Saturday, March 31, 2012

Iranian missiles could do a lot of harm in case Israel would attack

 On 24 March 2012 some 1000 Israeli's demonstrated in Tel Aviv against a possible Israeli attack on Iran (Photo Dahlia Scheindlin, +972 Mag)

The Lobelog, the blog of Jim Lobe of IPS, is one of those places that one should keep an eye on in order to be well informed.  On 29 March it carried an article by Gareth Porter, a journalist who specializes in U.S. National security, based on an interview with on of Israel's leading experts on Iranian missiles and the head of its missile defence programme for nearly a decade. He contradicts the optimistic scenario as portrayed by the Israeli government that says Iran is to weak to effectively react to an attack. On the contrary,  Iranian missiles are capable of doing significant damage to Israeli targets.

....Uzi Rubin, who was in charge of Israel's missile defence from 1991 to 1999 and presided over the development of the Arrow anti- missile system, has a much more sombre view of Iran's capabilities.
The "bad news" for Israel, Rubin told IPS in an interview, is that the primary factor affecting Iran's capability to retaliate is the rapidly declining cost of increased precision in ballistic missiles. Within a very short time, Iran has already improved the accuracy of its missiles from a few kilometres from the target to just a few metres, according to Rubin.
That improvement would give Iran the ability to hit key Israeli economic infrastructure and administrative targets, he said. "I'm asking my military friends how they feel about waging war without electricity," said Rubin.
The consequences of Iranian missile strikes on administrative targets could be even more serious, Rubin believes. "If the civilian government collapses," he said, "the military will find it difficult to wage a war."
Rubin is even worried that, if the accuracy of Iranian missiles improves further, which he believes is "bound to happen", Iran will be able to carry out pinpoint attacks on Israel's air bases, which are concentrated in just a few places.

Some Israeli analysts have suggested that Israel could hit Iranian missiles in a preemptive strike, but Rubin said Israel can no longer count on being able to hit Iranian missiles before they are launched.
Iran's longer-range missiles have always been displayed on mobile transporter erector launchers (TELs), as Rubin pointed out in an article in Arms Control Today earlier this year. "The message was clear," Rubin wrote. "Iran's missile force is fully mobile, hence, not pre-emptable."
Rubin, who has argued for more resources to be devoted to the Arrow anti-missile system, acknowledged that it can only limit the number of missiles that get through. In an e-mail to IPS, he cited the Arrow system's record of more than 80 percent success in various tests over the years, but also noted that such a record "does not assure an identical success rate in real combat". 


Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, then IDF chief of staff, told a visiting Congressional delegation in November 2009 that Iran already had 300 missiles capable of hitting Israeli targets, according to a U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks.
Those reports suggest that Iran now has roughly 450 missiles that can reach Israel, half of which are improved models with much greater precision. Even if only one-fifth of those missiles get through Israel's missile defences, Israeli cities could be hit by at least 100, most of which are able to hit targets with relative accuracy. 

The whole article can be found here

Friday, March 30, 2012

Arab summit marked by divisions, calls for Assad and Syrian opposition to start dialogue

Bashar al-Assad  visited the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs on 27 March. (Photo Sana)

Arab leaders urged dialogue and an end to Syria's bloody crackdown at a summit in Baghdad on Thursday. 
 A resolution approved by the leaders called on the "Syrian government and all opposition factions to deal positively with the envoy (Kofi Annan) by starting serious national dialogue."
It also called on the Syrian opposition "to unify its ranks and prepare ... to enter into serious dialogue" with the regime, while also saying that "the Syrian government should immediately stop all actions of violence and killing." It said "the massacre committed by the Syrian military and security forces against civilians in Baba Amr... can be considered crimes (against) humanity," referring to a district of the flashpoint city of Homs in central Syria.
The summit was marked by differences in the Arab League about how to handle the Syrian conflict. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down and for rebels opposing his regime to be supplied with weapons. Others, including Iraq, have been pushing for a political reconciliation. Gulf states, apart from Kuwait, largely snubbed the summit, with Riyadh and Doha only sending envoys to the first Arab meet to be held in the Iraqi capital in more than 20 years.
Nine visiting leaders attended the summit of the 22-member Arab League, along with UN chief Ban Ki-moon. Syria, which has been suspended from the pan-Arab body, was not invited.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's remarks at the summit highlighted the split in the Arab League.
"Based on our experience in Iraq, the option to arm either side of the conflict will lead to a regional and international proxy war in Syria," Maliki warned in his speech to Arab leaders, adding that "this option will prepare the ground for foreign military intervention in Syria."
Iraq deployed 100,000 security forces in an effort to prevent attacks on the summit, and officials closed down swathes of roads and mobile networks and shut down the country's airspace. Despite the security measures a mortar round struck near the Iranian embassy on the outskirts of the heavily-fortified Green Zone where the summit was held.

 Meanwhile in Syria President Bashar Assad said he will spare no effort to make U.N. envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan a success, but he demanded that armed opponents halt the violence. However, the same day there were a few particularly bold attacks. In Aleppo gunmen fatally shot two army colonels in the downtown Bab al-Hadid traffic circle in broad daylight. In eastern Ghouta, a suburb a few kilometers (miles) from Damascus, gunmen kidnapped pilot Mohammad Omar al-Dirbas, a brigadier, while on his way to work, SANA said. Also Thursday, rebels ambushed an army truck and killed two soldiers in the central province of Hama. Fresh clashes also broke out between government troops and army defectors in the north and south.
Assad, in his comments Thursday, accused regional countries of funding and arming "terrorists" in Syria and cited the assassinations as proof that they did not want a peaceful settlement to the crisis.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least five civilians were killed in army raids on rebellious villages in Idlib province along Syria's northern border with Turkey. The activist group also reported clashes in the southern town of Dael.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Israel can make use of airfields in Azerbaijan near the border of Iran

Haaretz reports:
 Israel has been granted access to air bases in Azerbaijan on Iran's northern border, Foreign Policy reported Wednesday, quoting senior U.S. diplomats and military intelligence officials.
"The Israelis have bought an airfield," a senior U.S. administration official told Foreign Policy's Mark Perry, "and the airfield is called Azerbaijan." 
 "We're watching what Iran does closely," said a U.S. intelligence officer involved in assessing the consequences of a potential Israeli strike on Iran. "But we're now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we're not happy about it."
In February, Israel signed a $1.6 billion arms deal with Azerbaijan, committing to sell drones and anti-aircraft missile defense systems to Baku. According to a retired U.S. diplomat, the deal left Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan "sputtering in rage," since Israel had previously canceled a contract to develop drones with the Turkish military.
The report said that the Azeri military has four abandoned, Soviet-era airfields that could be available to Israel and four air bases for their own aircraft, quoting the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Military Balance 2011.
U.S. officials told Foreign Policy that they believe Israel has been granted access to these air bases through a "series of quiet political and military understandings."
"I doubt that there's actually anything in writing," said a former U.S. diplomat who spent his career in the region. "But I don't think there's any doubt - if Israeli jets want to land in Azerbaijan after an attack, they'd probably be allowed to do so. Israel is deeply embedded in Azerbaijan, and has been for the last two decades."

