Wednesday, May 30, 2007 / In depth - Israelis carry out West Bank ‘execution’

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Israelis carry out West Bank ‘execution’

By Harvey Morris in Ramallah

Published: May 30 2007 20:32 | Last updated: May 30 2007 20:32

An Israeli undercover squad shot dead an off-duty Palestinian security man at point-blank range during a daylight raid on Ramallah in what Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian information minister present at the scene, on Wednesday described as an extrajudicial execution.

Uniformed soldiers then fired into the body of Mohamed Abdul-Halim, 24, and kicked him to make sure he was dead, according to witnesses who have given statements to a local human rights organisation.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli military, which did not circulate its customary written statement on the incident, said in answer to questions that the Israeli squad “identified an armed man who was posing a threat to the force and fired at him”. The spokeswoman would not say whether the dead man was a specific Israeli target.

Lieutenant Halim belonged to Force-17, an official security unit loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah president. A spokesman for the presidency said he was on leave at the time.

The witnesses said Lt. Halim was in civilian clothes, wore a holstered service weapon and was carrying an AK-47 as he left the Nazareth restaurant in the West Bank city’s main shopping street at around 5.45pm on Tuesday afternoon.

Samer Burnat, a taxi driver, said his vehicle was forced to a halt by a white van with Palestinian plates. “The rear doors burst open. There were uniformed Israeli soldiers in the back. They shouted at the man to stop but instantly opened fire as he turned away from them. They hit him once in the back of the head and once in the neck.”

He insisted Lt. Halim made no attempt to use his weapons and had his back to the Israelis when they opened fire.

Lt. Halim’s body displayed two bullet wounds to the back of the head and others to his back and rear left leg. Doctors determined he had been shot 24 times. Mr Burnat has signed an affidavit with the al-Haq human rights organisation whose Ramallah offices overlook the scene of the shooting.

Israel has resumed airborne targeted assassinations against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks. It has also stepped up operations in the West Bank in which suspects alleged to be members of the Fatah-linked al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades have been killed.

The Ramallah operation was unusual in that it took place in broad daylight in a busy street within yards of high-profile eyewitnesses.

Dr Barghouti, an independent member of the Palestinian Authority coalition cabinet and head of a medical charity, was in nearby offices when shooting broke out.

“What happened is very contradictory with the Israeli story,” he told the FT. “He was trying to get away. There was no exchange of fire.”

The information minister, whose car was hit by Israeli fire, added: “The Israeli army decided this person must die and acted as judge and executioner.”

Hassan Fattouh, employee of the Nazareth restaurant, said Mr Halim was a regular customer. The undercover squad’s van was parked outside the premises as he left with a companion. Israeli undercover personnel in civilian clothes put on police baseball caps as they left their vehicles and covered their faces.

Bystanders were bundled into nearby premises, or handcuffed in the street. The Israelis left with backup from military vehicles and under cover of gunfire and smoke grenades. Seven bystanders suffered injuries.

Al-Haq, supported by European funding, is collecting evidence in the case. Frank Wall, its legal researcher, said that in five fatal shootings since the start of the year, al-Haq had yet to receive a response from the Israeli military to its calls for inquiries.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Yar’Adua Sworn In as Nigerian President - New York Times

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Yar’Adua Sworn In as Nigerian President - New York Times: "May 29, 2007
Yar’Adua Sworn In as Nigerian President

Filed at 11:12 a.m. ET

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) -- A reclusive former governor from Nigeria's Muslim north was sworn in as president Tuesday, in the first transfer of power between civilian leaders in Africa's most populous country.

Umaru Yar'Adua used his inaugural speech to call for an immediate end of hostilities in the southern oil region, a conflict that has cut output by nearly a third in Africa's biggest petroleum producer. Oil prices fell Tuesday as the main militant group in the region said it was considering the request, reflecting hopes that the inauguration of a new president in Nigeria would contribute to stability in the market.

While Yar'Adua's inauguration marked a milestone in a country struggling to consolidate democracy after decades of military rule, he was elected in an April vote the opposition has denounced as fraudulent and international observers have said was not credible.

Yar'Adua, 56, addressed the voting controversy head on, acknowledging at the start of his speech that the elections were flawed. He promised to set up a panel to examine the electoral system ''with a view to effect reforms.''

''We acknowledge that our elections were not perfect and had la"

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Iraq's Sadr Overhauls His Tactics -

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Iraq's Sadr Overhauls His Tactics - "raq's Sadr Overhauls His Tactics
Shiite Woos Sunnis, Purges Extremists

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 20, 2007; A01

NAJAF, Iraq -- The movement of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has embarked on one of its most dramatic tactical shifts since the beginning of the war.

The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis. Sadr's political followers are distancing themselves from the fragile Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is widely criticized as corrupt, inefficient and biased in favor of Iraq's majority Shiites. And moderates are taking up key roles in Sadr's movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to improve Sadr's image and position him in the middle of Iraq's ideological spectrum.

"We want to aim the guns against the occupation and al-Qaeda, not between Iraqis," Ahmed Shaibani, 37, a cleric who leads Sadr's newly formed reconciliation committee, said as he sat inside Sadr's heavily guarded compound here.

Sadr controls the second-biggest armed force in Iraq, after the U.S. military, and 30 parliamentary seats -- enough power to influence political decision-making and dash U.S. hopes for stability. The cleric withdrew his six ministers from Iraq's cabinet last month, leaving the movement more free to challenge the government.

"Our retreating from the government is one way to show we are trying to work for the welfare of Iraq and not only for the welfare of Shiites," said Salah al-Obaidi, a senior aide to Sadr. He said the time was "not mature yet" to form a bloc that could challenge Maliki, who came to power largely because of Sadr's support.

In recasting himself, the cleric is responding to popular frustration, a widening Sunni-Shiite rift and political inertia, conditions he helped create. The shift is as much a reaction to U.S. efforts to rein him in as it is an admission of unfulfilled visions. His strategy exposes the strengths and weaknesses of his movement as it pushes for U.S. troops to leave and competes with its Shiite rivals in the contest to shape a new Iraq.

Since Sadr emerged with force after the U.S.-led invasion, he has sought to create a Shiite-led state guided by Islamic law with a strong central government. In 2004, his militia battled U.S. forces in Najaf, bolstering his authority and appeal across sects. But his credibility as a would-be unifier of Iraq suffered after his militiamen engaged in widespread revenge killings of Sunnis following the February 2006 bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra. His movement remains in flux, at times in turmoil, over the approach toward Sunnis, the proper timing of a U.S. withdrawal and Sadr's political involvement.

"The Sadrists believe they have political problems, and they are trying new tactics to serve their own interests," said Mithal al-Alusi, an independent Sunni legislator. "But anyway, we welcome any political group who wants to talk instead of kill."

Sadr has vanished from sight in recent months, raising concerns about his leadership, although his close aides insist he's in hiding for security and strategic reasons.

Sunnis continue to accuse the Mahdi Army of committing atrocities, and fissures are growing in the loosely knit militia as fighters break off on their own. A three-month-old U.S. and Iraqi security offensive in Baghdad, which Sadr has tacitly backed, has not reduced attacks on Shiites, prompting fears that his militiamen may again spark cycles of reprisal killings. And while Sadr has ordered his fighters to lie low, U.S. arrests of militiamen are mounting, creating discontent.

"The main questions are: How seriously can we take these new tactics? And do they have real control over the Jaish al-Mahdi?" Alusi said, using the Arabic term for the militia.
'We Are Not Anti-American'

As black-clad militiamen stood guard, Obaidi, his white turban glinting in the buttery sunlight, walked into the gold-domed mosque of Kufa. The senior aide to Sadr, tall and gaunt with a black beard, stepped up to a wooden lectern and stared out at the courtyard where the faithful waited. Hundreds of men, young and old, had come to hear Sadr, whom they had not seen in months. This was his mosque. Obaidi, on this day, was his voice.

He read aloud Sadr's two-page sermon, which condemned U.S. military forces building a wall in Baghdad's mostly Sunni Adhamiyah neighborhood; residents complained the wall would divide Sunnis and Shiites.

