Monday, October 31, 2011

This was the week that European democracy died

Democracy went down in a blaze of glory last week. Both the German Bundestag and our own House of Commons put up one hell of a fight against the dying of the light. Maybe history will record that fact in an elegy on the demise of the great 18th-century experiment in government by the people: they were eloquent to the end. Because at the end, eloquence was all they had.

Trying to hold back the resurgence of oligarchy – the final dismantling of democratic responsibility in the governing of Europe – has been looking pretty hopeless for a long time. That eruption of excellent rhetoric and faultless argument which sprang to the defence of the rights of the governed (and in Germany’s case, of constitutional legality) made the loss seem all the more tragic, but no less inevitable.

So this is where we are. The agreed EU “stability union” triumphantly paraded before the media in Brussels will have the power to approve or disapprove budgets of countries in the eurozone – that is, to vet and police them – before they are submitted to the elected parliaments of those countries. In other words, parliaments which are directly mandated by, and answerable to, their own populations will not control the most essential functions of government: decisions on taxation and spending. Even without the ultimate institutions of economic and political union, which still elude the EU, actual power over fiscal policy will be taken from the hands of national leaders. And if, as a voter, you cannot influence your prospective government’s tax and spending policies, what exactly are you voting for?

Britain being outside the eurozone, we will not have to present our fiscal arrangements for authorisation before submitting them to the scrutiny of our legislators (and their constituents). But since our own economic recovery relies so heavily on the stability of the euro, we find ourselves (or at least, George Osborne has found himself) enthusiastically supporting this rape of democratic principle in countries which regard their freedom and self-determination as precious in much the same way, remarkably enough, that free-born Englishmen do.

And among those hapless, soon-to-be-disenfranchised peoples, hatreds have been awakened that the EU was, ironically, designed to bury. The Greeks hugely resent what they consider to be the implicitly racist contempt of the Germans: the political opposition in Athens on both Left and Right rejects the idea of being “bailed out” of a crisis (with all the compliance that entails) that they believe to have been caused by the artificial constraints of euro membership rather than by national character flaws. Even their moderate spokesmen are beginning to characterise Germany’s economic impositions as a revival of its wartime attempt at conquest.

Through Greece’s historical perspective, it is not difficult to read German intentions as world domination by other means. Instead of burying the old enmities and blood feuds, the enforced conditions of the EU have reinvigorated them. When dissatisfied national populations become convinced that their democratic institutions are useless or irrelevant, they will take to the streets. How long before the resentments and the powerlessness ignite and Greece, in its desperation, turns once again to the colonels? Will we see tanks on the streets of Athens at the same time as growing neo-fascist movements in Germany and Italy? And does our own government really believe that we will be safe from the consequences of democratic decline in Europe, just because we are not in the eurozone?

When Angela Merkel warned last week about the possible end of the blessedly long post-war peace in Europe, she meant that the failure of the euro (and thus of the EU project) would precipitate economic chaos and possibly lead to war. But she and her colleagues seem oblivious to the resurgence of hostility that is being brought about by every move closer to “successful” European integration.

Indeed, it is often quite eerie how the statements and mannerisms of EU officials, seemingly so dedicated to being the precise opposite of earlier, infamous generations, end up echoing (or parodying) the more memorable moments of the war-torn 20th century. When the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, proclaimed, “I am pleased to stand before you this morning and confirm that Europe is closer to resolving its financial and economic crisis… We are showing that we can unite in the most difficult of times”, I half expected him to wave a piece of paper in the air and proclaim economic stability in our time.

In reality, everybody’s historical experience stands in the way of the EU economic and political union steamroller. Germany cannot comply with demands that it plunge enthusiastically into a quantitative easing programme – even though that would be one way of supplying the needed bail-out funds for Greece (and Italy, and Spain, and whoever goes belly up next) – because its terrifying collective memory of Weimar inflation puts such an option beyond the pale. And Mrs Merkel, however enthusiastic she may be about curtailing the democratic accountability of her euro-partners, is fully aware of her own electoral vulnerability: there will be no funny money run off the German printing presses even if her economy is probably robust enough now to cope with the consequences.

In an interview last week, George Soros said that this slow-motion train crash of the single currency reminds him of the fall of the Soviet Union. I assume that what he meant was that there was the same sense of inexorability – the inevitable collapse being forestalled by lots of last-ditch reforms and too little, too late measures that only nibbled at the edges of the real problem. The unthinkable remained unthought: this is a system that is inherently flawed, and therefore cannot be made to work in the terms in which it was envisaged.

Far from being an antidote to the ideological delusions of the past century, a trans-national superstate is the same sort of utopian, unnatural, ahistorical folly that earlier generations attempted to foist on the recalcitrant populations of Europe. Its doctrine of “co-operation” is simply coercion by another name. It relies on unswerving belief and enforced conformity, just like all the “year zero” political movements that ended in totalitarianism and terror in the past. The one hope is that the great mass of the people, unlike most of their political leaders, seem to understand all this quite clearly. It remains to be seen whether they will have to go out on the streets to make their case.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Study: Japan nuke radiation higher than estimated

NEW YORK (AP) - The Fukushima nuclear disaster released twice as much of a radioactive substance into the atmosphere as Japanese authorities estimated, reaching 40 percent of the total from Chernobyl, a preliminary report says.

The estimate of much higher levels of radioactive cesium-137 comes from a worldwide network of sensors. Study author Andreas Stohl of the Norwegian Institute for Air Research says the Japanese government estimate came only from data in Japan, and that would have missed emissions blown out to sea.

The study did not consider health implications of the radiation. Cesium-137 is dangerous because it can last for decades in the environment, releasing cancer-causing radiation.

The long-term effects of the nuclear accident are unclear because of the difficulty of measuring radiation amounts people received.

In a telephone interview, Stohl said emission estimates are so imprecise that finding twice the amount of cesium isn't considered a major difference. He said some previous estimates had been higher than his.

The journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics posted the report online for comment, but the study has not yet completed a formal review by experts in the field or been accepted for publication.

Last summer, the Japanese government estimated that the March 11 Fukushima accident released 15,000 terabecquerels of cesium. Terabecquerels are a radiation measurement. The new report from Stohl and co-authors estimates about 36,000 terabecquerels through April 20. That's about 42 percent of the estimated release from Chernobyl, the report says.

An official at the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the Japanese government branch overseeing such findings, said the agency could not offer any comment on the study because it had not reviewed its contents.

It also says about a fifth of the cesium fell on land in Japan, while most of the rest fell into the Pacific Ocean. Only about 2 percent of the fallout came down on land outside Japan, the report concluded.

Experts have no firm projections about how many cancers could result because they're still trying to find out what doses people received. Some radiation from the accident has also been detected in Tokyo and in the United States, but experts say they expect no significant health consequences there.

Still, concern about radiation is strong in Japan. Many parents of small children in Tokyo worry about the discovery of radiation hotspots even though government officials say they don't pose a health risk. And former prime minister Naoto Kan has said the most contaminated areas inside the evacuation zone could be uninhabitable for decades.

Stohl also noted that his study found cesium-137 emissions dropped suddenly at the time workers started spraying water on the spent fuel pool from one of the reactors. That challenges previous thinking that the pool wasn't emitting cesium, he said.


Professor's 'Death to Israel' Rant Sparks Controversy at Kent State University

A Kent State University professor allegedly with former ties to a jihadist website shouted “Death to Israel” at a public lecture delivered on the Ohio campus by a former Israeli diplomat.

The outburst came during a presentation this week by Ismael Khaldi, a former deputy counsel general at the Israeli consulate in San Francisco. During the question and answer period, KSU history professor Julio Pino launched a series of provocative questions at Khaldi.

At some point, the professor shouted “Death to Israel” and then stormed out of the building. The event was first reported by the KSU student news site KentWired.

KSU president Lester Lefton, who is Jewish, denounced Pino’s outburst, calling it “reprehensible and an embarrassment to our university.”

At the same time, he defended Pino’s free speech rights.

“It may have been professor Pino’s right to do so, but it is my obligation, as the president of this university, to say that I find his words deplorable and his behavior deeply troubling,” his statement read.

Pino, who is originally from Cuba and a convert to Islam, did not return calls for comment.

A Kent State spokesman confirmed the professor was once investigated by federal authorities. The university said they were also aware of allegations that Pino wrote stories for a now-defunct jihadist website.

And according to the Akron Beacon Journal , the professor eulogized an 18-year-old Palestinian suicide bomber in the Daily Kent Stater, the student-run newspaper.

And yet, the tenured history professor still remains employed by the university.

University spokesman Tom Neumann told Fox News that Pino remains employed and has not been removed from the classroom. He declined to say whether an investigation had been launched into his latest outburst, citing privacy issues.

The professor’s outburst has generated criticism and debate across the campus.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for a professor, an employee of the university, to engage in such hate speech,” student Evan Gildenblatt told the Cleveland Jewish News.

Ken Jacobson, the deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the university should consider taking disciplinary action.

“This kind of language is inappropriate,” Jacobson told Fox News. “It’s vitriolic, it’s violent – it undermines the sense of safety for Jewish students on campus to have a professor use such outrageous language.”

Jacobson said he was especially concerned about Jewish students who might be students of Pino.

"It’s a real problem,” Jacobson said. “If he’s doing that in his classroom, he shouldn’t be teaching there.”

