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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Iraqi Shi'ite leader Hakim heads to US to meet Bush

More BAGHDAD, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Powerful Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim flew to the United States on Tuesday on a trip his party said would include talks with U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) said issues to be discussed included Monday's agreement between Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to start formal talks next year about the future relationship between Baghdad and Washington.

That agreement will help shape the size and role of U.S. forces to remain in Iraq.

Officials at SIIC, the biggest party in Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated government, said Hakim met Maliki in Baghdad on Monday night. Maliki announced the agreement with Bush in a televised speech from his residence on Monday.

The SIIC officials did not say when Hakim would meet Bush and Rice, who are both attending a U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference in Annapolis near Washington.

Hakim said on Nov. 19, soon after returning from medical treatment in Iran, that he had recovered from lung cancer. He last met Bush in the White House last December and later visited the United States in May for cancer treatment.

Hakim's party has close ties with Iran, which Washington accuses of funding, training and arming Shi'ite militias blamed for sectarian bloodshed in Iraq.

Iran denies the charges and blames the violence in Iraq, in which tens of thousands of Iraqis have died, on the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003. (Reporting by Mariam Karouny; Writing by Alaa Shahine; editing by Sami Aboudi)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Eating soup with a knife in an Iraqi town

21 Nov 2007 00:04:06 GMT
Source: Reuters

More By Andrew Marshall and Erik de Castro

NAHRAWAN, Iraq, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Battling an insurgency, wrote T.E. Lawrence, the legendary "Lawrence of Arabia" who fought in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire almost a century ago, is "messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife".

It's a lesson the U.S. military has learned painfully in Iraq, a messy war dragging into its fifth year with a mounting toll in Iraqi and American lives. Stung by setbacks, Washington this year installed a new commander, General David Petraeus, to oversee a new approach to counter-insurgency.

Nahrawan, a poor town of 100,000 and stronghold of Shi'ite militiamen in the parched rural hinterland southeast of Baghdad, is one place that strategy is being tested.

A short walk from the market, cranes lift huge concrete slabs to build a protective wall for a U.S. outpost in the centre of town -- a reverse from the old strategy of keeping troops in large bases far from population centres.

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, work with the local council and tribal leaders to support reconstruction and humanitarian projects, and enlist locals to man checkpoints and monitor the area.

"We have to be close to the people, among the people, and to win their trust and work with them," said Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Sullivan, the battalion commander. "We offer a blanket of security that will allow the economy and services to develop."

It's a plan that comes straight from the U.S. military's new counter-insurgency manual, authored by Petraeus with several counter-insurgency experts.

A key message of the manual is that the military must provide security for the people, since "citizens seek to ally with groups that can guarantee their safety". Interlinked military, economic and political initiatives must be set up.

Echoing Lawrence's century-old warning that "rebellions can be made by 2 percent active in a striking force, and 98 percent passively sympathetic", it says the key is to turn the local population against the insurgents in their midst.

The focus is on winning people over, not killing. "Killing every insurgent is normally impossible," the manual says.


Nahrawan's recent past illustrates much of what has gone wrong in Iraq. Its future may show whether the U.S. military's new strategy can succeed in stabilising the country.

Saddam Hussein relocated thousands of Shi'ites here, making Nahrawan a Shi'ite enclave surrounded by small Sunni Muslim communities. When al Qaeda militants blew up a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra in February 2006, Nahrawan became a battleground of savage sectarian violence.

Within hours of the mosque attack, Sunni gunmen dragged 47 Shi'ites out of a convoy of vehicles, shot them in the head and dumped them in a ditch. A week later they killed 25 Shi'ites at a brick factory and four at a nearby power station.

With no sustained U.S. military presence in the area, local Shi'ites turned for protection to the Mehdi Army militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whom the United States accuses of waging a proxy war on U.S. forces at the behest of Iran.

When U.S. forces began arriving in the area this year as part of the surge, they faced frequent attacks from Shi'ite militiamen and Nahrawan was a virtual no-go area. "It was overrun with Shia extremist militias and criminals," said Major-General Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division.

U.S. troops moved in to detain key militia leaders, began patrolling the town, and put economic and political plans in place to try to improve prosperity, governance and security.

Now, Sullivan says, shops and businesses have reopened, residents feel secure, and support for the Mehdi Army -- which is observing a shaky truce ordered by Sadr -- is ebbing away.


Huge challenges remain. If Sadr's militia restarts hostilities, the base in Nahrawan could be vulnerable, although Sullivan says its position right at the heart of town, among shops and houses, will make insurgents less likely to attack it.

Corruption and patronage are endemic and much aid money disappears before it reaches its intended projects. Local police, whose headquarters are right beside the new U.S. outpost, include many Mehdi Army sympathisers.

When U.S. forces head into Nahrawan at night trying to detain a wanted criminal, the police are not informed.

Trying to detain insurgent leaders while winning the support of the people is also fraught with problems. U.S. raids, with women and children being forced from their beds at night and houses ransacked, often cause outrage in Iraq.

In one raid in Nahrawan, a teenage girl crouched in a corner, shaking with terror. Her mother pleaded with soldiers, saying her sons were policemen, not insurgents.

Sullivan says most Iraqis in Nahrawan welcome such raids, knowing they will restore law and order. As security improves people there will turn their back on the insurgency, he argues.

Not everyone agrees.

"Soldiers kick in the doors of houses and immediately search inside even if there are women there. According to our traditions, this is absolutely not acceptable," said Mehsin al-Chainimi, 50, in his clothes shop in Nahrawan's market.

"If they insist on kicking down our doors, then, to speak frankly, we will resist them," he said. (Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Riyadh Main Roads Cleared for OPEC Summit

Mohammed Rasooldeen, Arab News

The otherwise busy Khurais Road in Riyadh was completely deserted on Saturday. (AN photo by Iqbal Hossein)

RIYADH, 18 November 2007 — Major highways leading to the venue of the OPEC Summit were closed yesterday so that the heads of state could reach their destination with a minimum of delay.

Khurais Road, stretching from Exit 13 to the Diplomatic Quarter, was completely deserted from 3 p.m. onward. It was under close watch by Royal Guards and elite commandos standing every 15 meters on either side of the road.

From Khurais Road to the Riyadh Airbase where most of the guests were arriving was also closed. Pedestrians were advised to avoid the sidewalks on either side of the highway and even standing on the walkway was prohibited.

Parking private vehicles along the highway was also forbidden. Officers working inside the Diplomatic Quarter were allowed to leave at 2 p.m. yesterday to enable them to reach home without being caught up in traffic jams.

Schools and government offices were closed yesterday to reduce traffic congestion on the roads. However, private sector employees and others had to spend extra time on the streets following the detours outlined by the traffic police.

A Traffic Department spokesman appealed to the motorists to cooperate with the authorities in order to ensure a smooth flow of traffic on the streets. He told Arab News that the department had mapped out a special route for motorists to reach their respective destinations without any hassles.

Despite the convenient diversions created by the police, there were traffic jams near the intersections at Takhasussi Road, King Abdul Aziz Street and Sitteen Street. Nasseriya District was heavily policed since the guests who were staying at the Riyadh Conference Palace had to pass through the area to reach the summit.

A Saudi motorist told Arab News that there was a smooth traffic flow despite the diversions. “It took only 30 minutes to go a distance which otherwise would have taken more than 45,” he said.

Dr. Dona said that she had traveled by the King Fahd Highway to reach her clinic and she had not encountered any problems in reaching there at 4 p.m. “Traffic arrangements were excellent and the police were very cooperative in easing the traffic jam,” she said.

The municipality has decorated Riyadh to give it a festive look. The city is dotted with a variety of national flags and billboards at large intersections to welcome the visiting heads of states. The roads, particularly those to be used by officials, are lined with flags of the OPEC member countries.

The entry of vehicles to the Diplomatic Quarter was as usual. An official at a foreign mission in the Diplomatic Quarter said that the traffic to and from the DQ was well handled by the DQ police.

Hotels in the city are fully occupied by dignitaries and large groups of foreign journalists.

According to reports from the Eastern Province, hotels and apartments there are full of Riyadh residents who have gone there with their families to spend the long weekend. Because of the school holidays, a good number of families from Riyadh have also gone for Umrah on a four-day package.

Gang-Rape Victim Vows to Fight On

Ebtihal Mubarak, Arab News

JEDDAH, 18 November 2007 — Upset with a sentence of 200 lashes and six months in prison, the 19-year-old Saudi gang-rape victim known as “Qatif Girl” is appealing the verdict even as the judge in the case said her sentence could be increased as a result, the woman’s husband told Arab News yesterday.