Egypt's military will not give up their business empire

 Outside Cairo the Egyptian army has a huge factory for the innovation, repair, modernization and servicing of American M60 tanks. 

A leading member of Egypt's ruling military council (SCAF) warned it will not allow civilians to encroach on the armed forces' extensive business enterprises, Associated Press reports. The warning by major-general Mahmoud Nasr, the deputy defense minister for financial affairs and member of SCAF, was published in Egyptian media Wednesday. The general spoke in a conference on economic reform that was attended by a select group of prominent local journalists and writers.
 The military has enjoyed a near-autonomous power in Egypt for the last 60 years. Over that time, it expanded its business ventures that granted it privileges such as large government construction contracts and well paid government jobs for its retired generals. It built a massive economic empire that according to some estimates, accounts anywhere between 15 and for 40 percent of the nation's GDP. The generals have never confirmed any figures. The Egyptian military receives around $1 billion a year in U.S. aid, but its budget is largely unknown.
 Nasr defended the military's right to hold businesses, saying they were used in the national interest and were needed to finance the Defense Ministry. He said the ministry receives only about 4.2 percent of the national budget but needs around 15 percent. He said the economic projects, which include anything from potable water, to electronics, food stuff and hotels, yield about $200 million a year in revenues, the state-owned Al-Akhbar reported. He said the Armed Forces used its revenues to prop up the Egyptian economy in the post-uprising period, paying more than $ 2 billion to support the Central Bank, to pay salaries and support the police and various ministries. The total number of the Egyptian defense production plants is 32. They are supervised by three government entities: The ministry of Military Production (16 factories), the Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI, nine factories), and the National Service Project Organization (four factories). This last holding company has yielded about $1.3 billion in profits between 1990 and 2011, according to general Nasr's comments in Al-Shorouk. NASPO includes companies working in manufacturing of canned foods and drinks; the bottled water and olive oil company; an Optronics company, and a chemical and agriculture products company.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Militias clash in southern Libya: about 50 killed

 Bodies of killed militiamen in the Sabha hospital. (Reuters). 

Three days of clashes between rival militias in southern Libya have so far killed nearly 50 people. The fighting between gunmen from Sabha and those from the Tibu ethnic group had reached the centre of the city, said Ibrahim Misbah, a doctor at the main hospital.
 Fourteen people were killed on Tuesday and 30 wounded, Misbah said, giving numbers for the Sabha side. Around 20 people were killed by Monday, he said. Ali Galama, a Tibu representative on the NTC from Murzuq, south of Sabha, said 15 people were killed on the Tibu side and 18 were wounded. He was speaking from Benghazi, but said to be in touch with Tibu in the area by telephone. The fighting broke out on Sunday after a Sabha man was killed apparently in a dispute over a car.
An Interior Ministry official said the army had sent 300 soldiers stationed in southern Libya to help calm the situation on Monday. Another 300 soldiers left Tripoli on Tuesday,  he added.
The clashes highlight the problems the government still faces in imposing its authority following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. Last month, dozens of people were killed in clashes between tribes in the far southeastern province of Al Kufra. Armed forces eventually intervened to stop the fighting, in a rare example of the Tripoli government imposing its authority.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Human Rights Watch: Children on trial in Egyptian military courts

 Tora prison in Cairo.

Islam Harby was 15 years old on March 23, 2011, when military police arrested him on the street in the Moqattam neighborhood of Cairo, where he worked at a bakery to support his family, his mother told Human Rights Watch in February. Harby had spoken with Human Rights Watch in April 2011 using a mobile phone borrowed from another prisoner.
“There was a fight in the street, and the army thought that I and two others were thugs, so they arrested us and took me to a court,” he said. “I don’t know what my sentence is.”
Military officers accused Harby of robbery and possession of a knife, and took him to Cairo’s S28 military prison, his mother said. She said he was sentenced the same day.
Harby’s family had received no news of his whereabouts or charges against him until one week after his arrest, when they received a call from another detainee’s family informing them of their son’s whereabouts, they said. They were not able to visit him until late April, when he was transferred to the maximum security section of Tora Prison, in a suburb of Cairo, where he was held in a cell alongside adult prisoners.
Harby’s mother added that she asked the military judiciary office in Salah Salem for a copy of the judgment against Islam and any documents relating to his case, but has yet to receive them. “We only found out his sentence when we saw his name on the prison guard’s list for visits: next to his name it said seven years,” she said.

The case of Islam is one of 43 cases of juveniles taken before military prosecutors and judges that Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian activist group No Military Trials for Civilians have documented in the past year. Some of the 43 have remained in detention for up to a year, and at least six of the youths alleged that army or security officers had physically abused them. In addition to those investigated and prosecuted before military courts, children have also been prosecuted through Egypt’s adult criminal justice and state security courts, rather than before juvenile justice courts as required by Egyptian and international law.
“It’s bad enough that the SCAF is trying civilians in military courts, but to put Egyptian children through the military justice system is an even graver injustice,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, Middle East children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The military has brought children before military courts without even the most basic protections, like access to lawyers or their families. Even worse, authorities have abused them in detention.”

Syria agrees to Kofi Annan's six points

 Annan and Assad during their second talk on 11 March 2012.

Syria's government has agreed to accept the peace plan put forward by the United Nations and Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, his spokesman said on Tuesday. Mr Annan said he considered it "an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed", but implementation was key. Mr Annan has written to President Assad urging him to put his commitments into immediate effect.
Annan's plan calls for a UN-supervised halt to fighting in Syria and a transition to a more representative political system. The news that Syria agrees to it came as Annan held talks with China's Premier Wen Jiabao. China threw its support behind the plan. A Chinese spokesman said to hope that 'all parties in Syria can cooperate with Mr Annan's mediation efforts, in order to create conditions for a political settlement'. Annan's plan has also the backing of Russia. He got Russias support during talks he held in Moscow on Sunday.  

The news that Assad goes along with Annan's plan came as Syrian opposition factions including the main Syrian National Council (SNC) were meeting for a second day to agree on common objectives for their nation's future ahead of a weekend "Friends of Syria" conference. There was no immediate reaction. Annan's plan calls for an end to the fighting in a UN-supervised ceasefire. The oppositional SNC, however,  so far has said that a peacekeeping mission would give President Bashar al-Assad more time and that the government has not kept earlier promises to reform. The SNC has declared that it does not want to start negotiations until president Assad has stepped down.

Annan's six-point peace plan (source BBC)
1. Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people
2. UN-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians
3. All parties to ensure provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause
4. Authorities to intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons
5. Authorities to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists
6. Authorities to respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully
 Annan has stressed there can be no deadline to ending the year-long crisis. "I think only Syrians should decide the issue of Assad's resignation," Annan told Russian news agencies after Sunday's talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
"It's important to sit all Syrians behind a negotiating table," he said, according to a Russian translation of his remarks, adding it was "incorrect to give any deadlines" for ending the violence in Syria.
Medvedev had warned on Sunday that Annan represented the "last chance" for avoiding a civil war in Syria, promising him Russia's full support.