"Didn't we see and hear of our beloveds in Adhamiyah while they were chanting, 'No, no, to sectarianism'?" Obaidi thundered at the crowd. "We will stand, as one hand, to demonstrate with them and defend our sacred lands everywhere."

The day after the sermon, Obaidi sat inside Sadr's compound in Najaf, where a green Islamic flag fluttered between two Iraqi national flags.

Three months ago, Obaidi was released from Camp Cropper, a U.S. military detention center, where he had been held for five months. In near-perfect English, he said the American military officers set him free because they view him as a moderate who could help neutralize the radicals in Sadr's fold.

"I can give him good advice," Obaidi added with a smile.

Shaibani, the cleric, was released in March after U.S. military officials determined that he "could play a potentially important role in helping to moderate extremism and foster reconciliation in Iraq," the military said in a statement at the time.

U.S. generals are now differentiating between "irreconcilable" rogue members of the Mahdi Army and "reconcilable" ones they can engage.

Still, U.S. policy toward Sadr often appears contradictory. American soldiers are more cautious in conducting raids, understanding the movement's social dimensions and popular roots. U.S. military leaders no longer cite Shiite militias as the biggest threat to Iraq's stability, emphasizing the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq instead.

At the same time, the military is attempting to contain Sadr. U.S. military leaders say they are preparing to increase the number of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers patrolling the streets of Sadr City, the cleric's stronghold in Baghdad.

"Sadr clearly has some influence," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who commands U.S. forces south of Baghdad and in southern Iraq. "But it's simplistic to say this guy is in charge of all Jaish al-Mahdi, that when he says, 'Go left,' they all go left. We're not seeing that."

But Sadr's aides say the fact that the Mahdi Army has not risen up yet is proof that the cleric is in control.

U.S. officials have publicly claimed the cleric is in Iran, which undermines Sadr's homegrown credentials and his hopes to woo Sunnis, who are wary of Iran's growing influence. The officials have also alleged that groups in Iran are training and funneling weapons to Shiite militants.

"The Americans are trying to picture the Mahdi Army as being a tool of Iran," said Karim Abu Ali, a Sadr spokesman in Baghdad. "It is baseless."

Altering such perceptions was part of Sadr's reason for cooperating with the current Baghdad security plan, Obaidi said. Violence now is largely being perpetrated by Sunni insurgents deploying car bombs and suicide attacks.

"We have been accused that we're not cooperating to bring security," Obaidi said. "Now, we've shown that we are not the source of the problems."

Sadr's cooperation with the plan, his aides said, is based partly on political battles over Iraq policy in Washington -- a sign, he believes, that the occupation is in its final stages. His aides say he is open to meeting U.S. politicians who are not part of the Bush administration, particularly those calling for a U.S. withdrawal.

"We are not anti-American. We think the Americans have an important role in rebuilding Iraq, but as companies, not as an army," Obaidi said. "We can open a new channel with the Democrats, even some of the Republicans."
Vow to Weaken Al-Qaeda

Shaibani, Sadr's spokesman in Najaf during the confrontation with U.S. troops in 2004, spent more than two years inside U.S. detention centers. Sidelined from an increasingly sectarian war, he befriended Sunni insurgents instead of killing them, earning a credibility few in Sadr's movement can claim today.

Sadr is now dispatching Shaibani to speak with Sunni religious leaders in Syria, Egypt and across the Persian Gulf to seek their help in approaching Sunnis inside Iraq.

Sadr senses an opportunity in recent moves by Sunni insurgent groups to break away from militants influenced by al-Qaeda, and in the threats by the largest Sunni political bloc to leave the government, which opens the possibility for a new cross-sectarian political alliance, his aides said.

If the sectarian war can be stopped, if the Mahdi Army and Sunni insurgent groups can join hands and break al-Qaeda in Iraq, there will be less reason for U.S. forces to stay, said Shaibani, wearing a black dishdasha, a traditional loose-fitting tunic, and clutching a Nokia cellphone during an interview in late April. "The American argument is we can't have a timetable because of al-Qaeda," he said. "So we're going to weaken al-Qaeda for you."

Sadr's political followers have had informal talks with Sunni politicians and insurgent groups in the past month. "We think there is some possibility to have a closer relationship," said Hussein al-Falluji, a legislator in the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni political bloc.

Abu Aja Naemi, a commander in the 1920 Revolution Brigades, said Sadr's representatives have had informal discussions with his group.

The Sadrists, like most Sunnis, are against the idea of creating autonomous regions. They share concerns over the fate of the contested oil-rich city of Kirkuk, division of oil revenue and the need for Iraq's constitution to be amended.

Their differences, though, are numerous. Some Sunnis fear that a premature U.S. withdrawal could endanger their community. Sunnis and Sadrists disagree over allowing thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to government jobs.

"If national reconciliation is at the expense of the return of the assassin Baathists, then we will reject such reconciliation," said Falah Hassan Shanshal, a Sadr legislator and chairman of the parliament's de-Baathification committee.

Sadr's Shiite rivals inside Maliki's coalition say it is unlikely the Sadrists will unite with the Sunnis. "Now, it is very difficult," said Ridha Jawad Taqi, a senior legislator with the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, the party formerly known as SCIRI and the largest within Maliki's ruling coalition. "Between them, there's a gap made of blood. After Samarra, there is no possibility for reconciliation."
Sunnis Distrustful

This month, Mahdi Army militiamen in the Hurriyah area of Baghdad chased several Sunni families from their homes. Sadr, who wants to protect his militia's image as a guardian of Shiites, acted swiftly.

A committee based in Najaf created to deal with rogue elements dismissed 30 militiamen in the area, said Haider Salaam, a senior Mahdi Army commander in Hurriyah.

Across Baghdad, at least 600 fighters have been forced out of the militia over the past three months, Sadr officials said. Their misdeeds included murder and using Sadr's name to gain undue influence.

In the Kadhimiyah neighborhood, militiamen who engaged in a firefight with U.S. forces near a mosque were also dismissed.

"Yes, this was self-defense, but they exceeded the orders of the commander," Salaam said. "Any breach of the security operations will be blamed on the Mahdi Army."

But it is hard to get rid of the militiamen. "Some of those who are dismissed still go around and say they are members of Mahdi Army," said Abu Ali, the Sadr spokesman.

"We sent people to talk to them, to inform them of Moqtada Sadr's instructions and abide by them, but they refused," Salaam said. "We now consider them a splinter group. They don't belong in the Mahdi Army."

A few days later, the fighters attacked the Sadr office in Hurriyah with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, killing two bystanders, including a child.

Even as Sadr struggles to reform his militia, mistrust runs deep on the streets. Khulood Habib, 45, a Sunni seamstress and mother of four, lives in Baghdad's Risala neighborhood, where tensions are growing after recent bomb attacks on Shiite areas. In the last week of April, gunmen kidnapped two Sunni men near Habib's apartment. The next day, their bodies were found mutilated and tortured -- a signature practice of Shiite militias.

Two days later, Habib received an envelope containing a bullet and a letter signed by the Mahdi Army that ordered her to leave within 24 hours. The next afternoon, gunmen began to drive out the Sunnis in her building. Soon, they were in front of her apartment.

"They broke the door down. It fell on my little boy's leg and broke it," Habib recalled, round-faced with light brown hair peeking from underneath her black head scarf. "He was screaming. I was screaming."

Cursing Sunnis as apostates, the men ordered the family to leave the neighborhood. Within an hour, they fled to the home of Habib's parents in the Adil neighborhood. Today, she's too afraid to return.

"Moqtada is saying something, but on the ground they are doing something else," Habib said, tossing a glance at Ibrahim, 6, his left leg in a cast. Sadr's call to reconcile with Sunnis is "all nonsense," she continued. "They want to know who the Sunnis are, so they can start butchering people at their own pace."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hamas threatens renewed suicide bombings

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Hamas threatens renewed suicide bombings | International News | News | Telegraph: "Hamas threatens renewed suicide bombings

By Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
Last Updated: 2:06am BST 18/05/2007

# Video: Life on Gaza's lethal streets
# Audio: Tim Butcher says the fighting could spread across the region

The Middle East was on the verge of war last night after Hamas, the Palestinian militant organisation, threatened to renew suicide bombing on Israel. It did so after Israel launched air and ground attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians rescue a wounded woman after Israeli air strikes in Gaza City
Palestinians rescue a wounded woman after Israeli air strikes in Gaza City

'All options are open, including martyrdom operations (suicide attacks),' Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the military wing of Hamas, said.