The woman is charged with being in the company of an unrelated man shortly before she and her companion were brutally gang-raped by seven men, all of whom have been found guilty and sentenced to between two and nine years in prison with lashes for the crime.

In the absence of her lawyer, whose license to practice law was recently revoked by the Qatif General Court, the young woman agreed to fight the verdict.

“She was very determined and strong facing the harsh ruling. Even I was surprised,” said the victim’s husband, whose name is being withheld to protect the woman’s identity.

The husband said the judge warned that if the defendant lost her appeal her sentence could be increased.

The rape victim had already lost a second hearing (which was not considered an appeal) by the Higher Court of Justice, after her lawyer requested they review the ruling of the Qatif General Court, which had sentenced the woman to 90 lashes.

On Wednesday the Higher Court of Justice not only upheld the guilty verdict but also increased the sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison.

On Saturday the husband (the woman’s legal guardian) is scheduled to receive a copy of the verdict from the Qatif General Court, after which the defendant will have 30 days to file an appeal with the Court of Cassation.

“We have been told that the appeal hearing will take two to three weeks,” said the husband.

The second ruling by the Higher Court of Justice was made after the victim’s lawyer, Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, managed to get the Higher Court to review the verdict of the Qatif General Court and reverse the verdict. Instead, the court issued the harsher punishment.

“Their argument was that it was the girl’s fault in the first place that (the rape) happened and none of that would have happened if she had not met up with the non-related male friend,” said Al-Lahem, who had his license revoked and was kicked out of the courtroom at the start of the hearing.

Sheikh Fouad Al-Majed, the head of the Qatif General Court that revoked Al-Lahem’s license, referred Arab News to a court administrator to get a response from the court.

“In developed countries the press does not interfere in court cases,” said the administrator. “We have no authority to talk to the press. The media department at the Ministry of Justice is the only one that can go on record.”

The administrator then said he would state his full name for the record on one condition.

“I will give you my full name if I want to propose to you,” he answered.

Arab News could not contact the Ministry of Justice in Riyadh as government offices are closed until Monday due to the OPEC Summit in Riyadh.

Human rights activist Fawziya Al-Oyoni, who was also kicked out of the courtroom with Al-Lahem, said that the victim, who was only 18 years old at the time of her sexual assault, was abducted at knifepoint in front of a shopping mall in Qatif along with a non-related male friend.

Al-Oyoni said that the victim had met the friend to receive some photos of her that he had from a relationship with her when she was 16. She contends that the man had initially threatened to distribute the pictures to shame her.

Then seven young men noticed the two in front of a mall and abducted them, took them to a deserted area and raped them both.

Arab News has learned that the young man is not appealing his sentence out of fear that his punishment, if the verdict were upheld, would be increased.

“The rape victim was denied her right of having her lawyer at the courtroom while announcing the verdict,” said Al-Oyoni. “She has been undergoing hard physical and psychological conditions and severe depression as a result of the horrifying crime.”

As for the reason why Al-Lahem’s license to practice law has been suspended, the court claims insubordination (he allegedly raised his voice to the judge) but the lawyer denies the allegations.

“Unfortunately in today’s practice judges seem to be above the law and almost impossible to question,” said Al-Lahem, who has vowed to fight his own legal battle to reclaim his right to practice law.
Saudi Arabia: Ministry of Justice should Stop Defamation of Rape Victim

28 Nov 2007 23:29:41 GMT
Source: Human Rights Watch

(New York, November 28, 2007) � The Saudi Ministry of Justice should immediately stop publishing statements aimed at damaging the reputation of a young Saudi rape victim who spoke out publicly about her ordeal and her efforts to find justice, Human Rights Watch said today. In response to international outcry over the case, the Ministry of Justice published two statements on its website on November 20 and 24 alleging that the rape victim confessed to engaging in illicit acts and was undressed in a car prior to the rape. The second statement said that "the main reason the crime took place was because the woman and her companion, who exposed her to this heinous crime, did not follow the law [of prohibited privacy]." The Ministry voiced regret that the media provided an "unjustified defense" of the woman. A representative of the ministry also appeared on television blaming her for the attack and strongly hinting that she had engaged in adultery.

"The Ministry of Justice's response to criticism of its unjust verdict has been appalling," said Farida Deif, researcher in the women's rights division of Human Rights Watch. "First, they attempted to silence this young woman and now they're trying to demonize her in the eyes of the Saudi public."

On November 14, the General Court of Qatif sentenced the young woman to six months in prison and doubled her lashes punishment for "illegal mingling" because she met an unrelated man in his car before a gang of seven men attacked and raped them. An official at the court said that her sentence was increased because of "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media." Judge Sa'd al-Muhanna also banned the woman's lawyer, Abdul Rahman al-Lahim, from the courtroom and from any future representations of her, for allegedly raising his voice in court. Among the points in the Ministry's charge sheet delivered to al-Lahim on November 19, is that he presented a complaint about the case to the governmental Human Rights Commission.

On November 27, Okaz newspaper published an interview with Judge Dr. Ibrahim bin Salih al-Khudairi of the Appeals Court in Riyadh, in which he said that he would have sentenced her to death. The Riyadh Appeals Court, and possibly Judge al-Khudairi, is the court that will consider an appeal that the Saudi woman said she intends to file. Human Rights Watch said that in light of his statement to the newspaper Judge al-Khudairi must not be allowed to preside over any deliberations in the case. Such extra judicial pronouncements by members of the judiciary undermine both their impartiality and the ability of the victim to have a fair hearing.

On November 24, a participant in a Saudi internet site (www.alsaha.com) published what appear to be parts of the initial verdict rendered in October 2006 in language strongly resembling the brief statement of the Ministry of Justice of November 24, 2007. The woman and her lawyer never received the initial verdict or the November 14 verdict, despite repeated attempts to obtain it. The internet participant wrote that one of the judges in the Qatif General Court is his source. Lawyer al-Lahim has said that the Ministry of Justice statement and, apparently, the verdict, relied on statements provided by the rapists in order to diminish their crime.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on King Abdullah to immediately void the verdict and drop all charges against the rape victim and to order the court to end its harassment of her lawyer.

Abdullah Pardons ‘Qatif Girl’
Ebtihal Mubarak, Arab News

JEDDAH, 18 December 2007 — The pardon by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah of the 20-year-old rape victim known as “Qatif Girl” yesterday was well received by her husband who wanted to say nothing on the case except to thank the king. Meanwhile, human rights activists also welcomed the news but are calling for specific measures to avert sentencing rape victims in the first place.

“On behalf of my wife and myself we would like to sincerely thank King Abdullah, the king of humanity, for his fatherly gesture,” said the husband whose name has not been published in the media. “That is not strange from King Abdullah who is known for his generosity to his citizens and the Islamic world.”

The husband said he received the good news yesterday morning through a phone call from one of his friends who spotted the news in the early morning. He said that his wife, whose name is also being withheld from publication because of the nature of the crime, is totally relieved now even though she is physically ill and scheduled to have surgery next week.

Human rights activist Fawziya Al-Oyoni, who is based in the Eastern Province, said that the king’s pardon brings some relief to women, but it doesn’t clear the rape victim from being blamed.

“The case should have been looked at again in another court that clears the girl of all charges,” said Oyoni. “A pardon means that she did something wrong and was kindly pardoned later.”

Yesterday, Justice Minister Abdullah Al-Asheikh defended the Higher Court’s decision to increase the punishment of the rape victim to 200 lashes and prison time after her lawyer disputed the Qatif General Court’s original sentence of 90 lashes.

King Abdullah used his authority, said Al-Asheikh, “to diminish people’s suffering when he is sure that such verdicts might leave psychological effects on those who received Shariah sentences, although he is convinced and trusts that the verdicts are just and fair.”

An informed source told Arab News that the Qatif Girl’s 36-year-old lawyer, Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, would have his law license returned to him after the Eid Al-Adha holidays. Al-Lahem had his license revoked by the Qatif General Court after being accused of taking the case to the media to “confuse the judicial establishment’s image and thus harming the country.”

Riyadh-based lawyer Omar Al-Saab said that although people may consider the pardon a minor victory, it establishes a precedent that tells the courts they are under increased scrutiny. “This is a historic day,” said Saab. “The king’s pardon will send a strong message to judges that they are under surveillance. People are now aware of their rights, they know they have the right to appeal and pursue their rights. Judges will now put in mind that they might face another ‘Al-Lahem’ type of lawyer who will challenge them and not take ‘no’ for answer.”

Al-Lahem declined to comment on the case yesterday.

Human rights activist Oyoni said she is calling for clear legislation that differentiates between rape and adultery. While the royal pardon is good news for the girl from Qatif, Oyoni said it was not a practical solution. “There are many other similar cases that have not received such international exposure,” she said. “Not every case will receive the media attention and not every women will get a royal pardon afterward.”