Ennahda party will not go along with calls to include sharia in Tunisia's constitution

 Some 10,000 Salafis took to the streets of the capital, Tunis, on Sunday to express their support for the proposal that the country's legislation should be based on Islamic law. (Reuters)

The moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which leads Tunisia's government, will not back calls by conservatives to make Islamic law, or sharia, the main source of legislation in a new constitution, a senior party official said on Monday.
"Ennahda has decided to retain the first clause of the previous constitution without change," Ameur Larayed told Radio Mosaique. "We want the unity of our people and we do not want divisions."
The party has not formally announced its final position.
A constituent assembly, elected in October, is hashing out a new constitution as part of Tunisia's transition. Religious conservatives, including the third largest party in the constituent assembly, have called in recent weeks for the constitution to include sharia as the key source of legislation. Secularists oppose the move. Rachid al-Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda, which occupies over 40 percent of seats in the assembly, promised before the election that his party would be satisfied with the existing first clause of the constitution, which identifies Islam as the religion of state but does not specifically refer to sharia. However, he said a month ago that Ennahda was debating the idea of including sharia and had yet to reach a conclusion.
 The article from the 1959 constitution states: "Tunisia is a free, sovereign and independent state, whose religion is Islam, language is Arabic and has a republican regime."

In recent weeks opposition parties have exerted considerable pressure on Ennahda to clarify its position on the issue.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Egyptian islamists are manipulating composition of panel that is to draft new constitution

 The maglis as-Shaab, the Egyptian lower house of parliament.

 Update: Ahram Online reports: After 13 hours of voting, waiting and counting votes, the final list of the 100-member constituent assembly was announced Sunday, amid much controversy; 65% of the list is controlled by Islamists, 50 members are from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist political parties.The meagre presence of women (just six members), Egyptian Christians (again just six) and Liberal forces has angered many who see the assembly as unrepresentative of a diverse Egypt. Several liberal elected members in the assembly announced their withdrawal including Member of Parliament (MP) Amr Hamzawy , MP Ziad Bahaa El-Din and political activist Ahmed Harara, following the announcement of the list. There have been several calls from leftist and liberal political forces, such as the Free Egyptians Party, for revolutionary youth to return to Tahrir square and protest.

As could be expected the selection of the 100 man strong panel that is to draft the new Egyptian constitution has led to heated controversy. At a session of both chambers of parliament on Saturday to pick the panel, lawmakers from the liberal Egyptian Bloc, which holds 9 percent of the lower house's seats, walked out, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to dominate the selection.
 The military council (SCAF) last year suspended the old constitution after the uprising that ousted president Hosni Mubarak. In its place it issued an interim constitution that gave the parliament's two houses the right to select those who will draft the new constitution.This new constitution will be put to a vote in a national referendum. However, the guidelines for the process were left vague enough to cause controversies about how the panel should be composed.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, passed a vote last week to appoint 50 of the panel members from among the members of parliament, while the rest will be drawn from broader society. On Saturday the parliament voted on who would be included in the panel, for which no less than 2,078 people had been nominated. Yet hours before the process was completed, a list of names from parliament and outside became known, that had been distributed among the members of parliament of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), asking these members to vote for the names on the list. 
After that the liberal Egyptian Bloc lawmakers walked out. One of them, Emad Gad of the Social Democratic Party, called the session a "farce" and said the Islamist parties "have already decided on the names and voting is only meant to lend legitimacy to the process. Islamists will write the constitution as they wish but I believe this will lead to many crises," he said. Naguib Sawiris, who founded the Free Egyptians Party, which is also part of the Egyptian Bloc, called the whole process "ridiculous".  "A constitution being written by one force and one force alone. We tried our best but there was no use." Two other parties,  including the leftwing Tagammu, had boycotted the voting from the start. .
 Early results show that the Islamist forces - mainly the FJP and the Salafist Nour Party - will dominate, with some 70 per cent of the assembly’s 100 members. The 50 MPs include 25 FJP MPs, 11 MPs from the Salafist Nour Party and 14 independent and non-Islamist party MPs. The 50 non-parliamentarians include constitutional law professors, prominent public figures, chairmen of political parties, religious clerics and others belonging to Islamist forces. Of the 100  only six women -- three from the parliament and senate and the rest from civil society -- were appointed, along with a handful of Coptic Christians who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of about 80 million.
The assembly is due to hold its first meeting on Wednesday. According to the original schedule, the panel was meant to finish the new constitution before the presidential elections, but that now seems unlikely with the presidential polls scheduled for May.

Movements within the Syrian opposition, ahead of a second meeting of the 'Friends of Syria'

 Syrian refugees on the march. The United Nations estimates that there are now some 230,000 Syrian refugees who have been fleeing thye fighting or have been made homeless. Some 30,000 of them have fled abroad.(AFP)

Syria's rebel fighters on Saturday set up a military council to unify their ranks. The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it had merged with a unit led by the most senior army deserter, General Mustafa al-Sheikh, to form a united military council. Speaking from Turkey, FSA chief Riad al-Asaad told AFP in Beirut that the new military council "is a step towards guaranteeing the unity of the troops and armed forces (of the opposition) on Syrian territory."  Al-Sheikh would chair the council, an FSA statement said, while a lieutenant from his unit said that Asaad would be in charge of military operations.
The main political opposition group, the Syrian National Council, invited all factions seeking to topple the Assad regime to meet in Turkey on Monday to hammer out a "national pact" of common objectives. The SNC said in a statement that the aim of the two-day meeting in Istanbul was to produce a "National Pact for a New Syria."  The announcement by the opposition came ahead of the second "Friends of Syria" conference, which world powers are due to attend on April 1 in Istanbul.
The SNC has been weakened  by the fact that three prominent, long standing activists left the Council on 14 March. One of them, Kamal al-Labwani wrote on Fikra Forum that the Syrian revolution has been hijacked by religious forces (by which presumably he means the Muslim Brotherhood) and that, one year after it began, it is time for the revolution to reorganise and create a non-partisan, organized armed struggle: 
We, a group of non-partisan activists writing from within Syria, seek to properly reproduce the political representation in a balanced way that is in line with internal concerns through the establishment of a Transitional National Assembly (TNA). This assembly will adopt a constitutional declaration that will define the powers and functions of the opposition to organize them and determine the new identity of the state and its future system. We also seek to elect a General Secretariat of the Assembly to oversee the formation of a Government in Exile to represent the executive authority, which is responsible for organizing all local and external events abroad and is accountable and monitored by the Transitional National Assembly (TNA).
 We submit this request to the Friends of Syria as a clear plan to bring down the current system by adopting an organized armed struggle that is national and non-partisan, with financial, logistical and political support of friends. We are also presenting a general plan for the interim period, including preparation to face the immediate concerns that will impose themselves on the morning of the fall of the regime in terms of constitutional, political, security, economic, and humanitarian issues.
On the ground fighting continued. At least 28 civilians were killed nationwide, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said. Saturday's death toll also included 16 soldiers and two deserters. Syrian army pounded the central Homs and Hama with mortars. The Observatory reported at least 10 civilians deaths in Homs alone. Troops backed by 26 tanks also stormed Saraqeb in the northwestern province of Idlib. The army also used mortars to pound the town of Qalaat al-Madiq in the central province of Hama, which troops have been trying to seize for the past two weeks, the Observatory said.
International envoy Kofi Annan meanwhile travelled to Russia to shore up backing from President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov amid signs of waning Moscow support for Assad.
Annan is meeting the Russian officials on Sunday.  On Tuesday and Wednesday he will be visiting China.
His visit comes days after Moscow backed a non-binding Security Council statement in support of the initiative after making sure it contained no implicit threat of further action should Assad fail to comply.

