Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mister Death Squad Goes to Washington

Middle East Online:
Mister Death Squad Goes to Washington

Bush’s media collaborators are already calling Hakim a ‘moderate’ – compared to the mercurial Moqtada Al Sadr. Some death squad leaders are apparently more reliable than others, says Ahmed Amr.

Death Squad Boss and Bush

Welcome to the final Byzantine round of the Machiavellian Iraqi war games in Washington. Making his triumphant appearance today is none other than Abdelaziz Al-Hakim – the wise one. He’s a veteran player who survived four years of preliminary elimination rounds to qualify for the final phase of what is turning out to be a truly Olympian imperial project.

Behold Hakim’s resplendent clerical robes. You can always spot the players who’ve spent a lifetime training for their roles on history’s stage. No one doubts that this ‘man of the cloth’ will pass the drug screening tests. This late in the game, we can only hope that our designated team captain resists the temptation to drown his Mesopotamian sorrows in a bottle of gin or indulge in a snow-snorting binge.

As far back as the qualifying events – when this quagmire was still a neo-con fantasy – Al-Hakim and his team mates were recruited to shower “rice and roses” on coalition forces as they cake walked their way from Basra to Baghdad.

Al Hakim’s resume is truly impressive. He’s an Ayatollah and a son of an Ayatollah. He speaks fluent Farsi – having spent half his entire life living in exile as an honored guest of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. As a dedicated theocrat – he allied his sectarian legions of Iraqi exiles with the Iranian army in the Iran-Iraq war. It’s safe to assume that he puts his faith based political doctrines above his country – a trait he shares with his host.

To get a measure of the man, you need to see past Hakim’s wardrobe. This guy is more than a religious missionary. He’s certainly no ordinary politician. You can’t even consider him a military man – although he was the leader of the Badr Brigades – the military wing of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq – SCIRI. Still, he’s so much more than that. The source of his political clout is his control over the Shiite death squads that have infiltrated the American-trained security forces.

And there’s more to recommend this man for the task of getting “the job done.” The death squads under Al Hakim’s command aren’t your run of the mill assassins. They usually leave their signature on their victims before grinding them up. Al Hakim’s dedicated cadres like to drill holes in other people’s skulls before dumping the mutilated cadavers on Baghdad’s streets as a warning to any real or potential adversaries.

It’s not yet clear why Bush invited Mister Death Squad to Washington. But let’s not ‘misunderestimate’ the President. This is the same POTUS who thundered from his bully pulpit that “we cannot turn a blind eye to repression because that repression is not in our back yard.” What he failed to mention was that – as the need arises - we would continue to invite vicious torturers and assassins to our front yard for tea in the Rose Garden.

Bush’s media collaborators are already calling Hakim a ‘moderate’ – compared to the mercurial Moqtada Al Sadr. Some death squad leaders are apparently more reliable than others.

What makes Hakim so special is that he seems such a mature thug – the kind of SOB that can be our SOB. The Badr militias have a reputation of being disciplined and heavily indoctrinated foot soldiers who follow the party line. Once they get orders to close down their torture dungeons, Hakim’s loyalists will likely obey his command. Of course, that also means that the torture sessions could only have started with Hakim’s explicit orders.

A few pundits are suggesting that the president is using Hakim’s visit as a way to build bridges to Tehran. Or maybe the administration is sending Al-Maliki a message that he should abandon his alliance with Al Sadr and stick with the scary guy from SCIRI.

You never know what Bush has in mind for ‘Plan Z.’ By the time he figures out a new course of action – he’ll need another plan.

No one in his right mind is suggesting that exiting Iraq was ever going to be a tidy business. But that doesn’t mean we have to ignore that the man invited to sip tea with the president is holding a common household drill dripping with blood and brain tissue. Hakim keeps trying to wipe it off with his clerical robes to the amusement of the President – who has no clothes to help out his guest. Snickering in the corner, the assembled media dignitaries mind their manners and pretend not to notice.

Now, drive your imagination to some dark stink hole in Baghdad owned and operated by Al-Hakim’s thugs in the interior ministry. A Baghdad University professor is tied down to a sturdy blood drenched workbench about to get his skull drilled by professionals assigned to SCIRI’s torture squads. Two of his sons share his predicament. In the background, the TV is tuned to CNN. Suddenly, the drills go silent as the emperor with no clothes and the cleric with blood stained robes approach the podium to exchange pleasantries about the wonderful democratic strides taking place in Iraq.

If we could only figure some way to instantly transport Hakim’s den of torture to the president’s front yard. What if the professor was given a few moments at the podium to give his last will and testament? Spin that.
Independent Online Edition > UK Politics:
Relatives charged for Iraq inquest documents
By Nicola Boden
Published: 05 December 2006

Families of servicemen and women who have died during the Iraq war have had to pay for documents used at the inquests into their deaths, the Government revealed yesterday.