Oyoni called for strict punishments for rapists. Under the Shariah, rape is a capital crime. In the case of the Qatif Girl, the seven men found guilty of gang rape were sentenced to between two and nine years in prison. Oyoni said strict sentences would send a message to women to come forward and report these crimes to authorities.

Najib Al-Khunaizi, a Saudi activist and columnist from the Eastern Province, said that the royal pardon had come as a relief to the girl, her husband and her family, but that he hoped this case would lead to concrete reform. “It is very crucial now more than ever to form a legal corpus that prevents differences and contradictions among similar cases that receive different verdicts from one judge to the other,” he said.

He said that Justice Minister Asheikh’s comment that called the verdict “just” could create misunderstanding from the international community’s point of view.

“(The minister) should have said that they would review the case against both the girl and her assaulters,” said Khunaizi. “Until now they have not said what would happen to the rapists who are the core of the problem.”

The case stems from an incident in 2006 when seven men abducted and gang-raped the Qatif Girl, who was 19 at the time. Three judges from the Qatif General Court sentenced the rape victim to 90 lashes for being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape, committing “isolation” (khulwa). It is illegal in Saudi Arabia for women to mingle with unrelated men in the absence of their legal male guardian.
According to both her husband and her lawyer, the rape victim had met the male friend to receive a photo of her that he had from a relationship they had had when she was 16. She wanted the picture returned because she was about to be married. She contends that the man had threatened to distribute the pictures and shame her.

Fire breaks out at Saudi gas plant, causes deaths

18 Nov 2007 07:24:41 GMT
Source: Reuters

RIYADH, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Ten people were killed when a fire broke out in a gas pipeline near the Hawiyah gas plant in Saudi Arabia overnight, sources from Saudi Aramco said on Sunday.

The state oil and gas firm said in a statement the fire was caused by a gas leak in a pipeline around 30 km (18 miles) from the natural gas liquids plant but that the blaze was now under control.

The sources said the fire was unlikely to cause serious delays to the Hawiyah project, as it broke out some distance away in the Haradh-Othmaniya.

It was not immediately clear how many people were injured and the nationalities of the victims were unknown.

Aramco is undertaking projects to boost output at a natural gas liquids recovery plant in Hawiyah.

The project will provide petrochemical feedstock to the industrial cities of Jubail and Yanbu in the kingdom, the world's largest oil exporter.

The Hawiyah programme will produce 310,000 barrels of ethane and NGL products by 2008, through the Hawiyah plant and an expansion of the Juaymah gas fractionation plant near Ras Tanura.

Japan's JGC Corp was awarded the contract for the Hawiyah NGL and related facilities.

Italian Eni's Snamprogetti is carrying out work related to gas treatment and compression facilities. Contracts for communication and plant infrastructure facilities were signed with local contractors. (Reporting by Simon Webb; Editing by Stephen Weeks)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Parachinar Map

Prachinar Map

Latitude: 33° 52' 0" N (deg min sec), 33.8667° (decimal), 3352.00N (LORAN)
Longitude: 70° 5' 0" E (deg min sec), 70.0833° (decimal), 07005.00E (LORAN)
Elevation: 1726 meters (5663 feet)
Location: Parachinar, Pakistan

Parachinar Map

Prachinar Map

Latitude: 33° 52' 0" N (deg min sec), 33.8667° (decimal), 3352.00N (LORAN)
Longitude: 70° 5' 0" E (deg min sec), 70.0833° (decimal), 07005.00E (LORAN)
Elevation: 1726 meters (5663 feet)
Location: Parachinar, Pakistan

Mass grave unearthed in southern Baghdad

By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press Writer
59 minutes ago

BAGHDAD - A mass grave filled with badly decomposed bodies was unearthed Saturday in southern Baghdad, where relatives of people missing in the neighborhood gathered at a mosque in hopes of learning the fate of their loved ones.

It was the third mass grave found in Iraq this month.

The remains were found in Baghdad's mostly Sunni Dora neighborhood, placed in black plastic bags and transferred to a Shiite mosque nearby, according to a police officer at the mosque. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information.

An Associated Press photographer at the al-Kazimain mosque counted 33 plastic bags, and police said each bag held the remains of one victim. But the condition of the remains — severely decomposed — meant that it was impossible to verify the number of bodies.

Some of the bags were opened, revealing body parts, bones and scraps of clothing. One of the bags contained a prosthetic leg.

Relatives of people who had been missing in the area crowded into a courtyard outside the mosque, where the remains were laid out. A woman in a black Muslim abaya cried as the bags were opened.

At one point, eight bags of remains were placed into a single plain wooden coffin, for burial.

Earlier this month, U.S. and Iraqi officials said they found 29 bodies in the Lake Tharthar area of the once restive western Anbar province. And another 17 victims were discovered in a brushy area near a school in Hashimiyat, northeast of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi TV station said Saturday that one of its reporters was kidnapped a day earlier on his way to work in central Baghdad. The station has already lost two reporters to the violence here that often targets the media.

Muntadhar al-Zaidi, a 28-year-old reporter for the Iraqi satellite channel al-Baghdadiyah, disappeared Friday, according to an editor at the channel. The editor who spoke on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.

A colleague phoned al-Zaidi around noon Friday, and a stranger answered his cell phone. "Forget Muntadhar," the stranger said, according to the editor.

"This is the act of gangs, because all of Muntadhar's reports are moderate and unbiased," the editor told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

Al-Baghdadiyah TV broadcasts from Cairo, Egypt, and is often critical of the Iraqi government and the U.S. military presence here. It is perceived as pro-Sunni.

Iraqi journalists working for local or international media frequently come under threats from insurgents because of their reporting or their affiliation with foreign organizations.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 123 journalists and 42 media support workers — translators, drivers, fixers and guards — have been killed in Iraq since the war began in 2003. About 85 percent of those deaths were Iraqis, the group said.

In addition, the organization says at least 51 journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq since 2004.

Neither CPJ count includes al-Zaidi, whose whereabouts were unknown.

Also Saturday, the U.S. military said its troops killed seven suspects and detained 10 in raids across central and northern Iraq.

In one operation northeast of Samarra, U.S. troops discovered that three of the suspects killed were wearing suicide vests, the military said. A weapons cache and bomb-making materials were also found, it said.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Saudi, Lankan Officials Dismiss HRW Report on Maid Abuse

Saudi, Lankan Officials Dismiss HRW Report on Maid Abuse
Mohammed Rasooldeen, Arab News

RIYADH, 15 November 2007 — Sri Lankan housemaids are subject to serious abuses, including violence, harassment and exploitation in Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged yesterday.

Saudi and Sri Lankan officials swiftly dismissed the charges.

In a 131-page report entitled “Exported and Exposed: Abuses Against Sri Lankan Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates,” HRW said the domestic helpers typically labor for 16 to 21 hours a day, without rest breaks or days off, for extremely low wages of 15 to 30 US cents an hour.

More than 660,000 Sri Lankan women work abroad as domestic workers, nearly 90 percent of them in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Lebanon.

The rights group, which based its report on 170 interviews with domestic workers, government officials and labor recruiters, said the Sri Lankan and Middle East governments fail to protect the women.

“Governments in the Gulf expose Sri Lankan domestic workers to abuse by refusing to guarantee a weekly rest day, limits to the work day, freedom of movement and other rights that most workers take for granted,” said Jennifer Turner, a women’s rights researcher at HRW. “The Sri Lankan government welcomes the money these women send home, but does little to protect them from exploitative bosses or labor agents.”

Waleed Al-Swaidan, chairman of the Saudi Recruitment Committee at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce, told Arab News that HRW was “trying to make a mountain out of a molehill”.

“The report is completely one-sided; HRW should know that the majority of the Sri Lankan maids here are working happily over long periods,” Swaidan said, adding that one has just to visit the Kingdom’s airports to see maids being happily welcomed and seen off by Saudi families.

HRW found that employers routinely confiscate domestic workers’ passports, confine them to the workplace, and in many cases restrict their communication, even with their embassy. Some employers have wages withheld for months to years at a time.

Al-Swaidan said the volume of remittances made by the maids speaks for the regular salaries being paid to them. He said it was wrong to make inferences from sporadic incidents that take place time to time.

Sri Lanka also dismissed the allegations describing the report as lop-sided for not indicating the efforts made by the island’s government to overcome problems faced by maids. “The report is only the reaction from 170 interviews. We have more than 650,000 maids spread out in the Middle East,” Kingsley Ranawake, chairman of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE), which looks after the welfare of the island’s overseas workers, told Arab News by phone from Colombo.

