Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai attackers trained by special forces: Russian expert

MOSCOW: A top Russian counter-terrorism expert on Sunday underlined that the Mumbai attackers were not "ordinary terrorists" and were probably trained by the special operations forces set up in Pakistan by the US intelligence prior to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"The handwriting and character of the Mumbai events demonstrates that they were not ordinary terrorists," said Vladimir Klyukin, an Afghan war veteran.

"Behind this terrorist attack there are 'Green Flag' special operations forces, which were created by the Americans in Pakistan, just an year before the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and in the initial period were under full US control," stressed Klyukin, a veteran of the special "Vympel" commando group of the former Soviet KGB.

He said for such guerrilla operations at least two-three years of preparatory work with the involvement of experienced instructors is required.

Klyukin did not rule out that the Mumbai attackers could have taken part in similar attacks in other regions.

"People from the streets, without any planning and training are simply not able to hold four big complexes in a city so long," Soviet special services veteran was quoted as saying by largest Russian Interfax news agency.

He also presumed that there were at least 50 attackers given the geography and scale of the strikes.

Klyukin lauded the "right" decision of the Indian authorities not to succumb to terrorist demands.

He, however, regretted that India lacks special anti-terror units similar to the Russian, Israeli, British or German.

Nearly 200 people were killed in the multiple terror attacks in the Indian financial capital, hitting five-star hotels and other targets frequented by Westerners.

Times of India

maybe they were chased out of Iraq?



Today another important milestone in the post Saddam era has been established. I was one of those who felt quite uncomfortable and impatient at the painful protracted negotiations and bargaining for concluding the so called “security agreement” between the U.S.A. and Iraq. Yet as things turned out, perhaps there are positive aspects about the way that it was done. The fact that the overwhelming majority that voted for the agreement included important factions across sectarian and factional lines is a positive development. Another important condition that was established as a condition for ratifying the agreement was that a general referendum is to be held in the middle of next year to give the people a chance to have their say. If the result of this referendum is rejection, then the government is obliged to use the clause that actually exists in the agreement concerning termination. Some may not like this, yet in the event of approval through a general referendum, this would be quite a resounding vindication of the American action in Iraq, and a slap in the face of all the slanderers and detractors."
The Mesopotamian

What Next? Iraq & SIIC

"18 months ago, when news reached the party stalwarts of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim may not be around for much longer there was a silent and bloodless coup d’état that was headed by his son Ammar al-Hakim with the backing of Adel Abdul Mehdi. A deal was struck between the two that while Ammar may be the official head and symbolic leader after the imminent death of his father, any decision made would have to go through Abdul Mehdi.

Since the spring of 2007 Ammar has been effectively running SIIC, and he stepped down from his previous position as Secretary General of Al-Hakim Foundation (Al-Mehrab Martyr Foundation) and appointed Hussain al-Hakim, and then Hassan al-Hakim, both cousins, to run the multi-million dollar welfare institution in his stead."
Eye Raki

New friendly fire coverup: Army shreds files on dead soldiers

Editor's note: On Oct. 14, 2008, Salon published an article about the deaths of Army Pfc. Albert Nelson and Pfc. Roger Suarez. The Army attributed their deaths in Iraq in 2006 to enemy action; Salon's investigation, which included graphic battle video and eyewitness testimony, indicated that their deaths were likely due to friendly fire.

After Salon published Benjamin's Oct. 14 report, the Army ordered soldiers to shred documents about the men. As proof that they were ordered to destroy the paperwork, a soldier saved some examples and provided them to Salon.

Continued from Page 2

By Mark Benjamin

Nov. 20, 2008 | FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Last month, Salon published a story reporting that U.S. Army Pfc. Albert Nelson and Pfc. Roger Suarez were killed by U.S. tank fire in Ramadi, Iraq, in late 2006, in an incident partially captured on video, but that an Army investigation instead blamed their deaths on enemy action. Now Salon has learned that documents relating to the two men were shredded hours after the story was published. Three soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo. -- including two who were present in Ramadi during the friendly fire incident, one of them just feet from where Nelson and Suarez died -- were ordered to shred two boxes full of documents about Nelson and Suarez. One of the soldiers preserved some of the documents as proof that the shredding occurred and provided them to Salon. All three soldiers, with the assistance of a U.S. senator's office, have since been relocated for their safety.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Oct. 14 was a long and eventful day at Fort Carson. The post had been in an uproar. The night before, Salon had published my article airing claims that two of the base's soldiers, Pfc. Albert Nelson and Pfc. Roger Suarez-Gonzalez, had been killed by friendly fire in Iraq on Dec. 4, 2006, but that the Army covered up the cause of death, attributing it to enemy action.

Based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and on video and audio recorded by a helmet-mounted camera that captured much of the action that day, my report stated that Nelson and Suarez seemed to have been killed by an American tank shell. The shell apparently struck their position on the roof of a two-story ferro-concrete building in Ramadi, Anbar province, Iraq, killing Suarez instantly, mortally wounding Nelson, and injuring several other soldiers. I included both an edited and a full-length version of the video in the article. The video shows soldiers just after the blast claiming to have watched the tank fire on them. Then a sergeant attempts to report over a radio that a U.S. tank killed his men. He seems to be promptly overruled by a superior officer who is not at the scene. An official Army investigation then found that the simultaneous impact of two enemy mortars killed the men.

The article about the alleged friendly fire incident was long overdue for some of the men who fought in Ramadi that day for the Army's Fort Carson-based D Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Many continue to insist privately that a U.S. tank killed their friends.

But for their superior officers, the publication of the article was a problem to be solved. On the morning of Oct. 14, battalion leaders held an emergency meeting in response to the Salon article. The sergeant in charge of 2nd Platoon, Nelson and Suarez's platoon, had a pointed confrontation with at least one of his men in a vain search for the source that leaked the Ramadi video to Salon. Soldiers were told to keep quiet from then on.

