Archive for September, 2012

Lebanon demands explanation from Iran over troops

September 17, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has asked for official clarifications from Iran over statements by a senior commander that they have military advisers in Lebanon.

A statement released by Suleiman’s office says the president made his comments Monday while receiving Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi. The top commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said Sunday that his force has high-level advisers in Lebanon and Syria. Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari’s comments marked the clearest indication of Iran’s direct assistance to its main Arab allies, Damascus and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

He told reporters that the Guard’s Quds force have been in Syria and Lebanon as advisers for a long time, but was not more specific. The statement said Ambassador Roknabadi denied there were advisers in Lebanon.

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Iran equips marine forces with ‘cruise’ missile

Tehran (AFP)
Sept 28, 2011

Iran has equipped its naval forces with a short range “cruise missile,” able to hit targets in costal areas and warships within “200 kilometers (125 miles), the country’s defense minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

“Today we are witnessing the equipping of the Guards navy and army navy with ample numbers of the Qader cruise missile,” General Ahmad Vahidi said, quoted by his ministry’s website referring to the elite Revolutionary Guards who are tasked with defending Iranian waters in the Gulf.

“It has 200 km range and has ability to be launched quickly against warships and costal targets. It flies in low altitude, has high destructive power, (and is) lightweight with high precision,” he added.

He added that it could be fired from the coast or from vessels of different classes, increasing considerable the operational ability of the forces.

The Qader missile was unveiled last month by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with Iranian officials dubbing it a “cruise missile” built entirely by local experts. The president said Iran’s military arsenal was defensive, aimed at ensuring the country’s “enemies do not dare attack.”

Iran in the past two years has increased development, testing and unveiling of new “indigenous” military equipment, including missiles.

The Iranian navy recently boosted its presence in international waters, sending vessels into the Indian Ocean to protect Iranian ships from Somali pirates.

It also sent two ships into the Mediterranean for the first time in February, via the Suez Canal, to the annoyance of Israel and the United States.

Iran’s navy commander, Admiral Habibollah Sayari, said on Tuesday that Iran was planning to deploy ships close to US territorial waters, without saying when.

Iranian naval forces are mainly composed of small units equipped with missiles in the Gulf and operating under the control of the Revolutionary Guards.

Source: Space War.

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Iran, North Korea sign technology agreement

September 02, 2012

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran and North Korea signed a scientific and technological cooperation agreement Saturday, bringing the two nations deeply at odds with the U.S. closer together.

Iranian state TV did not provide further details on the document but said it will include setting up joint scientific and technological laboratories, exchange of scientific teams between the two countries and transfer of technology in the fields of information technology, energy, environment, agriculture and food.

Any technical accord between Pyongyang and Tehran is likely to raise suspicions in the West. The U.S. has repeatedly accused North Korea of providing Iran with advanced missiles capable of targeting Western European capitals.

Last year, Iran denied a U.N. panel report saying that North Korea and Iran appear to have been regularly exchanging ballistic missiles, components and technology in violation of U.N. sanctions. Iran’s state TV said the agreement was signed in Tehran in the presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and North Korea’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam, by Iran’s Minister of Science, Research and Technology Kamran Daneshjoo and North Korea’s Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Kim, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, that North Korea and Iran have “common enemies.” “Arrogant powers don’t tolerate independent governments,” Khamenei told Kim. “In the march towards great goals, one should be serious, and pressures, sanctions and threats should not cause any crack in (our) determination.”

In a separate meeting, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Kim’s visit would have a “great impact on strengthening bilateral ties, expanding cooperation and boosting the anti-hegemonic front.” Both countries are bitter enemies of the U.S. and the West. Iranian and North Korean officials have said in the past that their nations are in “one trench” in the fight against the Western powers.

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IAEA establishes Iran Task Force

August 29, 2012

VIENNA (AP) — The U.N. nuclear agency has created a special Iran Task Force of nuclear weapons experts, intelligence analysts and other specialists focused on probing allegations that Tehran has been — or is — secretly working on developing atomic arms, according to an internal document shared with The Associated Press.