Ranawake said the bureau had adopted remedial measures to solve some of the issues mentioned in the report. He added that beginning this month, departing maids would present themselves before the bureau with their respective agents to ensure that they go to the right employers.

“The volume of complaints from maids working in the Middle East is less than five percent of the total maid population out there,” Ranawake said. He added that most maids regularly return to work after periodic vacations — an indication that they have been treated well.

The UAE said HRW had “once again chosen to ignore many of the positive steps adopted by the UAE in recent months to improve conditions for temporary foreign workers in the country.”

Many of HRW’s recommendations have already been met or are in progress, the state WAM news agency quoted Anwar Gargash, minister of state for Federal National Council affairs, as saying.

The report also found that Saudi Arabia’s policy of requiring employers to approve exit visas for domestic workers before they leave the country effectively traps them and greatly increases the risk of abuse and forced labor.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Multiple military and civilian casualties in Green Zone Blast

By Paul Tait and Missy Ryan

BAGHDAD, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Sectarian strife remains a great threat despite improving security, Iraqi leaders warned on Wednesday, only hours after a big blast rocked central Baghdad and the U.S. military said three soldiers had been killed.

A roadside bomb killed two civilians and wounded three just outside the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses the U.S. embassy and government ministries, police said.

The explosion, which shook buildings in the Green Zone, was close to a checkpoint where hundreds of Iraqis who work inside the sprawling complex queue every morning.

It was one of the loudest blasts heard in the capital in weeks after a lull in attacks that had become almost a daily occurrence earlier this year.

U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith said the blast, targeting a convoy of military vehicles, caused "multiple military and civilian casualties" but gave no further details.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Iraq, Afghan war costs put at $1.5 trillion -"hidden" expenses such as interest payments and higher oil prices.

Iraq, Afghan war costs put at $1.5 trillion A congressional study included "hidden" expenses such as interest payments and higher oil prices.
By Josh White

Washington Post

WASHINGTON - The economic costs to the United States of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan total about $1.5 trillion so far, according to a new congressional study that estimates the conflicts' "hidden costs" - including higher oil prices, the expense of treating wounded veterans, and interest payments on the money borrowed to pay for the conflicts.
That amount is nearly double the $804 billion the White House has spent or requested to wage these wars through 2008, according to the majority staff of Congress' Joint Economic Committee. Its report, titled "The Hidden Costs of the Iraq War," estimates that to date the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the average U.S. family of four more than $20,000.

"The full economic costs of the war to the American taxpayers and the overall U.S. economy go well beyond even the immense federal budget costs already reported," said the 21-page draft report, obtained yesterday by the Washington Post.

The report argues that war funding is diverting billions of dollars away from "productive investment" at home by U.S. businesses. It also says the conflicts are pulling reservists and National Guardsmen away from their jobs, resulting in economic disruptions for U.S. employers that the report estimates at $1 billion to $2 billion.

The study estimates that the cost to the average family could more than double, to $46,300, over the next 10 years, with estimated economic costs reaching $3.5 trillion if the wars continue apace.

The committee, which includes House and Senate members from both parties and is chaired by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D., N.Y.), is expected to present the report this morning on Capitol Hill. Democratic leaders plan to use it as evidence that the wars are far costlier than most realize and that a change of course could save taxpayers billions of dollars in the next decade.

"What this report makes crystal clear is that the cost to our country in lives lost and dollars spent is tragically unacceptable," Schumer said in a statement last night.

Members of the committee's minority staff could not be reached for comment.

War-funding experts said that the committee had raised viable arguments but that some of the numbers should be met with skepticism. For example, it is difficult to calculate the precise effect of the Iraq war on global oil prices, and it is speculative to estimate how much the conflict will cost over time, as situations change daily on the battlefield.

Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International) and a member of the National Security Council staff under Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, said that he agreed the war was far costlier than the publicly stated price tag, but that some of the report's calculations were problematic. He said he thought it would be difficult to show that the Iraq war had caused oil prices to skyrocket, and did not think there had been a closing-off of U.S. investment because of the war.

Oil prices have more than tripled since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the report notes, to a peak of more than $90 per barrel.

"The war in Iraq is certainly not responsible for all of this increase," it states, but it estimates that declining Iraqi production "has likely raised oil prices in the U.S. by between $4 and $5 a barrel."

Hormats, author of The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars, said he agreed with the report's findings that the United States was dangerously increasing its reliance on foreign debt and that Americans would be paying the price for generations.

The committee said injuries attributed to the wars could add more than $30 billion in future disability and medical costs, including billions in lost earnings for veterans unable to work because of post-traumatic stress disorder.

World War II is estimated to have cost $4.9 trillion in today's dollars. According to Congressional Research Service reports, the Vietnam War cost $600 billion in today's dollars and the 1991 Persian Gulf war cost $80 billion.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Old pictures of Karachi

Photograph of the D.J. Sind Arts College (now known as the D. J. Government Science College) of Karachi, taken by an unknown photographer, c.1900, from an album of 46 prints titled 'Karachi Views'. Designed by James Strachan and considered this architect's greatest achievement, the college was built between 1887 and 1893. Named after the Sindhi philanthropist Dayaram Jethmal, whose two family members contributed towards its cost, the building was constructed in the neoclassical, or 'Italian architectural style'. A considerable amount of money was spent on the interior of the college; the floors comprised mosaic tiles imported from Belgium and the eight-foot wide main staircase was fitted with ornamental cast-iron work from McFarlane & Company of Glasgow. Karachi, once the capital of Pakistan, is now the capital of Sindh province and the major port and main commercial centre of the country. It was a strategically located small port at a protected natural harbour on the Arabian Sea north-west of the mouth of the Indus, and was developed and expanded by the British when they took over Sindh in the mid-19th century to serve the booming trade from the Punjab and the wheat and cotton regions of the sub-continent.

برداشت زعفران - شهرستان قاين - خراسان جنوبي/روح‌اله وحدتي -ايسنا

برداشت زعفران - شهرستان قاين - خراسان جنوبي/روح‌اله وحدتي -ايسنا

Pressure cooker about to explode

Pakistan a "pressure cooker", journalists expelled10 Nov 2007 17:26:29 GMT
Source: Reuters

By Simon Gardner and Kamran Haider

ISLAMABAD, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto described Pakistan on Saturday as a pressure cooker about to explode, as President Pervez Musharraf's government tightened screws on media by ordering out three British journalists.

Having invoked emergency powers a week ago, General Musharraf has sacked most of the country's judges, put senior ones under house arrest, and ordered police to round up most of the opposition leadership and anyone else deemed troublesome.

He has also placed curbs on media. Private news channels are off the air and transmissions of BBC and CNN have been blocked, though newspapers are publishing freely.

"Pakistan under dictatorship is a pressure cooker," Bhutto said in an address to diplomats at reception hosted by loyalists at the Senate on Saturday night.

"Without a place to vent, the passion of our people for liberty threatens to explode."

On Saturday, three journalists from Britain's Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph were expelled for "foul and abusive" language about the Pakistani leadership that officials said appeared in an editorial run on Nov. 9. A spokeswoman for the newspaper group in London declined to comment.

Bhutto, the Pakistani politician most capable of rousing mass protests, was stopped from leaving her Islamabad residence on Friday to lead a rally in neighbouring Rawalpindi, where police used tear gas to disperse her followers.

A detention order against her was later lifted due in part to pressure from the United States, but when she tried on Saturday to visit Pakistan's deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has been under house arrest for the past week, she was stopped from approaching his house.

"He is the chief justice, he is the real chief justice," Bhutto blared over a megaphone, after police trucks blocked her way to Chaudhry's residence.


Bhutto plans to lead a "long march", actually a mass motor procession, from Lahore on Tuesday to put more pressure on Musharraf to revoke emergency rule, restore the constitution and the sacked judges, quit as army chief, hold elections in January, and release thousands of detainees.

She will go to Lahore, the city where the pulse of Pakistani politics beats strongest, on Sunday, while her party planned protests in her home province of Sindh in the south.

Musharraf cited a hostile judiciary and rising militancy as the reasons for his authoritarian measures. He has sacked most Supreme Court judges and replaced them with friendlier faces.

Critics say Musharraf wanted to pre-empt a possible decision by the court to rule his Oct. 6 presidential election victory invalid because he contested while army chief.

Musharraf has said elections will be held by Feb. 15, about a month later than they were due. He also said he would quit as army chief and be sworn in as a civilian president once new judges struck down challenges to his re-election.

