Sunday, 28 October 2007

Washington: Playing a dangerous game?

The Bush administration accused of supporting Kurdish rebels in Iraq and Iran

"I would like to say," New York based Turkish activist Eser Uzun Belding told PressTV's 'Middle East Today' on Saturday evening, "that President Bush has reiterated time over time that anybody who harbors terrorists, who supports terrorists, who feeds terrorists, who allows terrorists to operate; are my enemies. Now are the politicians in the United States getting mixed up," she asked, "seeing themselves as their own enemies?"

She was referring to the apparent contradictions in Washington's stated position regarding its War on Terror that were being raised during a discussion among experts brought together via satellite from the United States, Great Britain and Turkey.

Earlier on Saturday, the commander of U.S. forces in Northern Iraq had bluntly told journalists that he was doing nothing, and indeed had no plans to curb the activities of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels operating in the area. In fact, the general said, his forces were not even monitoring the known PKK bases.

The PKK is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, so one would expect a robust response from the U.S. military, especially when PKK fighters were launching regular cross border attacks on Turkey , a NATO ally of the United States and a key element in Washington's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Is Washington's inaction the sort of response and attitude one would expect from a friend and an ally?

"No it isn't," said David Hungerford, an author and Iraqi analyst from New Jersey, "so that raises the question of what sort of alliance are the United States and Turkey looking at."

Read the complete article here on Ohmynews International

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Turkey loses patience

There have been a number of developments since I filed this story with Ohmynews a couple of days ago...
The PKK declared a unilateral ceasefire - but it was rejected by Ankara. They said since the PKK was nothing more than a terrorist organization with no official status under international law, then they were in no position to offer or declare a ceasefire. Ankara was only interested in complete surrender. Obviously, the talking is over.
As if to prove that, Turkish jets and troops have been making incursions into Northern Iraq.. penetrating as much as 10 kilometers in some places. Not a major offensive by any means, but a possible precursor of what is to come.

Turkey losing patience

Premier Erdogan warns Ankara will 'pay any price' to crush Kurdish PKK

Turkey has warned that it is on the verge of launching military operations across its border with Northern Iraq to crush Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) rebels who are using the region as a base.

Despite calls for patience and restraint from Washington and Ankara's NATO allies in Europe, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has declared, "Whatever needs to be done will be done. We will pay any price."

With thousands of troops supported by heavy armor and helicopters poised to surge across the border on a search and destroy mission, Erdogan appears to be offering one last chance for Washington and Baghdad to eliminate the rebels, or else.

In an interview with a Turkish television news station on Friday, Erdogan indicated that rather than independent and unilateral action, Ankara was willing to mount joint operations with Baghdad. He said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had confirmed that if Baghdad could not resolve the issue by itself, then it would be possible for Turkey and Iraq jointly to conduct the military operations against the PKK.

Read the complete article here on Ohmynews International.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, 19 October 2007

NATO Allies at Loggerheads

Armenian genocide bill and Ankara's plans for cross border raids into Iraq puts strain on relationship

The Turkish parliament on Wednesday endorsed a government request to send the country's armed forces into Northern Iraq to hunt down and destroy Kurdish PKK rebels who are said to be taking shelter there.

The vote brought a swift response from Baghdad who warned Ankara to respect Iraqi sovereignty. Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said, "Unilateral action will mean irreparable damage to bilateral relations and will have bad consequences for Iraq, bad consequences for Turkey, and bad consequences for the region."

First published by Ohmynews International on Thursday 18th October.

U.S. President George Bush also issued a stern warning to Ankara.

"We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq."

Bush, whose approval rating is currently at just 24 percent, the lowest for any president in modern American history, did not immediately make it clear what consequences Turkey may face in the event it did launch an incursion. And given the circumstances, his options may be severely limited.

The U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan depend heavily on logistical support flown in from the Incirilik air base in Turkey -- all on the grace and favor of the Turkish government. The loss of these facilities would be a major blow to U.S. operations in the region -- especially if Ankara withdrew its permissions with little or no notice.

Ankara is possibly angry enough to do just that, and they are probably acutely aware of the fact that at this point in time, Washington needs them more than they need Washington. Are the Turks planning to hijack Washington’s vulnerability to inveigle some sort of deal from the U.S. in return for tempering their outrage over the Armenian issue, and allowing the Iraqi security forces another chance to deal with the PKK rebels lurking in their territory?

