Archive | April 27th, 2012

Islamists’ Fortunes Fade Before Egypt Vote


CAIRO—The runaway victory that Egyptian voters handed to Islamist parties in recent parliamentary elections is looking increasingly Pyrrhic.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Nour Party, which identifies with the hard-line Salafi school of Islam, captured more than two-thirds of the seats in Egypt’s Parliament. But in the three months since, they have been largely ineffective. In recent weeks, the parties have faced mounting public criticism, internal defections and weakening prospects in next month’s presidential vote.

ReutersA vendor sells images of Egyptian presidential candidates, among others, on Thursday, a day when Egypt’s election commission released its final list of 13 presidential candidates.

While Egyptian political polls are subject to broad skepticism, one conducted late last month indicates how far Islamist politicians’ public star has fallen: The Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a government-owned think tank, found that 45% of people who voted for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in the parliamentary elections said they wouldn’t do so again. The FJP holds nearly 50% of the seats in Parliament.

Egyptian Islamists blame their fading fortunes on unreasonably high public expectations and what they say is a political system that is rigged against them. While the Islamists hold a broad majority of Parliament, they don’t control Egypt’s cabinet, as would generally be the case in parliamentary systems.

Brotherhood officials say the council of generals who are overseeing Egypt’s political transition have blocked parliamentary efforts to dismiss the military-appointed cabinet of ministers. The interim regime has also deliberately blocked legislation originating in the Parliament, they say, in what they call a bid to paint the Islamists as political failures.

The Brotherhood in Egypt

The government hasn’t publicly responded. Former Gen. Sameh Saif al-Yazal, who regularly consults with the leading generals, said that appointing a placeholder cabinet just a few months before Egypt’s scheduled transfer of power would be destabilizing.

Even weakened, Egypt’s Islamist parties remain a potent political force. The ground-level outreach of the Brotherhood and Salafis remains unrivaled by more liberal politicians, who are divided and unpopular.

The Islamists’ organized presence throughout Egypt helped them in parliamentary elections, where many voters, facing slates of largely unknown candidates, cast ballots based on familiar party names. The May 23 presidential polls, however, will hinge far more on candidates’ personalities than their party affiliations, political analysts say.

That could benefit more moderate, charismatic presidential candidates such as Amr Moussa, the former secretary-general of the Arab League, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a relatively liberal ex-Brotherhood leader.

Mr. Fotouh split with the organization last summer in a disagreement over the group’s promise not to nominate anyone for the presidency. The Brotherhood’s subsequent decision to run two presidential candidates has angered many voters, who saw the move as a power play.

Brotherhood officials say they decided to enter the race to fight what they call a calculated attempt by the military to strip the Parliament of political power.

“Because Parliament can’t do as much as people originally thought, the presidency has become much more of a prize,” said Shadi Hamid, the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Doha, Qatar.

That prize won’t go to the Brotherhood’s highest-profile candidate. Last week, an Egyptian judicial commission disqualified several candidates including Khairat al-Shater, a prominent financier and strategist within the Brotherhood organization who was the group’s first choice for president. Mr. Shater was excluded because of a prior fraud conviction, leaving the Brotherhood to lend its name and now-declining public stature to a lesser-known backup candidate, FJP Chairman Mohamed Morsi.

On Thursday, Egypt’s election commission released its final list of 13 candidates. The relative support levels for the remaining candidates remain unclear.

Egypt’s Islamists say their troubles are based in part on a constitutional declaration passed last year, with Islamist parties’ backing, that left most political authority with the council of military generals that took power from Hosni Mubarak when he stepped down from the presidency last year.

“It’s not an executive authority. It’s just a legislative authority with no power of implementing these laws and this legislation,” said Amr Al Makki, a Nour Party spokesman. “So the people, if they do not see any change or any implementation, they will not be happy.”

Even among Egypt’s profoundly religious electorate, voters appear to be holding religious parties responsible for accomplishing practical, worldly results to match their lofty religious rhetoric.

“The expectations are higher because they come from a religious background,” said Omar Ashour, the director of Middle East Studies at the University of Exeter, of the Islamist parties in Egypt’s parliament.

Similar dynamics are playing out in other Arab countries where a wave of successive pro-democracy uprisings last year yielded unprecedented victories for Islamist parties.

In Tunisia, the Al Nahda Party has recently faced criticism over its inability to rein in unemployment and inflation. Recent polls have shown declining public support for the party, which won about 40% of elections in October. In Libya, the role of religion in politics has also come to the fore: Religious parties have decried an apparent effort Wednesday by the country’s ruling National Transitional Council to ban religious-based parties.

Egypt’s parliament, meanwhile, stepped up its battle with the military on Tuesday, when it voted to reject an economic reform plan drafted by the military-appointed government—a move that could jeopardize negotiations for a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund that is crucial to rescuing Egypt’s flagging economy.

Such a lack of effectiveness has led to disillusionment and infighting among lawmakers, some of whom appear to want to dissociate themselves from public scorn.

