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July 22, 2011
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1) The State Department is blocking Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, from conducting oversight of its plans to maintain a mercenary army in Iraq, writes Spencer Ackerman for Wired. For months, Bowen's team has tried to get basic information out of the State Department about how it will command its assembled army of about 5,500 private security contractors. And for months, the State Department's management chief, former Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, has given Bowen a clear response: That's not your jurisdiction.
2) The Obama administration is considering sending more Predator drones to Libya, and has reopened debate over whether to give weapons to the rebels, the Los Angeles Times reports. A US official said sending more Predator drones would require transferring them from war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, and counter-terrorism operations elsewhere, and that some U.S. officials and senior commanders oppose the move. [The House has passed legislation that would bar the Administration from providing weapons to the rebels - JFP.]
3) Iraq's political leaders appear set to miss a deadline this weekend for deciding whether to ask U.S. military forces to stay beyond December, the Washington Post reports. Most U.S. officials say they do not anticipate receiving a formal request until September. One senior U.S. military official recently suggested a request might not come until March. Any agreement would have to include guarantees of legal immunity for U.S. forces, according to U.S. officials. But such legal protections are a non-starter for many Iraqi politicians wary of a prolonged U.S. military presence, the Post says.
4) A coalition of advocacy organizations will soon begin a petition drive to preempt introduction of legislation in the House that would water-down the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Reuters reports. In recent months provisions of the Act have come under attack by the Chamber of Commerce. The FCPA has been in the news in recent days due to News Corp's growing problems related to phone hacking in the UK.
5) Writing in Time Magazine, Tony Karon notes that the main line of criticism of former Mossad chief Dagan in Israel did not challenge his claim that bombing Iran would be a catastrophic mistake, plunging Israel into a war it couldn't win but from there would be no exit; rather it faulted him for giving the game away: that Israel had no credible threat of attacking Iran. The bluff that Israel could attack Iran does not seem to have had any effect on Iran's behavior, Karon notes.
One explanation of Dagan's remarks is that they were aimed at countering the effects of Israeli leaders' Iran hysteria on Israeli public opinion, Karon writes.
6) According to an internal evaluation, the Army since 1995 has spent at least $32 billion on 22 weapons programs that were later canceled -- almost a third of its budget for creating new weapons, Bloomberg reports.
7) A key military official said the Pentagon likely will have to terminate some weapons programs as it enacts budget cuts being discussed as part of debt-reduction efforts, The Hill reports. Sources say debt-ceiling negotiators have seriously discussed security cuts as large as $700 billion. The Senate's Gang of Six released a debt-paring plan this week that calls for $866 billion in Defense cuts over a decade. [These numbers are all compared to projected spending - JFP.]
8) The campaign in Washington to remove the MEK from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations represents a threat to Iran's democracy movement, writes Jamal Abdi of NIAC on the Huffington Post. Freeing the group to inject violence into Iran's opposition movement would help derail Iran's struggle for democracy by discrediting the opposition in Iran and moving the terrain of struggle from politics to violence, he writes.
9) Maintaining U.S. troops in a hostile environment when an overwhelming majority of the population is adamantly opposed to their presence is foolhardy, especially when there is an agreement to withdraw them by a date certain, writes retired general Robert Gard for the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, criticizing plans to keep US troops in Iraq. A small contingent of US combat troops would destabilize the Iraqi government and would be sitting ducks, subject to attack.
10) Human rights advocates said a proposed Saudi "counterterrorism" law that would mandate jail sentences for criticizing the king would effectively squelch political dissent, the New York Times reports. "They are not making clear why questioning the integrity of the king is a security matter," said Dina el-Mamoun, a Saudi specialist at Amnesty International.
1) U.S. Blocks Oversight of Its Mercenary Army in Iraq
Spencer Ackerman, Wired/Danger Room, July 22, 2011 | 7:00 am http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/07/iraq-merc-army/
By January 2012, the State Department will do something it's never done before: command a mercenary army the size of a heavy combat brigade. That's the plan to provide security for its diplomats in Iraq once the U.S. military withdraws. And no one outside State knows anything more, as the department has gone to war with its independent government watchdog to keep its plan a secret.
Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), is essentially in the dark about one of the most complex and dangerous endeavors the State Department has ever undertaken, one with huge implications for the future of the United States in Iraq. "Our audit of the program is making no progress," Bowen tells Danger Room.
For months, Bowen's team has tried to get basic information out of the State Department about how it will command its assembled army of about 5,500 private security contractors. How many State contracting officials will oversee how many hired guns? What are the rules of engagement for the guards? What's the system for reporting a security danger, and for directing the guards' response?
And for months, the State Department's management chief, former Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, has given Bowen a clear response: That's not your jurisdiction. You just deal with reconstruction, not security. Never mind that Bowen has audited over $1.2 billion worth of security contracts over seven years.
"Apparently, Ambassador Kennedy doesn't want us doing the oversight that we believe is necessary and properly within our jurisdiction," Bowen says. "That hard truth is holding up work on important programs and contracts at a critical moment in the Iraq transition."
This isn't an idle concern or a typical bureaucratic tussle. The State Department has hired private security for its diplomats in war zones for the better part of a decade. Poor control of them caused one of the biggest debacles of the Iraq war: the September 2007 shooting incident in Nisour Square, where Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians. Now roughly double those guards from the forces on duty now, and you'll understand the scope of what State is planning once the U.S. military withdraws from Iraq at the end of this year.
"They have no experience running a private army," says Ramzy Mardini, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who just returned from a weeks-long trip to Iraq. "I don't think the State Department even has a good sense of what it's taking on. The U.S. military is concerned about it as well."
So far, the Department has awarded three security contracts for Iraq worth nearly $2.9 billion over five years. Bowen can't even say for sure how much the department actually intends to spend on mercs in total. State won't let it see those totals.
About as much information as the department has disclosed about its incipient private army comes from a little-noticed Senate hearing in February. There, the top U.S. military and civilian officials in Iraq said that they'd station the hired guard force at Basra, Irbil, Mosul and Kirkuk, with the majority - over 3,000 - protecting the mega-embassy in Baghdad. They'll ferry diplomats around in armored convoys and a State-run helicopter fleet, the first in the department's history.
But Congress is showing signs of restiveness over State's stonewalling. A bill that the House Foreign Affairs Committee crafted this week includes a provision specifically instructing State to let Bowen's office to do its job: "SIGIR should audit military, security, and economic assistance to Iraq during the term of SIGIR's existence," the language reads, inserted at the behest of the panel's chairwoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
But it'll take months for that bill to pass. Until then, Bowen is shut out of State's ad hoc foray into generalship. "From my conversations with State Department people," Mardini says, "they really don't have a sense of how difficult this is going to be." And it doesn't look like they want to know.
2) Pentagon mulls NATO request for more U.S. drones in Libya campaign
A U.S. official says sending more Predator drones would require moving them from war zones, and counter-terrorism operations elsewhere, and that some U.S. officials and commanders oppose the move.
David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, 5:53 PM PDT, July 21, 2011
Washington - The Obama administration is considering sending more Predator drones and other surveillance planes to bolster the NATO air war in Libya, and has reopened a debate over whether to give weapons to the rebels seeking to overthrow Moammar Kadafi, a senior Defense Department official said.
NATO commanders requested the sophisticated surveillance aircraft after concluding that they were running out of military targets in Libya after four months of bombing and missile strikes against Kadafi's military forces and command facilities, U.S. and NATO officials said.
The Pentagon's willingness to consider strengthening the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force in Libya marks an apparent shift since Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta took over the Pentagon early this month.
Panetta has emphasized that winning the war in Libya is one of his top priorities. His predecessor, Robert M. Gates, had urged European allies to do more and had stressed that the U.S. military was overstretched.
NATO commanders are especially eager to obtain more Predator drones, which can remain aloft for a dozen hours or longer, beaming live video and other intelligence data back to targeting analysts on the ground, a senior NATO officer said. The Predator drones can carry two air-to-ground missiles.
"It's getting more difficult to find stuff to blow up," said a senior NATO officer, noting that Kadafi's forces are increasingly using civilian facilities to carry out military operations. "Predators really enable you study things and to develop a picture of what is going on."