"Everybody was trying to figure out who released this video and who talked to a reporter," said Pvt. Charles Kremling, a stout, tough-looking infantryman from the 2nd Platoon, as he recalled the accusatory atmosphere on the base that day. "Pretty much we were made to understand that we are not supposed to be talking about this."

Kremling was in Ramadi the day that Nelson and Suarez died. He had been huddled among the 2nd Platoon soldiers on the second floor of the ferro-concrete structure when the explosion shook the roof above him and threw him to the floor. Above him, on the roof, soldiers say a tank shell screeched in from the west, killing Suarez instantly and blasting his head and torso clear off the building to the east. The shell severed Nelson's left leg, and he suffered nearly a half hour waiting for a botched medical evacuation as his buddies struggled to save him. He died at the gates of a military hospital.

By the evening of Oct. 14, after the battalion leaders' meeting and after both cable and network news had aired segments on the Salon exposé, the harried atmosphere died down at Fort Carson. When Kremling and Pvt. Albert "Doc" Mitchum, a compact, battle-hardened medic, reported for extra duty at battalion headquarters sometime after 6 p.m., they were tired and facing hours of mind-numbingly boring tasks. Being a private working the late shift in battalion headquarters usually meant a night of filing paperwork or straightening up offices.

Staff Sgt. Swinton was in charge that night. He told Kremling, Mitchum and a third soldier who had reported for duty that the evening's labor would include the inglorious task of cleaning out a closet. The first priority, Swinton said, was to shred the thousands of pages of documents in two large copy-paper-size boxes. It would be tedious work, but Swinton was adamant. "He says, 'I need that paper shredded. That has to be done tonight,'" remembered Kremling, who volunteered to get started on the job.

At first, the men tried to avoid the monotony of shredding. "We are talking about two Xerox boxes -- filled," Kremling told me later. But eventually Kremling told the other two, "I'll go do it."

Kremling stepped into a quiet office with the boxes of documents and the shredder. Kremling lifted handfuls of paper out of the first box and stuffed the material into the machine. It hummed to life, chopping away.

This went on for about a half hour. "I was shredding for a while. I was halfway through the first box," he recalled. He picked up a stack with an official-looking memorandum on top. "I started feeding it into the shredder and then, Bam! I noticed the names Albert Markee Nelson and Roger Suarez," he remembered. "And I look into my lap and there is paperwork galore with their names on it," he exclaimed. "I was like, 'What the fuck?'"

He froze. He shuffled through the boxes at his feet. Nelson, Suarez and more, page after page. "The first thing I was thinking was Enron," said Kremling. "People go to jail for this kind of shit."

Kremling grabbed an inch-thick stack of documents and went to find his buddy, Mitchum, in another room. "I said, 'Look at this! There are boxes full of documents about Nelson and Suarez!"

Mitchum understood immediately what his friend was thinking. He tried to stay calm. "I wanted to make sure we were not overreacting," Mitchum recalled.

Mitchum walked into the room with the shredder humming away. "I looked through the boxes," he said. He was stunned.

"It was not just those two individuals," Mitchum recalled. On closer inspection of the contents in the boxes, Mitchum noticed a file on a Julio Gonzales. Then he found another Nelson, but not his Nelson. "It was anybody with the name Suarez and anybody who was named Nelson," he stammered.

It was as if somebody had rifled through the unit files and, in a desperate effort to get rid of everything associated with the two dead soldiers, simply marked anything with the name Nelson or Suarez for destruction. Of the two boxes, one contained documents mostly on Suarez, the other, mostly Nelson -- one box for each man.

They brought the third soldier into the room and showed him the files. The three men stood there watching the shredder hum away, unsure of what to do next. They paced. They argued. Nobody knew what to do. Should they stop shredding? Spirit away the documents in the trunk of a car? If this was some kind of coverup, were they unwitting accomplices?

Like Kremling, Mitchum had been in Ramadi on the day in question. He had been holed up with members of the 3rd Platoon in a building a few hundred yards to the southwest of where Nelson and Suarez died, and vividly remembered the hours-long battle against Iraqi insurgents that ended with a barrage of U.S. tank fire. Unlike a number of Salon sources who say they saw the tank fire at the building where Nelson and Suarez died on Dec. 4, 2006, Kremling and Mitchum were not eyewitnesses to the tank shot, though Kremling was on the second floor of the building that got hit. But both men believed their buddies who claimed to have seen it, as opposed to the official Army explanation.

After much discussion, the men called the Army Criminal Investigation Command, the army's premier investigative organization, based at Fort Belvoir, Va. But by this time, it was late at night. No answer. They dialed the Army inspector general. "They keep bankers' hours," Kremling complained.

Finally, they called a trusted fellow soldier. His counsel was that although it was difficult to say, they should proceed as if they had received a lawful order, since as far as they knew, they had. He thought they should probably go ahead and shred the stuff.

But after they resumed shredding and were almost finished with the second box, one of the three soldiers snapped. "This is bullshit!" he announced. "I'm pretty sure this is illegal." He reached into the second box, pulled out seven pages, folded the documents twice and shoved them in his pocket. "I finally said, 'Fuck it,'" he told me about his decision to grab some of the documents. "I'm tired of getting bullied around."

The papers he grabbed at the last moment are routine -- deployment checklists, immunization records and other forms. But the documents definitely refer to the Albert Nelson from Ramadi, and they are unquestionably official Army documents. The documents have two holes punched on the top of each page, like many Army files. The various documents contain Nelson's full name, his home address in west Philadelphia, the names of some of his family and his correct Social Security number. (Some of the paperwork is reproduced here, but with personal information redacted.)

The seven pages that survived the shredding incident are not dramatic and do not pertain to the friendly fire incident. But they provide proof that on Oct. 14, the day Salon published the article about Nelson and Suarez's deaths, the Army was shredding documents about the two men.

