Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Struggle for Power in the Middle East

If you thought that Bush could actually bring democracy to the Middle East and therefore peace to a strife-torn area, I have a bridge in Brooklyn at a very low price just for you.

Okay that's tongue in cheek, but really the Middle East does not want democracy and certainly not the type of democracy that the United States has envisioned.

The type of government that people in the Middle East seem to embrace is modeled on their own tribal and personal relationship model that they embrace. Many in the Middle East look for a strong man to make the decisions and to shape the government. This is one reason why Saddam Hussein was even in power.

Just look around at the other countries there what kind of government model do they have? Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, Lebanon has a Parliament, but the government is constantly being challenged by well armed strong leader militants. Look at Iraq the militias are the real force in the state with Iran pulling the puppet strings. Then look at Iran, there is the Supreme Leader in charge even though they have a President. Again strong men, who the population wish have their best interest at heart, but are not representative of the real people in the country.

The entire culture of the region is built on strong personalities and men who have taken power. Democracy as we know it will never take root and never thrive in this type of cultural equation.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Increasing Unrest in Pakistan

I'm poised for both Pakistan, Indonesia, and Iraq to become Muslim theocracies in the very near future. I'm watching Turkey too!

If you read the newspaper in any country, you will see headlines about trouble with the established governments in all of these countries.

There is a very strong grass roots movement away from "Western" influences and a re surging interest in returning to "basics" and family values as well as a strengthening interest that increased religious involvement is the solution for many of these social problems.

What is concerning is that there are many who feel that ONLY a religious theocracy can solve these problems; people have increasingly lost the trust of secular governments and elected officials in these specific countries to be able to enact these needed social changes.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Iran is Getting Ready With New Bombs

Iran announced that it has started production of a new "smart bomb". Smartly scary that is! This new bomb is already in production and is an air-surface, long range guided missile technologically advanced bomb. It is to be delivered by aircraft to targets.

Disturbingly it was announced that this new bomb is to be used against Iran's enemies and in any threat situations.

Now with increased deadly capability the "nuclear dance" that we have all been playing with Iran just increased in threat and severity.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Pushing Iraq For Change

The Bush Administration is pushing the Iraqi administration for change, but can it really happen? The current US administration is entering the "lame duck" period and with such a huge loss of political capital it is apparent that even Iraqis won't listen.

The Iraqi government is splintered and truthfully there is little hope that the current government in Iraq can govern effectively. All that seems to have happened is that there has been a coalescence that change is needed. With civil war strife written all over the current Iraqi administration the only thing that I see happening is an increasing rife between the people and the government that is supposed to represent them.

This is the perfect scenario for Iran to move forward with a strong push for a Muslim-based religious government based on the groundwork that it has already laid in Iraq over the last months and years.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Bush's Attack on Guards Backs Iran into Corner

By designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards as terrorists, the Bush administration may be creating a monster instead of beheading one.

Formed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Revolutionary Guards function as a national army numbering about 125,000. The Guards are a tightly organized, well-trained, well-armed, well-equipped state military unit. We're not talking about shadows in the night like al-Qaida, Hamas or Hezbollah, other designated terrorists. This is tantamount to putting the US Rangers on a terrorist list. It's the first time the army of a sovereign nation has been called a terrorist by the US.

Because the Guards own and control many of the front companies involved in Iran's nuclear efforts, Bush may be trying to go in the back door. Attacking the Guards may be another way of putting pressure on Iran's nuclear ambitions, said Middle East analyst Georgie Anne Geyer in a recent column. (Geyer writes for United Press Syndicate.) Read Geyer's column here.

But Bush may be putting too much pressure on Iran. "All of us want to back Iran into a corner," said nuclear proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione, "but we want to give them a way out, too." The terrorist designation "will convince many in Iran's elite that there's no point in talking with us and that the only thing that will satisfy us is a regime change."
From recent remarks he has made, it seems that Bush is trying to foment rebellion in Iran. During a recent news conference he said, "My message to the Iranian people is, you can do better than this current government. You don't have to be isolated. You don't have to be in a position where you can't realize your full economic potential."

Bush's attacks on Iran are bound to backfire. Rather than driving apart traditional and liberal elements as he hopes, his efforts will only bind these adversaries in a nationalist movement to protect their country from the US foreign devil.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Iran Frees US Scholar But Won't Let Her Go

Iran finally released an Iranian-American academic scholar from prison, but they won't let her come home. Haleh Esfandiari, 67, who has dual US-Iran citizenship, had been imprisoned in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since May. Read the full story here.

Head of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, Esfandiari was in Tehran to visit family when she was accosted by armed masked men, stripped of her passports and thrown in jail. She was accused of revolutionary activity by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, a charge the scholar, her family, her employer and the US State Department have vehemently denied.

