Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Ahmadinejad - Against All Odds?

PressTV's Middle East Today takes an in depth look at the performance of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has again reshuffled his cabinet, the ninth time since assuming the presidency back in the summer of 2005.

With the latest round of dismissals, Mr. Ahmadinejad has removed 8 of the original 21 members of his cabinet, including 6 ministers, the head of the Management and Planning Organization and a Central Bank chief -- who both had seats in the cabinet. Another minister died while in office.

President Ahmadinejad has just sacked the Economic Affairs & Finance Minister and the Interior Minister.

Though no specific reason was given for the shake-up, but Ahmadinejad has said those who are not complying with his government’s economic policies should be removed.

The dismissal of the economics minister in particular comes as Iran faces an inflation rate of around 20 percent.

Speaking at his farewell ceremony, former economy minister Davood Danesh-Ja'fari said he’d opposed some of the president's policies, especially his decision to lower interest rates.

Several senior religious leaders have complained about the current economic situation and have urged the government to curb growing inflation and rising home prices.

President Ahmadinejad has said many of these problems are the result of some government bodies not effectively implementing his economic policies.

He also laid some of the blame on general global economic problems, including the devaluation of the dollar; a so called economic mafia here in Iran who are set on undermining his policies, and efforts by Iran’s enemies to generate inflation in the country.

Reports about the dismissal of interior minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi came as the country was getting ready to for the run-off parliamentary polls.

Deputy Interior Minister Ali Reza Afshar said the change at the interior ministry will become clearer in the coming days.

Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi will be replaced by the head of audit organization.

With inflation remaining a serious concern for many Iranians, the economy remains a key issue on the mind of the local population, especially with a presidential election a little more than a year away.

Middle East Today invited Faramarz Fath Nezhad, former Head of the Iran Interests Section in Washington, Seyed Ghahreman Safavi, the editor of Trancendent Philosophy and Sadeq Zibakalam, professor of Political Science, Tehran University, to discuss the issue.

Watch the lively and surprisingly frank debate here on Middle East Today

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Sunday, 27 April 2008

Israel Accused of Genocide

US lawyer seeks Iran's help to sue over Gaza siege

TEHRAN -- In a dramatic plea made during a live broadcast of regional affairs debate program Middle East Today on international broadcaster PressTV, an American lawyer called on Tehran to support his bid to sue Israel for genocide against the Palestinians.

"I would like to propose here today on this program that President Mahmood Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei give me the authority to sue Israel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague for inflicting genocide against the Palestinian people," said panelist Francis A. Boyle, Professor of International Law.

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Carter's Crusade for Peace

Former president sows seeds of hope in Middle East

Former US President Jimmy Carter is heading home after a hugely controversial nine-day tour of the Middle East that some have dubbed the Carter Peace Crusade.

However noble Carter's intentions may have been, from day one he has been facing increasing criticism from Washington and Israel which view his intervention as unwelcome, untimely, and possibly even damaging.

"He is just wading into a situation that is contentious enough and something like this just complicates matters," Anthony T. Salvia, a former special advisor to the Undersecretary of State in the Reagan administration told PressTV's Middle East Today.

Salvia said that while Carter's interference was unwelcome, it had to be admitted that US Middle East policy was at least in part responsible for the current stalemate in the overall peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

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Article based on April 20, 2008 edition of Middle East Today. What the archived version of the show here.

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Sunday, 13 April 2008

Bush 'Divorced From Reality'

Former Senator blasts US occupation during lively television debate on Iraq

Analysts and media op-ed writers have spent the past couple of days dissecting and digesting the Iraq War Report Card presented by the US military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and his State Department sidekick Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Perhaps the two most significant points that those who watched the testimony will remember are (1) no plans for a troop withdrawal for the time being, and (2) Iran is to blame for everything that has gone wrong.

The testimony also contrasted sharply with earlier statements by President George W. Bush and General Petraeus about how "astonishingly normal things have become in Baghdad."

One of course has to speculate on what benchmark of normalcy Washington is working to.

At the time of writing, a correspondent colleague of mine had just described by MSN a mad dash out of the Sadr City district of Baghdad after a firefight exploded not 10 feet from where she and other journalists were standing. The word "normalcy" did not feature in her description of events.

Coming as it does against this dramatic increase in violence in Baghdad and elsewhere, the Petraeus-Crocker testimony paints a very odd picture of normalcy -- one that in their words is "fragile and reversible."

In fact, with the exception of rhetoric-filled speeches from Bush himself, the one word we rarely, if ever hear, is that the road to peace, democracy and stability in Iraq is "irreversible."

Appearing on PressTV's political discussion program, "Middle East Today," former Senator Mike Gravel said what struck him the most was the repeated reference to "fragile and reversible."

