Photo by

Archive material

Photo by


Russians out of South Ossetia?
Americans out of Iraq and Afghanistan!

The USA's efforts to stop a European/Russian superstate
By Christopher King 10 August 2008

Christopher King argues that the "US and NATO are behind the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia" but have misjudged Russian resolve. He says it is time for Europe to distance itself from NATO, which has become a US tool, and to choose whether it wants Russia as a friend or an enemy.

The European Union needs to re-evaluate its relationship to both the United States and NATO.

I've said recently that US plans to install a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic are designed to cause trouble between Europe and Russia as well as distracting Europe from US Middle Eastern outrages. These missiles, under US control, are supposed to protect Europe and if you believe that, you probably believe in the tooth fairy. US negotiations for these missiles don't appear to be going very well since the Poles and Czechs don't much like the idea of being targeted in response by Russian missiles and the Russians have been musing about installing their missiles in Cuba for a re-run of the Cuban missile crisis and near nuclear war of the 1960s. That would not be popular with US voters. What do do? Are there any trouble spots that can be stoked up to show Russia as an aggressor? What about Georgia and the South Ossetia separatists on Russia's southern border?

So we've arrived at having a US/NATO-sponsored provocation with Georgia invading its breakaway semi-independent province. South Ossetia's declaration of independence was supported by almost all its residents. The South Ossetian argument is that if the West and NATO supported Kosovo's independence from Serbia, they should support its independence from Georgia. That sounds reasonable. No? Of course, no! The difference is that South Ossetia wants ties with Russia and the US has been pressing for Georgia to join NATO.

Condoleeza Rice predictably, was quick to call on the Russians to withdraw from South Ossetia. President Bush says sanctimoniously that Georgia is a sovereign nation and that its territorial integrity should be respected. That is pretty rich (hypocritical) as we say in the UK. Before Condoleeza or anyone else in the US takes that position they could prevail on President Bush to leave Iraq and Afghanistan where they are looting oil, killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, driving millions of refugees from their homes and creating general disaster half a world away from their own country.

While she is about it, Condoleeza could also call on the Israelis to leave Palestinian and Syrian territory outside their 1967 borders and allow the ethnically cleansed Palestinians and their descendants to return and re-claim their property that was stolen by the Israelis.

To return to South Ossetia and Georgia, we should note that NATO rejected South Ossetia's referendum in favour of independence. "What's this? What does a national referendum, particularly in a non-NATO country, have to do with NATO?" you might wonder; "Isn't NATO our warrior arm, dedicated to defend us against armed aggression?" Not any more. It's now a political organization as well. The EU countries should seriously consider whether it is a good idea to allow its military arm to make political decisions, particularly when it is driven by US rather than European interests.

NATO has also taken on a role in formulating conspiracy theories against Russia, for example Russia's "Gas OPEC plans", reported by the Financial Times. There seems to be no evidence for this whatever and even if it were true, (a) What does it have to do with NATO and (b) Would it matter more than our existing oil OPEC? Russia still wants to sell its gas and can do so on any terms it wishes whether NATO or the EU like them or not.

The new non-Communist free-market Russia, that the US and Europe wanted and got, is a disaster for NATO because it no longer has an enemy. The only way to save careers and maintain funding is for NATO officers to create enemies and new threats. Its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is no longer popular so a prod at Russia through South Ossetia has doubtless been designed to produce a response that can be spun as Russian aggression.

The new Russia is also a disaster for the US. Russia is creating strong economic ties with Europe. There is serious talk of a free trade agreement between the EU and Russia and the possibility of Russia becoming an EU member is being talked about. Russia is, after all, historically a part of Europe. You can imagine how the idea of such an economic superpower is perceived in the US with its declining oil reserves and economy.

As matters stand, rather than having the purely defensive joint military force with the US that was its original purpose, Europe finds itself supporting, through NATO, the US's aggressive foreign policies in the Middle East. Worse still, NATO is formenting trouble between Europe and Russia, which should be thought of as a valuable friend and future EU partner, rather than an enemy.

To be blunt, NATO has become a tool for the extension of US influence and foreign policy. This is argued cogently by F. William Engdahl whose article I have resisted plagiarising. One might consider why Finland rejects NATO membership. The main reason given by opponents of membership in a poll 18 months ago is that Finland could be drawn into conflicts that have no direct bearing on their country. This seems to be a polite refusal to fight wars for the US and Israel. Indeed, Israel has recently joined a NATO exercise and Italy's defence minister has proposed that Israel should join NATO. Certainly it might, when it withdraws to its pre-1967 borders, abandons its settlements on stolen Palestinian land and gives right of return to the Palestinians. Alternatively, a single state with right of return and equal rights might do.

The evidence is clear. NATO has become not only counter-productive to European interests but an immediate danger to the EU as an arm of the US military-industrial complex. The South Ossetia conflict is an unmistakable warning. The US and NATO provocateurs have shown their hand and have gone too far. Russia has acted with commendable restraint in relation to the US's outrageous attempts to bribe new EU countries to accept its missiles on Russia's borders. There can be no doubt that the US and NATO are behind the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia but have misjudged Russian restraint for unwillingness to act. What they now have is called, I believe, "blowback". The EU needs to reassess NATO from fundamental principles of its defensive needs. The current senior command of NATO has clearly been politicized by the US. This is unacceptable as also is NATO's current role as tool of the US.

The EU should make some decisions about its links and future with Russia, its economically important and militarily powerful neighbour. The choice is simple: to have Russia as a friend in the short term and EU member eventually or make it an enemy. It is clear that the USA's military-industrial complex needs Russia as an enemy, not only to stay in business but to prevent a European Union/Russian superstate developing. Europe needs to pursue its own peaceful interests, ideally keeping a good relationship with the US while working with Russia toward closer economic integration. If the US does not like that, it is too bad. The US has used up its global credibility and goodwill.

Russia has had a bad press in the West for the last 60 years, not always undeserved. We should recall, however, that the man who set Russia and the Soviet Union on its post-war course, created Churchill's "iron curtain", the nuclear arms race and the repressive character of the Soviet post-war state, was not Russian at all. Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, otherwise known as Stalin, was Georgian, born in Gori, just south of South Ossetia.

Christopher King is a retired consultant and lecturer in management and marketing.
He lives in London, UK.
Copyright © 2000-2008 Redress Information & Analysis.
All rights reserved.

Iraq: Has the troop surge worked?

Robert Fox v Simon Tisdall
The Guardian, Tuesday 06 August 2008

Robert Fox to Simon Tisdall:
I am always sceptical about the success of specific ground operations, heralded from Washington and London in the terribly tangled mess of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. General David Petraeus launched his "surge" with some 35,000 extra troops in the spring of last year. Now, some of the extra troops are being brought home. Instead of victory, Washington talks about "success". Violence against US forces is down, it is claimed - and this is undoubtedly true. The government in Baghdad under Nouri al-Maliki is stronger and the Iraq army has been growing in numbers and capability, and performing creditably in several areas, most notably in Basra.

But problems remain, and this has been underlined by the recent suicide bombings in Kirkuk and Baghdad that killed at least 55 and injured more than 250. The targeting and tactics of the attacks suggests the hand of al-Qaida - the bombs were aimed at Shias in a religious procession and a demonstration of Kurds in Kirkuk. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian founder of "Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia", preached against the "axis of heresy" linking Kurds, Shias and the American invader as the band of enemies against the true followers of Islam in Iraq. Zarqawi was betrayed and then killed by the Americans in 2006, but these recent bombs suggest his legacy lives on and al-Qaida is far from beaten by the Americans and the Sunni tribal militias.

So, I think we can only say that the Petraeus surge is still very much a work in progress, and cannot be judged a magic ingredient that has suddenly turned the tide for the Americans in Iraq.

Simon Tisdall to Robert Fox:
To help understand what the "the surge" has (or has not) achieved, it is useful to cast one's mind back to the summer and autumn of 2006 when it appeared, to many if not most observers, that the US and its coalition partners were losing the battle to secure Iraq and that the country was sliding into a state of civil war. Coalition and civilian casualties were running at record highs, sectarian warfare following the bombing of the Shia shrines earlier that year was out of control, al-Qaida, led by the still extant Zarqawi, was striking with apparent impunity, and the isolated central government in Baghdad was powerless to act. Iraq appeared to be on the brink of anarchy encompassing all but Kurdish-controlled areas in the north and east.

To make matters worse, Iran's al-Quds Revolutionary Guards operatives were busily stirring the pot, building up leverage especially in the south, and aiding those militants in Iraq, both Sunni and Shia, who were intent on forcing the Americans out. Under mounting pressure to admit defeat and throw in the towel, Bush acknowledged the gravity of the situation by ordering Pentagon and other policy reviews that autumn. The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group was an independent, contemporaneous attempt to find a strategy that worked, or at least would cease to fail. In the end, what emerged was a decision to make one more big push to secure Iraq by sending in additional forces ("the surge"), rather than begin a phased withdrawal (which was what most people at the time expected would happen). I'm proud to say the Guardian exclusively revealed the surge decision on November 16 2006 subsequently confirmed by the White House.

It is incontrovertibly the case that the surge decision in November 2006 marked a critical turning point in the history of the US intervention in Iraq. Since that moment, the overall security situation, broadly defined, has slowly and unevenly improved, to the point where we can now realistically look forward to an Iraqi government taking primary responsibility for its citizens' safety and Bush can start cutting troop levels, as he did last week (Thursday July 31). This is not a victory, but neither is it the defeat that not so very long ago looked both certain and inevitable.

Robert Fox to Simon Tisdall:
Undoubtedly, there have been improvements in security on the ground and an increase in capacity by the Iraqi army and the tribal militias now supporting the Malaki government in the Sunni triangle. But I think we have to look much further before we make judgments about turning points in the American strategy in Iraq. Sure, it may be a turning point, but not quite in the political direction intended. Rather like Chou en Lai being asked his view on the success of the French Revolution, I tend to think it is too early to make a definitive judgment on the success of the surge. Obviously, it is in the interest of the US presidential candidates to be positive about developments in Iraq - for both, it allows some much-needed room for manoeuvre to rebalance forces there and bring large numbers home.

There is a very big "but" to all this, however. The surge is not entirely, nor even mainly, a military stratagem. It is political, and aimed at achieving America's political goal in Iraq - to achieve a stable, pro-American, functioning, unitary state at the heart of the Gulf security region. On this the jury is still out. There is still a lack of capacity in Malaki's government. The police force is weak and corrupt, and seems trapped in a cycle of underachievement. The Sunni tribal associations may be battling al-Qaida elements and paying lip service to the American line in order to get weapons, training and funds, but they are not pro-American, nor even pro a Shia-dominated government like al-Maliki's coalition. In the long run, they will turn away from the American-British axis. This is the opposite of the strategic aim of the surge.

With operation Charge of the Knights, the Iraq army and government have achieved a real and significant success. By all accounts, life in Basra is much changed, and for the better. But with this important tactical success, it should not be assumed that the problem of the Shia militias is resolved. The Mahdi militias of Moqtada al-Sadr appear weakened but not finished, down but not out. The rejectionism of the Sadrists, therefore, still appears unresolved. Additionally, there appears to be a serious threat of the dissident groups, on both sides of the sectarian divide, fragmenting into a perennial criminality.

Simon Tisdall to Robert Fox:
It's sensible to be cautious about long-terms gains occasioned by the "surge". The value, effectiveness and longevity of what has been achieved are open to question, as I wrote in my previous reply. Nothing in life is for ever and that applies with knobs on in Iraq. It could all go pear-shaped. Moqtada and his militiamen could make a comeback, the Sunni Awakening groups could go back to sleep, or turn on their US allies of convenience. Maliki could fail ... it's all possible. A senior US military official, a big proponent of the surge, told me recently that "progress will not be linear" and the "enemy remains formidable". Inserting caveats about future developments is necessary analytical practice in such a volatile situation.

But to quote loosely another Chinese luminary, Confucius, "he who walks in the middle of the road gets knocked down by traffic travelling both ways". I'm in the right carriageway when I say I believe that a positive change for the better has been achieved that will have lasting benefits. Three reasons (but not the only ones) why I think this are:

1) Iran, after years of malignly stirring the pot since 2003, has backed off since last autumn, having apparently decided that it is in its interests to support the much-strengthened Maliki government and, particularly, its timetable for an American withdrawal. Certainly, Tehran will hope to manipulate Maliki, but may find this harder as times goes by;
2) Gulf Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia, are moving towards normalisation of relations, debt forgiveness and reconstruction collaboration with Iraq - despite its Shia-led government. This trend contradicts the "polarisation and disintegration" scenarios for Iraq that were so popular 18 months ago;
3) US military reports say al-Qaida leaders are leaving Iraq and diverting new recruits away from the country. They're doing this because the security environment has got so much tougher.

Unfortunately, they're not laying down their arms. Instead, they're heading for Aghanistan.

Robert Fox to Simon Tisdall:
I think the real test of the surge is coming in the next few months. If the Americans pull back too soon, it can all fall apart. I am slightly more wary about Iran than you, Simon. I think Iranian policy towards Iraq, and the powerful Shia factions and parties, seems quite opaque. One minute, they seem to back either Hakim/SCIRI (ISCI) and Badr, then pull back. Moqtada has some clerical backing in Quom, notably from Grand Ayatollah Haeriri. Tehran seems to think it can manage Maliki. After all, they told him to avoid signing up to a permanent US presence in Iraq under the new status of forces agreement that will follow the UN mandate when it runs out at the end of the year. The test of stability will come with the provincial elections due soon, which will see a real distribution of power and spoils, particularly in the south.

The Americans will have to say the surge has been a success because they cannot sustain present force levels in Iraq and Afghanistan. The British will also try to claim a piece of the success with the "turn around" in Basra. They are desperate to be gone and I understand that Gordon Brown has arranged with Washington and Baghdad for the bulk of British forces to be away from Iraq by the beginning of next June, when an American division and headquarters will move into Basra. By that time, it will be clear if the surge has passed its main test - whether it has ensured that Iraq can hold together as a functioning state.

Simon Tisdall to Robert Fox:
The "surge" is already over in military terms. The additional combat brigades deployed by Bush last year have all gone home, and overall troop levels are down to pre-surge levels. Bush's announcement last week on cutting the duration of operational tours, and his acceptance of "time horizons" for a withdrawal, follow on from the official US assessment that the surge has worked and indeed has been a success. The surge's main military proponent on the ground, General David Petraeus, has been promoted to CentCom, as have several of his key counterinsurgency advisers. The current offensive in Diyala suggests there is still much work to be done. And Kirkuk could still blow up at any time. But you are right about Baghdad, Basra and the Sunni Triangle. They are much improved security-wise.

Politically speaking, I agree the longer-term success of the surge is still an open question. The provincial elections due this year may be postponed, mostly due to Kurdish objections about Kirkuk's future. That could prevent, or discourage, large-scale Sunni Arab participation. After their boycotting of previous polls, it was hoped the Sunnis would get involved in the political process this time, thereby increasing its credibility. This, in turn, could delay general elections next year. Other unpredictable political factors include the Iranian presidential election campaign and whether Ahmadinejad wins again; and the US presidential poll, with both main candidates using Iraq for campaign purposes (witness McCain's jibes about Obama's supposed lack of interest in meeting fallen warriors).

Making Iraq a united, functioning country also requires a lasting settlement of the oil question - that is, who gets and controls which bit of the vast oil and gas reserves. Opening the industry to foreign ownership and exploitation, as recently proposed, could further complicate things politically.

The surge was never a panacea. It was, initially at least, a last desperate attempt to stop a haemorrhage with a large sticking plaster. It has worked better than most expected. Will the bleeding stop? Increasingly, the message coming from the US is: Iraqis must decide for themselves.

What a pity Bush did not take that view about Saddam Hussein pre-2003.

Robert Fox to Simon Tisdall
I agree that the surge is drawing to a close as the extra brigades sent in by David Petraeus are now being brought home. The question is what happens next, both for Iraq and America. The surge had to come to an end because the next president, whether McCain or Obama, cannot maintain such a high level of defence expenditure - over half a trillion dollars per annum, and now greater than the aggregated defence budgets of the rest of the world. Moreover, a lot of the equipment of the ground forces is used up and needs replacing urgently. The US government is currently devoting over $100bn on the "reset" programme to bring in replacement equipment.

In the UK, we are faced with the same phenomenon, though you wouldn't know it. The equipment of the forces in Helmand and Basra, not least the helicopter force, is under colossal strain. It is unlikely to be replaced sufficiently with new kit at the rate required because the equipment budget is under such severe strain. Moreover, as we have both noted, both the UK and US are likely to have to reinforce in Afghanistan soon - particularly if the Canadians reduced their forces in southern Afghanistan and the Dutch pull out, as many in their parliaments and much of their press are now demanding.

Muddled system for 42-day detentions could hit trials, say peers

Sam Coates, Chief political Correspondent, The Times. Tuesday 05 August 2008

The Prime Minister is facing a showdown with peers this autumn over plans to extend detention without charge to 42 days after a Lords committee described them as muddled and said that they could lead to the collapse of terrorism trials.

In a report today the House of Lords Constitution Committee says that the proposals - under which Parliament would vote on allowing an extension to the pre-charge time limit beyond 28 days - blur the lines between the judiciary and the legislature. The plan "arguably risks undermining the rights of fair trial for the individuals concerned".

The Counter-Terrorism Bill is expected to return to a House of Lords committee in early October, followed by a full vote later that month.

In June MPs passed the measure by nine votes, in the face of a Labour backbench revolt and Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition. At the Bill's second reading in the Lords the vast majority of speakers opposed the proposal, Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former Director-General of MI5, making a pointed intervention.

Today's report gives further arguments to the Bill's opponents in the Upper House. The Labour rebellion may include Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former Lord Chancellor, and Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney-General.

Under the legislation, MPs and peers would vote on whether to grant a temporary "reserve power" for the Home Secretary, allowing courts to authorise detention for up to 42 days were there an operational need. Although the reserve power order would not be specifically about an individual case, politicians would "have to tread a tightrope" to avoid prejudicing any trial, the peers say in today's report.

"We are unconvinced that the Government have properly thought through this aspect of their proposed scheme."

The committee was also concerned that a judge could have to decide whether to extend a suspect's detention within hours of a "highly politically charged debate" in Parliament.

"There is a risk that this will be perceived to undermine the independence of the judiciary."

The Government's desire to increase democratic accountability was understandable, but risked "conflating the roles of Parliament and the judiciary, which would be quite inappropriate".

The peers added: "Far from being a system of checks and balances, this is a recipe for confusion that places on Parliament tasks that it cannot effectively fulfil and arguably risks undermining the rights of fair trial for the individuals concerned."

Plans for the Home Secretary to brief the chairmen of three key parliamentary committees confidentially about the need for reserve power orders were "untenable" and should be scrapped.

The peers also said the "elaborate" decision-making process would give a far greater opportunity for legal challenges. "It is a weakness of the Bill, not a strength, that it is likely to lead to high-profile litigation during a time when the response to terrorism will be a matter of high controversy," the report said.

The peers also expressed concerns about the Home Secretary being given power to direct that sensitive inquests should be heard without a jury.

In a letter to the committee, Admiral Lord West of Spithead, the Security Minister, signalled a government concession, stating that a "sunset clause" whereby the measure would need to be renewed after a certain time was being considered.

Lord Goodlad, the committee's Conservative chairman, said: "We are concerned that some of the proposals being put forward by the Government in the Counter-Terrorism Bill would place inappropriate responsibilities on Parliament." Politicians would be asked to act in a "quasi-judicial manner" in deciding the pros and cons of extending the limit beyond 28 days.

"Considering that any debate will be highly political in nature and any vote may well be whipped by the political parties, we are deeply concerned that the independence of the judiciary may appear to be undermined and that trials may be prejudiced," Lord Goodlad said.

Let's Speak the Truth About Afghanistan

Eric Margolis. 30 July 2008 "Huffington Post" NEW YORK

During his triumphant European tour, Senator Barack Obama again urged NATO's members to send more troops to Afghanistan and called the conflict there, "the central front in the war on terror." Europe's response ranged from polite evasion to downright frosty.

It is unfortunate that Obama has adopted President George Bush's misleading terminology, "war on terror," to describe the conflict between the United States and anti-American groups in the Muslim world. Like many Americans, he and his foreign policy advisors are sorely misinformed about the reality of Afghanistan.

One understands Obama's need to respond with martial élan to rival John McCain's chest-thumping about "I know how to win wars." Polls put McCain far ahead of Obama when it comes to being a war leader. But Obama's recent proposal to send at least 7,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and his threats to attack Pakistan's territory, and warnings about Islamabad's nuclear forces, show poor judgment and lack of knowledge.

The United States is no longer "fighting terrorism" in Afghanistan, as Bush, Obama and McCain insist. The 2001 U.S. invasion was a legitimate operation against al-Qaeda, a group that properly fit the role of a "terrorist organization." But, contrary to the White House's wildly inflated claims that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda was a worldwide conspiracy, it never numbered more than 300 hard core members. Bin Laden and his jihadis long ago scattered into all corners of Pakistan and elsewhere. Only a handful remain in Afghanistan.

Today, 80,000 U.S. and NATO troops are waging war against the Taliban. Having accompanied the mujahidin fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980's, witnessed the birth of Taliban, and penned a book about the Afghan struggle, "War at the Top of the World," I can attest that Taliban is not a terrorist organization as the U.S. and its allies wrongly claim.

Taliban was created in the early 1990's during the chaos and civil war that engulfed Afghanistan after the Soviet invaders were driven out. Drawn from Pashtun tribes of southern Afghanistan, who make up half that nation's population, Taliban was a religious movement that took up arms to battle the Afghan Communists, stop the wide-scale rape of Afghan women, and halt banditry and the drug trade. Both Pakistan and the U.S. secretly aided Taliban.

The ranks of Taliban were filled with young religious students -- "talibs" -- and veteran mujahidin fighters whom the U.S. had armed and hailed as "freedom fighters." By 1996, Taliban took Kabul, driving out the Northern Alliance, the old rump of the Afghan Communist Party and its Russian-backed Tajik and Uzbek tribal supporters. Taliban, most of whom were mountaineers, imposed a draconian medievalist culture that followed traditional Pashtun tribal customs and Islamic law.

The U.S. quietly backed Taliban for possible use in Central Asia, against China in the event of war, and against Iran, a bitter foe of the Sunni Taliban. U.S. energy giants Chevron and Unocal negotiated gas and oil pipeline deals with Taliban. In 2001, Washington gave $40 million in aid to Taliban until four months before 9/11. The U.S. only turned against Taliban when, at Osama bin Laden's advice, it gave a major pipeline deal to an Argentine consortium rather than an American one.

Everything that happens in Afghanistan is based on tribal politics. Taliban came from the heart of the Pashtun tribal grouping, the world's largest tribe which also accounts for up to 20% of Pakistan's population. Tribal and clan loyalties trump all political alliances.

The Taliban leadership had nothing to do with 9/11, a plot that, according to European prosecutors, was hatched in Germany and Spain, not Afghanistan. Nor did it have anything to do with subsequent attacks ascribed to al-Qaeda. After 9/11, Secretary of State Colin Powell vowed to published a White paper demonstrating Osama bin Laden's culpability in the attacks. Curiously, the promised paper was never issued.

Osama bin Laden was a national hero of the anti-Soviet struggle, wounded six times in battle. Taliban's collective leadership, in keeping with the Pashtun code of hospitality and honor, refused U.S. demands to hand over bin Laden until Washington issued a proper extradition request with evidence of bin Laden's guilt and promised him a fair trial. Washington refused to go through legal channels and, instead, invaded Afghanistan.

Fast forward to 2008. Today, U.S. and NATO forces are not fighting "terrorists" in Afghanistan but a loose alliance of Pashtun warrior tribes whose resistance to foreign occupation is legendary. They are descendants of the same Pashtun mountain warriors who battled Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the British Empire and the Soviet Union. All these invaders were eventually defeated.

Former U.S.-backed mujahidin "freedom-fighters," like the legendary Jallal Haqqani and Gulbadin Hekmatyar, have also joined Taliban in resisting foreign occupation.

The war now being waged in Afghanistan by the U.S. and NATO closely resembles 19th century colonial "pacifications" in which a puppet ruler is installed, a native mercenary army ("sepoys") hired to fight, and western troops sent to crush rebellious tribesmen who refuse to follow the diktat of the imperial power.

Equally important, the real objective of the ongoing U.S. occupation of Afghanistan became recently evident. The U.S.-installed Karzai regime in Kabul finally singed a long-discussed pipeline deal that will bring energy south from the new gas and oil Klondike of the Caspian Basin through Afghanistan to Pakistan's coast and India.

As the perceptive writer Kevin Phillips notes, U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan -- and Iraq -- have become "pipeline protection troops."

Barack Obama and John McCain had better look carefully before plunging deeper into the Afghan morass. In Afghanistan, we are not fighting "terrorists" but a medieval tribal people who just want to be left alone. This is an ugly little war about oil and gas, not freedom, democracy, or woman's rights. Every village we bomb, every wedding party our air powers massacres, brings new recruits to Taliban and its allies.

Even the secretary general of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said last April that there could be no military solution to the war in Afghanistan, only a political one. That means negotiating with Taliban and political inclusion for the Pashtun people. But President Bush and candidates McCain and Obama are not listening.

Revealed: Secret plan to keep Iraq under US control

Bush wants 50 military bases, control of Iraqi airspace and legal immunity for all American soldiers and contractors
Patrick Cockburn. The Independent, Thursday, 5 June 2008

A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.

The timing of the agreement would also boost the Republican candidate, John McCain, who has claimed the United States is on the verge of victory in Iraq - a victory that he says Mr Obama would throw away by a premature military withdrawal.

America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels will stand at more than 142,000 - 10 000 more than when the military "surge" began in January 2007. Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.

The precise nature of the American demands has been kept secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an angry backlash in Iraq. "It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty," said one Iraqi politician, adding that if the security deal was signed it would delegitimise the government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American pawn.

The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: "This is just a tactical subterfuge." Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft and the right to pursue its "war on terror" in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation.

Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign the so-called "strategic alliance" without modifications, by the end of next month. But it is already being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a continuing American attempt to dominate the region. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal would create "a permanent occupation". He added: "The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans."

Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing. The deal also risks exacerbating the proxy war being fought between Iran and the United States over who should be more influential in Iraq.

Although Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement limiting Iraqi sovereignty, political observers in Baghdad suspect they will sign in the end and simply want to establish their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence by a show of defiance now. The one Iraqi with the authority to stop deal is the majority Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2003, he forced the US to agree to a referendum on the new Iraqi constitution and the election of a parliament. But he is said to believe that loss of US support would drastically weaken the Iraqi Shia, who won a majority in parliament in elections in 2005.

The US is adamantly against the new security agreement being put to a referendum in Iraq, suspecting that it would be voted down. The influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on his followers to demonstrate every Friday against the impending agreement on the grounds that it compromises Iraqi independence.

The Iraqi government wants to delay the actual signing of the agreement but the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney has been trying to force it through. The US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the accord.