At least five parliamentarians resigned from the Salafi Nour Party recently, according to local Egyptian media. The party, which unlike the Brotherhood is not bound by a strict heirarchy or a unified ideology, has had difficulty maintaining internal discipline. While those who resigned cited multiple reasons, some said they were ashamed of the Islamists’ early political failures following their triumphant rise to power during the parliamentary elections.

“The performance of the FJP and Nour party was not living up to the magnitude of the revolution,” said Nezar Ghourab, a former Nour Party member from Giza, a Cairo suburb, who resigned this week.

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Forgotten Bahrain

By As’ad AbuKhalil

For all intents and purposes, Bahrain is forgotten. The people of Bahrain and their struggle will never get the attention and admiration of people and governments in the West.

This week, it was rather ironic to watch and listen to BBC coverage of Bahrain in comparison to their coverage of Syria. Activists who were interviewed were treated like criminals, while Syrian activists are allowed to make all sorts of claims, even claims that are not substantiated. The BBC sneered at the use of fire bombs by some protesters in Bahrain, while Syrian activist are permitted to call for the use of arms on the air. Hillary Clinton called on the Syrian people to keep their arms and “logistical” help that has been provided to the Free Syrian Army (which is a collection of bands and gangs operating under names derived from Islamic history and from rulers of gas and oil kingdoms). Yet, the spokesperson of the US Department of State called on the protesters of Bahrain to show “restraint.” If she called on the protesters in Syria to show restraint she would have been fired.

The struggle of the people of Bahrain is as old as the history of modern Bahrain. The political dynamics in Bahrain can not be reduced to the sectarian framework that is now being imposed by the Bahraini royal family and by the Saudi and Qatari media. Western media simply follows suit, and they unfailingly refer to the protests and opposition in Bahrain in sectarian terms.

They have refrained from attaching sectarian labels to the blatantly sectarian gangs and organizations in Syria. Secular and Arab nationalist movements dominated the struggle of the people in Bahrain during the Arab cold war, and the Bahraini labor movement has been one of the most vibrant movements in the region.

But the people of Bahrain are doomed. The majority of the people of Bahrain happen to be Shia and that is sufficient to demonize the entire population of Bahrain. All their protests and all their complaints and grievances are reduced to Shia sectarian agenda, tied to Iran, of course.

It is rather amusing to watch Western governments subscribe to the agenda and rhetoric of GCC countries, which are subcontractors – mere implementers – of US/Israeli policies in the Middle East. The word Shia has to appear in every sentence in every commentary on Bahrain. Western media may not be as blatantly sectarian as mouthpices of Saudi princes, like the notorious Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat, but they reflect the same bias.

The Bahraini royal family is quite fortunate. The presence of the Fifth Fleet sends a message in the region and the world that the little island is “vital” to US national security interests. Its proximity to Saudi Arabia adds to its umbrella of repressive regional and international protection.

News of an imminent unity between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia could not come at a better time for the House of Khalifah. The two ruling families would enjoy having a larger kingdom with double the repression. The House of Khalifah knows that they have lost support with the bulk of the Bahraini population. Only force can keep them in power – some form of power, because the Saudi military intervention basically put the House of Saud in charge of Bahrain.

But the Bahraini youth won’t take it sitting down. They have courageously kept up the pressure and have been transcending the waffling Wifaq, which is never sure what it wants, and which is too timid to even criticize Saudi Arabia and its intervention in Bahrain. Bahraini youth are likely to press on, but they won’t be portrayed as heroes in the Western press.

Western media and governments don’t even bother with the story of Bahrain. David Cameron came up this week with the standard Western response to a threat to a client of the US. He said Bahrain is not Syria. He should have added that Saudi Arabia is Sweden.

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UK Zionist Police: Seen a Palestine flag? Call the police!

Here’s a self-explanatory report in a newish blog called Inside Left – The OFFICIAL anti-Olympics blog, produced by Gareth Edwards:

I wouldn’t normally blog about work related stuff, but since this video has achieved mini-viral status I thought I’d let people know the story behind it.
After the Israeli air attacks on Gaza in December 2008 / January 2009 the people at my workplace all agreed that we should use our window on Fawcett Road to show our outrage – and our solidarity with the Palestinian people. In the grand scheme of things it’s not exactly the greatest act of resistance, but no matter how small a gesture, it felt that we were at least doing something.
The window remained unchanged from the picture above until May 2010 when Israeli commandos boarded a flotilla of ships carrying aid to Palestine, gunning down nine activists in the process. At that point we added the words “ISRAEL = TERROR STATE” at the bottom of the window display. It wasn’t long before we had a visit from the local Community Wardens – old bill wannabes – demanding to know when we planned on removing the protest as they feared it might be contentious. We explained, patiently and at great length, that this was a legitimate political comment, proven by recent Israeli actions. We assured them that it was in no way a comment on a particular faith and pointed out that a number of us had spent years actively fighting racism and fascism in the city. Not surprisingly we refused to remove either the flags or the words from the window.
By September we were visited by another police officer – the one in the video – who opened his “little chat” with the fantastic “I have to acknowledge that my knowledge of this is… quite limited”! Indeed. Perhaps this explains why he didn’t feel like sticking around to debate the issue. His comment that they had received two complaints, “One from a Jewish woman, and one from a member of the public” was as absurd as it was, I believe, untrue. Can you be a Jewish woman and not a member of the public?
The whole sorry saga came to a head last year when two uniformed officers came to our door, threatening us with arrest unless we took down the ‘offensive’ material.