Newmann said the university has received a number of calls and emails, and the president had been in touch with many of the local Jewish organizations near the university.

“Whether you are a Jewish student or not, we find it very troubling,” he said. “That’s the point we want to get across. Dr. Pino doesn’t speak on behalf of the university, and that’s not the type of behavior we expect.”

But Pino does have some supporters – among faculty members at the public university.

Donald Hassler, a member of Kent State’s Faculty Senate, told Fox News that Pino is a “colleague whom I respect.”

“We believe in freedom of expression and civil discourse,” Hassler said. “And those sometimes come in conflict – as they did in this case.”

Hassler said Pino must have lost control at the lecture.

“It lacked civility,” he said. "It was an example of hate speech. He knows better than to use hate speech. He has definitely strong opinions. He needs to state them in a civil way.”

Ken Bindas, the chair of the KSU history department, told the Cleveland Jewish News that Pino was not attending the program as a professor, but “as a human being.”

“I don’t agree with his comments, but at the same time, I can’t not defend his right to free speech,” he told the newspaper.


Elite commandos storm lawless Somali war zone to snatch tribal leader

British commandos made a dramatic amphibious landing on Somalia’s war-torn shores to seize a tribal leader, the Daily Mail can reveal.

In an extraordinary operation in a lawless area teeming with bandits and pirates, elite Royal Marines launched Viking armoured vehicles from landing craft and pushed several miles inland to pick up the clan chief.

The unprecedented covert landing comes at a sensitive time in the troubled East African country as Al Qaeda-linked groups are training terror recruits and pirates are holding more than 100 hostages after seizing their boats.

The tribal elder, one of the most influential figures in the region, was whisked through bandit country by heavily armed troops from 539 Assault Squadron and taken to a ‘very important meeting’ with MI6 and the Foreign Office aboard a Royal Navy support ship anchored off the coast.

The discussions are understood to have included the location of terror training camps and the seizing of hostages by clansmen operating in the Indian Ocean off Somalia.

The operation raises the prospect of further raids against terror camps and pirate bases.

Special Forces have increasingly focused on Somalia and the Horn of Africa in recent months amid a rise in the number of ships seized by pirates for ransom, the kidnap of Western citizens and the mounting threat of the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group Al-Shabaab.

There are also fears that Somalia has replaced Pakistan and Afghanistan as the main area of training for UK-born terrorists.

The U.S. has carried out a series of unmanned drone attacks on terror training camps, but until now there has been no confirmation of British forces operating in Somalia.

It is known that British Special Forces in the region have been involved in gathering intelligence on pirates and on Al-Shabaab, which is suspected of being behind the kidnap of Briton Judith Tebbutt, 56, from a Kenyan island resort last month.

Mrs Tebbutt’s husband, David, 58, was shot dead during the kidnap, which happened after bandits landed by boat at the resort near Somalia’s border with Kenya.

Mrs Tebbutt’s whereabouts are currently not known.

The Marines’ raid in July was the first time British troops have conducted a military operation in the troubled territory in 40 years. The swoop was part of Exercise Somaliland Cougar, a mission to train coastguards in Somaliland – a former British protectorate that broke away from failed Somalia – in anti-piracy techniques and meet MPs and tribal leaders.

The Marines, serving on the 60-man Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Cardigan Bay, had come under fire as they sailed near the autonomous Somali region of Puntland, which is in dispute with Somaliland.

But despite the danger, a small unit from 539 Assault Squadron was sent in to pick up the tribal elder for the talks.

Under cover of darkness, they set out from RFA Cardigan Bay, a landing ship dock that allows smaller boats to send troops and equipment to shore.

The landing craft carried two armoured Viking troop-carrying vehicles protected by machine guns and smoke grenades.

The Vikings successfully left the landing craft and headed for their rendezvous with the tribal leader. Each carried up to 12 commandos.

Daily Mail

U.S. Planning Troop Buildup in Gulf After Exit From Iraq

MacDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.

The plans, under discussion for months, gained new urgency after President Obama’s announcement this month that the last American soldiers would be brought home from Iraq by the end of December. Ending the eight-year war was a central pledge of his presidential campaign, but American military officers and diplomats, as well as officials of several countries in the region, worry that the withdrawal could leave instability or worse in its wake.

After unsuccessfully pressing both the Obama administration and the Iraqi government to permit as many as 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2011, the Pentagon is now drawing up an alternative.

In addition to negotiations over maintaining a ground combat presence in Kuwait, the United States is considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region.

With an eye on the threat of a belligerent Iran, the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new “security architecture” for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense.

The size of the standby American combat force to be based in Kuwait remains the subject of negotiations, with an answer expected in coming days. Officers at the Central Command headquarters here declined to discuss specifics of the proposals, but it was clear that successful deployment plans from past decades could be incorporated into plans for a post-Iraq footprint in the region.

For example, in the time between the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States Army kept at least a combat battalion — and sometimes a full combat brigade — in Kuwait year-round, along with an enormous arsenal ready to be unpacked should even more troops have been called to the region.

“Back to the future” is how Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, Central Command’s chief of staff, described planning for a new posture in the Gulf. He said the command was focusing on smaller but highly capable deployments and training partnerships with regional militaries. “We are kind of thinking of going back to the way it was before we had a big ‘boots on the ground’ presence,” General Horst said. “I think it is healthy. I think it is efficient. I think it is practical.”

Mr. Obama and his senior national security advisers have sought to reassure allies and answer critics, including many Republicans, that the United States will not abandon its commitments in the Persian Gulf even as it winds down the war in Iraq and looks ahead to doing the same in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

“We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region, which is proof of our ongoing commitment to Iraq and to the future of that region, which holds such promise and should be freed from outside interference to continue on a pathway to democracy,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Tajikistan after the president’s announcement.

During town-hall-style meetings with military personnel in Asia last week, the secretary of defense, Leon E. Panetta, noted that the United States had 40,000 troops in the region, including 23,000 in Kuwait, though the bulk of those serve as logistical support for the forces in Iraq.

As they undertake this effort, the Pentagon and its Central Command, which oversees operations in the region, have begun a significant rearrangement of American forces, acutely aware of the political and budgetary constraints facing the United States, including at least $450 billion of cuts in military spending over the next decade as part of the agreement to reduce the budget deficit.

Officers at Central Command said that the post-Iraq era required them to seek more efficient ways to deploy forces and maximize cooperation with regional partners. One significant outcome of the coming cuts, officials said, could be a steep decrease in the number of intelligence analysts assigned to the region. At the same time, officers hope to expand security relationships in the region. General Horst said that training exercises were “a sign of commitment to presence, a sign of commitment of resources, and a sign of commitment in building partner capability and partner capacity.”

Col. John G. Worman, Central Command’s chief for exercises, noted a Persian Gulf milestone: For the first time, he said, the military of Iraq had been invited to participate in a regional exercise in Jordan next year, called Eager Lion 12, built around the threat of guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

Another part of the administration’s post-Iraq planning involves the Gulf Cooperation Council, dominated by Saudi Arabia. It has increasingly sought to exert its diplomatic and military influence in the region and beyond. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, for example, sent combat aircraft to the Mediterranean as part of the NATO-led intervention in Libya, while Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates each have forces in Afghanistan.

At the same time, however, the council sent a mostly Saudi ground force into Bahrain to support that government’s suppression of demonstrations this year, despite international criticism.

Despite such concerns, the administration has proposed establishing a stronger, multilateral security alliance with the six nations and the United States. Mr. Panetta and Mrs. Clinton outlined the proposal in an unusual joint meeting with the council on the sidelines of the United Nations in New York last month.

The proposal still requires the approval of the council, whose leaders will meet again in December in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and the kind of multilateral collaboration that the administration envisions must overcome rivalries among the six nations.

“It’s not going to be a NATO tomorrow,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic negotiations still under way, “but the idea is to move to a more integrated effort.”

Iran, as it has been for more than three decades, remains the most worrisome threat to many of those nations, as well as to Iraq itself, where it has re-established political, cultural and economic ties, even as it provided covert support for Shiite insurgents who have battled American forces.

“They’re worried that the American withdrawal will leave a vacuum, that their being close by will always make anyone think twice before taking any action,” Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, said in an interview, referring to officials in the Persian Gulf region.

Sheik Khalid was in Washington last week for meetings with the administration and Congress. “There’s no doubt it will create a vacuum,” he said, “and it may invite regional powers to exert more overt action in Iraq.”

He added that the administration’s proposal to expand its security relationship with the Persian Gulf nations would not “replace what’s going on in Iraq” but was required in the wake of the withdrawal to demonstrate a unified defense in a dangerous region. “Now the game is different,” he said. “We’ll have to be partners in operations, in issues and in many ways that we should work together.”

At home, Iraq has long been a matter of intense dispute. Some foreign policy analysts and Democrats — and a few Republicans — say the United States has remained in Iraq for too long. Others, including many Republicans and military analysts, have criticized Mr. Obama’s announcement of a final withdrawal, expressing fear that Iraq remained too weak and unstable.

“The U.S. will have to come to terms with an Iraq that is unable to defend itself for at least a decade,” Adam Mausner and Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote after the withdrawal announcement.

Twelve Republican Senators demanded hearings on the administration’s ending of negotiations with the Iraqis — for now at least — on the continuation of American training and on counterterrorism efforts in Iraq.