The passage last week of a resolution by a U.S. Congressional panel describing the World War I killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as genocide has outraged Ankara.

The resolution is set to go to the House next week. Bush is urging congress not to pass the Armenian genocide resolution in an effort to limit further damage to relations with NATO partner Turkey.

Perhaps realizing just how serious the situation could become, many House Democrats have dropped their support for the genocide resolution. Democrat John Murtha bluntly assessed the situation, saying the United States was in no position to be thinking of moral values at such a crucial time.

Analysts say despite receiving the green light for military action from parliament, there have been no indications that Turkey plans to immediately use the some 60,000 troops it has massed on its borders. Turkish officials have repeatedly said that military action would be a last resort, but say years of diplomacy have yielded no results and patience is wearing thin.

But to be perfectly frank, Ankara has never had much patience with the PKK and before the Second Gulf War in 2003, Turkey launched frequent cross border raids. Thousands died in these incursions.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the international community, but while their activities against the Ankara government have always been considered acts of terror, their Iraqi Kurd counterparts were hailed as freedom fighters against Saddam Hussein.

In the years between the first and second Gulf Wars, the northern Kurdish region of Iraq came under the protection of a NATO no-fly zone. Allied aircraft patrolled the area keeping it clear of Saddam's warplanes that had previously launched devastating attacks on the local Kurd population.

Interestingly, this same protective umbrella did nothing to curb the frequent incursions of the Turkish military to attack PKK rebels in Iraqi territory.

Turkey of course, is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and consequently an ally of the United States.

But what will happen when Turkish armor rolls across the border into a sovereign Iraq?

Iraq has made it very clear, it will tolerate no Turkish incursion. But is the Iraqi army strong enough to stand up to the mighty Turkish military? Unlikely.

So would Baghdad insist on the occupying coalition forces to act with them, or on their behalf, to ensure the integrity of Iraqi sovereignty?

A failure on the part of Washington to heed a call for help from the Baghdad government would destroy what little credibility the coalition has left.

On the front lines is the Korean detachment of about 600 troops at Camp Zaytun near Irbil. They are there primarily to help in reconstruction, but Seoul must now be questioning the safety of its soldiers in the event full scale military operations begin in the area -- and weighing the consequences of maintaining the commitments of its close alliance with the United States.

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Amazing Esfahan (Isfahan)

Sometimes you just have to jump on the bus, train or plane and "get away" for a few days.

We did just that, heading down to the fabled city once referred to as "half the world" in central Iran, the city of mosques and bazaars.. Esfahan.

Magnificent mosques, spectacular bridges - the city is justifiably one of Iran's biggest tourist destinations.

It was great to get away - and not touch a computer keyboard for three whole days.

But lots of work to catch up with now, that's the penalty for slacking off I guess.

Pictures and video to come!

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

PressTV reporter abducted in Kabul

“PressTV correspondent says he was beaten and threatened by U.S. officers”

Iran’s foreign ministry has condemned the arrest and beating of a PressTV correspondent by U.S. forces in Kabul. The ministry said the Americans have been trying to prevent reporting on the realities of their failure in Afghanistan.

PressTV correspondent Fayez Khurshid was abducted on Sunday evening and held in detention at a military facility for more than 18 hours. He said he was severely beaten during his ordeal and that he was warned worse was to come if he continued working for the English language television network based in Tehran.

Khurshid later told the network he had been approached by foreign troops who questioned him about who he worked for and whether he was a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The IRGC was recently added to the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

The Afghan journalist said the soldiers grabbed him and tried to force him into a Humvee and was shocked with a taser when he resisted. Unconscious, Khurshid was driven to a military base where he said American officers began a violent interrogation.

“They put a disc into a player and made me watch the reports I have made from Afghanistan,” a visibly bruised and shaken Khurshid told PressTV. “While they did this, they gave me electric shocks and beat me around the head.”

In one of his recent reports, Khurshid had said that foreign forces were largely responsible for the unrest and instability in Afghanistan.

He said the interrogators warned him against continuing his work for PressTV and threatened that his family would also suffer the consequences if he ignored their warning.

Khurshid said he repeatedly told the officers he was a freelance journalist with no political ties to any foreign country.

Since the U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003 there have been dozens of reports of journalists being harassed, attacked and even killed by coalition forces. According to sources in Kabul, however, this is the first documented case of a journalist being abducted by the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

Tehran based PressTV was launched in July this year.