I learned about the destruction of the documents through my sources at Fort Carson. I contacted the soldiers involved and interviewed them in Colorado Springs in mid-October. They wanted the story out but feared repercussions from the Army. They also complained of serious but largely untreated medical problems from combat in Iraq.

I called the office of Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., who has a long track record of advocacy on behalf of returning veterans. Bond's staff contacted officials at Fort Carson and raised the issue of the shredding incident and the health problems of some soldiers from the friendly fire unit. The Army agreed to move the soldiers out of their unit and work to address their medical needs. Bond's staff also contacted a representative of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, who agreed to assist them in getting medical care.

The Army has completed an investigation into the shredding incident, called a 15-6 investigation, a relatively informal, internal affair typically conducted by one officer who reports to his commander. In a 15-6, the military unit that may have screwed up is responsible for investigating itself.

Kremling and Mitchum's brigade commander, Col. Randy George, told me in a phone interview that he ordered a captain on his staff to handle this 15-6 investigation. (George was not the commander of the brigade in Ramadi in 2006, and he had not heard of the friendly fire incident until Salon published the initial story.)

George's investigation found that the battalion routinely shreds old, inactive personnel files. The destruction of documents on Oct. 14 was routine. "They shredded some documents," George told me. "Coincidentally it happened on the 14th ... We shred documents all the time."

George acknowledged that files on Nelson and Suarez went into the shredder on Oct. 14 -- but none were related to the alleged friendly fire. "I would guarantee you that there was nothing in there that was destroyed that had anything to do with that incident."

George sent me a copy of his investigation, which includes a sworn statement from an Army staff sergeant (name redacted) who works on personnel issues in the battalion headquarters. The sergeant wrote that the shredding on Oct. 14 resulted from an effort that began in early September to clean out old files. That sergeant also wrote that "at no time did anyone give any order to destroy personal records specific to those two soldiers, nor did anyone I work with indicate that the battalion leadership or any company commander direct [sic] any soldiers ... to destroy the records of those two soldiers."

George's investigation also contains sworn statements from the soldiers interviewed by Salon, reflecting essentially what they told me. They describe boxes filled predominantly with files on the two men, including some documents with both men's names on them. They also reiterated what they said in our interviews -- they simply don't know for sure exactly what all they put into the shredder on Nelson and Suarez.

"The documents that were shredded were not related to the deaths or the investigation into the deaths" of Nelson and Suarez, according to the copy of George's investigation. "The command was aware of the media interest in the case but had no motivation to destroy the documents; and the command did not order nor did it know about the shredding of the documents."

On Oct. 14, George did discuss the Salon article with his superiors in the 4th Infantry Division, he confirmed. And he did order an effort to comb through files that day, but only to identify who from the unit on the day of Nelson and Suarez's deaths might still be around. "I asked who was in the unit because I was not here when that happened," he told me. "But that had nothing to do with shredding any documents."

This self-exoneration echoes the Army's original investigation into Nelson and Suarez's deaths. Col. Sean MacFarland was the commander of the tank unit in Ramadi that was supporting Nelson and Suarez's infantry company that day in 2006. MacFarland also oversaw the subsequent Army investigation into the deaths, another 15-6, which found that two enemy mortars landing simultaneously killed Nelson and Suarez, not MacFarland's tanks.

MacFarland said in a brief telephone interview on Oct. 14 that the full investigation included 170 photographs, dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of ballistic analysis.

"I think it was the gold standard of investigations," MacFarland said, "particularly in an active combat zone."

He argued that his investigation shows that the eyewitnesses are mistaken. "I think there was a strong consensus among the soldiers at the platoon that yes, a tank fired at their building. But the evidence just did not support that," he said. "One could see how young soldiers in the fog of war could get confused," he continued. "So a soldier could very easily be forgiven for thinking that tank was shooting at his building, but they weren't."

I've known for months about the existence of MacFarland's investigation and I requested all of it, including the photographs, statements and exhibits, back on July 30. So far, the Army has produced only a heavily redacted, 10-page summary of the investigation and a two-page memo from MacFarland concurring with the findings. A letter from Fort Carson officials, dated Oct. 10, says they are still looking for the rest of the material requested by Salon in July.

The men in battalion headquarters on Oct. 14 acknowledge that they don't know what they destroyed under orders, or even whether they shredded investigative documents. Said Mitchum, "Who knows what was in there?"

What Mitchum is sure of is how Nelson and Suarez died. "They were killed by a tank," he said. He complained about officers and senior enlisted leaders going along with the official story that the cause of death was enemy fire. "They fall in line," he told me. "And they don't give a shit what it makes us feels like."


The Israeli Mossad False Flag Opperation Strikes In Mumbai

The Anti Defamation Leauge expressed outrage at the Mumbai ‘terrorist’ attacks that “targeted innocent victims because they were Jews.” Abraham Foxman, ADL Director, issued the following statement:

“This brutal attack once again shows that terrorists single out Jews. The attack is a reminder that the world must stand up against all terrorism, because in the end no one is safe until terrorism is combated in all its manifestations.” View Entire Story Here.

Well of course Jews like Foxman use the Mumbai incident as an opportunity to promote the ‘war on terror.’ Once again, Muslims are made the ‘enemies’ of all mankind, rather than the Zionist Jews, who are engaged in ethnic cleansing of Arab Muslims & Christians in Palestine and responsible for world wide chaos since the inception of their rogue state of Israel.

Also - the ‘terrorist’ attacks in Mumbai will be used by Zionist Jews as justification for a US invasion of Pakistan, yet another ‘enemy’ of Israel.

The Mumbai operation was too sophisticated for the alleged Deccan Mujahideen to carry out, which, according to the FBI, “e-mailed news organizations on Thursday claiming it had carried out the attacks.” (Great proof, you sleuths!)

