JFP 4/19: "Permanent Bases Agreement" Threatens Afghan Peace Talks

Just Foreign Policy News
April 19, 2011

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I) Actions and Featured Articles

Phyllis Bennis: UK Sends Troops to Libya as Intl Coalition Expands Mission to Include Regime Change

Military interventions have humanitarian consequences. Western military powers are reportedly using depleted uranium. The UN should be pushing a ceasefire and political negotiations, but is instead a party to the war.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi6V37PsKSc

Kate Gould: Congress Rewrites Goldstone's Op-ed

On April 14th, fifteen House Members sent a letter to Ambassador Rice claiming that "[Goldstone's] retractions clear Israel of the charge that it violated international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention." This assertion is, of course, not true.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/884

Real News: Honduran Teachers get Shock Treatment
The post-coup regime in Honduras is carrying out an assault on teachers. http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=6635

Reality Radio: getting US troops out of Afghanistan
Just Foreign Policy talks to CND radio in the UK.
http://www.realityradio.org.uk/afghanistan-getting-the-us-troops-out

Radio Adelaide: on the Intervention in Libya

Just Foreign Policy talks to Australian radio.
http://backstory.org.au/wordpress/?p=845

Help Support Our Advocacy for Peace and Diplomacy
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II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) Afghanistan and the US are in the midst of negotiating what they are calling a Strategic Partnership Declaration for beyond 2014, the New York Times reports. Critics, including many of Afghanistan's neighbors, call it the Permanent Bases Agreement. Afghan officials have expressed concern that the negotiations could scuttle peace talks with the Taliban, now in their early stages, because the insurgents have insisted that foreign forces must leave the country before they will deal. That they are already talking is an indication they are willing to compromise on the timing of a withdrawal - but it is hard to imagine Taliban acceptance of a lasting US presence, the Times says. But despite the danger that it would scuttle peace talks, the US is pressing for an agreement by July, the NYT says.

2) Government documents show plans to exploit Iraq's oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world's largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, The Independent reports. The minutes of a series of meetings between ministers and senior oil executives are at odds with the public denials of self-interest from oil companies and Western governments at the time, The Independent notes. At the time, Tony Blair described "the oil conspiracy theory" as "the most absurd."

3) Howard Dean has turned against the war in Afghanistan, the Daily Beast reports. "I've come to believe that's not a winnable war," Dean said. "The Vietnam War showed us we shouldn't prop up corrupt governments, and that's what we've got in Afghanistan."

4) We shouldn't be asking Americans to spend more than $1,000 a year on a counterproductive and wasteful war in Afghanistan when they're struggling to get by, writes Representative John Conyers on the Huffington Post. For the sake of working people across this country, for the health of our troops, for a more responsive democracy, and a stronger and smarter national security posture, we need to start bringing our troops home now.

5) The IMF's research department has improved, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. But the IMF's policies have stayed largely the same, and don't match its rhetoric. In Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Latvia and other countries, the IMF is still pushing the agenda of the Western banks that own the G7 finance ministries and the US Treasury: economic depression and austerity. The best way in which the IMF has changed is that it has less influence, so fewer countries are following its harmful advice.

6) Viking, the publisher of "Three Cups of Tea," said it would review the book and its contents with the author, Greg Mortenson, after a CBS News report that called into question the accuracy of part of the book, the New York Times reports. The statement was a strong signal that Viking, an imprint of Penguin, is not convinced of the accuracy of Mortenson's book, the Times says.

Bahrain

7) Bahraini government forces backed by Saudi Arabian troops are destroying mosques and places of worship of the Shia majority in a move likely to exacerbate religious hatred across the Muslim world, reports Patrick Cockburn in The Independent. "So far they have destroyed seven Shia mosques and about 50 religious meeting houses," said an MP in the Bahraini parliament. The attack on Shia places of worship has provoked a furious reaction among the 250 million Shia community, particularly in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. The harshness of the government repression is provoking allegations of hypocrisy against Washington, London and Paris.

Shia leaders recall that it was the blowing up of the revered Shia shrine of al-Askari in Samarra, Iraq, by al-Qa'ida in 2006 that provoked a sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia in which tens of thousands died. They see fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine, upheld by the state in Saudi Arabia, as being behind the latest sectarian assault and attempt to keep the Shia as second-class citizens.

