that Afghan and Pakistani officials would be invited, with NATO allies, donors, international organisations and "key regional and strategic" nations.

Karzai's trip gained added significance after his foreign minister, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi both called on Monday for Tehran's help in supporting Afghanistan.

"We definitely want the support and cooperation of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Spanta told AFP.

Shiite Iran shares close ethnic and religious ties with Afghanistan and opposed the Sunni Taliban before the US assault on Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Tehran is also concerned about drugs smuggling from Afghanistan to Iran.

Shamsolvaezin said if Iran attends the March 31 meeting and if the United States and Iran talk "it could have a positive influence from northern Afghanistan to south of Gaza," a region spanning Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Pakistan.

Iran has already developed close ties with neighbouring Shiite Iraq since its former foe Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime was toppled by US-led forces in 2003.

Its presence at the Afghanistan meeting would also be seen as acceptance of Tehran's influence in the region following attempts to isolate it because of its controversial nuclear programme.

The West, led by Washington, suspects the nuclear programme is aimed at making atomic weapons -- a charge Tehran strongly denies.

Since Obama took office, Washington has made overtures towards Tehran and even said it would be prepared to hold "face-to-face" talks within months. The two countries have had no diplomatic ties for three decades.

"Iranian attendance at the Afghanistan conference is one of the first rungs on the ladder to direct Iran-US negotiations, as it will be important to test goodwill and guarantees," Shamslovaezin said.

You know you are in the Philippines when.....# 5 to # 8

5. Most toilets do not have seats and come with a flush bucket.

6. Roman Catholic bishops together with communist front organizations mount regular demonstrations against the government.

7. The most efficient tax collector is the NPA (New People's Army, Maoist revolutionaries)

8. Unless you are a foreign barbarian you shower with cold water.

more to come..

You know you are in the Philippines when....#1 to # 4

I have been listing some of the idiosyncratic features of being in the Philippines. Here are the first four:

1) Every second vehicle is a jeepney.

2) Every second jeepney has a big Mercedes Logo ornament on its front.

3) Your automatic washing machine is a maid.

4) If you use a knife when you eat, it shows you are a barbarian.

more to come.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Philippines: Ugly Betty goes Global.

We have cable TV here in Legazpi and there are several Filipino stations. I was surprised to see a show called (translated): I love Ugly Betty.
Not only does Ugly Betty have glasses similar to her US namesake but she also has ugly braces on her teeth. The drama also imitates the US show in that there is a scheming older beauty -played by Vanessa Williams in the US show--and also a gay sidekick. Betty also has a more attractive sister and a similar father. She seemed to have similar problems with her boyfriends as well and with her boss. Even pop culture comedy dramas have gone global!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Karzai unable to change presidential election date.

This is rather bizarre. The "independent" election commission in effect violates the constitution while Karzai's suggestion would be in accord with it. Of course the US and NATO are all for the later time since they expect to have more control over security in August. Also, no doubt they will have arranged for one of their favorites to have the inside track. They probably will not even countenance Karzai remaining president from the time his term ends until the election. Karzai has just been an uppity puppet who does not understand he must do as he is told and not criticise the US and NATO much if at all.

Afghanistan confirms August poll

Afghanistan's election commission has said that presidential polls will take place on August 20, rejecting a request from Hamid Karzai, the country's president, for them to be held in the spring.

In a decree issued last week, Karzai said the elections should take place in April in line with the constitution that requires the vote to take place 30 to 60 days before the end of his mandate on May 21.

But on Wednesday, election officials repeated their belief that a fair vote would be impossible in spring because of the threat of violence and snow in the country's remote mountainous areas.

"While we respect and accept the president's decree, its implementation is not possible because all the problems which we listed previously, which are mainly security and weather conditions, are still in place," Azizullah Ludin, head of the Independent Election Commission (EC), said.

"This is why after a thorough study the EC came to the conclusion that we have to hold transparent, free and fair elections. That's why we confirm the date of August 20."

Security fears

There are fears that the election could be plagued by violence as the Taliban, which has said it will not take part in the process, is gaining strength in large areas of the country.

About 17,000 additional US troops being sent to Afghanistan will be in place for the August vote, but would not have been available to help provide security for a spring election.

In a sign of the challenges faced in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside an air base used by US forces on Wednesday.

A number of people were injured in the blast at the Bagram air base, about 60km north of the capital, Kabul, US military officials said.

Abdul Jabar Takwa, the governor of Parwan province, said that the bomber was in a car that exploded after he drove past a police checkpoint.