"Obviously the tactic of bribing the Sunni warlords will fail the minute we stop bribing them. And then of course the cowardly act of blaming Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki for the failure in Basra, of saying it was all his initiative when we were totally complicit."Gravel said the forces loyal to anti-occupation cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had proven to be much stronger than anticipated and blamed a lack of intelligence for the failure.

Astonishingly, Gravel said, there have been cases where professional Arabic and Farsi linguists have been discharged from the military because they were gay and as a consequence "our intelligence is nonexistent."

Sabrina Schaeffer, a Washington-based political analyst said there are possibly two things that could be taken away from the report."The first is that we are making a lot of progress both politically and militarily on the ground. And second that a premature withdrawal would be a disaster, and would overturn what they described as a fragile and reversible situation on the ground," she said.

Sabah Jawad, secretary of the London-based Iraqi Democrats Against War, dismissed reports of progress."While there may have been some changes in the months immediately after the surge in US troop levels, in the past few days we have seen some 17 American soldiers killed since Sunday.

"He said the United States is still in a quagmire in Iraq and is trying to solve its problems by flexing its muscles and urging the al-Maliki government to take stronger action, especially in the south of Iraq.

Senator Gravel also took issue with Schaeffer's upbeat assessment.

"I really don't understand how Sabrina can come and say there's progress," he said. "But what is worse is the outright lies presented to the American people that Iran is responsible for what is going on."

Gravel said Washington is trying to develop a concept of a proxy war being waged between Iran and Iraq.

"There is no evidence, none at all," he said, "And if you go in deeper into the American military, you have army officers, captains, majors, colonels, who will tell you there is no evidence at all about anything coming over the Iranian border into Iraq. But then you get Petraeus and other generals making these statements."

Gravel wondered how they could make statements that the mortars used on the heavily fortified Green Zone, for example, are coming from Iran.

"These are outright lies," he said.Gravel said he could see the same policy being employed now that was used by the US to widen the war in South East Asia some 40 years ago.

"This is what happened in Vietnam. We went in and attacked Cambodia and Laos. They had nothing to do with what was going on in Vietnam. All it did was expand a murderous part of the South East Asian War."

Gravel said Iran is a natural ally of the United States, "Iran has been helping us stabilize the situation in Iraq until we can come to our senses and get out. Our guest here Sabrina says she sees progress, but even Petraeus admitted he sees no light at the end of the tunnel."

Schaeffer took the floor to clarify what she says are some of the successes.

"I think Petraeus did an excellent job of explaining this incident in Basra, but overall we have seen a reduction in both ethnic and sectarian violence, terrorist attacks are down, the Iraqis are controlling half of their 18 provinces, and we are seeing that al-Qaida in Iraq has significantly diminished," she said, "And I think we can give credit to the troop surge and Petraeus' experience in counterinsurgency intelligence. So I don't think we can underestimate the improvements that are taking place on the ground."

The recent surge in violence, especially in Sadr City that continued over the weekend would not immediately support these views, with correspondents on the scene saying that for the first time they are quite openly seeing snipers on the roofs of buildings and more disturbances on the streets.

Gravel dismissed suggestions that the surge or Petraeus' expertise was responsible for the pre-Basra reduction in the insurgency across Iraq.

Gravel said the reduction had been bought with US taxpayer money and that the relative calm would end as quickly as the money did.

"Do you know how much money Petraeus has been handing out to Sunni warlords?" he asked.

"To suppress the violence. Do you really have any idea?"

Schaeffer said she acknowledged there is an impulse to want to put a price tag on the cost of the war, but that doing so, or putting a timeline on how long the war would take, "is just irresponsible."

Jawad, taking much the same line as Gravel, was deaf to any claims of progress.

"I will tell you of the successes in Iraq," he said, "One million killed by the US occupation, five million dispersed people internally and externally. More than a million widows, five million orphans, 150,000 people arrested in centers run by the United States in Iraq, and there is a catalogue of catastrophes inflicted on the people of Iraq by this war. And the sooner they withdraw," he added, "the better for all of us."

Schaeffer argued that the picture being painted that the US forces were universally unwelcome was misleading and pointed out that the Iraqi government has vocalized and demonstrated its long-term commitment to cooperation to achieve final and lasting peace and democracy in Iraq.

Gravel, citing independent opinion polls, begged to differ.

"This is an army of occupation, and if you look at the polls the people of Iraq overwhelmingly want us to leave," he said, "and we should honor that."

Gravel said the United States invaded Iraq on the back of fraud and lies by the Bush administration: "This is criminal of the order that should go to the world criminal court."

The former Senator from Alaska said the only way to achieve stability would be for the United States to admit error, and then go to Iraq's neighbors, including Iran, and ask for their help in bringing stability to Iraq.