Esfandiari may be out of jail, but her passports remain confiscated. She will not be allowed to leave Iran until she faces charges of endangering national security. Her 93-year-0ld mother used the deed to her Tehran apartment to post the $330,000 bail necessary to gain Esfandiari's release.

Esfandiari is one of four Iranian-Americans jailed last spring on national security charges. The other three remain in jail and have been allowed no contact with their families.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Karzai, Bush Face Off Over Iran

During their recent Camp David summit, US President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai seemed in tune about everything except Iran's future role in Afghanistan. Their vastly different opinions about Iran struck a glaringly discordant note that may disrupt future harmony between the two nations.

Karzai characterized Afghanistan's powerful neighbor as "a helper and a solution."

Bush disagreed, saying, "I would be very cautious about whether the Iranian influence in Afghanistan is a positive force."

Bush and the US believe Iran to be a destabilizing force in the Middle East, bent on achieving its own expansionist goals to reestablish a Persian empire. Barely a week after the summit, US military commanders in Iraq accused Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps of operating in that war-torn country. While no member of the elite Iranian military unit had been captured, weapons caches bearing Iranian markings were found during a military sweep south of Baghdad. US commanders cited "military intelligence" in naming the Guard Corps as the source of the weapons.

Bush and US military leaders have repeatedly accused Iran of supplying weapons to Iraqi insurgents loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Several times Iranian-marked weapons have been discovered during US clashes with al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The US has also accused Iran of actively supporting Shiite attacks against Sunnis in Iraq. The only Shiite Muslim state in the Middle East, Iran has made no secret of its support for development of a Shiite-controlled state in Iraq.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Iran Warns Off U.S.

Iran is flexing its biceps. Joining with the leaders of Russia and China, Tehran warned the US that interference in central Asia would not be tolerated. The three Asian powerhouses issued a statement that central Asia should be left alone to manage its own affairs:

"Stability and security in central Asia are best ensured primarily through efforts taken by the nations of the region on the basis of the existing regional associations."

Issued at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the thinly veiled threat appeared to be directed at the US. Although he did not specifically name the US, Russian President Vladimir Puttin took an oblique swing at American involvement in Iraq, saying "any attempts to solve global and regional problems unilaterally are hopeless."

The stability of strategic, resource-rich central Asia has been of concern in western quarters. Iran has increasingly aligned itself with Russia and China against the US. Is Iran lining up allies before it makes its own play on Iraq?

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Iraqi Politicians Are an Endangered Breed

No wonder the Iraqi government is failing. As fast as citizens step up to the plate, al-Qaida strikes them out -- permanently!

An Iraqi oil minister was kidnapped today by terrorists. (Click here to read the story.) Two more Sunni leaders were killed this week for taking a public stand against al-Qaida. A southern governor and police chief were killed by a roadside bomb. All this in just two days! There are continuing reports of Iraqi political leaders being killed, police recruits mowed down, police barracks bombed, Iraqi soldiers targeted.

Al-Qaida, Shiite and Sunni insurgents and other terrorist groups operating in Iraq have found an effective way to maintain chaos. Every time Iraq begins to grow the head of leadership, they lop it off, leaving the limbs of the beast to flail away ineffectively. Messy but highly effective. No wonder the Iraqi government is in such disarray. Volunteering to serve is tantamount to a death wish.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Iran Demands US Pullout of Iraq

The accusations are flying hot and heavy between the US and Iran. Yesterday President Bush warned Iran to stop meddling in Iraq. Today Iran told Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that only a US pullout will stabilize Iraq.

Patting the poor boy on the head, Iran assured the Iraqi PM that big brother Iran will take care of him and is doing everything possible to bring peace to his war-torn country. If that bully President Bush and his nasty US military gang will just get out and go home, everything will be fine.

What a nice family picture. Makes your heart soar to see such love between brothers. It's time President Bush realizes that you can't buy love. Iraq will never be grateful for the millions of dollars and thousands of lives the US has invested in Iraq. We forced our way in uninvited and plunged their country into chaos (a view shared by many Americans). We will always be the bully, the outsider. We will never be part of the family. Americans, our culture, our view of the world are just too different. Iraq will never see the monster slithering slowly through its sands, quietly wrapping its tentacles around every aspect of Iraqi life until the day it snuffs that life out.

Iran is familiar, the Shiite big brother who would never harm his smaller sibling. The US will always be the hated foreign interloper, the infidel. Arabs are notorious for failing to learn from the lessons of history. Iraq will find that the price is high.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Same Old, Same Old. Bush Warns. Iran Ignores

President Bush warned off Iran -- again. At a news conference the President again charged Iran with training and arming Iraqi insurgents bent on killing US soldiers. He, again, threatened nebulous "consequences" if Iran does not cease and desist immediately.