One relative paid £600 for access to papers the Army and coroner already had, the Constitutional Affairs minister, Harriet Harman, said. Ms Harman pledged to look into the issue, after a private meeting in London with relatives of 11 service personnel who died in the conflict.

Sixteen family members attended the meeting in Westminster to discuss problems they had faced during the inquest process.

They told Ms Harman it was not fair they should have to pay for documents being used in the coroner's court. Ms Harman said: "If they wanted those pile of documents they had to pay by page. One guy paid £600. He didn't think that was fair.

"Nobody thought it was fair that they have to pay for documents the coroner has got and the army has got."

The minister later added that she was due to meet the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, soon to discuss the issues raised by the families and that they would be "looking into" the question of paying for documents.

The group of relatives also raised the question of regionalising inquests so they would be held nearer to where they live and asked that they happen sooner.

They also felt they didn't know what to expect and wanted more information in advance, as well as more time during the inquest itself to speak and ask questions, Ms Harman said.

She added they had also complained about information being blanked out on documents they were given and that the idea of a victim's advocate to help them through the process was discussed.

She said: "It is all about disclosure, transparency, openness and warning in advance ... They were very concerned that somebody in the future should have a better experience than they did. They were insistent."

The minister said she was sympathetic to regionalising military inquests and indicated the system could be changed before a new law on coroners' courts comes into force.

She said: "We do not want to have to wait for a new law to come into force to do better for families of servicemen and women."
Independent Online Edition > UK Politics:
MPs say pay should increase to £100,000
By Ben Russell
Published: 04 December 2006

MPs have raised the prospect of a huge jump in parliamentary pay amid claims that their salaries should rise to £100,000.

Senior MPs expressed anger yesterday that their pay had fallen well behind that of doctors and head teachers as it emerged that the Senior Salaries Review body was under pressure to recommend a pay rise many times more than inflation.

MPs currently earn £60,277 a year. They received a pay rise of 2 per cent last year.

But a submission to the Senior Salaries Review Board by the Conservative 1922 Committee hinted that MPs should be paid about £75,000. Some MPs were said to have suggested a salary reaching six figures.

Sir John Butterfill, the Conservative MP for Bournemouth West, said the 1922 Committee had expressed disappointment that MPs were now between 12 per cent and 15 per cent behind the pay of comparable public and private sector workers.
Khaleej Times Online - Dividing Iraq will create chaos: Brahimi:
Dividing Iraq will create chaos: Brahimi 5 December 2006
DUBAI — A decentralised policy in Iraq or splitting the country up will create chaos first in Iraq, and then regionally, said Lakhdar Brahimi, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General.

“The invasion of Iraq has destroyed a state and not built a state, yet,” said Brahimi at the 4th Annual Arab Strategy Forum’s session on the Global Race for Energy.

“The energy sector will suffer in particular,” said Brahimi citing the oil deals being signed with Kurdistan as a reality and reflection of a lack of state or government in Iraq.

A controversial oil exploration deal between Iraq’s autonomy-minded Kurds and a Norwegian company is underway without the approval of the central government in Iraq, raising a potentially explosive issue at a time of heightened ethnic and sectarian tensions.

Brahimi also urged delegates to look “East rather than West” for solutions to energy problems citing Malaysia, Indonesia, India and China as great examples of what optimism and education can achieve.

Looking into the future, Daniel Yergin, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Cambridge Energy Research Associates in the US, predicted the return of Russia, the number one producer of energy in the world, to superpower status. “We might see big giant, Russia, regain its superpower status,” he said.

Yergin went on to predict that the crisis in energy will bring back nuclear power saying ‘I believe in this century, the harnessing of nuclear power, under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will make a dramatic comeback.’

Answering a question on whether the world is running out of oil, Yergin said “Historically, this is the fifth time the world has run out of oil, the last time being the 1980s.

“I believe that the production of oil will rise by 20% in five years. We are looking at two to three decades as a plateau after which countries will increase their share of the energy market.”

On his part, Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zhai Jun, spoke in depth about the importance of conservation, highlighting the fast developing country’s various initiatives and efforts to conserve energy.
Iraq Shia leader asks Bush for tougher action | Top News | Reuters.com:
Iraq Shia leader asks Bush for tougher action (Mon Dec 4, 2006 8:06pm ET19)

By Ross Colvin and Alastair Macdonald

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - One of Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite leaders told President Bush on Monday that civil war could only be staved off if U.S. forces struck harder against Sunni-led insurgents.

While Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the biggest party in Iraq's government, SCIRI, met Bush in Washington, the U.S. envoy and military chief in Baghdad implored Iraqis to break a cycle of violence which they said would destroy the country....... Page 1 of 3 from Reuters.com
People's Daily Online -- Bulgaria prepared to extend mission in Iraq if invited by U.S.:
Bulgaria prepared to extend mission in Iraq if invited by U.S. [ of course the Iraqis don't count, if these guys think that Rumsfeld's vision of "old" vs "new" Europe is going to last they need to think again. The Bulgarians depend on "old" Europe for their economic survival and the times they are a changin' - mfi]

Bulgaria was prepared to extend its mission in Iraq after March 2007, its current deployment's expiry date, if it received a fresh invitation from the United States, Bulgaria's Defence Minister Veselin Bliznakov indicated on Monday.

"We cannot settle unilaterally the question of our further involvement there though we are prepared (to remain in Iraq)," Bliznakov told a news conference upon his return from a visit to Iraq at the weekend.

A new U.S. invitation was required for the Bulgarian troops to stay in Iraq, said the minister.

"We may receive such an invitation early next year," Bliznakov added.

He said a careful analysis of the Bulgarian potential would be made on receiving an invitation. He did not rule out the possibility of moving the Bulgarian servicemen to another place.

Bulgaria had withdrawn around 450 soldiers from Iraq by Dec. 30, 2005 after a mission of 29 months. Under a decree of parliament in March, Bulgaria maintains a contingent of 153 non-combat troops to guard the Ashraf refugee camp near Baghdad.

Up to 19 Bulgarians, civilians included, have died in the war in Iraq over the past three years.
People's Daily Online -- U.S. sailor pleads guilty to stealing classified data:
U.S. sailor pleads guilty to stealing classified data

A U.S. navy sailor on Monday pleaded guilty to charges of stealing classified military data, CBS News reported.

The sailor, Ariel J. Weinmann, 22, also admitted he had tried to transmit classified military data to foreign agents in October, 2005 while he was in Austria.

Weinmann had served as a fire control technician on the Connecticut-based submarine USS Albuquerque before he deserted his post and moved to Austria in July 2005.

He was arrested in March after flying back to the United States.

Weinmann said had he made copies of classified military data on a laptop computer, which he brought with him to Austria.

He faces a life sentence without parole, and will be discharged from navy without honor. Source: Xinhua
The dollar melts as Iraq burns:
The dollar melts as Iraq burns

The demise of the dollar has clear links to the Iraq war and the world's loss of confidence in America's elites. James K Galbraith December 4, 2006 02:10 PM

The melting away of the dollar is like global warming: you can't say that any one heat wave proves the trend, and there might be a cold snap next week. Still, over time, evidence builds up. And so, as the greenback approaches two to the pound, old-timers will remember the fall of sterling, under similar conditions of deficits and imperial retreat, a generation back. We have to ask: is the American financial empire on the brink? Let's take stock.

It's clear that Ben Bernanke got buffaloed, early on, by the tripe about his need to "establish credibility with the markets." There never was an inflation threat, apart from an oil-price bubble that popped last summer. Long-term interest rates would have reflected the threat if it existed, but they never did. So the Fed overshot, and raised rates too much. Now long rates are falling; Bernanke faces an inverting yield curve and even bank economists are starting to call his next move. That will be to start cutting rates, after a decent interval, sometime next year The dollar melts as Iraq burns: Read in full:
S. Korea presents Iraq troop pullout plan to U.S.

SEOUL, Dec. 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has notified the United States of its plan to draw up a timetable for withdrawing all of its troops from Iraq next year, military sources said Tuesday.

"Last Tuesday, the government formally informed the U.S. of the plan to extend the presence of the troops in Iraq by one year as well as withdraw some of them early next year, via the U.S. Embassy here," a military source said, asking to remain anonymous. The U.S. has made no official response yet.
Al Jazeera English - Middle East:
US Iraq raid kills child and women
Two women and a child are among eight people killed in a US air raid west of Baghdad, US military officials have said.

Residents in the village of al-Lihaib near the town of Garma, said 24 people had been killed and some buildings levelled in the assault.

The attack is the latest of several recent raids during which women or children have been killed or wounded by US forces in residential areas.

US-led forces said they found weapons along with the bodies of the women and child after searching through one of the buildings that was destroyed.

The military did not provide the age of the women or the age and sex of the child. Three suspected men also were detained.Read in full:
Al Jazeera English - Middle East:
Bush meets with Iraqi Shia leader

The only way to stave off civil war in Iraq is for US forces to strike harder against Sunni-led insurgents, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq's most powerful Shia leaders, has said after meeting with George Bush, the US president, in Washington.

Al-Hakim, the head of the biggest party in Iraq's Shia-dominated government, put the onus on Washington and its allies to take tougher action in Iraq, and denied that the majority Shias were stoking sectarian violence.

