Archive for October, 2011

Panetta in Iraq as another US soldier killed

Baghdad (AFP) July 10, 2011

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Baghdad on Sunday to urge Iraqi leaders to act against Iran-backed Shiite militias, as another American soldier was killed in the south of the country.

Panetta, who took office 10 days ago, flew in after visiting Afghanistan and was also to urge Iraqi leaders to decide soon on whether they want US troops beyond the scheduled pullout at the end of this year, a senior US defense official said.

About 46,000 US troops remain in Iraq, down from a high of 170,000 after the 2003 US-led invasion. They are scheduled to leave in less than six months unless a deal is reached between Baghdad and Washington.

“If they are to make a proposal with regards to the continuing US presence there, they have to make a formal request that we would obviously consider,” Panetta told reporters shortly after his arrival.

He is due to meet President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massud Barzani.

“The issues for Iraq are security there and what’s being done, particularly to deal with the Iranian supply of weapons to militants in Iraq,” Panetta said.

Three American soldiers have been killed so far this month, after June was the deadliest month in three years for US troops, with 14 killed.

A US military statement said a soldier was killed in southern Iraq on Sunday, but gave no other details.

Asked about increased attacks on US forces by Shiite militants backed by Iran, Panetta expressed “tremendous concern,” and called on Iraq to do more to “go after those extremists that are making use of these weapons” supplied by Tehran.

“If we’re all gonna be partners, they have a responsibility to protect against that kind of attack. It’s in the interest of Iraq to provide for their own security,” he said.

Iran has denied US accusations that it was smuggling weapons to insurgents in two of its neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Panetta said the United States was open to a request by Iraq on a troop extension.

“If they are to make a proposal with regards to the continuing US presence there, they have to make a formal request that we would obviously consider,” Panetta told reporters.

“I think the secretary will convey to the Iraqis… that there’s some urgency for them to make that request if they’re going to make it,” said a senior US official traveling with the defense secretary.

Panetta is the latest top US official to arrive in Iraq, asking officials to accept a contingent of American troops beyond 2011. US diplomatic sources in Baghdad say there has been no talk on the possible number who could remain.

A possible extension would be deeply unpopular among the public in Iraq, where many people look upon the American soldiers as “occupiers.”

Talabani, a Kurd, said on Saturday that political parties would announce their decision in two weeks on whether they want some US forces to remain.

Ali Mussawi, Maliki’s media adviser, told AFP on Sunday that a decision within two weeks was unlikely.

“I believe that political leaders will not reach an agreement during the two-week deadline,” he said, adding that leaders were too busy arguing over small issues instead of focusing on more important issues such as the future of American forces in Iraq.

Some Kurdish officials have said they want US forces to stay beyond the deadline, but the powerful Shiite movement of Moqtada al-Sadr has threatened to resume armed struggle against American troops if they extend their stay.

In a statement posted on his website on Sunday, Sadr said that due to internal issues he would not reactivate his powerful Mahdi Army even if US forces stayed, but added that the elite Promised Day Brigade would be at the forefront of the fight against American forces staying on.

It is one of three militias that US military officials say receives weapons from Iran and has been behind attacks on US troops.

Panetta said he would also press Iraqi leaders to speedily appoint defense and interior ministers, posts which remain vacant because of political bickering, despite the formation of a unity government last December.

Source: Space War.

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Iraq’s Sadr: I will not reactivate Mahdi Army


Anti-US Shiite cleric says his “Promised Day Brigade” militia will oppose US forces if they extended their deployment in Iraq.

By Ammar Karim – BAGHDAD

Anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has withdrawn a threat to reactivate his powerful Mahdi Army but said an elite unit would oppose American forces if they extended their deployment in Iraq.

In a statement posted on his website on Saturday, Sadr said his “Promised Day Brigade” militia would remain at the forefront of the opposition to American forces remaining in Iraq beyond a scheduled pullout at the end of 2011.

But Sadr, who is close to Iran, said he was “freezing the activities of the Mahdi Army,” even if the Americans stayed.

“Because of (criminal acts) that were committed — or could be committed (by people claiming to be members of the Mahdi Army), I decided to limit military action to the Promised Day Brigade,” he said.

About 46,000 American forces remain in Iraq, down from a high of 170,000 after the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted leader Saddam Hussein.

All are scheduled to leave at the end of 2011, but Washington has said it is negotiating with Baghdad about the possibility of some forces remaining beyond then if requested.