The signature of a security agreement, and a parallel deal providing a legal basis for keeping US troops in Iraq, is unlikely to be accepted by most Iraqis. But the Kurds, who make up a fifth of the population, will probably favour a continuing American presence, as will Sunni Arab political leaders who want US forces to dilute the power of the Shia. The Sunni Arab community, which has broadly supported a guerrilla war against US occupation, is likely to be split.

Britain 'could talk to al-Qaeda'
BBC News, Friday 30 May 2008.

The UK should not rule out talking to al-Qaeda in a strategy to end its campaign of violence, according to one of the country's most senior policemen.

Police Service of Northern Ireland chief Sir Hugh Orde told the Guardian talking to al-Qaeda was not unthinkable but "a question of timing".

He said 30 years tackling the IRA had taught him that policing alone was not enough to defeat terrorism.

The government has already rejected suggestions it negotiate with al-Qaeda.

Tough enforcement
Sir Hugh said it was important to maintain tough law enforcement against those involved in terrorist activity and that this would help bring them to the negotiating table.

He said IRA members had entered into negotiations with "a certain pragmatism" after realising their violent approach "wasn't ever going to work".

Sir Hugh cited his 2004 meeting with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams as an example of how one-time opponents can become partners in a peace process.

It is not the first time that senior establishment figures have raised the prospect of negotiations with al-Qaeda.

In March, former Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell said that at some point in the future it might be necessary to start talks with the group.

Mr Powell, who helped broker the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, said the deal showed such negotiations could work.

At the time, the Foreign Office rejected the suggestion, saying the government would not talk to any group actively promoting its aims through violence.

Sir Hugh is regarded by some as a front-runner to be the next commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Afghan myopia

Western failure to grasp the reality of Afghanistan is exacting a terrible cost on the civilian population
Conor Foley. Guardian Unlimited, Saturday 17 May 2008 10:00am

The frustrating thing about Afghanistan is how easy it is to be proved right about what is going wrong.

In an article I wrote in 2003, when I was still working in the country, I argued that "good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law are not optional when it comes to rebuilding a country, but an intrinsic part of reconstruction." This week a UN expert made almost exactly the same point when he warned of "staggeringly high" complacency about civilians being killed by international troops and that foreign intelligence units may be carrying out death-squad type killings with impunity.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions told a press conference in Kabul on Thursday that international forces have killed about 200 civilians in operations in the past four months, while Taliban and other rebels have killed around 300. Most of the deaths caused by the international troops have been due to their over-reliance on air strikes, but he also said that secret units controlled by foreign intelligence services have also killed civilians in anti-rebel operations; a reference to US special forces.

Alston, from New York University, is an independent expert who reports to the UN human rights council in Geneva rather than the UN mission in Afghanistan. He was invited to the country by the government of Afghanistan to undertake a 12 day mission in relation to his mandate. He met a variety of government ministers and military commanders during his trip, but his request to meet the Taliban was rejected by the government. One of his recommendations is that future missions should include meetings with the Taliban to urge them to respect international human rights and humanitarian law.

His other recommendations will be familiar to those who have followed the steady deterioration of the situation in the country over the years. Police killings should be investigated, key figures in Afghanistan's government accused of human rights abuses and corruption must be put on trial. The culture of impunity amongst the country's warlords must be tackled.

Of course none of this is likely to happen, but the report sets down another marker against which the failure of the international community's efforts can be judged. In an excellent summary of what is going wrong and needs to be put right Daniel Korski, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, argues that "the international community must hold the Afghan government and itself to commitments already agreed - such as the vetting process for governors, police chiefs and other senior officials." Nepotism and corruption must be rooted out and steps need to be taken to ensure that the next set of presidential and parliamentary elections are fair.

Korski also argues that "the UN must help the government re-launch outreach to the Taliban and other combatants" and that a peace deal will require a regional dimension. He says that the international community should be prepared to "hold the Afghan government's feet to the fire" to bring about a change of policy.

More than 12,000 people have died in violence since 2006, despite the presence of more than 55,000 foreign troops led by Nato and the US military and nearly 150,000 Afghan security forces. Overall, violence is still rising and military deaths in the first three months of this year were one-third higher than a year ago. As the Economist has noted, the Taliban's change of tactics away from conventional set-piece battles and towards roadside bombs and suicide attacks shows that they have learnt lessons from the insurgents in Iraq.

Five years ago I argued: "The concentration on the 'war on terror' and the attempt to defeat terrorist violence by military means have been a major cause of the current crisis and, paradoxically, helped create the conditions for the Taliban to rebuild support." This did not require any particular insight; as virtually everyone who has visited the country would say the same. The only thing that has changed is that the situation has got worse, year by year by year.

Unfortunately, a large section of opinion in Europe and North America seem to have completely deluded themselves about what is happening in the country and have spent the last five years smearing those of us who object to the policy of "staying the course" as cowards or appeasers. Look at what John Williams wrote here in September 2006 or Nick Cohen said here in November 2007 or Polly Toynbee said here in February of this year. If this is what passes as serious commentary in the mainstream British liberal media, then it is no wonder our decision-makers are so badly informed. The price of their myopia is being paid in innocent lives.

Sadr threatens 'open war' as Iraqi army attacks base

By Patrick Cockburn. The Independent, Monday 21 April 2008

Iraqi government forces, with US and British support, have moved into the Mehdi Army stronghold in Basra and have surrounded its main bastion in Baghdad as the Shia militia's leader Muqtada al-Sadr threatened "open war".

The Iraqi army, supported by US air strikes and British artillery, was able to advance into Basra against little resistance while there is still heavy fighting around Sadr City, a vast impoverished quarter of Baghdad in which some two million people are living.

"I'm giving the last warning and the last word to the Iraqi government," said Mr Sadr. "Either it comes to its senses and takes the path of peace ... or it will be [seen as] the same as the previous government [of Saddam Hussein]."

The Sadrists see the attack on them as orchestrated by the Badr Organisation, the powerful Shia militia which is allied to the government and many of whose men have joined the Iraqi army and security services. "If they don't come to their senses and curb the infiltrated militias, we will declare an open war until liberation," Mr Sadr said.

Mr Sadr has tried for the past four years to avoid an open military confrontation with Iraqi government forces when backed by United States firepower.

In Basra, the Mehdi Army has been able to hold off the Iraqi army in gun battles but has then retreated. But there is no sign so far of the militia being eliminated and it could probably launch devastating counter attacks in the slum districts where its supporters live. Mr Sadr called a six-month ceasefire last August, renewed it in February and called his militiamen off the streets when they seemed to be winning during fighting at the end of March.

Many of his militiamen are impatient to renew their battle with the Iraqi army and the Americans. In Sadr City, one Mehdi Army commander said on Saturday night that he was "thrilled" by Mr Sadr's threat to go back to war. "We will wait until tomorrow to see the response of the government," he said. "Otherwise they will see black days like they have never seen before in their life."

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, sounds confident that he can win a confrontation with the Sadrists since he is backed by the US, the main Sunni party and the Kurds, all of whom have doubted his leadership in the past. Iran has also openly supported his offensive in Basra while criticising the American air assault on Sadr City.

In the past, Mr Maliki has often been over-confident of his ability to act without American military support. He became prime minister thanks to Mr Sadr's support but this was withdrawn when Mr Maliki failed to set a timetable for an American withdrawal.

The US has long encouraged the Iraqi government to crush the Sadrists but seems to have been caught by surprise by current events in which the US finds itself fighting a war on two fronts: one against the Sunni Arabs, which it has waged since 2003, and now a second, which is just beginning, against the Shia.

Financial Collapse will End the Occupation: And it won't be "a time of our choosing"

Mike Whitney, Information Clearing House, 14 April 2008.

"Come and see our overflowing morgues and find our little ones for us...
You may find them in this corner or the other, a little hand poking out, pointing out at you...
Come and search for them in the rubble of your "surgical" air raids, you may find a little leg or a little head...pleading for your attention. "Flying Kites" Layla Anwar

The US Military has won every battle it has fought in Iraq, but it has lost the war. Wars are won politically, not militarily. Bush doesn't understand this. He still clings to the belief that a political settlement can be imposed through force. But he is mistaken. The use of overwhelming force has only spread the violence and added to the political instability. Now Iraq is ungovernable. Was that the objective? Miles of concrete blast-walls snake through Baghdad to separate the warring parties; the country is fragmented into a hundred smaller pieces each ruled by local militia commanders. These are the signs of failure not success. That's why the American people no longer support the occupation. They're just being practical; they know Bush's plan won't work. As Nir Rosen says, "Iraq has become Somalia".

The administration still supports Iraqi President Nouri al Maliki, but al-Maliki is a meaningless figurehead who will have no effect on the country's future. He has no popular base of support and controls nothing beyond the walls of the Green Zone. The al-Maliki government is merely an Arab facade designed to convince the American people that political progress is being made, but there is no progress. Its a sham. The future is in the hands of the men with guns; they're the ones who have divided Iraq into locally-controlled fiefdoms and they are the ones who will ultimately decide who will rule the state. At present, the fighting between the factions is being described as "sectarian warfare", but the term is intentionally misleading. The fighting is political in nature; the various militias are competing with each other to see who will fill the vacuum left by the removal of Saddam. It's a power struggle. The media likes to portray the conflict as a clash between half-crazed Arabs--"dead-enders and terrorists"---who relish the idea killing their countrymen, but that's just a way of demonizing the enemy. In truth, the violence is entirely rational; it is the inevitable reaction to the dissolution of the state and the occupation by foreign troops. Many military experts predicted that there would be outbreaks of fighting after the initial invasion, but their warnings were shrugged off by clueless politicians and the cheerleading media. Now the violence has flared up again in Basra and Baghdad, and there is no end in sight. Only one thing seems certain, Iraq's future will not be decided at the ballot box. Bush has made sure of that.

The US military does not rule Iraq nor does it have the power to control events on the ground. It's just one of many militias vieing for power in a state that is ruled by warlords. After the army conducts combat operations, it is forced to retreat to its camps and bases. This point needs to be emphasized in order to understand that there is no real future for the occupation. The US simply does not have the manpower to hold territory or to establish security. In fact, the presence of American troops incites violence because they are seen as forces of occupation, not liberators. Survey's show that the vast majority of the Iraqi people want US troops to leave. The military has destroyed too much of the country and slaughtered too many people to expect that these attitudes will change anytime soon. Iraqi poet and blogger Layla Anwar sums up the feelings of many of the war's victims in a recent post on her web site "An Arab Women's Blues":

"At the gates of Babylon the Great, you are still struggling, fighting away, chasing this or the other, detaining, bombing from above, filling up morgues, hospitals, graveyards and embassies and borders with queues for exit-visas.

Not one Iraqi wishes your presence. Not one Iraqi accepts your occupation.

Got news for you Motherfuckers, you will never control Iraq, not in six years, not in ten years, not in 20 years....You have brought upon yourself the hate and the curse of all Iraqis, Arabs and the rest of the face your agony." (Layla Anwar; "An Arab Women's Blues: Reflections in a sealed bottle"

Is Bush hoping to change the mind of Layla or the millions of other Iraqis who have lost loved ones or been forced into exile or seen their country and culture crushed beneath the boot heel of foreign occupation? The hearts and minds campaign is lost. The US will never be welcome in Iraq.

According to a survey in the British Medical Journal "Lancet" more than a million Iraqis have been killed in the war. Another four million have been either internally-displaced or have fled the country. But the figures tell us nothing about the magnitude of the disaster that Bush has caused by attacking Iraq. The invasion is the greatest human catastrophe in the Middle East since the Nakba in 1948. Living standards have declined precipitously in every area---infant mortality, clean water, food-security, medical supplies, education, electrical power, employment etc. Even oil production is still below pre-war levels. The invasion is the most comprehensive policy failure since Vietnam; everything has gone wrong. The heart of the Arab world has descended into chaos. The suffering is incalculable.

The main problem is the occupation; it is the primary catalyst for violence and an obstacle to political settlement. As long as the occupation persists, so will the fighting. The claims that the so-called surge has changed the political landscape are greatly exaggerated. Retired Lt. General William Odom commented on this point in an interview on the Jim Lerher News Hour:

"The surge has sustained military instability and achieved nothing in political consolidation....Things are much worse now. And I don't see them getting any better. This was foreseeable a year and a half ago. And to continue to put the cosy veneer of comfortable half-truths on this is to deceive the American public and to make them think it is not the charade it is.....When you say that the Lebanization of Iraq is taking place, yes, but not because of Iran, but because the U.S. went in and made this kind of fragmentation possible. And it has occurred over the last five years....The al-Maliki government is worse off now...The notion that there's some kind of progress is absurd. The al-Maliki government uses its Ministry of Interior like a death squad militia. So to call Sadr an extremist and Maliki a good guy just overlooks the reality that there are no good guys." (Jim Lerher News Hour)

The war in Iraq was lost before the first shot was fired. The conflict never had the support of the American people and Iraq never posed a threat to US national security. The whole pretext for the war was based on lies; it was a coup orchestrated by elites and the media to carry out a far-right agenda. Now the mission has failed, but no one wants to admit their mistakes by withdrawing; so the butchery continues without pause.

How Will It End?

The Bush administration has decided to pursue a strategy that is unprecedented in US history. It has decided to continue to prosecute a war that has already been lost morally, strategically, and militarily. But fighting a losing war has its costs. America is much weaker now than it was when Bush first took office in 2000; politically, economically and militarily. US power and prestige around the world will continue to deteriorate until the troops are withdrawn from Iraq. But that's unlikely to happen until all other options have been exhausted. Deteriorating economic conditions in the financial markets are putting enormous downward pressure on the dollar. The corporate bond and equities markets are in disarray; the banking system is collapsing, consumer spending is down, tax revenues are falling, and the country is headed into a painful and protracted recession. The US will leave Iraq sooner than many pundits believe, but it will not be at a time of our choosing. Rather, the conflict will end when the United States no longer has the capacity to wage war. That time is not far off.

The Iraq War signals the end of US interventionism for at least a generation; maybe longer. The ideological foundation for the war (pre emption/regime change) has been exposed as a baseless justification for unprovoked aggression. Someone will have to be held accountable. There will have to be international tribunals to determine who is responsible in the deaths of over one million Iraqis.

Secret US plan for military future in Iraq

Document outlines powers but sets no time limit on troop presence
Seumus Milne. The Guardian, Tuesday 08 April 2008

A confidential draft agreement covering the future of US forces in Iraq, passed to the Guardian, shows that provision is being made for an open-ended military presence in the country.

The draft strategic framework agreement between the US and Iraqi governments, dated March 7 and marked "secret" and "sensitive", is intended to replace the existing UN mandate and authorises the US to "conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security" without time limit.

The authorisation is described as "temporary" and the agreement says the US "does not desire permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq". But the absence of a time limit or restrictions on the US and other coalition forces - including the British - in the country means it is likely to be strongly opposed in Iraq and the US.

Iraqi critics point out that the agreement contains no limits on numbers of US forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries. The agreement is intended to govern the status of the US military and other members of the multinational force.

Following recent clashes between Iraqi troops and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army in Basra, and threats by the Iraqi government to ban his supporters from regional elections in the autumn, anti-occupation Sadrists and Sunni parties are expected to mount strong opposition in parliament to the agreement, which the US wants to see finalised by the end of July. The UN mandate expires at the end of the year.

One well-placed Iraqi Sunni political source said yesterday: "The feeling in Baghdad is that this agreement is going to be rejected in its current form, particularly after the events of the last couple of weeks. The government is more or less happy with it as it is, but parliament is a different matter."

It is also likely to prove controversial in Washington, where it has been criticised by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who has accused the administration of seeking to tie the hands of the next president by committing to Iraq's protection by US forces.

The defence secretary, Robert Gates, argued in February that the planned agreement would be similar to dozens of "status of forces" pacts the US has around the world and would not commit it to defend Iraq. But Democratic Congress members, including Senator Edward Kennedy, a senior member of the armed services committee, have said it goes well beyond other such agreements and amounts to a treaty, which has to be ratified by the Senate under the constitution.

Administration officials have conceded that if the agreement were to include security guarantees to Iraq, it would have to go before Congress. But the leaked draft only states that it is "in the mutual interest of the United States and Iraq that Iraq maintain its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence and that external threats to Iraq be deterred. Accordingly, the US and Iraq are to consult immediately whenever the territorial integrity or political independence of Iraq is threatened."

Significantly - given the tension between the US and Iran, and the latter's close relations with the Iraqi administration's Shia parties - the draft agreement specifies that the "US does not seek to use Iraq territory as a platform for offensive operations against other states".

General David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq, is to face questioning from all three presidential candidates on Capitol Hill today when he reports to the Senate on his surge strategy, which increased US forces in Iraq by about 30,000 last year.

Both Clinton and Democratic rival Barack Obama are committed to beginning troop withdrawals from Iraq. Republican senator John McCain has pledged to maintain troop levels until the country is secure.

This is the war that started with lies, and continues with lie after lie after lie.

Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, Wednesday 19 March 2008

It has been a war of lies from the start. All governments lie in wartime but American and British propaganda in Iraq over the past five years has been more untruthful than in any conflict since the First World War.

The outcome has been an official picture of Iraq akin to fantasy and an inability to learn from mistakes because of a refusal to admit that any occurred. Yet the war began with just such a mistake. Five years ago, on the evening of 19 March 2003, President George Bush appeared on American television to say that military action had started against Iraq.

This was a veiled reference to an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein by dropping four 2,000lb bombs and firing 40 cruise missiles at a place called al-Dura farm in south Baghdad, where the Iraqi leader was supposedly hiding in a bunker. There was no bunker. The only casualties were one civilian killed and 14 wounded, including nine women and a child.

On 7 April, the US Ai r Force dropped four more massive bombs on a house where Saddam was said to have been sighted in Baghdad. "I think we did get Saddam Hussein," said the US Vice President, Dick Cheney. "He was seen being dug out of the rubble and wasn't able to breathe."

Saddam was unharmed, probably because he had never been there, but 18 Iraqi civilians were dead. One US military leader defended the attacks, claiming they showed "US resolve and capabilities".

Mr Cheney was back in Baghdad this week, five years later almost to the day, to announce that there has been "phenomenal" improvements in Iraqi security. Within hours, a woman suicide bomber blew herself up in the Shia holy city of Kerbala, killing at least 40 and wounding 50 people. Often it is difficult to know where the self-deception ends and the deliberate mendacity begins.

The most notorious lie of all was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. But critics of the war may have focused too much on WMD and not enough on later distortions.

The event which has done most to shape the present Iraqi political landscape was the savage civil war between Sunni and Shia in Baghdad and central Iraq in 2006-07 when 3,000 civilians a month were being butchered and which was won by the Shia.

The White House and Downing Street blithely denied a civil war was happening - and forced Iraq politicians who said so to recant - to pretend the crisis was less serious than it was.

More often, the lies have been small, designed to make a propaganda point for a day even if they are exposed as untrue a few weeks later. One example of this to shows in detail how propaganda distorts day-to-day reporting in Iraq, but, if the propagandist knows his job, is very difficult to disprove.

On 1 February this year, two suicide bombers, said to be female, blew themselves up in two pet markets in predominantly Shia areas of Baghdad, al Ghazil and al-Jadida, and killed 99 people. Iraqi government officials immediately said the bombers had the chromosonal disorder Down's syndrome, which they could tell this from looking at the severed heads of the bombers. Sadly, horrific bombings in Iraq are so common that they no longer generate much media interest abroad. It was the Down's syndrome angle which made the story front-page news. It showed al-Qa'ida in Iraq was even more inhumanly evil than one had supposed (if that were possible) and it meant, so Iraqi officials said, that al-Qa'ida was running out of volunteers.

The Times splashed on it under the headline, "Down's syndrome bombers kill 91". The story stated firmly that "explosives strapped to two women with Down's syndrome were detonated by remote control in crowded pet markets". Other papers, including The Independent, felt the story had a highly suspicious smell to it. How much could really be told about the mental condition of a woman from a human head shattered by a powerful bomb? Reliable eyewitnesses in suicide bombings are difficult to find because anybody standing close to the bomber is likely to be dead or in hospital.

The US military later supported the Iraqi claim that the bombers had Down's syndrome. On 10 February, they arrested Dr Sahi Aboub, the acting director of the al Rashad mental hospital in east Baghdad, alleging that he had provided mental patients for use by al-Qa'ida. The Iraqi Interior Ministry started rounding up beggars and mentally disturbed people on the grounds that they might be potential bombers.

But on 21 February, an American military spokes-man said there was no evidence the bombers had Down's. Adel Mohsin, a senior official at the Health Ministry in Baghdad, poured scorn on the idea that Dr Aboub could have done business with the Sunni fanatics of al-Qa'ida because he was a Shia and had only been in the job a few weeks.

A second doctor, who did not want to give his name, pointed out that al Rashad hospital is run by the fundamentalist Shia Mehdi Army and asked: "How would it be possible for al-Qa'ida to get in there?"

Few people in Baghdad now care about the exact circumstances of the bird market bombings apart from Dr Aboub, who is still in jail, and the mentally disturbed beggars who were incarcerated. Unfortunately, it is all too clear that al-Qa'ida is not running out of suicide bombers. But it is pieces of propaganda such as this small example, often swallowed whole by the media and a thousand times repeated, which cumulatively mask the terrible reality of Iraq.

Cost of Iraqi and Afghan wars has doubled

Bill for both conflicts adds up to £10bn since 2003. Sharp rise mainly due to equipment prices, say MPs

The combined cost of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 12 months has almost doubled to more than £3bn, a cross-party group of MPs revealed yesterday.

The costs of operations by British forces in Afghanistan has risen to more than £1.6bn, a year-on-year increase of 122%. More surprisingly, given the reduction in troops in Iraq, the cost of Britain's military presence there has also increased to £1.6bn, a year-on-year rise of 72%, the Commons defence committee said.

The costs are about 50% more than the government forecast three months ago, the report said. It came as military officials made it clear that the number of British troops in Iraq would not now be cut this spring to the number previously indicated by Gordon Brown.

The total cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 now totals about £10bn, according to estimates based on annual official figures from the Treasury and Ministry of Defence. The sharpest increases were for buying, repairing and replacing new armoured vehicles and other equipment acquired under a special Urgent Operation Requirements system, referred to as UORs. The report said these costs in Iraq and Afghanistan had risen "far beyond the scale of other costs". It added: "The MoD needs to make clearer the reasons for these considerable increases."

James Arbuthnot, the committee's chairman and a former Tory defence minister, said: "Few people will object to the investment being made in better facilities and equipment for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this estimate represents a lot of public money. The MoD needs to provide better information about what it is all being spent on." The figures were seized on by Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, who said: "We have been complaining for a long time that these operations are under-resourced. It appears that this is something the government seems to belatedly recognise."

Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said the report "clearly shows how the Iraq war is continuing to bleed our finances dry, leaving soldiers in Afghanistan overstretched and under-equipped".

Kate Hudson, the chair of CND, said: "The human costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are clear, with an estimated 655,000 dead in Iraq alone, but the opportunities lost by spending these billions on further destruction rather than on humanitarian reconstruction adds to the long list of tragedies unleashed by Bush's wars."

Bob Ainsworth, the armed forces minister, said: "I am quite clear what we are spending it on and because this money comes from the Treasury reserve, spending it in one theatre does not come at the expense of the other. We are spending it on better equipment ... and paying our forces more, including a tax-free operational bonus - in both Iraq and Afghanistan."

The committee observed that the cost of operations in Iraq was as high as in Afghanistan. This was despite the reduction in British troops in Basra. But the MoD has been forced to invest in equipment for troops as attacks by insurgents increase.

In a statement yesterday, the MoD avoided any reference to Brown's October announcement that he planned to reduce the number of UK troops in Basra to 2,500 from the spring of this year. The MoD said only that it intended "to reduce troop numbers in Iraq over the coming months". A senior British defence official said Iraqi generals in Basra wanted a significant British presence as they built up their forces. "Where are we going to be at the end of 2008? We don't know," the official said.

Iraq minutes 'should be released'

The government has been told to release the minutes of two cabinet meetings in the days before the Iraq war.

The demand came from Information Commissioner Richard Thomas after a Freedom of Information request was rejected by the Cabinet Office.

He said disclosure would "allow the public to more fully understand this particular decision of the cabinet".

The Cabinet Office has 35 days to appeal against the decision and is said to be "considering" its response.

In his ruling, Mr Thomas says the minutes had to be released to help "transparency and public understanding of the relevant issues".

'Public impression'

He also says that accountability for the decisions made is "paramount".

The person making the request said that not releasing the information created "a public impression that something not entirely truthful has been uttered".

But the Cabinet Office refused to release minutes on the grounds that the papers were exempt from disclosure as they related to the formulation of government policy and ministerial communications.

However, Mr Thomas ruled that, in this particular case, the public interest in disclosing the minutes outweighed the public interest in withholding the information.

He said he did not believe that disclosure would "necessarily" set a precedent in respect of other cabinet minutes.

Mr Thomas accepted that a number of specific references in the minutes could damage Britain's international relations if they became public and could be "redacted" - blacked out - before the minutes are released.

Second resolution

The ruling is set to reopen controversy over the then attorney general Lord Goldsmith's legal advice on the war.

On the eve of war, 17 March, his opinion unequivocally saying military action was legal was presented to cabinet, MPs and the military and published.

However, after long-running reports that he had changed his mind into the lead up to war, his initial lengthy advice given to Tony Blair on 7 March was leaked and then published in 2005.

This advice raised a number of questions and concerns about the possible legality of military action against Iraq without a second UN resolution and was never shown to the cabinet.

The then prime minister Tony Blair defended his decision not to show the cabinet the full advice, saying that Lord Goldsmith had attended the cabinet in person and was able to answer any legal questions and explain his view.

'Wall of secrecy'

The government has not yet decided whether or not to appeal the decision of the Information Commissioner that orders them to release the minutes of cabinet meetings that discussed the legal advice on going to war in Iraq.

In response to the Information Commission's decision a government spokesman said they were "considering" it.

He said: "The requirements of openness and transparency must be balanced against the proper and effective functioning of government.

"At the very heart of that system is the constitutional convention of collective cabinet responsibility."

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said: "Labour's wall of secrecy over the Iraq war is gradually being dismantled brick by brick.

"The case for an independent inquiry into the decision to go to war is only strengthened by these continuing efforts to delay and obstruct those seeking the truth."


Sunni vs Shia: the real bloody battle for Baghdad

Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad, Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Reconciliation between Sunni and Shia, seen by the US as essential for political progress in Iraq, is not happening. The difficulty in introducing measures to conciliate members of the old regime is illustrated by the way in which a new law, originally designed to ease the path of former Baath party members into government jobs will, in practice, intensify the purge against them.

The framers of the law wanted Baathists to be able to get their jobs back in the Iraqi military, security services and elsewhere. But the Iraqi parliament has a Shia majority, and the legislation signed into law last Sunday will make it more difficult for the former Baathists to work for the government.