If, like me, you love a happy ending, please read on….

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Molotov cocktail Nazi attacks on refugees in Tel Aviv

Yesterday night, unknown persons threw five Molotov cocktails into houses in Zionist occupied South Tel-Aviv in which African refugees live. The attacks appeared coordinated, meditated and with the intention to harm. In one case, a window to a room in which people were sleeping was opened from the outside and the bomb was thrown in.
This is based on reports from a photographer, Ziv Oren, who lives in the neighborhood. Zio-Nazi police did not alert the journalists as it usually does when a crime is committed.
The attacks bear the trademark of the European far right, although there really is no “far right” in IsraHell. Hatred on foreigners is at the political center. No Nazi terrorist organization took responsibility for the attack. And don’t expect anybody in IsraHell to treat this as a terrorist attack. “Terrorist” are people who use violence against people whose lives count.
According to Haaretz, there only three Molotov cocktails. As of now, it appears there were no casualties.

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Zionist Video Provides Insight into Jewish Supremacist Claim to Rule over All Nations



Jewish Supremacists in Israel have openly boasted of what they claim is a God-given right to rule over all other nations in a new video, produced by  a Zionist television station, dealing with what they claim is an Iranian nuclear threat to Europe and America.

The video, produced by the well-known Zionist extremists and Jewish Supremacists who run “The Land of Israel” dot com site and channel, claims that that Iran intends to launch missiles and drop atom bombs on Europe and America unless Israel destroys the Iranian nuclear power program through a military strike.

The video, produced in Israel, and distributed on the Internet, starts off by repeating the thoroughly disproven lie that Iran has a nuclear weapon.

However, it does not stop there. The lying Zionists go on to claim that the next step for Iran is to deploy missiles and warheads in Lebanon, from where, they  claim, they will be able to fire missiles at targets into Israel and Europe. The latter target is included in an attempt to incite Europeans against Iran.

This tactic is then repeated with the US, where the Zionists claim that Iran is considering sending a cargo ship with missiles into the Atlantic Ocean, from where it would bombard America with an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon that would “take down the entire power grid” of the U.S.

It is remarkable that anyone could believe these lies, much less to consider that someone would even make them up.

The messianic nature of the extremist Jewish supremacist thinking is then elucidated in the video: the narrator, Ari Abramowitz, then tells his viewers that as “the nation of Israel, we have been assigned the responsibility of being a light unto the nations and as that light, we not only have the right to defend ourselves, but the obligation to defend the rest of humanity.”

These are not the opinions of some arbitrary Jews. The producers of the video, Ari Abramowitz and Jeremy Gimpel (who is also a soldier in the Israeli Defense Force reserves), are the hosts of “Tuesday Night Live in Jerusalem,” which is billed as Israel’s largest English-language television show.

The Jewish Supremacists’ video, which has gathered much support amongst the world’s Jewish population, is full of claims that America is “morally obligated” because of its “biblical foundation” to support Israel and “strike against evil.”

This “evil” is always, the Jewish supremacists say, directed first against Jews, and then against America.

Interviewed on the Fox network, the two Zionist extremists said that “And the very fact that the state of Israel exists as a Jewish state is a miracle of God…. If we act with the highest level of morality, courage, clarity and integrity, and that leads us to the understanding that we need to preemptively strike Iran, then that’s what we need to do… Let the cards fall where they may.”

Nothing better illustrates the real threat and danger to world peace then these madmen who appear to genuinely believe that God has sent them to lead the earth and wreak havoc and destruction upon all those who disagree with their self-appointed divine right to rule.

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Iranians Reveal Zionist Hypocrisy over Nuclear Weapons



Iran’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Mohammad Khazayee underlined the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activities, and attacked the Zionist regime for its lies about Tehran’s nuclear program.

Khazayee said the “baseless claims of the Zionist regime about the nature of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities is just another attempt by it to deviate the international public opinion from secret expansion of its nuclear arsenal. “

In a meeting of the United Nations Security Council which focused on ways to fight human trafficking and controlling illegal border exchanges, he said the Zionist regime owns hundreds of nuclear warheads and other kinds of mass killing weapons which are all illegal and threaten the international peace and security.

“Using hollow claims against Iran is one of the basic characteristics of the war-mongering policies of the Zionist regime,” he said.

“Zionists accuse Iran of arms trafficking while they embark on many criminal acts like state terrorism an example of which is the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan.

“Israel, the Middle East’s sole nuclear power, possesses hundreds of nuclear warheads while it is not a signatory to the NPT or any other international convention.

“The Zionist regime has never allowed UN inspectors to visit its nuclear sites or arsenal,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz has said that “other countries” have readied their armed forces for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear sites.

Gantz did not specify which nations might be willing to support or take direct action against Iran, but his comments were described by the Israeli Haaretz newspaper as “one of the strongest hints yet that Israel may have the backing of other countries to strike the Islamic Republic to prevent it from developing nuclear arms.”