Three Palestinian militants and three civilians were reported to have died in a wave of Israeli air strikes.

The Israeli army insisted that all were legitimate terrorist targets, although Palestinians reported one of the vehicles hit was a rubbish truck containing an innocent father and his two teenage sons.

Israel added more military pressure when it sent tanks and a small ground force about a mile into northern Gaza before they apparently dug in for the night.

It was a clear show of strength but was not"

Kidnap and torture: new claims of Army war crimes in Iraq - Independent Online Edition > Legal

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Kidnap and torture: new claims of Army war crimes in Iraq - Independent Online Edition > Legal
Kidnap and torture: new claims of Army war crimes in Iraq
Robert Verkaik reveals evidence of systemic ill-treatment of civilians by British soldiers in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam
Published: 18 May 2007

The British Army is facing new allegations that it was involved in "forced disappearances", hostage-taking and torture of Iraqi civilians after the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

One of the claims is made by the former chairman of the Red Crescent in Basra, who alleges he was beaten unconscious by British soldiers after they accused him of being a senior official in Saddam's Baath party.

The family of another Iraqi civilian claims he was arrested and kidnapped by the British in order to secure the surrender of his brother, who was also accused of being a high-ranking member of the party. He was later found shot dead, still handcuffed and wearing a UK prisoner name tag.

Both cases are being prepared for hearings in the High Court in which the Government will be accused of war crimes while carrying out the arrest and detention of alleged senior members of the Baath party.

Last month, the first British soldier to be convicted of a war crime was jailed for a year and dismissed from the Army after being convicted of mistreating Iraqi civilians, including the hotel worker Baha Mousa, who died of his injuries at the hands of British soldiers. Six other soldiers, including Col Jorge Mendonca, were cleared of all charges.

Lawyers and rights groups say the worrying aspect of these latest allegations is that they show evidence of systemic abuse by British soldiers soon after the fall of Saddam.

Fouad Awdah Al-Saadoon, 67, chairman of the Iraqi Red Crescent in Basra, alleges he was visited by British soldiers at his offices in the city on 12 April 2003 and was taken to the British base at the former Mukhabarat [intelligence] building. In his witness statement, Mr Saadoon said he was accused of being a member of the Baath party and of using his organisation's ambulances secretly to transport Iraqi militia.

In a detailed account of the abuse that he alleges he suffered, Mr Saadoon recalls: "As soon as I went inside they started beating me. They used electric cables and wooden batons and they harshly punched me with their hands and boots. I had a heart problem, I was a diabetic and had high blood pressure. I was hit repeatedly on my eyes which made me collapse unconscious."

Mr Saadoon was later transferred to the joint American/British-run detention centre called Camp Bucca, in southern Iraq, which the British had set up to process prisoners at the start of the war. He was interrogated for five days. Because of the injuries sustained during the beatings his condition worsened and he claims the British flew him to Kuwait for a heart operation. There he claims he was visited by the International Federation of the Red Crescent whose representatives expressed concern at his alleged treatment by the British.

In the second case, a 26-year-old Iraqi civilian, Tarek Hassan, was arrested in a dawn raid by British troops involved in the rounding up of Baath party officials on 24 April 2003. His family allege he was held hostage by the British in exchange for the surrender of his brother, Kadhim Hassan, a member of the Baath party.

Five months after his arrest, his family received a phone call to say his body had been found dumped in Samarra, north of Baghdad and 550 miles from the detention centre where he had been held. Kadhim Hassan, 37, has spent the past three years trying to establish the circumstances that led to the death of his brother. Now Iraqi human rights workers and British lawyers have uncovered vital witnesses to his arrest and detention. They have also recovered Tarek's UK identity tag, which indicates he was a British prisoner.

In his witness statement, Kadhim recalls the night his bother was arrested. "The British were looking for me as I was a high-ranking member of the Baath party," he said. "I suspect that a financial dispute with one of my neighbours made him inform the British of my rank and he possibly told them some lies which made them look for me." Kadhim had left the family a few hours before the armoured vehicles carrying the soldiers arrived. When his sisters contacted the British to find out where the British had taken Tarek, they were told that he would only be released if Kadhim gave himself up. That was the last they heard of him until five months later.

"He was found," said Kadhim, "by locals in the countryside ... We went to collect him from the morgue in Samarra, where we found him with eight bullet wounds to his chest. They were Kalashnikov bullets. His hands were tied with plastic wire and had many bruises."

Now it emerges that Mr Saadoon, who has left Iraq and is working as a businessman in Dubai, met Tarek shortly after he was flown back to Camp Bucca from Kuwait, where he had been receiving medical care.

"I was brought back to Camp Bucca in a van on 21 April and placed in a tent, which held 400 prisoners. On 24 April Tarek Hassan was brought to our tent. He was very scared and confused. He told me British troops had raided his house and were looking for his brother who left the house before the soldiers had arrived. As I was in bad health, Tarek used to bring me food and care for me. Tarek was never interrogated while I was at Camp Bucca."

On 27 April the International Federation of the Red Crescent requested the British to free Mr Saadoon and that night he and all 200 others were released in the middle of the night on the highway between Basra and Zubai. "We had to walk 25 miles to reach the nearest place where we could hire cars," remembers Mr Saadoon.

The Government denies being involved in the injuries suffered by Mr Saadoon or responsibility for Tarek's death. In letters to the family, the Ministry of Defence makes the point that the bullets that may have killed him were fired from a Kalashnikov weapon and that the area where his body was found was not an area of operations associated with British forces.

But the Hassan family's solicitor, Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, said the evidence showed Tarek disappeared at the hands of UK forces and that the circumstances of his release "significantly increased the risk to his life".

In recent correspondence, the MoD has admitted to the Hassan family that Tarek was held at Camp Bucca but claims that it is a US-run camp and so not the responsibility of the British.

Mr Shiner, who is acting in both cases, said: "The Government deny any responsibility in a case where a man has been kidnapped by UK forces and killed. It is a matter of public record that our agents were torturing Iraqis at Camp Bucca and continued to hand over detainees to the Iraqi criminal system even though there was a serious risk of torture or death in detention. This case is important because if the UK have jurisdiction it cannot allow these incidents to continue and must properly investigate previous incidents".

Mazin Younis, chair of the Iraqi League, a UK-based rights group, said: "The cases we have reported so far may only be the tip of an iceberg of systematic abuse procedures devised high up the command chain in the Army. The scale of such cases greatly necessitates the need for the Government to start a public inquiry."

Camp Bucca, a 'holding facility' with a history of allegations

The secure holding facility in the desert near the city of Umm Qasr, close to the Kuwaiti border, was originally called Camp Freddy and used by British forces to hold Iraqi prisoners of war.

But in April 2003 control of the camp was transferred to the Americans, although there was a "secure and discrete" unit within the camp that remained exclusively British. In 2003 the British had control of two tent compounds, holding roughly 400 prisoners each. The Americans had six similar compounds.

The camp is designed to hold between 2,000 and 2,500 prisoners but figures released in March 2006 estimated that it held 8,500 Iraqi detainees.

There have been a number of inquiries into alleged abusive treatment at the camp, mostly related to the Americans.

In February 2005 American soldiers killed four detainees and injured six others to quell a riot in which prisoners were armed with stones.

But the British have also been accused of abuse, specifically the hooding of prisoners, which led to concerns being raised with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Six of the men detained with Baha Mousa were later taken to Camp Bucca. Conditions in the camp are known to be primitive, with open trenches used as lavatories.

The prisoners were forced to sleep on the desert floor, at risk from scorpions and snakes, and were only given one blanket at night when temperatures can fall below zero.

Since May 2003, 27 prisoners have escaped from Camp Bucca, 18 of whom have been recaptured. A number of attempts at mass escape have been foiled.

The Ministry of Defence says that apart from two spells in 2003, Camp Bucca has been run by the Americans.