Egypt/Iran/Palestine
8) Iran and Egypt's new government signaled they were moving quickly to thaw decades of frosty relations, worrying the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reports. Engaging Iran may help Egypt proceed with negotiations with Hamas, the Journal says. Any headway toward resolving the seemingly intractable Israel-Palestine conflict would be hugely popular among Egyptians, analysts say.

Mexico/Colombia
9) Mexico's El Universal reports that 398 Mexican military and police have been killed in combat with organized crime groups since December 2006, Adam Isacson notes. Between January 2007 and March 2011, the comparable figure for Colombia is 1,901 police and military personnel killed by illegal armed groups.

Peru

10) Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala added experienced technocrats to his campaign team on Monday, trying to convince investors he would keep much of Peru's market economy intact if elected president in June, Reuters reports. Among more than a dozen new advisers were two economists well-known in Peru: Kurt Burneo, the former president of state-run Banco de la Nacion, and Oscar Dancourt, the former president of Peru's central bank. They had been affiliated with former President Toledo, the architect of Peru's trade pact with the US.

Humala's campaign chief, Salomon Lerner, said his team was trying to emphasize programmatic goals while downplaying doubts about ideological differences among aides on Humala's expanding team. "The points of agreement that matter are that we want to continue to grow, but with wealth redistribution," Lerner said.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Talks on U.S. Presence in Afghanistan After Pullout Unnerve Region
Rod Nordland, New York Times, April 18, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/19/world/asia/19bases.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - First, American officials were talking about July 2011 as the date to begin the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Then, the Americans and their NATO allies began to talk about transition, gradually handing over control of the war to the Afghans until finally pulling out in 2014. Now, however, the talk is all about what happens after 2014.

Afghanistan and the United States are in the midst of negotiating what they are calling a Strategic Partnership Declaration for beyond 2014.

Critics, including many of Afghanistan's neighbors, call it the Permanent Bases Agreement - or, in a more cynical vein, Great Game 3.0, drawing a comparison with the ill-fated British and Russian rivalry in the region during the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is without doubt a delicate process, and one that comes at a critical time. Afghan officials have expressed concern that the negotiations could scuttle peace talks with the Taliban, now in their early stages, because the insurgents have insisted that foreign forces must leave the country before they will deal. That they are already talking is an indication they are willing to compromise on the timing of a withdrawal - but it is hard to imagine Taliban acceptance of a lasting American presence here.

Formal talks on a long-term agreement began last month under Marc Grossman, the official who has replaced Richard C. Holbrooke, the diplomat who died in December, as the Obama administration's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a delegation visited Kabul under the direction of Frank Ruggiero, a State Department official who ran the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team until last year.

The reaction regionally was immediate. The Iranian interior minister made a rushed visit to Kabul, followed shortly by the national security advisers of India and Russia.

The Russians, though generally supportive of NATO's role in Afghanistan, were alarmed at the prospect of a long-term Western presence.

"The Russian side supports the development of Afghanistan by its own forces in all areas - security, economic, political - only by its own forces, especially after 2014," said Stepan Anikeev, a political adviser at the Russian Embassy here. "How is transition possible with these bases?"

American officials have hastened to assure Russia and other neighbors about their intentions after 2014. Mr. Grossman made a visit late last month to Moscow to do so. And officials from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on down have insisted that any presence after 2014 would not mean permanent bases.

It is a "long-term framework for our bilateral cooperation," Mrs. Clinton said in a speech to the Asia Society on Feb. 18. "In no way should our enduring commitment be misunderstood as a desire by America or our allies to occupy Afghanistan against the will of its people," Mrs. Clinton said, adding, "We do not seek any permanent American military bases in their country."

The Russians, however, have complained that any talk of a foreign troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014 violates international understandings, including one made in a joint statement by President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev on June 24 supporting a neutral status for Afghanistan.