The initial firing began at the Chabad/Nariman House, an easy access for Mossad operatives. Hindus of the Nariman area spoke live on several TV channels saying that for two years suspicious activities were taking place in the Chabad/Nariman House, raising concern regarding Israel’s involvement in the Hindutva Revolution, the current opposition government.


ISRAELI COUNTER-TERRORISM ASSISTANCE has mobilized since 2000 in the Jammu and Kashmir areas of India, where the Indian government has been pursuing a ‘security’ issue with regard to the Kashmiri people. In 2000, The Times Of India reported on the Israeli presence in India:

“Israeli counter-terrorism experts are now touring Jammu and Kashmir and several other states in India at the invitation of Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani to make an assessment of New Delhi’s security needs.

The Israeli team, headed by Eli Katzir of the Israel Counter-Terrorism Combat Unit, includes Israeli military intelligence officials and a senior police official.” View Entire Story Here.

The Israelis were asked to determine the areas in which Israel could offer assistance to help reduce the incidence of terrorist incursions into Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan. It was agreed that Israeli assistance would include “information transfers, instruction in operational methods, and the sale of equipment.”

Home Minister Advani already visited Israel in June 2000 and advocated for “closer India-Israeli cooperation on all security matters.” Much of his time in Israel was spent learning about counter-terrorism techniques from the heads of the Mossad. View Entire Story Here.

The Jewish-controlled media has been spewing the lie that a massive intelligence failure by Indian security agencies occurred — despite reports that Indian authorities had been aware of rumors of an impending attack, including even the mention of the Taj Mahal Hotel. N Kapner.


I knew it all along.

Why did NSG take 9 hrs to get there?

NEW DELHI: The terrorists strike Mumbai at 9.30pm. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh is in Kerala. He is briefed about the attack on the city’s prime locations. By the time Deshmukh grasps the enormity of the situation, 90 minutes have gone by.

He rings Union home minister Shivraj Patil at 11pm and asks for NSG commandos. "How many men?" Patil asks. "200," says the CM. Patil calls NSG chief J K Dutt and tells him to send 200 battle-ready commandos to Mumbai.

Most of the NSG men have to be roused from sleep. They don their uniforms, strap on safety gear, collect ammo and firearms. It is discovered that the only plane that can take 200 men, the IL 76, is not in Delhi but Chandigarh. Precious minutes are ticking by.

The IL 76 pilot is woken, the plane refuelled. It reaches Delhi at 2am. By the time the commandos get in and the plane takes off, four-and-a-half hours have elapsed. Experts say that unless a response is mounted within 30 minutes of an attack, the enemy can assume key defensive positions.

It takes the aircraft almost three hours to land at Mumbai airport. Unlike the Boeing and Airbus, IL 76 is a slow plane. By the time the NSG commandos board the waiting buses it is 5.25am.

The buses take another 40 minutes to reach the designated place in south Mumbai where the commandos are briefed, divided into different groups and sent out on their mission.

By the time they start their operation, it is 7am — in other words, nine-and-a-half hours after the terror strike.

Many lives might have been saved had this delay not happened. The obvious question is why is the NSG stationed only in Delhi. When Indian cities are vulnerable to terror attacks, why is there no commando force like the NSG, or its units, in every city?

Times of India

US, India face Pak blackmail on terror

WASHINGTON: The United States and India face tactics bordering on blackmail from a militarized Pakistan - where civilian control is still very dodgy - as they coordinate efforts to eliminate terrorism in the region, according to analysts and officials on both sides.

In what is turning out to be an elaborate chess game in the region, Islamabad on Saturday made its "Afghan move" to counter the US-India pincer, telling Washington that it will have to withdraw some 100,000 Pakistani troops posted on its western borders to fight the al-Qaida-Taliban and move them east to the Indian front if New Delhi makes any aggressive moves.

In Washington, Pakistan's ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani said there is no movement of Pakistani troops right now, but if India makes any aggressive moves, "Pakistan will have no choice but to take appropriate measures."

Stripped of complexities, Pakistan is conveying the following message to the US: If you don't get India to back down, Pakistan will stop cooperating with US in the war against terror. Consequently, this also means Pakistan will use US dependence on its cooperation to wage a low-grade, asymmetric, terrorism-backed war against India.

Pakistan's withdrawal of troops from the Afghan front would obviously undermine the US/Nato battle in Afghanistan and allow breathing space for Taliban and al-Qaida. It would also ratchet up confrontation with India, which is at low ebb right now because Islamabad has been forced to engage on its western front and this minimizes Pakistan-backed infiltration into Kashmir, allowing India to tackle the insurgency in the state.

In fact, some experts surmise that the terror strike on Mumbai may have been aimed at precisely this - taking the pressure off Pakistan on its Afghan front, where it is getting a battering from US predators and causing a civilian uprising on its border, and allowing Islamabad to return to its traditional hostile posture against India on its eastern front.

The US-India-Pakistan tangle was the subject of intense debate among analysts on Sunday talk shows, with some analysts like former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin expressing apprehension that al-Qaida could be achieving its objective of getting some relief through such proxy attacks.

Vexed US officials have been in constant communication with their Indian counterparts to deal with the complex situation arising from what both sides privately agree has become a chaotic country dominated by rogue elements from its military and intelligence services.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been speaking with India's External Affairs Minister regularly to get a sense of India's mood and moves, worried that any overtly aggressive response by New Delhi will undermine US effort in Afghanistan.

President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama have also spoken to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to show US support, but also to moderate Indian response. Both Washington and New Delhi are starting to realise that the Pakistani military still calls the shots in Islamabad behind the civilian façade, officials here concede privately.

The weakness of Pakistan's civilian leadership was fully exposed on Saturday when the country’s army chief once again overruled a civilian government decision - this time to send the Director General of its spy agency ISI to India to coordinate the investigation into the latest terror attack on Mumbai.