Soldiers in the dock

Camp Breadbasket

On 15 May 2003 the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers captured Iraqis looting an aid camp in Operation Ali-Baba. They were detained for a brief period during which they were beaten, forced to simulate oral and anal sex and suspended from a forklift truck. Later that month, Fusilier Gary Bartlam, 20, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, took a film to be developed containing 22 photographs of abuse taking place. This triggered a lengthy court martial at a British Army barracks in Osnabruck, Germany. Bartlam pleaded guilty to three charges of ill treatment of Iraqi prisoners. Cpl Daniel Kenyon, 33, from Newcastle, denied six charges of abuse. He was convicted of three, cleared of two charges and the remaining charge was dropped. L/Cpl Mark Cooley, 25, from Newcastle, denied two charges of abuse but was found guilty of both. L/Cpl Darren Larkin, 30, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, admitted to one charge of assault but denied another. The second charge was dropped.

Baha Mousa

The hotel worker and son of an Iraqi police colonel died on 16 September 2003 while in custody of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment at a detention centre near Basra. The building had formerly been the secret service headquarters of Ali Majid (Chemical Ali). Cpl Donald Payne, 36, became Britain's first convicted war criminal when he admitted inhumanely treating civilian detainees. Six other soldiers were cleared by a military court in Bulford, Wiltshire, of abusing Mr Mousa and other detainees.

Fatah Troops Enter Gaza With Israeli Assent -

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Fatah Troops Enter Gaza With Israeli Assent -
Fatah Troops Enter Gaza With Israeli Assent
Hundreds Were Trained in Egypt Under U.S.-Backed Program to Counter Hamas

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 18, 2007; A01

JERUSALEM, May 17 -- Israel this week allowed the Palestinian party Fatah to bring into the Gaza Strip as many as 500 fresh troops trained under a U.S.-coordinated program to counter Hamas, the radical Islamic movement that won Palestinian parliamentary elections last year. Fighting between Hamas and Fatah has left about 45 Palestinians dead since Sunday.

The forces belong to units loyal to the elected Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate Fatah leader whom the Bush administration and Israel have sought to strengthen militarily and politically. A spokeswoman for the European Union Border Assistance Mission at Rafah, where the fighters crossed into Gaza from Egypt, said their entry Tuesday was approved by Israel.

The troops' deployment illustrates the increasingly partisan role that Israel and the Bush administration are taking in the volatile Palestinian political situation. The effort to fortify the armed opposition to Hamas, which the United States and Israel categorize as a terrorist organization, follows attempts to isolate the radical Islamic movement internationally and cut off its sources of financial aid.

Israel on Thursday also carried out a series of airstrikes against Hamas targets across Gaza, killing at least six gunmen. [Additional airstrikes early Friday killed four people, doctors in Gaza told the Associated Press.]

Fatah, the movement formerly led by Yasser Arafat, has recognized Israel, in contrast to Hamas, whose charter calls for the creation of a future Islamic state across territory that now includes the Jewish state. The two Palestinian parties -- one secular, one Islamic -- have been fighting for control of various security services and, by extension, political power and patronage since Hamas won democratic elections in January 2006.

Hamas's militant brand of Islam has given it dominant political standing in impoverished Gaza, where many of its leaders were born or arrived as refugees, while Fatah remains strong in the wealthier and more secular West Bank.

The Bush administration recently approved $40 million to train the Palestinian Presidential Guard, a force of about 4,000 troops under Abbas's direct control, but both Israel and the United States, each deeply unpopular among Arabs in the region, have been trying to avoid the perception of taking sides in a conflict that this week in Gaza has resembled a nascent civil war. Many within Fatah are avowed opponents of Israel, and any alliance with the Jewish state against the militant movement could damage Fatah's standing among Palestinians.

"We're not the ones giving these forces operational orders. That will be up to Abbas," said Ephraim Sneh, Israel's deputy defense minister, asserting that Hamas's arms smuggling from the Sinai and military training in Iran have given the movement a battlefield advantage. "The idea is to change the balance, which has been in favor of Hamas and against Fatah. With these well-trained forces, it will help right that imbalance."

As Palestinian rocket fire into Israel continued Thursday, the Israeli air force conducted a series of strikes across Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005 after a nearly four-decade presence.

The airstrikes killed at least six Hamas gunmen that Israeli officials said were involved in rocket assaults on Israeli towns near Gaza. Among those killed was Imad Shabanah, a Hamas military leader who Hamas officials acknowledged had taken part in manufacturing rockets. His car was hit as it traveled through Gaza City.

"All options for our response are open," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. Some Hamas military leaders said specifically that "martyrdom operations," or suicide bombings, could be used in retaliation for the Israeli airstrikes.

Israeli military officials said Palestinian gunmen fired at least 17 rockets Thursday from Gaza, bringing the three-day total to more than 80. At least seven fell Thursday in the border town of Sderot, wounding several Israelis and damaging a synagogue, a high school and a building inside an industrial park, military officials said. One Israeli woman was seriously wounded by rocket fire earlier this week, and dozens of others have suffered light to moderate injuries or have been treated for shock.

A small number of Israeli tanks also pushed just inside northern Gaza, the first ground operation there this year, and an artillery battery took up position on the border. Israeli military officials called both deployments defensive measures.

Israel has used shelling and limited ground operations in the past to stop Palestinian rocket fire. But the results have never been decisive against a weapon that is cheap, highly mobile and difficult to detect until it has been fired. The Israeli tactics have also resulted in many Palestinian civilian deaths.

"Hamas has essentially gone back to what we always knew they were -- a terrorist organization acting as a government," said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "What they are trying to do is drag Israel back into Gaza after we left every inch of it. We do not want to rule Gaza."

The factional fighting cooled Thursday in the shadow of Israel's stepped-up military operations. But Fatah gunmen ambushed a Hamas funeral procession in Gaza, killing two men in the crowd.

Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the subject, said the decision to allow Fatah troops into Gaza this week was based on trying to help Abbas take control of northern Gaza. That area is the prime launching ground for the erratic if lethal rockets known as Qassams.

"If you look at exit scenarios for what's going on there now, you could have a force loyal to Abbas in northern Gaza that could be highly useful to Israel," one Israeli official said. "But within the larger crisis you have to be careful. We don't want to be a part of this conflict, so this is a balancing act."

The troops were trained by Egyptian authorities under a program coordinated by Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, a special U.S. envoy to the region who has been working to improve security in Gaza and the West Bank in order to foster Israeli-Palestinian economic alliances in the short term and peace prospects over time.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Dayton had not yet begun his phase of training Fatah forces because the funding was only recently approved. He said none of the troops who arrived in Gaza this week were trained with U.S. funds.

Although it is under Abbas's authority, the Presidential Guard is run by Mohammed Dahlan, a Fatah lawmaker who has worked closely with several U.S. administrations. Abbas named Dahlan his national security adviser after Hamas and Fatah agreed in February to establish a power-sharing government.

The appointment infuriated Hamas leaders, who despise Dahlan for the crackdown he carried out against them as head of the Preventive Security branch following the 1993 Oslo accords. Hamas opposed the agreement, which created the Palestinian Authority.

"This is a complex situation, and we clearly hear Abbas say he wants to stop terrorism," a second Israeli official said. "But he has not been able to extend his authority over all of Gaza."

Israeli officials said the forces, whom one Israeli Defense Ministry official called "Dayton's guys," were trained in Egypt and numbered between 400 and 500 men.

Although Israel handed the Rafah crossing over to Palestinian and Egyptian control after evacuating Gaza, it maintains the ability to deny entry to anyone it does not want to pass through the terminal. It frequently employs this prerogative to prevent known members of armed Palestinian groups from entering the strip.

Maria Telleria, spokeswoman for the E.U. Border Assistance Mission deployed at Rafah as part of the turnover agreement, said the men arrived in several buses. "We had been informed they were arriving," Telleria said. "But this was coordinated between Israel and the Palestinian government. All we did was monitor the crossing."

Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Detainee says he was tortured at Guantanamo

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Detainee says he was tortured at Guantanamo: " Posted on Tue, May. 15, 2007

Posted on Tue, May. 15, 2007

Detainee says he was tortured at Guantanamo

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - A Pakistani citizen who grew up in suburban Baltimore, where his father still lives, told a U.S. military hearing last month that he was tortured at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after he was transferred there from secret CIA custody, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon Tuesday.