Friday, March 23, 2012

HRW: abuses by the armed Syrian opposition

Human Rights Watch wrote the Syrian National Council and other opposition groups on 20 March an open letter. From it I quote:
 While the protest movement in Syria was overwhelmingly peaceful until September 2011, since then Human Rights Watch has documented apparent crimes and other abuses committed by armed opposition elements. These crimes and abuses include the kidnapping and detention of security force members, individuals identified as members of government-supported militias (referred to locally as shabeeha), and individuals identified as government allies or supporters. They also include the use of torture and the execution of security force members and civilians. Some of the attacks targeting Shias and Alawites appear to be motivated by sectarianism.  (emphasis added by me)
Following the creation of the SNC Military Bureau on March 1, 2012, to liaise with, unify, and supervise armed opposition groups including the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Human Rights Watch calls on the Bureau to condemn and forbid these abuses in order to achieve its objective of ensuring members of the armed opposition comply with international humanitarian law and to meet its human rights obligations. Human Rights Watch also calls on members of the armed opposition that are not under the operational command of the SNC to desist from committing these rights abuses.
 Human Rights watch gives a few examples. One of them is is a vido of the hanging of what appears to be a member of the shabeeha on 22 January by the Kfar Takharim battalion of the Free Syrian Army. .

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wave of bombs kills at least 43 in Iraq

Car and roadside bombs killed at least 43 people in cities and towns across Iraq on Tuesday, extending a spate of violence ahead of next week's Arab League summit in Baghdad.
 The deadliest attack occurred in the southern Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala, where twin explosions killed 13 people and wounded 48. In the northern city of Kirkuk, a car bomb exploded near a police headquarters, killing nine people and wounding 42, while in Baghdad, a car bomb near the provincial council building killed four and wounded 11. Blasts also occurred in Baiji, Samarra, Tuz Khurmato, Daquq and Dhuluiya, all north of Baghdad, in Ramadi in the west, and Hilla, Latifiya and Mahmudiya in the south. Police in the northeastern city of Baquba said they had also found and defused eight bombs and police in Falluja in the west said they had defused a roadside bomb.
The toll from all the bombings stood at 43 killed and 232 wounded.
On Monday evening, bombers struck five times in the northern province of Diyala, killing at least three people and wounding more than 30, police said.
The Arab League summit is due to be held in Baghdad on March 27-29, the first time Iraq will host the event in more than 20 years.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The dead Coptic pope Shenouda III (photo mosaaberising)

Egyptian blogster Zeinobia: According to Christian Orthodox rituals the late pope after death will be seated on his papal chair or as it is called “The patriarchal throne” wearing his full papal golden robe for three days before the funeral. His body is being prepared for this through some sort of mummification I suppose.
Bishops across the country and globe are preparing delegations to head to Cairo starting today. Bishop Pachimous , the Bishop of Behaira is appointed as the interim Pope. He immediately held a meeting with the rest of the Church men and the Holy Synod in order to prepare the funeral. The interim period will last till the ceremony of the papal election which Zeinobia describes here.

Amnesty: NATO failed to investigate civilian victims of intervention in Libya

 The remains of the Gafez family home in Majer. (photo Amnesty)

Amnesty International says that NATO has so far failed to investigate the killing of scores of civilians in Libya in air strikes carried out by its forces. Amnesty released a paper on Monday, one year after the first sorties took place,  Libya: The forgotten victims of NATO Strikes. The organization has documented 55 cases of named civilians, including 16 children and 14 women, killed in air strikes in Tripoli, Zlitan, Majer, Sirte and Brega.
Many of the deaths occurred as a result of airstrikes on private homes where Amnesty International and others have found no evidence to indicate that the homes had been used for military purposes at the time they were attacked.
In the evening of 8 August 2011 two houses belonging to the Gafez and al-Ja’arud families were struck in Majer, west of Misrata. According to members of the family who survived the attack, 34 civilians, including eight children and eight women, were killed and several were injured in three separate strikes. The family said they had not been aware of the presence of any persons or of any activities near their homes which could explain the attacks.
Amnesty says that  NATO must ensure that prompt, independent, impartial and thorough investigations are conducted into any allegations of serious violations of international law by participants in Operation Unified Protector and that the findings be publicly disclosed.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Car bomb explodes near security directorate in Aleppo

An explosion, which the Syrian press agency Sana called a 'terrorist bomb', went off in the city of Aleppo on Sunday, killing a number of people. AP reported that Mohammed Saeed, an Aleppo resident, said the a bomb exploded near the Political Security Directorate in the city's central neighborhood of Suleimaniyeh. He said the neighborhood has a large Christian population. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on an activist network in Syria, also said it was a car bomb. It said it had reports of dead and injured, but gave no numbers.
Three suicide bombings in the capital Damascus on Saturday killed 27 people. The government blamed those on the opposition, which it claims is made up of "terrorist" groups carrying out a foreign conspiracy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

New Syrian opposition coalition

Five Syrian opposition groups on Saturday announced the formation of a new coalition, a sign of how difficult opponents of the Damascus regime find it to cooperate, a year after the start of the protest movement.
The five said their yet unnamed coalition would act independently from the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition coalition which was set up in August to fight President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The new group is made up of the liberal National Movement for Change, the Islamist Movement for the Fatherland, the Bloc for Liberation and Development, led by Nawaf al-Bashir, a tribal chief, the Turkmen National Bloc, and the Kurdish Movement for a New Life.
Asked about relations between the new coalition and the SNC, Ammar al-Qurabi, leader of the National Movement for Change, told AFP his "coalition was not set up in opposition to anyone, other than Assad's regime, but rather to unite the opposition outside the SNC."
"We see the SNC as a temporary structure which will disappear with time, while our own coalition is a more long-term entity that will be there after liberation" in Syria, according to Imamduddin al-Rashid, head of the Movement for the Fatherland.

The SNC, which has emerged as one of the main voices of the opposition, is meeting increasing citicism from activists inside Syria who say the mostly exiled leadership has little connection to protesters on the ground. The SNC was dealt a blow earlier this week when three prominent members, among them long standing oppostion mebers Haitham al-Maleh and Kamal al-Labwani resigned in frustration.
"There is a small group that wants to monopolise the SNC and all the decision-making," Kamal al-Labwani told AFP. "They are doing nothing for the opposition. "Some are in it for personal gain and the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to monopolise aid and weapons to gain popular influence on the ground."