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari explained it away saying there was a miscommunication and Islamabad only meant to send a ''Director'' and not Director-General, at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s request. But no one was fooled by the ''clarification'' -- the reversal of the earlier decision came after a midnight meeting Pakistan’s Army Chief Pervez Kiyani, a former ISI chief himself, had with Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani.

Pakistan’s threat about troop withdrawals from the Afghan front also followed the Zardari-Kiyani-Gilani meeting, leaving little doubt about the real power center in Islamabad despite the recent return to democratic rule.

The situation is made even more complex by the transition process in the US where President Bush is winding down from the White House and President-elect Obama is readying to take charge. Both sides have made the Pakistan problem a top priority as they coordinate response, tactics, and communication relating to developments in the region.

The latest attacks on Mumbai also threatens to torpedo Obama's stated objective of promoting good ties between New Delhi and Islamabad, so that Pakistan can focus its energy on the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan that are controlled by Islamic extremists.

But hardliners in Pakistan's military and strategic circles, who resent what they see as the country's civilian government doing Washington's bidding and fighting what they argue is a US war, are against this. The terror strike on Mumbai evidently has several objectives - one of them being to cause a rift between Washington and New Delhi and damage US-India ties.

While Pakistan's fledgling civilian government has made all the right moves and noises about cooperation with India, officials here reckon it is being continuously undermined by the hard-line military whose importance, and lavish funding, depends on keeping up a hostile posture against India.

Even in the political sphere, Pakistan's continued existence as a single entity is premised on enmity with India, the glue which keeps the country together. Some Pakistanis have suggested in recent months that take away animosity against India, then Pakistan's founding itself becomes questionable.

Already, many Pakistanis are starting to question the relevance of a country where more people are killed in intra-religious warfare between Shias and Sunnis than in Hindu-Muslim communal riots in India. Two of Pakistan's four territories are wracked by insurgencies, and the intelligence community's reading is that resurrecting the hostile posture against India is one way the hard-line elements in Pakistan hope to contain this domestic conflagration.

While Pakistan is playing its one desperate Afghan card, both India and US can separately bring Pakistan to its knees in no time. The US and its allies are dependent on Pakistan for supplies to its troops in Afghanistan, but they can also plug the economic plug on the country and cause it to collapse in no time. India controls Pakistan's lifeline and jugular with river waters that originate in India and flow into Pakistan.

But punishing Pakistan with this levers would also throw the country into absolute chaos and bring extremists elements to the fore leading to a Somalia kind of situation -- with nuclear weapons in the mix. This is the fear that Pakistan is exploiting to stay afloat and stave off sanctions from the west and punishment from India.

The solution, analysts say, is to get Pakistan's civilian leadership to exert control over its hard-line military and intelligence which functions on its own existential agenda.

This is easier said than done. America's foremost strategic guru Henry Kissinger told Fareed Zakaria's GPS program on CNN, which devoted an entire hour to the crisis, that Pakistan's civilian government had made good statements vis-à-vis ties with India,"but its capacity to implement them is questionable."

Times of India

You call that a threat? Let the Paks leave the border to us...I am sure.

And the Indians should mobilize all it's troops, and send a clear message of MAD responses to such attacks.

We were trained by Pak navy: Captured terrorist

Azam Amir, the terrorist who was held by the Mumbai Police, has made some striking revelations regarding the Mumbai terror attacks.

Azam has disclosed that the Pakistan Navy had trained the terrorists in boating and swimming to carry out the attacks in Mumbai. Azam was arrested on Wednesday from Girgaum Chowpatty in an encounter with the police. Ismail Khan, an accomplice of Amir, reportedly died in the gunbattle.

Sources say Azam has also revealed that people from gangster Dawood Ibrahim's gang helped the terrorists from Karachi in organising the attacks.

Reports suggest that the planning for the terror attacks in Mumbai had begun almost a year ago in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. Azam has reportedly told the police that around 20 Pakistan nationals were trained in PoK to carry out the attacks. The training in PoK went on for almost five-and-half months, during which the terrorist were taught the use of sophisticated arms and ammunition.

At the end of the five months training, all terrorists were given a months leave and were ordered to gather in Karachi after the break for training in boating, rowing and swimming by the Pakistan Navy.

They were then handed over some CDs and maps of the Taj and Oberoi hotels. The CDs and maps also had pictures of important rail stations like VT. At the end of this training a batch of 10 terrorists was set off for India via the Indian sea route.

Mumbai Police expects more details will come out during the course of their investigations.

Daily Times

I am going to wait on my assessment till I know more. Sounds like a rehearsed admissions story, to me.

German general breaks silence on Afghanistan

BERLIN: Breaking with a military tradition of keeping silent about policy, a top German general has branded his country's efforts in Afghanistan a failure, singling out its poor record in training the Afghan police and allocating development aid.

The comments came from General Hans-Christoph Ammon, head of the army's elite special commando unit, or KSK, whose officers are in Afghanistan fighting alongside U.S. forces against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Germany was responsible for training the Afghan police, but the German Interior Ministry, led by the conservative Wolfgang Schäuble, has come under repeated criticism from the United States and other NATO allies for providing too few experts and inappropriate training.

The training scheme was "a miserable failure," Ammon told DPA, the German press agency, after describing the German record in Afghanistan to a gathering last week of a reservists' association. The government had provided a mere €12 million for training the Afghan Army and police while the United States has already given more than $1 billion, he said.

"At that rate, it would take 82 years to have a properly trained police force," he said. More damaging for Germany's reputation, Ammon said, was that its police-training mission was considered such a "disaster" that the United States and EU had taken over responsibility.

The Defense Ministry said Ammon was expressing his personal views. Even so, because such views are rare, security experts said they showed the level of frustration building among senior military officers over German reluctance to provide adequate financing for Afghan mission or even explain to the public why Germany has 4,500 soldiers there.

Neither Chancellor Angela Merkel nor her conservative defense minister, Franz-Josef Jung, have been willing to debate the issue publicly.