“As you know, the complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq is likely to be viewed as a strategic victory by our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime,” the senators wrote Wednesday in a letter to the chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Iraqi PM: 615 detained in anti-Baathist sweep

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's prime minister said Saturday that 615 people have been detained in a security sweep targeting members of the former ruling Baath party.

Arrests on this scale are likely to alarm Sunni Arabs, who consider use of the term "Baathists" by Iraq's Shiite-dominated government to be a coded way to refer to Sunni politicians, army officers, and other prominent members of their community.

Sunnis say that Baghdad sometimes uses crackdowns on Baathists as a tool to exert political pressure. The arrests coincide with a recent autonomy push by a mostly-Sunni province in north-central Iraq, the latest bone of contention between Sunni political blocs and the Baghdad government.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki revealed the size of the sweep in comments released Saturday by the state-run Iraqiya TV channel during which he defended the detentions.

He said officials had reason to believe the people arrested were a threat to security but he gave no further details. He did not say when the sweep took place, but a Ministry of Interior statement Thursday said about 500 people had been arrested in recent days.

"The recent arrests, which were carried out by the security forces and were based on information and evidence, were aimed at those who threaten the state security and the state stability. There were 615 detained people," al-Maliki said.

"The Baath Party is prohibited by the Constitution, because it is a criminal party that led to the fall of the national sovereignty and it targeted the Iraqi people through the mass graves, chemical weapons," he said.

The Baath Party ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein but now is outlawed under Iraqi law, and the prime minister has often accused ex-Baathists of planning terrorist attacks across the country.

Many Sunnis, who were disproportionately represented in the party leadership, feel the attacks against Baathists are a thinly veiled way to go after Sunnis.

A leading Sunni lawmaker, Hamid al-Mutlaq, said the arrests would heighten tensions in Iraq and called the allegations of undermining security "science fiction." He called on the government to move forward instead of arresting people for their past connections to the Baath Party.

"Such acts by the government will anger a lot of people in Anbar, Salahuddin and other Iraqi provinces and this might even threaten the unity of the country and might revive the calls for dividing Iraq," he said, referring to Sunni-majority provinces in western and central Iraq.

"It is the worst time to make these arrests ahead of the U.S. withdrawal," he said.

All American forces are to leave Iraq by the end of this year. Many Sunnis are worried that they will come under increased pressure from the Shiite-led government once the Americans, who they feel have often played a moderating influence, are gone.

De-Baathification, a concept started under the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority which ruled Iraq after the invasion, is an Iraqi government policy of trying to purge important government jobs and positions of former mid- and high-ranking members of the Baath Party. Sunnis have criticized the policy as a way to sideline them from policy decisions and prevent them from ever regaining power.

The prime minister also criticized officials in Salahuddin province, which is a mainly Sunni area north of Baghdad, for a vote they took pushing to establish an autonomous region.

Provincial officials Thursday voted to start the process of creating an autonomous region in Salahuddin, akin to the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.

Provincial officials and residents have complained that their needs aren't being met by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and that they could do a better job providing for their own security.

The Iraqi constitution allows provinces to establish autonomous regions but it requires numerous procedural hoops making it unlikely the Salahuddin vote would be anything more than a ceremonial protest.

Al-Maliki said the Baath Party is trying to use Salahuddin province as a "safe haven."


Score-settling after Libya's war casts shadow

TAWERGHA, Libya (AP) - This town once loyal to Moammar Gadhafi is no more: its 25,000 residents have fled, fearing retribution from vengeful victors from the neighboring city of Misrata who have burned and ransacked homes, crossed out Tawergha's name on road signs and vowed not to let anyone return.

Tawergha, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Misrata, is just one casualty of score-settling following Libya's 8-month civil war that ended with Gadhafi's Oct. 20 capture and death.

The country's interim leaders have appealed for restraint, but seem unable to control revolutionary forces whose recent vigilante acts, including the suspected killing of Gadhafi while in custody, have begun to tarnish their heroic image abroad.

A Western diplomat said Libya's new leaders need to come out more strongly against the culture of revenge, and hold the former fighters accountable for their actions.

Failure to resolve such conflicts and bring regime supporters, including in the badly damaged loyalist towns of Sirte and Bani Walid, into the fold could destabilize Libya and hamper the attempted transition to democracy, the diplomat warned, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive subject matter.

However, people in Misrata, which was heavily damaged during the war, are in no mood for reconciliation. The port city of 300,000 rose up early against Gadhafi and came under a weekslong siege by Gadhafi fighters, many from Tawergha which served as a staging ground for the loyalists. Nearly 1,300 Misrata residents were killed and thousands wounded in the fighting, city officials say.

Misrata officials have accused the Tawerghans, some of them descendants of African slaves, of particular brutality during the war, including alleged acts of rape and looting. During the siege, Gadhafi fighters sniped at residents from roof tops and shelled the city indiscriminately.

Ibrahim Beitelmal, spokesman for Misrata's military council, said he believes Tawergha should be wiped off the map, but that the final decision is up to the national leadership. "If it was my decision, I would want to see Tawergha gone. It should not exist," said Beitelmal, whose 19-year-old son was killed in the fighting on Tripoli Street.

Misrata fighters captured Tawergha in mid-August, just days before the fall of the capital Tripoli dealt a fatal blow to the Gadhafi regime and forced the dictator into hiding in his hometown of Sirte.

Most of Tawergha's residents fled as the Misrata brigades approached, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

For the past two months, Tawergha has been a ghost town, with access roads blocked by earthen mounds and other obstacles. Road signs pointing to Tawergha have been painted over. Misrata brigades have scribbled slogans on the walls of abandoned homes.

"The Tawergha are the rats of Gadhafi," read graffiti on one facade, using Gadhafi's derogatory name for his opponents. The fallen regime had tried to ensure Tawergha's loyalty with promises of jobs and investment, and while some of the homes there were ramshackle, the town also boasted a modern school, medical clinic and rows of new apartment buildings.

A tour of Tawergha on Friday showed widespread vandalism. The school, clinic, small shops and modern apartments had been ransacked, with some rooms burned and contents of closets strewn on the ground. Human Rights Watch researchers have said Tawergha homes have been set on fire since the town's capture, and the group is to release an extensive report Sunday.

Two Misrata fighters driving through Tawergha on Friday said the town's residents are no longer welcome. "They will have to find a different place and build houses there," said 22-year-old Naji Akhlaf, standing outside a small grocery that had been largely emptied out, with cartons of juice strewn across the entrance.

"This is the best solution so we can relax and get on with our lives," he said.

Tawerghans also lived in other parts of Libya, including in Misrata where a rundown apartment complex that once housed hundreds of them is to be razed. City officials say the complex is also home to non-Tawerghans and is being torn down because it's unsanitary and unsafe. Tawerghans have fled those apartments and their neighbors said they won't allow them back.

About 10,000 Tawerghans have reached two camps on the outskirts of the eastern city of Benghazi, until recently the seat of the National Transitional Council, and U.N. officials say that number is growing. Thousands more have sought refuge near Tripoli, Tarhouna and in remote areas of the south.

An NTC-funded aid group, LibAid, is providing food and other supplies to some of the displaced, said Mohammed el-Sweii, an official in the group. El-Sweii said guards have been stationed at the camps to prevent acts of revenge, amid reports that Misrata fighters have gone to great lengths to track down and capture Tawerghans in Gadhafi's employ.

A similar conflict has been brewing between the town of Zintan in Libya's western mountain range and the nomadic Mushashya tribe which settled nearby after being awarded land by Gadhafi several decades ago.

The Mushashya sided with the dictator in the civil war and fled their homes with retreating Gadhafi forces in the summer. Zintan officials said at the time they would not let the Mushashya return to their homes which, as in Tawergha, had been ransacked and in some cases burned. The U.N. said some 8,700 Mushashya have been reported displaced.

Aid officials believe it's unlikely the Tawergha and Mushashya will be able to return home anytime soon because emotions are still running high.

Tens of thousands who fled Bani Walid and Sirte, the two last Gadhafi bastions to fight the revolutionary forces during the war, likely stand a better chance, once their towns have been rendered habitable again. The two towns are home to the Warfala, Libya's largest tribe with some 1 million members, or one-sixth of the population.

Many former rebels are also Warfala and the sheer size of the tribe would likely protect its members against retribution.

Richard Sollom, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, said the interim government must quickly establish the rule of law and allow investigators from the International Criminal Court to examine allegations of war crimes by both sides.

Libya's interim leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, has called for restraint, specifically mentioning the Misrata-Tawergha and Zintan-Mushashya conflicts in a news conference earlier this month. He promised that those guilty of abuses during the war would eventually be punished by the authorities, though it's unclear how quickly a justice system could be set up.

"Taking the lives of people in an illegal manner will set back our revolution," he warned at the time. "The law should be the decisive factor and ... we must believe God will dispense justice in the appropriate manner."


Turkey, Israel moves hike East Med tension

Tension over disputed natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean has sharpened in recent days with Turkey sending a second exploration ship to Cyprus while Israel, feuding with Turkey, has air force exercises.

The Israeli government has demanded oil and gas companies accelerate offshore drilling programs to hasten production at two major gas fields, Leviathan and Tamar, which are said to contain 25 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The exploration zones off southern Cyprus adjoin the Israeli fields and there's speculation these could be larger than Leviathan and Tamar.