Afghan officials have acknowledged, however, that the talks do countenance some sort of long-term bases after 2014, if only for the purpose of continued training of Afghan troops. "What we're discussing is a long-term strategic framework agreement," said Ashraf Ghani, an adviser to President Hamid Karzai who is one of the Afghan negotiators. "The U.S. has many 10- to 25-year-long agreements, a wide range of agreements."
[...]
One person's long-term base is another's permanent base, however - and in the region many people took Mrs. Clinton's assurances as proof that the United States was not leaving, whatever the bases are called. "A 10- or 20-years agreement can be prolonged at any time," Mr. Anikeev said. "And we have no guarantee they're not permanent."

"The Americans have not been honest about this, even among themselves," said Mullah Attullah Lodin, deputy chairman of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan, which is charged with leading reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. "One says we are not building bases, another says we are building them, and it's very confusing."

The big concern, he said, was that if any such agreement were reached, it would make it that much harder to enter into serious peace talks with the Taliban. "That is the first thing the Taliban demand is the withdrawal of foreign troops," Mullah Lodin said.
[...]
Despite such worries, American and Afghan officials are negotiating on an accelerated timetable, with the Americans hoping to come to an agreement by July, when the first withdrawals of some American troops are to start, diplomats say.
[...]
One regional diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity for similar reasons, said the Americans were equally concerned to keep a long-term or permanent foothold in Afghanistan for their own interests as well.

"There was a time when the Americans were struggling to find one base in Central Asia," he said. "Here is a place where they can have all the bases they want, and Afghanistan is a place between two potential nuclear Islamic powers, Iran and Pakistan."

"There are forces of reaction who are itching to fire the starting gun on Great Game 3.0, and the insurgents will try to exploit this," said Mark Sedwill, the NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, in a recent speech.

Reaching accord among the diplomats on a Strategic Partnership Declaration will only be a first step. Mr. Karzai has already said any such agreement would have to be put to a nationwide loya jirga, a tribal assembly that acts as referendum on important issues.

"In general, people in Afghanistan are against foreign forces," Mullah Lodin, the negotiator, said. "I don't think the loya jirga will ever support foreign forces in the country."

2) Secret memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq
Paul Bignell, The Independent, Tuesday, 19 April 2011
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/secret-memos-expose-link-between-oil-firms-and-invasion-of-iraq-2269610.html

Plans to exploit Iraq's oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world's largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, government documents show.

The papers, revealed here for the first time, raise new questions over Britain's involvement in the war, which had divided Tony Blair's cabinet and was voted through only after his claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

The minutes of a series of meetings between ministers and senior oil executives are at odds with the public denials of self-interest from oil companies and Western governments at the time.

The documents were not offered as evidence in the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry into the UK's involvement in the Iraq war. In March 2003, just before Britain went to war, Shell denounced reports that it had held talks with Downing Street about Iraqi oil as "highly inaccurate". BP denied that it had any "strategic interest" in Iraq, while Tony Blair described "the oil conspiracy theory" as "the most absurd".

But documents from October and November the previous year paint a very different picture.

Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq's enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair's military commitment to US plans for regime change.

The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP's behalf because the oil giant feared it was being "locked out" of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.

Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: "Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis."

The minister then promised to "report back to the companies before Christmas" on her lobbying efforts.

The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq "post regime change". Its minutes state: "Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity."

After another meeting, this one in October 2002, the Foreign Office's Middle East director at the time, Edward Chaplin, noted: "Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future... We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq."

Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had "no strategic interest" in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was "more important than anything we've seen for a long time".

BP was concerned that if Washington allowed TotalFinaElf's existing contact with Saddam Hussein to stand after the invasion it would make the French conglomerate the world's leading oil company. BP told the Government it was willing to take "big risks" to get a share of the Iraqi reserves, the second largest in the world.

Over 1,000 documents were obtained under Freedom of Information over five years by the oil campaigner Greg Muttitt. They reveal that at least five meetings were held between civil servants, ministers and BP and Shell in late 2002.
[...]
Not about oil? what they said before the invasion

* Foreign Office memorandum, 13 November 2002, following meeting with BP: "Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity to compete. The long-term potential is enormous..."

* Tony Blair, 6 February 2003: "Let me just deal with the oil thing because... the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it. The fact is that, if the oil that Iraq has were our concern, I mean we could probably cut a deal with Saddam tomorrow in relation to the oil. It's not the oil that is the issue, it is the weapons..."
- http://www.fuelonthefire.com/
[...]