Majid Khan, who denied he had ever been a member of al-Qaida, said he was so upset by his treatment at Guantanamo that he twice tried to commit suicide by gnawing through arteries in his arm, according to the transcript.

Khan's April 15 hearing to determine whether he should be held as an enemy combatant - the last for 14 so-called high-value detainees who were transferred to Guantanamo last September - provided the most detailed allegations yet of mistreatment at Guantanamo.

Pentagon officials delayed the release of the transcript for a month, saying that Khan's testimony was lengthier than other detainees' and had to be reviewed by several agencies, including the CIA and the State Department. Previously, the longest delay between a hearing and a transcript's publication had been 20 days.

An attorney who has been trying unsuccessfully to visit Khan since he was transferred to Guantanamo, Gitanjali Gutierrez of the Center of Constitutional Rights, said that Khan gave a detailed statement because his time in the United States exposed him to the importance of court procedures.

"There was no reliable evidence against him showing that he was with al-Qaida," Gutierrez said.

Before his arrest, Khan, who is a legal U.S. resident, had applied for permanent residency. That application is still pending "as far as we know," Gutierrez said.

During the hearing, U.S. officials accused Khan, who graduated in 1999 from Owings Mills High School outside Baltimore, of belonging to al-Qaida. They cited testimony from a witness who said Khan had discussed fighting in Afghanistan during a dinner at his family's home and had told him he wanted to kill Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in a suicide attack.

During the 2 1/2 hour hearing, Khan denied those allegations and presented written statements from the witness denying that the conversations had ever taken place.

He also said he'd begun several hunger strikes after he was transferred to Guantanamo in an effort to push U.S. authorities to either release him or send him back to Pakistan. He said prison officials shaved his head twice, confiscated a photo of his daughter and engaged in a variety of forms of "mental torture" by limiting his exposure to sunlight and providing sub-par soap and deodorant.

Several sections of the transcript were redacted, apparently when Khan was offering detailed accounts of his treatment. While there have been redactions in the other hearing transcripts, the deletions in Khan's transcript appeared to be the most extensive.

The CIA and Pentagon have said their interrogations do not involve torture.

Among the allegations leveled against Khan was that he worked with al-Qaida operatives to transport people across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and had plans to attack U.S. water reservoirs and gas stations.

Officials also charged that he planned to use his U.S. travel documents to help an al-Qaida operative enter the United States. Khan denied that was his plan, but he was vague about what he intended to do with the documents and denied al-Qaida membership.

"To be al-Qaida, a person needs to be trained in Afghanistan and needs to take an oath in front of Osama bin Laden," Khan said, according to the transcript. "I have never been to Afghanistan and I have never met (bin Laden). I cannot possibly be a member of al-Qaida. I admit I can't prove that I am not al-Qaida. It is very difficult to prove that someone is not al-Qaida."

The transcript also included a letter from Khan's father in Baltimore written on Khan's behalf. In it, Ali Khan wrote that Khan's family had no idea what had happened to him after he was taken from his brother's home in Pakistan in March 2003 until last Sept. 6, when President Bush announced that the 14 were being transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo.

Ali Khan accused the FBI of harassing his family. He said that the family has been followed so closely by the FBI that they sometimes asked agents for directions when they were lost.

"If you think that he did something wrong, show me the evidence," Ali Khan wrote. "Charge him with a crime and give him a fair trial in a real court. This tribunal is not a real court. It is not a legitimate proceeding. It is only for show and the outcome has probably already been decided."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Search for Troops Is 'in Vain,' Insurgents Declare -

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Search for Troops Is 'in Vain,' Insurgents Declare - "Search for Troops Is 'in Vain,' Insurgents Declare
Statement Indicates Motive of Revenge In Abduction of GIs

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 15, 2007; A12

BAGHDAD, May 14 -- As a massive hunt for three missing American soldiers continued into its third day on Monday, a front group for al-Qaeda in Iraq that claims to have captured them warned the U.S. military to stop searching, calling it 'a venture in vain.' The group suggested the abductions were to avenge the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl in the same area and abuses committed by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib and other prisons.

'We say to you that what search for your soldiers you may do will not lead you to anything except fatigue, and setbacks for you. Your soldiers are firmly in our hands,' the Islamic State of Iraq said in a statement posted on insurgent Web sites.

'Remember what you had done in this area, when you violated our sister Abeer,' the statement added, referring to Abeer Qassim al-Janabi. Five soldiers were charged in the March 2006 murders of Abeer, her parents and her younger sister. Three soldiers have pleaded guilty in the case."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Search for 3 G.I.’s Abducted in Iraq Continues - New York Times

    11:39 AM   No comments
Search for 3 G.I.’s Abducted in Iraq Continues - New York Times: "May 14, 2007
Search for 3 G.I.’s Abducted in Iraq Continues
BAGHDAD, May 14 — The search continued today for three American soldiers who were abducted after an attack south of Baghdad, as the Al Qaeda group that claimed responsibility for the attack warned that the soldiers would never be found.

“We say to you that what you are doing, searching for your soldiers, will be in vain and lead to nothing but fatigue and unrest,” said a statement published online by The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella insurgent group that includes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. “Your soldiers are in our hands. If you desire safety, do not look for them.”

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the senior spokesman here for the American military, said in a statement today that “Al Qaeda or an affiliate group” did appear to have engineered the abduction, based on credible intelligence.

His latest statement included few other details of the attack, which occurred early Saturday near Mahmudiya, a predominantly Sunni Arab farming town that has been a battleground between Sunni Arab insurgents, Shiite militias and Iraqi and American security forces.

But General Caldwell did explain for the first time why it took 56 minutes for American reinforcements to arrive at the scene of the ambush. His statement said that the two units sent to the scene discovered roadside bombs along the way.

The statement also said that, of the four American soldiers and one Iraqi soldier who died in the ambush, one American was still unidentified.

“We’re working hard at making every effort to identify the fourth American,” General Caldwell said, “so that we can properly notify the families as to the status of their loved ones.”

The Islamic State of Iraq statement today, its second about the attack, seemed to be addressed specifically to General Caldwell. Boasting about the assault and calling the war in Iraq “a competition,” the group’s statement suggested that the abduction was meant to even the score after General Caldwell’s announcement earlier this month that American troops had killed Muharib Abdul Latif al-Jubouri, a senior leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

“Today,” the statement said, after referring to Mr. al-Jubouri’s death, “catastrophe hits you by your false propaganda that your American soldiers are invincible and that a soldier cannot be captured.”

The statement went on to cite the American mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the rape last year of a teenaged girl by American troops near the site where the abduction occurred.

The area, sometimes called the Triangle of Death, has been perpetually difficult for the American military to control. Last June, insurgents captured two American soldiers during a surprise attack nearby, close to Yusufiya. After four days of searching by 8,000 American and Iraqi troops, the mutilated bodies of the two missing soldiers were found a few miles away. Evidence later suggested that they had been tortured and killed within 24 hours of being abducted.

The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella insurgent group that was a precursor to the Islamic State of Iraq and included Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility for those killings. Its statements had a similar tone to the statements issued in the last few days, and they, too, referred to the rape in Mahmudiya last year. Several marines have pleaded guilty in the American military’s investigation of the rape case.

The statement from the Islamic State of Iraq today boasted that the group had captured “crusader soldiers” for the second time.

Sheikh Ali Al-Hatim, head of Dulaimi tribe in Mahmudiya, said that the ambush also bore the hallmarks of another coordinated assault on American troops — an attack in January by gunmen dressed in fake American military uniforms. They stormed the provincial governor’s office in Karbala, killing a soldier and kidnapping four who were later found dead in or near abandoned sport-utility vehicles.

“We believe this is a very complicated issue,” Mr. Al-Hatim said. “It is similar to the incident that took place in Karbala. A number of parties are involved in this — Al Qaeda and other militias.”

He said that the present search, involving 4,000 American troops, was expanding through villages that are rife with Al Qaeda infiltration.