Last April, Sadr had threatened to revive the Mahdi Army if American troops remained in Iraq beyond the deadline.

“If the Americans don’t leave Iraq on time, we will increase the resistance and restart the activities of the Mahdi Army,” Sadr had said in a fiery statement read by a spokesman to thousands of followers in Baghdad.

In his latest statement, he said he had hoped that “one day the Mahdi Army could be revived in a new fashion, but there is no hope until these criminals mend their ways,” he said.

The Mahdi Army, which fought repeated battles against Iraqi and US-led coalition forces between 2004 and 2007, has been identified by the Pentagon as the main threat to stability in Iraq.

The Promised Day Brigade was created in November 2008 by Sadr to fight against US forces.

American military officials have blamed it, and two other breakaway Shiite groups, for the majority of attacks against American troops, accusing neighboring Iran of backing the militias.

US forces suffered their deadliest month in three years last June, when 14 soldiers were killed in separate attacks, most of them by rockets fired at military bases.

Washington’s top US military officer said Thursday that Iran is stepping up support for Shiite militants in Iraq, supplying them with more sophisticated weapons.

Admiral Mike Mullen said Iran had made a decision to curtail its support for Shiite factions in 2008 but has now increased its activity in Iraq, sending in lethal arms that were being used against American forces.

Sadr said his decision about the Mahdi Army came after a recent incident in the Amine district of eastern Baghdad where a militiaman in a local dispute had called in gunmen who had shot and killed one resident and wounded another.

“I am innocent of all the abuses that people commit in my name,” Sadr said.

Before it was disbanded in 2008, the Mahdi Army numbered some 60,000 fighters with fierce loyalty to Sadr.

The anti-US cleric, who has been pursuing off-and-on religious studies in the Iranian clerical center of Qom, is the son of revered Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam’s regime in 1999.

Source: Middle East Online.

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‘Sadr to use force if US overstays’

Sat Jul 9, 2011

Iraq’s Sadr Movement says it would take up arms against US troops, if Washington fails to honor an agreement requiring it to withdraw all its forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011.

“We [the Sadr movement] will do our best … to refuse these troops … by protests and by military works,” says Salah al-Obeidi, a spokesman for the Sadr Movement, adding that “[the movement’s leader] Muqtada al-Sadr has further said that we will not leave our weapons if the Americans stay in Iraq after 2011.”

“If the American troops stay in Iraq … We will do our best to press or to put further number of our fighters to kill them,” he added.

Washington has reportedly offered Baghdad to keep up to 10,000 US forces in Iraq for at least another year. On Tuesday, the Iraqi parliamentarians petitioned the government against extending the US military presence in the country.

The appeal, signed by 100 lawmakers, warns Baghdad against the dire consequences of the continued deployment of the American troops beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline stipulated in the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement.

The US invaded Iraq in 2003 under the pretext of destroying alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) belonging to the executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime.

However, it was later found that the country did not possess any WMDs at the time and that the US and Britain, which led the invasion, were well-aware of the non-existence of such weapons in Iraq.

Over one million Iraqis have been killed as a result of the occupation, according to a study by the credible British polling group, Opinion Research Business.

Source: PressTV.

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Iraqis who sought refuge in Syria, now returning


Deadly unrest in Syria force Iraqi refugees who fled 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq to return home.

By Sammy Ketz – BAGHDAD

When his six-year-old son was killed in a 2006 Baghdad gun battle, Seif Rashid decided to flee with his family to Syria, but the deadly unrest there forced him to return to Iraq last month.

“When I saw the lifeless body of my little Abdel Rahman I decided to leave with my wife and two girls. I could not stand my country, which was overwhelmed by hatred,” Rashid said.

The boy had been killed by a stray bullet in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighborhood.

Rashid moved to Kafar Batna, on the outskirts of Damascus, because he had no work and the rent and life was cheaper.

But the wave of protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that began in March once again upset their lives.

“There were protests, they burned public buildings, posters of Bashar al-Assad — and there have been arrests — the situation was untenable,” Rashid said. “So, we took our bags and left again.”

Rashid, a 30-year-old shoe designer, mingled in Baghdad with a crowd of other returnees like him, all waiting to sign up at the National Registry office for refugees.

Registration entitles displaced Iraqis like him to a government installation allowance of four million dinars ($3,400/2,380 euros) per family, to help with the costs of resettling.