3) Howard Dean to Obama: Get Out of Afghanistan!
The former Democratic boss says the Afghanistan war is not winnable, the Kabul government is corrupt, and Karzai is almost as bad on women's rights as the Taliban.
McKay Coppins, Daily Beast, April 18, 2011 | 3:07am
http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-04-18/howard-dean-to-president-obama-get-our-troops-out-of-afghanistan/

Howard Dean has sounded awfully hawkish lately.

With the U.S. military engaged in three separate Middle Eastern conflicts, Dean-the former governor of Vermont who rallied grassroots Democrats in 2004 by fervently condemning the Iraq war-has been notably absent from the left-wing criticism of President Obama's defense policy. Once an anti-war icon, Dean has spent the past two years applauding the administration's troop surge in Afghanistan, defending the slow withdrawal from Iraq, and endorsing the military intervention in Libya.

But now, it appears, Dean is returning to his pacifistic roots-and he has a message for President Obama: Get our troops out of Afghanistan.

In a weekend interview with The Daily Beast, Dean said he's had a change of heart when it comes to the war he has often defended. "I actually supported the president when he sent extra troops to Afghanistan," Dean said. "But I've come to believe that's not a winnable war."

Dean attributes his newly-held opposition to a crisis of faith in Afghan President Hamid Karzai-and in the war's humanitarian value.

"I supported (ramping up troop presence) because I was concerned with what would happen to the women in the country" if the Taliban took control, Dean said. "But I recently read about Karzai saying some very sexist, terrible things, and it's become obvious that there's not a whole lot of difference between the two sides."
[...]
And without substantial gains in that area, Dean said, he sees no value in continuing to fight in the region: "The Vietnam War showed us we shouldn't prop up corrupt governments, and that's what we've got in Afghanistan."
[...]

4) The War in Afghanistan: A Burden Taxpayers Can't Afford
Rep. John Conyers, Huffington Post, 04/18/11
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-conyers/the-war-in-afghanistan-a_b_850584.html

On this Tax Day, many Americans are likely taking a moment to consider the costs associated with funding the public services that, among other things, keep our air and water clean, create educational opportunities for our children, and provide financial security to our most vulnerable fellow citizens. Although no one likes to pay taxes, most Americans understand that our country is stronger because we collectively fund our national priorities and promote the common good.

Unfortunately, Americans are all too aware that they are bearing another, highly unpopular, financial burden: the direct and indirect costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This year, the government will spend $159.3 billion in direct spending on these wars. In the decade since these conflicts began, we've spent approximately $1 trillion. And, if and when these wars finally end, the bills will continue to roll in, as our veterans return home with grievous mental and physical injuries. The economist Joseph Stiglitz has estimated that these legacy costs could push the final tally for our occupations to more than $3 trillion.

So what are Americans getting for their $107 billion taxpayer investment in Afghanistan this year? Troop casualties are up, civilian deaths are at an all-time high, and, according to our own CIA Director, there are fewer than 100 Al-Qaeda remaining in the country.

The American people are willing to pay their fair share and engage in shared sacrifice for the good of the country. It's all a part of being a responsible, patriotic citizen. However, as elected officials, we should not be asking our constituents to sacrifice unnecessarily. Right now, we just can't afford it. For example, according to the Rethink Afghanistan campaign, a household bringing in the median income in my district in Detroit, Michigan -- a mere $32,365 -- will pay $1,250 in taxes to support the War in Afghanistan and other military spending.

We shouldn't be asking Americans to spend more than $1,000 a year on a counterproductive and wasteful war when they're struggling to get by. Wouldn't it be better to put that money into popular programs that help working families? With the money spent on the wars this year, we could put 14.1 million children into the Head Start program or put 1.6 million additional cops on the beat or give 19.3 million low-income students a $5,000 Pell Grant scholarship. The math is clear. For the sake of working people across this country, for the health of our troops, for a more responsive democracy, and a stronger and smarter national security posture, we need to start bringing our troops home now.

5) IMF's Rhetoric Still Far from Its Policies
After condemning states to unnecessary pain, it is a relief that fewer countries each year will have to listen to the IMF's advice
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, Monday 18 April 2011 18.38 BST
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/apr/18/imf-international-monetary-fund

As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank gathered in Washington for their annual spring meetings, there was more talk about how much the IMF has changed. Its managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, quoted John Maynard Keynes in his speech at the Brookings Institution: "The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes."