Though the news media is treating this as news, it is not. We've heard this song and dance routine before. The US accuses. Iran hotly denies. The US threatens. Iran blusters. The cycle repeats. It's an international pas de deux in which both dancers are out of step.

How many times will US forces have to find active Quds units (Iranian special forces) operating in Iraq before we do something to stop it? Obviously political chit chat isn't going to solve the problem. Iran has shown time and again that it will say anything to appease international censure, then go blithely on its way and do whatever it wants to. And what it wants to do is reestablish the Persian empire in all its glory and might with Iran at the helm. Iraq is the first stepping stone toward the realization of future Iranian might; Afghanistan, the second.

If Iran truly sought peace in the Middle East, it would back its high level meeting palaver with action. Instead of arming Shiites and setting them against Sunnis and US soldiers, Iran would be leading them to the bargaining table, bringing its considerable pressure to bear to force Iraqis to peace. How can America fail to notice that this is not what Iran is doing. Iran continues to foment rebellion in Iraq.

Iran actively encourages attacks against Sunnis and Americans because Iran wants peace in Iraq to fail. Iran is making every effort to force Iraq further into civil war. Only when Iraq is in total chaos (and it doesn't seem like that will take long), can Iran race in, the conquering hero, and restore peace in the guise of protecting its own borders and helping its neighbor. Unfortunately for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, Iran seems to define peace like Saddam Hussein, not George Bush.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Iran Strikes Another Blow to Freedom

Striking another blow to freedom, Iran shut down its leading reformist newspaper this week. The doors were slammed on the daily Shargh (East) after it published an interview calling for greater gender equality. This is the second time in the past 12 months that the government has forced the paper to stop publication. The first time was in September 2006 after it printed a cartoon poking fun of Iranian leaders. The Shargh was finally allowed to reopen in June. Read the full article here.

Founded in 2003, the Shargh published an interview with opposition poet Saghi Qahraman who argued for less restrictive gender roles. Qahraman, a woman, encouraged men to take a greater role in household and childcare activities. Her views were deemed "anti-morality" by the government and counter to Islam.

Pro-reform journalists have been targeted by the hardline judiciary. More than 100 publications have been shut down and dozens of editors and writers jailed since 2005 in this "democratic" country.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Snapshot of an American Muslim

An estimated 2.35 million Muslims call the United States home. While 65% are foreign-born, they are "decidedly American in their outlook," according to the latest report by the Pew Research Center as quoted in the July 30, 2007 issue of Newsweek. Click here to read the entire article.

Here's a snapshot of the average Muslim in America:

54% are male
56% are age 18-39
47% have at least some college education
35% earn less than $30,000
50% are Sunni
56% are moderately committed to their faith

While 63% of Americans do not believe that US Muslims condone violence, 52% think the FBI should be allowed to wiretap mosques. And 52% also felt that Muslims living in foreign countries are more violent than those living in America.

Generally, older Americans were more suspicious of Muslims and younger generations more tolerant. When asked whether they thought the US allows too many immigrants from Muslim countries, those responding "yes" were as follows:

58% age 60+
49% age 40-59
32% age 18-39

Many US Muslims were born here, others immigrated to the US, but all have the same hopes for their children and are pursuing the same dreams as their neighbors. It is the feeling of suspicion they feel as they walk down the street and go about their daily business that separates them from their fellow countrymen.

One American Muslim raising his family in Ohio said he thinks anti-Muslim sentiment is growing worse in the US. "I'm not so much worried about myself," he told Newsweek. "It's the young people I'm concerned with. Those are the people we need to try -- not only as Muslims but as Americans -- to make them feel part of America. If you alienate the Muslim young people from America, that is dangerous."

Alienation is often the first step toward violence, as we have seen at Columbine and Virginia Tech. By alienating Muslim youth in America we push them into the outstretched arms of extremists offering them acceptance while fanning their alienation into hatred.

America has always been a melting pot of cultures, people and ideas. Muslims are one of several newer groups adding to the spice and richness of our society. Throughout our nation's history we have at first feared and then embraced the new and different. Perhaps the best way to distill the threat of radical Islam in America is by embracing and welcoming our Muslim citizens.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Iraq Unraveling from Within

Is US intelligence a joke or are Bush and his cronies really that obtuse? Two headlines caught my eye this week:

Sunnis Quit Cabinet
Gates: U.S. Underestimated Iraqi Political Rift

Only an idiot -- or apparently, the US government -- didn't see this coming! The Sunni-Shiite (and to a lesser degree, Kurd) split has long been at the root of Iraq's inability to form a viable government. Only by viciously suppressing one faction in favor of another has the country ever been able to function as a political unit. Only with Saddam's iron fist pummelling the Shiites and Kurds into submission were the minority Sunnis able to control the country.