For the first time since German soldiers were sent to Afghanistan six years ago, Jung referred in November to the "Gefallene," or fallen soldiers, who had died there.

Until now, any German soldiers killed in Afghanistan were referred to as casualties. In addition, the word "Krieg," or war, has been banned from use in any Defense Ministry public statements or speeches, say advisers to the ministry.

"I keep saying that it is time the public was told why we are in Afghanistan, what is happening there and what we are doing there," said Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, general secretary of the Christian Social Union, the allied party of the Christian Democrats led by Merkel.

Merkel, who has visited Afghanistan just once in three years in office, said in an interview with the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that she was prepared to defend the mission in Afghanistan in the national election campaign next year. That could be a high-risk strategy given that the mission is highly unpopular with the public.

The foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who will run against Merkel to become chancellor, supports the mission.

But as foreign minister, he has to strike a balance between defending the war and taking account of the unpopularity of it. The pacifist wing in his party opposes keeping German troops there, particularly given the increasing attacks.

Two Afghan civilians were killed Sunday by a suicide bomber after he had strapped explosives to his body, targeting a vehicle used by German military attachés, the Afghan police said. No Germans were wounded.

Merkel, who will give a major speech Monday at the congress of her Christian Democratic Union party, is coming under pressure from a small group of defense and foreign policy advisers inside and outside her party to address the subject of Afghanistan.

The matter is considered urgent because President-elect Barack Obama has made Afghanistan a foreign policy priority. NATO officials said last week that they were expecting the incoming U.S. administration to ask NATO allies to contribute more troops and experts in order to beat back the Taliban and train up an Afghan Army and police force.

Only then, Obama has said, can the Afghan forces take responsibility for the security of their own country.


Journalists caught in crackdown by Myanmar junta

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - Two journalists have been jailed for seven years each on charges of undermining Myanmar's military junta after they were caught with a U.N. human rights report.

A court in a northeastern suburb of Yangon on Friday sentenced Thet Zin, editor of the local Myanmar-language journal News Watch, and Sein Win Maung, the paper's manager, under the country's draconian Printing and Publishing Law.

The convictions are part of a renewed crackdown by the regime in the past month that has led to more than 100 people including activists, writers, musicians and Buddhist monks receiving jail sentences of as long as 68 years. Many have been transferred to prisons in remote regions.

The journalists' jailing came on the same day a court inside Yangon's Insein prison sentenced the remaining 13 members of the 88 Generation Students, a group at the forefront of a 1988 pro-democracy uprising, to six years for undermining stability, family members said.

The 13 activists are among 46 from the group handed long prison sentences for their roles in leading nonviolent protests, including the pro-democracy demonstrations in September 2007 led by Buddhist monks that were violently suppressed.

Myanmar's military, which has held power since 1962, tolerates no dissent. It frequently arrests artists and entertainers regarded as opposing the regime.

The lengthy prison sentences have been condemned worldwide by Western governments and human rights organizations, who charge that the heavy-handed tactics makes a mockery of the ruling junta's professed plan to restore democracy through elections in 2010.


Hundreds protest Russian journalist's beating

MOSCOW (AP) - A few hundred people have demonstrated in the Russian capital to protest an attack on a crusading journalist.

Rights activists and opposition politicians joined colleagues and friends of Mikhail Beketov at Sunday's protest in Moscow.

Beketov is in a coma. He was found badly beaten near his home in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where he edits a local newspaper. He has criticized local officials and investigated allegations of corrupt and illegal destruction of forests in the area.

A similar protest was held in Khimki on Saturday.

Demonstrators said Beketov's beating shows how far authorities in Russia will go to silence critics. Attacks on journalists who investigate alleged wrongdoing by the authorities are common.

Hey what happened to pushing out of ten storie windows, or the old trusty one shot in the head?

NPR journalists' car bombed in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AP) - An American journalist for National Public Radio and three Iraqi colleagues escaped injury Sunday when a bomb attached to their car exploded as it was parked along a street in west Baghdad.

Ivan Watkins, a 33 year-old reporter for NPR on temporary assignment in Iraq, said he had gone to interview people in a kebab cafe a few yards from an Iraqi army checkpoint.

Watkins, who is normally based in Istanbul, Turkey, was accompanied by producer and translator Ali Hamdani and two drivers who refused to be named for security reasons.

The group returned to their armored car, which was parked out front, about 45 minutes later but were stopped by Iraqi soldiers who said they had been informed minutes earlier that a bomb was attached to the car, Watkins said.

The bomb, which had been placed underneath the driver's side, exploded about 15 feet from the NPR journalists. It destroyed the car but nobody was injured, according to NPR.

Iraqi and American soldiers, who cordoned off the area, said the bomb was possibly detonated by remote control.

The Iraqi soldiers said they had arrested a suspect, an egg vendor who had suspected family links to a member of al-Qaida in Iraq.

The soldiers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Use of so-called "sticky bombs" attached to cars, buses and trucks has become increasingly common in Baghdad since increased security has made it difficult for extremists to use truck bombs.


A reminder I guess, that even though the enemy has moved to softer targets, we can never harden all targets enough. We must kill the enemy.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another day...

"another Big Adventure.

I did something today that although I've never done before, just about every woman in Civil Affairs does at one point or another - I attended a Women's Council meeting. With another female NCO in tow, and an interpreter (male) who'd been cautioned that he was severely outnumbered and should behave accordingly, I made my way into a room full of the Women In Black.

It was something else. On one level, meeting with the women was great. Unlike those in attendance at a lot of our other meetings, the women had no sense of entitlement. They did not sit and explain why Coalition Forces should give them stuff and money. I don't think much of anyone has ever appeared like a Fairy Godmother and given rural Iraqi women (all of them mothers, most of them widows) a damn thing."
Bad Dogs and Such

A new milblog Nixon found!