In his opening address to the fall meetings last year he went further, making a point about the increase in public debt in the high-income countries which should be required reading for US business journalists: "Make no mistake: this increase of 35 percentage points [in the public debt of the high-income countries] is mostly due to low growth, to expenditure linked to the rescue of the financial sector, to lack of revenue because of the economic downturn. Only about one-tenth comes directly from the stimulus. So the lesson is clear: the biggest threat to fiscal sustainability is low growth."

There have been some significant changes in the IMF in recent years, mostly in the area of research, where the fund has acknowledged that controls on capital inflows are a legitimate tool for governments to use. There has been some limited lending without conditions. And although the IMF included "pro-cyclical" conditions – ie macroeconomic policies that worsened the downturn – in most of its agreements during the world recession, on the optimistic side, it reversed course in many cases as the downturn deepened.

But unfortunately, the IMF's practice still does not match its rhetoric or even, increasingly, its own research. In Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Latvia and other countries, the fund is still involved in the implementation of pro-cyclical policies that will keep these countries from recovering for a long time. For Greece, Ireland and Latvia, it will be nine to 10 years before they reach their pre-crisis levels of GDP.

There is absolutely no excuse for this, from an economic point of view. Any policies that require this kind of extended period of unemployment and stagnation are by definition wrong. If this is what they need to ensure debt repayment, then the country is better off defaulting on its debt, as Argentina did when it was faced with an unsustainable debt burden and defaulted at the end of 2001. The economy shrank for just one quarter and then grew 63% over the next six years, recovering its pre-crisis level of GDP in less than three years.

Rhetoric aside, the fund's policies still reflect the creditors' point of view. And from the creditors' point of view, a country like Greece – whose debt even the financial markets recognise it will have to restructure at some point – must first go through hell. The European authorities and IMF together have so much money ($750bn for the IMF, $635bn for the European Financial Stability Facility and $87bn for the European Financial Stabilisation Fund) that it would be quite simple to painlessly rescue the relatively small economies of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, or Latvia – or even the much larger Spanish economy, restoring growth and employment first and worrying about the debt after the economy is on track.

But from a creditors' point of view, this would be rewarding "bad behaviour". So these countries' citizens must suffer through years of high unemployment (20% in Spain, 15% in Ireland, 11% in Portugal, 14% in Greece, 17% in Latvia), not to mention the privatisations and anti-labour "reforms" they are also subjected to.

To be fair to Strauss-Kahn as well as some of the economists in the IMF's research department who would like to pursue more enlightened policies, they do not run the institution. Final say rests with an executive board, which is run primarily by the US treasury department and the European authorities (the latter have final say in Europe). And on top of the US treasury department sits Goldman Sachs.

The IMF's newly released "World Economic Outlook" calls for more "implementing fiscal consolidation and entitlement reforms" in the high-income countries, saying that "the need is particularly urgent in the US" where "broader measures such as social security and tax reforms" will be essential. The fund is right about "tax reforms", since the Bush tax cuts for high-income taxpayers, continued under the Obama administration, are a significant contributor to the long-term deficit problem. But the social security system contributes nothing to either the immediate or long-term deficit problem. It can pay all promised benefits for the next 26 years, and would require only minor adjustments to maintain solvency indefinitely. By contrast, it is our broken private healthcare system that is responsible for nearly all of the long-term deficit projections.
[...]
But the real changes – the ones that have contributed to the rebound in the economic growth that has taken place in low-and middle-income countries over the past decade – have been the loss of much of the fund's influence on policy that it had 10 or 20 years ago. This is especially true for middle-income countries – in Asia, most of Latin America, Russia and others, although many low-income countries are still dependent on the fund and its allied lenders. The IMF's lending fell precipitously from 2003 to 2007, and although it has recently come back to 2003 levels, the fund does not have nearly as much influence in middle-income countries as it once did. So hopefully fewer countries each year will have to listen to the IMF's advice – unless they want to focus on Strauss-Kahn's lofty Keynesian rhetoric.