Together these potentially vast fields could transform the eastern Mediterranean, long deprived of energy resources, into a strategically important region -- but one riven by geopolitical rivalries and seemingly perpetual conflict.

"What we're seeing now is a redrawing of the strategic terrain in the eastern Mediterranean," said James Ker-Lindsay, a specialist in Turkey and Cyprus at the London School of Economics.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported in 2010 that the Levant Basin, which covers waters off Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Cyprus, contains 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, plus up to 4 billion barrels of oil.

Any confrontation triggered by the drive to exploit these reserves "would pretty much close Turkish hopes of became a European Union member," Ker-Lindsay noted.

The discovery of gas off Israel, and expectations that similar reserves lie in Lebanese and Cypriot maritime exclusion zones, has complicated an already complex security crisis in the region and threatens to widen it.

The multi-sided gas dispute, with Lebanon claiming Israel's Leviathan field extends into its waters, intersects with the 63-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict and the age-old rivalry between Greece and Turkey.

Turkey, a firm military ally of Israel until 2010, is locked in a bitter dispute with the Jewish state.

Turkey under the Islamic Justice and Development Party headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is bent on re-establishing the country as the region's paramount power as it was during the Ottoman era.

Ankara is now aligned with the Arab and Muslim world, pushing Israel into boosting its links with Greece -- and joining with the Greek Cypriots to jointly develop their adjacent gas fields.

The plan is to export the gas through undersea pipelines running from Israel, through Cyprus to Greece and into the energy-hungry EU. Turkey would be left out in the cold.

Houston's Noble Energy Co., which hit pay dirt off Israel, is also exploring in Cypriot waters and is confident Leviathan extends into Cyprus's zone.

Tensions have been running high for some time and seem to be increasing by the week.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the new exploration ship being sent in by Ankara will prospect for gas and oil off the south coast of Cyprus. It will join another Turkish vessel, the Piri Reis, which has been conducting exploratory work in the same waters since mid-September.

Yildiz said a third exploration ship was in the region but gave no details.

"The gas exploration will continue in the north and south and even off the western parts of the island," he declared.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkey invaded the island off its southern coast in 1974 after a short-lived Athens-engineered coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish forces seized the northern one-third of the island and proclaimed it the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

It's recognized only by Ankara; the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia is recognized internationally.

In September, the Greek Cypriots initiated drilling operations in the southernmost of the 12 exploration blocks in their waters.

Turkey, which has threatened to send in its navy, says Nicosia has no right to drill while United Nations-backed negotiations to reunify the island drag on. These have failed to find a settlement for the last two decades.

Ankara swiftly challenged the Greek Cypriots by sending in the Piri Reis, escorted by a Turkish navy corvette and F-16 fighter jets deployed in the TRNC, where some 40,000 Turkish troops are stationed.

Now there's talk of Israel joining the Greek Cypriots in a military alliance. An Israeli official insisted the recent air exercises in Cypriot airspace were routine, with "no political agenda."

But in the current tense climate, it's doubtful Ankara will see it that way.

Space War

Assad: challenge Syria at your peril

Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, has warned that Western action against his country would cause an "earthquake" that would "burn the whole region".
In his first interview with a Western journalist since Syria's seven-month uprising began, President Assad told The Sunday Telegraph that intervention against his regime could cause "another Afghanistan".
Western countries "are going to ratchet up the pressure, definitely," he said. "But Syria is different in every respect from Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen. The history is different. The politics is different.

"Syria is the hub now in this region. It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake … Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?

"Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region."

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets in two Syrian cities on Friday to demand the imposition of a Libyan-style no-fly zone over the country. According to the United Nations, at least 3,000 civilians, including 187 children, have been killed during protests against the regime. Thousands more have been imprisoned. The government says 1,200 members of the security forces have also died.

President Assad admitted that "many mistakes" had been made by his forces in the early part of the uprising, but insisted that only "terrorists" were now being targeted.

"We have very few police, only the army, who are trained to take on al-Qaeda," he said. "If you sent in your army to the streets, the same thing would happen. Now, we are only fighting terrorists. That's why the fighting is becoming much less."

On Friday alone, however, opposition groups claimed that 40 people were killed by the regime, and government troops shelled a district of Homs, a centre of opposition.

Seventeen soldiers also died in overnight clashes with suspected army deserters in the city, which foreign journalists are forbidden to enter.

Syria was condemned yesterday by Arab League foreign ministers for its "continued killings of civilians".

The number of protesters appeared to fall earlier this month, but has increased again after the death of Col Gaddafi gave opposition groups new heart. A general strike affected much of the southern part of the country.

President Assad insisted that he had responded differently to the Arab Spring than other, deposed Arab leaders. "We didn't go down the road of stubborn government," he said. "Six days after [the protests began] I commenced reform. People were sceptical that the reforms were an opiate for the people, but when we started announcing the reforms, the problems started decreasing e_SLps This is when the tide started to turn. This is when people started supporting the government."

Some Damascus-based opposition leaders say the reforms, which include laws ostensibly allowing demonstrations and political parties, are a start, but not enough. However, the leaders of the main protests say they are meaningless and President Assad must go.

"The problem with the government is that their dialogue is shallow and just a tool to gain time," said Kadri Jamil, of Kassioun, a Damascus-based opposition group. "They have to act to begin real dialogue because the security solution has failed. We have one to two months before we pass the point of no return."

One Homs-based opposition activist said: "Killing people is not an act of reform. We aren't calling for economic or even political reform under Assad, but for the departure of this bloodstained president and free elections."

President Assad said: "The pace of reform is not too slow. The vision needs to be mature. It would take only 15 seconds to sign a law, but if it doesn't fit your society, you'll have division … It's a very complicated society."

He described the uprising as a "struggle between Islamism and pan-Arabism [secularism], adding: "We've been fighting the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1950s and we are still fighting with them."

In interviews in Damascus, some without government minders, secular Syrians and members of the country's substantial Christian and Alawite minorities said they supported the Assad regime for fear of their positions under a new government. Those attending a large demonstration in support of the regime last Wednesday did not appear to be coerced, according to independent observers.

However, interviews, even some with minders present, revealed widespread and vocal discontent over corruption and living standards.


This guy is all full of himself.

Attack on NATO convoy kills 17 in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A Taliban suicide bomber rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into an armored NATO bus Saturday on a busy thoroughfare in Kabul, killing 17 people, including a dozen Americans, in the deadliest strike against the U.S.-led coalition in the Afghan capital since the war began.

The blast occurred on the same day that a man wearing an Afghan army uniform killed three coalition troops, who were reportedly Australian, in the south - attacks that show the resiliency of the insurgency and are likely to raise new doubts about the unpopular 10-year-old war and the Western strategy of trying to talk peace with the Taliban.

A spokesman for the fundamentalist Islamic movement, which was ousted in the 2001 invasion for its affiliation with al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the bomber had used 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) of explosives.

The Taliban and related groups have staged more than a dozen major attacks in Kabul this year, including seven since June, in an apparent campaign to weaken confidence in the Afghan government as it prepares to take over its own security ahead of a 2014 deadline for the U.S. and other NATO countries to withdraw their troops or move them into support roles.

Underscoring the difficulties ahead, the brazen assault occurred just hours after top Afghan and Western officials met in the heart of Kabul to discuss the second phase of shifting security responsibilities to Afghan forces in all or part of 17 of the country's 34 provinces. Afghans already have the lead in the Afghan capital.

Heavy black smoke poured from the burning wreckage of an armored personnel carrier, known as a Rhino, in Kabul after the bomber struck. The bus had been sandwiched in the middle of a convoy of mine-resistant military vehicles when it was hit along a four-lane highway often used by foreign military trainers in the southwestern part of Kabul.

The landmark Darulaman Palace, the bombed-out seat of former Afghan kings, was the backdrop to the chaotic scene: Shrapnel, twisted pieces of metal and charred human remains littered the street.

U.S. soldiers wept as they pulled bodies from the debris, said Noor Ahmad, a witness at the scene. One coalition soldier was choking inside the burned bus, he said.

"The bottom half of his body was burned," Ahmad said.

NATO said five of its service members and eight civilian contractors working for the coalition died in the attack.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to release the information before a formal announcement, said all 13 were Americans. However, Lt. Col. Christian Lemay, a Canadian defense spokesman, told The Associated Press that one Canadian soldier was among the troops killed. The discrepancy could not immediately be reconciled.

It was the deadliest single attack against the U.S.-led coalition across the country since the Taliban shot down a NATO helicopter on Aug. 6 in an eastern Afghan province, killing 30 U.S. troops, most elite Navy SEALs, and eight Afghans.

The Afghan Ministry of Interior said four Afghans, including two children, also died in Saturday's attack. Eight other Afghans, including two children, were wounded, said Kabir Amiri, head of Kabul hospitals.

In all, there were three attacks Saturday against NATO and Afghan forces across the country.

A teenage girl also blew herself up as she tried to attack an Afghan intelligence office in the capital of Kunar province, a hotbed of militancy in northeast Afghanistan along the Pakistan border, the coalition said. Abdul Sabor Allayar, deputy provincial police chief, said the guards outside the government's intelligence office in Asad Abad became suspicious and started shooting, at which point the bomber detonated her explosives, killing herself and wounding several intelligence employees.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said officials were investigating whether the man who opened fire on a joint NATO-Afghan base in the restive southern Uruzgan province was an actual soldier or a militant in disguise. NATO did not give the nationality of the three service members killed, but the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported that they were Australian.