Many lost everything they had when they fled the violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled leader Saddam Hussein and triggered an insurgency and Shiite-Sunni bloodletting.

Rashid, unemployed since he fled Iraq, has been living on his savings.

In Iraq, after the turmoil of the invasion and the extreme violence that began in 2004 and peaked in 2006 and 2007, neighboring Syria quickly became the preferred escape for many Iraqis.

It was next door, not very expensive, and it had open borders. Between 300,000 and one million Iraqis are estimated to have fled to Syria during the violence.

Security is better than in Syria

In 2004, 45-year-old Yaqub Khalaf Nussayef was shot in the abdomen and leg during a settling of scores between Sunni and Shiite groups.

Nussayef is a Sunni and former soldier who was living in the Shiite neighborhood of Abu Ghraib, which gained worldwide notoriety after publication of photographs showing American soldiers humiliating and torturing prisoners.

A father of five, he first fled to Jordan and then to Damascus, where he collected and sold empty soft drink cans for recycling in order to feed his family.

“The Syrian capital was quiet, but elsewhere there was chaos. I have tasted the bitter taste of sectarian war and bloodshed, and I did not wish to be part of a new wave of violence,” he said.

“I am convinced that what is going on over there is a sectarian war,” said Nussayef, who arrived only days ago in Baghdad, searching for a home before he brings his family.

Syria is majority Sunni, but the Alawites, who comprise only 12 percent of the population, have been in power since 1963.

Hayat Saad, legal officer at the Baghdad refugees center, said “every day we deal with between 60 to 70 cases of families who have returned to the country.”

“Daily, about 20 come from Syria — the largest contingent — followed by Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Libya,” she added.

Since the beginning of May, 1,171 families — about 7,000 people — have returned from Syria, and three-quarters have taken up residence in Baghdad province, the International Organization for Migration said.

“We still do not have any evidence of a large ‘wave’ of return in the past few months due to unrest,” said the IOM’s Nuray Inal.

In addition to assisting in housing, the ministry of refugees also helps in settling utility bills such as for water, electricity and telephones that may have accumulated over the years that owners were absent from their homes. It also helps in recovering homes that may have been taken over by squatters.

Qahtan Sabri, a 61-year-old carpenter, went to Damascus in 2005. “The situation was getting worse day-by-day. The confessional killings were increasing, and I had to stop working.

“I decided to return to Iraq when I realized that security is better in my own country than in Syria. I have resumed my business and will never leave my country,” he said.

Source: Middle East Online.

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Iran says fires missiles to Indian Ocean for first time

Jul 9, 2011

TEHRAN: Iran said on Saturday it test-fired two long-range missiles into the Indian Ocean earlier this year, the first time it has fired missiles into that sea, according to state television.

“In the month of Bahman (Jan 21-Feb 19) two missiles with a range of 1,900 km (1,180 miles) were fired from Semnan province(in northern Iran) into the mouth of the Indian Ocean,” Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace division, told a news conference some of which was shown on television.

Iran usually tests its missiles in extensive deserts in the heart of the country, so the firing into the Indian Ocean is an unusual move, aimed to prove Tehran’s longstanding claims it can hit targets beyond its borders.

Television showed a missile being fired but the announcer did not specify if the pictures were of the Indian Ocean test-firing. No pictures were shown of a target being hit at sea.

The announcement came after a 10-day military exercise by the elite Guards that was designed to deter Iran’s enemies by showing Iran is ready and able to hit back at US bases in the Middle East and at Israel.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military strikes on Iran if necessary to stop it getting nuclear weapons.

Iran says it has home-made missiles with a range of 2,000 km, designed specifically to hit US interests and Israel. But it denies it is seeking nuclear bombs and the means to deliver them.

Analysts have often doubted Iran’s claims of technological progress in its defense industry which is under tight international sanctions due to western concerns it is seeking nuclear weapons capability.

Hajizadeh said US spy planes were operating in the area where the missiles hit. “It is interesting that they did not publicize it,” he said.

Source: Arab News.

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Bahrain targets athletes, students: BCHR

Sat Jul 9, 2011

The Bahraini regime has systematically targeted famous athletes as well as university students for practicing their legitimate right to peaceful protests, a rights group says.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) says that more than 150 athletes have been targeted with arrests, military trials, prison sentences as well as suspensions from sport activities for expressing their dissatisfaction with the Bahraini Al Khalifa regime through peaceful protests.