“The situation in the area where the incident took place is very dangerous,” he said. “Al Qaeda has been knocking on people’s doors and telling them that their sons between the ages of 20 and 30 must join their organization.”

He said that the Americans conducting the search had detained at least 50 people.

A senior Iraqi army official in the area, who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak about the operation, said that fighting had broken out in a few places between searching American troops and Al Qaeda fighters. He said that at least two gunmen had been killed and several houses destroyed, and he estimated that about 100 people had been arrested, including an older man who may have later died while in custody.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Al Jazeera English - News

    10:56 AM   No comments
US admits Afghan civilian deaths
Karzai has repeatedly asked the coalition
to avoid killing civilians [AFP]

The US-led coalition has admitted there were civilian casualties this week, but said they occurred during fighting with the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Witnesses to Tuesday night's deaths in Helmand province said they were caused by an air raid and that no Taliban fighters were present. Villagers put the toll at about 40.

At the time, Nato, which is also in the country, denied any knowledge of the raid, while the US-led coaltion said it would check the reports.

On Friday, the coalition said in a statement: "There are confirmed reports of civilian casualties; however, it is unknown at this time how many..."

The statement said the coalition had treated up to 20 villagers wounded during a 16-hour battle that also involved Afghan army troops in Sangin district of Helmand province on Tuesday.

One boy died of his wounds after being evacuated by coalition troops, it said.

Afghan and coalition forces estimate a significant number of Taliban fighters, including a high-ranking commander, were killed in the battle.

Assadullah Wafa, the provincial governor, said he had no reports of Taliban casualties.

Western forces have been waging a widespread operation against Taliban fighters in Sangin in recent weeks.

Prior to the latest casualties, scores of civilians have been killed by Western forces in the past two weeks.


With anger already rising among Afghans over the toll, Sangin's residents have called on Hamid Karzai, the president, to come to see for himself how they have suffered.

Karzai has repeatedly urged foreign troops to avoid civilian casualties, to stop searching people's houses, and to co-ordinate attacks with his government.

Last week, Karzai said the patience of Afghans was running out.

On Tuesday, a US military commander apologised for the deaths of 19 civilians, killed by US troops in eastern Afghanistan in March.

Lawmakers Call for Release of U.S. Scholar Held in Iran

    10:54 AM   No comments
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2007; 1:26 PM

Democratic presidential candidate Barak Obama and three senior lawmakers today called for the immediate release of Haleh Esfandiari, the American scholar imprisoned in Iran this week after being under virtual house arrest for more than four months .

"The Iranian government's detention of this 67-year-old grandmother and scholar shows its complete disregard for basic human rights," Obama said in a statement. "If the Iranian government has any desire to engage the world in dialogue, it can demonstrate that desire by releasing this champion of dialogue from detention."

In a joint statement, Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both Maryland Democrats, urged Iran to make a "gesture of goodwill" to the American people by immediately releasing Esfandiari, who is director of the Middle East program at the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a resident of Potomac.

Mikulski and Cardin said the detention was "without cause or justification" and noted that Esfandiari had devoted her professional life to promoting understanding between the United States and Iran.

Esfandiari, a dual U.S.-Iranian national who has lived in the United States for more than a quarter century, was in Tehran visiting her ailing 93-year-old mother when she was summoned for weeks of interrogations by Iran's ministry of intelligence. She was summoned again Tuesday and taken to Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, (D-Md.), said he plans to call on his congressional colleagues to pass a resolution demanding Esfandiari's "immediate and unconditional release."

The imprisonment "shows a gross disregard for the rule of law and belies statements by Iranian government officials that Iran would like to improve relations with the United States," Van Hollen said.

The Esfandiari case quickly ignited widespread reaction across the United States, with editorials and reports in major media and Foreign Policy magazine. "This is the most prominent detention of a U.S. citizen in Iran since the 1979 hostage crisis," the magazine said.

Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group and president of the Wilson Center, is scheduled to appear on the PBS Newshour tonight to discuss Esfandiari's arrest.

Esfandiari has been interrogated repeatedly about U.S. programs on democracy in Iran, especially at the Wilson Center, according to her family and the Wilson Center.

On Carrier in Gulf, Cheney Warns Iran - New York Times

    10:49 AM   No comments
May 11, 2007
On Carrier in Gulf, Cheney Warns Iran

Vice President Dick Cheney used the setting of an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf to deliver a stern message to Iran today, warning that the United States would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons or gain the upper hand in the Middle East.

“With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike,” he said, in a speech on board the U.S.S. John C. Stennis.

The United States “will stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region,” he said.

The aircraft carrier was about 20 miles off the coast of Abu Dhabi, one of the United Arab Emirates, according to a pool report provided by journalists traveling with Mr. Cheney. Mr. Cheney traveled to the Emirates following a two-day visit to Iraq, and will be making other stops in the Middle East on his week-long trip.

Mr. Cheney’s message seemed particularly pointed because, according to the pool report and the Associated Press, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is scheduled to visit Abu Dhabi himself in the next few days.

Mr. Cheney said today that the United States was determined, in the event of any crises in the region, to keep the sea lanes of the Gulf open.

His speech to American service members on board the carrier also seemed intended to reassure them that a strong American presence would be maintained in the region for some time.

“I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat,” Mr. Cheney said. “We want to complete the mission, we want to get it done right, and then we want to return home with honor.”

On Thursday in Iraq, Mr. Cheney spoke to American troops stationed near Saddam Hussein’s birthplace, Tikrit, telling them in somber tones that they still had a tough fight ahead of them.

His assessment stood in stark contrast to the one he made two years ago, when he declared in an interview with CNN that the insurgency in Iraq was in its “last throes.”

The United States remains at odds with Iran over its nuclear program, which Iran says is peaceful, but which America and its Western allies say is intended to build weapons. The Bush administration has also expressed concerns about Iranian involvement in Iraq; officials have said that weapons are being smuggled into Iraq from Iran and that the insurgents who assemble and placing bombs in Iraq may be getting training in Iran. The Iranian government denies sponsoring or encouraging terrorism.

Mr. Cheney visited the U.S.S. John C. Stennis before, in March 2002, at a time when he was trying to build support for the invasion of Iraq, the A.P. noted.

Today, standing in front of five F-18 Super Hornet warplanes and a huge American flag on the hangar deck of the carrier, Mr. Cheney spoke to some 3,500 service members, according to the A.P. He sounded a hard line, saying the United States must hold firm in Iraq and confront Iran if necessary, the agency reported.

His tour of the Middle East will also include visits to Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting for this article from Baghdad.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

AlterNet: Majority of Iraqi Lawmakers Now Reject Occupation

    11:06 AM   No comments
Majority of Iraqi Lawmakers Now Reject Occupation
By Raed Jarrar and Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on May 9, 2007, Printed on May 10, 2007

On Tuesday, without note in the U.S. media, more than half of the members of Iraq's parliament rejected the continuing occupation of their country. 144 lawmakers signed onto a legislative petition calling on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal, according to Nassar Al-Rubaie, a spokesman for the Al Sadr movement, the nationalist Shia group that sponsored the petition.

It's a hugely significant development. Lawmakers demanding an end to the occupation now have the upper hand in the Iraqi legislature for the first time; previous attempts at a similar resolution fell just short of the 138 votes needed to pass (there are 275 members of the Iraqi parliament, but many have fled the country's civil conflict, and at times it's been difficult to arrive at a quorum).

Reached by phone in Baghdad on Tuesday, Al-Rubaie said that he would present the petition, which is nonbinding, to the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and demand that a binding measure be put to a vote. Under Iraqi law, the speaker must present a resolution that's called for by a majority of lawmakers, but there are significant loopholes and what will happen next is unclear.

What is clear is that while the U.S. Congress dickers over timelines and benchmarks, Baghdad faces a major political showdown of its own. The major schism in Iraqi politics is not between Sunni and Shia or supporters of the Iraqi government and "anti-government forces," nor is it a clash of "moderates" against "radicals"; the defining battle for Iraq at the political level today is between nationalists trying to hold the Iraqi state together and separatists backed, so far, by the United States and Britain.

The continuing occupation of Iraq and the allocation of Iraq's resources -- especially its massive oil and natural gas deposits -- are the defining issues that now separate an increasingly restless bloc of nationalists in the Iraqi parliament from the administration of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose government is dominated by Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish separatists.