The official said sending more Predator drones would require transferring them from war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, and counter-terrorism operations elsewhere, and that some U.S. officials and senior commanders oppose the move.
"The reason why this is hard is that everything we have is currently committed elsewhere," the official added.
The Obama administration has furnished the rebels with uniforms, boots, radios, tents, medical supplies and other nonlethal assistance since April. But the United States declined to provide weapons and other lethal aid, in part because Washington did not formally recognize the rebels.
That hurdle was crossed last week when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the United States would join more than 30 other nations in recognizing the rebel leadership coalition, known as the Transitional National Council, as Libya's government.
"Now that the recognition has taken place, I think that discussion" of providing military aid "will be back on the table," the senior Pentagon official said.
With Kadafi refusing to step down despite the NATO bombing, the Obama administration has gradually accepted that a solution to the crisis could involve letting him stay in Libya.
The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said this week that the administration continued to believe that Kadafi had lost legitimacy and needed to give up power. But he said the United States would not make a determination about where Kadafi should go.
3) Iraq probably will miss deadline on U.S. troop decision, officials say
Ed O'Keefe and Aziz Alwan, Washington Post, July 21
Baghdad - Iraq's political leaders appear set to miss a deadline this weekend for deciding whether to ask U.S. military forces to stay beyond December, according to Iraqi and American officials familiar with negotiations.
President Jalal Talabani has given Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other top leaders until Saturday to reach an agreement on what, if any, sustained U.S. military presence Iraq might need. But Maliki and his rivals, beset by other domestic political disputes, remain divided over the matter, including how to formally ask the Obama administration for such an extension, officials said.
With leaders still at an impasse, and despite Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's remark last week that Iraqi leaders should "dammit, make a decision," most U.S. officials say they do not anticipate receiving a formal request from the Iraqis until September, meaning that the roughly 46,000 U.S. troops in Iraq remain on course to withdraw by Dec. 31. One senior U.S. military official recently suggested a request might not come until March.
Security for U.S. civilians will shift next year to private security firms, but Maliki and others have suggested that training, air defense and border patrol operations could be part of a new security agreement.
Panetta and other top officials have said the United States is willing to continue such operations, but only if the Iraqis formally request them. Estimates quoted in recent news reports suggest anywhere from 3,000 to 15,000 troops would stay on into 2012. Any agreement would have to include guarantees of legal immunity for U.S. forces, according to U.S. officials.
But such legal protections are a non-starter for many Iraqi politicians wary of a prolonged U.S. military presence, and their resistance is complicating Maliki's attempts to secure a vote on the issue in parliament.
4) Anti-Corruption Views - Groups to push back on attempt to weaken FCPA
Tom Cardamone, TrustLaw(Reuters), July 21, 2011
A coalition of U.S.-based advocacy organizations will soon begin an international petition drive to preempt introduction of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would water-down the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). In recent months provisions of the Act have come under attack by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for various reasons including a claim that the law gives too much power to federal prosecutors. The petition, which is expected to be released in the next few days, is targeted at Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin republican, who has said he will craft a bill that brings the law "up to date." Sensenbrenner chairs a subcommittee of the powerful House Judiciary Committee which convened a hearing in June that largely criticized the FCPA.
The FCPA has been on the books since 1977 and is seen by anti-corruption advocates around the globe as the model for international standards aimed at curtailing the payment of bribes by corporations with the goal of obtaining or retaining business. Earlier this year the U.S. Chamber began in earnest its efforts to change the law. Specifically, the Chamber would like to see a bill that would amend the law by limiting a corporation's liability for prior actions of a company it has acquired, for the acts of its subsidiaries and by creating a "willfulness" provision that would require prosecutors to demonstrate that the corporation knew it was violating the law when a specific payment was made.
The FCPA has been in the news in recent days due to News Corp's growing problems related to phone hacking in the UK and, possibly, in the United States. Last Friday the U.S. Justice Department announced an investigation of News Corp for possible violations of the Act. In response, News Corp has hired the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton which provides counsel to the U.S. Chamber in its efforts to push for a weakening of the FCPA.
