Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ignatius: The Rise of Iran in Iraq

One of David's columns that should have gotten more attention:

Behind the Carnage in Baghdad
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

As security deteriorates in Baghdad, there's a new cause for worry: The head of the U.S.-trained Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) has quit in a long-running quarrel with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- depriving that country of a key leader in the fight against sectarian terrorism.

Gen. Mohammed Shahwani, the head of Iraqi intelligence since 2004, resigned this month because of what he viewed as Maliki's attempts to undermine his service and allow Iranian spies to operate freely. The CIA, which has worked closely with Shahwani since he went into exile in the 1990s and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars training the INIS, was apparently caught by surprise by his departure.

The chaotic conditions in Iraq that triggered Shahwani's resignation are illustrated by several recent events -- each of which suggests that without the backstop of U.S. support, Iraqi authorities are now desperately vulnerable to pressure, especially from neighboring Iran.

An early warning was the brazen July 28 robbery of the state-run Rafidain Bank in central Baghdad, apparently by members of an Iraqi security force. Gunmen broke into the bank and stole about 5.6 billion Iraqi dinars, or roughly $5 million. After a battle that left eight dead, the robbers fled to a newspaper run by Adel Abdul Mahdi, one of the country's vice presidents.

Abdul Mahdi, once an American favorite, has admitted that one of the robbers was a member of his security detail but denied personal involvement, according to Iraqi news reports. Some of the money has been recovered, but the rest is believed to be in Iran, along with some members of the robbery team.... (more)

Beyond Predator: The Vultures are Circling

For unmanned drones, the sky is not the limit

Flight researchers aim high for next generation of UAVs

Courtesy of Lockheed Martin Corp.
Courtesy of Aurora Flight Sciences
Courtesy of Boeing Co.

An unmanned aerial vehicle that would dwarf the ones known as Predator and Reaper — and could keep an eye on an unsuspecting enemy for years, rather than hours — is under development by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

DARPA calls the aerial vehicle the Vulture, and major aviation players such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. are working on the project, which researchers admit poses significant challenges.

What the Vulture’s role would be and what type of payload it would carry have not been specified, but it obviously could be used for surveillance, intelligence and as a relay for communications, said DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker.

Derek Bye, Lockheed’s Vulture program manager, said he envisions the Vulture as a propeller-driven vehicle that looks like a flying wing spanning 200 to 500 feet with solar cells on top. The power could be stored in fuel cells.

The Vulture would probably fly at 60,000 feet and higher to stay above the weather, Bye said. The biggest issue would be operating it at higher latitudes in winter because of the sun’s low angle, which would affect how the sunlight reaches the solar cells. The vehicle has to be able to fly at night and in bad weather, Walker said.

The Vulture must require no maintenance while it’s airborne, and there is the question of how you power an unmanned aerial vehicle for years, Walker said.

Vulture is just one of the many projects that DARPA has on the drawing board. Most of the agency’s ideas take about four years to develop, but the more advanced programs take longer, Walker said.

"This is like the Holy Grail of all airplanes," said Bye. "What we are looking at is long-term surveillance at a very low cost, and this is a fundamentally different approach."

The savings on maintenance would be one of the big advantages, Bye said.

DARPA officials compare the Vulture to a satellite, but say it would offer more flexibility because it would be easier to move.

"As for what that does, it moves us towards kind of a satellite paradigm," said Walker. "Even things like Global Hawk (UAVs) don’t have an endurance that approaches years; [their endurance is] a matter of hours."

Vulture’s development comes at a time when UAVs such as the Predator and Reaper are playing an increasing role in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A recent Washington Post article quoted an Air Force source as saying the service was going to train more UAV pilots this year than fighter and bomber pilots.

But the Vulture is a completely different bird from what is flying in the war zones. And, according to experts, putting a weapon on something that stays in the air for five years wouldn’t be practical.

DARPA developments

Apart from the Vulture, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working on a smorgasbord of ideas that would make a Hollywood sci-fi movie maker salivate. They include:

  • A plane that becomes a submarine to carry eight troops to an enemy’s shores without detection. DARPA issued a solicitation outlining the submersible aircraft’s requirements for any company interested in developing it.

DARPA wants it to be able to fly 1,000 nautical miles, operate like a boat on the surface for 200 nautical miles and maneuver like a submarine in shallow depths for 24 nautical miles. The agency sees this machine as a way to reduce the risks of landing troops. It would have to be able to float offshore for up to three days.