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, 8 October 2007

Good Morning Tehran!!

Opening the bedroom curtains this morning we were presented with the spectacular sight of the first snows of the coming winter capping the peaks of the Alborz Mountains.
It was a scene that certainly lifted the spirits and totally unexpected.

After months of blistering hot days the weather is turning cooler and can be decidedly chilly at night. A few light rain showers yesterday washed away the dust and has left city vibrant with colour. As autumn settles in we are looking forward to seeing the landscape change, right outside our window.

Sphere: Related Content

Is Tehran the next target?

"The U.S. government may consider using an Iranian terror group to strike at the heart of the Islamic Republic"

Is the administration of George W. Bush, with the help of a pliant mainstream media, preparing the American public for his next big misadventure – an attack on Iran ?

The Bush White House has repeatedly accused Iran of having ambitions to join the nuclear weapons club, coloring their accusations with warnings of a "nuclear holocaust." But based on what? Where's the actual evidence that Iran is preparing to launch a nuclear Armageddon?

This article was first published by Ohmynews International on Sunday 7th October.

Speaking on PressTV's "Middle East Today" program on Saturday evening, Dr. Mohammad Marandi, the head of North American Studies at Tehran University said, "The Bush administration has never shown any evidence to show in any way that Iran 's nuclear energy program is anything but peaceful."

According to experts, the evidence simply does not exist. Marandi said Iran allowed International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors into all the facilities where the Americans accused Iran of hiding its nuclear weapons program, but in each case the atomic watchdog gave the locations a clean bill of health, saying there was no evidence whatsoever of a weapons program.

Iran now has a binding agreement with the IAEA, allowing the agency unfettered access to all its nuclear facilities.
Faced with the obvious - Iran has no nukes or nuke program - some experts are now saying the accusations were nothing more than a smokescreen to divert attention away from Washington's real intentions.

Dr. Elaheh Rostami-Povey, a development studies lecturer at the University of London and prominent anti-war activist told PressTV, "I think the U.S. has clearly failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of course in my view the whole agenda of the neocons in Washington was neither to get rid of Saddam Hussein nor to get rid of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan."

The idea right from the beginning, she said, was to win control of the entire region. "And their agenda goes beyond the oil issue, in my opinion they really want to have control of the whole region from North Africa to South East Asia, to have all the resources and also political power," she said.

But after six years in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq , it is clear that they have failed. "Now they are arguing that Iran has weapons of mass destruction, and their plan is to discredit the IAEA. The hostility of the past few weeks since the IAEA and Iran agreed on a comprehensive cooperation program is directed at discrediting the only institution that has the legitimacy to resolve the issue of Iran 's nuclear programs."

But really, this isn't the 18th century anymore, is it realistic that a country could still hold the same ambitions of conquest that were once the dreams of the old colonial powers? There are too many significant players these days, the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians!

"You know, the problem is," Rostami countered, "you and I are applying logic and rational thinking but unfortunately the neo-conservatives in the United States do not have that logic and rationale."

As we know, Rostami said, countries like India and China are rising as economic powers while the United States is declining, and that is why, through illogical and irrational behavior they think that they can have control of the region.

Speaking on an Arabic television channel a few days ago, President George W. Bush made efforts to calm fears that Washington was considering opening up a third front. He said speculation that Washington is planning a strike on Iran is empty propaganda. The president insisted that diplomacy is the only way to resolve the nuclear issue with Iran .

Well not the only one, officials were quick to point out that "all options" still remained on the table.

This is quite a departure from previous harsh rhetoric, and indeed runs counter to many reports from sources close to the center of power in Washington .

Marandi wasn't convinced by Bush's seemingly moderate tone.

"Well it is difficult to believe the current administration," he said, "they do have a tendency to say one thing one day and then something else the next."

The United States realizes that Iran cannot be attacked and invaded like Iraq or Afghanistan . And indeed, the United States isn't the country it was six years ago.

"The United States is in serious trouble, its economy is in trouble, the army is badly damaged, the morale of its soldiers is not exceptionally good."

At the same time, Marandi said, over the same period time Iran has grown much stronger. "So I think a reasonable administration would say that military action is meaningless."