5) Israel's 'Threat' to Bomb Nuclear Facilities is Central to its Iran Strategy
Tony Karon, Time Magazine, Friday, July 22, 2011 at 5:00 am
The reason TIME.com's intelligence columnist Bob Baer this week found himself cast as the unintended source for "authoritative" claims that Israel is about to bomb Iran, is precisely because what he said had been speculative comments inadvertently played into the game of bluff at the heart of the matter. Bob saw an implicit warning in the unprecedented public comments last month by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former Chief of Staff, Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi warning that Israel attacking Iran would be an act of spectacular self-destructive folly -- and lamenting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were both prone to such reckless whims. The likes of Dagan and Ashkenazi don't bluff, Bob reasoned, and Israeli reports even suggested they may have directly blocked military action by their political masters. By speaking out, they seemed to be explicitly warning the Israeli public that Israel's elected decision-makers were strategically incompetent, and needed to be reined in by more sober heads.
If these respected securocrats were willing to tempt the wrath of Israel's government to sound the alarm, they must surely be trying to stop something that was in the works. And Bob's history as a former CIA operative allowed some media outlets to cast what he insists was simply his analysis of what was being said in public as an authoritative claim that Israel was about to attack Iran.
Such an attack remains highly unlikely in the near term, of course, and Dagan even said as much, indicating that there were no imminent plans for a strike. But the centerpiece of Israel's Iran strategy has been to cultivate the belief that if sanctions and other pressures fail to force Tehran to yield, Israel will feel compelled to go to take military action, even without U.S. backing. Israel said nothing at all before its 1981 attack on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, but scarcely a month has passed over the past three or four years without some new report calculated to create the impression that it was planning air strikes in Iran. The main line of criticism of Dagan in the Israeli camp did not challenge the content of what he said -- that bombing Iran would be a catastrophic mistake, plunging Israel into a war it couldn't win but from there would be no exit; instead he was pilloried for giving the game away.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that Israel's ability to deter Iran was weakened by "any ability to disperse the ambiguity surrounding the issue" -- Dagan's arguments had a valid place in a strategic debate, he said, but not in public. Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit also ripped into Dagan for undermining the impression that Israel was gearing up for war with Iran. "This threat is crucial for scaring the Iranians and for goading on the Americans and the Europeans [into putting more pressure on Tehran]," Shavit wrote. "It is also crucial for spurring on the Chinese and the Russians. Israel must not behave like an insane country. Rather, it must create the fear that if it is pushed into a corner it will behave insanely. To ensure that Israel is not forced to bomb Iran, it must maintain the impression that it is about to bomb Iran.
Atlantic Monthly correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, a leading exponent of the "minutes to midnight" idea, tore into Dagan as "a bungling strategist". Goldberg echoed Shavit's logic in charging that "if Israel does attack the Iranian nuclear program, it will in part be because Dagan undermined his country's deterrent credibility."
Translation: Israel is bluffing, hoping that Iran will back off its nuclear program for fear of Israel doing something catastrophically stupid; should the bluff be exposed, however, Israel will have no choice but to actually go ahead and do something catastrophically stupid.
Goldberg, of course, last August had set off a media flurry far more intense than the on that followed Bob Baer's comments with his piece in the Atlantic Monthly predicting that
"...one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran-possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq's airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft. (It's so crowded, in fact, that the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade its airspace. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down.)
In these conversations, which will be fraught, the Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission."
Spring has come and gone, of course, and Goldberg's dramatically detailed scenario did not unfold. Undeterred, Goldberg insists that this was because the Stuxnet computer worm set back Iran's program, but he nonetheless believes his original thesis holds true.
After all, Dagan wouldn't have spoken out if he didn't believe that Netanyahu and Barak were about to plunge Israel into a vortex.
The obvious problem with his bluff-as-deterrence strategy, of course, is that it has had no effect on Iran's behavior. Even before Dagan burst the bubble, the Israelis were the ones most loudly sounding the alarm over Iran's nuclear progress despite Israel (and the U.S.) keeping "all options on the table". Tehran has heeded none of the red lines previously laid down by the Israelis and the Americans (remember, uranium enrichment itself was once such a red line). No amount of ambiguity appears to have persuaded the Iranians that they face Israeli attack -- or else, if they believe such an attack is possible, they must assume they can withstand whatever the Israelis throw at them and exact the heavy price that Dagan himself warned of.