"Today we had a battallion (squadron) formation. Our company was inducted into the Order of the Golden Spur, authorizing us to wear golden spurs on our ACUs or Class A footwear while attending a Cav function or while attached to a Cav unit. We can also wear Stetsons (the Civil War era cowboy hats). I was awarded an Army Achievement Medal and an Army Commendation Medal as well as a Squadron and Company coin. Shit like this used to excite me but it doesn't anymore."
Fobbits need ice cream

MILITARY: Marines face 'profound' differences in Afghanistan

For U.S. Marines, America's war on terror is now in Afghanistan, where, a top general warns, there are "profound" political, military and cultural differences from Iraq.

Nearly six years after the invasion of Iraq, the Marines are now largely in a monitoring role in the Anbar province, all but declaring victory in the massive region once considered untamable.

By this time next year, Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commander of Marine Corps forces in the Middle East, predicted that as many as 15,000 of his troops could be in Afghanistan ---- 12,000 more than are there now.

By the middle of 2009, Maj. Gen. John Kelly, who has led Marines on the ground in Iraq since January, said he believes the number of Marines in Anbar can be cut from the current 23,000 to around 15,000 or slightly fewer.

"The Marines in Anbar have performed magnificently," Helland said last week aboard a military aircraft as he returned to his Camp Pendleton home after a two-week swing through Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bahrain.

"What was once a volatile, brutal environment is now changing, as Iraqis are determined to defeat their enemies and bring stability to the country," he said.

While Iraq is a largely literate and modern society with oil revenue to fund its treasury, Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with few paved roads.

The opium poppy is its greatest cash crop.

As the Marine Corps plans to draw down its forces in Iraq and move thousands more troops 1,200 miles to the east in Afghanistan if President-elect Barack Obama and Pentagon officials give the go-ahead, Helland was clear in a recent message that the differences between the two countries are stark.

"This is not Iraq," he wrote in a message to Col. Duffy White, who has taken command of the approximately 2,100 Marines now in Afghanistan. "Your units will have a large proportion of Iraq veterans who accomplished great things in the Anbar province.

"That said, remember that Afghanistan is not Iraq. The political, military and cultural differences are profound. Your unit must quickly adjust to working in a coalition environment. Once a mistake is made, the excuse that 'this is how we did it in Iraq' will not suffice," Helland wrote.

Shortly after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and toppling of the ultrafundamentalist Taliban from the government in Kabul, the Marines left that country largely to Army and NATO forces.

Their responsibility was Anbar, the expansive region of Iraq that borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Home to a majority Sunni population, the border saw thousands of foreign al-Qaida fighters cross into the region to join the home-grown insurgency.

But when the insurgency began killing Iraqis as part of an intimidation campaign, Sunni leaders and tribal sheiks turned and sided with U.S. forces and the protection and financial resources to be had.

The result is that Anbar is now one of the calmest regions of Iraq, military officials say, leading to one general's declaration earlier this month that the work today is far more about politics than combat.

In Iraq

Kelly is succinct in his appraisal as he prepares to return to Camp Pendleton in February.

"The war here is over," he said.

The future security for the rest of Iraq is now almost solely dependent on the Iraqi government and its ability to bring rival political and sectarian factions together and prevent internal strife, the two-star general said during an interview at his new office at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq.

His former headquarters in the city of Fallujah was turned over to the Iraqi army four weeks ago.

In Anbar, the remaining threat is "very, very manageable," he said, adding that use of lethal force is now at a minimum.

"The biggest arrow in my quiver is influence," Kelly said.

Helland said the next six to 12 months, and the decisions made by Obama when he takes office, will go a long way toward charting the Marine Corps' future in Iraq and its pressing desire to increase its forces in Afghanistan.

"I see the Marine Corps continuing to move into a strictly overwatch role in Anbar," Helland said, adding that the redistribution of troops will depend on conditions on the ground.

"The country has to continue to come together and have confidence in the credibility of its army and its police forces," he said.

"It's certainly a different place than it has been, and we have to be able to take the training wheels off sooner rather than later."

Grunts such as Sgt. Juan Mendez, a 27-year-old Chicago native on his sixth deployment, said the years spent combating insurgents and training the Iraqi army have paid off.

"I think the fact that most of the guys haven't fired their weapons once during this deployment shows that all of our good hard work has accomplished what needed to be done here," the mobile security unit section leader said during an interview at Camp Ripper, the Marine encampment at Al Asad.

For the Marines, it's clear their new focus in "the long war" against extremists is shifting from Iraq to the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan

During an address to troops at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan's Helmand province this month, Helland made his prediction that up to 15,000 Marines could be fighting the Taliban next spring.

"What the commandant would like to do, quite frankly, is move the Marines out of Iraq," Helland said. "We want to grow our footprint and crush the enemies in Afghanistan."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said he would like to see three additional brigade combat teams ---- at least 12,000 troops ---- sent to Afghanistan well before the country's September elections.

Over the last 18 months, the U.S. and NATO countries have increased their troop count in Afghanistan by 20,000, and commanders have asked for an additional 20,000, including 3,000 as soon as possible to bolster training of fledgling police forces.

During his visit, Helland took part in several closed-door meetings with commanders as the Marine Corps plans for the troop build-up they expect Obama will order after taking office.

Marine units from Twentynine Palms and North Carolina that have been in Afghanistan since the spring are being replaced this month.

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is landlocked, a unique challenge for Marines who rely on ships to transport their vehicles and major weapon systems.

"Infrastructure is a very, very big challenge," Helland said.

That's evident in part by the fact that decades-old Russian transport planes are now providing much of the heavy-lift capability, under a contract with the U.S.

The planes are among the few in the world that can hold the large, anti-mine vehicles that have stemmed the rate of fatalities from roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The freshly deployed Marines that arrived in Afghanistan this month include a helicopter attack squadron from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

Commanders say they expect the Taliban, which has traditionally retreated during the cold months, to continue a pace of attacks that has been the highest since the 2001 invasion.