6) Publisher of 'Three Cups of Tea' to Conduct Review
Julie Bosman, New York Times, April 18, 2011, 12:22 PM
http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/18/publisher-of-three-cups-of-tea-to-conduct-review/

Viking, the publisher of "Three Cups of Tea," said in a statement on Monday that it would review the book and its contents with the author, Greg Mortenson, after a CBS News report that called into question the accuracy of part of the book.

Mr. Mortenson's memoir, an account of his work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, has sold millions of copies.
[...]
The statement was a strong signal that Viking, an imprint of Penguin, is not convinced of the accuracy of Mr. Mortenson's book. In several high-profile cases in recent years, publishers of nonfiction have been forced to retract or apologize for memoirs that have been found to be partially or totally fabricated.
[...]
The CBS report also suggested that Mr. Mortenson's charitable organization, the Central Asia Institute, was plagued by mismanagement and inappropriate spending.

Bahrain
7) Bahrain escapes censure by West as crackdown on protesters intensifies
Saudi troops' demolition of mosques stokes religious tensions
Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, Tuesday, 19 April 2011
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/bahrain-escapes-censure-by-west-as-crackdown-on-protesters-intensifies-2269638.html

Cairo - Bahraini government forces backed by Saudi Arabian troops are destroying mosques and places of worship of the Shia majority in the island kingdom in a move likely to exacerbate religious hatred across the Muslim world. "So far they have destroyed seven Shia mosques and about 50 religious meeting houses," said Ali al-Aswad, an MP in the Bahraini parliament.

He said Saudi soldiers, part of the 1,000-strong contingent that entered Bahrain last month, had been seen by witnesses helping demolish Shia mosques and shrines in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

Mohammed Sadiq, of the Justice for Bahrain organisation, said the most famous of the Shia shrines destroyed was that of a revered Bahraini Shia spiritual leader, Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri, who died in 2006. A photograph taken by activists and seen by The Independent shows the golden dome of the shrine lying on the ground and later being taken away on the back of a lorry. On the walls of Shia mosques that have been desecrated, graffiti has been scrawled praising the Sunni King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and insulting the Shia.

The attack on Shia places of worship has provoked a furious reaction among the 250 million Shia community, particularly in Iran and Iraq, where Shia are in a majority, and in Lebanon where they are the largest single community.

The Shia were already angry at the ferocious repression by Bahraini security forces of the pro-democracy movement, which had sought to be non-sectarian. After the monarchy had rejected meaningful reform, the wholly Sunni army and security forces started to crush the largely Shia protests on 15 and 16 March.

The harshness of the government repression is provoking allegations of hypocrisy against Washington, London and Paris. Their mild response to human rights abuses and the Saudi Arabian armed intervention in Bahrain is in stark contrast to their vocal concern for civilians in Libya.

The US and Britain have avoided doing anything that would destabilise Saudi Arabia and the Sunni monarchies in the Gulf, to which they are allied. They are worried about Iran taking advantage of the plight of fellow Shia, although there is no evidence that Iran has any role in fomenting protests despite Bahraini government claims to the contrary. The US has a lot to lose because its Fifth Fleet, responsible for the Gulf and the north of the Indian Ocean, is based in Bahrain.

Sunni-Shia hostility in the Muslim world is likely to deepen because of the demolition of Shia holy places in Bahrain. Shia leaders recall that it was the blowing up of the revered Shia shrine of al-Askari in Samarra, Iraq, by al-Qa'ida in 2006 that provoked a sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia in which tens of thousands died. They see fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine, upheld by the state in Saudi Arabia, as being behind the latest sectarian assault and attempt to keep the Shia as second-class citizens. Mr Sadiq believes Saudi troops are behind the attacks on mosques and shrines. "What is happening comes from the ideology of Wahhabism which is against shrines," he said. To the Wahhabi, the Shia are as heretical as Christians. Mr Aswad said soldiers in Saudi uniforms had been seen attending the destruction of Shia religious sites.

Yousif al-Khoei, who heads a Shia charitable foundation, said he could "confirm that reports of desecration of Shia graves, shrines and mosques and hussainiyas [religious meeting houses] in Bahrain are genuine and we are concerned that Saudi troops, who believe that shrines are un-Islamic and are trying to enforce that Wahhabi doctrine on the Shia of Bahrain, will undoubtedly result in heightened sectarian tensions."