The crackdown came as Naser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the king’s son and the head of the Higher Council for Youth and Sports ordered the formation of an investigation committee into the alleged anti-regime activities of the athletes.

The friends and relatives of the Bahraini footballers say the players were beaten up and subjected to long interrogations and humiliation in custody.

“The men who were beating them were not Bahraini. They didn’t care who they were,” a friend of the players told Times on the condition of anonymity.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights have also expressed deep concerns for continuing and escalating systematic targeting of university students by the regime as well as the Ministry of Education.

So far, some 400 students have been reportedly expelled in less than two months, the BCHR said.

Local rights groups added that many of the students are Shia Muslims.

Since mid-February, Bahraini protesters have been holding anti-government protests demanding an end to the rule of Al Khalifa dynasty which they say has instituted despotic governance, discrimination and the suppression of any dissent.

The US-backed regime, which has ruled the Persian Gulf country for over 40 years, has met the popular protests with a brutal crackdown that has left scores dead and many more arrested.

Source: PressTV.

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Iran to launch bio-capsule into space

Fri Jul 8, 2011

The head of Iran’s Space Agency (ISA) says the country is set for the upcoming launch into space of a bio-capsule and two more satellites by the end of the Iranian calendar year (ending March 20).

The Iranian bio-capsule will take a live creature into orbit by early September, said ISA chief Hamid Fazeli on Thursday, quoted by the IRIB.

He also said that ‘Fajr’ (Dawn) satellite will blast into space by summer’s end and finally the student-made ‘Navid Elm-o-Sanat’ (Hope for Science and Technology) will be launched into orbit as early as February.

In March, Iran successfully launched Kavoshgar 4 rocket, capable of sending satellites and carrying live creatures into space.

Fazeli hailed the surge in Iran’s space activities, adding that such breakthroughs have only been made possible by local expertise and endeavors.

As part of a plan to develop its space program, Iran successfully launched a satellite, dubbed Rassad (Observation), into the earth’s orbit on June 15.

The Rassad satellite is the country’s first space-based imaging device.

Its mission is to take photos of the earth’s surface and relay them to the earth-based stations together with telemetric information.

Iran launched its first domestically-built data-processing satellite, the Omid (Hope), into orbit in 2009.

Iran is one of the 24 founding members of the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, which was set up in 1959.

Source: PressTV.

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Mass grave with 900 corpses found in Iraq

Diwaniyah, Iraq (AFP) July 6, 2011

Iraqi authorities uncovered a mass grave with 900 corpses near the central city of Diwaniyah on Wednesday, believed to be Kurds killed during the rule of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, an official said.

The corpses were found in the Shanafiya region, 70 kilometers (45 miles) west of Diwaniyah.

“The corpses were buried in a trench. There were 900 bodies,” said Dakhil Saihoud, provincial head of the Justice and Accountability Commission which investigates issues related to Saddam’s regime.

“Initial indications show the remains are those of Kurds. They were transferred to laboratories in the city of Najaf to help in identification,” Saihoud said. He said the corpses apparently dated back to the 1980s.

Last April, authorities said they had found another mass grave in Anbar province of western Iraq containing the bodies of more than 800 people, including women and children, executed during Saddam’s regime.

During Iraq’s 1980-1988 war with Iran, deserters were executed and the Sunni Arab dictator intensified a crackdown on Shiites suspected of sympathizing with Iraq’s predominantly Shiite neighbor.

Kurds were persecuted because they were the main opposition to Saddam.

The number of people missing as a result of atrocities committed by Saddam, who came to power in 1979, is estimated at anywhere between 300,000 and 1.3 million, according to various sources.

Human rights groups believe there are hundreds of mass graves in Iraq of people killed during Saddam’s rule.

Shortly after the 2003 invasion, the US-led coalition said there were 263 mass reported graves of people executed in Iraq under Saddam, including 40 containing evidence of systematic killings.

Source: Space War.

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Rifts Weaken Women’s Protest

By Suad Hamada

MANAMA, Jul 4, 2011 (IPS) – Women activists in Bahrain have acknowledged their poor showing in the recent unrest as well as in efforts to fight sectarianism, and blamed it on rifts within their organizations.

Many have accused Bahraini women – with their long history of struggle and victory – of failing to leave their mark in the recent uprising in the country.

Shortly after sectarian tensions broke out in Manama in February, women activists and their societies launched at least three initiatives to bring their advocacies to the people and help improve the plight of women.