White House talks with al-Hakim on Monday appeared to signal a more direct effort by Bush to stabilise Iraq - an essential to any eventual pullout of US troops. Full article here:
Bloomberg.com: Australia & New Zealand:
AWB Stripped of Wheat Export Monopoly on Iraq Inquiry (Update4)

By Gemma Daley and Madelene Pearson

Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) -- AWB Ltd. will be stripped of its 67- year-old monopoly over Australian wheat exports after an inquiry recommended criminal charges against 11 former executives for paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein.

Prime Minister John Howard told reporters in Canberra the company's power to veto competing exports will be handed to the agriculture minister for six months pending a review. Shares in Melbourne-based AWB fell 10 cents to A$2.68, extending a 56 percent drop this year, before they were halted.

Removing the veto may open the A$3.3 billion ($2.6 billion) Australian export market, the third largest, to Cargill Inc., Glencore International AG, GrainCorp Ltd. and CBH Group. AWB accounted for 14 percent of the global wheat trading in 2005. Read in full:
FT.com / World / Asia-Pacific - AWB loses export veto for six months:
AWB loses export veto for six months

By Raphael Minder in Sydney

Published: December 5 2006 03:15 | Last updated: December 5 2006 03:15

John Howard, the Australian prime minister, on Tuesday announced that the Australian Wheat Board would lose its veto right over competing export bids after being found guilty of paying bribes to Iraq.

However, Mr Howard’s decision appeared to be a compromise designed to ease concerns among the National Party, which is the junior partner in Mr Howard’s coalition government and has most of its votes in the countryside.

Mr Howard said the loss of the veto right would only apply for six months, without saying what would be decided after that.

In the coming six months, the Federal Agricultural Minister will review any bids made by AWB’s domestic competitors to export wheat from Australia.

Mr Howard’s decision came just days after AWB announced its own restructuring plan in an effort to pre-empt any decision by Canberra to scrap its monopoly over wheat exports.

AWB said last Wednesday it would split the company into two, spinning off its export activities into a stand-alone business. But that move apparently failed to convince the Australian government that it should not overhaul a monopoly export system that came under fire during the national inquiry into how AWB had paid A$290m in kickbacks to Iraq.

The monopoly system, known as the single desk, has also come under attack from some of AWB’s domestic competitors, which are trying to get a slice of the lucrative export business. Other leading wheat producers, led by the US, also argue that it gives AWB an unfair advantage when it competes for wheat contracts around the world.

Under its proposed overhaul, AWB said on Wednesday the single desk would be turned into a standalone business called AWB International. The company said the change would allow a single desk system to be maintained but under a structure that would be much more closely controlled by Australian wheat farmers.

The split would also avoid conflicts of interest between the export business and the other activities of AWB, which range from providing equipment to farmers to competing on the domestic market as a supplier of wheat.

In his report released last Monday, Terence Cole, a former judge who headed the 10-month inquiry, recommended charging 11 former AWB executives for misusing the UN oil-for-food programme and paying kickbacks to the former regime of Saddam Hussein. He also said AWB had cast “a shadow over Australia’s reputation in international trade.”

Scrapping the single desk would allow Canberra to boost its trade credentials, as farming subsidies and other tools used to support domestic agriculture have proved one of the major stumbling blocks in the Doha round of trade talks.
Latest Jyllands-Posten:
'Democracy' wins court battle
By The Copenhagen Post
Three newspaper employees were found innocent of breaching national security when they published leaked information about Denmark's decision to enter the Iraq war

Two journalists and the editor-in-chief of daily newspaper Berlingske Tidende were acquitted by the Copenhagen municipal court Monday on charges of publishing classified information.

The court said the newspaper's right to publish the information relating to Denmark's decision to enter the Iraq war was protected under the freedom of speech. It found that the public's right to know was more important than keeping classified information under wraps.

The information in question related to Danish Defence Intelligence Agency (FE) documents from 2003 indicating there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That information ran contrary to the government's primary argument for joining the US-led coalition.

Journalists Michael Bjerre and Jesper Larsen were given the information by the intelligence agency's Major Frank Grevil, who was found guilty of releasing classified information and was sentenced to four months in prison. The journalists subsequently used the information in a series of articles published in the newspaper.

'This is a victory for democracy and a big day for freedom of speech,' said Niels Lund, Berlingske's editor-in-chief, who was being prosecuted for his decision to run the articles.

Lund said that even if he had been found guilty, it would not have changed the newspaper's journalistic approach.

'Our editorial line would have been the same, regardless of how the ruling went. We'll publish a similar story in the future, if there's a journalistic basis for it. What we made public was completely undamaging to the intelligence agency,' said Lund.

Lund expressed fear that the case's high profile would lead to a measure of self-policing within the field. He applauded the support Berlingske received from the country's other media, however.

'Despite competition in the media - which is tougher than ever - it's nice to see that we can stand together on the most fundamental journalistic principles.


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