Not so, says Netanyahu. In his speech to Congress earlier this year, the Israeli leader argued that Iran had "briefly suspended its nuclear weapons program only once, in 2003, when it feared the possibility of military action. In that same year, Moammar Gadhafi gave up his nuclear weapons program and for the same reason. The more Iran believes that all options are on the table, the less the chance of confrontation."
Some senior U.S. intelligence officials, quoted in a recent New Yorker piece by Seymour Hersh, suggested, in fact, that Iran had suspended work on a bomb program in 2003 because the threat it was meant to counter -- Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which Iran believed had been developing a bomb program, and which had killed many thousands of Iranians using chemical munitions in the '80s -- had been eliminated by the U.S. invasion. (They also told Hersh that the U.S. intelligence assessment remains that Iran is not currently developing nuclear weapons and has made no decision to do so, even though its nuclear program is designed to put the means to build weapons in Tehran's hands.)
But there may be an alternative explanation for Dagan's remarks on the idiocy of Israel attacking Iran. While the Iranians don't seem to believe the threat or take it overly seriously, a different problem arises if the Israeli public is seduced by Netanyahu's apocalyptic rhetoric, which paints Iran as the same threat to their physical survival as Nazi Germany was to Europe's Jews in 1938. To the extent that they Israeli public buys into that hysteria, they will expect their leaders to attack this implacable annihilationist threat no matter what the odds and consequences. In other words, they will expect their leaders to do something that sober heads in the Israeli strategic establishment believe is stupid, self-destructive and unnecessary given a realistic assessment of Iran's capabilities and the danger they represents.
Even Defense Minister Barak appears to have recognized the danger created by alarmist rhetoric, repeatedly reiterating his belief that even a nuclear-armed Iran would not, repeat not, threaten Israel's existence.
The real target audience for Israel's threatening to do something crazy may not be the leaders of Iran as much as it is the leaders of the Western powers and other international players, as Shavit noted, that the Israelis hope to scare into raising pressure on Iran. Dennis Ross, President Obama's point man on Iran and the wider Middle East had even suggested this strategy in the last book he published before joining the Administration, arguing that a diplomatic solution required that Iran and others believe that an Israeli attack is a real and imminent threat. Ross even advocated sending the Israelis around European capitals threatening to do something crazy, knowing that Europeans' fears of such a catastrophic course of action would stampede them into backing tougher sanctions. Presumably, the technique would be equally effective in Washington.
Suggesting, as Dagan had done, that bombing Iran is not a plausible course of action for a serious Israeli leadership does not help that campaign. But any evidence, no matter how flimsy, that such a strike may be a looming possibility, reinforces it -- even if the Iranians don't seem to take it seriously.
6) Army Spent Over $32 Billion On Canceled Programs Since 1995
Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg, Jul 21, 2011 3:32 PM CT
The U.S. Army since 1995 has spent at least $32 billion on development, testing and evaluation of 22 weapons programs that were later canceled -- almost a third of its budget for creating new weapons, according to an internal evaluation released today.
The Army every year since 1995 spent more than $1 billion on doomed programs. Those "lost investments" by 2004 increased to as much as $3.8 billion annually, or up to 42 percent of the Army's total research, development and test dollars those years, said the report requested by Army Secretary John McHugh.
The Army study underscores a point Gates made in a May speech in Washington when he outlined a "vexing and disturbing reality" -- weapons spending of over $700 billion since Sept. 11, 2001 that "resulted in relatively modest gains in actual military capability."
Todd Harrison, defense budget analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budget Assessments, a private Washington study group, this week likened the situation to "Hollow Growth" where "acquisition costs increased while the inventory of equipment grew smaller and older."
Harrison calculated that since 2001 the Pentagon and military services canceled 12 programs on which $46 billion was spent. His list included seven of the biggest Army terminations.
7) Military Official: Weapons Programs Could 'Fall By The Wayside' In Budget Cuts
John T. Bennett, The Hill, 07/21/11 11:07 AM ET
The Pentagon likely will have to terminate some weapons programs as it enacts the big budget cuts being discussed as part of debt-reduction efforts, a key military official said Thursday.