In its arrogance and naivete, the Bush gang apparently believed that once Saddam was removed, the Iraqi people would rise up as one, embrace democracy and lead a new wave of western-styled freedom through the Middle East. However, with no single strongman rising from their interminable internal squabbling and no history of cooperative government, the Shiites have been unable to form, much less maintain, even the marginal semblance of a national government.

"In some ways, we probably all underestimated the depth of mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation," US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this week.

What an understatement! Has nobody in the Bush administration ever opened a history book? You don't change centuries of cultural behavior by dangling a foreign carrot in front of a stubborn mule. And American politicians are so culturally obtuse, they never thought to find out if the donkey likes carrots!

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Iran Sentences Kurdish Journalists to Death

Today Iran convicted two Kurdish journalists of crimes against Islam and the state and sentenced them to death. Click here to read the full story.

The two journalists were convicted of moharebeh, Arabic for fighting, according to judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi. In Iran the term is used to describe major crimes against Islam and the state. The men's crimes and details about how their sentences will be carried out have not been disclosed. However, the journalists were arrested as activists during the 2005 Kurdish protests in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan, an Iranian province on the Iran-Iraq border.

Despite Tehran's constant pressure on journalists and news media to tow the party line, imprisonment and conviction, much less a death sentence, are rare. Tehran likes to flaunt its tolerance and freedom of speech to the outside world, even if the reality inside its borders is more myth than fact.

Analysts wonder if the incident signals the beginning of a new crackdown against rebellious Kurds inside Iran. The Kurds, whose domain straddles Iran, Iraq and Turkey, have long sought autonomy and national unity. Concerned Turks are massing military units along Turkey's Kurdish border with Iraq. While Turkey says its goal is to prevent Kurdish rebels from slipping across Iraqi borders into Turkey, some analysts believe Turkey is positioning itself to invade Iraq and solve its problem with the Kurds by subjugating them under iron Turkish rule.

Whatever the truth, the killing of Kurdish journalists for nebulous political crimes is sure to fan the flames of Kurdish rebellion.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

US Steps Up Economic Pressure Against Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

Despite recent talks on the future of Iraq that were dubbed a "success," the US and Iran continue to ratchet up the accusations and charges against each other. Call me naive, but I don't see a "meeting of the minds" happening at the bargaining table any time soon.

Days after the joint talks, the US tightened its squeeze on Iran, escalating financial sanctions against Iranian companies that are suspected of supporting their country's nuclear ambitions. The US has blacklisted or frozen the assets of 15 Iranian companies this year, prohibiting American companies and individuals from doing business with them. Click here to read the full article.

"We believe that there is a real potential that these sanctions will have the effect of changing the government of Iran's mind about the defiant policy it is currently pursuing," said US Treasury undersecretary Stuart Levey.

I doubt it. In the face of stringent United Nations and US economic sanctions, Iran hasn't backed down yet. And few Iranian experts believe the country ever will.

"I don't think if the assets of a few Iranian officials are frozen or if the state of California and the state of New York decide to divest from Iran, suddenly the regime will buckle and say 'we're going to change our nuclear approach'," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian researcher for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Sadjadpour pointed to Cuba's success in weathering even more stringent US sanctions and with a far weaker economy. He suggested only "a more robust international coalition" would make a dent in Iran's stubborn nationalism. With volatile President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Iran's helm, it's unlikely that even that would change Iran's nuclear policy.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Suicide Bombers Losing Support Among Muslims

MUSLIMS' SUPPORT OF ATTACKS IS WANING blared the headline in my local newspaper yesterday morning. All I can say is, it's about time! Click here to read the full story.

In Muslim countries support for suicide bombings against civilians has dropped sharply since 2002, according to a 2007 survey conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Approximately 1,000 citizens in each country were asked if they felt suicide bombings of civilians were justified to defend Islam:
  • Countries where support dropped by slightly more than 50%: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan
  • Countries where support dropped by 50%: Jordan
  • Countries where support dropped by slightly less than 50%: Tanzania, Nigeria, Turkey
Lebanon experienced the greatest change in attitude. In 2002, 74% of Lebanese citizens felt car bombings and other suicide attacks on civilians were an acceptable way of defending Islam. Today that number has dropped to only 34% .

"Muslim public opinion, as the result of increased suicide bombings, has come to realize the poisonous and murderous nature of this kind of attack," said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Arab and Muslim politics at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York.