"It's a huge loss," said U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. "Our deepest sympathies go out to their comrades and families, but it will not deter us from our mission. It's a shock, but we will not let these guys win."

Just a day earlier, the Pentagon issued a progress report saying that the number of enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan was trending downward. Since May of this year, the monthly number of these attacks has been lower than the same month in 2010, something not seen since 2007, it said.

However, the Pentagon also noted that the insurgency's safe havens in Pakistan and the limited capacity of the Afghan government could jeopardize efforts to turn security gains on the battlefield, primarily in the south, into long-term stability in Afghanistan.

Saturday's attack broke a relative lull in the Afghan capital, which has experienced a number of attacks in recent years that are often blamed on the Haqqani network, an al-Qaida and Taliban-linked movement that operates out of Pakistan.

The most recent attack in Kabul was the Sept. 20 assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani by an insurgent who detonated a bomb hidden in his turban. The attacker was posing as a peace emissary coming to meet Rabbani, who was leading a government effort to broker peace with the Taliban.

That occurred about a week after teams of insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons struck at the U.S. Embassy, NATO headquarters and other buildings in the heart of Afghanistan's capital, leaving seven Afghans dead.

On Saturday, NATO and Afghan forces sealed off the blast area as fire trucks and ambulances, sirens blaring, rushed in. Coalition troops carried a badly burned body on a stretcher and several black body bags to two NATO helicopters that landed nearby to airlift casualties from the scene.

The Taliban identified the bomber as Abdul Rahman and said he was driving a Toyota Land Cruiser SUV containing 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) of explosives and targeting foreigners providing training for Afghan police. The Taliban, who frequently exaggerate casualty claims, said that 25 people were killed by the blast.

A similar attack occurred on the same road in May 2010 when a suicide bomber struck a NATO convoy, killing 18 people. Among the dead were five U.S. soldiers and a Canadian colonel.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

That $6.6 Billion In Cash ‘Lost’ In Iraq? Turns Out It Was In The Bank

Back in 2004, in an effort to rebuild Iraq, the United States flew at least 20 planes full of money — tightly-wrapped stacks of $100 bills — into the country. In total, $12 billion was airlifted to Iraq, all in cash. This June, when the books were closing on Development Fund for Iraq, which was under the rule of the Coalitional Provisional Authority (which dissolved in 2004), it was reported that $6.6 billion of the cash was missing. The cash wasn’t America’s; it was money from seized Iraqi assets, oil sales, and surpluses. We were just, essentially, returning it to them. Still, it’s a hefty sum to misplace (or, as some believed, to have stolen). Paul Richter, of the Los Angeles Times, wrote:

The White House decided to use the money in the so-called Development Fund for Iraq, which was created by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to hold money amassed during the years when Hussein’s regime was under crippling economic and trade sanctions.

Richter added that House Government Reform Committee investigators charged in 2005 that U.S. officials, “used virtually no financial controls to account for these enormous cash withdrawals once they arrived in Iraq, and there is evidence of substantial waste, fraud and abuse in the actual spending and disbursement of the Iraqi funds.” Since the U.S. was responsible for the safe-keeping of the cash, Iraq was threatening to sue for the $6.6 billion that we had let slip through our fingers.

This week, however, a report based on a Pentagon audit revealed that the money was never stolen — it was transferred to the Central Bank of Iraq. “That money is not missing,” Inspector General Stuart Bowen told Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio and David Lerman. CNN’s Charley Keyes points out that the Inspector General’s report concludes, “sufficient evidence exists showing that almost all of the remaining $6.6 billion was transferred to actual and legal CBI (Central Bank of Iraq) control.”

So all’s well that ends well, right? Maybe not. The report says that sufficient evidence exists that the deposit was made. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the location of the $6.6 billion is actually known, or that it can be accounted for. The money might still be missing — we just know, and have evidence of, where we put it last. It’s now in the hands of Iraq to figure out what happened to it.

And this just paves the way for a new mess. Now that the location of the $6.6 billion has been figured out, to a degree, Bowen expressed concern that many more millions are still unaccounted for, including $217 million in cash that was stored in the basement of the Republican Palace. “I know just from talking to Iraqis and just my travels to Iraq—I’ve been there 30 times. What I’ve learned,” Bowen told CNBC’s Eamon Javers, “is that hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars of development fund for Iraq money was stolen by senior Iraqi officials for their own personal gain.”


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New Street Lights To Have “Homeland Security” Applications

UPDATE: Presumably in response to this article being linked on the Drudge Report, the company behind ‘Intellistreets’, Illuminating Concepts, has now pulled the video from You Tube entirely, presumably nervous about the negative publicity that could be generated from concerns about street lights being used for “Homeland Security” purposes – their words, not ours. We have added an alternative version of the clip below, but it may be subject to removal at any time. The video is still available on the company’s website.

RELATED: Promo Video For DHS-Backed ‘Spy Street Lights’ Pulled From You Tube

New street lights that include “Homeland Security” applications including speaker systems, motion sensors and video surveillance are now being rolled out with the aid of government funding.

The Intellistreets system comprises of a wireless digital infrastructure that allows street lights to be controlled remotely by means of a ubiquitous wi-fi link and a miniature computer housed inside each street light, allowing for “security, energy management, data harvesting and digital media,” according to the Illuminating Concepts website.

According to the company’s You Tube video of the concept, the primary capabilities of the devices include “energy conservation, homeland security, public safety, traffic control, advertising, video surveillance.”

In terms of Homeland Security applications, each of the light poles contains a speaker system that can be used to broadcast emergency alerts, as well as a display that transmits “security levels” (presumably a similar system to the DHS’ much maligned color-coded terror alert designation), in addition to showing instructions by way of its LED video screen.

The lights also include proximity sensors that can record both pedestrian and road traffic. The video display and speaker system will also be used to transmit Minority Report-style advertising, as well as Amber Alerts and other “civic announcements”.

With the aid of grant money from the federal government, the company is about to launch the first concept installation of the system in the city of Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Using street lights as surveillance tools has already been advanced by several European countries. In 2007, leaked documents out of the UK Home Office revealed that British authorities were working on proposals to fit lamp posts with CCTV cameras that would X-ray scan passers-by and “undress them” in order to “trap terror suspects”.

Dutch police also announced last year that they are developing a mobile scanner that will “see through people’s clothing and look for concealed weapons”.

So-called ‘talking surveillance cameras’ that use a speaker system similar to the Intellistreets model are already being used in UK cities like Middlesborough to bark orders and reprimand people for dropping litter and other minor offenses. According to reports, one of the most common phrases used to shame people into obeying instructions is to broadcast the message, “We are watching you.”

The transformation of street lights into surveillance tools for Homeland Security purposes will only serve to heighten concerns that the United States is fast on the way to becoming a high-tech police state, with TSA agents being empowered to oversee that control grid, most recently with the announcement that TSA screeners would be manning highway checkpoints, a further indication that security measures we currently see in airports are rapidly spilling out onto the streets.

The ability of the government to use street lights to transmit “emergency alerts” also dovetails with the ongoing efforts to hijack radio and television broadcasts for the same purpose, via FEMA’s Emergency Alert System.

The federal government is keen to implement a centralized system of control over all communications, with the recent announcement that all new cell phones will be required to comply with the PLAN program (Personal Localized Alerting Network), which will broadcast emergency alert messages directly to Americans’ cell phones using a special chip embedded in the receiver. The system will be operational by the end of the year in New York and Washington, with the rest of the country set to follow in 2012.

The notion of using the street lights as communication tools to broadcast “alerts” directly from the federal government is also consistent with Homeland Security’s program to install Orwellian ‘telescreens’ that play messages by Janet Napolitano and other DHS officials in Wal-Mart stores across the country.

The fact that the federal government is funding the implementation of ‘Intellistreets’ comes as no surprise given that the nation’s expanding networks of surveillance cameras are also being paid for with Department of Homeland Security grants.


If there was ever a better reason to cut government spending I don't what it could be.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Conflicted Iraqis face future without US troops

BAGHDAD (AP) -- For the first time in decades, Iraqis face a future on their own, with neither Saddam Hussein's iron fist nor the United States' military might to hold them together. This has been both their dream and nightmare: They wanted American troops (the occupiers) to go, but they wanted American troops (the protectors) to stay.

Now many fear an increase in violence, growing Iranian influence and political turmoil after President Barack Obama's definitive announcement that all U.S. forces will leave by the end of the year.

In conversations with The Associated Press, Iraqis across the political, religious and geographic spectrum on Saturday questioned what more than eight years of war and tens of thousands of Iraqi and U.S. lives lost had wrought on their country. They wondered how their still struggling democracy could face the challenges ahead.

"Neither the Iraqis nor the Americans have won here," said Adnan Omar, a Sunni from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

Rifaat Khazim, a Shiite from the southern city of Basra, said, "I do not think that this withdrawal will bring anything better to Iraq or that Iraqi leaders will be able to achieve stability and security in this country. Most of the Iraqis yearn now for Saddam's time. Now, Iraq is defenseless in the face of the threats by the neighboring countries."