Marandi said currently there is pressure on the hawks in Washington from pragmatists who understand the situation. "But I would not like to make predictions. This is not a particularly reasonable, logical or moral administration."

If the United States wishes to resolve its fears over Iran 's alleged nuclear weapons program, Marandi argued, then the logical step is to put pressure on Israel .

"I think if the American government is honest in this regard then it should put pressure on Israel to get rid of its weapons so that there will be no incentive for any other government or state to pursue them," he said.

Many analysts are suggesting that the Bush administration played the nuclear card, as they did with Iraq , but this time failed to convince anyone of their case. In addition, accusations that Iran is supplying Iraqi insurgents with weapons such as Improvised Explosive Devices and Explosively Formed Projectiles – weapons that have proved deadly to American forces – are also unconvincing. No solid evidence has yet been presented to support Iranian involvement.

Therefore, despite Bush's assertion that he is looking for a diplomatic solution, there are concerns that Washington hawks – led by Vice-president Dick Cheney and supported by former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton – are actively seeking another excuse to attack the Islamic Republic.

One such strategy could be the abductions of Iranian diplomats and businessmen in Iraq by U.S. forces, perhaps hoping to provoke Iran into some sort of retaliation.

"It is rather worrisome that the United States has allowed its forces to take such action against Iranians," Marandi said.

"The United States has shown no evidence whatsoever that any of the people it has taken hostage have been involved in any way with the insurgency in Iraq ."

The Iraqi government in Baghdad has demanded their release, but the U.S. military authorities in the country have ignored their pleas.

"The United States does not seem to wish to allow the Iraqi government to take an independent stand," Marandi said, agreeing that this cuts to the very heart of the issue regarding whether or not Iraq is in fact a sovereign state.

"Well it isn't is it?" he said, " Iraq is a country where the United States bombs civilian targets, despite protests by the Iraqi government. Private security companies attack civilians. The American government takes action against the wishes of the Iraqi authorities. So no, the Iraqi government is not independent, though it is the legitimate government of Iraq ."

Marandi says the U.S. simply does not want to give up the powers it has in Iraq because if they do so, this would be admitting defeat, and the Bush administration knows that history will show that it has been perhaps the worst administration in American history.

However irrational the Bush administration may be, experts say, they would still need to justify an attack on Iran to the American public, and indeed the world.

Was the recent naming of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps as a terrorist organization a step in this direction?. It has been suggested that naming the IRGC a terror organization may offer a thin veil of legality or legitimacy for air-strikes as part of Washington 's "war on terror."

In the meantime, the United States may be considering yet another alternative way to strike Iran – by using a militia group it currently labels a terrorist organization.

The Iran Policy Committee, formed in 2005, is a pressure group that aims to influence U.S. government policy towards Iran . The IPC fervently believes that regime change in Iran should be the policy of the Bush government.

And one of their more creative suggestions is removing the Iranian-opposition terrorist group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MKO) from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. The committee then suggests the U.S. government arm and train the group in Iraq for insurgency operations within the Islamic Republic.

"The United States sees itself as being somewhat exceptional in the international community," Marandi said, "it allows itself to support terrorist organizations that have killed thousands of Iranians on the streets of Tehran and other major cities. The MKO spied for Saddam Hussein during the war. These terrorists were and are stationed in Iraq , in Europe and the United States ."

Marandi said this is very counterproductive, "It allows people to see the extent of American hypocrisy. This is a very dangerous game the Americans are playing."

The above article is based on Saturday 6th edition of "Middle East Today" on PressTV hosted by Chris Gelken

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Blackwater comes under closer scrutiny

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has revealed that private security company, Blackwater USA, will be subject to close supervision of its activities in Iraq. This comes as investigations into multiple shooting deaths associated with the company continue. .

Under the new rules, a State Department agent will accompany the company on all missions and convoys undertaken in Iraq, and each and every operation will be captured on video camera.

Iraqi National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie says this is a welcome move and says he is happy the Secretary of State moved so quickly.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that will provide for prosecutions of any criminal activity committed by U.S. contractors in Iraq. However, the White House has already expressed its opposition to the bill and George Bush is expected to veto the bill before it gets legislated into law.

This still leaves the question of where Blackwater employees would be prosecuted if a current FBI investigation determines there is a case to be answered.

Al-Rubaie, speaking in Washington, said of course they should face trial in Iraq.

"It is a huge sovereignty issue," he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "we need to sort this out and sort it out quickly."