Muslims supported the attacks when they were aimed at the US and other foreign nationals, seeing bombers as virtuous Davids taking aim at the far more powerful Goliaths. Suicide bombings were cheered acts of patriotism. But now that they've become victims themselves, now that they've lost sons and daughters, mothers and fathers to suicide bombers, many Muslims view the attacks as the reprehensible violence they are. Imagine that! Violence isn't so virtuous when it blows up in your own face.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Iran-US Talks Proceed Despite Squabbling

Despite the kindergarten squabbling, talks between American and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq seemed to go well today. Both parties agreed to establish a security subcommittee to discuss restoring stability to Iraq. Iraqi leaders have been pushing for talks between the two countries which exert the greatest influence over Iraq's future.

Iran seemed to be pushing for higher level talks in the future. "The issue of negotiations between Iran and the U.S. about Iraq at the level of deputy foreign ministers is reviewable," said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack seemed to put the brakes on that idea, however, saying, "I don't see that happening. We have an established channel with [U.S. Ambassador] Ryan Crocker and we are taking a look at establishing a subcommittee, but that group would actually be lower-level officials." Click here to read the full article.

Despite the agreement to continue talks and establish a joint committee, sniping between the two powers continued unabated. The U.S. charged Iran with arming and training Iraqi Shiite militias. Iran demanded that the U.S. release five Iranians detained for just that reason. Iran accused the U.S. of fomenting dissent. The U.S. demanded the release of American-Iranian activists charged with threatening Iran's security. Not exactly a meeting of the minds.

While the talks are supposed to focus on Iraq and not Iran-U.S. tensions, it seems likely that those tensions will derail any peaceful negotiations between the two powers. In the coming weeks and months the diplomats will dance around a host of issues on how best to create a secure Iraq. But it seems that Iran's goal might actually be to create a subjugated Iraq, one they can more easily control.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Preparations for a Showdown?

Iran and the US have scheduled a new round of high-level talks, the first since May. If news headlines are to be believed, instead of peace it looks like a showdown is in the offing. Ambassadors will meet in Baghdad this coming Tuesday, July 24, 2007, but with all the sniping going on a successful outcome doesn't look too promising. Just look at this week's news headlines:

Hardly looks like cooperative behavior, does it? Looks more like each side is posturing to increase its power at the bargaining table. Both sides appear to be going out of their way to annoy each other. Allegations and complaints on both sides have been escalating all week.

No one would ever accuse Iran and the US of being best buddies, but the current level of dialog doesn't even appear to be coldly courteous. Words like appalled, alarming and outrageous are being used by both parties -- not the conciliatory speech one would expect before a discussion aimed at resolving differences and solving problems.

Under the circumstances, it is hard to believe the sincerity of either party or their ability to compromise. Tuesday's scheduled talks look like another exercise in futility for America and another crafty delaying tactic on the part of Iran.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Al-Qaida Poised to Detonate Nukes in America

The nuclear weapons are in place -- inside America -- and ready for detonation. Al-Qaida is planning a devastating nuclear attack on American soil. American authorities fear that weapons and sleeper agents are already in place. American Hiroshima is ready to blow! Read the whole article here.

That's the chilling news gathered from captured al-Qaida leaders and documents. Apparently, London was just a wind up for a much more savage and devastating attack planned for America this summer or fall. American intelligence agencies have learned that al-Qaida Iraq plans to detonate multiple nuclear weapons on our soil sometime soon.

With the help of the MS-13 street gang and other organized crime groups, anywhere from 10 to 40 nuclear weapons have already been smuggled over the Mexican border and into the US. Obtained from the former Soviet Union over the past 10 years, the weapons include suitcase nukes, nuclear mines, artillery shells and even missile warheads. Captured documents indicate al-Qaida plans to assemble its own nuclear weapons using fissile material purchased on the black market. Bombs are being constructed for detonation by cell phone or clock timer.

According to Paul Williams, a former FBI consultant and author of the book The Al Qaeda Connection: International Terrorism, Organized Crime and the Coming Apocalypse, al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden are financing the attack with hundreds of millions of dollars gained from bin Laden's control of Afghanistan's heroin trade.

Targeting America's biggest cities, bin Laden's goal is to kill 4 million Americans, a least 2 million of them children, to avenge America's purported crimes against Muslims. If he is successful, will America's vengance annihilate the Middle East? Is this the beginning of the end?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rebuilt Al-Qaida Poses Major Threat to America

The US intelligence community says al-Qaida has rebuilt its operating capability to pre-9/11 strength. It would seem that two wars and an international manhunt targeting its leadership have come to naught. Despite the capture or death of many top lieutenants, annihilation of training camps, derailing of known funding operations, and the interrogation and incarceration of thousands of suspected sympathizers worldwide, in just six years the shadowy group has managed to rebuild its leadership, manpower, training program, resources, communications network and operations -- all contributing to an attack capability that is at minimum equal to that of 9/11 and most probably greater. Click here to read the whole story.