Under the terms of the law, Ahmad Chalabi, the chairman of de-Baathification commission, said 7,000 senior Iraqi security personnel will be fired. "The law flatly mandates that all people who were in security such as the Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard, general security or military intelligence must go." The new measure will effectively strip the Iraqi army, security and intelligence organisations of their senior officers.

Mr Chalabi believes it has been unfairly pilloried as a wholesale attack on anybody connected to the old regime. "The Baath party had 1,200,000 members of whom only 38,000 were subject to de-Baathification," he says. "Of these, 15,600 applied for exemptions [allowing them to take government jobs] and only 300 were turned down."

The provisions of the new law are not the only difficulties facing Baathists or Sunni who work for the government or want to. It is often physically dangerous for them to work in ministries, such as the oil ministry, in overwhelmingly Shia parts of the capital.

Some ministries, such as the Health Ministry, were controlled for long by the party of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The ministry's guards were all Mehdi Army militia from Sadr City and Sunni believed the cellars of the ministry had been converted to torture chambers.

A reason why there is such intense competition to control the government in Baghdad is that it is a giant patronage machine funded by oil revenues. The state has four million employees or people on pensions, Mr Chalabi says, about twice the number employed by the government under Saddam Hussein. Aside from government jobs, there are very few employment opportunities in Iraq.

Discrimination against Sunni is not just confined to ministries. Since the savage battles between Sunni and Shia in Baghdad in 2006 Sunni have often been unable to go to work. One Sunni maintenance engineer in the non-functioning railway station was told by Shia militiamen to leave or be killed. A friendly Sunni co-worker collected his salary for several months until the militiamen told him to stop or be killed himself.

There was always going to be friction between Sunni and Shia in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. But what turned sectarian tension into a bloodbath were the massive al-Qa'ida suicide bombs, often a ton of explosive in a vehicle, detonated in crowded Shia markets and religious gatherings. Though the Shia were patient for two years, they struck back massively after the destruction of the Shia shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006.

It is the outcome of this battle for Baghdad which still determines the political landscape of Iraq and makes reconciliation between the communities so difficult. The struggle for the capital was won by the Shia, who now control at least three-quarters of it.

Pressured by al-Qa'ida and the Shia, many anti-US Sunni guerrillas switched sides, seeking US protection, but they intend to renew the battle for Baghdad whenever they think they can win it.

Revealed: British plan to build training camp for Taliban fighters in Afghanistan

Jerome Starkey in Kabul. The independent, Monday, 4 February 2008

The Afghan government claims they prove British agents were talking to the Taliban without permission from the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, despite Gordon Brown's pledge that Britain will not negotiate. The Prime Minister told Parliament on 12 December: "Our objective is to defeat the insurgency by isolating and eliminating their leaders. We will not enter into any negotiations with these people."

The British insist President Karzai's office knew what was going on. But Mr Karzai has expelled two top diplomats amid accusations they were part of a plot to buy-off the insurgents.

The row was the first in a series of spectacular diplomatic spats which has seen Anglo-Afghan relations sink to a new low. Since December, President Karzai has blocked the appointment of Paddy Ashdown to the top UN job in Kabul and he has blamed British troops for losing control of Helmand.

It has also soured relations between Kabul and Washington, where State Department officials were instrumental in pushing Lord Ashdown for the UN role.

President Karzai's political mentor, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, endorsed a death sentence for blasphemy on the student journalist Sayed Pervez Kambaksh last week, and two British contractors have been arrested in Kabul on, it is claimed, trumped up weapons charges. The developments are seen as a deliberate defiance of the British.

An Afghan government source said the training camp was part of a British plan to use bands of reconciled Taliban, called Community Defence Volunteers, to fight the remaining insurgents. "The camp would provide military training for 1,800 ordinary Taliban fighters and 200 low-level commanders," he said.

The computer memory stick at the centre of the row was impounded by officers from Afghanistan's KGB-trained National Directorate of Security after they moved against a party of international diplomats who were visiting Helmand.

A ministry insider said: "When they were arrested, the British said the Ministry of the Interior and the National Security Council knew about it, but no one knew anything. That's why the President was so angry."

Details of how much President Karzai was told remain murky. Some analysts believe Afghan officials were briefed about the plan, but that it later evolved.

The camp was due to be built outside Musa Qala, in Helmand. It was part of a package of reconstruction and development incentives designed to win trust and support in the aftermath of the British-led battle to retake the stronghold last year.

But the Afghans feared the British were training a militia with no loyalty to the central government. Intercepted Taliban communications suggested they thought the British were trying to help them, the Afghan official said.

The Western delegates, Michael Semple and Mervyn Patterson, were given 48 hours to leave the country. Their Afghan colleagues, including a former army general, were jailed. The expulsions coincided with a row within the Taliban's ranks which saw a senior commander, Mansoor Dadullah, sacked for talking to British spies. One official claimed the camp was planned for Mansoor and his men.

The computer stick contained a three-stage plan, called the European Union Peace Building Programme. The third stage covered military training.

Curiously, the European Union says the programme did not exist and there were no EU funds to run it.

Afghan government officials insist it was bankrolled by the British. UK diplomats, the UN, Western officials and senior Afghan officials have all confirmed the outline of the plan, which they agree is entirely British-led, but all refused to talk about it on the record. President Karzai's office claimed it was "a matter of national security".

The memory stick revealed that $125,000 (£64,000) had been spent on preparing the camp and a further $200,000 was earmarked to run it in 2008, an Afghan official said. The figures sparked allegations that British agents were paying the Taliban.

President Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, accused Mr Semple and Mr Patterson of being "involved in some activities that were not their jobs."

The camp would also have provided vocational training, including farming and irrigation techniques, to offer people a viable alternative to growing opium. But the Afghan government took issue with plans to provide military training, to turn the insurgents into a defence force.

Afghan government staff also claimed the "EU peace-builders" had handed over mobile phones, laptops and airtime credit to insurgents. They said the memory stick revealed plans to train the Taliban to use secure satellite phones, so they could communicate directly with UK officials.

Mr Patterson, a Briton, was the third-ranking UN diplomat when he was held. Mr Semple, an Irishman, was the acting head of the EU mission. Officially, the British embassy remains tight-lipped, fuelling speculation that the plan may have been part of a wider clandestine operation.

A spokesman repeated the line used since Christmas: "The EU and UN have responded to inquiries on this. We have nothing further to add."

But privately, the UN maintains it had no role in setting up the camp. Meanwhile, Mr Semple's EU boss, Francesc Vendrell, admitted he had very little idea what was going on.

Yet the British ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, cut short his Christmas holiday to meet President Karzai and "spell out the Foreign Office paper-trail" which diplomats claim proves his government had agreed. They met twice, but it was not enough to stop Mr Semple and Mr Patterson being forced to leave.

Gordon Brown has also said Britain would increase its support for "community defence initiatives, where local volunteers are recruited to defend homes and families modelled on traditional Afghan arbakai".

Background to the proposal

* December 11
British and Afghan troops take Musa Qala, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand, after President Hamid Karzai reveals that a senior Taliban commander swapped sides.
* December 23-24
The acting head of the EU mission, Michael Semple, and the third-ranking UN diplomat in Afghanistan, Mervyn Patterson, hold talks with local dignitaries and Taliban sympathisers in Helmand. Afghan secret police arrest their colleague, General Stanikzai, and seize a memory stick containing plans for training camps.
* December 25
Semple and Patterson are given 48 hours in which to leave Kabul.
* December 27
The two diplomats fly out of the Afghan capital, despite international appeals to let them stay.

A failure to think

Jonathan Steele. The Guardian, 21 January 2008

Five years after he launched it, George Bush's invasion of Iraq looks even more disastrous than it did at the end of the first year. Not only did it uncover no weapons of mass destruction. The invasion has led to a collapse in millions of ordinary Iraqis' personal security, producing a human rights nightmare and annual rates of killing that dwarf the atrocities of Saddam Hussein's three decades of power.

The damage to the United States has been enormous. As well as the loss of around 4,000 soldiers' lives, America's image and reputation in the Middle East have been severely harmed. For Bush and the neocons, the invasion has brought political defeat. Their project for Iraq to become a secular, liberal, pro-western bastion of democracy lies in ruins. The country is run by a narrow-minded group of Shia Islamists with close control over a sectarian army and police force. Many of them are linked to Iran.

As a result, Bush is now forced to run around the Arabian states along the Persian Gulf in an effort to build an anti-Iranian alliance and find a pretext for keeping a strategic presence in the region.

Sunni Arab revulsion at the murderous tactics of al-Qaida in Iraq, as well as the current "surge" of extra American troops, have helped to produce a welcome drop in al-Qaida's murders of Iraqi civilians and American forces, but it has to remembered that al-Qaida was never in Iraq before the invasion. A successful reduction in al-Qaida's power cannot outweigh all the harm Bush's war has caused to Iraqis.

Many critics blame the occupation's difficulties on a lack of planning, and a series of mistakes in the first few months, including the disbanding of the Iraqi army and failures to provide Iraqi with electricity and water. The line is summed up in the phrase "Winning the war but losing the peace".

But this assumes that a more intelligent and efficient occupation could have worked. It is an extraordinary notion. Like other Arabs, Iraqis have a long memory of US and British intervention in the Middle East, toppling regimes and controlling puppet governments, both to maintain an imperial presence and for the sake of oil. As soon as the Americans made it clear in mid-2003 that their occupation was going to be openended and without a timetable for troop withdrawal, Iraqi nationalists were bound to become suspicious and start resisting.

Yet L Paul Bremer, Iraq's American overlord, as well as his political masters in Washington, used the template of the occupations of Germany and Japan in 1945. They seemed to forget they were occupying an Arab country with a long history of anti-western resistance. Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi exile whose energetic campaigning against Saddam helped to push Bush into invading, realised the point with considerable regret last year when he said "the first and biggest American error was the idea of going for an occupation".

Other Iraqi exiles, as well as foreign experts on the country, had seen the danger well before the invasion. They tried to warn Bush and Blair that there would be resentment and resistance. Saddam could be toppled easily, but this would not be victory. As long as the occupation continued, it would provoke suspicion and hostility which could quickly lead to an armed insurgency. They also pointed out that the people who would fill the post-Saddam vacuum would be Islamists, both Shia and Sunni. Whatever political structures were put in place, these anti-western groups would become the dominant force.

Amazingly, few people in the Bush administration or in the British Foreign Office got the point. Much attention has been given to Washington's failures of military intelligence in believing Saddam still had weapons of mass destruction. The failure of political intelligence was equally disastrous. Put another way, the invaders' real problem was not a lack of planning, but a lack of analysis.

There are many reasons, not least the fact that neither government in Washington or London had good experts. The two countries that were most enthusiastic in wanting an invasion were the two which had no embassies in Baghdad since 1990. The French, Germans, Italians and Russians - who did have embassies - predicted the future much better.

The lessons of the neocons' defeat in Iraq are clear enough - except to the neocons themselves. If they now proceed to attack Iran, it will be another triumph of ideological blindness over the need to get the facts, and think.

US attacks UK plan to arm Afghan militias

Jerome Starkey in Kabul. The Independent, Monday 14 January 2008

The US general in charge of training the Afghan police has criticised British-backed plans to arm local militias in an attempt to defeat the Taliban. The remarks by Maj-Gen Robert Cone, the second most senior US soldier in Afghanistan, are likely to deepen the row between London and Washington over how to counter the insurgency.

General Cone, who is in charge of rebuilding the Afghan police force, is the second US commander to condemn the initiative. He said: "Anything that detracts from a professional, well-trained, well-led police force is not the answer."

Last month, Gordon Brown said Britain would increase its support for "community defence initiatives, where local volunteers are recruited to defend homes and families modelled on traditional Afghan arbakai". The arbakai system involves arming untrained Afghani men, who agree to come running at the beating of a drum if their village elders feel threatened.

British diplomats and military strategists in the restive southern province of Helmand hope the idea might bolster Afghanistan's fledgling police force, which is unable to defend itself against attacks by Taliban insurgents. At least 10 officers died yesterday in a Taliban attack on a checkpoint in Kandahar. But US officials fear that arbakai fighters would fall under the command of warlords disloyal to the Afghan government. Their reluctance to endorse the plan follows a disastrous international initiative to build an "auxiliary" police force, which was scrapped last year.

Auxiliary officers were given assault rifles and uniforms after just a few days of rudimentary training, on the understanding that they would be required only to police the area they came from. "The auxiliary police was an attempt to take short-cuts," said General Cone, warning that there were similarities between the doomed auxiliaries and Mr Brown's arbakai plan. "It is very important to understand why the Afghan National Auxiliary Police Force did not work, as we look at any informal programme that doesn't promote professional policing," he added.

Analysts also fear the introduction of arbakai would undo years of effort by the United Nations to disarm illegal militias.

General Cone's remarks follow earlier criticism of the idea by the commander of the 37-nation Nato coalition in Afghanistan. General Dan McNeill said the plan would work only in small parts of the countryside which did not include Helmand, where most of Britain's 7,700 troops are stationed. He said: "My information, from studying Afghan history, is that arbakai works only in Paktia, Khost and the southern portion of Paktika, and it's not likely to work beyond those geographic locations."

General Cone is leading a root-and-branch reform of the Afghan police force, which has been ill-equipped, badly paid, poorly trained and dogged by corruption since 2001. The US government has pledged $7.4bn (£3.7bn) to improve Afghan security forces between now and October. But General Cone admitted there was no "model of what policing should be" in the country. "When Afghan people understand what well-trained, well-paid police do, they will demand it," he added. "But right now they are just not familiar."

He said he backed greater community involvement in the police if it meant "neighbourhood-watch type programmes" rather than arming and paying local people.

Britain has faced increasing criticism from allies in recent months for championing alternative tactics to defeat the Taliban. The Prime Minister promised more "tribal engagement" during a recent visit to Kabul. But last month the Afghan government expelled two UN and EU diplomats for meeting commanders sympathetic to insurgents.

Secrets and lies

National security is being invoked not to protect us but to shield politicians from embarrassment
Richard Norton-Taylor. Friday 11 January 2008 The Guardian

Years ago, when the Thatcher government reformed the Official Secrets Act after a jury's speedy acquittal of Clive Ponting - indicted for exposing lies about the sinking of the Argentine cruiser the Belgrano during the Falklands conflict - we were promised that, in future, prosecutions would be brought only when genuine issues of national security were at stake.

New Labour promised less secrecy. More recently, Gordon Brown promised even greater transparency. Wednesday's abrupt collapse of the case against Derek Pasquill, the Foreign Office civil servant charged under the act, shows the pitfalls facing governments when they break their promises. Pasquill's crime was leaking documents about secret CIA rendition flights and contact with Muslim groups. One document included a warning from the FO's top official that the Iraq war and UK foreign policy were fuelling Muslim extremism in Britain.

The prosecution should not have gone ahead in the first place. What is now clear is that FO officials admitted almost two years ago the leaks caused no damage within the meaning of the act. That this admission did not come to light until this week smells like an attempt to pervert the course of justice. It would not be the first time FO officials have been implicated in such practices.

Official secrecy seems more alive now than for decades. There is more than one case in which government lawyers are trying to suppress information - not to protect national security, but to shield the state from embarrassment or shame.

On Monday the Guardian and other papers will challenge an attempt by the prosecution to hold a murder trial in secret. Wang Yam, a financial trader, is accused of murdering Allan Chappelow, an 85-year-old recluse who lived in Hampstead, north London. Yam was arrested in Switzerland.

A British customs investigator faces the prospect of an Official Secrets Act prosecution over suspicions that he exposed how US and British intelligence agencies interfered in his attempts to halt a nuclear smuggling ring. Police have searched the home of Atif Amin for evidence that he passed classified information to the authors of a book recently published in the US, America and the Islamic Bomb: the Deadly Compromise. Its authors, David Armstrong and Joseph Trento, say that in 2000, Amin uncovered evidence of the Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's involvement in establishing Libya's nuclear programme, but was ordered to drop his inquiries and return home at the request of the CIA and MI6. Amin was in charge of Operation Akin, an investigation into links between UK firms and the illegal network run by Khan, who helped build Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence has obtained a gagging order preventing the media repeating allegations of abuse of Iraqis by British soldiers. A high court order bans papers and broadcasters from publishing details of the case reported in the Guardian two months ago.

The order follows a legal challenge to the MoD's refusal to set up an independent inquiry into the allegations, which lawyers say is required by the Human Rights Act. Gagging orders are supposed to prevent a jury being prejudiced at an imminent trial, yet the MoD has repeatedly said there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by the soldiers and so no prospect of a trial. Indeed, it is precisely the MoD's refusal to prosecute soldiers that lies behind this high court case.

There are genuine threats to national security and to our public and personal safety. It is a dangerous abuse if a government hoists the flag of national security and deploys the Official Secrets Act when all it is really trying to do is protect itself from embarrassment.

· Richard Norton-Taylor is the Guardian's security affairs editor

Majority believe Iraq war 'lost'
More than two-thirds of the British public think UK troops are losing the war in Iraq, a survey suggests.

The poll, conducted for BBC Two's Newsnight programme, indicated that 52% believe victory is impossible.

A further 17% of the 1,001 people questioned thought British troops were losing - but could eventually win.

The survey comes as 550 British troops completed their withdrawal from the palace in the south Iraqi city of Basra to join 5,000 troops at Basra airport.

Asked "On balance, do you think British troops are winning the war in Iraq or not?" only 12% thought British troops were winning.

The poll indicated support for an immediate withdrawal of forces - with 42% saying Gordon Brown should take all of Britain's troops out of Iraq as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, 27% of those surveyed believed British troops should remain for as long as the Iraqi authorities wanted them.

About 22% said some troops should be withdrawn before the end of this year, with the remaining troops the following year.

On the issue of security, 20% thought British forces were making the situation better, 33% said they were making it worse and 37% believed they made no difference.

The poll was carried out between 31 August and 2 September by polling agency ORB.

As the death toll continues to rise, how do experts view the possible exit strategies?

Richard Norton-Taylor. The Guardian Thursday 16 August 2007

More British troops have been killed by enemy action in southern Iraq already this year than in any other year since the invasion in 2003. Thirty-six have died, compared with 22 in 2003, when there were nearly 10 times as many British forces in the country. A year ago, General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the army, said we should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems". Yet more than 5,000 British troops remain. "There are no easy options left in Iraq, only painful ones," the independent Iraq commission, chaired by Lord Ashdown, concluded recently. How do experts view the exit strategy options?

Cut and run
Claire Spencer, head of the Middle East programme at Chatham House, said: "There is a head of steam building up [asking] what exactly are we in there for?" Army officers suggest they are part of the problem rather than the solution. In Basra, 90% of the attacks are directed against British troops.

Military commanders are making it clear that they are exasperated by the slow progress being made by the Iraqi national army. Brigadier Chris Hughes, the most senior officer in the MoD responsible for military commitments, recently told MPs that neither the Iraqi police nor the Iraqi army could guarantee security in the region. He said an Iraqi general had told him that some police officers were "totally incompetent".

The government and chiefs of staff do not appear to have worked out any strategy to leave quickly. "I think it's been quite a long time since anyone has talked about victory in Iraq," Brig Hughes told the Commons defence committee. But the army does not want to talk about "defeat", or to "cut and run", with echoes of the US flight from Saigon.

Phased withdrawal
This is what the army and ministers have been trying to do, handing over responsibility for security to Iraqi forces in the south-east, province by province. Basra is the last remaining province formally under British control.

"We are very close to being able to hand over Basra in my judgment," Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, chief of defence staff, said three weeks ago. "Just when we will reach that point is at the moment uncertain but I am fairly confident it'll be in the second half of the year." However, he also lowered expectations, telling the BBC: "Our mission was not to make the place look somewhere green and peaceful."

A key part of a phased withdrawal is 500 British troops leaving Basra palace, leaving a single British base of 5,000 troops at Basra airport.

British commanders hoped the Iraqis would have been in a position to take over responsibility for the security of the palace months ago. There was talk of British troops conducting a modest "surge" to cover their withdrawal from the palace and building up defences around the airport. That plan has fallen by the wayside.

"We don't have the troops to do that," said Colonel Christopher Langton, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Staying on, for now
This is widely considered to be the most likely outcome, with British troops staying for the foreseeable future despite all the problems. The base is being constantly attacked by mortars and rockets. More than 300 rockets have been fired at the base over the past two months.

Conventional military wisdom dictates a force of 5,000 is needed simply to protect the base and supply lines. The force would be on "overwatch", coming to the aid of Iraqi forces in a crisis. Other troops would continue training the Iraqi army.

There is a growing view among independent commentators and analysts that Gordon Brown will have to strike a deal with the US. The White House may agree to fill any gap left by British troops, appreciating that Britain has to concentrate its available forces in Afghanistan, they say.

US uneasy as Britain plans for early Iraq withdrawal

Americans would prefer UK troops to remain in position as long as they do
Ewen MacAskill in Washington, Julian Borger and Patrick Wintour
The Guardian Wednesday 08 August 2007

The Bush administration is becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of an imminent British withdrawal from southern Iraq and would prefer UK troops to remain for another year or two.

British officials believe that Washington will signal its intention to reduce US troop numbers after a much-anticipated report next month by its top commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, clearing the way for Gordon Brown to announce a British withdrawal in parliament the following month. An official said: "We do believe we are nearly there."

It is not known whether George Bush expressed concern about the withdrawal of the remaining 5,000 British troops when he met Mr Brown in Washington last week. But sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration was worried about the political consequences of losing British troops.

One source said: "If the difference is between the British leaving at the end of the year or staying through to next year or the year after, it is a safe assumption that President Bush would prefer them to stay as long as the Americans are there."

The Bush administration - focused on the north, west and central Iraq and the "surge" strategy that has seen 30,000 extra US troops deployed - has until recently ignored the south, content to leave it to the British. Now, however, it is beginning to pay attention to the region, amid the realisation that what has been portrayed as a success story is turning sour.

The UK government no longer claims Basra is a success but denies it is a failure, with British troops forced to abandon Basra city for the shelter of the airport.

On Monday the vice-president, Dick Cheney, warned against an early withdrawal. In words thought to be aimed at Congress rather than the British, he said: "No one could plead ignorance of the potential consequences of walking away from Iraq now, withdrawing coalition forces before Iraqis can defend themselves." The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, signalled at the weekend he had hoped for a modest US troop reduction by the end of the year but this has been complicated by the political instability gripping the Iraqi government.

Ken Pollack, a foreign affairs expert at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, who returned last month from an eight-day visit to Iraq in which he spoke to US officers and officials, predicted that US and Iraqi forces would have to go to the south to fill the vacuum with the same level of commitment they were showing with the surge.

He said Mr Bush would prefer the British to stay: "What Bush needs is for there to be a Union Jack flying somewhere in Iraq so he can trumpet that as full British participation, but that participation has been meaningless for some time."

Mr Pollack, who wrote on his return that there were signs that the surge was working, was dismissive of the British contribution over the past 12 to 18 months. He said: "I am assuming the British will no longer be there. They are not there now. We have a British battle group holed up in Basra airport. I do not see what good that does except for people flying in and out.

"It is the wild, wild west. Basra is out of control."

The British say that their forces have handed over to the Iraqi military and the violence is at a much lower level than in Baghdad, with most of it directed towards British forces as Shia militia seek to claim credit for driving them out.

Mr Brown has insisted that he will make his decision exclusively on the basis of British military advice, and there is no connection between the British and US military withdrawal decisions. He has hinted that British forces will switch from combat to surveillance roles in Basra, allowing them to be reduced and withdrawn to Basra airport, a highly protected base from which British troops could ultimately withdraw.

Gen Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Baghdad, will present an assessment on the impact of the surge to Congress on September 15. Their report is expected to show a mixed picture, with a sufficient number of positive points to justify an end to the surge. In such an environment the scaling down of the British presence in the south would not appear disloyal, the Brown government hopes.

"The British are doing everything to avoid embarrassing the Americans, while at the same time continuing the withdrawal," said Rosemary Hollis, the director of research at the Chatham House think-tank.

However, it is not clear how the prime minister would react if Mr Bush defied expectations once more and decided to press on with the surge next month.

Colonel Sam Gardiner, who is retired but still carries out war games for the Pentagon, said the violence in the south was problematic for the US military who need secure north-south communications for when they begin to move out of Iraq. He said US forces could be out of the country and into camps in Kuwait within two months, but it would take a further 10 months or so to remove all the heavy equipment - though he believed some of it could be left for the Iraqi security forces. Referring to Basra, he said: "We have trouble in the rear right now. The rear has got problems."

Some military analysts argue that private contractors are already protecting the convoy supply lines but Col Gardiner said that a British pull-out would mean "we would have to establish security for the route from Baghdad to Kuwait. Troops would have to be taken from other missions to protect the road."

Bringing back the caliphate

Inayat Bunglawala. Guardian Unlimited, 16 July 2007

Osama Bin Laden wants it back, as does Hizb ut-Tahrir and also, according to a recent poll organised by an American university, a majority of Muslims across the world do so too. But what is the caliphate (Arabic: Khilafah) and what would it look like today?

Before he died in 632 CE, the Prophet Muhammad succeeded in establishing a single state in Arabia, in which he was both the spiritual head and also the temporal ruler. Within a period of just over 20 years, Muhammad had unified the Arabs, smashed the centuries-old practice of idolatry and inculcated in them a deep love for Islam: voluntary submission to God's Will.

It was an astonishing achievement and the Islamic state would, after Muhammad's death, continue to expand and draw in new converts to Islam from other peoples. Islam, with its pristine monotheism, stood in stark contrast to the many competing versions of Christianity with their endless bickering over the true nature of Christ and also the rather narrow tribalism of Judaism.

The Prophet's successors (Caliphs) tried to maintain this system but it was inevitably beset with divisions and rivalries, and in time, multiple regional caliphates came into existence. The last caliphate to be widely recognised - Ottoman Turkey, which in its latter days came to be known as the "sick man of Europe" - was abolished by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924.

On Wednesday, writing on Cif, Brian Whitaker, questioned the relevancy of the caliphate in the modern world, saying:

Whatever the historical merits (or not) of this now-defunct system of government, it is difficult to see how anyone could seriously regard its return as a step forward in the 21st century.

Brian looked at some of the articles of the draft Hizb ut-Tahrir constitution for their particular conception of the caliphate and, I must admit, it did not really look like a place where I would want to live in or bring up my kids in. But need it be that way? The same US poll that cited majority support for the caliphate amongst the public in Muslim countries also found even larger majorities who thought that a democratic political system was a good way of governance. So clearly, many Muslims believe that democracy need not conflict with their Islamic ideals.

Hizb ut-Tahrir have posted an article on their website titled "Poll confirms massive support for the caliphate in the Muslim world" but have strangely omitted any mention of the finding that an even greater number of people favoured the establishment of democracy as their preferred method of achieving a well-governed state. Hmmm ...

In my view, the findings of the US poll serve to confirm the argument made by a Sudanese Islamic philosopher, Abdelwahab el-Affendi, in his 1991 book, Who Needs an Islamic State? Affendi urged Muslims to look at their history and be willing to learn from their experiences and also from that of others:

Wisdom dictates that we should be pessimistic about the qualities of our rulers, something which should not be too difficult, given our experiences. The institutions of a Muslim polity, and the rules devised to govern it, should therefore be based on expecting the worst.