"There are probably some of these programs … that may end up falling by the wayside," Adm. James Winnefeld, tapped to be the next Joint Chiefs vice chairman, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
President Obama already has ordered $400 billion in national security cuts over 10 years. Sources say debt-ceiling negotiators have seriously discussed security cuts as large as $700 billion.
The Senate's Gang of Six released a debt-paring plan this week that calls for $866 billion in Defense cuts over a decade. The proposal sent shock waves through the Defense community.
8) Why Delisting the MEK Threatens Iran's Democracy Movement
Jamal Abdi, Huffington Post, 7/21/11 05:53 PM ET
[Abdi is Policy Director at the National Iranian American Council.]
The unprecedented campaign in Washington to remove the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations represents a critical threat to Iran's indigenous democratic movement. Unlike Iran's democratic opposition, which advances through nonviolence the principles of democracy and human rights, the MEK is an undemocratic organization that pursues its agenda through violence. Delisting the MEK and freeing the group to inject violence into Iran's democratic opposition movement would help derail yet again Iran's century-long struggle for democracy.
Secretary Clinton will soon make her decision on whether to remove the MEK from the terrorist list; the consequences of her decision could indeed determine whether Iran's democratic aspirations are once again plunged into the abyss of a vicious cycle of violence.
The MEK enjoys almost no popular support among Iranians, yet it seeks to manipulate Iran's struggle for democracy to serve their own quixotic end -- to install MEK leader Maryam Rajavi as Iran's next dictator. MEK hopes to achieve this goal by manipulating the democratic struggle into a contest of violence, the arena where terrorist groups and undemocratic regimes prefer to compete. In this regard, there is little difference between the MEK and the regime. However, the heavily armed regime in Tehran has the upper hand when it comes to violence, including against the MEK's 3,000-man army.
Instead, the only damage the MEK would inflict would be on Iran's peaceful democracy movement. The rejection of violence has been critical to the democracy movement because it shifts the arena of competition with the Iranian government to a theatre where the opposition enjoys a significant comparative advantage. Rejecting violence provides the opposition the moral upper hand against Iran's hardliners. Hence, by confronting the regime where it is weak and where the opposition is strong, the nonviolent opposition also has the tactical upper hand. And, at the strategic level, the opposition has the upper hand because, in rejecting violence, Iranians ensure that their efforts will lead to democracy and respect for human rights, not just the shuffling of dictators.
In the past, violence has poisoned Iran's struggle for democracy. In 1965, the MEK was the first group to take up arms against the Shah, who in turn responded with further violence that unleashed a vicious cycle of brutal reprisals. As the Shah's repression grew increasingly violent, radical voices rose to the forefront of the opposition, and the voices of reason were marginalized. By the time revolution came in 1979, it was violent and undemocratic. One dictator was replaced by another.
In the aftermath of the June 12 elections, we saw yet again how the MEK seeks to manipulate the struggle for democracy to serve its own violent, undemocratic agenda. Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari, just before he was imprisoned by the regime in Iran's notorious Evin prison for 118 days in 2009, reported firsthand how the MEK tried to "hijack" the peaceful Green Movement protests by launching attacks on Basijis. Bahari writes in his recent book that "MEK sympathizers had acted as agents provocateurs among the protestors, inciting violence."
He quotes a peaceful demonstrator on June 13, 2009, who says, "Some small terrorist groups and criminal gangs are taking advantage of the situation." She goes on to say, "Thirty years after the revolution and 20 years after the war, the majority of Iranians despise violence and terror. My worry is that if the government doesn't allow reforms to take place, we will fall into a terrorism abyss like the years after the revolution."
Injecting violence into Iran's opposition would turn the democratic struggle into a violent competition on the regime's terms. That is why the regime would love for the indigenous opposition to become violent and why delisting the MEK would be a gift to hardliners who have sought to smear the democratic opposition as being aligned with the MEK. Green Movement leaders have disavowed the MEK and wisely avoided taking the regime's bait, but now some in the U.S. want to use the MEK to inject violence into Iran's opposition movement.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Sadly, the people of Iran have learned all too well history's lesson that violence has only poisoned their democratic aspirations. Now, the U.S. must heed these lessons and resist political pressure to delist the MEK and perpetuating the vicious cycle of violence that has doomed Iran's century-long struggle for democracy.
9) Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Iraq
Lt. General Robert Gard (ret.), Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, Jul 22, 2011
Maintaining U.S. troops in a hostile environment when an overwhelming majority of the population is adamantly opposed to their presence is not only foolhardy but also counter-productive, especially when there is an agreement with the host nation government to withdraw them by a date certain.
On 17 November 2008, the governments of the United States and Iraq signed two landmark documents: a "Strategic Framework for a Relationship of Friendship and Cooperation …." and an "Agreement … on the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq [Status of Forces]." Both entered into force on 1 January 2009, very close to the conclusion of the presidency of George W. Bush.
The Framework agreement stipulates that the United States shall not "seek or request permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq," and the Status of Forces agreement specifies that "All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011." While the Bush administration clearly preferred an agreement that did not specify a specific date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Iraqi government insisted on it as a key provision of the formal Status of Forces agreement.
An ABC/USA Today poll, released in March 2007, revealed that 98 % of Iraqi Sunnis and 83% of Shiites opposed the presence of U.S. troops. In May 2007, the majority of the Iraqi Parliament signed a petition urging a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces. President Bush commented: "It's their government's choice. If they were to say leave, we would leave."
As of July 2011, about 46,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, encamped in isolated cantonment facilities and subject to attacks that have increased their casualty rate; June 2011 was the deadliest month for Americans in Iraq in three years.
The government of Iraq, with Nouri al Maliki as Prime Minister, is a fragile coalition dependent on the support of the Sadrist movement headed by the young cleric Moqtada al Sadr, who is adamantly opposed to the presence of American military forces. Sadr stated in early 2011 that if U.S. troops remained in Iraq, the Mahdi Army would be "reactivated" to attack American soldiers, bases and vehicles. As Toby Dodge, an expert on Iraq at the London School of Economics recently observed, any residual U.S. combat forces would be as vulnerable as "tethered goats," given the provisions of the two agreements.
It is evident that U.S. troops are not welcome in Iraq. Should the Iraqi government reluctantly agree to allow U.S. forces to remain in country despite the provision of the Status of Forces agreement to the contrary, its delicate political balance is likely to crumble, and a small contingent of American combat troops will be sitting ducks, subject to attack. The time has come for American combat troops to withdraw from Iraq in accordance with Status of Forces agreement.
10) Proposed Law Would Mandate Jail for Critics of Saudi King
Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, July 22, 2011
A proposed Saudi counterterrorism law that would give the Interior Ministry sweeping powers and mandate jail sentences for criticizing the king would effectively squelch political dissent, human rights advocates said on Thursday.
The law would allow prisoners to be held without trial, and trials and appeals to be held secretly, Saudi and international rights advocates said. It would also grant the Interior Ministry broad powers including the ability to tap telephones or search houses without permission from the judiciary.
Saudi activists have long accused the judicial system and the Interior Ministry of a lack of respect for human rights, even when such rights exist legally. The new law, the activists said, would legalize those practices, removing all restraints.
"Every single thing we criticized them about in the past is going to be legitimate," Bassem Alim, the defense lawyer for a group of men imprisoned in 2007 on terrorism charges, said by telephone. The men were formally charged only last August, and their real crime, Mr. Alim said, was taking rudimentary steps toward forming a political party.
"Ninety-nine percent of the law has nothing to do with terrorism, it has to do with political dissent," he said.
Critics said the law's definitions of terrorist crimes are vague enough to encompass all manner of activity. It uses broad terms like "harming the reputation of the state," for example, according to a translation provided by Amnesty International.
It also mandates a 10-year jail sentence for anyone who declares the king or the crown prince an infidel, a favorite tactic extremist Muslim organizations use to undermine the monarchy. The law would apply the same punishment to anyone who questioned the integrity or honesty of the two men.
"They are not making clear why questioning the integrity of the king is a security matter," said Dina el-Mamoun, a Saudi specialist at Amnesty International.
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