The recently aborted attacks in the United Kingdom are a sample of al-Qaida's present capability to coordinate chaos in the West, warn U.S. intelligence agencies. Al-Qaida's strength has grown tremendously, particularly in the past two years, and along with it, the terrorist group's capacity to carry out another devastating terrorist attack on American soil, say intelligence sources.

A new terrorist assessment singles out Pakistan for harboring al-Qaida operatives and operations along its border with Afghanistan and as a likely conduit enabling terrorists to enter other countries. Among those countries whose ties to Pakistan may put them at greater risk are Britain, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.

Al-Qaida's efforts to step up operations have been particularly successful since Pakistan signed a peace agreement with tribal leaders along its northwestern border with Afghanistan, effectively removing any military presence. The area has become a recognized safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaida operatives.

President Bush is using the intelligence report to bolster his argument for a troop build up. Certainly Americans are more wary of a 9/11-like terrorist threat since the the recent incidents in the United Kingdom.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Economists Charge President Ahmadinejad with Plundering Iran's Wealth

Are educated Iranians finally getting fed up with President Ahmadinejad's inflammatory, emotional rhetoric and near total avoidance of fact? In an unprecedented move, more than 50 Iranian economists met with the president to tell him his economic policies are "inexpert" and lacked "any basis in science." Read the full story here.

Condemning the president's economic policies, the economists told Ahmadinejad,
"In your government, economic policies are adopted without any basis in science
or the directives of the fourth development plan."

Iran's leading economists and financial leaders bluntly criticized Ahmadinejad for mismanaging Iran's oil wealth and failing to reign in the rampant inflation that has proved devastating to Iran's poor. In 2005 Ahmadinejad was elected largely on the strength of his promise to spread Iran's oil wealth to the country's poor, but it is the poor who have been most hurt by his capricious economic policies. In OPEC's second largest oil producer the rate of inflation is expected to rise to 17% by next March. The price of basic foods and services has risen sharply over the past few months.

With money supply growth running at a whopping 40%, economists charged that Ahmadinejad is emptying Iran's coffers without regard for the needs of future generations. Fulfilling rashly made campaign promises, the president is using Iran's wealth to fund a flood of infrastructure projects in the country's 30 provinces.

Seen as particularly dangerous by the country's economists was Ahmadinejad's decision made earlier this year to lower interest rates. Financial leaders lambasted the president for failing to consult either the central bank chief or economy minister.

"Such decisions are harmful and inexpert. The most sensitive financial institutions of the country will be weakened and in the not too distant future we will see the negative outcomes of these decisions," the economists said.

In past encounters, President Ahmadinejad has vehemently rejected criticism of his economic policies, denying charges that inflation is out of control and pointing to his pet building projects as evidence of Iran's technological progress. It will be interesting to see if the combined weight of the country's top economists and financial leaders can reign in the president or whether he will continue to plunder Iran's wealth for his own political gain.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

In Bizarre Twist Sunni Splinter Group Threatens Iran With War

"The leader of an al-Qaida umbrella group in Iraq threatened to wage war against Iran unless it stops supporting Shiites in Iraq within two months, according to an audiotape released Sunday," the Associated Press reported earlier this week. Click here to read the whole article.

In a bizarre 50-minute audiotape posted on a terrorist website, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the Sunni splinter group Islamic State in Iraq, threatened to launch an attack against Shiite-dominated Iran saying, "We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shiite government and to stop direct and indirect intervention ... otherwise a severe war is waiting for you."

Sunnis and Arab countries doing business with Iran were also given a two month warning to cease and desist. "We advise and warn every Sunni businessman inside Iran or in Arab countries especially in the Gulf not to take partnership with any Shiite Iranian businessman -- this is part of the two-month period," al-Baghdadi said. Kurds were also condemned for supporting Iraq's Shiite government.

In my opinion, this ridiculous farce underscores the impossibility of ever finding a common ground in which Iraqis could live in peace. There will never be respect or acceptance between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. While, as a Westerner, I fail to comprehend the importance of what seems to me to be minute differences in religious and political philosophy and the fanatical fervor with which centuries old slights dictate current behavior in the Middle East, it is clear to me that no side in this unlikely threesome is willing to compromise.