Human experience shows that democracy, broadly defined, offers the best possible method of avoiding such disappointment in rulers and affords a way of remedying the causes for such disappointments once they occur.

The caliphate clearly has an enormous emotional pull on Muslims and for understandable reasons as it aspires to break down national/tribal borders and unify Muslim countries under a just government as opposed to their current crop of mainly unelected and dishonest rulers. Is the caliphate really unattainable? It depends on how you conceive it. El-Affendi has a model in mind which may surprise you:

The model we are proposing here could suggest a way in which a polity is not strictly territorial. Political associations should make it possible for members to move in space without losing their rights of membership. This entails a concept of an international order based more on coexisting communities than on territorially-based mutually-exclusive nation-states. The European Community and the United States of America reflect some of the characteristics of the model we have in mind.

A confederation of democratic states based on the model of the European Union. Now that would be a caliphate that I can imagine myself living in!

US turns up heat on Iran by publicly accusing it of involvement in Iraq

Ewen MacAskill in Washington. Tuesday 3 July 2007,,2117120,00.html

The US yesterday publicly accused Iran of intervening in the Iraq conflict, claiming that its Revolutionary Guard played a role in an attack that killed five Americans and was using Lebanese militants to train Iraqi insurgents.

The allegations marked a significant escalation as previous similar claims have been made mostly off the record. Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, an army spokesman, said an Iranian covert unit called the Quds force had helped orchestrate an assault in Kerbala in January, in which the attackers, disguised as US soldiers, tricked their way into a government compound, killing one American on the spot, and abducting four others whom they killed later. "The Quds force had developed detailed information regarding our soldiers' activities, shift changes and defences, and this information was shared with the attackers," Gen Bergner said.

He also claimed the Quds force and members of the Lebanese Shia movement, Hizbullah, were training Iraqi insurgents at three camps near Tehran.

He said backing for the claims came from a Hizbullah veteran, Ali Mussa Daqduq, captured in southern Iraq in March. He claimed he was a go-between who "was directed by the Iranian Quds force to move Iraqis in and out of Iraq and report on the training and operations of Iraqi special groups".

Gen Bergner said Mr Daqduq had told his US interrogators that the Kerbala attackers "could not have conducted this complex operation without the support and direction of the Quds force".

Gen Bergner went further than earlier US briefings in seeking to tie the allegations to the top tiers of the Iranian government. "Our intelligence reveals that senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity," he said. Asked if it was possible that the Quds force could be conducting its activities inside Iraq without the knowledge of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, Gen Bergner replied: "That would be hard to imagine."

The claims coincide with increasingly heated rhetoric in Washington. Last month, Joseph Lieberman, a former presidential candidate now an independent senator, called for air strikes on Iran in retaliation for its alleged role in Iraq.

"I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq," the Connecticut senator said. "And to me, that would include a strike over the border into Iran, where we have good evidence that they have a base at which they are training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers."

The first accusation of Iranian involvement was made two years ago by a British official but the Foreign Office has been reluctant to go as far, at least publicly. But British officials say there is evidence of links between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and secret cells under the umbrella of the Mahdi army, operating independently of its leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

Iran has denied supporting the insurgency, and has accused the Bush administration of trying to justify a new war.

Aid failings 'hit Afghan progress'

David Lyon. BBC developing world correspondent, Afghanistan

More than five years after the defeat of the Taleban in Afghanistan, the failure of international aid to make a difference to Afghanistan is now having serious security consequences.

A recent Red Cross report showed that the worsening conflict in the south is now spreading to the north and west, alongside an upsurge of suicide bombing in Kabul.

The amount of money promised per head for Afghanistan was far lower than in other recent post-conflict countries, and too little of it has gone into increasing the capacity of the Afghan government to run things for itself.

In a report more than a year ago, the World Bank warned of the dangers of an 'aid juggernaut', a parallel world operating outside the government economy, with Afghans not even able to bid for major infrastructure contracts, such as roads.

The quality of much of what has been delivered remains very low. In schools where lots of money has been spent and the project signed off as functioning and open, girls are still being taught in tents in the mud.

There have been some successes. President Hamid Karzai often reminds audiences that 40,000 Afghan babies would not be alive today but for improvements in Afghan health care.

And some aid is successfully going through the state for basic services.

One in 10 Afghan teachers have their salaries paid by British taxpayers, but to the teachers their pay packets are not earmarked as 'foreign aid' - they come from the Afghan Education department.

Similarly, some small rural schemes - drainage, clinics, small power projects and schools are now being built through the National Solidarity Programme. That is a fund managed and distributed through the Afghan government, with almost all of the money coming from international donors.

Slow process

There have recently been some indications that the Americans, the biggest spenders in Afghanistan, are beginning to see the sense in these kinds of programmes, and planning to put more of their aid money through the government.

Changing policy in this direction is a slow process, although the theory at least is now US doctrine.

Building up the institutions of the state is after all a central part of fighting insurgencies, according to the new counter-insurgency manual being used by US forces - the first written since the end of the Vietnam War.

The manual even emphasises that the new state does not have to do things especially well: "The host nation doing something tolerably is normally better than us (the United States) doing it well."

But the doctrine has not yet worked through to changing the culture of how to spend aid money, either through USAid, or the Pentagon which runs its own aid programme.

Most international officials, aid workers and consultants in Afghanistan live a hermetically sealed life - advised not to step outside by armed security guards, and often working at very high salaries on very short-term contracts.

So too much of the money earmarked for aid to Afghanistan actually goes straight back to donor countries.

The Chief of Staff at the Afghan Counter-Narcotics Ministry, Abbie Aryan, condemned the culture of "champagne and caviar consultants" who come to Afghanistan and "deliver nothing".

There is still no internationally agreed strategy on how to tackle the drugs problem.

Britain plays a lead role in trying to stop the cultivation of opium poppies, and Mr Aryan says that large amounts of British money have been wasted on things that the Afghans do not need.

'Unwanted luxuries'

He agreed to talk to the BBC on the record because of a growing concern in the Afghan government that the international community is only paying lip service to the idea that Afghanistan should determine aid priorities for itself.

Rather than responding to Afghan concerns, and helping to fund an eradication coordination unit, when the Counter Narcotics Ministry wanted to set one up, the British government is instead funding a project for aerial photography that will cost more than $10m.

The Director of Survey and Monitoring at the ministry, Engineer Mohammad Ibrahim Azhar, told the BBC that when the project was first proposed, the Minister Habibullah Qaderi asked the British why they could not use a local plane, or at least provide equipment that would still be there when the project finished.

Instead the contract is with a British firm, with two British engineers running it in Kabul.

Mr Aryan said: "Our minister is concerned about this. We are constantly telling the British that you are supposed to be providing us with tools to fight narcotics, rather than all this luxury stuff, which we didn't ask for and didn't need."


The minister is reported to have asked the British why they could not have made the money available for Afghanistan to employ people to survey the poppy-growing areas on the ground.

The Deputy Minister of Counter Narcotics, General Khodaidad, is very supportive of the British position, but several other sources in the ministry have expressed concern about British priorities.

Mr Aryan says that the aerial photographs replicate material already available from the US, UN and British systems: "We can just look at the photo and say 'Wow, a five million dollar photo'."

Other concerns have been raised over a fund designed to provide alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers.

Of $70m earmarked for this project, little more than $1m has actually been spent.

Afghan officials blame bureaucratic obstacles put in the way of spending the money. The UK Foreign Office admitted that there have been "teething problems", for a fund that is operating "in a challenging environment".

Behind the criticism over spending lies a more serious concern that the counter-narcotics policy is not working.

Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is on the increase again, and rising fastest in areas under British control. A number of officials believe that the problem is now out of control, and that the international community has lost the war on drugs.

British policy towards Afghanistan is now undergoing its most radical review since the fall of the Taleban in 2001. There is a big increase of staff in Kabul, including a doubling of diplomats on the political side, directly engaged in relations with the Afghan government.

The review will include security, drug control policies, and development spending under a new ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles. He told the BBC that Afghanistan is now "one of Britain's top foreign policy

Iraq furore clouds Harman's first day

· Deputy leader insists she never called for apology
· Chairman's role important, says Prescott's successor

Will Woodward, chief political correspondent. The Guardian Tuesday 26 June 2007

Harriet Harman was forced on to the defensive on her first full day as Labour's deputy leader as she denied having called for the party to apologise over the Iraq war.

The outgoing justice minister was congratulated by David Cameron as she took her place beside Gordon Brown on the front bench yesterday afternoon. But she spent much of the morning rebutting charges that she had lurched to the left on a series of issues - especially Iraq - during the deputy leadership campaign.

She also denied that her appointment as party chair, announced on Sunday by Gordon Brown, meant that she was being sidelined. "It's a very important job," she said. Ms Harman will not be appointed deputy prime minister, unlike her predecessor, John Prescott. During a BBC2 Newsnight debate last month with other deputy leadership candidates, Ms Harman appeared to endorse calls from backbench rival Jon Cruddas for an apology for the war.

When interviewer Jeremy Paxman asked Mr Cruddas if he thought the party should apologise, Mr Cruddas said he did - "as part of the general reconciliation with the British people over what has been a disaster in Iraq". Ms Harman twice agreed with him.

The next day, on her blog, Ms Harman wrote that she was glad to use the Newsnight debate "to spell out ... that we have to acknowledge that we got it wrong on Iraq because there were no weapons of mass destruction".

Opposing campaigns identify her performance on Newsnight as one of the defining moments of the campaign, when Ms Harman made a decisive move to the left in pursuit of Mr Cruddas's second preferences. At the end of the programme Mr Cruddas was the only candidate prepared to say who he would back if he was not standing, and he chose Ms Harman.

But yesterday an exasperated Ms Harman said her agreement with Mr Cruddas was over the need for "reconciliation" on Iraq, not the apology. "I've never said the government should apologise. What I've said is I actually voted for the war on the basis that there were weapons of mass destruction and I was wrong on that. How many times can I say it? I haven't asked anybody else to do anything - I've just explained what my position is," she told Radio 4's Today programme.

Later, on BBC2's Daily Politics, Ms Harman said: "I think we need to acknowledge the bitterness and division that was caused over Iraq. I have not said there should be an apology." She also rejected the charge that she had been elected because of her left-wing views.

"I think that I got elected because the party members got the idea of a Gordon and me leadership team, of a man and a woman working together, for Labour as a party of the north right through to the south. We have worked together in the past and we are experienced, committed to being a dynamic team for the future."

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats' deputy leader, said: "Harriet Harman faces a serious problem of credibility. She made a whole series of statements when she was running for the deputy leadership that are wholly contrary to the policies set out by Gordon Brown.

"Her comments on the Iraq war are clearly in line with the vast majority of Labour members and the general public. What is now required is for Gordon Brown to come into line with her opinion, rather than the other way around."

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said: "So the first confirmed member of Brown's cabinet wants more union power, is against Trident, wants higher taxes on the rich and wants a limit on how much women spend on handbags. And she wouldn't have won if the Brown camp hadn't backed her in the MPs' ballot. It's a perfect result for us."

What she said:

Today, Radio 4, 25 June 2007
I've never said the government should apologise. What I've said is I actually voted for the war on the basis that there were weapons of mass destruction and I was wrong on that. How many times can I say it? I haven't asked anybody else to do anything - I've just explained what my position is.

Newsnight, BBC2, 29 May 2007
Jeremy Paxman Is there any one of you who would say knowing what you know now ... you would have voted against the war?
Harriet Harman Yes, I would. I voted for the war because I believed there were weapons of mass destruction. If I had known that there weren't weapons of mass destruction I wouldn't have voted for the war. Clearly it was a mistake, it was made in good faith, but I think with a new leadership we have to acknowledge the bitterness and anger there has been over Iraq ... I don't think Jon [Cruddas] and I are trying to wriggle out of our responsibility. I just think if you are looking forward and trying to rebuild public confidence you've got to admit when you have got it wrong.
Jeremy Paxman Do you believe the party should say sorry for what happened?
Jon Cruddas I do actually, as part of the general reconciliation with the British people over what has been a disaster in Iraq.
Harriet Harman (interjecting) Yup, I agree with that.
Jon Cruddas And I don't think we can actually rebuild a sense of trust and a dialogue with the British people unless we fundamentally reconcile ourselves to what the situation is on the ground and our own culpability in creating it.
Harriet Harman I agree with that.

Demonstrations of victory

Mark Thomas
26 June 2007, 11:00am

In August 2005 it became illegal to demonstrate in parliament and the surrounding environs without first gaining permission from the police, six days in advance. On June 24 2007 Maya Evans, the first person to be convicted of the criminal offence of "participating in an unauthorised demonstration" (for the heinous act of reading out the names of the Iraqi and British war dead at the Cenotaph), sent a text to friends and supporters: "Brown promises to allow peaceful protest around parliament". Less than two years after its arrival onto the statute books and the law looked like it is to be scrapped.

The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (Socpa) was introduced by David Blunkett to get rid of Brian Haw, the peace campaigner from Parliament Square. As you might expect of a piece of legislation that was bought in specifically to target one man, the end results were spiteful and farcical in equal measure. The police decided that one person with a banner counted as a demonstration; in fact, one person with a badge was deemed to be a demonstration. A friend of mine was threatened with arrest while having a picnic on Parliament Square as she had the word "peace" iced onto her cakes, this was deemed to be an "unauthorised demonstration". I had to get permission from the police specifically to wear a red nose, on Red Nose Day in Parliament Square, just in case it was mistaken for an illegal protest that could have led to my arrest. The implementation of the law became so absurd that a group of breast-feeding mums had to apply for permission to gather in Parliament Square to feed their children, as this was seen as a political protest that had to be controlled by the law.

To many this law, which would have us get permission to wear a badge or a T-shirt within a 1km radius of parliament, became the epitome of New Labour's control-freak tendencies. Socpa typified the Kafkaesque reach of a government determined to make the citizen more accountable to the state than the state was accountable to the citizen.

Some opposed the law by refusing to cooperate with it, like Maya, and held demonstrations without permission, like the Sack Parliament demo, calling for MPs to resign. Other less brave souls, like myself, decided to take on the law by organising mass lone demonstrations, where individuals applied for lone protests but en mass, swamping the police with paperwork. Each month people would arrive demanding everything from "an end to aggression in Palestine" to "free chocolate for the unemployed". In the process I became the Guinness World Record holder for "most political demonstrations in 24 hours" - I have a framed certificate - and in April this year we applied for 2,500 individual demonstrations around the Socpa zone in the space of a week, giving the police about three years' worth of work in seven days.

That Brown wants to scrap this law is good news. Though, frankly, it was an obvious and easy choice for him. The law is unpopular and there are few who will defend it. The GLA voted to recommend its abolition. Lady Sue Miller was pushing a private members' bill in the Lords to repeal it. Police officers sent me private emails saying: "we don't need this [law] and it makes us look stupid." I have even been in discussion with some folk within parliament about how they might organise their own illegal protest and force the police to arrest the very people the law was introduced to protect.

By repealing an unpopular law Brown not only appears to be listening to the British people, but emphasises the differences between himself and Blair, a vital task if he is to win back Middle England's trust, fractured by Iraq, loans for peerages and Blair's liberty grabbing tendencies. It also gives him a bit more room to promote ID cards, while rebutting the charges of being illiberal.

However, the devil is in the detail and while his comments are welcome I suspect that Brown is likely to keep parts of Socpa that make protest on various military bases (like the US spy base at Menwith Hill or RAF Fairford) illegal. Under trespass laws Quakers and peaceniks protesting on these bases would break the law if they refused to leave the property, under Socpa they can be arrested just for being on the property. It also remains unclear if he will repeal the law directly or tinker with it.

But while we might have to wait to find out exactly what kind of victory we have won, it is none the less a victory. And it has been a victory for protesters, for people who read names out at the Cenotaph, for people who pitched tents in Parliament Square and for people who waved banners at the mass lone demonstrations. This is a victory for the people who stood with hand-scrawled signs demanding "End the war in Iraq!", for those who made banners demanding the government ban Robbie Williams and for demonstrators who stood with papier mache boots demanding "Bigger shoe sizes for women!", it is a peculiarly British victory.

Memo leak was to 'reveal truth'

A civil servant accused under the Official Secrets Act of leaking a confidential memo wanted to reveal the truth about Iraq, a court has heard.

David Keogh, 50, and MP's researcher Leo O'Connor, 44, are on trial accused of trying to leak a record of a meeting between Tony Blair and George Bush.

The men, both from Northampton, deny making damaging disclosures.

Counsel for Mr Keogh asked jurors if they would "do the courageous thing" if they were placed in his position.

Few details of the "highly sensitive" memo, which is known to have included discussions about military tactics, have been made public.

Its contents are considered so secret that much of the trial is being held behind closed doors, and have not been directly referred to in court by counsel or witnesses.

'Blackadder script'
The court heard earlier that Mr Keogh gave the memo to political researcher Mr O'Connor at a dining club in Northampton.

It was passed to Northampton South MP Anthony Clarke, who called the police.

Speaking outside the Old Bailey on Thursday, BBC correspondent Ben Geoghegan said Mr Keogh's barrister Rex Tedd QC had reminded the jury of the context in which he says the actions of the two men should be seen.

The British and Americans had gone to Iraq and taken a "tiger by the tail" but did not know how to safely let go, he said.

He said it was ironic, something that "even the scriptwriters of Blackadder couldn't come up with" when President Bush described the campaign as "mission accomplished".

Mr Tedd said Mr Keogh had wanted to seek to reveal the truth of what was happening in Iraq while others were trying to conceal that truth.

He asked the jury whether if they were put in that position where they had some across such a document - whether they would have done the "courageous thing and release it" or "do what you are supposed to do?" which was to hand it in.

Earlier this week Mr O'Connor had never been "so worried and so fearful" when he was passed the document.

Mr O'Connor, who worked for anti-war Labour MP Mr Clarke, said he was approached by Mr Keogh and told about "some quite embarrassing, outlandish statements" in the four-page document.

But he told the jury that he took the claims with a "pinch of salt".

"It was the fear of knowing that I'd got something that I shouldn't have been in possession of, that I needed to get back to where it came from."

Asked if he intended to send copies of the document to newspapers or members of Parliament he said: "The thought never crossed my mind."

Democracy's last stand

If oil-rich Kurdistan goes the way of Baghdad and Mosul, all hopes of Iraqi unity will go with it
Mark Lattimer in Irbil. The Guardian Tuesday 01 May 2007

As 20,000 extra US troops arrived in Baghdad in February as part of George Bush's "Baghdad security plan", I asked a university professor there if she thought the Americans staying would improve security. "No," she said, "it will get worse." And if they leave? "It will still get worse. There is no win-win option any more. Whatever happens now, the people of Iraq will be the losers."

With a succession of massive explosions hitting Baghdad over the past two weeks, people in Iraq talk less about the American troop surge than a Sunni bombing surge. But what will probably be seen as a military failure in fact derives from the US's most deadly political mistake: expending its credibility in support of a "democratic" Iraqi government now close to collapse and from the beginning rotten to the core.

When I was in Baghdad last June just after the formation of the government, I noticed the optimism inside the green zone contrasted starkly with the fatalism expressed by Iraqis outside it. One reason soon became clear. Statistics for violent civilian deaths released by the UN, based on body counts in hospitals and morgues, showed that the inauguration of the government had coincided with a huge increase in killings, which over the summer reached 3,000 a month, or 100 a day.

While insurgent bombings dominated the headlines, it was clear that most of the bodies, often found with skulls punctured by drills, were the work of Shia death squads. US statements about the Iraqi government's capacity to provide security obscured the fact that the militias mainly responsible, the Badr brigade and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, were linked to the two most powerful parties in the governing coalition. The government, supposedly representing Iraq's democratic hopes, was the biggest part of the problem.

This meant that the so-called hearts-and-minds campaign was always doomed. I had an opportunity to see the campaign in action when I came across a US armoured convoy outside Mosul. The commanding officer later explained to me that he was visiting local chiefs to discuss security and build trust. But the security of his troops prevented any appointments being made in advance. In practice, then, as I learned when my tea with a senior Mosul official was dramatically interrupted, the push for hearts and minds meant descending on important people's homes in full battle order to ask them if they felt safe.

Now, while Iraqi and US soldiers' lives are being risked at checkpoints around Baghdad's Sadr City, the greatest threat to Iraq's unity and to its remaining hopes of democracy lies 150 miles north in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Under Saddam Hussein's policy of Arabisation, tens of thousands of Kurds and Turkmen were expelled from Kirkuk or forced to register as Arabs, and Arabs, mainly poor Shia from the south, were settled there. All the Kurdish politicians I met last week expressed their determination to implement the provisions of the new Iraqi constitution that call for a "normalisation" process enabling Kurds to reclaim their lands, and a referendum on the future of the Kirkuk area by December. With the government in Baghdad falling apart and America's days in Iraq numbered, the Kurds realise that unless they act soon, their chances of bringing Kirkuk into Iraqi Kurdistan will soon slip away.

In April the Iraqi cabinet agreed a voluntary package giving Arabs who were moved to Kirkuk 20m dinars (£7,500) and a plot of land in their area of origin if they agreed to leave. Non-Kurdish political parties reacted angrily to the plan, and inter-communal violence has increased. In fact, Kirkuk has become so dangerous that persuading Kurds to return may prove a lot harder than persuading others to go. Without a political solution soon, it seems inevitable that the situation will become as bad as in Baghdad or Mosul, and could threaten the security of Kurdistan itself.

That would be a grave loss. Kurdistan is unique in Iraq in enjoying relative security. The Kurdish units of the Iraqi army you see at checkpoints are disciplined, and there has been little of the sectarian bloodletting that has stained the rest of the country.

A sentiment heard repeatedly outside Kurdistan is that it is worse now than under Saddam. The failure to bring even minimal security to Iraq has rendered the attempts to install democracy next to worthless. Only in Kurdistan has the rule of law enabled democratic institutions to develop. "What we have here is the only success story in Iraq," I was told last week by Dr Mohammed Ihsan, the Kurdish minister responsible for negotiating on Kirkuk. "If the Americans don't sort out the Kirkuk issue, they will lose what they built here."

Mark Lattimer is the director of Minority Rights Group International

Divide and rule - America's plan for Baghdad

Revealed: a new counter-insurgency strategy to carve up the city into sealed areas. The tactic failed in Vietnam. So what chance does it have in Iraq?
Robert Fisk. The Independent, Wednesday 11 April 2007

Faced with an ever-more ruthless insurgency in Baghdad - despite President George Bush's "surge" in troops - US forces in the city are now planning a massive and highly controversial counter-insurgency operation that will seal off vast areas of the city, enclosing whole neighbourhoods with barricades and allowing only Iraqis with newly issued ID cards to enter.

The campaign of "gated communities" - whose genesis was in the Vietnam War - will involve up to 30 of the city's 89 official districts and will be the most ambitious counter-insurgency programme yet mounted by the US in Iraq.

The system has been used - and has spectacularly failed - in the past, and its inauguration in Iraq is as much a sign of American desperation at the country's continued descent into civil conflict as it is of US determination to "win" the war against an Iraqi insurgency that has cost the lives of more than 3,200 American troops. The system of "gating" areas under foreign occupation failed during the French war against FLN insurgents in Algeria and again during the American war in Vietnam. Israel has employed similar practices during its occupation of Palestinian territory - again, with little success.

But the campaign has far wider military ambitions than the pacification of Baghdad. It now appears that the US military intends to place as many as five mechanised brigades - comprising about 40,000 men - south and east of Baghdad, at least three of them positioned between the capital and the Iranian border. This would present Iran with a powerful - and potentially aggressive - American military force close to its border in the event of a US or Israeli military strike against its nuclear facilities later this year.

The latest "security" plan, of which The Independent has learnt the details, was concocted by General David Petraeus, the current US commander in Baghdad, during a six-month command and staff course at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Those attending the course - American army generals serving in Iraq and top officers from the US Marine Corps, along with, according to some reports, at least four senior Israeli officers - participated in a series of debates to determine how best to "turn round" the disastrous war in Iraq.

The initial emphasis of the new American plan will be placed on securing Baghdad market places and predominantly Shia Muslim areas. Arrests of men of military age will be substantial. The ID card project is based upon a system adopted in the city of Tal Afar by General Petraeus's men - and specifically by Colonel H R McMaster, of the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment - in early 2005, when an eight-foot "berm" was built around the town to prevent the movement of gunmen and weapons. General Petraeus regarded the campaign as a success although Tal Afar, close to the Syrian border, has since fallen back into insurgent control.

So far, the Baghdad campaign has involved only the creation of a few US positions within several civilian areas of the city but the new project will involve joint American and Iraqi "support bases" in nine of the 30 districts to be "gated" off. From these bases - in fortified buildings - US-Iraqi forces will supposedly clear militias from civilian streets which will then be walled off and the occupants issued with ID cards. Only the occupants will be allowed into these "gated communities" and there will be continuous patrolling by US-Iraqi forces. There are likely to be pass systems, "visitor" registration and restrictions on movement outside the "gated communities". Civilians may find themselves inside a "controlled population" prison.

In theory, US forces can then concentrate on providing physical reconstruction in what the military like to call a "secure environment". But insurgents are not foreigners, despite the presence of al-Qa'ida in Iraq. They come from the same population centres that will be "gated" and will, if undiscovered, hold ID cards themselves; they will be "enclosed" with everyone else.

A former US officer in Vietnam who has a deep knowledge of General Petraeus's plans is sceptical of the possible results. "The first loyalty of any Sunni who is in the Iraqi army is to the insurgency," he said. "Any Shia's first loyalty is to the head of his political party and its militia. Any Kurd in the Iraqi army, his first loyalty is to either Barzani or Talabani. There is no independent Iraqi army. These people really have no choice. They are trying to save their families from starvation and reprisal. At one time they may have believed in a unified Iraq. At one time they may have been secular. But the violence and brutality that started with the American invasion has burnt those liberal ideas out of people ... Every American who is embedded in an Iraqi unit is in constant mortal danger."

The senior generals who constructed the new "security" plan for Baghdad were largely responsible for the seminal - but officially "restricted" - field manual on counter-insurgency produced by the Department of the Army in December of last year, code-numbered FM 3-24. While not specifically advocating the "gated communities" campaign, one of its principles is the unification of civilian and military activities, citing "civil operations and revolutionary development support teams" in South Vietnam, assistance to Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq in 1991 and the "provincial reconstruction teams" in Afghanistan - a project widely condemned for linking military co-operation and humanitarian aid.

FM 3-24 is harsh in its analysis of what counter-insurgency forces must do to eliminate violence in Iraq. "With good intelligence," it says, "counter-insurgents are like surgeons cutting out cancerous tissue while keeping other vital organs intact." But another former senior US officer has produced his own pessimistic conclusions about the "gated" neighbourhood project.