Across the country there was a strong sense of disbelief. The Americans, having spent hundreds of billions of dollars, lost nearly 4,500 troops' lives and built up sprawling bases as big as many Iraqi cities, would never really leave, many Iraqis thought. Some celebrated the exit of foreign occupiers and the emergence of real sovereignty. But there was also an apprehension, almost a sense of resignation, that things will get worse.

Though greatly reduced from the depths of near civil war from 2006 to 2008, shooting and bombings rattle Iraqis daily. Significantly all the elements from those darkest days remain: al-Qaida militants, Shiite militias, Sunni insurgents. Resentment still simmers among the Sunni Muslim minority over domination by the Shiite majority, Kurds in the north still hold aspirations of breaking away. Despite years of promises of better government services, most of the country gets by on a few hours of electricity a day.

In the eyes of Iraqis, the Americans were both the cause of those woes and the bulwark against them exploding. Many blame the 2003 U.S.-led invasion for unleashing all the demons kept bottled up by Saddam's dictatorship, and allowing new ones - like al-Qaida - to slip in.

Yet at the same time, U.S. troop reinforcements helped rein them in by 2008. Many feel the powerful American presence prevents Iraqi politicians from dragging the country into the worst of sectarian reprisals and hatreds. Few believe Iraqi forces are up to keeping security or can avoid falling into the same sectarian splits.

"After the American withdrawal, the security in Iraq will definitely deteriorate. More attacks by al-Qaida are likely to happen," said Dhia Abdullah, a Shiite from eastern Baghdad. "The security elements are not loyal to Iraq but to parties and militias therefore the security situation will be very bad after the withdrawal."

Nearly 40,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, all of whom will withdraw by Dec. 31, a deadline set in a 2008 security agreement between Baghdad and the administration of then-President George W. Bush.

The Obama administration, concerned over continued violence and growing Iranian influence, for much of this year pushed to keep thousands of U.S. troops here in a significant-sized training mission. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials expressed support of the idea, and they negotiated for months.

It was politically delicate for both Obama and al-Maliki, who each faced widespread opposition from their respective publics to continue a war that was never popular in either nation.

But talks ran aground over Iraqi opposition to giving American troops legal immunity that would shield them from Iraqi prosecution. Legal protection for U.S. troops has always angered everyday Iraqis who saw it as simply a way for the Americans to run roughshod over the country. Many Iraqi lawmakers were hesitant to grant immunity for fear of a backlash from constituents.

"When the Americans asked for immunity, the Iraqi side answered that it was not possible," al-Maliki told a news conference Saturday. "The discussions over the number of trainers and the place of training stopped. Now that the issue of immunity was decided and that no immunity to be given, the withdrawal has started."

When Obama announced Friday that all American forces would leave Iraq by the end of the year, he did not mention the immunity issue, portraying the decision as the fulfillment of one of his main campaign promises to end the conflict.

The impression of the U.S. as all-powerful has always permeated Iraqi society, leaving many Iraqis assuming that the decision was purely an American one instead of an Iraqi choice.

Many, both Sunnis and Shiites, were sure the departure of American forces inevitably will lead to a rise in Iranian influence.

"The withdrawal announcement is a message to the Iranians to come and take over Iraq. The Iraqis are the real losers here because they have replaced the U.S. occupation with Iranian occupation," said Adel al-Dulaimi, a Sunni from northern Baghdad.

In an interview released Saturday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Tehran has "a very good relationship" with Iraq's government that will continue to grow.

"We have deepened our ties day by day," Ahmadinejad said in an interview Saturday with CNN.

To be sure, many Iraqis were happy. Iraqis resented years of having to pull to the side of the road when American troops drove by or putting up with raids of their homes in the middle of the night.

"The Iraqi people are the winner because a few months from now, we will walk in the streets without seeing U.S. troops and this is a source of joy to us because Iraq has restored its full sovereignty," said Saif Qassim, a Sunni from the northern city of Mosul.

Others suspicious of the U.S. questioned whether the American military would ever give up its toehold here.

"I believe that the full withdrawal will be only in the media but there must be secret deals with the Americans to keep some American forces or members of the American intelligence," said Raja Haidr, a Shiite from eastern Baghdad. "They won't leave."

Al-Maliki told reporters he still wants American help in training Iraqi forces to use billions of dollars worth of military equipment that Baghdad is buying from the United States. About 160 U.S. troops will remain at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to help oversee training plans - a duty that is common at most American diplomatic posts worldwide.

U.S. officials, from Obama to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stressed that Washington will continue to have a strong diplomatic relationship with Baghdad.

Michael O'Hanlon, an expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington said continued violence in Iraq was a threat whether or not U.S. troops remain.

"But it's true that their frequency may increase absent U.S. help in areas of intelligence and special operations," said O'Hanlon, who had been lobbying for a larger U.S. force to remain behind. "In addition, I do fear the residual risk of civil war goes up with this decision."


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Statoil confirms massive North Sea oil find

Norwegian energy giant Statoil confirmed Friday that a large new oil discovery in the North Sea announced earlier this year is twice as big as previously thought.

The giant Aldous Major South field is estimated to contain between 900 million and 1.5 billion barrels of recoverable oil equivalent (boe), or double the 400 to 800 million boe previously announced, Statoil said.

Along with the neighbouring Avaldsnes field, with which it is linked, it could be the third largest reserve of black gold ever found off Norway, containing between 1.7 and 3.3 billion boe.

"Aldous/Avaldsnes is a giant, and one of the largest finds ever on the Norwegian continental shelf," Tim Dodson, Statoil's executive vice president for exploration, said in a statement.

If the estimates are confirmed, Aldous/Avaldsnes would trail just behind Norway's biggest oil fields Statfjord, with 3.6 billion boe, and Ekofisk, with 3.4 billion boe.

Both of those fields were discovered some 40 years ago in the early days of Norway's oil era.

The discovery of Aldous Major South and Avaldsnes has reignited interest in the North Sea, where oil and gas production has declined sharply in recent years.

After hitting a peak in 2001, Norway's oil production has dwindled and the country is now the world's seventh-biggest oil exporter.

Last year, the Scandinavian country produced an average of 1.8 million barrels per day, just over half of what it did 10 years ago.

Aldous Major South is 40-percent held by Statoil, with Norwegian partners Petoro and Det norske oljesleskapet holding 30 and 20 percent respectively and Sweden's Lundin holding 10 percent.

Avaldsnes meanwhile is covered by a separate licence held 40 percent by Lundin, 40 percent by Statoil and 20 percent by Denmark's Maersk.

The Local

Friday, October 21, 2011

Iraq rejects US request to maintain bases after troop withdrawal

The US suffered a major diplomatic and military rebuff on Friday when Iraq finally rejected its pleas to maintain bases in the country beyond this year.

Barack Obama announced at a White House press conference that all American troops will leave Iraq by the end of December, a decision forced by the final collapse of lengthy talks between the US and the Iraqi government on the issue.

The Iraqi decision is a boost to Iran, which has close ties with many members of the Iraqi government and which had been battling against the establishment of permanent American bases.

Obama attempted to make the most of it by presenting the withdrawal as the fulfilment of one of his election promises.

"Today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over," he told reporters.

But he had already announced this earlier this year, and the real significance today was in the failure of Obama, in spite of the cost to the US in dollars and deaths, to persuade the Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki to allow one or more American bases to be kept in the country.

Obama was formally told of Maliki's final decision on Friday morning in a video conference.

Speaking later to reporters, Obama glossed over the rejection, describing it as Iraq shaping its own future.

He told reporters that the "tide of war is receding", not only in Iraq but in Afghanistan and in Libya.

"The United States is moving forward to a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward and our troops are finally coming home," he said.

Obama rose to political prominence on the back of his opposition to the Iraq war.

"Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home," he said.

"The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops," he said. "That is how America's military efforts in Iraq will end."

But Republicans criticised the failure to secure a deal with the Iraqis, describing it as a setback for the US.

John McCain, one of the leading foreign affairs specialists in the Senate and Obama's Republican opponent in the 2008 White House race, said: "Today marks a harmful and sad setback for the United States in the world. I respectfully disagree with the president: this decision will be viewed as a strategic victory for our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime, which has worked relentlessly to ensure a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq."

Mitt Romney, front-runner in the race to take on Obama in the 2012 White House race, said: "The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of a naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government."

One of the sticking points in the negotiations with Iraq was a US demand that American forces remaining in the country after December would enjoy the same immunity from prosecution as they do now. The Iraqi government, conscious of public anger over many controversial incidents involving US troops and defence contractors over the last decade, refused.

The Pentagon had wanted the bases to help counter growing Iranian influence in the Middle East. Just a few years ago, the US had plans for leaving behind four large bases but, in the face of Iraqi resistance, this plan had to be scaled down this year to a force of 10,000. But even this proved too much for the Iraqis.

Denis McDonough, the White House deputy national security adviser, speaking to reporters after Obama's press conference, denied that the withdrawal was a sign of growing Iranian influence.

"You see an Iran that is weaker and more isolated," he said, noting various incidents such as a sense of international outrage over an alleged plot by Iran to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

Although the US is pulling out all troops, it will keep its embassy in Baghdad and two consulates. There will also be about 4,000-5,000 defence contractors, White House aides said.

Since the invasion in 2003, 1 million members of the US military have been deployed to Iraq, of whom 4,482 have been killed and 32,200 wounded.