But the political agenda of other groups got mixed up with women’s causes. “Most of our societies were forced to stop all activities either because women-oriented programs weren’t suitable then or because some members tried pushing their political agendas,” a human rights activist and founder of one of Bahrain’s oldest women’s societies told IPS on condition of anonymity.

“In my own experience, we had many female members who wanted to misuse the society and its programs in pushing for the agendas of their own political societies, which isn’t something we wanted to happen. So we froze almost all activities to protect our neutrality,” she said, stressing that the same problem occurred in other groups.

An example was the Women for Bahrain project, which had a grand launch last March but started to fade in less than a month.

“Women for Bahrain was lucky to have a strong start, but received a deadly end when its Facebook page turned into a war zone between youth from different sects,” she said, explaining that the group’s presence in the social networking site became a battleground for opposing views. “All efforts to control the activities of the page and bar angry youth failed, hence the organizers decided to shelve the project.”

Abdulnabi Al Ekri, president of the Bahrain Transparency Society, told IPS that women’s participation across all political parties did not exceed 25 percent of all activities during and after the unrest.

Women took part in rallies and processions organized by opposition and pro-government groups, but their involvement was mainly as participants and not as leaders or speakers.

“Political societies have female members but they aren’t in leading positions, hence their roles were overshadowed by top male members,” Al Ekri says.

He urges female activists to end their silence and grab the golden opportunity for greater women empowerment offered by the national dialogue to commence on Jul. 1 with the participation of all segments of society.

Bahrain Women’s Union led the way when it submitted on Jun. 23 the points it thought should be included in the general agenda for the talks. The Union, with 12 women’s societies as members, demanded an amendment to the outdated nationality law to give females the right to pass their nationality on to their children, just as men married to foreigners are able to. It also asked for the implementation of the second part of the Family Law to cover Shiite Shariah Court under the legislation. The current law covers only Sunni Shariah Court.

“We have submitted our views and they are supported by almost all women’s societies, but we have no idea if they will be given priority,” said Mariam Al Ruwai, president of the Bahrain Women’s Union. But she noted that the talks would focus on “correcting the political situation and creating political changes,” and that gender equality needs to play a key role.

Writer Saeed Al Hamad said women’s voices have been hijacked and are no longer as loud as they were during the 1960s when Bahrain was fighting for independence from British rule.

“The backwardness of the Arab world in the last 30 years turned women in the region into followers and not leaders,” Al Hamad told a recent seminar by the state-run Supreme Council for Women. “Bahraini women felt the pain of unrest more than males, so they have to have a bigger role in the future by having greater participation in society. The upcoming by-election in September could be a good start,” he said.

But religious lecturer Fatima Bosoundel refuses to accept that Bahraini women played a minor role in recent political events. “Females had great roles at home by keeping children calm and unaffected when things were out of control in the streets. They cannot be underestimated for being the strongest element in the house,” she tells IPS.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

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Qatar has lowest unemployment rate in GCC

Tuesday, 05 July 2011

DOHA: Qatar has the lowest rate of unemployment in the GCC region at 0.5 percent but experts warn that future trends point towards an escalation rather than a decline.

Among the GCC states, Oman and Bahrain top as far as unemployment is concerned as the rate in these countries is quite high at 15 percent each, with Saudi Arabia trailing with 10.8 percent.

The UAE and Kuwait have lower joblessness rates at 2.2 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively, Al Masah Capital said in a report on unemployment in the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) region.

The region (MENA) has the dubious distinction of having the highest unemployment rate in the world, Al Masah said talking of the political upheaval jolting some countries in the region.

The cause of the various civil uprisings in these countries can easily be traced to authoritarian rule, corruption, large rural-urban divide, high inflation and unemployment in the region, Al Masah said in its report.

It added that unemployment, in particular, has played a significant role in energizing the masses.

The situation in the GCC is somewhat better, the report noted, putting the unemployment rate in the region at 4.2 percent. The report, however, said that the total number of new jobs required in the GCC states is 3.3 million.

The services sector accounts for 70 percent of the jobs in the GCC region whereas the average for MENA is 52 percent and that for the world is 43 percent.

Shailesh Dash, founder and CEO of Masah Capital, was quoted as saying that expatriates will keep dominating the jobs market of the GCC since private sector employers prefer foreigners over nationals due to a number of reasons, including their knowledge and skills, lower salaries, higher productivity and flexible recruiting arrangements.

Source: The Peninsula.

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