“The military force is ready,” Gantz said. “Not only our forces, but other forces as well.”

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Not Writing About Syria

picture by Paul Klee

I haven’t been writing about Syria at my previous pace. The time is not right.

This is a time for Syrian internet activists, those still surviving, to send us their videos. It’s a time for gathering evidence – although no more evidence is needed.

It’s a time for reporters to write, for committed foreign journalists to smuggle themselves inside and tell the tale. (You could call the murdered journalists martyrs, because they chose to go to a place where they knew they might die, and they did so for the sake of the truth.)

People who have specific human stories to tell should tell them. I hear the occasional story, and I might relay some of them; but I am not there. I am observing from Scotland.

This time is the beginning of a long process of creative mulling for those who will eventually produce novels and films concerned with the tragedy.

Most of all it’s a time in which people scream and suffer and die, a time to wait for the next explosion, or the next kick at the door, or for the return of the rapists, or for the next shriek of pain and humiliation from the neighbouring cell. It’s a time for burying children at night, hastily, in silence. And the suffering continues with glacial inevitability. Fate doesn’t seem to plan an end to it, not yet.

In such a context, I wonder what the use of words is. It’s not a cerebral questioning – I know words have as much or as little use today as yesterday or tomorrow; an unquantifiable amount – but a physical doubt. Words appear as pretty imposters. Today guns speak. Mortars, rockets, Scud missiles, helicopter gunships, tanks, the foul mouths of the torturers, the opened mouths in their victims’ chests – all these speak. To be specific about it, they don’t speak, they act. Trucks and cars. Sticks and whips. The wires which deliver electric shocks. And the men of the armed resistance also act. While the world outside watches and sometimes speaks froth.

The words used by the demonstrators are not drowned out. This is because their words have become deeds. Each sound they make is a defiance – defying not only the regime but the rules of reality as previously established. Each sound they make is amplified a thousand times by their astounding, ridiculous courage. To dare to chant while the killers surround you is to have made a spiritual commitment, or perhaps it is to have gone mad. (Bertolt Brecht says: “He who fights can lose, but he who does not fight has already lost.”)

But the written word, and in English – what use is it? To point out that the regime is barbaric, criminal and stupid? Anybody who doesn’t know this by now, after over a year of slaughter, will never know it. To change the minds of faux-leftists whose compassion ends at the borders of occupied Palestine? Such minds will not be changed. To predict the future? I see no future for Syria. I don’t mean the future is doomed, I mean my predictive powers have frozen entirely, except for the obvious, that there will be blood and chaos so long as this criminal gang remains at large. To discuss whether or not things which have happened inevitably, like the emergence of the Free Syrian Army, are good or bad things? Such a discussion would be an exercise in abstract idealism, and this is not the time for that. People are being murdered, right now, again and again and again.

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By James Corbett
International Forecaster
“War is a racket. It always has been.” These words are as true now as they were when Major General Smedley Butler first delivered them in a series of speeches in the 1930s. And he should have known. As one of the most decorated and celebrated marines in the history of the Corps, Butler drew on his own experiences around the globe to rail against the business interests that use the U.S. military as muscle men to protect their racket from perceived threats. From National City Bank interests in Haiti to United Fruit plantations in Honduras, from Standard Oil access to China to Brown Brothers operations in Nicaragua, Butler pointed out how intervention after intervention served the business interests of the well-connected even as American taxpayer money went to foot the bill for these adventures. The names and places may have changed, but the old adage holds: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The National Transitional Council that is nominally in charge of what is left of Libya announced this week that they’re beginning a probe of foreign oil contracts brokered during Gaddafi’s reign by his son, Saif al-Islam. Libya is sitting on the largest oil reserves in Africa, and it is no coincidence that within weeks of the start of the NATO campaign last year the rebels had already secured the country’s oil ports and refineries on the Gulf of Sidra and established their own national oil company for negotiating contracts with the invading forces. Although the oil contract probes are supposedly meant to show the transparency of the new “government” and their willingness to root out the graft and kickbacks inherent in the old regime, it’s quietly acknowledged that the process will be used to reward the nations that most visibly supported last year’s invasions and punish those who were more reticent.

Surprising, then, that the first companies on the block are Italy’s Eni and France’s Total. Both countries fostered close ties with the NTC last year and France was the first country to officially recognize them as the government of Libya. But now Libya’s general prosecutor is reviewing documents related to these companies for possible financial irregularities. The SEC is getting in on the act, too, requesting documents relating to both companies’ Libyan operations to check for suspected violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The potential blow to the European giants’ share in the Libyan market is especially painful in light of the upcoming Iranian oil embargo that threatens to squeeze the crude imports of Greece, Italy and Spain. Now, as Libya ramps up oil production to pre-war levels the obvious potential winners in the probe are the American and British majors, who could end up eating up some of Eni and Total’s share in Libya’s oil production should the investigation lead to charges.