Obama said there were 180,000 troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan when he took office in January 2009, and that number has been halved and will continue to fall.

A few US military personnel will be based in Iraq temporarily from time to time, just as they are in other countries with links to the US such as Egypt and Jordan, White House aides said. These would primarily be trainers helping out with new equipment bought from the US, such as F-16 fighters Iraq purchased last month.

Maliki, though he has been criticised in the past for being too close to Iran, had wanted to keep some US troops in Iran to help train Iraqi security forces and to help in the event of a resurgence of sectarian violence. But he had to bow to pressure from pro-Iranian politicians and others in his coaliton government who wanted all US troops out.

Obama was ambivalent on the issue, seeing a total withdrawal as a good sell to a US public tired of war. But the Pentagon had wanted the bases, and the president reluctantly sided with the military staff.

It will be a major logistical exercise, moving not only the remaining 39,000 US troops but mountains of equipment from bases that are the size of small American suburbs, complete with coffee-shops, bowling alleys and cinemas.

The Pentagon is wary of a final attack as the final pullout gets under way


Marco Rubio: My family's flight from Castro

The Washington Post on Friday accused me of seeking political advantage by embellishing the story of how my parents arrived in the United States.

That is an outrageous allegation that is not only incorrect, but an insult to the sacrifices my parents made to provide a better life for their children. They claim I did this because “being connected to the post-revolution exile community gives a politician cachet that could never be achieved by someone identified with the pre-Castro exodus, a group sometimes viewed with suspicion.”

If The Washington Post wants to criticize me for getting a few dates wrong, I accept that. But to call into question the central and defining event of my parents’ young lives – the fact that a brutal communist dictator took control of their homeland and they were never able to return – is something I will not tolerate.

My understanding of my parents’ journey has always been based on what they told me about events that took place more than 50 years ago — more than a decade before I was born. What they described was not a timeline, or specific dates.

They talked about their desire to find a better life, and the pain of being separated from the nation of their birth. What they described was the struggle they faced growing up, and their obsession with giving their children the chance to do the things they never could.

But the Post story misses the point completely. The real essence of my family’s story is not about the date my parents first entered the United States. Or whether they traveled back and forth between the two nations. Or even the date they left Fidel Castro’s Cuba forever and permanently settled here.

The essence of my family story is why they came to America in the first place; and why they had to stay.

I now know that they entered the U.S. legally on an immigration visa in May of 1956. Not, as some have said before, as part of some special privilege reserved only for Cubans. They came because they wanted to achieve things they could not achieve in their native land.

And they stayed because, after January 1959, the Cuba they knew disappeared. They wanted to go back — and in fact they did. Like many Cubans, they initially held out hope that Castro’s revolution would bring about positive change. So after 1959, they traveled back several times — to assess the prospect of returning home.

In February 1961, my mother took my older siblings to Cuba with the intention of moving back. My father was wrapping up family matters in Miami and was set to join them.

But after just a few weeks, it became clear that the change happening in Cuba was not for the better. It was communism. So in late March 1961, just weeks before the Bay of Pigs invasion, my mother and siblings left Cuba and my family settled permanently in the United States.

Soon after, Castro officially declared Cuba a Marxist state. My family has never been able to return.

I am the son of immigrants and exiles, raised by people who know all too well that you can lose your country. By people who know firsthand that America is a very special place.

My father spent the last 50 years of his life separated from the nation of his birth. Separated from his two brothers, who died in Cuba in the 1980s. Unable to show us where he played baseball as a boy. Where he met my mother. Unable to visit his parents’ grave.

My mother has spent the last 50 years separated from her native land as well. Unable to take us to her family’s farm, to her schools or to the notary office where she married my father.

A few years ago, using Google Earth, I attempted to take my parents back to Cuba. We found the rooftop of the house where my father was born. What I wouldn’t give to visit these places where my story really began, before I was born.

One day, when Cuba is free, I will. But I wish I could have done it with my parents.

The Post story misses the entire point about my family and why their story is relevant. People didn’t vote for me because they thought my parents came in 1961, or 1956, or any other year. Among others things, they voted for me because, as the son of immigrants, I know how special America really is. As the son of exiles, I know how much it hurts to lose your country.

Ultimately what The Post writes is not that important to me. I am the son of exiles. I inherited two generations of unfulfilled dreams. This is a story that needs no embellishing.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Report: Fed directors benefited from bailouts

Multiple directors or former directors of the Federal Reserve banks who played a key role in the 2008 bailouts had an apparent conflict of interest, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. These directors had business relationships with companies and banks that received large infusions of government money.

The office of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who caucuses with the Democrats, noted that the report did not name any names, "but unambiguously described several individual cases involving Fed directors that created the appearance of a conflict of interest." The group of 18 people connected to both the Federal Reserve and a bailed out company included: the CEO of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt (who is now President Obama's jobs czar); Stephen Friedman of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.; and Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase.

Friedman chaired the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2008, when the New York Federal Reserve approved Goldman Sachs as a bank holding company, which Sanders' office explains "[gave] it access to cheap Fed loans." Friedman received a waiver from the Federal Reserve to keep his chairmanship, even though he was "a current board member and shareholder of Goldman Sachs Group Inc." When Friedman received this waiver, "the Federal Reserve Board was unaware that the then-FRBNY chairman had purchased additional shares in Goldman Sachs via an automatic stock purchase program," according to the full report (here).

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York also consulted with General Electric about creating an "emergency program to assist with the commercial paper market" while Immelt served as a New York Fed director, the report indicates. Sanders' office adds that "the Fed later provided $16 billion in financing for GE under the emergency lending program" even while Immelt held his position with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and GE.

Dimon served as director for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York when JP Morgan received $29 billion through the Federal Reserve in order to pruchase Bear Stearns. Sanders' analysis of the larger GAO report says that "Dimon also convinced the Fed to take risky mortgage-related assets off of Bear Stearns balance sheet before JP Morgan Chase acquired this troubled investment bank."

You can read the Sanders report on the GAO audit below. Find the full GAO report here.

The Washington Examiner

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Law Bans Cash for Second Hand Transactions

Cold hard cash. It's good everywhere you go, right? You can use it to pay for anything.

But that's not the case here in Louisiana now. It's a law that was passed during this year's busy legislative session.

House bill 195 basically says those who buy and sell second hand goods cannot use cash to make those transactions, and it flew so far under the radar most businesses don't even know about it.

"We're gonna lose a lot of business," says Danny Guidry, who owns the Pioneer Trading Post in Lafayette. He deals in buying and selling unique second hand items.

"We don't want this cash transaction to be taken away from us. It's an everyday transaction," Guidry explains.

Guidry says, "I think everyone in this business once they find out about it. They're will definitely be a lot of uproar."

The law states those who buy or sell second hand goods are prohibited from using cash. State representative Rickey Hardy co-authored the bill.

Hardy says, "they give a check or a cashiers money order, or electronic one of those three mechanisms is used."

Hardy says the bill is targeted at criminals who steal anything from copper to televisions, and sell them for a quick buck. Having a paper trail will make it easier for law enforcement.

"It's a mechanism to be used so the police department has something to go on and have a lead," explains Hardy.

Guidry feels his store shouldn't have to change it's ways of doing business, because he may possibly buy or sell stolen goods. Something he says has happened once in his eight years.

"We are being targeted for something we shouldn't be."

Besides non-profit resellers like Goodwill, and garage sales, the language of the bill encompasses stores like the Pioneer Trading Post and flea markets.

Lawyer Thad Ackel Jr. feels the passage of this bill begins a slippery slope for economic freedom in the state.

"The government is placing a significant restriction on individuals transacting in their own private property," says Ackel.

Pawn shops have been forced to keep records of their clients for years. However under this bill they are still allowed to deal in cash.


Feds Caught and Released 28 Iranians Who Became Fugitives Inside U.S.; ICE Won’t Say What Happened to Them

( - During fiscal years 2009 and 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, caught, detained and released at least 28 Iranian nationals inside the United States who then became fugitives when they failed to show up for immigration proceedings.

Four of the Iranians who became fugitives had been caught early in fiscal 2009 while President George W. Bush was still in office. The other 24 were caught after President Barack Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009.

Two of the four Iranians caught and detained under the Bush administration were not released from detention until Obama came to office. Thus, a total of 26 Iranian nationals caught and detained by ICE in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 were released inside the United States under the Obama administration and then became fugitives. obtained this information--which had been updated as of Jan. 5, 2011--through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed with ICE.

To see an Excel file of the information on the Iranian fugitives that ICE provided to click here.

Over the last three business days, starting on Oct. 14, attempted to find out from ICE how many of the 28 Iranians who were caught and released and became fugitives in fiscal 2009 and 2010--and who were considered fugitives as of Jan. 5 of this year--were still at large as of now.

ICE initially said that, given time constraints, it would be unable to immediately say whether any of the 28 Iranians it had considered fugitives as of Jan. 5 had been apprehended in the intervening time.

When told ICE it would wait to report on the data until ICE could find out how many of the Iranian fugitives had been apprehended since Jan. 5, ICE Spokesperson Gillian Christensen told that ICE prioritizes going after immigrants who might be terrorists and that “is all we are going to be providing on this issue.”