  • Power Swim, a device that propels swimmers twice as fast through the water as swim fins. It mimics the motions made by a seabird to boost a swimmer’s speed, range and endurance.

"Power Swim has been going on for some time. It has been tested with users in the water and we have been very pleased," said DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker. "It is well under way certainly to the point where we have a working model."

  • Fracture Putty, a substance to treat broken bones. It would create what DARPA dubs a "bone-like internal structure" that would degrade as the injured person’s bone regenerates.

"The healing process is a very long process. We are trying to develop this material to provide support to the bones as they heal and allow the injured soldier to get back on his feet," Walker said.

  • DARPA is funding research by the University of California, Berkeley, to develop a cyborg beetle that would be controlled by electrodes. Such a beetle was flown by university researchers earlier this year.
  • Disc Rotor, another aviation project in the early stages of development. The disc would be on top of aircraft and have retractable rotor blades enabling the aircraft to take off, hover and land like a chopper, but fly like an airplane without having to tilt its wings like a V-22 Osprey.

Syria Comment: The Damascus-DC Minuet

Syria Seeks to Separate US Relationship from Arab-Israeli Conflict

US-Syrian relations have continued to improve over the two weeks that I was on vacation. A second US military delegation visited Damascus to work on implementing agreements on Iraq security and intelligence sharing. Doubtlessly there will be hiccups in this process. American will want quick compliance and its requests met in full; Syria will hold back information and access until it is satisfied that its demands, particularly on the economic front, are being met. Economic demands are the most easy for the US to deliver on. Even then, US diplomats will claim that congress, the pro-Israel lobby, and “old-think,” stand in the way of change.

Al-Maliki, upset that the United States has taken it upon itself to negotiate over Iraq’s security with another country, followed the Americans to Damascus. “Iraq is still complaining about the infiltration of Arab and foreign terrorists into Iraq,” said Ali al-Moussawi, an adviser to al-Maliki. As the US pulls out of Iraq, Baghdad authorities are beginning to accuse Saudi Arabia of fueling the continuing violence against Shiites.

Al-Akhbar claims that Obama has moved the Syria and Lebanon file from the State Department to the White House, which is theoretically less subject to pressure from pro-Israeli elements. I have no idea if this is true. President Bush was the first president to move the Syria-Lebanon file to the White House, where it was jealously tended by the NSC and Elliott Abrams. Abrams served as a point person for policies related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he viewed Lebanon and Syria policy as a subset of the Israeli-US relationship. He used his perch in the NSC to fight efforts to push diplomatic approaches to the crises in the Middle East. In particular, he saw Saudi King Abdullah’s Arab Peace initiative as dangerous. He sought to prevent land for peace discussions and tried to stop Condoleezza Rice from pushing them forward. He used democracy promotion as a weapon to prevent engagement with Syria or the Palestinians and to divert discussion from talking about land to “capacity expansion”, “institution building,” etc., which led no where. This permitted him to focus on the enemies of Israel, which he was determined to destroy.

It was said that Obama would unwrap his Middle East Peace Plan during August, but this seems unlikely today. It is clear that Israel will not freeze settlements and will fight Obama by going to the Senate, Republican Party, and US evangelicals. See the article on Hukabee copied below.

Foolishly, the Obama administration asked Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Arab states to “normalize” relations with Israel in exchange for Netanyahu’s acceptance of the two-state solution and the freeze. Predictably, they have brushed off this suggestion, claiming that it would be putting the cart before the horse to normalize before a sovereign Palestinian state is established. and they are correct to do so.

The Arab refusal, however, has been useful to Israel supporters and opponents of the Obama initiative in the US government, who can now attack the Arabs for torpedoing the US plan. Two of my very smart students returned from an AIPAC led trip to Israel. They explained to me that “Obama is a well meaning man, who doesn’t understand the Middle East and is tilting at wind mills in trying to promote a two-state solution, which was never viable. Why,” they say, “even the Arab states are ignoring Obama’s requests. Why would Israel be a sucker and comply?” Then they decried the PLO conference, lamenting how no moderates remain among the Palestinians for Israel to negotiate with. They insisted that Obama was squandering his precious political capital on foreign policy when he needs it all for health care at home.