The United States has kept up pressure on Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless 1999 coup, to get back to a democratic path. But U.S. pressure is constrained as Musharraf is a close ally in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Musharraf briefed army commanders telling them the emergency had been a very difficult decision but necessary to ensure effective governance, maintain efforts against terrorism and provide for a stable political transition, the military said.

The United States is worried the turmoil will hamper its nuclear-armed ally's efforts against terrorism. Pakistani forces are battling a growing Islamist insurgency along the Afghan border -- where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

Bhutto told diplomats she feared Pakistan was sliding into instability and that "dictatorship causes fanaticism".

"They have exacerbated the situation to an extent where nuclear armed Pakistan is threatened with implosion," she said.

"The choice must not be between the military or the militants. The choice must be for the will of the people for democracy," she added.

The uncertainties have unnerved foreign investors and domestic markets.

Political analysts say Musharraf still has vital backing of the army but big street protests could undermine its support.

Bhutto had been holding power-sharing talks with Musharraf for months and political analysts say cooperation between the pair -- favoured by the United States -- could still be possible. (Additional reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore, Augustine Anthony, Rehmatullah Mehsud; writing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Sadr City Tense as "Special Groups" Hit Leaders

Rumors Abound on Identity, Motives of Shadowy Factions in Baghdad
Ahmad al-Shaybani in 2004. At the time the cleric was a spokesman for the Sadrist current in Najaf.

Residents of Sadr City report a tension in the streets as the leadership of the dominant political current in the sprawling eastern Baghdad district fear victimization by mysterious armed groups that have apparently...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Abudullah & Zeena's guerrilla love on Kurdish mountanis

Kurdistan Workers' Party(PKK) guerillas during conduct military exercises in the mountains of northern Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region in 2006. PKK guerrillas Abdullah and Zeena broke the cardinal rule of the rebel outfit -- they fell in love. For their transgression they were unceremoniously expelled from the group.
(AFP/File/David Furst)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Iraq says families returning home as violence ebbs

07 Nov 2007 14:33:15 GMT
Source: Reuters
More By Waleed Ibrahim

BAGHDAD, Nov 7 (Reuters) - A senior Iraqi military official said on Wednesday that more than 46,000 people had returned to their homes in Baghdad from outside Iraq in October as security improved in the capital.

The figure was a large jump from earlier government estimates that 3,200 families had returned to their homes in Baghdad since January.

"As a result of the improvement of the security situation in the capital Baghdad the total number of Iraqis returning from outside through Iraqi border exit points during October reached 46,030," Baghdad security spokesman Brigadier-General Qassim Moussawi told a news conference.

Moussawi said the figures were a sign that a new security strategy in Iraq, including a "surge" of 30,000 extra U.S. troops in and around Baghdad, more active Iraqi security forces and neighbourhood policing, was paying off.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which tracks the movement of displaced Iraqis, said Iraq's Ministry of Displacement and Migration had registered the return of some 3,350 families, or 20,000 people, to Baghdad since January. Most had come from other areas within Iraq.

Dana Graber, an Iraqi displacement expert at IOM in Jordan, said she had not seen the figures referred to by Moussawi and could not comment on the apparent discrepancies.

"The rate of return has begun to pick up. It tends to be more of a trickle going to homogenous areas. Iraqis are waiting to make sure the current status of security is a long-term phenomenon," she told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Civilian deaths in October hit their lowest level this year, and U.S. military fatalities also dropped sharply. Despite the recent falls, the high casualty levels earlier this year mean 2007 has been the deadliest year for U.S. forces since the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

Suicide bombings, kidnappings, and sectarian violence have forced millions of Iraqis to seek refuge in other parts of the country or abroad.

Aid workers estimate that at least 2.2 million Iraqis have fled to other countries, mainly Syria and Jordan. Both those countries have tightened migration rules for Iraqis.

The Iraqi Red Crescent has reported that the number of people displaced within Iraq has grown steadily for almost two years, reaching 2.3 million at the end of September.

While crime levels were dropping, Moussawi said that 16 decomposing bodies had been found on Oct. 30th in an empty building in downtown Baghdad.

He also said Baghdad city officials had imported an initial shipment of security cameras, similar to those used in London, to be used around the city. (Additional reporting by Ross Colvin; writing by Missy Ryan; editing by Dominic Evans)
FEATURE-Brutalised Iraqi capital begins to breathe again
09 Nov 2007 11:31:52 GMT
Source: Reuters

More By Wisam Mohammed and Ross Colvin

BAGHDAD, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Likaa Haider is doing something she hasn't done in a long time -- hoping. Like many others in Baghdad she is praying that the signs of life she sees returning to her city represent more than just a lull in the killing.

The 21-year-old is a law student at Mustansiriya University, where bombings killed 70 people, mostly students, in January.

"Many things have been changed in Baghdad. I now have hope in the future," she said.

Across the city there are signs of change, from restaurants and shops doing brisk trade and people on the streets late at night, to residents returning to Haifa Street, whose high-rises were a major battleground for al Qaeda and Shi'ite militias.

But Baghdad residents are still wary.

Theirs is a brutalised city, where roadside bombs turned streets into minefields, death squads roamed with impunity, kidnapping and killing, and suicide bombers sowed carnage.

Like a car crash victim in a coma, the city shut down. Life was put on hold. Baghdad's traumatised residents avoided public places, locking their doors and emptying the streets after dark.

Shorja market, the city's main centre for wholesale goods, was the scene of a multiple car-bombing in February that killed at least 71 people and wounded 165.

A visit to the market this week found people crowding the narrow passageways between stalls selling everything from brightly patterned cloth to fruit and vegetables.

"You can see the change. People feel safe to come here and shop," said cloth-seller Shaker Shnishal.


The Interior Ministry says violence in Baghdad is down 70 percent since the end of June, while Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, the deputy U.S. commander in Iraq, said last week that a drop in attacks in Iraq over the past four months "represents the longest continuous decline in attacks on record".

The downturn in violence has been attributed to a major U.S. military build-up, a more aggressive strategy towards al Qaeda and Shi'ite militias, and Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's order to his Mehdi Army militia to freeze their activities.

Others say violence has declined because areas have been ethnically cleansed and more than a million people displaced since the wave of killing erupted in February 2006.

"Areas that have become homogenised, where there are no longer people from mixed ethnicities, are not seeing the same displacements that were evident in 2006 because there simply are not any more people that can be targeted to displace," said Dana Graber from the International Organization of Migration.

Graber said displacement in the capital had slowed because of improved security, but the number of displaced still exceeded the number of returnees.


Haifa Street, a thoroughfare that runs along the west bank of the Tigris River and cuts through the heart of the city, was the scene of fierce fighting in January, when U.S. helicopters rocketed high-rise apartment blocks to oust gunmen.

Now, people are returning to apartments that were used as hideouts for militants. Wet clothes can be seen hanging from washlines on balconies of buildings scarred by bullet holes, and at night the street is lit by new solar-powered lights.

Taking bags of vegetables from his car in a parking lot in Haifa Street, Azad Fahmi, 37, a restaurant owner, pauses to reflect on what brought him back to the apartment he had fled.

"I heard about the improved security in Baghdad on TV and I was persuaded by friends to return," he said.

In New Baghdad, a Shi'ite district in eastern Baghdad, studio photographer Ali Muhsin, 29, is taking wedding pictures of a newly married young couple while their relatives dance on the pavement outside and hoot their car horns.

"The number of weddings has tripled since Eid," he said, referring to the Muslim holiday that marked the end of Ramadan.

In Shula in northwestern Baghdad, night has fallen, but its streets are still alive with people and cars. Children play ping-pong on tables set up on a street median, groups of young men smoke waterpipes, and restaurants are doing good business.

"In the past we used to shut our shop after sunset," said Abu Mohammed, sitting at the cashier's desk in his restaurant.

"It is 8 p.m. now and you can see the shop is packed."

But Joost Hiltermann, an Istanbul-based Middle East analyst for the International Crisis Group, warns that what Iraqis are witnessing could be a temporary phenomenon unless their feuding political leaders reach a political accommodation.

"In the absence of a political deal, sustaining this over a long time will become difficult," he said.

(Additional reporting by Reuters Television)

U.S. attack on Iran may "open Pandora's box"

By Fredrik Dahl

TEHRAN, Nov 7 (Reuters) - The United States could unleash vastly superior firepower if it attacked Iran but Tehran could strike back against its forces in Iraq and threaten oil supplies crucial to the world economy.

Speculation is growing that President George W. Bush could launch military action before he leaves office in January 2009 even though Washington says it is committed to resolving the crisis over Iran's disputed atomic ambitions diplomatically.

"It should be a walkover militarily," said London-based defence analyst Andrew Brookes about any U.S. attempt to knock out the Islamic Republic's atomic installations.