Some 499 people in Bahrain are known to have been detained during the current unrest and many are believed to have been tortured. Four who died in detention this month showed signs of severe abuse and appeared to have been beaten to death.

In the case of Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer, who had turned himself in to the security forces after threats to detain his family if he did not do so, photographs showed signs of whipping and beating. The Bahraini human rights activist who photographed the body was later detained and accused of faking the picture, but the same injuries were witnessed by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

There are continuing arbitrary arrests of people who took part in the pro-democracy protests that began on 14 February. Even waving a Bahraini flag is considered an offence, and a doctor who was shown on television shedding tears over the body of a dead protester was detained.

The aim of government repression is evidently to terrorise the Shia and permanently crush the protest movement. Doctors who treated injured demonstrators have been arrested and on 15 April the authorities detained a lawyer, Mohammed al-Tajer, who defended protesters in court. Human Rights Watch says the families of many of those detained have no word on what has happened to them. The authorities do not seem concerned about providing plausible accounts of how detainees died. In the case of Mr Saqer, who was detained on 3 April and whose body was released six days later, the government said he had "created chaos" in the detention centre and had died while the disturbance was being quelled.

Human Rights Watch, which saw his body during the ritual before he was buried in his home village of Sehla on 10 April, said "his body showed signs of severe physical abuse. The left side of his face showed a large patch of bluish skin with a reddish-purple area near his left temple and a two-inch cut to the left of his eye. Lash marks crisscrossed his back, some reaching to his front right side. Blue bruises covered much of the back of his calves, thighs, and buttocks, as well as his right elbow and hip. The tops of his feet were blackened, and lacerations marked his ankles and wrists."
[...]

Egypt/Iran/Palestine
8) Egyptians Court U.S. Foes
Matt Bradley, Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2011
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704004004576271130945207142.html

Cairo - Iran and Egypt's new government signaled Monday they were moving quickly to thaw decades of frosty relations, worrying the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia that the overtures could upset the Mideast's fragile balance of power.

Iran said it appointed an ambassador to Egypt for the first time since the two sides froze diplomatic relations more than three decades ago, the website of the Iranian government's official English-language channel, Press TV, reported late Monday.

Also Monday, officials at Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that new foreign minister Nabil Elaraby is considering a visit to the Gaza Strip-an area controlled by Hamas, a militant Palestinian Islamist group backed by Tehran and until now shunned by Cairo.

The announcements follow a rare meeting earlier this month between a high-level Iranian diplomat and Mr. Elaraby, after which the foreign minister told reporters that Egypt has "opened a new page" with Iran.

American officials said they are concerned that Egypt's apparent determination to re-establish relations with Iran is part of a broader reordering of its foreign policy. They worry that such a turn could empower Iran and its regional clients Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which are labeled terrorist groups by the U.S.

Egypt's outreach has also extended to Syria, a close ally of Iran. In early March, Egypt's new intelligence chief, Murad Muwafi, chose Syria for his first foreign trip. It remains unclear what was discussed at the meeting, previously reported by The Wall Street Journal.

For decades, Egypt was a vital player in a Middle East balance of power: With its large population, U.S.-financed military and diplomatic ties with Israel, it was a counterweight against Israel's foes, primarily Iran and Syria. But as Iran's power in the region has grown and the Middle East has become more defined by political Islam, Egypt's reliably anti-Iranian stance cost it significant diplomatic capital. With Cairo unable to engage Tehran, it lost its position as one of the region's chief diplomatic brokers, eclipsed by Qatar, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian officials and several foreign-policy analysts say the new diplomacy isn't so much an expression of affinity with Iran as it is a broader effort to reclaim lost diplomatic prestige. Egypt's new government presents the policy shift as part of a general diplomatic reopening, rather than a reordering, of its regional relationships.

"Egypt's role cannot be underestimated. But that role over the last few decades, I think 30 years or so, has diminished," said Menha Bakhoum, spokeswoman for Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "If there's anything happening now, I think that will be regaining that position that we've had for years and years and years."