The announcement from the International Atomic Energy Agency says the elite squad started work Aug. 10. Dated Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency statement says the unit will concentrate on implementing IAEA agreements with Iran, allowing it to monitor its nuclear activities as mandated by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

It also says it will focus on “relevant” IAEA and U.N Security Council resolutions on Iran. Both have demanded that Tehran stop activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons and cooperate with the agency’s investigation of suspicions Tehran worked on nuclear weapons.

But while drawing together its best experts, the new task force will have no more power regarding inspections of Iran’s known or suspected nuclear sites than previous IAEA inspectors did. Agency attempts to visit a site at Iran’s Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran have documented IAEA limitations. For months, satellite images have recorded what the International Atomic Energy Agency suspects is an attempt to sanitize the site of suspected work on explosive charges used to detonate a warhead. At the same time, Iran has repeatedly rebuffed agency efforts for access — including last Friday.

The most recent satellite images now show what diplomats last week said appears to be pink material shrouding buildings apparently linked to the alleged experiments, effectively blinding agency attempts to monitor a site that they have been kept from visiting. The diplomats demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the IAEA’s Iran investigation.

Iran says such allegations are based on evidence fabricated by the United States and Israel and insists its nuclear program is meant only for making reactor fuel, medical isotopes and peaceful research. But it refuses to give up uranium enrichment, which can produce both reactor fuel and the core of nuclear warheads, despite offers of fuel from abroad. And it has stonewalled an IAEA probe into its alleged weapons work for more than four years, increasing concerns that it has something to hide.

Creating a unit focused on only one country is an unusual move for the IAEA, reflecting the urgency the U.N. nuclear watchdog is attaching to Iran amid fears that it is moving closer to the ability to make nuclear weapons, despite its denial. With diplomatic efforts to engage Tehran on its nuclear activities stalemated — and Israel warning that it will not tolerate an Iran armed with atomic arms — concerns are growing that time is running short to defuse tensions peacefully

Israel is particularly worried about a fortified bunker at Fordo, where Iran has begun producing uranium enriched to a level closer to the grade used in nuclear weapons than its main stockpile of fuel-grade material. About 70 kilometers (40 miles) south of Tehran, Fordo has about 800 centrifuges operating so far, enriching to a 20-percent level, and continues assembling others without operating them — diplomats say that close to 3,000 are now fully or partially screwed together, including hundreds over the past three months

In Tehran, Iran’s IAEA envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters Tuesday that his country will “not suspend enrichment activities, even for a second.” Diplomats had told the AP last week that the IAEA was forming a special Iran team. The announcement confirming that information was forwarded Wednesday by a diplomat who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to share confidential and internal IAEA documents. A phone call seeking comment from Soltanieh went to his voice mail.

Instead of focusing only one country, agency experts up to now have been tasked with following dozens of nations as they look for signs indicating secret attempts to make nuclear weapons. Some IAEA officials feel that means that they often spend an inordinate amount of time monitoring countries that are unlikely to engage in such activities — Western European nations, for instance — meaning that not enough attention is paid to potential proliferators.

One of the diplomats who spoke to the AP last week said the Iran team will be comprised of about 20 experts drawn from the main IAEA pool. The IAEA announcement said the squad will be headed by Massimo Aparo. A nuclear engineer, Aparo is an IAEA veteran who has held numerous senior positions linked to nonproliferation within and outside of the IAEA and was already in charge of the Iran file before the agency revamp.

The agency said he will be reporting to IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, the head of the agency’s nuclear inspectors and the agency’s point man on Iran.

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Young Iraqis face religious fashion crackdown

By LARA JAKES | Associated Press
Mon, Sep 3, 2012

BAGHDAD (AP) — For much of Iraq’s youth, sporting blingy makeup, slicked-up hair and skintight jeans is just part of living the teenage dream. But for their elders, it’s a nightmare.

A new culture rift is emerging in Iraq, as young women replace shapeless cover-ups with ankle-baring skirts and tight blouses, while men strut around in revealing slacks and spiky haircuts. The relatively skimpy styles have prompted Islamic clerics in at least two Iraqi cities to mobilize local security guards as a “fashion police” in the name of protecting religious values.
“I see the way (older people) look at me — they don’t like it,” said Mayada Hamid, 32, wearing a pink leopard-print headscarf with jeans, a blue blouse and lots of sparkly eyeliner Sunday while shopping at the famous gold market in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Kazimiyah.