"The hard bit is what comes afterwards and that is opening Pandora's box," said Brookes of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank.

Western powers suspect Iran is seeking to build atom bombs. Iran says its nuclear programme is aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more of its oil and gas.

A former Iranian official with links to the country's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, suggested Tehran would respond by using allies in the region to take the fight elsewhere in the Middle East.

"If they want to play games with us, I believe in a few ways we can turn Iraq into a fiery battlefield," he said.


Security experts voiced different opinions about the strength of Iran's armed forces in a showdown with the United States, which they believe would involve a U.S. air campaign but not an invasion by ground forces.

The military, under an arms embargo imposed by Washington, still partly relies on fighter aircraft and hardware bought before the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah, topped up with domestically produced equipment as well as imports from Russia and others.

A Western diplomat said Iranian leaders were confident U.S. aerial bombardment would not threaten their hold on power.

"A bombing campaign has never removed a government and especially not in a country like this when there is no organised opposition," the Tehran-based diplomat said.

Iran's confidence has grown as it watched America's failure to get a grip on Iraq despite its overwhelming military supremacy.

Iran says it has missiles that could hit Israel and other state of the art weaponry and that the West would regret any attack, warning of a "quagmire deeper than Iraq."

Such statements may be exaggerated and aimed at a domestic audience, but some analysts say Iran could retaliate by, for example, using speed boats to launch guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks on oil shipping, so-called "asymmetric" warfare.

Iran, blamed for bomb attacks carried out by Shi'ite militants against U.S. interests in Beirut in the 1980s, could also resort to its old tactics, some add.

An Iranian commander last week said "martyrdom-seeking" militia would be able to disrupt Gulf transport routes.

"Iran can not win a military campaign in a conventional sense but what it can do is cause considerable amount of grief afterwards," Brookes said.

This line of thinking was reflected in a commentary in Iranian daily Siyasat-e Ruz which said the elite Revolutionary Guards had held exercises in the "strategy of irregular combat."

"We are confident we can defend this country ... In case of a war, Iranians will do everything that they can do," said Iranian analyst Abbas Maleki.


Tim Ripley, a defence analyst who works for Jane's Defence Weekly, said Iran's armed forces had shown resilience during their 1980s war with Iraq and the nightmare scenario for Washington would be launching a war it could then not finish.

The United States had the capability for another "shock and awe" campaign but fighting Iran would not be like the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and parts of the Iranian military would likely "put up a real good fight," he said.

"If you compare like for like the Iranians may not be as good as the Americans but their leadership ... know how to use what they've got to really great effect," Ripley said.

He said Iran could simply declare the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance of the Gulf a war zone to send oil prices, already nearing $100 a barrel, soaring without a shot being fired.

How to prevent any spillover effect in Iraq, where Shi'ite militants loyal to Tehran operate, is also likely to preoccupy U.S. planners in case of conflict with Iran.

The United States often accuses Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq but the Western diplomat said Tehran at the moment actually seemed to be restricting the flow of arms to Iraqi militias, a policy it could reverse if it felt threatened.

"The major battlefield is Iraq," said Dubai-based security analyst Mustafa Alani.

One Western expert said Iran's military was in a better state "than people give it credit for" with good technology and equipment including Russian anti-aircraft missile defence.

But Alani was less impressed. He said he did not think Iran could either prevent an American attack or strike back by, for example, shutting down the Strait of Hormuz.

"We believe there is a huge exaggeration about Iranian military capability," Alani said. "The only problem is Iraq." (Additional reporting by Edmund Blair; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Suicide bomber kills 90 in northern Afghanistan

By Tahir Qadiry


, Afghanistan, Nov 6 (Reuters) - A suicide attack on a parliamentary delegation killed at least 50 people in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday, a provincial official said, in the worst such blast in the country's history.

Five members of the Afghan parliament were among the dead and the toll was expected to rise. Schoolchildren were also among the victims in the town of Baghlan in the north of the country which had so far escaped the worst of Afghanistan's worsening violence.

"We have recorded 50 people dead so far, but there are still bodies on the streets we have not counted and some of the dead have already been taken away by their relatives," Baghlan provincial security chief Abdurrahman Sayedkhail told Reuters.

The shattered and scorched bodies of children and adults lay on the ground amid pools of blood and lumps of flesh as people scrambled to carry away the living and dead.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

A spokesman for the Islamist Taliban said the group was not behind the attack. The Taliban has killed more than 200 people this year in suicide bombings aimed at ousting the pro-Western government and driving out foreign troops.

The bomber was on foot and blew himself up as schoolchildren lined up to welcome the parliamentary delegation on a visit to a sugar factory in Baghlan. Large crowds had also turned out to greet the deputies, on an economic fact-finding mission.

"I saw bodies lying in the streets and some of the people were stealing the weapons of the dead soldiers. Children are screaming for help. It's like a nightmare," said local resident Mohammad Rahim. He said the blast had killed his two cousins, both schoolgirls.

Opposition spokesman and former Commerce Minister Mostafa Kazemi and four other parliamentary deputies were killed.

Afghan parliamentarian and spokesman Sayed Mustafa Kazimi talks to people of Baghlan prior to being killed by a suicide attack in Baghlan province, north of Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007

"The bomber got very close to the delegation as they were being greeted. He got very close to Mostafa Kazemi and blew himself up," Sayedkhail said. "He was carrying a massive amount of explosives."

Afghan parliamentarian and opposition spokesman Mostafa Kazemi is seen in this undated photograph in Afghanistan. A suicide bomber killed 90 people and wounded 50 on November 6, 2007, in an attack on a group of visiting Afghan parliamentarians in the northern Afghan town of Baghlan, the director of the local hospital said. Five parliamentarians, including opposition spokesman Mostafa Kazemi, were among those killed, the provincial governor said. Baghlan's intelligence chief, Abdurrahman Sayedkhail, said the number of casualties was so high it was impossible to give an accurate number for now. REUTERS/Stringer (AFGHANISTAN)

A deputy agriculture minister and prominent woman parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai were among the wounded.

One Taliban spokesman said the group had not carried out the Baghlan attack.

"It might have been carried out by their rivals in the parliament," said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed. "These parliamentarians were all mujahideen in the past and killed lots of civilians. Maybe someone was trying to take revenge."

But the attack on Baghlan, a small market town in a melon-growing region with streets lined with citrus trees, had all the hallmarks of a Taliban operation.

(Writing by Jon Hemming, editing by Ralph Boulton)
59 children dead in Afghan suicide attack
Saturday, November 10, 2007 at 08:01 EST

KABUL — Afghanistan's education ministry said Friday that a suicide attack this week had killed 59 children and five teachers, taking the death toll to 75 in the deadliest such bombing in the insurgency-hit country.



Six lawmakers and five bodyguards were also killed in the blast on Tuesday in the northern province of Baghlan, which has been free of the regular attacks by Taliban and other extremist militants that plague the south and east.

"We have got 59 school children, aged from eight to 18, and five teachers killed in that blast," education ministry spokesman Zuhor Afghan said.

Nearly 100 more children were wounded, he said.

The children, whom one official said were from the same school, had gathered to welcome a visiting delegation of parliamentarians to a sugar factory outside the town of Pul-i-Khumri, about 150 kilometers north of Kabul.

The Taliban, who have vowed to step up a campaign of suicide attacks in Afghanistan as part of an extremist insurgency launched after they were ousted from power six years ago, have denied involvement in the blast.

They have also warned they would spread their attacks in the relatively calm north, where a Norwegian soldier died Thursday after being struck by a bomb in an attack also blamed on the Taliban.

Five of the parliamentarians killed Thursday and five bodyguards were buried in a state funeral in Kabul on Thursday attended by 2,500 people and 1,000 police and soldiers.

President Hamid Karzai, who declared three days of mourning starting Wednesday, and members of his government and the parliament attended a prayer service at Kabul's mosque Friday in honour of the dead.

Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar has, in the wake of the devastating blast, reissued a ban on children being assembled to welcome visitors to functions, his spokesman said.

"After this attack, the minister has ordered again that no-one can force any student to participate in those kind of ceremonies any more," he said.

Special prayer services would be held in Kabul and all provinces in the next few days to remember the children and teachers, the spokesman said.

The toll from the blast has been difficult to pin down with various officials issuing different numbers.

A health ministry official in Kabul, Ahmad Shah Shokohmand, said earlier Friday that 64 people were killed, four of whom had died in hospital from their wounds.

Meanwhile, Baghlan province Abdul Rahman Sayedkhili said a suspect had been arrested at the site of the blast, a day after the bombing, because he was behaving suspiciously.