By "separatists," we mean groups who oppose a unified Iraq with a strong central government; key figures like Maliki of the Dawa party, Shia leader Abdul Aziz Al-Hakeem of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq ("SCIRI"), Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi of the Sunni Islamic Party, President Jalal Talabani -- a Kurd -- and Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Autonomous Region, favor partitioning Iraq into three autonomous regions with strong local governments and a weak central administration in Baghdad. (The partition plan is also favored by several congressional Democrats, notably Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.)

Iraq's separatists also oppose setting a timetable for ending the U.S. occupation, preferring the addition of more American troops to secure their regime. They favor privatizing Iraq's oil and gas and decentralizing petroleum operations and revenue distribution.

But public opinion is squarely with Iraq's nationalists. According to a poll by the University of Maryland's Project on International Public Policy Attitudes, majorities of all three of Iraq's major ethno-sectarian groups support a unified Iraq with a strong central government. For at least two years, poll after poll has shown that large majorities of Iraqis of all ethnicities and sects want the United States to set a timeline for withdrawal, even though (in the case of Baghdad residents), they expect the security situation to deteriorate in the short term as a result.

That's nationalism, and it remains the central if unreported motivation for many Iraqis, both within the nascent government and on the streets.

While sectarian fighting at the neighborhood and community level has made life unlivable for millions of Iraqis, Iraqi nationalism -- portrayed as a fiction by supporters of the invasion -- supercedes sectarian loyalties at the political level. A group of secular, Sunni and Shia nationalists have long voted together on key issues, but so far have failed to join forces under a single banner.

That may be changing. Reached by phone last week, nationalist leader Saleh Al-Mutlaq, of the National Dialogue Front, said, "We're doing our best to form this united front and announce it within the next few weeks." The faction would have sufficient votes to block any measure proposed by the Maliki government. Asked about the Americans' reaction to the growing power of the nationalists, Mutlaq said, "We're trying our best to reach out to the U.S. side, but to no avail."

That appears to be a trend. Iraqi nationalists have attempted again and again to forge relationships with members of Congress, the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House but have found little interest in dialogue and no support. Instead, key nationalists like al-Sadr have been branded as "extremists," "thugs" and "criminals."

That's a tragic missed opportunity; the nationalists are likely Iraq's best hope for real and lasting reconciliation among the country's warring factions. They are the only significant political force focused on rebuilding a sovereign, united and independent Iraq without sectarian and ethnic tensions or foreign meddling -- from either the West or Iran. Hassan Al-Shammari, the head of Al-Fadhila bloc in the Iraqi parliament, said this week, "We have a peace plan, and we're trying to work with other nationalist Iraqis to end the U.S. and Iranian interventions, but we're under daily attacks and there's huge pressure to destroy our peace mission."

A sovereign and unified Iraq, free of sectarian violence, is what George Bush and Tony Blair claim they want most. The most likely reason that the United States and Britain have rebuffed those Iraqi nationalists who share those goals is that the nationalists oppose permanent basing rights and the privatization of Iraq's oil sector. The administration, along with their allies in Big Oil, has pressed the Iraqi government to adopt an oil law that would give foreign multinationals a much higher rate of return than they enjoy in other major oil producing countries and would lock in their control over what George Bush called Iraq's "patrimony" for decades.

Al-Shammari said this week: "We're afraid the U.S. will make us pass this new oil law through intimidation and threatening. We don't want it to pass, and we know it'll make things worse, but we're afraid to rise up and block it, because we don't want to be bombed and arrested the next day." In the Basrah province, where his Al-Fadhila party dominates the local government, Al-Shammari's fellow nationalists have been attacked repeatedly by separatists for weeks, while British troops in the area remained in their barracks.

The nationalists in parliament will now press their demands for withdrawal. At the same time, the emerging nationalist bloc is holding hearings in which officials from the defense and interior ministries have been grilled about just what impediments to building a functional security force remain and when the Iraqi police and military will be able to take over from foreign troops. Both ministries are believed to be heavily infiltrated by both nationalist (al-Sadr's Mahdi Army) and separatist militias (the pro-Iranian Badr Brigade).

The coming weeks and months will be crucial to Iraq's future. The United States, in pushing for more aggressive moves against Iraqi nationalists and the passage of a final oil law, is playing a dangerous game. Iraqi nationalists reached in Baghdad this week say they are beginning to lose hope of achieving anything through the political process because both the Iraqi government and the occupation authorities are systematically bypassing the Iraqi parliament where they're in the majority. If they end up quitting the political process entirely, that will leave little choice but to oppose the occupation by violent means.

Raed Jarrar is Iraq Consultant to the American Friends Service Committee. He blogs at Raed in the Middle.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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BBC NEWS | Middle East | US Marine 'shot unarmed Iraqis'

    11:03 AM   No comments
S Marine 'shot unarmed Iraqis'
Blood spattered walls of a bedroom at the reported scene of the Haditha shooting
The US marines say they came under fire after a roadside bombing
A US Marine who led the unit accused of killing 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha shot five men as they stood with their hands in the air, another marine said.

Staff Sgt Frank Wuterich then told his comrades to lie about it and blame the Iraqi army, a court heard on Wednesday.

Sgt Sanick Dela Cruz was speaking at a hearing for one of the four officers charged with dereliction of duty for not investigating the killings.

Three other marines have been charged with second-degree murder.

Iraqi witnesses say the shootings were in retaliation for a roadside bomb that had killed Lance Cpl Miguel Terrazas as his convoy drove through Haditha, 240km (150 miles) north-west of Baghdad, on 19 November 2005.

'Bad thing'

Sgt Dela Cruz also told the military courtroom at Camp Pendleton in California that he urinated on the body of an Iraqi civilian.

Map of Iraq

US inquiries into Iraq deaths

He told the court of the distress he felt after discovering the explosion had ripped Lance Cpl Terrazas, known as TJ, in half.

"I know it was a bad thing what I've done, but I done it because I was angry TJ was dead and I pissed on one Iraqi's head," he said.

He also testified that after the explosion Staff Sgt Frank Wuterich had shot dead five men as they stood by a white car with the hands in the air.

"They were just standing, looking around, had hands up," he said.

"Then I saw one of them drop in the middle."

"Looked to my left, saw Sgt Wuterich shooting."

Afterwards Sgt Dela Cruz said he himself had "sprayed" the bodies with gunfire.

"I knew they were dead, I wanted to make sure," he explained.


Sgt Wuterich then shot each of the men in the upper body and head, Sgt Dela Cruz testified.

He told me that if anybody asked, [we should say] they were running away and the Iraqi army shot them
Sgt Sanick Dela Cruz

"He went to every single one of them, sir, and shot them," he added.

"He told me that if anybody asked, they were running away and the Iraqi army shot them."

Sgt Wuterich's lawyer, Neal Puckett, said Sgt Dela Cruz's account was "false" and that he had told investigators up to five different versions of the events.

"It's unfortunate that in exchange for his freedom he's being forced to testify against his brothers," Mr Puckett told the Associated Press.

In April, the Marine Corps dropped all charges against Sgt Dela Cruz and granted him immunity in exchange for his testimony.

If found guilty, the three marines charged with second-degree murder could face life imprisonment.

The Haditha inquiry is just one of a number the US military has been conducting into incidents of alleged unlawful killings by US forces in Iraq.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

U.S. Marines unlikely to report civilian abuse: study

    11:04 AM   No comments
By David MorganFri May 4, 3:33 PM ET

Only 40 percent of Marines and 55 percent of U.S. Army soldiers deployed in Iraq say they would report a fellow serviceman for killing or injuring an innocent Iraqi, a Pentagon report released on Friday shows.

The Army survey, which showed increasing rates of mental health problems for troops on extended or multiple deployments, also said well over one-third of soldiers and Marines believe torture should be allowed to elicit information that could save the lives of American troops or gain knowledge about Iraqi insurgents.

Overall, about 10 percent of the 1,320 soldiers and 447 Marines covered in the survey said they had mistreated civilians, either through physical violence or damage to their personal property. The survey was conducted by U.S. Army medical experts between August 28 and October 3, 2006.