So how does this impact Syria? Damascus is trying to separate US-Syria relations from the Arab-Israeli conflict in anticipation of the day that Obama’s initiative founders. Even Hussein Agha and Robert Malley are claiming that “The Two-State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything”. Syria’s effort to develop a relationship with Washington that is not ultimately contingent on Israel will be difficult.

The only reason most policy makers in Washington are interested in Syria is because of Israel. They want to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, but they have to do it without forcing Israel to give up the Golan because they are incapable of pressuring Israel. Clinton got close in 2000, but was ultimately unable or unwilling to pressure Barak to give up the Golan.

President Assad spent Wednesday in Iran to congratulate President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad on his election. He has been able to use his good relations with Iran to free a French-Iranian recently imprisoned in Tehran. Assad condemned foreign intervention in Iran’s internal affairs, saying that “the main purpose of the interference of enemies and the West in Iran’s internal affairs is to prevent Iran and Syria from gaining consecutive victories in the next four years.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Al Qaeda Sheikh in Syria?

Senior al Qaeda leader leaves Pakistan, directs Iraq operations from Syria
By Bill RoggioAugust 21, 2009 7:01 PM
A senior al Qaeda leader and ideologue who was based in Pakistan's tribal areas has taken control of al Qaeda in Iraq's organization in Syria and is operating from the capital, Damascus.
Sheikh Issa al Masri is thought to have entered Syria in June 2009 and has been consolidating control of the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq to refocus the group's efforts to destabilize the Iraqi government.
Sheikh Issa was detained by Pakistani security forces in January 2009, according to the Asia Times. It is unclear if he escaped or was released from Pakistani custody, US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal.
After leaving Pakistani custody, Sheikh Issa traveled to Iran prior to entering Syria, according to a report in Corriere della Sera, an Italian newspaper. Al Qaeda has an extensive network inside Iran which receives support from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, according to the US Treasury Department, which has sanctioned several members of al Qaeda's organization in Iran.
Sheikh Issa is believed to be based in Damascus and is protected by the Mukhabarat, Syria's secret intelligence service. From Damascus, Sheikh Issa has been instrumental in reorganizing al Qaeda in Iraq's network and is thought to be behind some of the most deadly attacks in Iraq, including Wednesday's coordinated bombings in Baghdad that killed more than 90 Iraqis and wounded more than 1,200.
Sheikh Issa has been aided by Abu Khalaf, a senior al Qaeda operative who has been instrumental in reviving al Qaeda in Iraq's network in eastern Syria and directing terror operations in Iraq, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal....

Read more:

The original piece by Guido Olimpio in Corriere della Sera:

La mano dello «sceicco» dietro la nuova offensiva che sfida la normalizzazione
C' è la mano di Issa Al Masri, detto lo «sceicco», dietro la nuova offensiva terroristica in Iraq. Un uomo abituato a organizzare, pianificare e guidare anche sotto il profilo ideologico i gruppi di fuoco qaedisti. Reduci di Albania Egiziano, finito in galera dopo l' omicidio del presidente Sadat, Issa - ma il suo vero nome è Marjan Mustafa Salem Al Juhari -, è amico e complice di Ayman Al Zawahiri con il quale ha militato nella Jihad. Condannato in contumacia nel processo ai «reduci di Albania», si è rifugiato in Pakistan alla corte di Bin Laden. Per diversi anni ha agito nell' area tribale e i servizi segreti sospettano che abbia partecipato ad un complotto contro Musharraf nel 2004, quindi al piano per assassinare l' ex premier Benazir Bhutto. Proprio dopo questo omicidio si era sparsa la voce che fosse stato ferito da un razzo sparato da un drone Usa. Rifugio sicuro Gli americani considerano lo «sceicco» uno dei responsabili militari di quello che resta della Al Qaeda originale. Per questo, in giugno, si è spostato in Siria. Fonti libanesi hanno rivelato al Corriere che Al Masri, proveniente dall' Iran, si sarebbe sistemato in un rifugio sicuro nella zona di Damasco. Protetto dal Mukhabarat, avrebbe esteso il suo controllo su un buon numero di militanti attivi in Iraq. E la sua mano si è fatta sentire con una serie di attentati spaventosi, avvenuti in momenti-chiave. I segnali I qaedisti hanno replicato con i kamikaze alle analisi ottimiste del governo iracheno che, pochi giorni fa, aveva sostenuto che «la sicurezza non era più un tema prioritario». Quindi hanno mandato un segnale di sangue al premier Nuri Al Maliki in visita in Siria. Una missione legata proprio all' ospitalità che Damasco concede a jihadisti e ad una robusta colonia di baathisti, ex seguaci di Saddam. Bagdad preme perché i siriani li mettano alla porta e lo stesso sta facendo con i sauditi, ma i due paesi nicchiano. È chiaro che Damasco e Riad - con l' aggiunta di Teheran per quanto riguarda gli estremisti sciiti - vogliono avere delle pedine da muovere sulla scacchiera irachena. La coincidenza Difficile dire se gli attentati hanno un legame con le cruciali elezioni in Afghanistan - anche lì gli attentatori suicidi sono al lavoro - ma la percezione è quella di un attacco su più fronti che restituisce l' iniziativa a qaedisti e talebani. A Bagdad come a Kabul. I terroristi «votano» con le bombe, colpiscono i simboli del potere, sfidano le misure di sicurezza, ribadiscono di essere in grado di contrastare la normalizzazione raggiungendo ancora la superprotetta «zona verde». Gli strumenti Il ricorso a camion, letteralmente imbottiti di esplosivo, testimonia poi la determinazione nell' inseguire l' obiettivo di distruzione e nel provocare un alto numero di vittime. Arieti letali alternati con i baby-kamikaze, altro prodotto della fabbrica della morte irachena. Ragazzini di 14-16 anni capaci di immolarsi con la cintura-bomba. Piccole avanguardie di un movimento che ha atteso il ritiro dei soldati Usa dai centri abitati e la rimozione di alcuni posti di blocco per infiltrarsi. I leader che guidano alcune delle fazioni qaediste avevano promesso lotta ad oltranza, irridendo anche Barack Obama e il governo iracheno: «Non pensate che sia finita». Hanno allora chiesto ai reclutatori di fornire nuovi kamikaze e hanno studiato raid terroristici simili a bombardamenti aerei. Così sono riusciti a centrare i ministeri nel cuore di Bagdad. Lo sceicco Issa e i suoi «fratelli» hanno compiuto la missione.

Disturbing Portents

I found the subject of Frank Rich's column in Sunday's New York Times, "The Guns of August," very worrisome indeed:

“IT is time to water the tree of liberty” said the sign carried by a gun-toting protester milling outside President Obama’s town-hall meeting in New Hampshire two weeks ago. The Thomas Jefferson quote that inspired this message, of course, said nothing about water: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” That’s the beauty of a gun — you don’t have to spell out the “blood.”... (more)

When I put it on Twitter and Facebook, friends were quick to point out how much the mood and rhetoric resembled what they had heard in the Holy Land before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, which surely was -- from the murderer's point of view -- the most successful act of terrorism ever carried out in Israel.

A further reflection of the darkening zeitgeist is the lead story in the current Marianne weekly:

Historical and philosophical covers are ubiquitous in French news magazines in August. (One brought out a special issue on Spinoza this month, another on Pascal.) But Marianne tries to combine a historical anniversary with the spirit of the age: "400 Years After the Death of Henry IV: Those Political Assassinations that Change the Course of History."

Lebanon Defined: Then and Now

Two amazing visions of Lebabon, one a trite travelogue from the 1960s that nonetheless shows how it was, the other a dazzling essay from today that explains exactly how it is.

(Thanks to Eric Pape for bringing the video to my attention)

And this, from a just-published essay on the anonymous but always intriguing Beirut blog, "Thinking Fits":

For me, the Lebanon I am living in could have become, in time, a mirror of its best yarns but instead decided to settle for its worst illusions. It is the Lebanon where the harassed, tree-rich mountains of yore peer over a filthy, ecoli- infested sea; where gorgeous parties float on thinly roofed lakes of your and my feces; where electricity still comes in dribs and drabs to entire communities; where rampant poverty is tempered and masked by a web of sectarian and feudal patronages; where food poisoning, skin diseases from toxic swimming pools, car pollution and day-long waits in traffic jams during the summer months are brandished as proof of tourism’s love of this haunt; where public works celebrate almost quarterly anniversaries on the same sites year after year after year.

This is the Lebanon that glides, haggard, stateless and broken, through life as if it’s waltzing its evenings away on marble; that thinks its sexy, beautiful, sophisticated, “with it”, when in actual fact it is over the hill, ugly, passé, money grubbing, uncouth, farts all day long, has BO and is downright moronic to boot.

August is a mother, ain’t it?