The insurgency being waged by the Taliban and other extremist outfits has gained steam since it was launched in the months after the hardliners were driven from government in 2001 by a US-led force.

More than 5,500 people have been killed so far this year — most of them rebels.

Officials announced Friday they had retaken two remote districts that had been under the control of Taliban rebels for several days.

Ten rebels were killed in the fighting to take one district, Gulistan in the western province of Farah, provincial police chief Abdul Rahman Sarjang said. In other violence, Taliban militants gunned down a district chief in the southern province of Zabul late Thursday, along with two of his bodyguards, police said.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

The other four-star general

— Ahmad Faruqui

The issue is not simply the ability of the three services to jointly fight and win a war. It is their ability to stay out of politics and to stay focused on their core competency

The latest suicide-bomb attack in Rawalpindi took place close to the house of General Tariq Majeed. It brought out of obscurity his new posting as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC).

General Majeed is one of two lieutenant generals who were given the fourth star in early October. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the former head of Inter-Services Intelligence, was appointed Vice Chief of Army Staff. Media attention has been focused on Kayani, since he is widely viewed as heir apparent to President-General Musharraf.

But should it not focus on General Majeed? In most countries, someone in a comparable position acts as the senior defense advisor to the government. That, for example, is the case in the UK and in the US, both countries from which the Pakistani military derives doctrinal as well as organisational inspiration.

In some countries, all the service chiefs report to him. In wartime, he is responsible for coordinating operations between the services. Typically, the appointment is rotated among the services, to prevent any service from acquiring dominance.

In the UK, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) acts as the head of the armed forces and is the principal military adviser to the secretary of state and to the prime minister. Under him is the Vice Chief of the Defense Staff who acts as number four in the military hierarchy, after the CDS and the three service chiefs.

In the US, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) is the principal military adviser to the president. He is considered a member of the cabinet and leads the meetings and coordinates the activities of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, comprising the Chairman, the Vice Chairman of the JCS, and the heads of the four services.

A key difference between the UK and US models is that the American CJCS does not outrank the respective heads of each service branch. The CJCS is not in charge of any military operation and the respective service heads, who are of equal rank with him, report directly to the Defense Secretary.

Thus, in the US, although the office of the CJCS is very important and highly prestigious, he (or she) does not have any command authority over combatant forces. The chain of command runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense directly to the commanders of the ten combat commands such as CENTCOM.

In Pakistan, the CJCSC appears to have less authority than any of the service chiefs. The post was created in March 1976, based on the recommendations of a White Paper on the Higher Defence Organization (HDO) that was commissioned by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Its intent was to improve inter-service coordination, whose inadequacies were highlighted by the military fiasco in 1971.

The HDO was also designed to diminish the probability that the army chief would carry out a coup. Toward that end, the service chiefs, who were previously titled commander-in-chief, were re-titled as chief of staff.

The HDO White Paper concluded that the three services essentially fought three separate wars in 1971. As is well known, the Naval Chief heard about Pakistan’s air attack on Indian bases on the 3rd of December through Radio Pakistan, and the Commander of the Eastern garrison heard about this attack through a BBC World Service broadcast.

The Air Force Chief had personal difficulties with the President and Army Chief, General Yahya. He had concluded that the war was one of Yahya’s making and that it was not winnable. He decided to employ the Air Force in a reserve role and preserve it for a future conflict. This left the ground forces without adequate air cover during much of the fighting along the western front. They failed to make any headway against India and the eastern wing of the country was lost.

To prevent a recurrence, the JCSC was set up as “the highest military body for considering all problems bearing on the military aspects of national defence.” This grand thinking came to naught when General Zia, the army chief, deposed Prime Minister Bhutto and declared martial law in July 1977.

Over time, a dozen individuals have been appointed to the CJCSC position but only two have come from the other services. What is more striking is that of the ten army appointees, two have simultaneously served as the army chief, completely undermining the CJCSC position and reducing him to a high paid factotum.

The CJCSC has exercised no influence over military operations even though it was empowered with decision-making authority to ensure true jointness in the conduct of military operations. The Army, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the armed forces, continues to dominate the military landscape.

During the Bhutto period, General Zia, as Army Chief, exercised complete control over the armed forces. General Sharif, the first CJCS, behaved as his number two. This became apparent when the military deposed Bhutto, and Zia was installed as the Chief Martial Law Administrator. Zia continued to be the Army Chief, since that position was viewed as the senior military position. The CJCSC post became vacant on General Sharif’s retirement and was not filled for two years, without any apparent influence on military planning or operations, suggesting it did not have even have any symbolic authority.

To eliminate this ambiguity in roles, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed his Army Chief, General Pervez Musharraf, to simultaneously serve as the CJCSC. The rest does not bear recitation.

Brian Cloughley, in “A History of the Pakistan Army,” makes a strong case for creating a Chief of Defense Staff (CDF) on the UK model in Pakistan. The CDF would be the single adviser to government on military strategy and tactics, with a very basic mission statement: to command the armed forces of Pakistan.

The CDF would form a tri-service HQ. Each of the three service chiefs would act as an advisor to the CDF, but not be in the operational chain of command. Their own headquarters would shrink, since there would be no rationale for many of the staff branches that now exist. Concludes Cloughley, “Operations branches, these sacred bodies to which the best and the brightest aspire, would be disbanded and reconstituted within the tri-service HQ.”

It is time to seriously consider this proposal. Everything else has been tried and failed. The issue is not simply the ability of the three services to jointly fight and win a war. It is their ability to stay out of politics and to stay focused on their core competency.

If this cannot be done, the CJCSC position should be eliminated.

Ahmad Faruqui, an American economist, is the author of “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan,” Ashgate Publishing, UK

FACTBOX-Facts about Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf

03 Nov 2007 13:37:16 GMT
Source: Reuters

(For related story see PAKISTAN-EMERGENCY/ or [ID:L03126471])

Nov 3 (Reuters) - Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday imposed emergency rule, a move that will put off elections due in January.

Here are some facts about Musharraf:

* The second of three brothers, Musharraf was born into a middle class Muslim family in India in August 1943. His family moved to the newly created majority-Muslim state of Pakistan following India's independence and partition in 1947. He spent seven years in Turkey, during his civil servant father's posting to Ankara. In 1956 the family settled in Karachi, where Musharraf attended Roman Catholic and other Christian schools.

* Entering the Pakistan Military Academy in 1961, the keen sportsman and career military man first saw action as a young officer in the 1965 war against India and was decorated for gallantry. Marrying in 1968, he endured the army's humiliating defeat by India in the 1971 war and served for seven years in Pakistan's special service commando group.

* Promoted to the rank of general and named army chief in October, 1998, Musharraf seized power from then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999 in a bloodless coup. He first led the country as chief executive and then won a five-year presidential term in a 2002 referendum critics say was rigged.

* One of President George W. Bush's most important non-NATO allies in Washington's war on terrorism, supporters paint Musharraf as a strong leader who can save Pakistan's moderate Muslim majority from militant, religious extremism seeping into cities from tribal areas along the northwest frontier. However a bloody army assault on Islamabad's Red Mosque in July, during which 102 people were killed, led to a rise in attacks by Islamist militants that have killed several hundred people.

Source: Reuters, Presidential Web site (www.presidentofpakistan.gov.pk/Biography.aspx)

Pakistan Supreme Court Won't be Cowed: Judge

Threats of martial law or an emergency would not intimidate the Pakistani Supreme Court that is hearing a clutch of petitions challenging President Pervez Musharraf's eligibility to serve a second term, says the judge heading an 11-member bench hearing the pleas.

"Statements about emergency or martial law by the cabinet ministers should not be taken seriously and no section should think it has taken the Supreme Court hostage," Javed Iqbal said Thursday when the attention of the bench was drawn to reported statements of federal ministers Sher Afgan and Sheikh Rashid Ahmed that an adverse decision by the court could result in drastic measures.

Adding fuel to the fire, Attorney General Malik Mohammad Qayyum said Musharraf would continue as army chief if he was blocked from taking oath as president for another term, The News reported Friday.

Aitzaz Ahsan, the counsel for retired judge Wajihuddin Ahmed, invited the court's attention to these statements and said that the change in government's strategy to prolong the hearing indicated that something was wrong.

Ahmed had contested against Musharraf in the Oct 6 presidential election but lost miserably. The court had permitted the election to be conducted but barred the results from being declared till it decided on the petitions against Musharraf.

The president's term expires Nov 14 and the court was expected to have delivered its verdict Friday. But arguments from both sides went on longer than expected and have still not concluded.