She rolled her eyes. “It’s just suppression.” So far, though, there are no reports of the police actually taking action.

This is a conflict playing out across the Arab world, where conservative Islamic societies grapple with the effects of Western influence, especially the most obvious — the way their young choose to dress.

The violations of old Iraqi norms have grown especially egregious, religious officials say, since the Aug. 20 end of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month. In the last two weeks, posters and banners have been hanging along the streets of Kazimiyah, sternly reminding women to wear an abaya — a long, loose black cloak that covers the body from shoulders to feet.

A similar warning came from Diwaniyah, a Shiite city about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of the capital, where some posters have painted a red X over pictures of women wearing pants. Other banners praise women who keep their hair fully covered beneath a headscarf.

Religious officials speculate young Iraqis got carried away in celebrating the end of Ramadan and now need to be reined in.

“We support personal freedoms, but there are places that have a special status,” said Sheik Mazin Saadi, a Shiite cleric from Kazimiyah, home to the double gold-domed shrine that is one of Shiite Islam’s holiest sites.

He said the area’s residents lobbied Baghdad’s local government to ban unveiled women from walking around the neighborhood, including its sprawling open-air market that attracts people from across Iraq.

“The women started to follow to this order,” Saadi said.

Government leaders in Baghdad say they’ve issued no such ban and ordered some of the warning posters removed. The rule “is only for the female visitors who go inside the shrine itself,” said Sabar al-Saadi, chairman of the Baghdad provincial council’s legal committee. “We think that wearing a veil for women in Iraq is a personal decision.”

Muslim women generally wear headscarves or veils in public out of modesty, and female worshippers are required to wear an abaya or other loose robes in shrines and mosques.

But over the last several years, following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein, Western styles have crept into Iraq’s fashion palate. Form-fitting clothing, stylish shoes and men’s edgy hairstyles are commonly seen on the street. Some younger women have even begun to forgo the hijab, or headscarf.

Their parents — and their parents’ parents — fear Western influence will drown out Iraq’s centuries of culture and respect for religion.

“We as Iraqis do not respect our traditions,” said Fadhil Jawad, 65, a gold seller near the Kazimiyah shrine. He estimated his profits have dropped by 10 percent in the last two weeks since authorities posted warnings about improper dress codes at the entrance to the market. He called the financial loss worth the lesson being imposed.

“Legs can be seen, there are low-cut shirts,” Jawad lamented. “And all, very, very tight. I think these Iraqis who are wearing these things have come back from Syria, Dubai and Egypt. They probably spent too much time in nightclubs. The families in Kazimiyah are conservative. These young people — nobody can control them. They should be given freedoms, but they should know their limits.”

Several young adults strolling the Kazimiyah gold market on Sunday accused the religious class of trying to pull Iraq back to the dark ages, a sentiment that human rights activist Hana Adwar echoed.

“It is an aggression on the rights of not only religious minorities, but also on secular Muslim women who do not want to wear veils,” said Adwar, head of the Baghdad-based Iraqi Hope Association.

Men, too, have been targeted in the fashion flap: Edgy haircuts, tattoos and body piercings have angered religious authorities. But Hassan Mahdi, 22, said he does not care.

“No, hell no, nobody can tell me what to do,” said Mahdi, sporting a tight turquoise Adidas tracksuit and a trendy moptop hairdo at the Kazimiyah market.

So far, it appears, the fashion police have stopped short of taking any real steps. Guards at two security checkpoints in Kazimiyah said they have not been ordered to stop daring dressers from entering the market, and 17-year-old Ali Sayeed Abdullah said his slicked-up pompadour didn’t prevent him from going into the shrine. “Nobody objected,” he said. “But if there is a ban on this, I will change it,” referring to his hairstyle.

But some women have been handed tissues at Kazimiyah checkpoints and told to wipe off their makeup before entering the market, said resident Hakima Mahdi, 59.