China may also have reason to be wary of their standing with the new government. Chinese-Libyan ties were increasingly close in the years leading up to Gaddafi’s ouster, with trade volume having reached $6.6 billion in 2010. In 2007, as the US was beginning to put AFRICOM together and the competitive scramble for African resources was heating up, Gaddafi delivered an address to the students of Oxford University where he praised China’s hands-off approach to investment in Africa. At the time, Gaddafi suggested that Beijing was winning the hearts and minds of Africans with its reluctance to interfere in local politics, while Washington was alienating the population with their heavy-handed interventions. In the wake of the NATO bombing the would-be government of Libya is singing a different tune and relations with China have cooled down. Last August a senior NTC official suggested that China would be punished when it came time to award reconstruction contracts in Libya because of their initial reluctance to support the rebels. Although the statement was downplayed, it was revealed earlier this month that Chinese companies are still waiting to begin negotiations on losses to frozen and outstanding contracts worth $18.8 billion. Relations are still cordial, though, and the Libyan government is assuring China that the contracting companies  will be in a better position to resume negotiations after national elections in June.

These latest moves from Tripoli may be as much about projecting the idea that the NTC is actually functioning as a government than anything else, though. Armed militias are still waging violent turf wars throughout the country, with 26 people dying in fighting between rivals in the western town of Zwara earlier this month and 150 dying in skirmishes last month in the southern city of Sabha. One militia stormed a hotel in Tripoli and opened fire, then beat and kidnapped the manager after he told a militia member to pay an outstanding room bill. Last week hundreds marched in Benghazi to call for an end to the violence between the armed gangs. The country is deeply divided along tribal lines and armed militias still occupy government buildings and openly flaunt the pronouncements of the erstwhile government. The idea that the NTC is actually functioning as a government is a pipe dream at this point, but as long as they keep the oil pumping and the victors of last year’s humanitarian love bombing get their spoils, there’s hardly a peep out of Washington, Paris, or London. Smedley Butler wouldn’t be surprised.

Meanwhile in Syria, the racketeers’ plans for a Libyan repeat are proceeding apace. Last week we reported on the so-called “Friends of Syria” and their agreement to begin openly funding the rebels to the tune of millions of dollars. This week we have been watching the inevitable, pre-scripted “break down” in Annan’s UN-brokered ceasefire. Exactly on cue, unverified reports from unnamed activists have begun rolling in to the usual media mouthpieces via foreign-based NGOs proclaiming so many people have died in continued fighting. The unacknowledged elephant in the room, however, is that, exactly as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been attempting to point out all month, it’s impossible to expect a cessation in fighting when you are openly arming, training and funding an insurgent proxy army that is hell-bent on toppling the government. However, Lavrov is banging his head against a brick wall. The ceasefire was never meant to be a ceasefire and it’s all political theater at this point anyway. Any and every unverified rumor of fighting or violence in the country will now be taken as a sign that Assad has broken the agreement and the pressure to get Beijing and Moscow to acquiesce to the toppling of the Syrian government will intensify.

In the end, this will not be a carbon copy of Libya. There will be no NATO-led bombardment or large-scale military intervention, because Russia couldn’t allow that to happen. Besides, Syria has Russian supplied surface-to-air missiles and no compunction about using them. Instead, political pressure will increase for Assad to step down and the funds and arms to the rent-a-rebel force will continue increasing until the government is toppled. The dangerous factor in this equation is that neither the west nor China/Russia have blinked yet and there is a significant amount of face to lose for one side or the other in this proxy struggle. The one with the most to lose is clearly Iran, which all things being equal would be a dominant power player in regional politics. All things, however, are not equal. With their oil increasingly embargoed, the sanctions getting progressively tighter, and one of their key allies in the region threatening to topple in favor of a hostile Sunni insurgency, Iran has to know that when and if the Syrian domino falls, it falls on them.

At the same time, attention is turning once again to another of the war racketeers’ key interests: Pakistan. There has been newfound congressional interest in the so-called “Free Baluchistan” movement seeking independence for Pakistan’s Baluchi nationals. Citing human rights violations, Rep. Rohrbacher (R-California) has introduced a resolution calling on Pakistan to recognize Balochi self-determination. He has even written an op-ed in the Washington Post where he begins his argument with recourse to human rights and switches seamlessly in the fourth paragraph into noting with evident glee the region’s natural gas, gold, uranium, and copper reserves. 

Interestingly, Russia agreed last week to pony up $1.5 billion in financing and technical assistance for a proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. The projected course of the pipeline? It would start in Iran’s southern Assalouyeh Energy Zone and enter Pakistan from the west, crossing straight through Baluchistan. Coincidence, surely. The IP pipeline has had a tumultuous history, complete with plans to run the pipeline all the way to India (an idea from which India has distanced itself but never completely abandoned) and the potential involvement of China, which has flirted with the idea of incorporating the pipeline into a planned logistical network running from the port of Gwadar in Pakistan’s southwest all the way to Xinjiang province. Now, with a proposal for Russian funding on the table the pipeline looks closer than ever to becoming a reality.