Western reactions to Egypt's entreaties to Iran were exaggerated, Ms. Bakhoum said Monday.
[...]
The change in tone toward Iran is incremental, said Ms. Bakhoum. But it could have implications for another of Mr. Elaraby's stated foreign policy priorities-resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Helping to resolve that conflict was one of the Mubarak regime's most significant foreign policy goals; failing to do so contributed to Egypt's moribund diplomatic stature, analysts say.

Engaging Iran may help Egypt proceed with negotiations with Hamas, which has governed the Gaza Strip under an Israeli blockade since the group seized power from the more moderate Fatah in 2007. Any headway toward resolving the seemingly intractable Middle East conflict would be hugely popular among Egyptians, said Mohammed Abdel Salam, an expert on Iran at the government-financed Al Ahram Center for Political Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank.

Amr Moussa, the former Secretary General of the Arab league, owes his front-runner status in Egyptian presidential elections later this year to his forceful statements against Israel when he was Egypt's foreign minister during the 1990s. Islamist groups in particular have been empowered by Egypt's abrupt shift to democracy, and analysts expect that Egypt's next government will have to answer to growing calls that it break with U.S. foreign-policy objectives.

Some Islamist political voices within Egypt have already begun their own sort of diplomacy. Magdi Hussein, the chairman of the Islamist Al Amal (Labor) Party, met with Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi earlier this week in Tehran. Both sides encouraged a quickening of the diplomatic thaw between the two countries.

Egypt appears to be following a foreign relations pattern set by Turkey in the past decade-a strong American ally whose foreign policy has nevertheless decoupled from American interests. Regardless of its final position on Iran, the country is likely to be significantly less beholden to U.S. interests, American officials said, if only because Egypt was such a reliable ally under Mr. Mubarak.
[...]

Mexico/Colombia
9) Grim body counts
Adam Isacson, Just the Facts, 04/18/2011
http://justf.org/blog/2011/04/18/grim-body-counts

Mexico's El Universal reports today that 398 Mexican military and police have been killed in combat with organized crime groups since December 2006. That is when President Felipe Calderón took office and intensified a military-police offensive against violent "cartels" and other criminal groups with roots in the drug trade.

An unacceptably, tragically high figure, but surprisingly low compared to Colombia, even during Colombia's current period of "improved" public security.

Between January 2007 and March 2011, the comparable figure for Colombia is 1,901 police and military personnel killed by illegal armed groups.

Peru
10) Moderate technocrats align with Peru's Humala
Teresa Cespedes, Reuters, Mon, Apr 18 2011
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/18/peru-election-idUSN1821532620110418

Lima, April 18 - Left-wing nationalist Ollanta Humala added experienced technocrats to his campaign team on Monday, trying to convince investors he would keep much of Peru's market economy intact if elected president in June.

Among more than a dozen new advisers were two economists well-known in Peru: Kurt Burneo, the former president of state-run Banco de la Nacion, and Oscar Dancourt, the former president of Peru's central bank. They had been affiliated with former President Alejandro Toledo, the architect of Peru's free-trade pact with the United States.

Humala, running on a promise to fight rural poverty that has persisted despite a decade-long economic boom, won the first-round vote on April 10 with almost 32 percent of the vote.

He will face right-wing lawmaker Keiko Fujimori in a run-off on June 5. Her autocratic father, former President Alberto Fujimori, is in jail. Though the younger Fujimori is trusted by investors, many voters associate her with corruption and human rights crimes that sent her father in prison.

Humala, who narrowly lost the 2006 race, said he wanted to prevent the political climate from becoming polarized. "(Let's) open the doors to consensus," Humala told reporters. "We want to unite Peru, not divide it."

Investors have been weighing whether Humala, a former soldier who has softened his hardline rhetoric of past years, can be counted on to maintain economic stability in one of the world's fastest-growing economies. Peru's benchmark stock index and the sol currency tumbled last week on worries Humala would beat Fujimori and jeopardize billions of dollars in foreign investment in mining and oil projects.
[...]
Humala's campaign chief, Salomon Lerner, said his team was trying to emphasize programmatic goals while downplaying doubts about ideological differences among aides on Humala's expanding team. "The points of agreement that matter are that we want to continue to grow, but with wealth redistribution," Lerner said on RPP radio.

-

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews

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