“This is very good,” she said, smiling broadly, sheathed in a black cloak with an extra abaya covering her head. “It’s respect to the imam, respect to this holy place.”


Associated Press Writers Sameer N. Yacoub, Bushra Juhi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Alaa al-Marjani in Diwaniyah, Iraq, contributed to this report.

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Yemen Terminates Saleh-era Dubai Ports World Contract

Written by Ali Saeed
Thursday, August 30, 2012

[Sana’a] Yemenis rejoiced this week with word that the contract with Dubai Ports World (DPW) to operate the Port of Aden had been terminated. The contract was one of the remaining links to the thirty-plus-year reign of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and a reminder of how business was transacted during Saleh’s reign. Secretly signed by officials of the regime in 2008, the agreement to operate the Aden port was later attacked for depriving Yemen of significant financial resources by virtue of providing the UAE-based company with a 100-year lease on terms disadvantageous to the state that nevertheless went unfulfilled.

On Saturday, Transportation Minister Dr. Waed Batheeb ordered The Gulf of Aden Ports Corporation, a governmental agency under the aegis of the transportation ministry, to end the contract.

For Batheeb, who represents the Yemeni Socialist Party in the National Unity Government which was formed after Saleh was removed from office in 2011, it was the end of a long quest that began before the regime-change. Since last February, Batheeb survived three assassination attempts, the most recent of which came on the day the contract termination was announced.

According to officials of Yemen’s Ministry of Transportation, the actual cause for ending the contract that under DPW’s tenure, Aden’s terminals — which the company was supposed to be developing — deteriorated instead. An official at the ministry who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to comment to media told The Media Line that, “the port used to receive around 200,000 tankers every year, but since DPW took charge, this number decreased to 165,000 tankers.”

He added that the transportation minister attempted to solve the problem cordially, traveling to Dubai last February to meet with DPW officials. But he reported that the company “showed no response.”

A report released in July by the parliament’s Transportation and Telecommunication Committee described the contract with DPW as being more political than economic. It accused the company of weakening the operations of Aden’s terminals and not abiding to the terms of the contract. One example cited was DPW’s failure to expand the dock at the port to a length of 100 meters and a depth of 18-meters as it had agreed to do.

Expressing the thoughts of most Yemenis, Mostfat Nasr, an economist, told The Media Line that, “Terminating the contract with DPW is a good step.” But he admonished that, “from now, it is the responsibility of the government to restore the port to its normal place.”

That “place” figures prominently in the nation’s post-Saleh socio-economic realities. The new Yemeni government sees improving the economy as being a key to creating stability in the aftermath of the uprising that ultimately ended Saleh’s rule. With unemployment at more than forty-per cent, the new Yemeni government had hoped the port, properly managed, could produce 10,000 jobs for Yemeni workers.

The port of Aden has strong potential for producing revenue on a large scale according to Dr. Mohamed Jurban, professor of economics at the University of Sana’a. He told The Media Line that its strategic location, only miles from the Strait of Bab Al-Mandeb, connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, makes it a key route for tankers and ships going to and from south Asia and Europe. The strait is a chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, and a principle link between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean.

“When tankers cross the Strait of Bab Al-Mandeb, and they are in need for gas charging or regular maintenance, it is better for them to do this service in Aden’s terminals than sailing thousands of kilometers to have this service performed in Dubai or Djibouti where the weather there is not good as Aden,” Prof. Jurban explained. But, he cautioned that, “There must be a good administration to be capable of attracting the tankers that pass through the strait.”

Yemeni officials believe improvement in the situation at the Aden port will also go a long way toward convincing the international community to extend financial assistance. Next month, a conference of donor nations including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the Gulf States is scheduled to take place.

Popular support for the strategy was confirmed by 57-year old Ahmed Nasser, who predicted that, “We have our resources and we will not be in need for such donor conferences if our resources are managed efficiently with no corruption.”

It is still unclear whether the Yemeni government will take over operations at the Aden port or will seek a replacement for DPW. But either way, the process must reflect “competent management by the government “or tendering it in competition in a transparent way,” in the opinion of Nasr.

Copyright © 2012 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

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