"Once the additional troops are in place the insurrectionists will cut the lines of communication from Kuwait to the greatest extent they are able," he told The Independent. "They will do the same inside Baghdad, forcing more use of helicopters. The helicopters will be vulnerable coming into the patrol bases, and the enemy will destroy as many as they can. The second part of their plan will be to attempt to destroy one of the patrol bases. They will begin that process by utilising their people inside the 'gated communities' to help them enter. They will choose bases where the Iraqi troops either will not fight or will actually support them.

"The American reaction will be to use massive firepower, which will destroy the neighbourhood that is being 'protected'."

The ex-officer's fears for American helicopter crews were re-emphasised yesterday when a military Apache was shot down over central Baghdad.

The American's son is an officer currently serving in Baghdad. "The only chance the American military has to withdraw with any kind of tactical authority in the future is to take substantial casualties as a token of their respect for the situation created by the invasion," he said.

"The effort to create some order out of the chaos and the willingness to take casualties to do so will leave some residual respect for the Americans as they leave."

FM 3-24: America's new masterplan for Iraq
FM 3-24 comprises 220 pages of counter-insurgency planning, combat training techniques and historical analysis. The document was drawn up by Lt-Gen David Petraeus, the US commander in Baghdad, and Lt-Gen James Amos of the US Marine Corps, and was the nucleus for the new US campaign against the Iraqi insurgency. These are some of its recommendations and conclusions:

  • In the eyes of some, a government that cannot protect its people forfeits the right to rule. In [parts] of Iraq and Afghanistan... militias established themselves as extragovernmental arbiters of the populace's physical security - in some cases, after first undermining that security...
  • In the al-Qa'ida narrative... Osama bin Laden depicts himself as a man purified in the mountains of Afghanistan who is inspiring followers and punishing infidels. In the collective imagination of Bin Laden and his followers, they are agents of Islamic history who will reverse the decline of the umma (Muslim community) and bring about its triumph over Western imperialism.
  • As the Host Nation government increases its legitimacy, the populace begins to assist it more actively. Eventually, the people marginalise insurgents to the point that [their] claim to legitimacy is destroyed. However, victory is gained not when this is achieved, but when the victory is permanently maintained by and with the people's active support...
  • Any human rights abuses committed by US forces quickly become known throughout the local populace. Illegitimate actions undermine counterinsurgency efforts... Abuse of detained persons is immoral, illegal and unprofessional.
  • If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace and contact maintained.
  • FM 3-24 quotes Lawrence of Arabia as saying: "Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them."
  • FM 3-24 points to Napoleon's failure to control occupied Spain as the result of not providing a "stable environment" for the population. His struggle, the document says, lasted nearly six years and required four times the force of 80,000 Napoleon originally designated.
  • Do not try to crack the hardest nut first. Do not go straight for the main insurgent stronghold. Instead, start from secure areas and work gradually outwards... Go with, not against, the grain of the local populace.
  • Be cautious about allowing soldiers and marines to fraternise with local children. Homesick troops want to drop their guard with kids. But insurgents are watching. They notice any friendships between troops and children. They may either harm the children as punishment or use them as agents

The legacy of Fallujah

The western rhetoric of apathy must not blind us to our obligation to challenge atrocities
Jonathan Holmes. The Guardian, Wednesday 04 April 2007

Rana Al-Aiouby was risking her life delivering essential medicine to the wounded in the Iraqi city of Fallujah when she witnessed first-hand the effect of chemical weapons deployment by US troops. Despite their prohibition under several international treaties and by the Geneva conventions, white phosphorus and a napalm derivative were used without discrimination on the civilian population of a city the size of Edinburgh throughout 2004.

"I noticed something in the garden and it was a body but I couldn't really recognise it, and it looked really bad - it was a body with the colour green, and I have never seen this in all my life, and my work is dealing with dead bodies."

Few people know about the crimes committed during the two sieges of Fallujah - Operation Vigilant Resolve, launched three years ago tomorrow, and Operation Phantom Fury, in the following November - as a result of which 200,000 people became refugees. There are no official figures for civilian deaths.

In the face of repeated independent verification, US forces have now acknowledged the use of chemical weapons, and yet there remains no sustained international outcry and no official response (let alone condemnation) from any government or the United Nations. The US has overthrown a regime while supposedly searching for phantom weapons of mass destruction, only to use such weapons on the newly "liberated" civilian population. The cold hypocrisy of such actions is outweighed only by its extravagant viciousness.

Seventy articles of the Geneva conventions were breached in the two separate months of siege warfare. Despite calls to abolish the conventions by the past and present Conservative leaders Michael Howard and David Cameron among others, they remain an essential bulwark against the bullying tactics of the powerful, and a poignant index of the increasing impunity of the neo-colonial project. Their ethos is that the innocent, the weak, the defeated and the injured be afforded all the protection possible in times of conflict. The ethos of the US government is that the weak and innocent are a hindrance to the acquisition of power and, occasionally, an opportunity for the expansion of profit.

In writing my play Fallujah, which weaves together eye-witness accounts from Rana and many others present during these attacks, what astonished me was the symmetry between the testimony of American soldiers and that of their victims: "Yeah, we napalmed those bridges," said Colonel Randolph Alles, of Marine Air Group 11, in an interview with James Crawley of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "The generals love napalm." The guys on the ground no longer bother dissembling, so confident are their masters that protest, should it happen, will be muted and ineffectual.

The rhetoric of impotence so prevalent in the west has been too effective and we are too weary to be surprised, let alone act. As with the proposed abolition of the Geneva conventions, what is in evidence is a kind of fatigue, a sense that ethical action is just too troublesome in our complicated and distracted world. Yet the irony is that as members of a privileged European society, with unparalleled material wealth, leisure time, communications technology and intellectual opportunity, we are in an unprecedented position of influence, no longer dependent on the ballot and the wallet to exercise protest. We have never been better placed or equipped as individuals to make an impact on the world; this is obvious from the huge changes we are making to the environment. All the people I interviewed for Fallujah and whose testimony is reproduced verbatim, from generals to clerics to Iraqi civilians, acknowledged this. We are all participants now.

Many of the Iraqis I have met repeated the same slogan: "Fallujah now is Iraq, and Iraq is Fallujah." Three years on, people have returned to what remains of their homes, but life is no less dangerous. Spot searches, evictions and sudden attacks are common, the city has no real infrastructure, little clean water and almost no healthcare, and factional warfare is a daily occurrence. It is still very difficult for aid to reach the city or for observers to see just how hard life is for residents.

What is certain is that the damage done has not been repaired and no reparation has been forthcoming, despite promises from the Iraqi interim authorities. The city is in a chaotic state, and many people feel that once again they have been forgotten. The atrocities of three years ago have become emblematic of a nation's suffering; unless we respond with compassion the emblem will harden into a symbol of resistance and reaction, and we will reap the whirlwind sooner than we care to think.

· Jonathan Holmes is a writer, director and academic; his play Fallujah opens at the Old Truman Brewery, London, on Tuesday 01 May 2007.

The botched US raid that led to the hostage crisis
Exclusive Report: How a bid to kidnap Iranian security officials sparked a diplomatic crisis
Patrick Cockburn. The Independent, 03 Tuesday April 2007.

A failed American attempt to abduct two senior Iranian security officers on an official visit to northern Iraq was the starting pistol for a crisis that 10 weeks later led to Iranians seizing 15 British sailors and Marines.

Early on the morning of 11 January, helicopter-born US forces launched a surprise raid on a long-established Iranian liaison office in the city of Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. They captured five relatively junior Iranian officials whom the US accuses of being intelligence agents and still holds.

In reality the US attack had a far more ambitious objective, The Independent has learned. The aim of the raid, launched without informing the Kurdish authorities, was to seize two men at the very heart of the Iranian security establishment.

Better understanding of the seriousness of the US action in Arbil - and the angry Iranian response to it - should have led Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence to realise that Iran was likely to retaliate against American or British forces such as highly vulnerable Navy search parties in the Gulf. The two senior Iranian officers the US sought to capture were Mohammed Jafari, the powerful deputy head of the Iranian National Security Council, and General Minojahar Frouzanda, the chief of intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, according to Kurdish officials.

The two men were in Kurdistan on an official visit during which they met the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, and later saw Massoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), at his mountain headquarters overlooking Arbil.

"They were after Jafari," Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, told The Independent. He confirmed that the Iranian office had been established in Arbil for a long time and was often visited by Kurds obtaining documents to visit Iran. "The Americans thought he [Jafari] was there," said Mr Hussein.

Mr Jafari was accompanied by a second, high-ranking Iranian official. "His name was General Minojahar Frouzanda, the head of intelligence of the Pasdaran [Iranian Revolutionary Guard]," said Sadi Ahmed Pire, now head of the Diwan (office) of President Talabani in Baghdad. Mr Pire previously lived in Arbil, where he headed the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Mr Talabani's political party.

The attempt by the US to seize the two high-ranking Iranian security officers openly meeting with Iraqi leaders is somewhat as if Iran had tried to kidnap the heads of the CIA and MI6 while they were on an official visit to a country neighbouring Iran, such as Pakistan or Afghanistan. There is no doubt that Iran believes that Mr Jafari and Mr Frouzanda were targeted by the Americans. Mr Jafari confirmed to the official Iranian news agency, IRNA, that he was in Arbil at the time of the raid.

In a little-noticed remark, Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister, told IRNA: "The objective of the Americans was to arrest Iranian security officials who had gone to Iraq to develop co-operation in the area of bilateral security."

US officials in Washington subsequently claimed that the five Iranian officials they did seize, who have not been seen since, were "suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraq and coalition forces". This explanation never made much sense. No member of the US-led coalition has been killed in Arbil and there were no Sunni-Arab insurgents or Shia militiamen there.

The raid on Arbil took place within hours of President George Bush making an address to the nation on 10 January in which he claimed: "Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops." He identified Iran and Syria as America's main enemies in Iraq though the four-year-old guerrilla war against US-led forces is being conducted by the strongly anti-Iranian Sunni-Arab community. Mr Jafari himself later complained about US allegations. "So far has there been a single Iranian among suicide bombers in the war-battered country?" he asked. "Almost all who involved in the suicide attacks are from Arab countries."

It seemed strange at the time that the US would so openly flout the authority of the Iraqi President and the head of the KRG simply to raid an Iranian liaison office that was being upgraded to a consulate, though this had not yet happened on 11 January. US officials, who must have been privy to the White House's new anti-Iranian stance, may have thought that bruised Kurdish pride was a small price to pay if the US could grab such senior Iranian officials.

For more than a year the US and its allies have been trying to put pressure on Iran. Security sources in Iraqi Kurdistan have long said that the US is backing Iranian Kurdish guerrillas in Iran. The US is also reportedly backing Sunni Arab dissidents in Khuzestan in southern Iran who are opposed to the government in Tehran. On 4 February soldiers from the Iraqi army 36th Commando battalion in Baghdad, considered to be under American control, seized Jalal Sharafi, an Iranian diplomat.

The raid in Arbil was a far more serious and aggressive act. It was not carried out by proxies but by US forces directly. The abortive Arbil raid provoked a dangerous escalation in the confrontation between the US and Iran which ultimately led to the capture of the 15 British sailors and Marines - apparently considered a more vulnerable coalition target than their American comrades.

The targeted generals:

Powerful deputy head of the Iranian National Security Council, responsible for internal security. He has accused the United States of seeking to "hold Iran responsible for insecurity in Iraq... and [US] failure in the country."

Chief of intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the military unit which maintains its own intelligence service separate from the state, as well as a parallel army, navy and air force

Call that humiliation?

No hoods. No electric shocks. No beatings. These Iranians clearly are a very uncivilised bunch
Terry Jones. "The Guardian" Saturday 31 March 2007

I share the outrage expressed in the British press over the treatment of our naval personnel accused by Iran of illegally entering their waters. It is a disgrace. We would never dream of treating captives like this - allowing them to smoke cigarettes, for example, even though it has been proven that smoking kills. And as for compelling poor servicewoman Faye Turney to wear a black headscarf, and then allowing the picture to be posted around the world - have the Iranians no concept of civilised behaviour? For God's sake, what's wrong with putting a bag over her head? That's what we do with the Muslims we capture: we put bags over their heads, so it's hard to breathe. Then it's perfectly acceptable to take photographs of them and circulate them to the press because the captives can't be recognised and humiliated in the way these unfortunate British service people are.

It is also unacceptable that these British captives should be made to talk on television and say things that they may regret later. If the Iranians put duct tape over their mouths, like we do to our captives, they wouldn't be able to talk at all. Of course they'd probably find it even harder to breathe - especially with a bag over their head - but at least they wouldn't be humiliated.

And what's all this about allowing the captives to write letters home saying they are all right? It's time the Iranians fell into line with the rest of the civilised world: they should allow their captives the privacy of solitary confinement. That's one of the many privileges the US grants to its captives in Guantánamo Bay.

The true mark of a civilised country is that it doesn't rush into charging people whom it has arbitrarily arrested in places it's just invaded. The inmates of Guantánamo, for example, have been enjoying all the privacy they want for almost five years, and the first inmate has only just been charged. What a contrast to the disgraceful Iranian rush to parade their captives before the cameras!

What's more, it is clear that the Iranians are not giving their British prisoners any decent physical exercise. The US military make sure that their Iraqi captives enjoy PT. This takes the form of exciting "stress positions", which the captives are expected to hold for hours on end so as to improve their stomach and calf muscles. A common exercise is where they are made to stand on the balls of their feet and then squat so that their thighs are parallel to the ground. This creates intense pain and, finally, muscle failure. It's all good healthy fun and has the bonus that the captives will confess to anything to get out of it.

And this brings me to my final point. It is clear from her TV appearance that servicewoman Turney has been put under pressure. The newspapers have persuaded behavioural psychologists to examine the footage and they all conclude that she is "unhappy and stressed".

What is so appalling is the underhand way in which the Iranians have got her "unhappy and stressed". She shows no signs of electrocution or burn marks and there are no signs of beating on her face. This is unacceptable. If captives are to be put under duress, such as by forcing them into compromising sexual positions, or having electric shocks to their genitals, they should be photographed, as they were in Abu Ghraib. The photographs should then be circulated around the civilised world so that everyone can see exactly what has been going on.

As Stephen Glover pointed out in the Daily Mail, perhaps it would not be right to bomb Iran in retaliation for the humiliation of our servicemen, but clearly the Iranian people must be made to suffer - whether by beefing up sanctions, as the Mail suggests, or simply by getting President Bush to hurry up and invade, as he intends to anyway, and bring democracy and western values to the country, as he has in Iraq.
· Terry Jones is a film director, actor and Python -
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Iran may stop dollar oil sales
Reuters. Tehran: Saturday 31 March 2007

Iran's central bank governor said Tehran had plans to end the sale of its oil in dollars completely.

This is part of a move to protect the Islamic Republic from mounting US pressure.

Washington is leading efforts to isolate Iran over a nuclear programme which the West says is aimed at building atomic bombs despite Tehran's denials. Tensions with the West have increased with a row over Iran's detention of British naval personnel.

A big Iranian state bank has been targetted under UN sanctions passed this month, the second resolution since December. US officials suggested on Thursday Iran's dependence on gasoline imports might be a target in future.

'Iran has plans to stop selling its oil in dollars completely,' Governor Ebrahim Sheibani was quoted as saying. The report did not say when the plan would come into effect.

Iranian officials have previously said the world's fourth largest oil exporter is seeking more oil revenues in currencies other than the dollar. A Iranian oil official said this month 60 per cent of Iran's crude income was now in other units.

Central bank and other officials have also said Iranian oil was still being sold based on the international dollar price even if paymet was being requested in other currencies.

Iran's shift out of oil sales in dollars has accelerated a fall in the dollar portion of Iran's foreign reserves, which Sheibani has said was now at a minimum of about 20 per cent.

But Iran's central bank has said it still needs to keep some reserves in dollars to meet some dollar trade requirements.

Iran has to import about 40 per cent of its gasoline needs because it lacks refining capacity. Western diplomats have said they do not plan to target these imports, even though it is a vulnerable point, because it would hurt ordinary Iranians most.

But US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns on Thursday raised the spectre of sanctions by saying it was a 'point of leverage' for Washington. A US official said targetting fuel imports was unlikely in any third round of sanctions.

Sheibani was also quoted by state television as repeating remarks made this month saying the country had enough reserves 'to prevent major shocks in (its) economy'.

He did not give the level of Iran's reserves, a figure which is not officially released.

Sanctions have been imposed on Iran for its failure to heed UN calls to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can make both fuel for power stations or, if Iran wanted, material for warheads.

The Pentagon will attack Iranian military targets (Russian expert)

By RIA Novosti
Translated from French by Babelfish

MOSCOW, March 21. The Pentagon projects to conduct soon a massive attack against the Iranian military infrastructure, estimates the General Leonid Ivachov, vice-president of the Academy of geopolitical sciences.

"I do not have any doubt as for the reality of this operation or, more precisely, of this aggression against Iran", the General Russian in a maintenance with RIA Novosti Wednesday declared.

According to him, testify to it in particular the conference at the beginning of March in Washington to the Committee americano-Israeli (AIPAC), which decided to support the Bush administration, as well as the fact that a few days after the US Congress revoked his own amendment prohibiting to the president to attack Iran without its downstream.

"We drew from it the conclusion which this operation would have well place. In other words, the Israeli community of the United States and the Israeli direction - represented with this conference by the Foreign Minister of the Hebrew State - formulated the directive to attack Iran ", noted the expert.

But the United States does not project a terrestrial operation. "According to any obviousness, there will be no terrestrial invasion. It will be strike air massive and of wear, with an aim of destroying the military potential of resistance, the centers of administrative direction, the economic installations key and, if possible, a part of the Iranian direction ", the expert underlined.

The Ivachov General did not draw aside the possibility of strike by means of tactical nuclear weapons against the Iranian nuclear sites. _ "It himself be that one call appel upon some load nuclear of low power", have it suppose.

The action of the Pentagon will be able to paralyse the life in the country, to sow panic there and, generally, to found a climate of chaos and uncertainty ", the expert affirmed.

"That could revive the fights to be able it inside Iran. A mission of peace will have to follow to put at the capacity to Teheran a government pro-American ", estimated the Ivachov General.

The purpose of all that will be to regild the blazon of the republican administration which will be able to thus declare that the Iranian nuclear potential was destroyed, it added.

Among the possible consequences of the military operation, the General quoted the dislocation of the country like Iraq. According to him, "this design gave results in Balkans, now it will be applied - if this one is not it already - with regard to the Large Middle East".

Questioned on the question of knowing if Russia were in measurement, by the diplomatic way, to influence the evolutions around Iran, the expert affirmed that "Moscow must exert an impact, requiring an urgent convocation of the Security Council of UNO to study the question of the aggression not sanctioned in preparation against Iran and of the non-observance of the principles of the Charter of UNO".

"And there Russia could cooperate with China, France and the non-permanent members of the Council. Such preventive measures could contain the aggression ", affirms the Ivachov General.

Original article in French -

British backtrack on Iraq death toll

Jill Lawless. The Independent, 27 March 2007

British government officials have backed the methods used by scientists who concluded that more than 600,000 Iraqis have been killed since the invasion, the BBC reported yesterday.

The Government publicly rejected the findings, published in The Lancet in October. But the BBC said documents obtained under freedom of information legislation showed advisers concluded that the much-criticised study had used sound methods.

The study, conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, estimated that 655,000 more Iraqis had died since March 2003 than one would expect without the war. The study estimated that 601,027 of those deaths were from violence.

The researchers, reflecting the inherent uncertainties in such extrapolations, said they were 95 per cent certain that the real number of deaths lay somewhere between 392,979 and 942,636.

The conclusion, based on interviews and not a body count, was disputed by some experts, and rejected by the US and British governments. But the chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Roy Anderson, described the methods used in the study as "robust" and "close to best practice". Another official said it was "a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones".

Defence Spending: Security agencies win £86m for terror fight
Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent, The Independent.
Thursday 22 March 2007

The cost of combating terrorism at home and abroad was underlined as the Chancellor announced major new handouts to the security services and to British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

MI5, MI6 and GCHQ will receive an extra £86.4m, bringing their total annual spending to £2.25bn this year, more than double their budget before the September 11 attacks.

And Mr Brown, who praised the "huge debt of gratitude to our armed forces", promised a further £400m for the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the total expense of Britain's commitment in the two countries to £7.4bn.

Most of the extra cash for the security agencies will pay for speedier recruitment as they expand to their greatest strength for 50 years. The rest will be invested in high-technology surveillance equipment.

The moves follow a warning by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, that it is aware of 30 terrorist plots against the UK and is keeping 1,600 individuals under surveillance.

Mr Brown told MPs: "At all times, as the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have emphasised, we will put the security of the country first." He also confirmed that the outcome of two reviews into the Government's counter-terrorism strategy will be set out by the Comprehensive Spending Review, which is expected this summer. One, conducted by the Chancellor, has examined the case for a single security budget.

The other, carried out by John Reid, the Home Secretary, has recommending splitting the Home Office in two. It is being considered by Tony Blair, with a decision expected to be announced within weeks.

The additional money for the armed forces will go towards their spiralling costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Britain's involvement in Iraq is now costing £1bn a year and has totalled more than £5bn since the US-led invasion in March 2003. Ministers will hope the amount will fall if they achieve their ambitions of scaling back the British troop presence in Iraq over the year. The deepening commitment in Afghanistan has cost a further £2bn.

A further £200m is to be allocated from reserves to peacekeeping activities around the world.

The soaring bills for the taxpayer do not take into the account the human costs of military action.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, singled out the extra spending on Iraq war as an example of wasting money on an "unnecessary and unpopular" policy. He added: "We know the President made the decisions on Iraq, the Prime Minister made the case, the Chancellor signed the cheques and I'm afraid the Conservatives voted it through."

The Treasury said the £400m was a "prudent allowance" against commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Conflict and instability elsewhere have the potential to enhance the risk to the UK," it said in supporting documents to the Budget. "International peace support operations continue to play a key role in global stability."

Liam Wren-Lewis, a researcher for the Iraq Analysis Group, a research organisation, said the Chancellor had failed to "come clean" over the military's expense. "We still know astonishingly little about how much it has cost the UK and almost nothing about how much the Government expects it will cost in future years. But in contrast to the United States, the UK Ministry of Defence isn't required to publicly report its Iraq spending in any detail."

60% think Iraq war was wrong, poll shows

Peter Walker and agencies
Guardian Unlimited Tuesday 20 March 2007

More than half the British population would not trust the government again if it said war was needed to protect national security, a poll published today revealed.

The survey - commissioned by the BBC - found that nearly 60% believed the US and UK were not right to invade Iraq exactly four years ago. It showed that 29% thought the conflict was justified.

Asked whether, "given their experiences of the war in Iraq", they would trust a British government that said it needed to take military action because a country posed a direct threat to national security, 51% said they would not, with 32% saying they would.

In contrast, 57% of people would back British military action overseas if it was to assist disaster relief or stop genocide.

The Iraq war has not left Britons feeling more secure - only 5% said they felt the country was a safer place, with 55% saying they felt less safe.

The final finding of the poll, which was carried out early this month, was that exactly half of all respondents believed the war and its aftermath would be very or fairly important in making their mind up at the next general election.

The survey was published a day after a poll of people in all 18 Iraqi provinces revealed an increasingly pessimistic outlook. Less than 40% of the more than 2,200 Iraqis surveyed said things in their lives were generally good.

In contrast, a similar poll, conducted in late 2005, revealed an equivalent figure of 71%.

Only 26% of people said they felt safe in their own neighbourhoods, while more than half said they had sometimes avoided markets or other crowded places.

Almost nine in 10 of those surveyed said they feared they or a family member could become a victim of violence, while only 5% said they worried "hardly at all" about this possibility.

Only 38% of those asked said the situation in Iraq was better than it had been before the US-led invasion, while 50% said things were worse.

Also today, anti-war campaigners will hold a people's assembly in central London to mark the anniversary of the start of the conflict.

Among the speakers will be the US Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a liberal outsider for the Democratic presidential nomination, and MPs including John McDonnell and Michael Meacher, both declared candidates for the Labour leadership.

George Galloway, of Respect, and the Conservative MP Michael Ancram will also speak, as will Rose Gentle, who has campaigned against the conflict since her 19-year-old son, Gordon, was killed in Iraq.

£1bn-a-year cost of war in Iraq 'would be better spent on NHS hospitals'

Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor. The Independent, Tuesday 13 March 2007.

The spiralling cost of the Iraq war to the British taxpayer is set to exceed £1bn this year for the first time since the invasion.

The figures were released as MPs protested about the plight of Britain's NHS hospitals, ordered to cut costs to wipe out their £512m deficit by the end of this month. Many MPs said the money would be better spent on the service.

"This is the politics of Mad Hatter priorities," said Alan Simpson, a Labour opponent of the war. "The Government is throwing money into an unwinnable war zone in Iraq at the same time as withholding money that creates a war zone in our hospitals."

The total cost on the UK defence budget since the invasion exceeds £5.3bn but increases in defence spending have pushed up the cost by 10 per cent in the past four months. In November, the Ministry of Defence said it was expecting the cost of the Iraq military operations this financial year to be £860m - a fall of £98m on the previous year. But the latest spring estimates put the total at £1,002m, £142m more than expected four months earlier.

MPs on the Commons Select Committee on Defence have challenged the MoD to explain the rise, which has taken place after the Government announced it was reducing the number of troops in Iraq.

"Part of this increase is explained by the fact that the new operational bonus and indirect resource costs were not included in the earlier estimates," said the MPs on the committee. "If those elements are set aside, the MoD's forecast of the costs of this year's operations have risen by over 10 per cent for Iraq ... The cost of operations in Iraq is forecast to exceed last year's out-turn despite the reduced number of UK forces in that theatre and we call on the MoD to explain this."

The increases for the Iraq defence bill in the past few months includes a rise of £56m for military personnel and an extra £52m in equipment support costs and other costs. However, infrastructure costs have dropped £17m. In 2003, when the invasion took place, Britain spent £1.3bn on defence in Iraq but it fell back in 2004 to £910m.

Hans Blix, the former United Nations arms inspector, claimed yesterday that the invasion was "clearly illegal". Mr Blix said.

"There were question marks [over the evidence of WMD] but they changed them to exclamation marks," Mr Blix told Sky News. He accused America of a "witch-hunt" to justify the war

Soldiers returning home from service in Iraq must be given more psychiatric help before being allowed to socialise with the public, a judge said yesterday, after a lance-corporal suffering from post-traumatic stress fractured a man's skull and left him fighting for his life.

L/Cpl James Savage spent six months on a tour of duty in Iraq last year during which his best friend died in his arms while he was giving him the kiss of life. He also witnessed his superior officer being blown up during an attack by insurgents. But just days after he had requested medical help to deal with the psychological effects of his experiences, he was allowed to leave his barracks to celebrate his end of tour.

Judge Tonking, sitting at Stafford Crown Court, warned that many combat soldiers returning home in similar conditions may present a danger to the public.

He told the soldier: "You returned from Iraq via Cyprus where you had asked for psychiatric help because of the horrific things you had seen and, within a matter of days, you were able to go out onto the streets of Burton, drink as much as you like and be in a position where you would react in the way you did."