But with the Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17 still in place, a measure that gives the U.S. military and civilian contractors immunity from prosecution by Iraqi authorities for any acts – including murder – it doesn't seem likely that any arrest warrants will be issued any time soon.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, 5 October 2007

FBI to investigate Blackwater

The U.S. State Department says a team from the FBI will be sent to Iraq to investigate the shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians by the security contractor Blackwater USA. Read more in this Ohmynews International article by Angelique van Engelen:

Meanwhile, Cody Lyon reveals that Blackwater security guards earn as much as $1,222 per day, far more than their U.S. military counterparts. Follow the money trail...

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Blackwater denies "reckless behavior"

The founder and CEO of U.S. security firm Blackwater USA has spent the past two days being grilled by a Congressional Panel over the performance of his company's 1,100 operatives in Iraq. His company is accused of killing 17 unarmed civilian Iraqis in a shootout on the streets of Baghdad on Sept. 16.

At the same time, the U.S. House of Representatives is about to vote on a bill that would put U.S. contractors in Iraq under U.S. legal jurisdiction so they could be tried in American courts.

This article first published by Ohmynews International

The White House has said the bill would put undue pressure on the U.S. military and the FBI which would have to investigate the cases. Officials have already gone on record as saying that if the bill makes it to President Bush's desk, he will veto it.

This will effectively maintain the status quo where these armed security groups essentially have carte blanche to break the law, and even commit murder.

Under the terms of the Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 17 promulgated in June, 2003, coalition staff, both military and civilian contractors are exempted from Iraqi legal action.

Brian Becker, a co-founder of the Answer Coalition, an association of some 200 anti-war and anti-racism groups, says the Blackwater incident is a clear indication of the lack of sovereignty enjoyed by the Iraqi government, "It was a dramatic revelation of the lack of authority of a government to control private hired guns who are killing its own people."

Becker said, "The Blackwater company is only accountable to itself and its own relationship with the Bush administration. They've basically been given a license to kill."

Order 17 and Bush's determination to block legislation that would regulate the estimated 180,000 private security contractors in Iraq means the situation will remain the same into the foreseeable future, a frightening prospect for many.

Members of the House panel investigating Blackwater say their activities have raised alarm bells at home, and among senior military officials in Iraq . A letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "While the incidents may be uncommon, they have a disproportionate effect on the Iraqi people."

While some contractors are employed by the Pentagon, Blackwater is contracted by the U.S. State Department. It does not come under U.S. military jurisdiction in Iraq , it escapes Iraqi jurisdiction under Order 17 and cannot be prosecuted back in the United States .

Critics say their "cowboy" behavior is causing more harm than good and they should be sent home.

Erik Prince denied his people were trigger happy cowboys, despite being involved in almost 200 gunbattles since 2005.

It was pointed out that the reported 195 shooting incidents actually represented only about one percent of the total missions carried out by Blackwater security personnel in Iraq where they are contracted to guard embassy personnel and VIP visitors.

Having said that, Prince said 30 Blackwater employees have been killed while on duty in the war torn country. He added, with a hint of pride, that none of the "packages" – or people assigned to him to protect, have been lost or injured during Blackwater's time in Iraq .

But amid accusations of reckless and irresponsible behavior, some startling facts and inconsistencies began to appear.

Prince insisted his men only opened fire in self defense and never initiated a gunbattle. However, State Department reports say Blackwater opened fire first in some 80 percent of the incidents it was involved in. The reports contradict the statements by Prince and observers say this discrepancy suggests there may be a case to answer.

There have also been accusations of a cover up of other fatal exchanges of gunfire involving Blackwater over the past two years. A House of Representatives official says the State Department may have helped to cover up the shootings. Blackwater and the State Department vigorously denied the charges.

Prince admitted that sometimes things do go wrong and civilians are injured. He also noted that a number of employees had been fired over the past couple of years for various offenses that were not detailed. No Blackwater employee has been prosecuted for any incidents involving the shooting or Iraqi civilians in the country.

The Sept. 16 incident is still under investigation by the FBI and the Iraqi authorities, despite the fact they have no authority to bring charges. If indeed the House panel decides there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Blackwater or its employees, the question will then be raised about where those charges will be heard.

Certainly, under the current rules, no court in Iraq or in the United States has jurisdiction.

Sphere: Related Content