Twin blast kills at least 27 in Damascus, also car bomb in Palestinian Yarmouk camp

 (Pictures Syrian press agency Sana) 

Updated (see below) Twin blasts hit the heart of Damascus on Saturday, killing at least 27 people and wounding 140 in an attack on security installations that state television blamed on "terrorists". Syrian television reported that cars packed with explosives had targeted an intelligence centre and a police headquarters at 7.30 am, blowing the front off one building and sending debris and shattered glass flying through the streets.
The official Syrian press agency Sana said the blasts had hit the criminal police force headquarters and the Air Security Directorate. The agency published gruesome images from the sites that showed what appeared to be smoldering bodies in two separate vehicles, a wrecked minivan smeared with blood, and severed limbs collected in sacks. At least 27 people were killed and 97 were wounded, another television channel said, quoting Health Minister Wael al-Halki. It is believe the final death toll will be higher. No one claimed responsibility.

The attacks followed other suicide bombings, one in Damascus on 23 December against a security headquarters which killed 44 people and wounded 166; another on 6 January in a crowded area which killed 26 and injured 63, and a third and fourth attack in Aleppo in 10 February against buildings of security services that killed 28 and wounded 235 people.

Ma'an News reports that also a vehicle belonging to the Palestine Liberation Army exploded in Damascus' Yarmouk refugee camp on Saturday, killing several people. The explosion followed the large blasts targeting state security buildings in Damascus. It was not immediately clear who was behind it. Syrian authorities cordoned off the area and prevented access to the site. The number of casualties could not be independently verified from outside the country, according to Ma'an that got the news from residents in the camp.
The vehicle exploded near the headquarters of the General Command of the Palestinian Liberation Army  in the camp. The PLA was once established as the armed wing of the PLO, but later integrated under Syrian military command and used to police the refugee camps.
 Security forces had threatened the camp just days earlier due to Fatah's alleged support of demonstrations against Syrian leader Bashar Assad, sources in the camp told Ma'an this week.
“Yarmouk is not more precious than (Homs neighborhood) Baba Amro, and it will be raided if the demonstrations which Fatah movement organizes” continue, a security agent was quoted as saying.
It is not the first time that Palestinians inside Syria are victims of the ongoing violence. In August, a Syrian assault on the port city Latakia killed dozens of Palestinians in Ramel refugee camp, and the UN said thousands of refugees fled the violence.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dutch minister Rosenthal again annoys EU-colleagues with hard line pro-Israel attitude

Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal annoyed his EU counterparts by not joining in criticism of increasing violence by Israeli settlers on the occupied West Bank, the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad reported on Wednesday.
The annoyance is understandable as it is not the first time Rosenthal obstructs a common European stand on Israel, in fact it is a pattern.  
According to the NRC, Rosenthal decided to  withhold Dutch approval of a secret report by European representatives of the EU in the occupied territories that signaled 'an alarming increase in the violence exercised by settlers'. Apart for formulations in the report that the settlements are illegal and are making a two state solution impossible, it quotes United Nations figures that indicate that incidents involving settler violence increased threefold in 2011 to 411.Rosenthal communicated through his representative in Ramallah that the Netherlands 'placed a general reservation' on the report, which is mentioned under the text. The gesture is quite unusual, as Rosenthal in this way in fact disavows his own diplomat on the spot. Quite a number of eyebrows were raised in Brussels after this last action of the Dutch minister. 'What we observe is the most hard line Dutch attitude ever, an attitude which in essence corresponds with the most hard line viewpoints inside Israel itself,'' the paper quoted a European diplomat. 
As said, Rosenthal put things in the way of a common European stand vis a vis Israel. In September Rosenthal  withheld at the very last minute his approval - it was reported that he instructed his representative in Geneva standing the meeting by iPhone - for a common declaration by the EU in the UN-Human Rights Council in Geneva. It was reported that Rosenthal objected to references in a pre-prepared text, to a two-state solution, arrests of peacefully demonstrating human rights activists and to the destruction of homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In January 2012 NRC-Handelsblad reported that Rosenthal withheld his approval for a common declaration in which the council of European foreign minsters voiced its concern about developments in the so called 'Area C' of the West Bank. As a result of his intervention the text of the declaration was reduced to the rather meaningless observation that 'disturbing developments were taking place'. Area C is the 62% of the West Bank which also contains the settlements. Rosenthal's intervenytion was backed by Italy and the Czech republic. The original text contained among other things observations that the settlements continued to grow and the Palestinian population was diminishing. It stated that  "if current trends are not stopped and reversed, the establishment of a viable Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders seem more remote than ever".

Earlier Rosenthal also put pressure on the Dutch NGO "ICCO'' to end its contribution of 50.000 euro a year to the Internet publication Electronic Intifada, after the hawkish Israeli lobby group 'NGO Monitor' published a number of  accusations (most of them unfounded) against the Electronic Intifada. Rosenthal never took the trouble to investigate the veracity of NGO-Monitor's claims. 
It is noteworthy that Rosenthal made his debut in 2010 as foreign minister in a Dutch cabinet that in the paragraph about foreign policy in its constituent declaration singled out Israel as the one country with which it wanted to strengthen its ties. Israel was also the only country that was mentioned at all in the declaration.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Syrian army retakes Idlib and attacks Dera'a; three prominents quit the SNC

The Syrian National Council (SNC) during it first congres in Tunis in December 2011. Behind the table (l to r) Basma Qudmani, its leader Burhan Ghalioun, and Haitham al Maleh. Today Al-Maleh (81), a lawyer and judge, and one of the oldest and most famous opponents of the family Assad, made his resignation known from the SNC. So did Kamal al-Labwani, a medical doctor, and another very famous fighter for human rights in Syria, as well as human rights lawyer Catherine al-Talli. Their resignation had to do with "differences" with the SNC, they wrote on Facebook. 
Al-Labwani added that  they did not want to become "accomplices to the massacre of the Syrian people through delaying, cheating, lies, one-upmanship and monopolisation of decision-making. The SNC, he charged, was "linked to foreign agendas which aim to prolong the battle while waiting ... for the country to be dragged into a civil war."
Heavily armed forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad pounded the southern city of Deraa with anti-aircraft fire on Wednesday, reasserting control over rebel strongholds a year after the start of the Syrian revolt."  The attack began early this morning. The rebels are firing back, but they are outgunned," said Abdelhaq, speaking by phone from Dera'a.
The attack in Dera'a comes one day after Syrian government forces took control of the north-western city of Idlib. The city fell on Tuesday, after a four day offensive of the Syrian army.  Opposition activists admitted on Wednesday that there was no more fighting. Noureddin al-Abdo, an activist in Idlib, told the AFP news agency that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had withdrawn as it could not resist the army. Security forces are now reportedly carrying out house-to-house searches in the area.
It is clear that Syria is engaged in a drive to one by one recapture strongholds of the FSA-forces. The capture of Idlib, one of the first cities to come under the domination of the oppositional FSA,  comes two weeks after troops backed by tanks entered the shattered Baba Amr district of Homs. This area had been under bombardment for almost a month before it fell, leaving an estimated 700 people dead.