From the outset, the US has used every bit of leverage it has to get the parties involved to scrap the idea. Diplomatic pressure has been brought to bear on China, Pakistan, and India, with Beijing and New Delhi both appearing to buckle under the pressure and pull out of the project. The US has backed its own alternative pipeline, a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India route, but that idea is looking less feasible by the day. Iran has nearly completed its share of the proposed IP pipeline, but Pakistan has been hesitant. Now along come the racketeers to fund yet another rebel movement in another geostrategically vital corridor, and before you know it “Free Baluchistan” might derail the project altogether. Look for US pressure on the Pakistani government regarding Baluchistan to increase as the pipeline comes closer to completion.

Butler was right. War is a racket, after all. These days the muscle men are rent-a-mobs and insurgents more so than the U.S. military, but the idea is the same: fund, arm and train the fighters to secure the resources and control the strategic areas. In Libya the NATO-backed rebels wrested the oil spigot from the unpredictable Gaddafi. In Syria the “Friends of Syria” are overthrowing a key Iranian ally and taking over an important square on the geopolitical chessboard. In Pakistan, American-backed rebels may succeed in driving a wedge through a key Iran-Pakistan pipeline. And the racket continues. One would do well to remember the grand finale of Butler’s speech: “To hell 
with war!” 

Posted in Libya, SyriaComments Off on FROM LIBYA TO SYRIA: “WAR IS A RACKET. IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN”

A. Loewenstein Online Newsletter

Who has power to fly drones inside the USA?


Posted: 25 Apr 2012


Electronic Frontier Foundation is digging:

This week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally released its first round of records in response to EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for information on the agency’s drone authorization program. The agency says the two lists it released include the names of all public and private entities that have applied for authorizations to fly drones domestically. These lists—which include the Certificates of Authorizations (COAs), issued to public entities like police departments, and the Special Airworthiness Certificates (SACs), issued to private drone manufacturers—show for the first time who is authorized to fly drones in the United States.

Some of the entities on the COA list are unsurprising. For example, journalists have reported that Customs and Border Protection uses Predator drones to patrol the borders. It is also well known that DARPA and other branches of the military are authorized to fly drones in the US. However, this is the first time we have seen the broad and varied list of other authorized organizations, including universities, police departments, and small towns and counties across the United States. The COA list includes universities and colleges like Cornell, the University of ColoradoGeorgia Tech, and Eastern Gateway Community College, as well as police departments in North Little Rock, ArkansasArlington, TexasSeattle, WashingtonGadsden, Alabama; and Ogden, Utah, to name just a few. The COA list also includes small cities and counties like Otter Tail, Minnesota and Herington, Kansas. The Google map linked above plots out the locations we were able to determine from the lists, and is color coded by whether the authorizations are active, expired or disapproved. 

The second list we received includes all the manufacturers that have applied for authorizations to test-fly their drones. This list is less surprising and includes manufacturers like Honeywell, the maker of Miami-Dade’s T-Hawk drone; the huge defense contractor Raytheon; and General Atomics, the manufacturer of the Predator drone. This list also includes registration or “N” numbers,” serial numbers and model names, so it could be useful for determining when and where these drones are flying.

Unfortunately, these lists leave many questions unanswered. For example, the COA list does not include any information on which model of drone or how many drones each entity flies. In a meeting with the FAA today, the agency confirmed that there were about 300 active COAs and that the agency has issued about 700-750 authorizations since the program began in 2006. As there are only about 60 entities on the COA list, this means that many of the entities, if not all of them, have multiple COAs (for example, an FAA representative today said thatUniversity of Colorado may have had as many as 100 different COAs over the last six years). The list also does not explain why certain COA applications were “disapproved” and when other authorizations expired.

Private military and intelligence still alive and well in Afghanistan


Posted: 25 Apr 2012


My following investigation appeared in Australian publication Crikey last week:

The private security compound is on the outskirts of Kabul, along the road to Jalalabad, a notorious strip of highway, the landscape is predominantly industrial, with shipping containers set against a string of mountains on the horizon. Several logistics companies sit behind these concrete walls — this is an industry that has enjoyed a massive growth spurt since the US-led, 2001 invasion in Afghanistan.

While Indian Gurkhas trained outside to join the company’s ranks, “Scott”, a former British soldier and now the Western head of one of the country’s leading private security firms, explains that “we don’t call ourselves mercenaries” but a reliable corporation that provided “static” security for foreign embassies, journalists, aid companies, hotels and other key assets. Launching in Afghanistan soon after the US invaded, “we survive off chaos”.

“From 2002 onwards,” says Scott, “we worked with the Afghan government because the Ministry of Interior (MOI) could not secure businesses or people and Western insurance companies insisted on using a private military company [PMC]. Internationals felt they could not trust MOI when moving province to province.”

This is the reason such an industry self-perpetuates even though President Karzai has demanded for years that these companies be replaced with the interior ministry’s Afghan Private Protection Force (APPF).

According to Scott, the implementation of Karzai’s plan this year has been “chaotic”. During our interview, he received a call from an American client who didn’t understand Karzai’s new PMC rules. “This happens all the time at the moment. For example, an Afghan is supposed to be assigned in every PMC in the country but this has never happened.”

The complicated realities of modern conflict has served as the stated rationale for this massive growth industry globally, especially in war zones since September 11. Scott offers a simpler explanation. “The Americans, British and foreign forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are not big enough to re-build nations, so PMCs are needed to fill the void. We protect contractors building prisons and schools. If the US had used more troops, we would not be necessary.”