The court heard how Savage took offence at a comment made by a woman about his drunken behaviour and punched her boyfriend in the face. Philip Collins's head hit the pub's concrete patio. He was taken to hospital in a coma and later underwent emergency brain surgery.

Savage, 23, from Winshill, who admitted a charge of inflicting grievous bodily harm was sentenced to a 18-month community order, with 200 hours unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay Mr Collins £3,000 compensation.

The court heard that Savage was still in a "war mentality" state when he went out celebrate.

Judge Tonking said: "Those who serve in the armed forces don't have a carte blanche to return to this country and be violent to members of the public.

"On the other hand, those who serve in the armed forces do a job that members of the public can't begin to understand, in terms of the experiences they go through and the horrific scenes with which they have to deal."

Savage is one of a small, but growing number, of soldiers who have committed violent crimes while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

From the start of the conflict in Iraq in 2003 to December last year, 1,541 service personnel have received treatment for mental health conditions, 208 of which have been diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, according to figures released by the Ministry of Defence.

It is estimated that the criminal courts have sentenced about a dozen soldiers for violence and drugs offences committed while suffering post-traumatic stress.

Judge Tonking told Savage: "I am not here to criticise you or the authorities but it ought to be recognised that when those who have been serving abroad in situations of combat return home, there needs to be a period of re-acclimatisation when coming back to the civilised world."

The judge added: "You were still hyper-reactive, those are conditions which in combat are necessary but on the streets of provincial towns in England they are dangerous."

Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, occurs when a person has experienced, witnessed or been confronted with a terrible event that has actually occurred. Alternatively, the person may have been threatened with a terrible event. The person's response involves intense fear, helplessness, and/or horror.

The concept of an illness with a common range of symptoms to PTSD has only been accepted by medical science in the past hundred years. During the First World War, PTSD was called shell shock and during the Second World War it was referred to as combat fatigue.

Marcus Roberts, head of policy at mental health charity Mind, said: "The disturbing experiences that soldiers will go through during conflict can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, sleeping problems and panic attacks. It's tough not just for the individuals but also for their friends and family."

A predator becomes more dangerous when wounded

Washington's escalation of threats against Iran is driven by a determination to secure control of the region's energy resources
Noam Chomsky, The Guardian Friday 09 March 2007

In the energy-rich Middle East, only two countries have failed to subordinate themselves to Washington's basic demands: Iran and Syria. Accordingly both are enemies, Iran by far the more important. As was the norm during the cold war, resort to violence is regularly justified as a reaction to the malign influence of the main enemy, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. Unsurprisingly, as Bush sends more troops to Iraq, tales surface of Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Iraq - a country otherwise free from any foreign interference - on the tacit assumption that Washington rules the world.

In the cold war-like mentality in Washington, Tehran is portrayed as the pinnacle in the so-called Shia crescent that stretches from Iran to Hizbullah in Lebanon, through Shia southern Iraq and Syria. And again unsurprisingly, the "surge" in Iraq and escalation of threats and accusations against Iran is accompanied by grudging willingness to attend a conference of regional powers, with the agenda limited to Iraq.

Presumably this minimal gesture toward diplomacy is intended to allay the growing fears and anger elicited by Washington's heightened aggressiveness. These concerns are given new substance in a detailed study of "the Iraq effect" by terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, revealing that the Iraq war "has increased terrorism sevenfold worldwide". An "Iran effect" could be even more severe.

For the US, the primary issue in the Middle East has been, and remains, effective control of its unparalleled energy resources. Access is a secondary matter. Once the oil is on the seas it goes anywhere. Control is understood to be an instrument of global dominance. Iranian influence in the "crescent" challenges US control. By an accident of geography, the world's major oil resources are in largely Shia areas of the Middle East: southern Iraq, adjacent regions of Saudi Arabia and Iran, with some of the major reserves of natural gas as well. Washington's worst nightmare would be a loose Shia alliance controlling most of the world's oil and independent of the US.

Such a bloc, if it emerges, might even join the Asian Energy Security Grid based in China. Iran could be a lynchpin. If the Bush planners bring that about, they will have seriously undermined the US position of power in the world.

To Washington, Tehran's principal offence has been its defiance, going back to the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 and the hostage crisis at the US embassy. In retribution, Washington turned to support Saddam Hussein's aggression against Iran, which left hundreds of thousands dead. Then came murderous sanctions and, under Bush, rejection of Iranian diplomatic efforts.

Last July, Israel invaded Lebanon, the fifth invasion since 1978. As before, US support was a critical factor, the pretexts quickly collapse on inspection, and the consequences for the people of Lebanon are severe. Among the reasons for the US-Israel invasion is that Hizbullah's rockets could be a deterrent to a US-Israeli attack on Iran. Despite the sabre-rattling it is, I suspect, unlikely that the Bush administration will attack Iran. Public opinion in the US and around the world is overwhelmingly opposed. It appears that the US military and intelligence community is also opposed. Iran cannot defend itself against US attack, but it can respond in other ways, among them by inciting even more havoc in Iraq. Some issue warnings that are far more grave, among them the British military historian Corelli Barnett, who writes that "an attack on Iran would effectively launch world war three".

Then again, a predator becomes even more dangerous, and less predictable, when wounded. In desperation to salvage something, the administration might risk even greater disasters. The Bush administration has created an unimaginable catastrophe in Iraq. It has been unable to establish a reliable client state within, and cannot withdraw without facing the possible loss of control of the Middle East's energy resources.

Meanwhile Washington may be seeking to destabilise Iran from within. The ethnic mix in Iran is complex; much of the population isn't Persian. There are secessionist tendencies and it is likely that Washington is trying to stir them up - in Khuzestan on the Gulf, for example, where Iran's oil is concentrated, a region that is largely Arab, not Persian.

Threat escalation also serves to pressure others to join US efforts to strangle Iran economically, with predictable success in Europe. Another predictable consequence, presumably intended, is to induce the Iranian leadership to be as repressive as possible, fomenting disorder while undermining reformers.

It is also necessary to demonise the leadership. In the west, any wild statement by President Ahmadinejad is circulated in headlines, dubiously translated. But Ahmadinejad has no control over foreign policy, which is in the hands of his superior, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The US media tend to ignore Khamenei's statements, especially if they are conciliatory. It's widely reported when Ahmadinejad says Israel shouldn't exist - but there is silence when Khamenei says that Iran supports the Arab League position on Israel-Palestine, calling for normalisation of relations with Israel if it accepts the international consensus of a two-state settlement.

The US invasion of Iraq virtually instructed Iran to develop a nuclear deterrent. The message was that the US attacks at will, as long as the target is defenceless. Now Iran is ringed by US forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and the Persian Gulf, and close by are nuclear-armed Pakistan and Israel, the regional superpower, thanks to US support.

In 2003, Iran offered negotiations on all outstanding issues, including nuclear policies and Israel-Palestine relations. Washington's response was to censure the Swiss diplomat who brought the offer. The following year, the EU and Iran reached an agreement that Iran would suspend enriching uranium; in return the EU would provide "firm guarantees on security issues" - code for US-Israeli threats to bomb Iran.

Apparently under US pressure, Europe did not live up to the bargain. Iran then resumed uranium enrichment. A genuine interest in preventing the development of nuclear weapons in Iran would lead Washington to implement the EU bargain, agree to meaningful negotiations and join with others to move toward integrating Iran into the international economic system.

© Noam Chomsky, New York Times Syndicate
· Noam Chomsky is co-author, with Gilbert Achcar, of Perilous Power: The Middle East and US Foreign Policy

US generals "will quit" if Bush orders Iran attack

Michael Smith and Sarah Baxter, Washington. Sunday Times, 25 February 2007.

SOME of America¹s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

³There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,² a source with close ties to British intelligence said. ³There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.²

A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. ³All the generals are perfectly clear that they don¹t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

"There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment too far for there to be resignations."

A generals' revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. "American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired," said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.

The threat of a wave of resignations coincided with a warning by Vice-President Dick Cheney that all options, including military action, remained on the table. He was responding to a comment by Tony Blair that it would not "be right to take military action against Iran".

Iran ignored a United Nations deadline to suspend its uranium enrichment programme last week. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted that his country "will not withdraw from its nuclear stances even one single step".

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran could soon produce enough enriched uranium for two nuclear bombs a year, although Tehran claims its programme is purely for civilian energy purposes.

Nicholas Burns, the top US negotiator, is to meet British, French, German, Chinese and Russian officials in London tomorrow to discuss additional penalties against Iran. But UN diplomats cautioned that further measures would take weeks to agree and would be mild at best.

A second US navy aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS John C Stennis arrived in the Gulf last week, doubling the US presence there. Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh, the commander of the US Fifth Fleet, warned: "The US will take military action if ships are attacked or if countries in the region are targeted or US troops come under direct attack."

But General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said recently there was "zero chance" of a war with Iran. He played down claims by US intelligence that the Iranian government was responsible for supplying insurgents in Iraq, forcing Bush on the defensive.

Pace's view was backed up by British intelligence officials who said the extent of the Iranian government¹s involvement in activities inside Iraq by a small number of Revolutionary Guards was "far from clear".

Hillary Mann, the National Security Council¹s main Iran expert until 2004, said Pace's repudiation of the administration¹s claims was a sign of grave discontent at the top.

"He is a very serious and a very loyal soldier," she said. "It is extraordinary for him to have made these comments publicly, and it suggests there are serious problems between the White House, the National Security Council and the Pentagon."

Mann fears the administration is seeking to provoke Iran into a reaction that could be used as an excuse for an attack. A British official said the US navy was well aware of the risks of confrontation and was being "seriously careful" in the Gulf.

The US air force is regarded as being more willing to attack Iran. General Michael Moseley, the head of the air force, cited Iran as the main likely target for American aircraft at a military conference earlier this month.

According to a report in The New Yorker magazine, the Pentagon has already set up a working group to plan airstrikes on Iran. The panel initially focused on destroying Iran¹s nuclear facilities and on regime change but has more recently been instructed to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq.

However, army chiefs fear an attack on Iran would backfire on American troops in Iraq and lead to more terrorist attacks, a rise in oil prices and the threat of a regional war.

Britain is concerned that its own troops in Iraq might be drawn into any American conflict with Iran, regardless of whether the government takes part in the attack.

One retired general who participated in the "generals' revolt" against Donald Rumsfeld¹s handling of the Iraq war said he hoped his former colleagues would resign in the event of an order to attack. "We don't want to take another initiative unless we've really thought through the consequences of our strategy," he warned.

This was always a needless, immoral war. Yet still they won't admit it

The invasion of Iraq was foolish, illegal and finally catastrophic. The only people who seem not to know this are our rulers
Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Guardian Monday 26 February 2007

Now that everyone apart from Dick Cheney recognises that the Iraq war has been an appalling failure, and now that all the original justifications for the war have long since collapsed, where do those who originally supported it turn? Some just pretend it never happened, or that they really never approved of it.

There is a deafening patter of paws as sundry politicians and pundits rush to the side of this sinking ship, and there have been many displays of selective amnesia worthy of Tony Blair himself. Why, not far from this very page angry voices can be heard condemning as criminal folly a war they once praised enthusiastically. A cynic might even speculate that if the operation had turned into anything that could plausibly be represented as a success, some of these latter-day peaceniks would now be trumpeting victory and denouncing those who always opposed the invasion as fainthearts or traitors.

But such about-turns are not so easy for the MPs who voted for the war four years ago, and especially for members of the government. As Peter Hain says, with apparent honesty: "No Labour minister, as I was at the time, can shirk responsibility for it." So what to do, given the scale of disaster and the collapse of those original justifications?

The answer is a rewriting of history just as dishonest in its way as the original dossiers, or Blair's claim that Saddam was a "serious and current" threat to this country. Look closely at the answers given last week to the Guardian by the cabinet ministers who now aspire to the deputy Labour leadership, or perhaps something higher.

These really boil down to two points. One is that "the intelligence was plain wrong" (Hain) or that "although we now know the intelligence was wrong I think the case for war was made in good faith" (Hilary Benn). The other is that the war has at least had one beneficial outcome: "Removing Saddam Hussein from power was essential for the peace of the region, for the protection of the Iraqi people, and for our own security" (Hazel Blears), or "I don't regret that Saddam is no longer in power" (Benn).

His words are echoed by Blair's diminished and beleaguered band of apologists in the press, the most eminent of whom is perhaps Philip Stephens of the Financial Times. When, he writes, he supports Tony Blair to his friends for sincerely believing the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein, the reactions have been such that "I could have been defending a child molester".

No, not a child molester, just someone with a psychopathic ability to forget what he has previously done and said, which he seems to have passed on to others. Blair himself is now far beyond reason, but Benn and Blears should begin each day by saying 10 times: We did not go to war to depose Saddam Hussein. That was indeed the object of those in Washington who dreamed up the war: destroying Saddam, or regime change for the sake of regime change.

But it was specifically not the purpose of British participation. Blair had been told by his own attorney general - in a moment of lucidity and candour before Lord Goldsmith mysteriously changed his mind - that regime change as such was an insufficient legal basis for war. And he knew that even his most servile and corrupt MPs would hesitate to support a war on that basis alone.

After all, Blair himself had originally said that we were not fighting to remove Saddam. On October 13 2004, he abused Charles Kennedy and the Lib Dems for their opposition to the war. If they had had their way, "Saddam Hussein and his sons would still be running Iraq ... And that is why I took the stand I did." Then how, the Labour backbencher Bob Wareing asked, could the prime minister "explain his statement to this House on February 25 2003 when he said, 'Even now, today, we are offering Saddam the prospect of voluntarily disarmament through the UN. I detest his regime but even now he could save it by complying with the UN's demand'?"

As for Benn's "the intelligence was wrong", it is wearisome to point out that the intelligence was not wrong at all, since it was concocted to justify a decision for war which had already been taken. For all the foolish phrases we hear, there were no "intelligence failures" before the war: it was a success. Malign critics of Blair "insist he tricked, lied and cheated Britain into war", Stephens laments, "no matter how many objective inquiries say otherwise".

Oh, come on. Even if we hadn't guessed at the time just how specious the dossiers were, and even if we didn't suspect that Lord Hutton's report was a bizarre whitewash consistently at odds with the evidence he had heard, we know what Robin Cook thought about the intelligence when he first saw it: "I was taken aback at how thin the dossier was. There was a striking absence of any recent and alarming firm intelligence." (For all the proper admiration Cook earned, he would have done more good if he had said this before the war began, rather than after he had resigned.)

Above all we have the evidence, as John Humphrys reminded Blair last Thursday, of the devastating "Downing Street memo" of July 23 2002. It was written in strictest secrecy for the eyes of Blair and a few close colleagues, summarising the latest meetings in Washington between the heads of British intelligence and their American counterparts.

"There was a perceptible shift in attitude," the memo says in completely unambiguous words. "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." When they read that last sentence, how on earth can these ministers continue to maintain - how dare they still pretend - that the "intelligence was wholly wrong", as though this was an innocent error?

When I write about this now I feel like a pub bore. "Have I said this before? Or maybe you knew that already." But of course I've said it, as many others have, and of course you know. We know that we were taken into a needless, foolish, illegal, immoral and ultimately catastrophic war.

We know that Blair committed the country to war long before he ever has admitted, or can admit. We know that parliament and people were deceived by the prime minister and his cabal, wilfully but not accidentally, since it would have been politically impossible for this country to have participated in the war if the full truth had been told. We know that claims about "WMD" were not some unhappy accident, but a necessity forced upon Blair after he had persuaded himself that he must at all costs support George Bush, right or wrong. We know that the case for war was not made in good faith.

The only people who appear not to know this are our rulers. They cannot acknowledge it, and are obliged to stick to a false account of events. It's anyone's guess how long it will be before Iraq recovers from the last four years. Another question is how long it will be before political life in this country recovers from the damage inflicted on it.

· Geoffrey Wheatcroft's book Yo, Blair! was published this month

Iraq mothers camp outside No 10

Mothers of soldiers killed in Iraq have set up camp outside Downing Street and handed in a letter calling for a meeting with Tony Blair.

Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Gordon was killed in Basra in 2004, said: "A lot of families have questions that need answering".

She is among those sleeping in a tent on Whitehall until Sunday morning.

On Saturday the Stop the War Coalition will hold rallies in London and Glasgow calling for all troops to be withdrawn.

Mrs Gentle and Janet Lowrie were heading up the small protest, which was sandwiched between about 80 noisy campaigners calling for an end to "Ethiopian aggression in Somalia".

Mrs Gentle told the BBC News website that more protesters were expected to join them over the weekend.

But, on her sixth visit to try to get a meeting with Mr Blair, she did not have much hope of getting one.

"We think he should show a wee bit of respect to the families," said Mrs Gentle, from Glasgow.

"He has refused to meet me."

Better healthcare

Referring to the prime minister's recent meeting with Big Brother star Shilpa Shetty, Mrs Gentle said: "Mr Blair should come and speak to us. If he can speak to film stars that are in town he can speak to us."

She would like the troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, for proper equipment for those who are serving out there and for better healthcare for those who have returned.

Joining Mrs Gentle and Mrs Lowrie was veteran peace protester Peggie Preston, 83, who lives in central London.

Although she was in the WAAF in World War II, she has been a peace campaigner for years and visited Iraq during the first Gulf War.

She said it had been "wonderful" to go into Downing Street, but she would not be camping out: "I used to do it, I used to be involved in all things like that but I can't walk properly [now]".

A No 10 spokesman said there was nothing to add to Tony Blair's announcement that 1,600 UK troops would return from Iraq within a few months.

He said Mr Blair would be staying at his Chequers country residence at the weekend so would not be able to meet the group.

'Private matters'

"Mr Blair will have written personally to all of them," he added.

"The letters are private matters between them and the prime minister."

On Saturday afternoon, the group will join a demonstration march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square.

Protesters are calling for all British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq as well as an end to plans to replace Trident nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, Mr Blair told MPs that some 1,600 British troops would return from Iraq within the next few months.

He said the 7,100 serving troops would be cut to 5,500 soon, with hopes that 500 more will leave by late summer.

Asked about the announcement, Mrs Gentle said: "I thought it was good news, it's a start, hopefully."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 23 February 2007, 17:06:12 GMT

Saddam can't be blamed for Halabja's latest convulsions

The destruction by atrocity survivors of their own monument shows how deep frustrations with the new regime run
Jonathan Steele. The Guardian Friday 02 March 2007

Even the most terrible memories fade. New worries intrude, covering the pain of the past. Generations that only know at second hand tire quickly. "Stop going on about the war, Daddy. It's boring," they think - and sometimes dare to say.

The passage of history has never struck me so forcefully as on a recent visit to Halabja. The site of one of the grimmest atrocities of modern times, this small town in eastern Kurdistan lost 5,000 people to a gas attack ordered by Saddam Hussein. He can no longer answer for it, but his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid - the so-called Chemical Ali - who was in direct charge, will have to do so shortly. On trial in Baghdad for other crimes against the Kurds, he will face the Halabja case next.

An impressive memorial to the victims was opened by Colin Powell, the former US secretary of state, in 2003. Shaped like hands wringing in agony, its pinnacle still towers over the impoverished town. But the lower half is in ruins, its roof gutted by fire. Victims' names used to line the central rotunda, bearing testimony to a community, including hundreds of women and children, that met a slow and appalling death. Now the names are blackened by smoke, rendering most unreadable.

Astonishingly, the fire that ruined the monument last year was lit deliberately - by survivors of the very families shattered by the gas attack. For victims to destroy their own monument is almost unprecedented. This was iconoclasm on a tragic scale, a kind of collective self-mutilation, as though Jews were to destroy the Auschwitz museum.

Image-conscious officials of the Kurdistan regional government initially blamed Kurdish Islamists or infiltrators from Iran. They confiscated video footage and briefly detained journalists. Now it is recognised that the arson was the unplanned climax of a student-led protest at Halabja's years of neglect. The monument was targeted because people felt officials were exploiting the stream of high-profile visitors who came to lay wreaths. They complained donations disappeared into unknown pockets; a place for reflection and mourning had become a cash machine for the corrupt.

Local students had warned the authorities not to invite foreign dignitaries this time. They wanted to hold their own commemoration and demand faster reconstruction for the ruined town. Things went badly wrong when security forces fired over the heads of the oncoming crowd - a panicky move that only enraged people - and fled as furious protesters approached the monument before setting it ablaze. A student was found dead of a gunshot wound.

"We didn't use weapons against the demonstrators. If we fired, we did it over their heads so they would disperse. The man who died was a long way off," Colonel Wahib Aziz, Halabja's security chief, told me. He was on duty on the fateful day last March, the 18th anniversary of the Iraqi gas attack. No inquiry was held, and the soldiers who fired were questioned but not punished.

In the only visible sign of progress, workers have laid concrete slabs along Halabja's muddy main street to create pavements; other roads are due for asphalting. Saddam's forces demolished Halabja after the attack, and it still has no running water supply or sewerage.

Since the protest the Kurdistan government has allocated £18m to Halabja. Khadar Karim Mohammed, the council chairman, denies the charge that foreign help went missing. "Even the Kurdish community in Europe thought a lot of money was coming because of the monument, but it isn't true. We got lots of empty promises from visitors. The only money we got was to build two schools," he says.

Ibrahim Howramani, the museum's former director, has mixed feelings about the arson, which he watched helplessly. "I resigned. I felt the museum had been desecrated," he says. But he agrees with the frustration of local people who kept being summoned to welcome foreign delegations but saw no results. Ministers from Baghdad and Kurdistan itself were equally guilty of making empty promises, he says.

The Halabja authorities are not yet repairing the monument. Anger is still too high. "If they rebuild it a thousand times, I will burn it down a million times," said one young man, who lost half his family in the 1988 atrocity.

Halabja's outburst of rage was not Kurdistan's only recent example of protest with a heavy-handed response. Marchers in several cities last summer denounced low pay, shortages of electricity and water, joblessness and corruption. Several leaders were arrested, and on at least one occasion police used firearms. "2006 was the year of protest," says Asos Hardi, the editor of the independent weekly Awene.

Compared with the rest of Iraq, Kurdistan is a relative success story. The region is stable and secure. It is beginning to develop its own oil. But impatience is rising against the two big parties that ran it as fiefdoms, in the east and west. In spite of a nominally united government, critics say nepotism is strong. "Until Saddam Hussein's collapse in 2003 the authorities used the excuse that, although we had autonomy, we were under sanctions. Now the borders are open. Foreign investors are coming in. Where are the results?" asks Hardi.

'We have to compare ourselves with other countries, not with Saddam's time. Why don't they build power stations here, so we don't have constant cuts? No one denies there is corruption, not even the politicians, yet we have never seen charges brought. We have security, so why no progress?"

The Halabja atrocity was the worst single episode in Saddam's brutal tyranny. Western governments rarely recall the blind eye they turned at the time. Saddam was their ally against Iran, and some of the gas came from western companies. But if the new generation in Halabja puts most blame on the government of Kurdistan for its problems, there's a powerful lesson for all rulers.

From a moral standpoint no one can equate the destruction of a town and the murder of 5,000 people with a town's economic neglect. But just as Bush and Blair cannot take credit for removing Saddam and then wash their hands of the bloodshed that has ensued, Kurdistan's authorities have to do more to share the fruits of the post-Saddam era fairly. The time for dumping every complaint on the old regime is over.

Iraq's death toll is far worse than our leaders admit

The US and Britain have triggered an episode more deadly than the Rwandan genocide
Les Roberts, The Independent, Wednesday 14 February 2007

On both sides of the Atlantic, a process of spinning science is preventing a serious discussion about the state of affairs in Iraq.

The government in Iraq claimed last month that since the 2003 invasion between 40,000 and 50,000 violent deaths have occurred. Few have pointed out the absurdity of this statement.

There are three ways we know it is a gross underestimate. First, if it were true, including suicides, South Africa, Colombia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia have experienced higher violent death rates than Iraq over the past four years. If true, many North and South American cities and Sub-Saharan Africa have had a similar murder rate to that claimed in Iraq. For those of us who have been in Iraq, the suggestion that New Orleans is more violent seems simply ridiculous.

Secondly, there have to be at least 120,000 and probably 140,000 deaths per year from natural causes in a country with the population of Iraq. The numerous stories we hear about overflowing morgues, the need for new cemeteries and new body collection brigades are not consistent with a 10 per cent rise in death rate above the baseline.

And finally, there was a study, peer-reviewed and published in The Lancet, Europe's most prestigious medical journal, which put the death toll at 650,000 as of last July. The study, which I co-authored, was done by the standard cluster approach used by the UN to estimate mortality in dozens of countries each year. While the findings are imprecise, the lower range of possibilities suggested that the Iraq government was at least downplaying the number of dead by a factor of 10.

There are several reasons why the governments involved in this conflict have been able to confuse the issue of Iraqi deaths. Our Lancet report involved sampling and statistical analysis, which is rather dry reading. Media reports always miss most deaths in times of war, so the estimate by the media-based monitoring system, (IBC) roughly corresponds with the Iraq government's figures. Repeated evaluations of deaths identified from sources independent of the press and the Ministry of Health show the IBC listing to be less than 10 per cent complete, but because it matches the reports of the governments involved, it is easily referenced.

Several other estimates have placed the death toll far higher than the Iraqi government estimates, but those have received less press attention. When in 2005, a UN survey reported that 90 per cent of violent attacks in Scotland were not recorded by the police, no one, not even the police, disputed this finding. Representative surveys are the next best thing to a census for counting deaths, and nowhere but Iraq have partial tallies from morgues and hospitals been given such credence when representative survey results are available.

The Pentagon will not release information about deaths induced or amounts of weaponry used in Iraq. On 9 January of this year, the embedded Fox News reporter Brit Hume went along for an air attack, and we learned that at least 25 targets were bombed that day with almost no reports of the damage appearing in the press.

Saddam Hussein's surveillance network, which only captured one third of all deaths before the invasion, has certainly deteriorated even further. During last July, there were numerous televised clashes in Anbar, yet the system recorded exactly zero violent deaths from the province. The last Minister of Health to honestly assess the surveillance network, Dr Ala'din Alwan, admitted that it was not reporting from most of the country by August 2004. He was sacked months later after, among other things, reports appeared based on the limited government data suggesting that most violent deaths were associated with coalition forces.

The consequences of downplaying the number of deaths in Iraq are profound for both the UK and the US. How can the Americans have a surge of troops to secure the population and promise success when the coalition cannot measure the level of security to within a factor of 10? How can the US and Britain pretend they understand the level of resentment in Iraq if they are not sure if, on average, one in 80 families have lost a household member, or one in seven, as our study suggests?

If these two countries have triggered an episode more deadly than the Rwandan genocide, and have actively worked to mask this fact, how will they credibly be able to criticise Sudan or Zimbabwe or the next government that kills thousands of its own people?

For longer than the US has been a nation, Britain has pushed us at our worst of moments to do the right thing. That time has come again with regard to Iraq. It is wrong to be the junior partner in an endeavour rigged to deny the next death induced, and to have spokespeople effectively respond to that death with disinterest and denial.