In all the chaos and highly charged emotion rampant in Iraq, it is only a matter of time before a loose cannon like al-Baghdadi sets off the bomb that breaks the camel's back and ends any semblance of political cooperation in that part of the world. As the rage of Iran or Turkey scream down upon Iraq, devouring its borders, peace may finally come to this divided country. But it will be the iron-fisted "peace" of a new Saddam.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Unable to Grasp Democracy, Is Iraq Doomed to Dictatorship?

  • President Bush keeps saying we just need to give his plan more time to work in Iraq.
  • The US military says Iraqis are not stepping up to the plate. Increasingly US troops are fighting alone. Allah alone knows where their Iraqi counterparts are hiding.
  • Increasingly, Iraqis are turning on themselves. Suicide bombers recently killed 115 Iraqi citizens while they were doing their daily shopping. These weren't political or military targets; just plain old folks trying to survive.
  • This week Iraqi politicians called upon Iraqi citizens to arm themselves for their own protection.

I can't believe he hasn't noticed, but unless hell freezes over soon, President Bush's plan doesn't have a prayer of working. The military knows it's not working. Iraqi terrorist and extremists are doing their best to keep it from working. Iraqi citizens have given up. And now Iraqi politicians have thrown in the towel. Even the protesters who gather in front of my local Starbucks every Saturday know Bush's plan is bunk. They still carry signs that say Honk if you support our troops, but the pro-Bush contingent has stopped coming. Only the Down with Bush group still rallies.

Is our president deaf, blind and dumb that he can't see what the rest of the world so clearly sees? Nothing the US does seems to be working in Iraq. Our frustrated military secures one section of the country and the terrorists and extremists pop up somewhere else. Iraq is split in its own thinly veiled civil war, the power struggle between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds rending the country. The Iraqi military is afraid to fight neighbor against neighbor for fear of retaliation. Iraqi clerics preach hate in the name of Allah while solidifying their power. Iraqi politicians have proved a spineless bunch who would rather feather their own nests than help their countrymen. American citizens (and those of our allies) are fed up and want out NOW.

Perhaps there is too great a cultural divide between Iraq and the US. Perhaps after years of servitude to tribal elders and fanatical clerics, then to a megalomaniac dictator, democracy is a too difficult a concept for Iraqis to grasp. Perhaps Iraqis can only put their differences aside and pull together under the heel of a strong leader. If that's true, the solution to Iraq's problems lies poised on her borders. Iran and Turkey wait there, eager to fill Saddam's shoes.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Miliband Talks Tough But Will He Back It Up With UK Might?

The US has been waiting to see whether there would be a change in British foreign policy toward Iran with Tony Blair out of the picture. It appears that there won't be a change in policy, but it remains to be seen whether the UK will put any muscle behind its words. The US breathed a sigh of relief this week when the new British Prime Minister, David Miliband, pressed for tighter UN sanctions against Iran if it refused to suspend uranium enrichment.

In an interesting development, Miliband did not rule out military action against Iran. However, from his statements it's hard to tell exactly what Miliband might do. He teeters on a precarious precipice that has already sent the once popular Blair to his political death. UK citizens may support the idea of stopping Iran's nuclear ambitions, but they are vehemently opposed to sending British soldiers into the fray. Perhaps still feeling his way politically, in an interview with London's Financial Times Miliband qualified every hard core statement with a softer statement recognizing Iran's rights. Click here to read the whole article.

Iran "doesn't have the right to set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East," Miliband said in the interview. However, he added, Iran "has every right to be a secure rich country."

While Miliband refused to repeat the guarantee made by predecessor Jack Straw that military action against Iran was "inconceivable," he did say, "I think the whole of the international community wants a non-military, diplomatic solution to this problem."

It's hard to know if Miliband is hedging his bets while he solidifies his political authority, or if he'll stand by his tough talk and is just throwing a sop to popular opinion. Time will tell.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Let's Turn Iraq Over to the Contractors and See What Happens

I think things have reached an absurd point in Iraq. I read in the Los Angeles Times today that according to recently obtained State and Defense Department figures:

"The number of U.S.-paid private contractors in Iraq now exceeds that of American combat troops ... More than 180,000 civilians -- including Americans, foreigners and Iraqis -- are working in Iraq under U.S. contracts ... Including the recent troop surge, 160,000 soldiers and a few thousand civilian government employees are stationed in Iraq." Click here to read the whole story.

That is absolutely ridiculous. We are supporting the equivalent of two armies in Iraq! The problem is that we aren't supporting as many of the guys with the guns as we are the guys with the shovels. What kind of twisted logic is that? And you can bet the guys with the shovels are better equipped and better paid than the guys with the guns who are protecting them.