No, really, on a serious note, the other day, I was leafing through Phillips de Pury & Company’s catalogue for the May 16, 2009, auction and came across two photographs. One, titled Saida, is a shot by Elger Esser of the sea-planted citadel facing the city of Sidon. In life, it is decrepit and swimming in ink blue waters. Through Esser’s lense, it is poetry; for me, if not for him, a visualization of Lebanon as it should be: its damaged beauty still obvious to the eye, still loved, its mood melodic, even serene, its present mature and not allergic to introspection. The other photograph, by Fouad el Khoury, is of Beirut’s corniche on a very stormy day, blurred, perturbed and unbearably sensual. This imagined Lebanon is like a great idea that lives in its lazy author’s head refusing to dart out and become a full-grown story. Of my country’s many tragedies this one tugs most at the heart—at least mine.

[To read the full essay, click here.]

Saturday, August 22, 2009

La Guerre n'est pas finie

French police find 2 more ETA weapons stashes

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London Times: At Home With Lockerbie Bomber


Is he the evil perpetrator of the deadliest terrorist attack in British history, or a sick old man, a loving father and grandfather, who has suffered a terrible miscarriage of justice? Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi put on a virtuoso performance when The Times came calling yesterday.

His house, in the Dimachk area of Tripoli, was not hard to find. Policemen stood guard outside. The road was lined with the BMWs of smartly dressed friends and relatives who had come to pay their respects. The high outer walls were festooned with fairy lights and with pictures of the Lockerbie bomber as he looked when he left Libya more than a decade ago. In the garden stood a marquee where he had evidently been welcomed home the previous night.

We sent in our business cards and waited, more in hope than expectation. But ten minutes later we were ushered into the spacious hall of the distinctly plush villa where chandeliers hung above a marble floor — a far cry from the Scottish prisons where al-Megrahi has spent the past eight years. His family bought the house a couple of years ago with help from the Libyan Government.

The man himself was waiting in a reception room at the top of a wide and curving staircase; the curtains were drawn against the fierce afternoon sun and tropical fish swam in illuminated tanks.

He looked weak and grey, far older than his 57 years and scarcely recognisable as the man I last saw at his trial in the Netherlands in 2001. He was supporting himself on a walking stick. Like everyone else he wore flowing Arab robes of spotless white — “not what I wore in prison”, he joked in a soft voice and fluent English. He was seeing us, he explained, “because you came to our house. It is our culture.”

We sat on sofas. No tea was offered because it is Ramadan. To be free, he said, was “something amazing. I’m very, very happy.” When the doctors had told him he had just a few months left to live “this was my hope and wish — to be back with my family before I pass away . . . I always believed I would come back if justice prevailed”.

His mother, 86, had not stopped crying, he said. “I told her, ‘You should laugh, not cry’. She doesn’t know I’m ill.” He asked us not to tell her.... (more)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Russia arrests eight for hijacking cargo ship

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Reuters - Iran's Mousavi says government agents raped detainees

This article was sent to you from, who uses Reuters Mobile Site to get news and information on the go. To access Reuters on your mobile phone, go to:

Iran's Mousavi says government agents raped detainees

Tuesday, Aug 18, 2009 5:46PM UTC

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi accused "establishment agents" of raping and abusing detainees imprisoned after Iran's June presidential vote and urged the powerful clerics to do their duty and speak out.

"They (authorities) asked those who were abused and raped in prisons, to present four witnesses (to prove their claim)... Those who committed the crimes were the establishment's agents," Mousavi said in a letter to reformist leader Mehdi Karoubi, the reformist website reported.

"They were threatening detainees to keep silent ... it is not possible to appease the suppressed people by using money and force," Mousavi said.

In a forthright declaration that puts the Islamic republic's influential top clerics on the spot, Mousavi demanded that they step in and pass judgment on a growing political scandal.

"It is the main duty of revolutionary clergy to reflect the realities, but some have closed their eyes and ignored this responsibility," Mousavi's letter added.

His accusation lent support to Karoubi, who angered hardliners for saying some post-election protesters were raped in jail. The authorities have rejected the accusations as "baseless."

"I praise your courage and hope the other clerics join and strengthen your efforts," Mousavi's letter said.

Some hardliners have called for Karoubi to be arrested or tried if he failed to prove the abuse accusations. Karoubi says he has evidence of mistreatment of detainees. Last Thursday, he said some of those arrested were killed under torture.