Kofi Annan, the UN envoy to Syria, has said President Bashar al-Assad has sent a response to a proposed peace plan. The former UN secretary general delivered the plan during a visit to Damascus over the weekend. It included demands for an immediate ceasefire by both sides, access for humanitarian aid, and the beginning of political dialogue. Annan would come back upon Assad's answer later on Wednesday.
The human rights organisation Amnesty International meanwhile called for the prosecution of those responsible for torturing civilians in Syria during the suppression of anti-government protests.
Amnesty published a report in which it listed  31 different forms of torture while interviewing Syrians who had fled into Jordan.
  The United Nations says Assad's forces have killed more than 8,000 people in their drive to crush the uprising. Its refugee agency said on Tuesday that some 230,000 Syrians had fled their homes during the past 12 months, of whom around 30,000 have sought safety abroad.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

'Almost 700 executions in Iran in 2011'

On the same day that the special UN investigator presented his report, two men were publicly hanged in the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad.  The two had been convicted three months ago for their part in 13 cases of rape.

Iran executed some 670 people last year, most of them for drug crimes that do not merit capital punishment under international law and more than 20 for offences against Islam. A special United Nations investigator, former Maldives foreign minister Ahmed Shaheed, reported that on Monday while presenting his first report to the U.N.'s 47-nation Human Rights Council.
Shaheed also reported 'a wide range of violations by Iran of U.N. human rights accords, from abuse of minorities to persecution of homosexuals and labor unions'. Shaheed's office and mandate were established last year by a narrow vote in the council when Western and Latin American countries, with some African support, joined to create a special investigation on Iran. Cuba, Russia, China and others opposed the resolution. Iran has refused to allow him into the country. In the council on Monday it described him as "incompetent".
Shaheed said to report 'with great concern' a significant increase in the rate of executions in Iran, from 200 in mid-September 2011 to over 600 executions by the end of the year. His report showed that by December 31, 421 executions had been officially announced and 249 secret ones had been reported to him by sources inside and outside the country. A table in his report showed executions had soared steadily to near 700 from just under 100 in 2003. In 2010, it was around 550.
The report of the UN-investigator concurs largely with the annual report that the Iran Human Rights published on 4 March. IHR said that at least 676 people were executed in 2011,  416 of which (62%) had been announced by the Iranian authorities. It also said that 65 of the executions were carried out in public. According to IHR the number of executions carried out publicly in 2011 in Iran is more than three times higher than the average in the previous years.
Shaheed, a long-time diplomat and founder of a human rights institute in the Maldives, told a news conference that even among those officially executed for drug offences there were strong indications that many had originally been arrested for resisting the regime or similar offences and had the narcotics charges added later.
Iran dismissed the report as  a "compilation of baseless allegations".

Monday, March 12, 2012

Emos in danger in Iraq, they are percieved as 'Satanic' or being gay

Young people who identify themselves as so-called Emos are being brutally killed at an alarming rate in Iraq, AP reported. The emos, who are an offspring of the 'Gothic'style, wear tight fitting clothes and specific long or spiky haircuts, and are therefor easily identified. In Iraq they are sometimes associated by usli zealots with the gay community. 
An Interior Ministry official said 58 young people have been killed across Iraq in recent weeks by unidentified gangs who accused them of being Emo. Sixteen were killed in Sadr City alone, security and political officials there said. Nine of the men were killed by bludgeoning, and seven were shot. No arrests have been made.
Eno style
A recent list distributed by militants in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City neighborhood gives the names or nicknames of 33 people and their home addresses. At the top of the paper are a drawing of two handguns flanking a Quranic greeting that extolls God as merciful and compassionate, followed by a chilling warning: ''We warn in the strongest terms to every male and female debauchee," the Shiite militia hit list says. "If you do not stop this dirty act within four days, then the punishment of God will fall on you at the hands of Mujahideen."
Clerics have condemned the violence. Abdul-Raheem al-Rikabi, Baghdad representative for Iraq's most influential Shi'ite cleric, Ali al-Sistani, called the killings "terrorist attacks". Hardline Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Saturday called Emos "crazy fools" and a "lesion on the Muslim community" in a statement on his website. However, he did not condone the violence, telling his followers "to end the scourge of Emo within the law."
The Iraqi government may have been partly responsible for what is happening. The killings have taken place since Iraq's interior ministry drew attention to the "emo" subculture last month, labeling it "Satanism" and ordering a community police force to stamp it out. And an August 2011 letter from the Education Ministry urges schools to crack down on what it considered abhorrent behavior, including allowing camera phones in school "because students would use it for dirty movies," says the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. Similarly, it prohibited students from leaving their classes during school hours "for any reason, because they might gather in the nearby cafes or coffee shops to practice dirty activities." The letter attributed the social atrocities to "Emo, which is an infiltrated phenomenon in our society began to appear in some of our schools."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Egyptian military court acquits 'virginity test doctor'

Samira Ibrahim
Al-Ahram Online reports that a military court on Sunday acquitted Dr Ahmed Adel El-Mogy of carrying out "virginity tests" on seven women. The incident took place after military personnel dispersed a sit-in in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 9 March 2011. A number of female detainees were tortured and subjected to “virginity tests.” One of the victims, Samira Ibrahim, brought charges against El-Mogy.
On 27 December, the State Council Administrative Court issued a landmark ruling in Ibrahim’s favour, outlawing the use of "virginity tests."
On the same day as the ruling, the head of Egypt’s military judiciary, Adel El-Morsy, stated that the administrative court’s order to suspend the practice of subjecting female detainees to "virginity tests" was not applicable, simply because such a practice was never part of the military’s prison code.
On 7 February, two prison wardens summoned to deliver testimony denied that the incident took place. The two claimed that the women in question had only been asked by army personnel if they were married and whether or not they were pregnant.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Syrian army kills 54 before Kofi Annan begins peace mission

Syrian forces killed at least 54 people on Friday as they sought to quell demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad before a peace mission by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, opposition activists said. Tank rounds and mortar bombs crashed into opposition districts in the rebellious central city of Homs, killing 17 people, activists said, while 24 were killed in the northern province of Idlib and more deaths were reported elsewhere.
Kofi Annan
Many thousands of Kurds demonstrated in northeastern cities, other demonstrations took place in the Assali district of Damascus. Syria's state news agency SANA reported big pro-Assad demonstrations in Damascus and Hassaka in the northeast.
The former U.N. chief Annan, in his capacity as U.N.-Arab League envoy, will visit Assad on Saturday and also plans to meet the Syrian opposition before leaving the country on Sunday.
Annan has called for a political solution, but dissidents say there is no room for dialogue amid Assad's crackdown.
"If (Annan) can persuade Russia to back a transitional plan, the regime would be confronted with the choice of either agreeing to negotiate in good faith or facing near-total isolation through loss of a key ally," the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a paper this week.
China and Russia have opposed any U.N. resolution, fearing Libya-style military intervention. Germany's Foreign minister Westerwelle said he hoped that Russia will change its mind after Vladimir Putin has won the presidential elections. France's Foreign Ministry said Paris would not accept any U.N. Security Council resolution which would assign responsibility for the violence in Syria equally between the Syrian government and the opposition. But Foreign Minister Alain Juppé denied Russian suggestions the that West was seeking a pretext for military action against Assad: "The option of any military intervention is not on the table," he said.
China, which despatched an envoy to Syria this week, said on Friday it would send an assistant foreign minister to the Middle East and to France to discuss a way forward. Beijing urged Annan to "push for all sides in Syria to end their violence and start the process of peace talks".