Our nations' leaders are collectively expressing belligerence at a time when the populace knows they should be expressing contrition. If that cannot be corrected, Britain should end its role in this deteriorating misadventure. It is unlikely that any historians will record the occupation of Iraq in a favourable light. Britain followed the Americans into this débâcle. Wouldn't it be better to let history record that Britain led them out?

The writer is an Associate Professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Ahmadinejad puts his faith in the 'wise people in US' to avoid conflict

* Iranian leader says Bush trying to find scapegoats
* Blair backs claims that arms are going to Iraq
Julian Borger, Robert Tait
in Tehran & Ewen MacAskill in Washington.
The Guardian Tuesday 13 February 2007

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yesterday (12 February 2007) shrugged off the threat of a US attack and said accusations that Tehran was arming insurgents in Iraq represented an attempt to find a scapegoat for American "defeats and failures".

The British government, however, backed Washington's claims of covert Iranian arms supplies to insurgents, including sophisticated armour-piercing roadside bombs. A Downing Street spokesman said Tony Blair had been "at the cutting edge of identifying this problem", first raising the alarm over the alleged influx of Iranian weaponry in October 2005.

The row over Iraq has added to growing tension over Iran's nuclear ambitions. A UN deadline for Iran to stop uranium enrichment is due to pass next Wednesday, amid simmering speculation that the US is contemplating taking military action against Tehran's nuclear programme.

Mr Ahmadinejad brushed aside the threat. In an interview with America's ABC News, he said: "Why should we be afraid? First, the possibility is very low, and we think that there are wise people in the US that would stop such illegal actions. But our position is clear - our nation has made it clear that anyone who wants to attack our country will be severely punished."

The Iranian president said his government and Iran's revolutionary guards were "opposed to any kind of conflict in Iraq", and he dismissed evidence presented by American military officials at the weekend pointing towards a covert revolutionary guard role behind the insurgency and the sectarian violence in Iraq.

"You are showing us some piece of papers and you call them documents," he said. "There should be a court to prove the case. We think that the US is following another policy, trying to hide its defeats and failures, and that's why it is pointing its fingers at others."

Tony Snow, the White House press spokesman, yesterday stood by the allegations by US military intelligence, but denied that they were intended to pave the way for an attack. He said they simply presented "evidence to the effect that there's been the shipment of weaponry, lethal weaponry, into Iraq, some of it of Iranian provenance. And this is something that we think if the president of Iran wants to put a stop to it, we wish him luck and hope he'll do it real soon."

However, Democratic Congressmen expressed scepticism about the timing of the allegations, noting parallels to the build up to the Iraq invasion. The House of Representatives is due to begin today debating a resolution critical of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq conflict, as the Democratic majority flexes its new political muscles.

In Europe, Iran's chief negotiator, Ari Larijani, kept up a flurry of diplomacy ahead of next week's UN deadline, holding talks with the Swiss government after weekend discussions with European Union officials. He said his country did not want atomic weapons, because it would trigger a Middle East nuclear arms race and would contribute nothing to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that Iran was willing to give "all imaginable guarantees" that it was not developing weapons, but he insisted it would not abandon uranium enrichment as a precondition to negotiations.

Javier Solana, the EU's top foreign policy official, met Mr Larijani in Munich, but conceded yesterday that the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough were "not immense". European foreign ministers meanwhile agreed on the implementation of limited sanctions ordered by the UN Security Council in December.

Iran insists it has the right to enrich uranium for civil power generation, but the US and its allies suspect it of secretly planning to develop nuclear weapons. The UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has criticised Tehran for failing to disclose all the elements of its programme, and last Friday the IAEA halved its assistance programme to Iran.

The IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, is due to report to the Security Council on Iranian compliance next week. Yesterday he welcomed Tehran's stated willingness to negotiate, but added that nothing short of "full transparency" would lead to a resumption of substantive talks.

Soldiers returning home from service in Iraq must be given more psychiatric help before being allowed to socialise with the public, a judge said yesterday, after a lance-corporal suffering from post-traumatic stress fractured a man's skull and left him fighting for his life.
L/Cpl James Savage spent six months on a tour of duty in Iraq last year during which his best friend died in his arms while he was giving him the kiss of life. He also witnessed his superior officer being blown up during an attack by insurgents.But just days after he had requested medical help to deal with the psychological effects of his experiences, he was allowed to leave his barracks to celebrate his end of tour.
Judge Tonking, sitting at Stafford Crown Court, warned that many combat soldiers returning home in similar conditions may present a danger to the public.
He told the soldier: "You returned from Iraq via Cyprus where you had asked for psychiatric help because of the horrific things you had seen and, within a matter of days, you were able to go out onto the streets of Burton, drink as much as you like and be in a position where you would react in the way you did."
The court heard how Savage took offence at a comment made by a woman about his drunken behaviour and punched her boyfriend in the face. Philip Collins's head hit the pub's concrete patio. He was taken to hospital in a coma and later underwent emergency brain surgery.
Savage, 23, from Winshill, who admitted a charge of inflicting grievous bodily harm was sentenced to a 18-month community order, with 200 hours unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay Mr Collins £3,000 compensation.
The court heard that Savage was still in a "war mentality" state when he went out celebrate.
Judge Tonking said: "Those who serve in the armed forces don't have a carte blanche to return to this country and be violent to members of the public.
"On the other hand, those who serve in the armed forces do a job that members of the public can't begin to understand, in terms of the experiences they go through and the horrific scenes with which they have to deal."
Savage is one of a small, but growing number, of soldiers who have committed violent crimes while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
From the start of the conflict in Iraq in 2003 to December last year, 1,541 service personnel have received treatment for mental health conditions, 208 of which have been diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, according to figures released by the Ministry of Defence.
It is estimated that the criminal courts have sentenced about a dozen soldiers for violence and drugs offences committed while suffering post-traumatic stress.
Judge Tonking told Savage: "I am not here to criticise you or the authorities but it ought to be recognised that when those who have been serving abroad in situations of combat return home, there needs to be a period of re-acclimatisation when coming back to the civilised world."
The judge added: "You were still hyper-reactive, those are conditions which in combat are necessary but on the streets of provincial towns in England they are dangerous."
Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, occurs when a person has experienced, witnessed or been confronted with a terrible event that has actually occurred. Alternatively, the person may have been threatened with a terrible event. The person's response involves intense fear, helplessness, and/or horror.
The concept of an illness with a common range of symptoms to PTSD has only been accepted by medical science in the past hundred years. During the First World War, PTSD was called shell shock and during the Second World War it was referred to as combat fatigue.
Marcus Roberts, head of policy at mental health charity Mind, said: "The disturbing experiences that soldiers will go through during conflict can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, sleeping problems and panic attacks. It's tough not just for the individuals but also for their friends and family."

Iraqi insurgents offer peace in return for US concessions

For the first time, Sunni insurgents disclose their conditions for ceasefire in Iraq
Robert Fisk. The Independent, Friday 09 February 2007

For the first time, one of Iraq's principal insurgent groups has set out the terms of a ceasefire that would allow American and British forces to leave the country they invaded almost four years ago.

The present terms would be impossible for any US administration to meet - but the words of Abu Salih Al-Jeelani, one of the military leaders of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Resistance Movement show that the groups which have taken more than 3,000 American lives are actively discussing the opening of contacts with the occupation army.

Al-Jeelani's group, which also calls itself the "20th Revolution Brigades'', is the military wing of the original insurgent organisation that began its fierce attacks on US forces shortly after the invasion of 2003. The statement is, therefore, of potentially great importance, although it clearly represents only the views of Sunni Muslim fighters.

Shia militias are nowhere mentioned. The demands include the cancellation of the entire Iraqi constitution - almost certainly because the document, in effect, awards oil-bearing areas of Iraq to Shia and Kurds, but not to the minority Sunni community. Yet the Sunnis remain Washington's principal enemies in the Iraqi war.

"Discussions and negotiations are a principle we believe in to overcome the situation in which Iraqi bloodletting continues," al-Jeelani said in a statement that was passed to The Independent. "Should the Americans wish to negotiate their withdrawal from our country and leave our people to live in peace, then we will negotiate subject to specific conditions and circumstances."

Al-Jeelani suggests the United Nations, the Arab League or the Islamic Conference might lead such negotiations and would have to guarantee the security of the participants.

Then come the conditions:

The release of 5,000 detainees held in Iraqi prisons as "proof of goodwill".

Recognition "of the legitimacy of the resistance and the legitimacy of its role in representing the will of the Iraqi people".

An internationally guaranteed timetable for all agreements.

The negotiations to take place in public.

The resistance "must be represented by a committee comprising the representatives of all the jihadist brigades".

The US to be represented by its ambassador in Iraq and the most senior commander.

It is not difficult to see why the Americans would object to those terms. They will not want to talk to men they have been describing as "terrorists" for the past four years. And if they were ever to concede that the "resistance" represented "the will of the Iraqi people" then their support for the elected Iraqi government would have been worthless.

Indeed, the insurgent leader specifically calls for the "dissolution of the present government and the revoking of the spurious elections and the constitution..."

He also insists that all agreements previously entered into by Iraqi authorities or US forces should be declared null and void.

But there are other points which show that considerable discussion must have gone on within the insurgency movement - possibly involving the group's rival, the Iraqi Islamic Army.

They call, for example, for the disbandment of militias and the outlawing of militia organisations - something the US government has been urging the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to do for months.

The terms also include the legalisation of the old Iraqi army, an "Anglo-American commitment to rebuild Iraq and reconstruct all war damage" - something the occupying powers claim they have been trying to do for a long time - and integrating "resistance fighters" into the recomposed army.

Al-Jeelani described President George Bush's new plans for countering the insurgents as "political chicanery" and added that "on the field of battle, we do not believe that the Americans are able to diminish the capability of the resistance fighters to continue the struggle to liberate Iraq from occupation ...

"The resistance groups are not committing crimes to be granted a pardon by America, we are not looking for pretexts to cease our jihad... we fight for a divine aim and one of our rights is the liberation and independence of our land of Iraq."

There will, the group says, be no negotiations with Mr Maliki's government because they consider it "complicit in the slaughter of Iraqis by militias, the security apparatus and death squads". But they do call for the unity of Iraq and say they "do not recognise the divisions among the Iraqi people".

It is not difficult to guess any American response to those proposals. But FLN [National Liberation Front] contacts with France during the 1954-62 war of independence by Algeria began with such a series of demands - equally impossible to meet but which were eventually developed into real proposals for a French withdrawal.

What is unclear, of course, is the degree to which al-Jeelani's statement represents the collective ideas of the Sunni insurgents. And, ominously, no mention is made of al-Qa'ida

US Congress incredulous at $4bn cash sent to Iraq on pallets

Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington. The Scotsman. Friday 09 February 2007

Giant pallets loaded with cash amounting to more than $4 billion (£2 billion) and weighing a total of 363 tons were sent to Baghdad aboard military planes shortly before the United States gave control back to Iraqis, it has been revealed to Congress.

The money, which had been held by the United States, came from Iraqi oil exports, surplus dollars from the UN-run oil-for-food programme and frozen assets belonging to the ousted Saddam Hussein regime.

The notes were loaded on to military aircraft in the largest cash shipments ever made by the Federal Reserve, said Representative Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on oversight and government reform.

"Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone? But that's exactly what our government did," the California Democrat said during a hearing reviewing possible waste, fraud and abuse of funds in Iraq.

On 12 December, 2003, $1.5 billion was shipped to Iraq, initially "the largest pay-out of US currency in Fed history," according to an e-mail cited by committee members.

It was followed by more than $2.4 billion on 22 June, 2004, and $1.6 billion three days later. The CPA turned over sovereignty on 28 June.

Paul Bremer, who as the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority ran Iraq after initial combat operations ended, said the enormous shipments were made at the request of the Iraqi minister of finance.

"He said, 'I am concerned that I will not have the money to support the Iraqi government expenses for the first couple of months after we are sovereign. We won't have the mechanisms in place, I won't know how to get the money here,'" Mr Bremer said. "So these shipments were made at the explicit request of the Iraqi minister of finance to forward fund government expenses, a perfectly, seems to me, legitimate use of his money," Mr Bremer told Congress.

Democrats led by Mr Waxman also questioned whether the lack of oversight of $12 billion in Iraqi money that was disbursed by Mr Bremer and the CPA somehow enabled insurgents to get their hands on the funds, possibly through falsifying names on the government payroll.

"I have no knowledge of monies being diverted. I would certainly be concerned if I thought they were," Mr Bremer said. He pointed out that the problem of fake names on the payroll existed before the US invasion.

The special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said in a January 2005 report that $8.8 billion was unaccounted for after being given to the Iraqi ministries. "We were in the middle of a war, working in very difficult conditions, and we had to move quickly to get this Iraqi money working for the Iraqi people," Mr Bremer said. He said there was no banking system and it would have been impossible to apply modern accounting standards in the midst of a war.

"I acknowledge that I made mistakes and that, with the benefit of hindsight, I would have made some decisions differently," Mr Bremer said.

Republicans argued that Mr Bremer and the CPA staff did the best they could under the circumstances and accused Democrats of trying to score political points over the increasingly unpopular Iraq war.

"We are in a war against terrorists; to have a blame meeting isn't, in my opinion, constructive," said Representative Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican.

Five face charges over Iraq Bribes

Three United States army reserve officers and two American civilians have been charged with taking or helping to funnel more than $1 million in cash, sports cars, jewellery and other items as bribes to rig bids on Iraqi reconstruction contracts.

The five have been indicted by a federal grand jury in New Jersey over a scheme said to involve the theft of millions of dollars of Iraq reconstruction money and the awarding of contracts to Philip Bloom, who doled out the bribes.

US officials said the agency in charge of reconstruction had lost more than $3.6 million (£1.8 million) because of the corrupt scheme.

More than $500,000 was smuggled into the US, with some of it going on decking and a hot tub for a house owned by two of the accused - one of the soldiers and one of the civilians are a married couple from New Jersey.

The indictment charged Col Curtis Whiteford, Lt Col Debra Harrison and Lt Col Michael Wheeler, and civilians Michael Morris and William Driver. Harrison was the provisional authority acting comptroller. Wheeler was an adviser for reconstruction

Bush gave us war - now give him hell for it

Molly Ivins. Information Clearing House. Tuesday 06 February 2007

The purpose of this old-fashioned newspaper crusade to stop the war is not to make George W. Bush look like the dumbest president ever. People have done dumber things. What were they thinking when they bought into the Bay of Pigs fiasco? How dumb was the Egypt-Suez war? How massively stupid was the entire war in Vietnam? Even at that, the challenge with this misbegotten adventure is that we simply cannot let it continue.

It is not a matter of whether we will lose or we are losing. We have lost.

Gen. John P. Abizaid, until recently the senior commander in the Middle East, insists that the answer to our problems there is not military. "You have to internationalize the problem. You have to attack it diplomatically, geo-strategically," he said. His assessment is supported by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the departing senior American commander in Iraq, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who only recommend releasing forces with a clear definition of the goals for the additional troops.

Bush's call for a "surge" or "escalation" also goes against the Iraq Study Group.

Talk is that the White House has planned to do anything but what the group suggested after months of investigation and proposals based on much broader strategic implications.

About the only politician out there besides Bush actively calling for a surge is Sen. John McCain. In a recent opinion piece, he wrote: "The presence of additional coalition forces would allow the Iraqi government to do what it cannot accomplish today on its own - impose its rule throughout the country. .
. . By surging troops and bringing security to Baghdad and other areas, we will give the Iraqis the best possible chance to succeed."
But with all due respect to the senator from Arizona, that ship has long since sailed.

A surge is not acceptable to the people in this country - we have voted overwhelmingly against this war in polls (about 80 percent of the public is against escalation, and a recent Military Times poll shows only 38 percent of active military want more troops sent) and at the polls.

We know this is wrong. The people understand, the people have the right to make this decision, and the people have the obligation to make sure our will is implemented.

Congress must work for the people in the resolution of this fiasco. Ted Kennedy's proposal to control the money and tighten oversight is a welcome first step.

And if Republicans want to continue to rubber-stamp this administration's idiotic "plans" and go against the will of the people, they should be thrown out as soon as possible, to join their recent colleagues.

Anyone who wants to talk knowledgably about our Iraq misadventure should pick up Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone." It's like reading a horror novel. You just want to put your face down and moan: How could we have let this happen? How could we have been so stupid?

As The Washington Post's review notes, Chandrasekaran's book "methodically documents the baffling ineptitude that dominated U.S. attempts to influence Iraq's fiendish politics, rebuild the electrical grid, privatize the economy, run the oil industry, recruit expert staff or instill a modicum of normalcy to the lives of Iraqis."

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. . . . We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

This was Molly Ivins' last column.

US 'victory' against cult leader was 'massacre'

Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad. The Independent, Wednesday 31 January 2007

There are growing suspicions in Iraq that the official story of the battle outside Najaf between a messianic Iraqi cult and the Iraqi security forces supported by the US, in which 263 people were killed and 210 wounded, is a fabrication. The heavy casualties may be evidence of an unpremeditated massacre.

A picture is beginning to emerge of a clash between an Iraqi Shia tribe on a pilgrimage to Najaf and an Iraqi army checkpoint that led the US to intervene with devastating effect. The involvement of Ahmed al-Hassani (also known as Abu Kamar), who believed himself to be the coming Mahdi, or Messiah, appears to have been accidental.

The story emerging on independent Iraqi websites and in Arabic newspapers is entirely different from the government's account of the battle with the so-called "Soldiers of Heaven", planning a raid on Najaf to kill Shia religious leaders.

The cult denied it was involved in the fighting, saying it was a peaceful movement. The incident reportedly began when a procession of 200 pilgrims was on its way, on foot, to celebrate Ashura in Najaf. They came from the Hawatim tribe, which lives between Najaf and Diwaniyah to the south, and arrived in the Zarga area, one mile from Najaf at about 6am on Sunday. Heading the procession was the chief of the tribe, Hajj Sa'ad Sa'ad Nayif al-Hatemi, and his wife driving in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. When they reached an Iraqi army checkpoint it opened fire, killing Mr Hatemi, his wife and his driver, Jabar Ridha al-Hatemi. The tribe, fully armed because they were travelling at night, then assaulted the checkpoint to avenge their fallen chief.

Members of another tribe called Khaza'il living in Zarga tried to stop the fighting but they themselves came under fire. Meanwhile, the soldiers and police at the checkpoint called up their commanders saying they were under attack from al-Qai'da with advanced weapons. Reinforcements poured into the area and surrounded the Hawatim tribe in the nearby orchards. The tribesmen tried - in vain - to get their attackers to cease fire.

American helicopters then arrived and dropped leaflets saying: "To the terrorists, surrender before we bomb the area." The tribesmen went on firing and a US helicopter was hit and crashed killing two crewmen. The tribesmen say they do not know if they hit it or if it was brought down by friendly fire. The US aircraft launched an intense aerial bombardment in which 120 tribesmen and local residents were killed by 4am on Monday.

The messianic group led by Ahmad al-Hassani, which was already at odds with the Iraqi authorities in Najaf, was drawn into the fighting because it was based in Zarga and its presence provided a convenient excuse for what was in effect a massacre. The Hawatim and Khaza'il tribes are opposed to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Dawa Party, who both control Najaf and make up the core of the Baghdad government.

This account cannot be substantiated and is drawn from the Healing Iraq website and the authoritative Baghdad daily Azzaman. But it would explain the disparity between the government casualties - less than 25 by one account - and the great number of their opponents killed and wounded. The Iraqi authorities have sealed the site and are not letting reporters talk to the wounded.

Sectarian killings across Iraq also marred the celebration of the Shia ritual of Ashura. A suicide bomber killed 23 worshippers and wounded 57 others in a Shia mosque in Balad Ruz. Not far away in Khanaqin, in Diyala, a bomb killed 13 people, including three women, and wounded 29 others. In east Baghdad mortar bombs killed 17 people.

How Nick lost his way

Edward Pearce 29 January 2007 06:15pm

Saturday's Guardian had a piece by Martin Kettle praising a long pamphlet by Nick Cohen. No surprise there; the foursome of Cohen, Kettle, David Aaronovich and John Lloyd live in a shared state of heightened awareness of their own virtue. Here, Kettle stands awestruck at his friend's scorn and anger. Indeed, on the strength of his recent rants, Cohen must sleep with his lip in curlers.

The new publication is only a wider statement of a truth everywhere accepted that wherever the bombs fall, the social-democratic and liberal left is to blame. Out there is "Islamo-fascism", trampling on all the good leftish causes like women's rights and anti-racism, and all the left can do is demonstrate against the Iraq war. It has retreated from the high virtues of the past and into the contemptible condition of anti-Americanism.

The thesis is that we should be supporting "liberal interventionism", an ungodly confection in which the noun does not so much govern the adjective as recruit it to a bomber squadron. The trick isn't new. In the 1890s, we had liberal imperialism and it gave us the South African War. Cohen's favourite banged-on-about word, "Islamo-fascism", is no better. Linguistically, like Greek "tele" and Latin "vision", it jars, but really must not, like it, be allowed to stick. The people who flew planes into New York's twin towers might better be called Islamo-nihilists, willing to kill and happy to die, but the relevant question is, what created them?

Putting his case on Start The Week, on BBC Radio 4, Cohen imagined another bombing à la July 7. "And what would the Left do?" he asked rhetorically. "It would blame America." It would be absolutely right to do so. Nick and Martin should consider the pre-invasion interview given on BBC2's Newsnight by Kenneth Adelman, fully paid-up neo-conservative, member of the President's Council on Defense. Adelman talked about the US doing its duty by imposing "democracy" and its own authority. "So what about other cases - Syria?" "Certainly." "Iran?" "Absolutely." "Saudi Arabia?" asked the interviewer, a hint of shock in his voice. "Why not?"

On his own admission, Adelman wept with happiness when the war actually started, but his fearful candour has never registered as it should have. It contains all the real motives. "Shock and awe", a fascist expression if ever there was one, was launched in the hubristic delusion that a gloriously strong US could move into another uncomprehended world, impose virtue and acquire more power. There was no threat, nor weapons, only an imperious wish, having great power, to use it.

Given the familiar consequences, it amazes me that Nick Cohen can contemplate a broken Middle Eastern nation, where American and British military adventuring has blown the bonds of restraint and all the devils of sectarian hatred now fill the air. How can he observe an American-conceived venture leaving the dead everywhere underfoot, and say to the people who opposed it, "You are anti-American." Listen. All of this, every death, every amputation, is the fault of the American government.

To denounce revulsion at the whole brazen undertaking, as he does, is to court a word often used about the historic far left - from which Nick and his friends come. People over-tolerant of Soviet "excesses" were commonly dismissed as "fellow-travellers". Russia then, the United States today: handy dandy, who are the fellow-travellers now? The term should catch on.

Edward Stourton's recent BBC Radio 4 report on Saudi Arabia is a signal comment. He pointed out how deeply rooted in that country is Wahabite Islam with all its rigours and book-literal austerity. But there are liberals and moderates within Saudi Arabia, including the new King, Abdullah. Because the country is so deeply set in its ways, they proceed very tentatively. These are the people most outraged by the Iraq war. They talked to Stourton and spoke a scorn to do Nick Cohen credit. The destructive folly of the Americans, the violent affront setting back the slightest reform, the consequent hatred for all things Western - they spoke perfect despair.

The American government, in its overweening insolence, has meddled where she knows nothing. But she has always meddled. She (and we) imposed the Shah and his mercies on Iran in 1953; then, from 1981, she sustained Iraq's war against Islamicist Iran. And, very like, she will bomb Iran in the near future. It is all the fault of the left.


All the signs are that Bush is planning for a neocon-inspired military assault on Iran
Dan Plesch. The Guardian Monday 15 January 2007

The evidence is building up that President Bush plans to add war on Iran to his triumphs in Iraq and Afghanistan - and there is every sign, to judge by his extraordinary warmongering speech in Plymouth on Friday, that Tony Blair would be keen to join him if he were still in a position to commit British forces to the field.

"There's a strong sense in the upper echelons of the White House that Iran is going to surface relatively quickly as a major issue - in the country and the world - in a very acute way," said NBC TV's Tim Russert after meeting the president. This is borne out by the fact that Bush has sent forces to the Gulf that are irrelevant to fighting the Iraqi insurgents. These include Patriot anti-missile missiles, an aircraft carrier, and cruise-missile-firing ships.

Many military analysts see these deployments as signals of impending war with Iran. The Patriot missiles are intended to shoot down Iranian missiles. The naval forces, including British ships, train to pre-empt Iranian interference with oil shipments through the straits of Hormuz.

Having been given so much advice on what to do in Iraq - most notably by the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group - the president went with the recommendations of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI). So much for the idea that the Iraq debacle marginalised the neocons.

The political context as seen from inside the White House and Downing Street is that we are in a war as serious as the second world war. John Bolton exemplified this outlook when he compared US problems in Iraq with the fighting with Japan after Pearl Harbour.

Donald Rumsfeld and the AEI have developed a strategy for regime change in Iran that does not involve a ground invasion. Weapons of mass destruction will provide the rationale for military action, though it won't be limited to attacks on a few weapons factories. It will include limiting Iranian retaliatory capability, using bombers to destroy up to 10,000 targets in the first day of any war, and special forces flying in to destroy anything that's left.

In the aftermath, the US will support regime change, hoping to replace the ayatollahs with an Iran of the regions. The US and British governments now support a coalition of groups seeking a federal Iran. This may be another neocon delusion, but that may not be the point. Making Tehran concentrate on internal problems leaves it unable to act elsewhere.

Bush has said he will destroy the Syrian and Iranian networks in Iraq. These may include Moqtada al-Sadr's militia, but are also likely to target the Iranian-created Badr brigades, now wearing Iraqi police uniforms. In the south, the withdrawal of British troops to Basra airport looks more like a preparation to avoid a Shia backlash than a handover to the government of Iraq.

The US director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, explained that the threat to launch Hizbullah against Israel was the main deterrent to a US attack on Iran. Although politically Hizbullah scored a major victory in holding off the Israeli army last summer, in fact it was badly damaged.

The Iranian regime seems prepared for confrontation, perhaps confident Washington is bluffing. Next month Iran celebrates its completion of the nuclear-fuel cycle, in defiance of UN sanctions. Expect Bush and Blair to ask what the world will do to prevent a new Holocaust against the Jews. In his Plymouth speech, Blair told us that we could not pick and choose our wars. He may have been telling us more than we realised.

· Dan Plesch is a research associate at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, School of Oriental and African Studies

Déjà vu

What happened on January 10, 1967?

The big news story that night? President Lyndon B. Johnson's State of the Union address. The topic that dominated all others: Vietnam.

I'm going to guide you to some excerpts of that address -- exactly 40 years ago tonight (10 January 2006).

See how it compares to some of the excerpts from President Bush's speech that were just released minutes ago:

LBJ, Jan. 10, 1967: We have chosen to fight a limited war in Vietnam in an attempt to prevent a larger war--a war almost certain to follow, I believe, if the Communists succeed in overrunning and taking over South Vietnam by aggression and by force. I believe, and I am supported by some authority, that if they are not checked now the world can expect to pay a greater price to check them later.