I think it's time we cut our loses. Instead of taking more civilian soldiers away from their families and communities, we should give the contractors guns and tanks, turn the whole mess over to Haliburton, and let them all fend for themselves. Perhaps the wily greed of American capitalism will succeed where military might has failed!

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Iran Organizing Hezbollah Unit in Iraq

Accusing Iran of raging a proxy war through Shiite extremists, the US military this week said Iran's leadership had a direct role in a sophisticated attack that killed five US troops in Iraq in January. Click here to read the full story.

In its most damning and specific condemnation of Iran's involvement in Iraq to date, the US statement marked a sharp escalation in US accusations that Iran is financing, arming and training Iraqi militants. It is the first time Iran has been directly linked to Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah militia, the region's must disciplined and powerful militant group.

Brigadier General Kevin Bergner accused Iran's elite Republican Guards, the Quds Force, of bringing in Hezbollah operatives to train and organize a similar militia in Iraq. Its purpose is to further destabilize US forces and the fledgling US-supported Iraqi government. "Our intelligence reveals that the senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity," Bergner said.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini unilaterally dismissed the US charges, saying, "American leaders have gotten into the habit of issuing ridiculous and false statement without providing evidence, with political and psychological aims."

Bergner said US forces have incontrovertible proof that the Quds Force is providing up to $3 million a month to Iraqi militants and training them in three camps outside Tehran. The future terrorists are being trained to carry out bombings, raids and kidnappings. Evidence that Quds Force operatives are active in Iraq has been discovered during military raids and arrests since February.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Summer of Iran's Discontent

In one of the world's most oil-rich countries, gas is being rationed and Iranians are angry. Despite 2005 election promises, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decreased gas subsidies in May, causing the price of gasoline to increase 25% to 38 cents a gallon. On Tuesday, after weeks of planning, the government implemented a rationing program that limits Iranians to 26 gallons of subsidized gas a month. Additional fuel can be purchased, but at a higher price yet to be announced. In protest, incensed Iranians rioted, smashing shop windows and setting fire to gas stations. Read the full article here.

Iran is the second largest OPEC exporter but lacks the refineries needed to process its lucrative natural resource. Unbelievably, Iran must import 50% of its gasoline to satisfy the growing needs of its citizens. Because Iranians like their gas cheap and plentiful, the government subsidizes gas sales to keep the price low. This has put a significant strain on the nation's economy. Proponents of the new measures hope that price increases and rationing will curb oil use and make funds available for government investment in oil and gas production.

Ahmadinejad could easily find himself in hot water with his fellow citizens. He was elected on the promise that he would share Iran's oil wealth with the nation's poor. Going back on that promise, even to bolster a seriously failing economy, could be political suicide.

"Ahmadinejad promised paradise," a Tehran resident railed, "but his government has made life hell for Iranians."

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

US Wants to Punish Foreign Oil Firms Doing Business With Iran

The US Congress is a step closer to passing legislation that would punish foreign energy companies that do business with Iran. The House's foreign affairs panel passed the proposed law 37:1 with representatives on both sides of the aisle accusing Iran of trading energy for terror. Click here to read the full story.

"Foreign investment in Iran equals money for terrorism and attacks on Americans," said Democrat Gary Ackerman. "Investment in Iran's petroleum sector enables that country to pursue nuclear weapons, to arm insurgents fighting American troops, and to underwrite Hezbollah and Hamas."

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, both the US and UN have imposed economic sanctions against Iran with little effect. The US Congress is changing tactics, threatening to impose penalties against countries that ignore those sanctions and choose to trade with Iran for their own economic benefit.

"Pressuring companies to cut their financial ties with Iran is critical to ensuring that sanctions have their intended result," said Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

Many European and Japanese companies have profited from lucrative oil and natural gas contracts with Iran. By bolstering Iran's economy despite international censure, they have negated the sting of levied sanctions. Perhaps if they have to pay a price themselves, they will be more willing to forgo personal profit for the international good.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Is This Another Stalling Tactic?

From AP wire service: "Acting on a request from Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency said yesterday that it will send a team to Tehran to work jointly on a plan meant to clear up suspicions about the Islamic republic's nuclear activities."

Iran issued the invitation to the UN agency on Sunday which is seen by many politicians as a positive step. However, a number of politicos felt this was one more in a long list of delaying tactics.

"I don't think Iran's track record is particularly noteworthy or particularly likely to give me or anyone else confidence that anything will come of these discussions," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

For more than two decades Iran has stonewalled the UN agency's attempt to ascertain its nuclear capability. It's hard to believe that Iran is beginning a new era of international cooperation. With no change in regime and new UN sanctions being threatened, it's more likely that Iran is just trying to wriggle out from under yet again.

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