"Soldiers with high levels of anger, who had experienced high levels of combat or who screened positive for mental health symptoms were nearly twice as likely to mistreat noncombatants," acting Army Surgeon General Gale Pollock told reporters.

The findings, which included the first survey of ethics among U.S. troops in combat, were released Friday in an 89-page report posted on the Web site It was delivered to senior military officials in November.

Claims of U.S. mistreatment of Iraqi detainees and civilians have shadowed American forces in Iraq from revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 to reports of the November 19, 2005, killing of 24 Iraqi civilians by Marines in Haditha.


The survey data came out a month after Defense Secretary Robert Gates extended tours for U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to up to 15 months instead of one year as U.S. forces increase their numbers in Iraq under a plan ordered by President George W. Bush.

The extended tours were widely seen as the latest sign of strain placed on the U.S. military by the two wars.

There are currently some 145,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 25,000 in Afghanistan. Bush's plan calls for boosting the U.S. deployment in Iraq by 28,000 combat and support troops.

The report, the fourth prepared by the Army's Mental Health Advisory Team since the war in Iraq began in 2003, showed that mental health problems such as acute stress, anxiety and depression rose among troops facing longer deployments or their second or third tour in Iraq.

Overall, about 20 percent of Army soldiers and 15 percent of Marines showed mental health symptoms of either anxiety, depression or acute stress. The rate was at 30 percent among troops with high combat experience.

Among Army soldiers, 27 percent of those with more than one tour of duty tested positive for a mental health problem, versus 17 percent for soldiers on their first deployment.

The rate of anxiety, depression and acute stress stood at 22 percent among soldiers deployed for more than six months and at 15 percent for troops in Iraq for less than six months.

Army experts recommended that the Pentagon extend the interval between deployments to 18 to 36 months so that troops could recover mentally.

Gates said last month that troops in the region covered by the U.S. Central Command -- from East Africa to Central Asia -- could expect to spend 12 months at home between deployments.

Propaganda Fear Cited in Account of Iraqi Killings - New York Times

    10:58 AM   No comments
Propaganda Fear Cited in Account of Iraqi Killings - New York Times: "May 6, 2007
Propaganda Fear Cited in Account of Iraqi Killings

Recently unclassified documents suggest that senior officers viewed the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in late 2005 as a potential public relations problem that could fuel insurgent propaganda against the American military, leading investigators to question whether the officers’ immediate response had been intentionally misleading.

Col. R. Gary Sokoloski, a lawyer who was chief of staff to Maj. General Richard A. Huck, the division commander, approved a news release about the killings that investigators interviewing him in March 2006 suggested was “intentionally inaccurate” because it stated, contrary to the facts at hand, that the civilians had been killed by an insurgent’s bomb.

According to a transcript of the interview, Colonel Sokoloski told the investigators, “We knew the, you know, the strategic implications of being permanently present in Haditha and how badly the insurgents wanted us out of there.”

But Colonel Sokoloski told them he believed that the news release was accurate as written. “At the time,” he said, “given the information that was available to me and the objective to get that out for the pres"

Gul withdraws from Presidential Nomination Process

    10:56 AM   No comments
Abdullah Gul, the Turkish foreign minister, has said he will withdraw from the presidential race after opposition politicians again boycotted a parliamentary vote.

Gul, the ruling Islamist-rooted AK party's candidate, failed to secure the presence of 367 parliamentary deputies needed to make the voting process valid.
The first round of voting was annulled last week by the constitutional court, which ruled that two-thirds of parliament had to be present for the poll to be valid.

Gul's candidacy has worried secularists who fear an openly religious president and millions of Turks have protested against him.

"After this... my candidacy is out of the question," Gul, who was the only candidate standing, said following the decision.

Bulent Arinc, the speaker of parliament, closed the session, saying only 358 members were present.

Military moves
The presidential elections have exposed a deepening divide between secularists and supporters of prime minister Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK party.
Secularists oppose Gul's candidacy, fearing that Erdogan's party will expand its control and impose religion on society.

Erdogan's ruling party, an advocate of EU membership, rejects the Islamist label.

In an attempt to resolve the crisis, the government has called early general elections for July 22 and is pushing for a change to the constitution to allow the public rather than parliament to elect the president.

Gul said in an interview with The Financial Times on Friday that he would be his party's candidate if the vote went to the people, and said he believed he had the support of 70 per cent of the Turkish public.

The army, however, is also alarmed by the prospect of a former Islamist as head of state and commander-in-chief.

Military influence

The military establishment has issued a public reminder that it is the ultimate defender of the secular Turkish state.
Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Ankara, said the military had applied "discreet but effective pressure" to undermine Gul's presidential attempt.

"The military released a statement last week saying that it didn't believe Gul was the right man for the Turkish presidency," he said.

"Probably as a direct result of that, Gul's candidacy has floundered ever since."

Turkey's military has removed four of the country's civilian governments in 50 years, but Phillips said it was unlikely the country would "see tanks on the streets" this time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

There is a war goin on outside

    12:38 PM   No comments

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Muslims are m,ain victims of terrorism: US report

    1:18 PM   No comments
Muslims are taking the brunt of the world's terrorist attacks, which in 2006 rose by 3,000 or 25 percent with the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan serving as a "rallying cry" for terrorists, a report by the US National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) has concluded in its newest report.

"As was the case in 2005, Muslims again bore a substantial share of being the victims of terrorist attacks in 2006," said the report, published on the center's website Tuesday, May 1.

The Report on Terrorist Incidents 2006 said that some 58,000 individuals worldwide were either killed or injured by terrorist attacks last year.

"On the basis of a combination of reporting and demographic analysis of the countries involved, well over 50 percent of the victims were Muslims, and most were victims of attacks in Iraq," it said.

It said deaths from terrorist attacks rose by 5,800, a 40 percent increase.

"Approximately 14,000 terrorist attacks occurred in various countries during 2006, resulting in over 20,000 deaths," the report said, adding that 70 percent of the victims were civilians.

The report said that the largest number of reported terrorist incidents and deaths occurred in the Near East and South Asia.

"These two regions also were the locations for 90 percent of the nearly 300 high-casualty attacks in 2006 that killed 10 or more people," the report said.

Of the 14,000 reported attacks, the report said, 45 percent—about 6,600—of them occurred in Iraq where approximately 13,000 fatalities—65 percent of the worldwide total—were reported for 2006.

The report also found that the overall number of people injured in terrorist incidents skyrocketed in 2006 by 54 percent.

Iraq again bore the burnt of the terror injuries.

The number of attacks in Afghanistan have also surged up by 50 percent in 2006 to reach about 750 attacks.

The report noted that terrorist attacks in 2006 fell in Europe by 15 percent.

Children were also reported more often as victims in 2006, up by more than 80 percent, with over 1,800 children either killed or injured in terrorist attacks.

The NCTC serves as the principal advisor to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on intelligence operations and analysis relating to counterterrorism, according to the center's website.

Unique among US agencies, NCTC also serves as the primary organization for strategic operational planning for counterterrorism.

It operates under the policy direction of the President of the United States, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council.

Rallying Cry

Still, the report acknowledged that the US foreign policy is a major motivator for terrorists.

It cited the invasion-turned-occupation of Iraq as a case in point.

It said the occupation of Iraq "has been used by terrorists as a rallying cry for radicalization and extremist activity that has contributed to instability in neighboring countries."

The report also said that since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, the country "remains threatened by Taliban insurgents and religious extremists."

"The number of terrorism incidents in Afghanistan rose 52 percent in 2006 compared with 2005, and the number of people killed, injured or kidnapped nearly doubled," the report said.

The 2006 National Intelligence report, the first of its kind since the start of US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, said the US-led war on Iraq has played a more direct role in increasing terrorist attacks and creating a new class of "self-generating" terrorists who are united by an anti-Western agenda.

It concluded that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the US-led global counterterrorism effort, the situation in Iraq has worsened the US position.

The British parliament's influential Foreign Affairs Committee said in July of last year that that international conflicts, such as the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and the occupied Palestinian territories, breed feelings of injustice in the Muslim world which can boost support for terrorism.

Click to Read the Report in Full.

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