"Here you have President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who I don't have any particular truck with by the way, but he goes to Iraq and he is more popular than any American official."

The American leader, Gravel said, goes to Iraq and he has to sneak around in the dark of night with total security.

"Ahmadinejad goes in there and he is treated as a friend, does that not communicate something to anyone?"

Continuing the war under the illusion that progress is being made, Gravel said, is indicative of how out of touch Bush really is.

"George Bush is not on this planet, truthfully," Gravel said, "He really has no sense of reality of what is going on. Last week he told the American people we are not in a recession, while Alan Greenspan a day later said we were, and this is something the American people know. Bush is divorced from reality whether it's about Iraq, Iran or the economy. He is not plugged into reality."

Gravel said Washington's apparent policy to attack Iran could possibly trigger a nuclear exchange.

Gravel's concerns were shared by Schaeffer, "I think the point that attacking Iran might trigger a nuclear war is what's concerning the Bush administration.
We have to take the actions and rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad very seriously. It would be irresponsible not to do so. And I think we have to remember this is a man who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, a man who has denied the Holocaust."

She said here is a man who has vowed to knock down global powers, and we have to assume that he's pointing his finger at the United States.

Schaeffer's comment regarding "wiping Israel off the map" is an oft-quoted mistranslation, but one frequently used to attack Iran's president and his policies."

Actually he did not say he would wipe Israel off the map," Jawad explained.

"This statement has been corrected but it is still repeated by US officials. He did not say this, but I am not surprised to hear this repeated all the time."

The actual statement made by Ahmadinejad called for the "removal of the Zionist regime in Jerusalem from the pages of history."

Many experts say that you can "assume" or "infer" Ahmadinejad's real intentions are to wipe Israel off the map, but the simple fact remains, he did not say it.

They point out that Washington's aim in invading Iraq was to wipe the Baathist regime in Baghdad from the pages of history, but not to wipe Iraq off the map.

One of the cornerstones of the Petraeus-Crocker report was what they described as the "malign Iranian involvement in Iraq" and Tehran's support for special groups that target American troops and other coalition interests in the country.

President Bush later told a select group at a press conference that America would do what was necessary to prevent Iranian interference in Iraq, a thinly veiled threat of military action.

But Gravel said to his knowledge, there is still no substantiated evidence that Iran is playing a military role in the insurgency.

"It is being fabricated by the White House and being bought into by some of these senior military leaders. This is all part of the neocon plan to gain hegemony, economic hegemony in the Middle East, and that is American imperialism that we have to reverse."

Schaeffer acknowledges that the engagement and cooperation of Iraq's neighbors is an important factor in the eventual stabilization of Iraq and its efforts to achieve peace and democracy.

"But I think, for instance, when Senator Obama talks about opening up diplomatic channels with President Ahmadinejad, I think just helps to legitimize a leader that unfortunately has been irresponsible in his rhetoric."

But as Senator Gravel pointed out earlier in the discussion, being irresponsible in his rhetoric is a description that could just as easily be applied to Bush.

First published by Ohmynews International

The broadcast version of the debate can be viewed on the PressTV archive.

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Thursday, 10 April 2008

The Building Blocks of War

The Petraeus report could be the tipping point. But can we really trust it?

Just how much is Iran involved in, or indeed responsible for, the instability in Iraq? The answers to this question are often vague, ambiguous and frequently tainted by self-interest.

Last week commander of US Forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, declared that the mortars and missiles fired on Baghdad's fortified Green Zone were of Iranian manufacture. He further asserted that they were supplied by Iran and fired by Iranian-trained insurgents.

As for the provenance of the weapons, that is for a forensic ballistics expert to decide. Regarding the rest, well, it depends on who you trust, doesn't it?

And next week, Petraeus is going to tell Congress that everything that has gone wrong in Iraq is Iran's fault.

By contrast, many Iraq watchers are of the opinion that the recent Baghdad government assault on Basra and the subsequent nation-wide surge in violence was inspired by Vice President Dick Cheney during his recent visit to the region. Just another of the building blocks, apparently, in plans for military action against Tehran.

The aim, they say, was to destroy any support base the Iranians might have among the Shia militias to prevent effective retaliation in the event of a wider conflict.

Many of those same experts also point to Iran as being largely responsible for brokering a ceasefire.

Obviously, Iran has some influence in Iraq, but is it a positive or a negative influence?

It would be ridiculous for anyone to suggest that there are no Iranian-manufactured weapons in Iraq.

One cannot imagine the number of Iranian weapons that were captured in the course of the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War -- weapons that had been stored in ammunition dumps that were inexplicably left unguarded after the US-led invasion of 2003 and subsequently looted.

Read more on Ohmynews International.

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