The June 12 poll and its turbulent aftermath have plunged Iran into its biggest turmoil since the 1979 Islamic revolution, exposing deepening rifts within its ruling elite and also further straining relations with the West.

Iran arrested thousands of people after the election during its worst street unrest in three decades.

At least 200 people remain in jail, including senior moderate politicians, activists, lawyers and journalists. Iran has this month staged three mass trials against detainees. A fourth trial will be held on Wednesday, official media reported.

Mousavi and Karoubi, who came second and fourth respectively in the election, say it was rigged to secure hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election. Ahmadinejad and his allies deny it.

The hardline president has until Wednesday to present a cabinet to parliament for approval but may get a rough ride from the conservatives who dominate the assembly, as well as from his moderate foes who see his next government as illegitimate.

The losing candidates say 69 people were killed in unrest following the vote. The figure is more than double the official toll of 26.

(Writing by Samia Nakhoul; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reuters - Iran releases French teacher on bail: Elysee

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Iran releases French teacher on bail: Elysee

Sunday, Aug 16, 2009 8:38PM UTC

PARIS (Reuters) - Iran has freed on bail a French teaching assistant charged with spying, President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said in a statement on Sunday.

The statement said Clotilde Reiss, 24, was well and would stay in the French embassy in Tehran pending a verdict.

Reiss has been charged in a mass trial with aiding a Western plot against the government after Iran's disputed presidential election in June and has been held in prison since early July.

A French embassy employee, Nazak Afshar, who faces the same charges, was conditionally released earlier this week by Iran and will also stay at the embassy ahead of the verdict.

"The French authorities now ask that the judicial case against Clotilde Reiss and Madame Nazak Afshar, which cannot be justified in any way, come to a swift conclusion," Sarkozy's office said.

Sarkozy thanked other countries, including Syria, for supporting France in the case, which has further strained already tense relations with Iran.

Earlier on Sunday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told state television that France had agreed to post bail for Reiss, saying the authorities had not sought an "enormous sum."

"The verdict might come in the next eight days. Perhaps a bit longer," he said.

Sarkozy's office said the president had spoken to Reiss immediately after her release and praised her courage.

"Clotilde Reiss is in good health and has maintained good spirits," the statement said.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Iran puts more post-vote detainees on trial

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Iran's leader appoints new judiciary chief: report

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Khalaji's Who's Who in Khamenei's Iran

Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has published an interesting, if brief, academic paper on The Militarization of the Iranian Judiciary. I found the segments below of particular interest, since relationships through ancestry and marriage count for a lot among the mullahs, but family trees are hard to come by:

Who is Sadeq Larijani [who may be the next minister of justice]?
Born in 1960 in Najaf, Iraq, Sadeq Larijani is the son of Grand Ayatollah Hashem Amoli and the son-in-law of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Vahid Khorasani, currently one of the most widely followed marjas, “sources of emulation” whose rulings are regarded as binding by devout Shiite believers. Larijani’s two older and well-known brothers — Ali Larijani, speaker of the Majlis (Iranian parliament) and former nuclear negotiator, and Mohammad Javad Larijani, the deputy head of the judiciary, former deputy foreign affairs minister, and mathematics graduate from the University of California, Berkeley — are also married into respected clerical families: Ali is the son-in-law of the late Morteza Motahhari, an ideologue of the Islamic government, and Mohammad Javad is the son-in-law of Hassan Hassanzadeh, an ayatollah in Qom. Khamenei, at one point the supervisor of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), became intimate with the Larijani family during Ali’s several-year post as deputy commander of the IRGC.
Sadeq justifies his lack of political experience in a short autobiography on his website. Because he “felt that the West’s cultural invasion was no less important than a military invasion,” he decided to prepare himself for “confronting the cultural invasion,” in part by learning English. ...
Sadeq first made a name for himself by criticizing religious intellectuals such as Abdulkarim Soroush and eventually became one of the main voices of the Islamic Republic. Larijani taught courses on Islamic ideology, both at the seminary in Qom and at various IRGC bases around the country.
In 2001, Sadeq Larijani was the youngest jurist ever to be appointed to the Guardian Council, the twelve-person body responsible for approving all laws passed by the Majlis and for supervising elections. In the course of his Guardian Council activities, he has tried to remain under the radar by avoiding public appearances and media interviews. He has also made every effort to keep his relationships with Khamenei, the intelligence apparatus, and the IRGC under wraps.