This apart, the bench will not be sitting next week as one of its members, Raja Fayyaz, has taken leave due to his son's wedding. The hearing will resume Nov 12, when the federal government's lawyer Waseem Sajjad and Musharraf's counsel Sharifuddin Pirzada would take one day each to complete their arguments.

Ahsan and another lawyer have also asked for the right of reply to the points raised during these arguments but the court is yet to respond to this.

Pakistan's constitution says a president can vacate office on completing his term only after his successor takes over. Thus, technically, Musharraf will remain in office even if the court judgement is delayed beyond Nov 14.

"We wished to wind up the hearing by Thursday (Nov 1) but the proceeding is lingering on due to lengthy arguments of the lawyers," Iqbal said.

Outside the courtroom, the attorney general told reporters that if the court failed to come out with a decision by Nov 14, Musharraf would continue as both president and army chief.

In case of a decision blocking Musharraf from taking oath for another term, the attorney general said, Musharraf would continue as army chief.

In case of a favourable judgement, Musharraf would doff his uniform, as promised, before taking oath.

Pakistan needs to be dissolved, says expert

Malaysia Sun
Saturday 3rd November, 2007

Washington, Nov.3 : Noted author and investment expert Dr. Ali Ettefagh has said that Pakistan is not a country, and needs to be dissolved because it has failed to build on the British view of what a nation-state should be.

The Washington Post quotes Ettefagh as further saying Pakistan's short 60-year history is full of coups and raw, violent tribal rivalry, peppered by jailing or executing the previous rulers.

"Most recently, we saw a stark and bold example of such rivalry: a returning Pakistani politician, a former prime minister, was deported from his own country. There is no commonly accepted language among these tribes and thus the official language of Pakistan is English," he said.

Regarding Iran-Pakistan relations, Dr. Ettefagh, who serves as serves as a director of Highmore Global Corporation, an investment company in emerging markets of Eastern Europe, CIS, and the Middle East, said: " For as long as I remember, Iran's eastern border with Pakistan has always been a hub of instability, smuggling and violent crime. Pakistan is the main transit route for opium and heroin from Afghanistan, where more than 90 percent of the world's opium supply is produced. In turn, that cash flow encourages money laundering; armed banditry, murder, violence and corruption."

"Pakistan is a relic set up as a counterweight to India -- and its tendency to tilt towards the Eastern Block. I think it is high time to revisit the old composite structure of five provinces combined into one artificial country. A redrawing of borders might serve useful and to cut through the farce. Let each province mature and declare independence. Some will eventually join their long-time tribal allies, leaving two or three independent lands and a more transparent political agenda," he concludes.

Shahbaz wants Pakistan and Bangladesh reunited
From our ANI Correspondent

London, Nov 3: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif has said that it was his keen desire to see Pakistan and Bangladesh united as they had been before the war in 1971.

Addressing a seminar of the Overseas Pakistani Lawyers' Association on "Democracy and Role of Law in Pakistan" here, he held the previous military regimes responsible for dividing the country in 1971.

He said President Pervez Musharraf was working on a foreign agenda instead of a national agenda.

Shahbaz said democracy was the need of the hour so that all institutions could work in a harmonious way.

The Daily Times quoted Shahbaz as saying that the PML-N was making sacrifices for restoration of democracy in Pakistan.

Copyright Dailyindia.com/ANI

Pakistan govt to impose emergency rule, says official

ISLAMABAD, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has decided to impose emergency rule and he will seek approval from cabinet on Saturday, a senior security official said, in a move that will put off elections due in January.

Speculation has been rife that U.S. ally Musharraf, who is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on whether he was eligible to run for re-election last month while still army chief, might impose emergency rule or martial law. Militant-related violence has surged in the country.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Panel links poor US Army contract system to fraud

Army overwhelmed by scope of Iraq contracts, panel says

Digg del.icio.us Newsvine Reddit Facebook What's this? By Matt Kelley, USA TODAY

The Army was understaffed and unprepared for overseeing the billions of dollars in contracts needed to fight the Iraq war and slow to recognize and react to problems of fraud and waste, an expert panel concluded Thursday.
The Pentagon should add as many as 2,000 military and civilian contract managers, centralize its operations and update regulations to avoid repeating the contracting mistakes made in Iraq, the panel's report said. There are now about 10,000 contracting officers. The lack of properly trained managers contributed to problems with waste, abuse and corruption, according to the commission's chairman, former Pentagon acquisition chief Jacques Gansler.

"It's a tipping point for the Army. It usually takes a crisis to make these changes," Gansler said at a Pentagon news conference. "We have a crisis, so we think we can make these changes."

Asked about the report at a separate news conference, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was "dismayed by a lot of the findings" in the report but "encouraged by the path forward offered by the recommendations." Gates said the panel's suggestions seem reasonable and the Pentagon would pursue implementing them.

Army Secretary Pete Geren appointed the commission in August in response to a series of scandals, many of them involving contracts overseen by a regional financial office at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. The largest bribery case of the Iraq war so far involves Army Maj. John Cockerham, a contracting officer at Arifjan in 2004 and 2005 who is awaiting trial on charges he took nearly $10 million from businessmen. Cockerham has pleaded not guilty.

The Army has 83 criminal probes involving contracts for Iraq and Afghanistan worth $6 billion, said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command. Investigators have determined more than $15 million in bribes have changed hands, Grey said. Twenty-three military and civilian government workers have been charged so far.

Geren said he would study the panel's recommendations and work to implement them quickly. Geren said most of the Army's contracting workers are ethical but "handicapped by a system that's not properly organized or properly resourced for the demands of this conflict."

The panel's recommendations include:

Expanding the Defense Contract Management Agency, which helps to manage contracts, and putting it under the command of a three-star general.

•Enhancing the training and career advancement opportunities for both civilian and military contracting officers.

•Including contracting officers and operations in the Army's training to familiarize all soldiers with contracting.

Pentagon officials acknowledged Thursday the Army was overwhelmed by the billions of dollars in contracts involving the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

"They thought they could get the work done by deploying people inside the Army," Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson said when asked why Pentagon officials didn't send more contract managers into Iraq and Kuwait. "It's now obvious to everyone they didn't get the workforce size right."

The Army contracting office at Camp Arifjan, for example, had fewer than 30 workers during 2005 and 2006, said Thompson, a top Army contracting official. About 60 to 70 work there now, he said.

In response to the corruption scandals, the Army has launched a massive review of Iraq contracts. Contracting officers have selected for review random samples from among 6,000 contracts worth nearly $3 billion managed at Camp Arifjan from 2003 through 2006. Ten officers in Kuwait are reviewing more than 300 of those contracts worth less than $25,000 each. Another team at an Army financial center in Michigan is reviewing more than 300 contracts worth more than $25,000, said Jeff Parsons of the Army Materiel Command.

By Kristin Roberts

WASHINGTON, Nov 1 (Reuters) - An independent panel on Thursday called for an overhaul of the U.S. Army's military contracting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying systemic problems such as a lack of oversight had contributed to fraud.

"This is a systemic issue within the Army and within the DoD (Department of Defense)," said Jacques Gansler, former undersecretary of defense for acquisitions and chairman of the commission that studied the problem.

"It usually takes a crisis to make change. We have a crisis, we can make those changes," he told reporters.

The group, appointed by the Army in August, highlighted problems in the Army's management of contracts that help supply and support troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those ranged from too few personnel to manage contracts to poor training and little oversight.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was "dismayed by a lot of the findings" in the report but encouraged by the group's suggested improvements.

The panel found the number of personnel responsible for managing contracts in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan dropped as the number of contracts and their dollar value soared over 12 years.

For example, personnel at the Army Materiel Command, which provides technology and acquisition support for troops on the ground, dropped 53 percent since 1995 as the dollar-value of contracts climbed 382 percent, according to the commission.

Only about 50 percent of all Army contracting personnel are certified to do their jobs, the commission found.

The group did not study the ongoing probes of possible fraud in military contracting, but said the Army was involved with a disproportionate number of the cases.

Of the total contracting workforce in Kuwait, 28 percent are Army personnel. But the Army is involved in 77 of 78 open fraud investigations, Gansler said.

"It's probably more than a coincidence is the conclusion we've reached," he said. "We think it's much more due to leadership and training."

The commission recommended restructuring the organization in part by establishing an Army Contracting Command to create more streamlined authority. It sought a separate command unit to manage all contracts, including State Department contracts, in individual war zones.

It also urged a 25 percent increase in the contracting workforce. It said Congress should authorize 10 more officer positions to improve oversight and encourage the Army to place a higher priority on contract management.

Gates said the Pentagon would pursue the panel's recommendations.

"One of the lessons that I took away from the report is the need for all of the services, but especially the Army, to focus on rebuilding contracting as an attractive career path," he said.