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who visited Homs this week, said Assad's government had agreed to join U.N. agencies in a "limited assessment" of civilian needs in Syria, but had not met her request for unhindered access for aid groups. Amos said she was "devastated" at the destruction she saw in Homs. The United Nations estimates at least 25,000 refugees have fled Syria in the past year. The U.N. figures were based mainly on refugees who have registered with the UNHCR. Many have fled to neighbouring countries without registering. Significant numbers of Syrians are also thought to be displaced within the country.  Syrian security forces have killed well over 7,500 people since the anti-Assad uprising began a year ago, according to a U.N. estimate. The government said in December that "armed terrorists" had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.

Tripoli and Benghazi protest against plans for autonomy of the Eastern Libyan region

Thousands demonstrated on Friday in the Libyan cities Tripoli and Benghazi in protest at plans of the regional council of the Eastern Cyrenaica region for regional autonomy. The crowd chanted slogans against federalism and against Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi, the head of the Cyrenaica council, that announced an initiative on Tuesday that has sparked fears the country might split up.
In Tripoli, thousands amassed in the symbolic Martyrs Square, chanted "No, no to federalism" and "Libya is one," an AFP journalist at the scene said.
A conference in Benghazi on Tuesday that was attended by thousands and tribal and political leaders unilaterally declared the region of Cyrenaica (Berqa in Arabic) autonomous, prompting fears that the country might split up. Senussi was appointed chairman of the region's newly-formed governing council.
The autonomy plan calls for a regional parliament and control over the police force and courts, but stops short of advocating a division of the country.
 In a BBC interview, Mr Senussi said he was ready to hold talks with the country's leadership about setting up the oil-rich semi-autonomous territory. He said he was committed to federalism but was prepared to discuss what form it would take.
In a speech on national TV on Wednesday, interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil, of the National Transitional Council (NTC), also called for dialogue but said national unity would be defended by force if necessary.

Following independence Libya was a federal union from 1951 to 1963 during the monarchy of Idris Senussi. At the time it consisted of three states, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan. It became an unitary state in 1963. Cyrenaica stretches from the central coastal city of Sirte to the Libyan-Egyptian border in the east. It contains two-thirds of the country's oil reserves. During the reign of Kadhafi the people of Cyrenaica felt particularly marginalised and neglected, as the colonel focused much of the development on the west.

Fifty women injured in Saudi student's protest

An investigation has been launched after at least 50 women were reportedly injured when a protest at a university in Saudi Arabia turned violent.
Hundreds of women took part in the protest against discrimination and mismanagement at the King Khalid University, in Abha, on Wednesday.
Dozens were said to have been injured after security forces and religious police moved in to break it up.
The university said some of the students had attacked staff. The women are reported to have been injured either by the security personnel or in the crush of bodies.
There have been several protests at Saudi universities, or involving recent female Saudi graduates over the past year, mainly complaining about a system that is biased against them.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Egypt's military probe charges against 12 actvists who played leading role in overthrow of Mubarak

Egypt's military prosecutors are investigating allegations against 12 top activists who played a leading role in the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, the official news agency MENA reported Thursday.
It said the allegations, which include inciting hatred against the military and trying to overthrow the government, were filed by more than 700 members of the public to the office of Egypt's top prosecutor.
Alaa al-Aswani
The inquiry was only preliminary, it said. It quoted chief military prosecutor Maj. Gen. Adel al-Mursi as saying none of the 12 would even be summoned for questioning unless an examination of the allegations establishes their credibility.
Since taking over from Mubarak a year ago, Egypt's generals have consistently targeted critics, trying to intimidate them by summoning them for questioning by military prosecutors. Another tactic has been using loyal journalists, particularly talk show hosts on state and private TV stations, to discredit activists as irresponsible or as foreign agents, while presenting the generals as true patriots.
Buthaina Kamel
The latest move against the 12 may not lead to trials, but it appeared designed to intimidate them. One thing in common among all 12 is their opposition to military rule. Among them are world famous novelist Alaa al-Aswany, former Google executive and activist Wael Ghoneim, TV talk show hosts Youssri Foudah and Reem Maged; member of parliament Ziad el-Aleimi (who publicly associated military leader Hussein Tantawi with a donkey), female TV presenter and presidential candidate Butheina Kamel, and the female activists, Asmaa Mahfouz and Nawara Negm. Others are George Ishaq, a co-founder of the Kefaya-movement, and Mamdouh Hamza, an architect who has been a generous backer of the uprising.
Mamdouh Hamza
Negm was beaten by a pro-military mob in Cairo in January and was questioned by prosecutors the same month over her alleged role in deadly clashes between troops and protesters in Cairo the month before. She is the daughter of Ahmed Fouad Negm, Egypt's best known satirical poet and longtime critic of Mubarak. Mahfouz, a leading figure in last year's uprising, was also questioned earlier by military prosecutors over her activism. Hamza, the architect, is already under investigation for allegedly encouraging Egyptians to go on strike to mark the Feb. 11 anniversary of Mubarak's resignation. Al-Aswany has publicly complained about harassment by "thugs."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Diehard supporters of Israel campaign to lift terrorist status of Iranian Mujaheddin e Khalq

Several people from the ranks of the diehard supporters of Israel in the USA have lend their voice to a bid to remove the Mujaheddin e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that fought with Iraq against Iran in the past, from the list of terrorist organisations of the State Department.
Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) names attorney Alan Dershowitz, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel as three prominents who recently campaigned in favour of MEK.
Others who support the bid are, according to JTA, former government officials who used to be at the side of Israel, like former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge. Allan Gerson, a Washington attorney who served in various posts in the Reagan administration, wrote a column this week in the Huffington Post about the subject.He and a number of other lawyers filed a request to a federal appeals court in Washington this week on behalf of the MEK, asking for the group to be removed from the terrorist list.
The attempts to do something for the MEK comes on the heels of various reports that Israel cooperates with the Mujaheddin in its 'covert war' against the Iranian atomic bomb. A blast in November at a base of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards near Tehran, that was a storage facility for long range missiles and that killed one of Iran's most outstanding missile experts, Major General Hassan Moghaddam, was reported to be executed by the MEK in cooperation with the Israeli Mossad. An earlier explosion at a Revolutionary Guards base near Khorramabad in October 2010 was also suspected to have been the work of the MEK. And operations whereby at least three experts who were linked in one way or other to Iran's nuclear program were killed by motorists who attached a magnetic bomb to their cars, are also believed to have been the work of MEK-members, trained or instructed by Israel.
The MEK has maintained a presence in Iraq since 1986. From its border encampment, Camp Ashraf, it conducted military operations against its fellow Iranians, sometimes deep inland, a fact that caused it to be one of the most hated groups in Iran  (as the writer of this blog found out during trips to Iran in the eighties and nineties). After the 2003 American invasion that removed Saddam, Camp Ashraf was disarmed. Now, in the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, Ashraf’s 3,400 residents feel vulnerable to a regime that is seeking close ties with Iran. According to the Associated Press, an Iraqi army raid last year left 34 camp residents dead. The United Nations wants to move the residents to a former U.S. Army base, Camp Liberty, but the MEK and its advocates say the site is equally insecure. Advocates of de-listing the MEK say it would facilitate the removal of the Ashraf residents to other countries, including the United States.
Opponents of de-listing point to MEK’s bloody past. After the Islamic Revolution, it was  behind several massive bomb attacks, among them an attack that killed the leader of the Party of the Islamic Republic, ayatollah Beheshti and 70 members of the party. The group has also been described as a 'totalitarian cult' that keeps people in its ranks against their will. Elizabeth Rubin, a New York Times Magazine contributor, who last year reported from Camp Ashraf, was one of them.The writer of this blog came to the same conclusion in the early eighties, after he visited the headquarters of the group which at the time was near Paris in France, ad interviewed its leader Massoud Rajavi.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