Militarizing Iran’s Institutions
In his twenty years in office, particularly in recent years, Khamenei has replaced military, political, economic, cultural, and clerical officials with a new generation of politicians and clerics who owe their political or religious credentials to him. The IRGC and intelligence apparatuses became the main avenues through which young ambitious men loyal to Khamenei could enter the political scene.
Although most of these new politicians and clerics are close to Khamenei, they are not traditional clerics with independent political and religious credentials, such as those who participated in the 1979 Revolution. Instead, most of the new generation began their careers in the military, the IRGC, and the intelligence services. Notable examples include Ahmad Khatami (no relation to former president Muhammad Khatami), an influential intelligence agent who is now a member of the Assembly of Experts and the Friday prayer Imam of Tehran; Ahmad Salek, Khamenei’s representative in both the Qods Force and IRGC intelligence and a member of the Militant Clerics Society of Tehran; Hossein Taeb, the commander of Basij militia and former head of IRGC intelligence; and Sadeq Larijani.

BBC Mobile | BBC News | Top stories | Hamas crackdown on radical group

Holier than thou?

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Latest appearance on France 24: Korea, Iran, Fatah, etc.

The World This Week

Friday 07 August 2009

The issues of the week with our guests Barbara Giudice (Radio France International), Christopher Dickey (Newsweek Magazine) and Nicholas Norbrook (The Africa Report).

Palestine's Warlords, Then (2000), and Now

By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, Associated Press Writer – Tue Aug 11, 2:57 pm ET

BETHLEHEM, West Bank – Fatah has elected a rejuvenated leadership that will likely bring the mainstream Palestinian movement more in line with President Barack Obama's vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, according to unofficial results released Tuesday...
Though the younger leaders endorse creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel, they do not offer far-reaching concessions.
Most prominent among the newly elected leaders is Marwan Barghouti, 50, a diminutive, charismatic homegrown leader who was the West Bank Fatah commander when he was arrested by Israeli forces in 2001. Convicted of involvement in several fatal Palestinian attacks, Barghouti is serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison.
Before the eruption of a Palestinian uprising in 2000, Barghouti met regularly with Israeli peace activists and expressed readiness for mutual compromise. After the violence erupted, however, he adopted an increasingly tougher line toward Israel, mirroring other disillusioned Palestinian moderates.
In recent statements, Barghouti has rejected resumption of peace talks with Israel unless it first halts all construction in its West Bank settlements and pledges to free all prisoners and agrees to withdraw from all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — items Israel believes should be the heart of negotiations.
"This election is setting a new future for the movement, a new democratic era," said Mohammed Dahlan, 47, a former Gaza security chief who was one of the winners, according to the unofficial results.
Also elected was Jibril Rajoub, 56, a former aide to the late Yasser Arafat who led several crackdowns against Hamas.
A prominent election loser was Ahmed Qureia, 72, who served as Palestinian prime minister and most recently as chief negotiator for talks with Israel. Though he clashed repeatedly with Arafat, Qureia was identified with the Fatah old guard.