The West has now been in Afghanistan longer than both World Wars combined. The US has spent tens of billions of aid money in the country and yet working services are minimal.

Apart from the escalating rate of civilian deaths, from Taliban and Western forces, the rise of private security armies has defined the war, resulting in numerous contractor crimes against Afghan civilians. The record of Western security firms is filled with a troubling lack of justice for victims.

Two Afghan men sit upstairs in a simple restaurant near the centre of Kabul — both have families who’ve suffered privatised violence first hand. Tariq-U-Rahman and Fahim, both from Wardak Province, explain that they’ve faced threats from three elements; the Taliban, the US army and private security companies, and were subsequently forced to move to Kabul.

Afghan firms have been hired and empowered by the US military to transport their equipment across the country. The job is to guard the convoys but they regularly establish so-called security perimeters and in the process engage in fire-fights with the Taliban, wantonly harming civilians. One of the worst offenders is Watan Risk Management, a leading company with close ties to the Karzai family that pays off the Taliban not to attack US convoys.

Fahim says his cousin, a shopkeeper, was shot dead by a Watan guard a year ago for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Watan admitted fault, he said, and offered $US20,000 compensation but the family is still waiting for the money. The victim’s wife and children are now struggling despite the family financially assisting them.

Fahim explains that private security companies could be necessary in other countries with more stability but in Afghanistan it had only brought “misery and violence”.

The current situation in Afghanistan confirms his scepticism. M. Ashraf Haidari, a suave, American educated senior Afghan official who is the deputy assistant national security adviser and senior policy and oversight adviser to Karzai, told me that Afghan authorities were shutting the “illegal and without licence” firms and “the new rules attempt to regulate the system”.

But several Western and local security corporations confirmed to me off the record they were still operating in the area and imagined doing so for years to come, finding ways around the new rules. Furthermore, a couple of PMCs that the Karzai government said had been shut down were still operating even if signs around their compounds were removed.

“Many embassies, for example, simply won’t trust the Afghan Private Protection Force (APPF) and will continue to rely on foreign security companies,” one said.

The supposed logic of the mass expansion of the security industry post-September 11 globally is to replace tasks the state’s military can’t or won’t do. But in a poor nation such as Afghanistan resentment built quickly, I was consistently told, when it was discovered that the Afghan army was getting paid substantially less than the private militias.

Outsourcing security isn’t the only task that has become privatised in the Western-led mission. Intelligence is increasingly collected by private companies and given to American, Australian and British forces.

Some privatised intelligence has involved the hiring of corporations to gather information about Afghans that is then used by the military for so-called counter-insurgency. Jeremy Kelly in the London Times first published extracts in late March of extensive documents by US-based “consultancy company” AECOM — the company had been hired by NATO to spy on mosques, universities and the general community throughout the country. The work started just over a year ago.

I viewed dozens of pages of this intelligence (and extract below different sections to the Times). The files detail conversations from March 2012: people complain about the Karzai government’s corruption and inefficiency; clerics in mosques demand Western forces leave immediately; family members complain about proposed marriages between the Taliban and local girls; others express support for the insurgency and complain of troubles when working in Iran.

The research comes from a range of districts and is separated between “supportive” and “non-supportive” individuals of the NATO mission.

One entry, from March 14 in the Sheberghan District, details an “overheard conversation between two Uzbek males between the ages of 40-45 at market.”

“One man said, ‘The other day I was riding on a bus when it became very windy. It seemed as if it was raining dust. People were saying that this could be a sign God’s wrath. This is happening to us because the Americans have burned the Quran, but we are calmly sitting idle. We should be rising up against the Americans for what they have done. We are being punished for doing nothing.’

“The other resident stated, ‘I do not know, but it might be possible’.”

In another extract, from March 15 in Shahr-e-Safa in a public car, an Afghan spy overheard “two concerned men ages 50 to 60, discussing private escort companies threat to the safety of civilians.”

“The first man said, ‘People distrust the private escort companies because when a Talib fires at them, they return fire at houses, people, even the trees are cut if a Talib is shooting from behind them!’

“The second man replied, ‘Most of the time, innocent people are killed or injured in the crossfire.  People want the government to either make sure escorts do not harm civilians or disarm them’!”

Such details appear as mundane, normal and daily conversations by local villagers across the state, but they can form the knowledge for US-led night-raids that cause deaths and deep Afghan anger. Mistakes are routinely made. Innocent men are kidnapped. Many are killed.

The recent announcement that Afghan forces would now take thelead on night-raids was dismissed as propaganda by sources in Afghanistan, a face-saving exercise by the Karzai government to show it has sovereignty in its own country.

Meanwhile, the US military and its allies have little idea of the agendas of the Afghans giving them intelligence. It’s why respected organisations such as The Afghanistan Analysts Network refuse to undertake commissioned work for clients, concerned that its research may be co-opted for military means.

As soon as the Taliban was toppled in 2001, Northern Alliance forces and its friends routinely issued payback against enemies, real and imagined. Even today, a local warlord and police chief in Uruzgan Province, Matiullah Khan, is using Australian forces to take out his rivals and fuel conflict.