"ICE fugitive operations teams around the country work every day to apprehend individuals who have ignored an immigration judge's order to leave the country. In keeping with ICE's focus on removing those who potentially pose a threat to national security or public safety,” Christensen told in the statement, “ICE prioritizes the apprehension of individuals who may have ties to terrorist activity or who have serious criminal histories."

Iran has been designated by the U.S. State Department as one of four state sponsors of terrorism. The other three are Syria, Sudan, and Cuba.

The data on the Iranians that ICE released to shows certain patterns. Of the 28 who were released and became fugitives, 24 were males. Three were known to be females. Curiously, ICE designated one of the fugitives as having an “unknown” gender. This person of “unknown” gender was booked by ICE on Jan. 6, 2010 and released on Jan. 7, 2010. The person was booked in ICE’s “area of responsibility” based in Dallas, Texas.

ICE booked all but seven of the 28 fugitives in three states that border on Mexico: Texas, Arizona and California.

Of the other seven who were not booked in one of these three states, two were booked in Boston, two in New York City, one in New Orleans, one in Atlanta, and one in Detroit, which borders on Canada.

The number of Iranians who became fugitives after being booked by ICE in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 could be larger than the 28 who were specifically listed as “fugitives” in the “case category” column of the database ICE provided to That is because ICE left the “case category” column blank in the database for 204 of the 537 Iranians listed.

Last week, the Justice Department charged Mansour J. Arbabsiar, a naturalized American who had emigrated from Iran, with plotting to hire Mexican drug traffickers to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. “Arbabsiar, now in custody in New York, stands accused by federal prosecutors of running a global terrorist plot that stretched from Mexico to Tehran, and that was directed by the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards,” the New York Times reported.

The alleged plan was to kill Jubeir with a bomb detonated at a Washington, D.C. restaurant. “For the site of the bombing, the informant suggested a Washington restaurant where Jubeir ‘goes out and eat[s] like two times a week,’ according to the recordings,” the Washington Post reported. “When the informant noted that bystanders could be killed in the attack, including U.S. senators, Arbabsiar dismissed these concerns as ‘no big deal,’ court documents say.”

Arbabsiar had previously been in the used-car business in Texas.

“There are individuals in the Iranian government who are aware of this plot,” President Obama said last week. “And had it not been for the outstanding intelligence work of our intelligence officials, this plot could have gone forward and resulted not only in the death of the Saudi ambassador, but also innocent civilians here in the United States.”– During fiscal years 2009 and 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, caught, detained and released at least 28 Iranian nationals inside the United States who then became fugitives when they failed to show up for immigration proceedings.

Four of the Iranians who became fugitives had been caught early in fiscal 2009 while President George W. Bush was still in office. The other 24 were caught after President Barack Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009.

Two of the four Iranians caught and detained under the Bush administration were not released from detention until Obama came to office. Thus, a total of 26 Iranian nationals caught and detained by ICE in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 were released inside the United States under the Obama administration and then became fugitives.


'Ironman' a game-changer on battlefield

FORWARD OPERATING BASE MEHTAR Lam, Afghanistan, Oct. 14, 2011 -- It all began during an intense 2 1/2-hour firefight with the enemy earlier this year in Afghanistan.

As members of the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa National Guard, sat around later at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam and discussed the engagement, they talked about how three-man teams manning crew-served weapons struggled to stay together over difficult terrain in fluid battles.

Someone mentioned actor Jesse Ventura in the movie "Predator." His character brandished an M-134 Mini-gun fed by an ammo box on his back. After the Soldiers had a good laugh over that thought, Staff Sgt. Vincent Winkowski asked why a gunner couldn't carry a combat load of ammo. He decided to pursue the idea.

"When we first arrived in theater in late October (2010), we were issued the Mk 48 7.62 mm machine guns," Winkowski said. "This was a new piece of equipment for us, and we struggled to come up with a solution for carrying and employing ammunition for it due to our small size and the inability to have a designated ammo bearer, as is common doctrine with the M240B.

"The ammunition sacks that came with it made it too cumbersome and heavy to carry over long, dismounted patrols and especially when climbing mountains. Initially, we came up with using 50-round belts and just reloading constantly, which led to lulls of fire and inefficiency."

So Winkowski grabbed an old ALICE (all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment) frame, welded two ammunition cans together -- one atop the other after cutting the bottom out of the top can -- and strapped the fused cans to the frame. To that he added a MOLLE (modular, lightweight load-carrying equipment) pouch to carry other equipment.

"We wondered why there wasn't some type of dismounted (Common Remote Operating Weapons Station) that fed our machine guns instead of a mini-gun as portrayed in the movie," Winkowski said. "So, I decided to try it using the feed chute assembly off of the vehicle CROWS. We glued a piece of wood from an ammo crate inside the ammo cans to create the decreased space necessary so the rounds would not fall in on each other.

"My Mark 48 gunners, Spc. Derick Morgan and Spc. Aaron McNew, who also had input to the design and evaluation, took it to the range and tested it, and even with its initial shortcomings, it was much better than the current TTP (tactics, techniques and procedures) we employed. On Feb. 26, 2011, our prototype 'Ironman' pack even saw its first combat use by Spc. McNew when our squad was ambushed by up to 50 fighters in a river valley, and it worked great!"

After attaching pictures of the prototype to a request for information, Winkowski gave it to forward-deployed science advisers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

The request landed on the desk of Dave Roy, a current operations analyst in the Quick Reaction Cell of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, military deputy's office.

"We looked at it," Roy recalled. "My first reaction was, 'Wow, that's cool.' I thought it was great."

In his 21 years as a Soldier, he had seen his share of ingenious solutions to problems.

"Our doctrine encourages Soldiers to think for themselves," Roy said. "That's why we're so effective on the battlefield. One of the things that makes us so effective against our opponents throughout history is the fact that we recognize the value of the doctrine, but we are not slaves to it."

Roy knew that there was no time to waste, because Soldiers on the ground needed a solution as quickly as NSRDEC could get it to them. He consulted with Natick experts in prototypes, load carriage, machining and fabrication. Forty-eight days after the request was received, and after inspecting and measuring the Soldier's original, QRC had a prototype of the "High-Capacity Ammunition Carriage System" back in theater.

"I've dubbed it the 'Ironman,' because the unit in the field that developed the initial design is from the Iowa National Guard," said Roy, "and they are considered Task Force Ironman."

The folks at NSRDEC substituted a MOLLE medium frame for the ALICE frame. The ammo compartment now uses polycarbonate plastic instead of the original tin. Until NSRDEC can come up with a simpler, more cost-effective substitute, the ammo will continue to move through a 27-inch-long, $1,710 feed chute designed for the CROWS, which the Guardsmen had employed.

"I knew in order for this to work, it needed to be as modular as possible," Roy said. "It needed to be based off of a current technology. We were able to put everything together very quickly and were able to prove that with a combat load -- that's 43 pounds with 500 rounds, inclusive of the weight of the kit itself -- that still gives the Soldier 17 pounds worth of cargo weight to attach to the frame and still be within the design specifications for the MOLLE medium."

"We pretty much took their design and just reverse-engineered it and improved upon it," said Laura Winters, who headed up the fabrication effort. "Considering where we started from and what we got to, I think it worked very well. It was a very good collaborative effort. Everybody knew there was (an) end goal."

As Roy pointed out, technology isn't always about the whiz-bang stuff.

"Sometimes," he added, "it's merely a simple application of existing technologies in a different format that provides an elegant way to fill a capability gap."

Word has circulated rapidly in theater about the Ironman prototype.

"We've already gotten email traffic from (one of) our science advisers that everybody in theater wants one of these -- and by in theater, he means his specific area of operation, Regional Command East in Afghanistan -- because word has spread," Roy said. "That (Iowa National Guard) unit is not the only unit on that FOB. As they're walking around the FOB with that piece of kit, very senior people are taking a look at it. They recognize it as a game-changer."

"It's gotten quite a bit of high-profile visibility and positive feedback that this is a good idea," he said. "I believe we've been able to meet the objectives laid out by that unit."

Roy is the first to admit that producing prototypes is one thing; getting the Ironman into the formal acquisition process is another. Still, he hopes that can be accomplished by early in fiscal year 2012.

"Like James Bond and Q," said Roy, "Q can come up with a one-off design for an explosive ballpoint pen. If that material solution fills a gap, you don't just want to have one of them, or you don't want to just have the designs on a cocktail napkin. You want to have something to fill that capability gap very quickly."

During this accelerated development process, Roy saw how the Ironman could increase a small unit's effectiveness in combat.

"To allow the gunner himself to be able to have this kind of firepower increases his lethality," Roy said. "By increasing his lethality, you've also increased his survivability by a certain amount. Now that gunner has 500 rounds of ammunition. It's very difficult for me to make him ineffective."

In addition to the prototype in theater, NSRDEC had several more Ironmen on hand.

"We've gotten some initial feedback from the Soldier and from his gunner on how to make some design changes," said Roy, "and we've incorporated the majority of those design changes. Minor stuff, but it's always the minor stuff that makes any kind of system more efficient and more user-friendly."

Roy said that more technological advances are in the pipeline at Natick.

"I'm confident that we have projects in place that will prove that the Ironman is the rule rather than the exception," Roy said. "We can provide you strength through technology, and we can do that in a rapid manner. We are, in fact, a force multiplier.

"There (are) an awful lot of great ideas on the drawing board right now that are of value to Soldiers in the fight today," he said.