South Yemen: more than 100 soldiers killed, 55 captured

Sneaking across the desert behind army lines, al-Qaida militants launched a surprise attack against military bases in south Yemen, killing 107 soldiers and capturing heavy weapons they later used to kill more troops, officials said on Monday. Military officials said also at least 32 of the militants were killed in Sunday's fighting in Abyan province, and scores were wounded on both sides.
The military officials said the militants' surprise attack outside Abyan's provincial capital Zinjibar also led to the capture of 55 soldiers. The captives were paraded on the streets of Jaar, a nearby town that, like Zinjibar, has been under al-Qaida's control for about a year.
 They stormed a military base in Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, and infiltrated into the Joint Artillery Tanks battalion based in Dowvas vally, Abyan. They exploited the negligence in the base as some of the military personnel were out, and managed to take control of rocket launchers, armored vehicles, mortars, and machine guns, according to the Yemen Post.
The attack coincided with the transfer of leadership of the Southern military region from Major general Mohdi Maqula to the newly-appointed commander Major General Salem Ali Qatan.
Al-Qaeda elements used the bad weather to execute their attacks. Because of clouds and sand storms US unmanned drones, which usually monitor the movements of the islamists in the area, were unable to operate, Ahmed Mohammed Saleh, a military analyst, told the Yemen Post. Aanalysts and military experts don't rule out that there was collusion between the Islamists and the brigades' former leadership as  it was impossible for a group of militants with light weapons to infiltrate into a military base and cause this kind of bloodbath.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Big loss for Ahmadinejad's supporters in Iranian parliamentary elections

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a speech to the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran and nuclear scientists on 22 February 2012. (To his left pictures of nuclear scientists that recently have been killed in attacks that presumably were executed by Israel in conjunction with the Mujaheddin e Khalq). Khamenei said in his speech (see also below)that Iran will never pursue nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic considers the possession of the atomic bomb a grave sin.      

 Loyalists of ayatollah Ali Khamenei,  Iran's clerical leader have won over 75 percent of seats in parliamentary elections,  thereby severely reducing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's power for the  rest of the 18 months that he still will be in office.
With 90 percent of ballot boxes counted, Khamenei supporters were expected to occupy more than three-quarters of the 290 seats in the Majles (parliament). The outcome of Friday's vote will give Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's camp also a significant edge in the 2013 presidential election.
Last Friday's elections were merely a contest between supporters of ayatollah Khamenei and president Ahmadinejad as main opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who ran for president in 2009, have been under house arrest for more than a year and many other opposition figures are in prison. Final election returns are expected by Monday. State officials said the turnout was over 64 percent, higher than the 57 percent in the 2008 parliamentary vote.

Pro-Khamenei candidates won in Theran, the Shi'ite Muslim holy cities of Qom and Mashhad and were leading in other major provincial cities like Isfahan and Tabriz, where over 90 percent of voters backed Ahmadinejad in the 2009 parliamentary poll. Even in rural areas that have been strongholds of Ahmadinejad's and his populist brand of non-clerical nationalism, Khamenei loyalists appeared to have swept around 70 percent of the seats. Independents and women candidates fared relatively well in many provincial towns, where they campaigned on the immediate concerns - generally economic -- of their constituents.
Ahmadinejad is likely to be summoned to an unprecedented hearing in the outgoing parliament by Friday to answer questions about his handling of the economy and foreign policy. Critics say he has inflicted higher inflation on Iranians by slashing food and fuel subsidies and replacing them with cash handouts of about $38 a month per person. Iran's economy is also suffering badly from Western sanctions

 Juan Cole remarks on his blog that, although Western reporters keep saying that the election results will have no bearing on the issue of Iran seeking a nuclear bomb or not, they had better pay some attention to recent (and not so recent) remarks by ayatollah Khamenei on the issue. Khamenei told an audience of nuclear scientists and eployees of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran on 22 February that: 

“The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons.. There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”

Cole found some more remarks of Khamenei's on the same subject and in the same sense. It's an interesting question why these are never quoted in Western media. Because it is thought that he is lying?  One could as well think that that the pope is lying when he is talking about birth control, Cole says, after all Khamenei's integrity is at stake.
I think Cole is right.  

Friday, March 2, 2012

Parliamentary elections in Iran: Khamenei against Ahmadinejad

 Iran's parliament, the majles,  in action.

 Iranians are going to the polls today, Friday 2 March, to elect a new parliament. Don't expect it to be a contest between conservatives and reformers. As the always knowledgeable Tehran Bureau puts it:

The leaders of the Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi, have been under severely restrictive, extralegal house arrest for over a year. They will remain there as long as they do not change their views -- which they will not -- or there is a national and international movement for their freedom.

The Tehran Bureau as well calls out the names of many other important reformists who are in jail and it says that also

the most popular and influential opposition groups have been outlawed or forced into silence. They include the reformists -- Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin (OIRM), and the National Trust Party -- groups allied with the reformists -- the Executives of Construction Party, which is close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; the leftist Association of Combatant Clerics (ACC) and Association of Teachers and Scholars of Qom; and the Nationalist-Religious Coalition -- the nationalist National Front, and several other small groups. Meanwhile, hardline political groups have proliferated like wild mushrooms, with no restrictions whatsoever on their activities.

The elections are nevertheless very important, because they are a contest between the supporters of the two most important leaders of the country of this moment, ayatollah Ali Khamenei and president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Tehran Bureau calls it a 'wrestling match':  

The confrontation between the supporters of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei has become very fierce. The rift between the two men has grown too deep to be closed. The results of the vote will have a deep effect on the confrontation and what will happen in the runup to the next presidential election, to be held in June 2013. 

But the ranks around Khamenei are far for closed. Parties fragmented into several pieces and factions split off:
 These divisions may well help the Ahmadinejad faction. The hardliners around Khamenei have been expressing fear that Ahmadinejad and his supporters will manipulate the vote through the Interior Ministry, which supervises the elections, and take control of the Majles. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is also worried about the Majles elections. It wants to control the parliament not only to rein in Ahmadinejad and impeach him if necessary, but also advance its own agenda. Several months ago, the Guard representatives in the Majles spoke about possibly eliminating the presidency entirely and reviving the post of prime minister, who would be selected by the Majles and not subject to direct popular vote. Last year, one Guard spokesmen, Brigadier General Salar Abnoush, said that there would be bloodshed if the result of the Majles elections turned out to be incompatible "with our values." 

For the whole article click here.  
And for a second part which goes more into details click here