GWB, Jan. 10, 2007: Tonight in Iraq, the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the global war on terror - and our safety here at home. The new strategy I outline tonight will change America's course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror.

LBJ, Jan. 10, 1967: I wish I could report to you that the conflict is almost over. This I cannot do. We face more cost, more loss, and more agony. For the end is not yet. I cannot promise you that it will come this year--or come next year. Our adversary still believes, I think, tonight, that he can go on fighting longer than we can, and longer than we and our allies will be prepared to stand up and resist.

GWB, Jan. 10, 2007: Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighbourhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.

LBJ, Jan. 10, 1967: Our South Vietnamese allies are also being tested tonight. Because they must provide real security to the people living in the countryside. And this means reducing the terrorism and the armed attacks which kidnapped and killed 26,900 civilians in the last 32 months, to levels where they can be successfully controlled by the regular South Vietnamese security forces. It means bringing to the villagers an effective civilian government that they can respect, and that they can rely upon and that they can participate in, and that they can have a personal stake in. We hope that government is now beginning to emerge.

GWB, Jan. 10, 2007: Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.

LBJ, Jan. 10, 1967: This forward movement is rooted in the ambitions and the interests of Asian nations themselves. It was precisely this movement that we hoped to accelerate when I spoke at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore in April 1965, and I pledged "a much more massive effort to improve the life of man" in that part of the world, in the hope that we could take some of the funds that we were spending on bullets and bombs and spend it on schools and production.

GWB, Jan. 10, 2007: A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighbourhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

LBJ, Jan. 10, 1967: We have chosen to fight a limited war in Vietnam in an attempt to prevent a larger war--a war almost certain to follow, I believe, if the Communists succeed in overrunning and taking over South Vietnam by aggression and by force. I believe, and I am supported by some authority, that if they are not checked now the world can expect to pay a greater price to check them later.

GWB, Jan. 10, 2007: The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our timeŠIn the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy - by advancing liberty across a troubled region.

LBJ, Jan. 10, 1967: A time of testing--yes. And a time of transition. The transition is sometimes slow; sometimes unpopular; almost always very painful; and often quite dangerous. But we have lived with danger for a long time before, and we shall live with it for a long time yet to come. We know that "man is born unto trouble." We also know that this Nation was not forged and did not survive and grow and prosper without a great deal of sacrifice from a great many men.

GWB, Jan. 10, 2007: Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harbouring them and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren.

Not much to add here -- the words of Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush pretty much speak for themselves.

Two things, though.

First of all, only 7,917 American troops had died in Vietnam through the end of 1966, or ten days before Johnson's speech. From the beginning of 1967 to the end of the war, an additional 50,285 (more than six times as many) Americans would lose their lives.

Also, and we're not endorsing this action by any means, then or now, but it is interesting to note that in that 1967 SOTU, LBJ also called for a 6% surcharge on personal and corporate income taxes to pay for the cost of the war. That's a level of responsibility -- and yes, sacrifice -- for war that our current president is unwilling to take."


Saddam jailed me but his hanging was a crime. Iraq's misery is now far worse than under his rule. Haifa Zangana. The Guardian, Thursday 04 January 2007.

At 3.30am last Saturday, I was abruptly woken by the phone ringing. My heart sank. By the time I reached the phone, I was already imagining bodies of relatives and friends, killed and mutilated.

It was 6.30am in Baghdad and I thought of the last time I spoke to my sister. She was on the roof of her house trying to get a better signal on her mobile phone, but had to end the call as an American helicopter started hovering above. Iraqis know it is within the US "rules of engagement" to shoot at them when using mobiles, and that US troops enjoy impunity whatever they do. But the call was from a Turkish TV station asking for comments on Saddam's execution. I drew a deep sigh of relief, not for the execution, but because I did not know personally anyone killed that day.

Death is now so commonplace in Iraq that we end up ranking it in these personal terms. Last month, I attended the a'azas (remembrance events) of three people whose work I highly respected. One was for Dr Essam al-Rawi, head of the university professors' union who documented the assassination of academics. A week before his killing his office at Baghdad University had been ransacked and documents confiscated by US troops. The others were for Dr Ali Hussain Mukhif, an academic and literary critic, and Saad Shlash, professor of journalism in Baghdad University and editor of the weekly journal Rayet Al Arab, who insisted on resisting occupation peacefully - offering writers, including myself, a space to criticise the occupation and its crimes, despite all the risks involved.

About 500 academics and 92 journalists have been murdered since the invasion of Iraq. Hundreds more have been kidnapped, and many others have fled the country after receiving threats against their lives. The human costs are so high that many Iraqis believe that had there been a competition between Saddam's regime and the Bush-Blair occupation over the killing of Iraqi minds and culture, the latter would win by far. Sadly, I am becoming one of them.

I am speaking as one who has been, from the start, a politically active opponent of the Ba'ath regime's ideology and Saddam Hussain's dictatorship. At times that was at the high personal cost of prison and torture. In 1984, during the Iran-Iraq war, my family had to pay for the bullets used to execute my cousin Fouad Al Azzawi before being allowed to collect his body. But I find myself agreeing with many Iraqis, that life now is not just the continuity of misery and death under new guises. It is much, much worse - even without the extra dimensions of pillage, corruption and the total ruin of the infrastructure.

Every day brings with it, due to the presence of occupation troops to protect US citizens' safety and security, less safety and security for Iraqis.

The timing and method of the execution of Saddam Hussein proves that the US administration is still criminally high on the cocktail of power, arrogance, and ignorance. But above all racism: what is good for us is not good for you. We are patriots but you are terrorists.

The US and their Iraqi puppets in the green zone chose to execute Saddam on the first day of Eid al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice. This is the most joyous day in the Muslim calendar when more than 2 million pilgrims in Mecca start their ancient rituals, with hundreds of millions of others around the world focused on the events. They then further humiliated Muslims by releasing the official video of the execution, with the 69-year-old having a noose placed around his neck and being led to the drop. The unofficial recording shows Saddam looking calm and composed, and even managing a sarcastic smile, asking the thugs who taunted him "hiya hiy al marjala?" ("is this your manliness?"), a powerful phrase in Arabic popular culture connecting manliness to acts of courage, pride and chivalry. He also managed to repeatedly say the Muslim creed as he was dying, thus attaching himself in the last few seconds of his life to one billion Muslims. Saddam had literally the final say. From now on, no Eid will pass without people remembering his execution.

This was the climax of a colonial farce with the court proceedings' blatant sectarian overtones welcomed by Bush and the British government as a "fair trial". The occupation also welcomed the grotesque public execution as "justice being done". Contrast this with the end of our hopes, as Iraqis in opposition, of persuading our people of the humanity of democracy and how it would, unlike Saddam's brutality, put an end to all abuses of human rights, to execution in public, and to the death penalty.

It is no good the deputy prime minister John Prescott now condemning the manner of Saddam's execution as "deplorable" when, as a representative of one of the two main occupying powers, his government is both legally and morally responsible for what took place.

It is hell in Iraq by all standards, and there is no end in sight to the plight of Iraqi people. The resistance to occupation is a basic human right as well as a moral responsibility. That was the case during the Algerian war of independence, the Vietnamese war of independence, and it is the case in Iraq now.

· Haifa Zangana is an Iraqi-born novelist and former prisoner of Saddam's regime Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Diplomat's suppressed document lays bare the lies behind Iraq war
By Colin Brown and Andy McSmith. The Independent, 15 December 2006

The Government's case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

A devastating attack on Mr Blair's justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests."

Mr Ross revealed it was a commonly held view among British officials dealing with Iraq that any threat by Saddam Hussein had been "effectively contained".

He also reveals that British officials warned US diplomats that bringing down the Iraqi dictator would lead to the chaos the world has since witnessed. "I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed)," he said.

"At the same time, we would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that 'regime change' was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos."

He claims "inertia" in the Foreign Office and the "inattention of key ministers" combined to stop the UK carrying out any co-ordinated and sustained attempt to address sanction-busting by Iraq, an approach which could have provided an alternative to war.

Mr Ross delivered the evidence to the Butler inquiry which investigated intelligence blunders in the run-up to the conflict.

The Foreign Office had attempted to prevent the evidence being made public, but it has now been published by the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs after MPs sought assurances from the Foreign Office that it would not breach the Official Secrets Act.

It shows Mr Ross told the inquiry, chaired by Lord Butler, "there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material" held by the Iraqi dictator before the invasion. "There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US," he added.

Mr Ross's evidence directly challenges the assertions by the Prime Minster that the war was legally justified because Saddam possessed WMDs which could be "activated" within 45 minutes and posed a threat to British interests. These claims were also made in two dossiers, subsequently discredited, in spite of the advice by Mr Ross.

His hitherto secret evidence threatens to reopen the row over the legality of the conflict, under which Mr Blair has sought to draw a line as the internecine bloodshed in Iraq has worsened.

Mr Ross says he questioned colleagues at the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence working on Iraq and none said that any new evidence had emerged to change their assessment.

"What had changed was the Government's determination to present available evidence in a different light," he added.

Mr Ross said in late 2002 that he "discussed this at some length with David Kelly", the weapons expert who a year later committed suicide when he was named as the source of a BBC report saying Downing Street had "sexed up" the WMD claims in a dossier. The Butler inquiry cleared Mr Blair and Downing Street of "sexing up" the dossier, but the publication of the Carne Ross evidence will cast fresh doubts on its findings.

Mr Ross, 40, was a highly rated diplomat but he resigned because of his misgivings about the legality of the war. He still fears the threat of action under the Official Secrets Act.

"Mr Ross hasn't had any approach to tell him that he is still not liable to be prosecuted," said one ally. But he has told friends that he is "glad it is out in the open" and he told MPs it had been "on my conscience for years".

One member of the Foreign Affairs committee said: "There was blood on the carpet over this. I think it's pretty clear the Foreign Office used the Official Secrets Act to suppress this evidence, by hanging it like a Sword of Damacles over Mr Ross, but we have called their bluff."

Yesterday, Jack Straw, the Leader of the Commons who was Foreign Secretary during the war - Mr Ross's boss - announced the Commons will have a debate on the possible change of strategy heralded by the Iraqi Study Group report in the new year.

Read the full transcript of his evidence to the Butler Inquiry at:

Police 'breached rights' of anti-war protesters

By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent. The Independent, 14 December 2006

Peace protesters and civil rights groups celebrated an "enormous victory for free speech" after the House of Lords condemned the police for preventing a demonstration outside an airbase used in the Iraq war.

Hours before American B-52 bombers took off from RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire in March 2003, 120 opponents of the invasion were travelling from London in three coaches to protest outside its gates.

A few miles away they were stopped by police who confiscated a Frisbee and a bag of toy soldiers during a two-hour search. Their coaches were then sealed and escorted in convoy, without even allowing lavatory stops, back to London.

The High Court and Court of Appeal have already said police acted unlawfully. They won a further landmark ruling yesterday when the Law Lords unanimously concluded that police violated their right to lawful assembly and to freedom of expression, which was "an essential foundation of democratic society".

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, giving the lead judgment, said the case raised "important questions on the right of the private citizen to demonstrate against government policy and the powers of the police to curtail exercise of that right".

He said the police action, designed to thwart a future breach of the peace, was "wholly disproportionate" under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: "This is an enormous victory for free speech in a time when this principle is under considerable threat. Once again, democracy was in trouble and the Law Lords came to its rescue."

Jane Laporte, the passenger in whose name the case was brought, said: "The Lords have confirmed that freedom to protest is something that should be treasured in this country and police don't have the right to take it away."

John Halford, a human rights specialist at Bindman and Partners, which represented the campaigners, said that the judgement was "a wake-up call for democracy".

Gloucestershire Police said that it was disappointed by the judgment and defended its actions.

"Policing in scenarios such as those faced at Fairford is difficult and complex, with competing rights and responsibilities having to be assessed and acted upon in real time by operational commanders," it said.

It claimed that intelligence had suggested a potential for disorder after US B-52 bombers at the base were targeted by anti-war campaigners during earlier demonstrations.

It was against "this highly charged background" that the coaches were turned back, police said.

See cartoonist Steve Bell’s take on this story at:,,1971610,00.html

Beyond Orwell and Kafka
By Gabriele Zamparini, Wednesday, 13 December 2006.

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died this week. He won’t be missed.

Now imagine Augusto Pinochet visiting the United States while he was carrying out torture and mass murdering in Chile. Imagine the “largest coalition of peace and justice organizations in the U.S.” welcoming the ruthless murderer, “it is our pleasure to welcome you in the United States”.

This is what indeed happened this past summer when United for Peace and Justice’s National Coordinator Leslie Cagan wrote an open letter to puppet Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki.

Dear Prime Minister Al-Maliki,

On behalf of United for Peace and Justice, the largest coalition of peace and justice organizations in the U.S., which includes more than 1,400 national and local groups united in opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq, it is our pleasure to welcome you in the United States.

Of course it would be wrong and ungenerous the comparison; next to Al-Maliki and his sectarian death squads government, Pinochet would seem a boy scout.

Intellectuals and activists of the Imperial anti-war movement started immediately after the invasion to legitimize the “supreme international crime” by supporting the so-called “political process”, a Trojan horse studied to destroy Iraq and force its people into a civil war. Those notorious sectarian Iraqi elections, based on religion and ethnicity, far from being forced on the US by the non-violent resistance of some clerics, were part of the plan to install a quisling government, getting the approval of the vultures and hyenas of the international community and preparing the bases for the eventual partition of the country.

Finally democracy has landed on Iraq; too bad for those 655,000 deaths who didn’t wait to enjoy the apocalypse. The slaughtering is going on with hundreds of people killed every day, ethnic cleansing, tortures, collective punishment, millions of Iraqis displaced and a country waiting to be wiped off the map. God bless America.

The Imperial Democrats got back the Imperial Congress. On Wednesday, November 8th, 2006 Michael Moore published on his website LANDSLIDE! ...a big thanks from Michael Moore


You did it! We did it! The impossible has happened: A majority of Americans have soundly and forcefully removed Bush's party from control of the House of Representatives and the Republicans have also, miraculously, been tossed out of running our United States Senate. This was done because the American people wanted to make two things crystal clear: End this war, and stop Mr. Bush from doing any more damage to this country we love. That is what this election was about. Nothing else. Just that. And it's a message that has sent shock waves throughout Washington -- and a note of hope around this troubled world. (…)

The Washington Post clearly illustrated the “note of hope” a few days later. Democratic Senator Harry M. Reid, who was just elected Senate majority leader, “said, one of the first acts of the new Democratic Congress will be a $75 billion boost to the military budget to try to get the Army's diminished units back into combat shape.”

Michael Moore goes on:

“But let's take a day to rejoice and revel in a rare victory for our side -- the side that doesn't believe in unprovoked invasions of other countries. This is your day, my friends. You have worked hard for it. I can't tell you how proud I am to count all of you as part of the greater American mainstream we now occupy.”

The “side that doesn't believe in unprovoked invasions of other countries” would be the Democratic Party? History, from Vietnam to Yugoslavia and Iraq, really didn’t teach anything to the United States of Amnesia. “A woman, for the first time in our history, will be Speaker of the House”, the hero of the Imperial anti-war movement continues. One wonders if that should be read as good news. The woman is Nancy Pelosi, a liberal Democrat from the liberal San Francisco. Back in 2005 Joshua Frank gave a fair portrait of the “Granite Lady”, as her website describes Pelosi

"There are those who contend that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza," Pelosi said as she rallied AIPAC loyalists. "This is absolute nonsense. In truth, the history of the conflict is not over occupation, and never has been: it is over the fundamental right of Israel to exist." (…) "One thing, however is unchanged," Pelosi added. "America's commitment to the safety and security of the state of Israel is unwavering. America and Israel share an unbreakable bond: in peace and war; and in prosperity and in hardship."

In spite of an Imperial anti-war movement in denial (at best, when not actively cooperating or even part of the Jewish Lobby) on the reasons that brought the American troops to invade and occupy Iraq, the winners of this shameful scandal have always been before our eyes, only could we look at the Middle East geopolitical panorama with an honest open mind. Remember what happened on 7 June 1981?

On November 20, 2006, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported:

On his way home from Los Angeles, the prime minister [Israeli PM Ehud Olmert] "calmed" the reporters - and perhaps even himself - by saying there is no danger of U.S. President George W. Bush accepting the expected recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton panel, and attempting to move Syria out of the axis of evil and into a coalition to extricate America from Iraq. The prime minister hopes the Jewish lobby can rally a Democratic majority in the new Congress to counter any diversion from the status quo on the Palestinians.

“No blood for oil” doesn’t tell the whole story; how much more blood for the old Zionist project of Greater Israel?

While its two neighbors have been invaded and occupied by the Empire, Iran’s regime is holding an international conference questioning the Holocaust of Jews during WWII.

Using an unspeakable tragedy like the genocide of Jews (when will we also remember the others? Roma People, homosexuals, etc?) by the Nazi and their collaborators for political ends is always abominable, both when it comes from Israel and the Jewish lobby around the world and when it comes - like in this case - from Iran, a country that claims to fight the Israeli influence in the Middle East.

The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been using inflammatory language against Israel and the United States to win over the Arab public opinion and the international left. In reality, Iran – a non-Arab country – has been spreading its influence in the Middle East for years. But both the Arab public opinion and the international left should take a closer look at Iran’s regime, both at home and its role in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

While its propaganda has given ammunitions to Israel and the United States, Iran has been having a central role in the apocalypse inflicted to Iraq, supporting the American installed sectarian, quisling Iraqi government and its militias responsible for mass murdering and ethnic cleansing. And don’t let fool yourself on the “support” of the Palestinian cause by the Iranian regime. The Iranian supported sectarian militias operating in Iraq have been persecuting and killing many members of the Palestinian community in Iraq since the occupation started in 2003.

As I wrote somewhere else, four hyenas, the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and Iran have destroyed a country that could have been a power in the region and a model for the Arab world. The vultures of the international community have been cooperating and watching the bloodbath waiting to share the rich carcass. The control of the energy resources is just part of the whole picture; Iraq had to be destroyed to allow the so-called reshaping of the Middle East. The notorious “political process” has been a formidable Trojan horse that forced the Iraqi People into a civil war. Far from being a failure, the main mission of this bloody project has been accomplished. Iraq as we knew it has gone, probably forever.

The supreme international crime, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a defenseless country that had never attacked the United States, that did not have any weapons of mass destruction, that did not have any ties to al-Qaida, that had no connection to the September 11 attacks, is the major scandal of our times, a scandal that would need an epic poet to be told. But since we live beyond Orwell and Kafka’s times, let’s read what Philip Martin, a 21-year-old US marine who spent 7 months in the al-Anbar province of Iraq has to tell us:

Saddam was convicted and sentenced to death for killing 143 Shiites who conspired to assassinate him. (I know all you "patriotic" Americans would be calling for the heads of anyone who conspired to assassinate supreme leader Bush). And yet we spend upwards of 1 trillion dollars and nearing 3,000 lives to help these Iraqis when they don't even want us there. Not to mention we don't have the legal justification to be there. I guess we should wait around for the omnipotent W Bush to decide who we should use our superpowerdom to help next. It's about time to throw him and the rest of the fascists out. Moreover it's about time to start educating Americans about their past and history, and letting them know that imperialistic leaders are not what the founders of this great country wanted.

It's still about oil in Iraq

By Antonia Juhasz Los Angeles Times" 08 December 2006
A centerpiece of the Iraq Study Group's report is its advocacy for securing foreign companies' long-term access to Iraqi oil fields.

While the Bush administration, the media and nearly all the Democrats still refuse to explain the war in Iraq in terms of oil, the ever-pragmatic members of the Iraq Study Group share no such reticence. See full story at:

Wars costing UK £3.8m a day

The cost of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will be £1.4bn this year - more than £3.8m a day - a breakdown of Ministry of Defence figures reveals.

The war in Iraq is taking up £2.36m a day, or £860m a year, while that in Afghanistan is costing £1.48m a day, coming to £540m during 2006.

The figures do not include salaries, which would be paid to soldiers anyway.

The Commons defence select committee says it expects the final expense of operations to be higher.

In a report, it also warns about the difficulty in retaining members of the Royal Marines, with the number of regulars leaving "significantly exceeding" target for the past three years.

There are about 7,000 UK troops in Iraq and 6,000 in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the Army, said soldiers' wages were "hardly impressive" and "some accommodation" was "frankly shaming".

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 12 December 2006 17:26:21 GMT

Rumsfeld successor: 'We're not winning war',,1964974,00.html
· Gates stuns Congress with sharp change of tone
· Attack on Iran 'could be devastating for US'
Julian Borger in Washington, The Guardian Wednesday 06 December 2006

The man picked by President Bush to run the Pentagon admitted yesterday that the US was not winning the war in Iraq and warned that an attack on Iran could backfire with devastating consequences.

Robert Gates's sombre and candid assessment stunned Congress, marking a sharp break with his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, who played down the severity of any problems, was dismissive of criticism, and took a much harder line against Iraq's neighbours.

The change in tone came at a critical moment, with the US at a crossroads following the Democratic election victory, the resignations of two leading administration hawks, Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton, and at a time when Washington is in the midst of a fundamental rethink of military strategy.

A much-anticipated report from a bipartisan commission, the Iraq Study Group (ISG) will be published today, setting the agenda for that policy review. It is expected to recommend a diplomatic overture to Syria and Iran and a significant reconfiguration of the US's military presence in Iraq.

Mr Gates, a former ISG panel member, made it clear that "all options are on the table". When asked if he believed the US was winning, he replied flatly: "No, sir."

The former CIA director indicated that he was willing to contemplate a sharp decrease in troop levels and argued that such a pullback did not contradict President Bush's assurances to the Baghdad government last week, when he said: "We are going to stay in Iraq as long as the Iraqis ask us to be there."

Mr Gates said: "We are still going to have to have some level of American support ... for the Iraqi military, and that could take quite some time, but it could be with a dramatically smaller number of US forces than are there today."

He argued, however, that a hasty and total withdrawal could have disastrous consequences for the region, possibly sucking neighbouring countries into a disastrous conflict.

"Developments in Iraq over the next year or two will, I believe, shape the entire Middle East and greatly influence global geopolitics for many years to come," he said, saying US strategy would determine whether "the United States will face a slowly but steadily improving situation in Iraq and in the region or will face the very real risk and possible reality of a regional conflagration."

He made it clear that such a conflagration would be accelerated if the US attacked Iran, as some Washington hawks have suggested, as a means of setting back Iran's nuclear programme.

"I think that we have seen, in Iraq, that once war is unleashed it becomes unpredictable," he said. In particular, Mr Gates said Iran could strike back by closing off the Gulf to oil shipments, letting loose terrorist attacks in the Middle East, Europe and the US, possibly providing chemical or biological weapons to terrorist groups, and targeting US forces in Iraq.

He said an attack on Syria might not provoke as lethal a backlash, but he added "it would have dramatic consequences for us throughout the Middle East in terms of our relationships with a wide range of countries in that area".

Mr Gates implicitly criticised Mr Rumsfeld, saying the US had used too few troops in the 2003 Iraq invasion and that more effort should be invested in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, possibly including one senator's suggestion that the reward for the al-Qaida leader's capture should be constantly increased like a state lottery.

"A sort of terrorist 'Powerball'?" Mr Gates said. "I'm certainly open to that."

Democrats declared themselves relieved at Mr Gates's candour and he is expected to be confirmed easily and quickly by the Senate, allowing him to take over from Mr Rumsfeld in a few weeks.

There were signs yesterday that the US military had begun implementing changes the ISG is expected to recommend. Thousands of combat troops have been pulled back from urban patrols and reassigned as advisers to help train the Iraqi army.

UN chief tells of Iraq war sorrow

Asked by the BBC's Lyse Doucet whether the situation in Iraq could now be classified as a civil war, Mr Annan pointed to the level of "killing and bitterness" and the way forces in Iraq are now ranged against each other.

"A few years ago, when we had the strife in Lebanon and other places, we called that a civil war. This is much worse.

"We have a very worrisome situation in the broader Middle East," Mr Annan said, linking the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tensions over Iran.

Tough situation
He admitted that the failure to prevent the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a major blow to the UN, one from which the organisation is only beginning to recover.

"It's healing but we are not there yet, it hasn't healed yet, and we feel the tension still in this organisation as a result of that."

Mr Annan described the current situation in Iraq as "extremely dangerous" and empathised with the plight of ordinary Iraqis.

"If I were an average Iraqi obviously I would make the same comparison, that they had a dictator who was brutal but they had their streets, they could go out, their kids could go to school and come back home without a mother or father worrying, 'Am I going to see my child again?'

"The society needs security and a secure environment for it to get on - without security not much can be done - not recovery or reconstruction."

'No will'
Mr Annan, a Ghanaian who joined the UN in 1962, became the first sub-Sahara African secretary-general at the start of 1997.

The years before his appointment were marred by the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing during the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Although the UN vowed "never again" in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and killings at Srebrenica, the organisation has been unable to end a three-year crisis in Sudan's Darfur region, where more than 200,000 people are thought to have died.

"It is deeply, deeply disappointing and it's tragic," said Mr Annan. "But we do not have the resources or the will to confront the situation."

He pledged to work towards a solution in Darfur, which Sudan's government has refused to allow UN peacekeepers to enter, until his very last moment in office.

And he was clear in his advice to Mr Ban, the South Korean diplomat who will pick up the reins at the UN's New York headquarters on 1 January.

"He should do it his way. I did it my way, my predecessors did it their way and he should do it his way."

The situation in Iraq has become "much worse" than a civil war, the outgoing United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has told the BBC.

Mr Annan, who leaves office after 10 years on 31 December, said life for the average Iraqi was now worse than under the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Expressing his sadness for being unable to prevent the war, he urged regional and international powers to help Iraq.

But Mr Annan urged his successor, South Korean Ban Ki-moon, to "do it his way".

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/12/04 03:46:44 GMT

Rumsfeld 'considered Iraq withdrawal'

By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles. The Independent, 04 December 2006

A leaked memo from the outgoing US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated that the chief architect of the Iraq war was considering a "major adjustment" of strategy, including troop redeployments and withdrawals, just days before his resignation last month.

The memo, leaked to The New York Times, suggested that even the most ardent of the Bush administration's "stay the course" advocates came to recognise that the war was going badly - for reasons that may or may not have been connected to the fact that Mr Rumsfeld's job was clearly on the line.

Mr Rumsfeld threw out an array of options, including redeployment of large numbers of troops to the Syrian and Iranian borders and withdrawal from areas outside Baghdad where the bloodshed has been most unstoppable.

Characteristically, the memo was as much about public perceptions as actual strategy. "Announce that whatever new approach the US decides on, the US is doing so on a trial basis," the memo says. "This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not 'lose'."

Senior Bush administration figures said they were considering Mr Rumsfeld's suggestions, just as they will pay attention to the conclusions of the Iraq Study Group, whose report is due to be published on Wednesday. Nine more Iraqis died yesterday (03/12/06) in a US raid on two buildings in Anbar province, including two women and a toddler.