A reporter from the Chicago Tribune witnessed this trend as far back as November 2001.

Western forces enabled this behaviour by using provided intelligence and arresting, bombing and interrogating people they were told were Taliban. In reality, the information was often wrong. Crucially, it reinforced the Western belief that any breathing Taliban should be a dead Taliban.

That was then. Today, the US government realises it will have to negotiate with the Taliban but is hiring private firms to better understand who should be targeted first.

Privatised security and intelligence is now a natural part of Western war making. America simply cannot and will not launch missions without the backing of often unaccountable companies that complement its defence industry. Since the departure of US troops from Iraq, thousands of foreign contractors still populate the country, that doesn’t look set to change any time soon.

*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author who is currently working on a book and documentary about disaster capitalism.

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The Regime-Change Machine


Revving up its motors

by Justin Raimondo

The world is in chaos, war is breaking out all over, there’s blood flowing in the streets of cities fromthe Middle East to Africa, but not to worry – we’ve got an “Atrocity Prevention Board”! Now doesn’t that make you feel much better?

The board is chaired by the infamous Samantha Power – whose advocacy of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine is credited with the Obama administration’s support for Islamist rebels in Libya, and is currently energizing calls for a similar intervention in Syria. The announcement of this new bureaucratic instrument of war was made by Obama at a recent speech delivered at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, where professional warmonger and Israel Firster Elie Wiesel took the opportunity to call for war with Iran and the President, for his part, announced the imposition of new sanctions on both Iran and Syria.

The atrocities this board is supposed to prevent are those that are not committed by the US: ouratrocities, you understand, are really “humanitarian” acts, as opposed to their atrocities, which are … well, just plain old atrocities. One can safely assume the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, killed by US sanctions prior to the invasion, is not one of those atrocities to be considered by the Board. Nor will those many thousands of Iraqi civilians who lost their lives in the war be so recognized.

No,  designation will be reserved for the actions of governments that defy our will, like Iran and Syria. Obama singled out South Sudan and Libya as monuments to this policy of “atrocity prevention” – Libya, whose Islamist government is jailingmurdering, and otherwise repressing its own people, and South Sudan, a completely made-up “nation” that owes its very existence to Western intervention, routinely arrests opposition figures and journalists, and is currently involved in putting down local  and tribal insurgencies in the majority of its provinces (with our help, you can be sure).

The piddling atrocities carried out by such tinhorn despots as Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian mullahsare nothing compared to the large-scale war crimes routinely committed by US forces in Afghanistanand Pakistan. Our drones roam the world, wreaking random havoc on innocents and “terrorists” alike – oh, but that isn’t an “atrocity.” It’s “fighting terrorism.” That is how the world’s biggest perpetrator of atrocities gets to set up an “Atrocity Prevention Board” and not be laughed off the world stage.

Where oh where does the authority to set up such a board come from? There’s no mention of it in the Constitution – but, then again, you don’t want to be labeled a “constitutional fundamentalist,” do you? So please shut up about that, and go on to the next question: did Congress ever authorize the creation of such a board? Well, who cares if they did or not? Because we don’t even need Congress to approve a declaration of war before the President calls out the troops – he can do so all on his own. After all, he’s the Emperor, the commander-in-chief, the Great Leader whose will is law when it comes to foreign policy. The Founders would be horrified – but who cares about those old white racists, anyhow? They would have been horrified by so much we take for granted that they might as well be aliens from another dimension: we can safely file their imagined objections away under “horse-and-buggy” and be done with them forever.

Yes, we live in a Brave New World, where, with the stroke of a pen, the Leader can create an entirely new government agency devoted to overseas espionage – the “Defense Clandestine Service,” which will no doubt cooperate with the Atrocity Prevention Board, the CIA, the DIA, and all the other alphabet-soup agencies that constitute the Regime Change Machine loudly revving up its motors. Together these assembled paper-pusherspolitical appointees, and military contractors constitute a formidable apparatus, well-oiled with billions of our tax dollars, to spread the “benefits” of American hegemony all across the globe: that’s “globalization” for you! All of them unaccountable, operating in secret, and owing loyalty only to themselves and whatever gang of thieves and opportunists happens to be running the US government at any particular moment.

Make no mistake: the “Atrocity Prevention Board” is an instrument of propaganda, targeted not at any foreign audience – which knows better than to take seriously the threadbare rationalizations of our bureaucrats – but at the US electorate, and, in particular, the policy-making elites. So, you don’tagree we ought to intervene in Nation X to save it from the depredations of Dictator Y? But the Atrocity Prevention Board has determined that a mass atrocity is scheduled to take place within days – what are you, a heartless “isolationist”?

In this way the machinery of war is prepared, public opinion is tamed, and the American agenda –global dominance [.pdf] – is implemented, with nary a protest to be heard.

The hypocrisy and duplicity of our ruling elites is boundless, and they don’t shy away from Orwellian phraseology: after all, who else would set up an “Atrocity Prevention Board” when they are themselves the single greatest perpetrators of atrocities on earth? That takes real chutzpah, a substance plentiful in Washington, D.C.

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