Bursts of automatic-rifle fire echo up the street; wisps of tear gas float in the air. An ambulance rushes toward the scene, where Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint outside the Palestinian city of Ramallah are using live ammo to force back a rock-throwing mob. Marwan Barghouti stands out in the open, watching from 100 yards away, hands in his pockets, as relaxed as if he were at a family picnic.
In fact, he's at a funeral: a procession bearing the corpse of a young Palestinian shot the day before has just ended nearby. Now, older mourners and local politicians, handkerchiefs over their noses because of the tear gas, are paying their respects to the 41-year-old Barghouti. They go to him for advice because he runs a group of Fatah militias, guerrillas the Israelis call Tanzim--the shock troops of the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank. One of the mourners, a gray-haired man cringing at the noise of guns, asks with deference just when the dying might end. "We are at the start of this intifada," Barghouti declares, not a tear in his eye. "It has only been two months."
Only two months, but it must seem like eons to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The uprising led by new warlords like Barghouti essentially toppled Barak's government last week. Facing overwhelming opposition within Israel's Knesset, the prime minister was forced to call new elections--opening a campaign season that promises to be ruthless. Now he has perhaps six months to produce the kind of peacemaking results he can win on. To do that, Barak will need to appease not just Yasir Arafat and the familiar old PLO sycophants who surround him. He'll also have to find common ground with a younger generation of Palestinian street leaders who, like Barghouti, have emerged to lead the bloody fight against Israeli occupation. These are men in their 40s, mostly, who were previously in the shadow of the traditional PLO leadership. They are the someday successors to Arafat, and even now it is not altogether clear whether they are following his orders or he is following their lead. ...
Yet the rising stars of the intifada are not just a threat to Barak. While they demand an end to Israeli settlements, they're also challenging the old-line PLO leadership to clean up its act. Since Arafat's cronies arrived on the scene seven years ago, they've grown rich while most Palestinians have grown poorer. Barghouti and the other warlords are senior officials in the Fatah faction Arafat founded, and proclaim eternal fealty to the old man. But the current uprising "changed the rules of the game," Barghouti told NEWSWEEK. "What the leadership must do is adapt to the new rules."
Hussam Khader, an organizer of Fatah militias around the West Bank city of Nablus, goes further. He openly accused 50 members of the Palestinian Authority of taking their money and their families out of the country during the uprising. "Arafat is the umbrella for these corrupt people, but he still leads the national party," says Khader. "If Arafat didn't exist, this intifada would have been against the Palestinian Authority. And if this intifada fails to reorganize the Palestinian house, then I would consider this intifada failed."
Israel's expectation of Arafat has always been that he'd keep order, come what may. No longer: "The way it looks right now, the situation is fast going toward a state of anarchy," a senior Israeli Defense official told reporters last week. He cited six different, and often competing, security organizations operating in the West Bank and Gaza. In fact, Arafat's two Preventive Security chiefs, who are supposed to control Palestinian violence in the interests of the peace process, have been increasingly reluctant to act against their own people. The West Bank operative, Jibril Rajoub, has tried to avert potential clashes: last Friday he posted his men inside the Al Aqsa Mosque on the sacred mount claimed by both Muslims and Jews when it was opened to tens of thousands of worshipers, and the prayers remained quiet. But Mohammed Dahlan, security chief in Gaza, says he is "fed up" with trying to protect Israelis--especially after they rocketed his new headquarters in October. He told NEWSWEEK he has no interest in investigating who was behind a recent bombing inside Israel that killed two Israelis and wounded more than 50. "It's not my business," said Dahlan. "It used to be my business. Understand?"...

The tone is menacing, to be sure. But the emerging warlords of Palestine are also pragmatic. They were born under Israeli rule, grew up in camps and slums patrolled by Israeli soldiers, learned Hebrew in Israeli jails. They have a ferocious familiarity with the occupiers that older Palestinians, who spent decades in exile, could never begin to have. Yet none of them embraces the apocalyptic rhetoric of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, which would erase Israel from the map. All of them accept its right to exist. What they say they reject is the kind of peace that Barak has been offering, which they see as a continuation of occupation in a different guise.
"We want to save our blood and their blood," says Dahlan. "But going back to negotiations under the old rules, that's bull----. Enough. Do you think a Palestinian state can ever be established without Jerusalem? A state full of settlements? A state surrounded by the Israeli military? What kind of a state is that?" "We are not against any negotiations," says Barghouti. "But according to our experience, over seven years [since the Oslo accords] there is no result without pressure on the ground, without resistance to the occupation. For negotiations to succeed, we have to continue the intifada."
Beyond the bravado, it's not at all clear that these new street fighters can really achieve much against the region's most powerful military. So a key question for Israelis and American mediators concerns the role of Arafat now. Has he lost control or are these really his boys, doing his bidding? One Arab intelligence source who knows him well insists that the aging guerrilla is content to see the violence continue. Since the latest uprising began, he has been treated as a hero by the rest of the Arab world, and promised more lavish funding from them than he has seen in years: as much as $1 billion. "Arafat is looking for ways to keep the fire warm while drawing money from the Arabs," said this source. Before, almost any deal he signed would have been condemned by Islamic leaders. "Now, with this so-called Independence War, he is covering his a-- from anyone who would call him a traitor."
Ever the survivor, Arafat could conceivably be strengthened by the recent mayhem. Grim as the violence has been, over the long run it could serve to prepare an exhausted public on both sides for practical concessions on territory, settlements, foreign observers, even a division of Jerusalem. Khader, in Nablus, describes the new uprising as "a sort of surgery performed to fix the malfunctions of the peace process." But there is also the risk that between the bluster of Israeli elections and the brutal brinkmanship of Arafat and his proteges, the chances of peace will be dimmed for years to come.