A Taliban spokesman told Al Jazeera that it carried out the attack.

Opposition objections

Afghan opposition groups and rival presidential contenders, as well as the United States, had all backed the original August date.

But with that date being confirmed, it is now unclear who will be president after Karzai's term ends.

Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Kabul, said: "Hamid Karzai would like to stay on as president, but those who are planning to challenge him for the job say that is unfair.

"They say if Karzai was the interim president ... he would have all the advantages of the presidency in this war-ravaged country.

"He would have security around him, the ability to fly anywhere he wanted by helicopter, giving him an unfair advantage in this election."

The National Front, the main political opposition group formed of a fragile coalition of opposition parties and some other candidates welcomed the commission's decision and called for "national dialogue" on an interim administration.

Separately, the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which is fighting alongside US forces in Afghanistan, said that three of its soldiers had died in a roadside blast in the south of the country.

A Nato statement said that the troops were killed in the blast on Tuesday, but did not release the exact location of the attack.

Brigadier-General Jon Vance, the commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, told the Canadian press that the three were Canadian.

Georgia: Halt Russian Military Buildup

This is from the International News (Pakistan). It seems that Russia is going to expand its presence in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia whether Georgia and the west like it or not. It will be interesting to see if Obama confronts Russia over this or keeps quiet in order to improve relationships on other issues. It would seem that Russia is co-operating with the US insofar as allowing US supplies to go through Russia on route to Afghanistan.

Halt military buildup: Georgia

Wednesday, March 04, 2009
TBILISI: Georgia’s defence minister appealed to the West to halt what he said was a continuing Russian military build-up in two breakaway Georgian regions, adding that a fresh Russian attack ‘cannot be ruled out’.

The Kremlin recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states in the wake of last year’s five-day war between Russia and Georgia, when Moscow smashed a Georgian assault on South Ossetia.

Defence Minister David Sikharulidze told Reuters in an interview late on Monday that Russia’s war aim had been ‘regime change’, but it had failed. Moscow’s continued military build-up in the absence of international monitoring meant the situation ‘remains fragile’, he said.

The minister said Tbilisi had observed activity at the site of a proposed Russian naval base in the breakaway Black Sea territory of Abkhazia and understood that a Soviet-era military base near the Abkhaz resort town of Gudauta was ‘fully operational’ and under Russian control. Moscow is keen to re-establish its military influence in strategic former Soviet territories but the EU and the US have said any new Russian bases in the breakaway regions would violate a ceasefire accord which ended last year’s war.

‘Both the European Union and United States made their position very clear with regard to these activities. If this political pressure continues, it would play an important role in ... stopping the Russians doing what they are doing,’ Sikharulidze told Reuters.

‘The security environment is a concern. This represents a danger not only for Georgia but for the entire region.’

Asked later if new conflict was possible, he replied:

‘Our mission is to be ready to resist if the Russians decide to attack Georgia, major cities, vital links of communications again. Our understanding is that this cannot be ruled out.’

Monday, March 2, 2009

Trip to the Philippines

We drove to Winnipeg on Saturday and stayed over at the Airport Inn. Fortunately they allowed us to park our car for a month saving us a bundle compared to some of the park and fly places by the airport.
The flight from Winnipeg to Vancouver next day was uneventful but when we arrived in Vancouver in the middle of the afternoon we had to wait for the flight to Manila at 10:45 pm.
We had our bags booked through to Manila so we just had to get a boarding pass. Of course the PAL station was not open.
We inquired at information and were told that it opened at six. At six it did not open. So we inquired again. We were then told that it opened three hours before the flight or about 6:15. Hmm..! Three hours before 10:45 would be 7:45 not 6:15. Anyway at about a quarter to seven someone came and fired up a computer that put signs by each lane indicating whether it was for transfers or for those with baggage. Lo and behold a little after seven two clerks actually appeared and we were first in line and got our seats right away.
At the departure lounge we were not allowed in for security reasons the sign informed us. Next door a flight to New York with exactly the same type of lounge had people happily waiting inside. Those waiting for the Philippine Air Lines flight however had to sit in the hall with too few seats for all of us.
Finally the PAL plane landed from Las Vegas and some passengers going on to Manila got off the plane into the lounge. I expect this was the security reason! PAL could not counenance the thought of us mingling with the Las Vegas gamblers who might very well not keep their boarding pass to get back on. Easier just to keep us waiting outside with looking through the glass to the water fountain and the washrooms!
We were about half an hour late as the Las Vegas plane was late. No doubt they had trouble rounding up laggard gamblers. More later.....