"The campaign will go on through the winter," Helland said. "For the Taliban, it's fast becoming a fight for survival."

That said, Helland emphasized that Afghanistan presents a host of challenges different from Iraq, including brutally cold temperatures.

"The climate is different, the terrain is different and the human terrain is different," he said.

In his message to his new commander on the ground in Afghanistan, Helland also warned Col. White about civilian killings.

"Escalation of force must be applied judiciously," he wrote. "There is a low tolerance for collateral damage in Afghanistan."

Anbar took years, hundreds of millions of dollars and the lives of hundreds of locally based Marines and sailors to tame.

The same steadfastness is paramount for what has been called the nation's "other war," Helland said.

"Afghanistan will require the same amount of patience," said the three-star general, who also heads Camp Pendleton's 40,000-member I Marine Expeditionary Force. "It will take time."

How much time is unclear, and few are willing to put a number on how many years it will take to defeat the Taliban.

There's a saying in Afghanistan that provides a warning for Americans hoping for a quick resolution: "We have the watches; the Taliban has the time."


Taliban in dress, 52 others killed in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Gunbattles and airstrikes by NATO and Afghan troops killed 53 militants in Afghanistan, including a wanted Taliban commander who tried to hide from soldiers under a woman's burqa, officials said Saturday.

The U.S. forces targeting the commander surrounded a house Friday in Ghazni province and ordered everyone inside to leave, a military statement said.

Six women and 12 children left the building, but while soldiers were questioning the women they discovered one was actually a man dressed in a burqa, the traditional all-encompassing dress that most Afghan women wear. The man, later identified as the targeted commander Haji Yakub, tried to attack the soldiers and was killed, the military said.

Yakub allegedly directed roadside bomb and suicide attacks against Afghanistan's government and coalition forces in Ghazni, according to the statement. Three other militants were killed in the operation, it said.

Meanwhile, Afghan and coalition forces killed 33 militants when their patrol came under attack in southern Helmand province Friday, a military statement said. The troops responded to the attack with gunfire and air support, it said.

In Kandahar province, meanwhile, a three-day NATO-Afghan operation in Zhari district killed 12 militants, said police Chief Matiullah Khan. No police were killed in the operation, which finished on Friday, he said.

Police in western Farah province said they killed four insurgents setting up a makeshift base in a village, apparently aiming to launch strikes on Farah city.

Residents of Raj, about two miles (three kilometers) north of Farah city, tipped off officials that a convoy of enemy fighters had arrived in the village, provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Ghafar Watandar said.

Afghan army and police attacked the nine-vehicle convoy, killing four insurgents and wounding another three as other insurgents fled, Watandar said. An Afghan police officer was also killed in the gunbattle, he said.

Afghanistan has seen a spike in violence over the last two years as more international troops pour into the country to battle a growing militant insurgency. Some 65,000 international forces now operate in Afghanistan.

More than 5,800 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials.


Growing rift threatens to tear India apart

Barely a couple of weeks ago my stepsister, Shalaka, got married at the Taj hotel in Mumbai. Last Wednesday night my stepfather, Ajit, called to pay the bill. When he arrived home 10 minutes later he realised he had left his mobile phone charger behind, so he called Mandira, the Taj banquet manager.

“I can’t speak now, sir,” she said. “We’re under attack.”

Ajit lives in a building next door to Mumbai’s other big hotel, the Oberoi. Within a few moments, he heard gunshots from there too.

In the 48 hours that followed, his neighbourhood was sealed off and his building came under attack. In the windows of the Oberoi he saw deserted rooms, half-drawn curtains, fires, brown smoke and gunmen moving from floor to floor.

By Friday, he knew that three chefs who had worked at his daughter’s wedding and the family of the Taj’s general manager were dead. Friends of his sisters had also been killed. As terrorist attacks went — and Mumbai has known several in the past few years — it didn’t come much closer to home than this.

My stepfather’s reaction came in the form of a text message the next day. It read: “Pardon Afzal [Muhammad Afzal, accused of attacking the Indian parliament in 2001], hang Sadhvi [a woman accused of participating in the only act of Hindu terrorism in a Muslim neighbourhood], Ban the Bajrang Dal [a Hindu extremist organisation], talk to Simi [a Muslim student organisation of which the Indian mujaheddin, responsible for a string of attacks in Indian cities, is said to be a part], restrict the Amarnath pilgrimage [a Hindu pilgrimage that led to upheavals in the Kashmir valley last summer] fund the Haj. Wow! Truly, my India is great! Fwd 2all Hindus.”

This message, steeped in irony, read like a roll call of the issues and violence that have divided Hindu and Muslim India over the past year. Almost a call to arms, it contained the great, twofold rage that has grown in Hindu India: the feeling that Islamic terrorism seeks to destroy the vigorous “new India” and the suspicion that the state is either unable or unwilling to defend itself — for cynical reasons, such as shoring up the Muslim vote for the government.

The attacks on Mumbai — a city that, in its prosperity, its hybridity and openness to the world, stands as a symbol of the new and energised India — confirmed to many what they had long feared.

Within hours of the attacks, groups gathered in the streets of Mumbai, chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (Victory to Mother India) and singing “Vande Mataram” (Bow to you Mother), a patriotic song that Muslims had objected to as the choice for the national anthem because it implied obeisance to gods other than Allah.

Many British commentators have asked in surprise why India is being targeted. There is no confusion among Indians themselves. When the terrorists say on their websites that they seek to break up India and reclaim it for Islam, they speak a language many Hindu Indians understand. And India has proved to be the softest of soft targets.

More than 4,000 Indians have died in terrorist attacks — the country is the second biggest victim of terror after Iraq and virtually every one of its big cities has faced a terrorist attack. Yet the government has no centralised terrorist database, its intelligence is abysmal and there is little evidence that the state knows who it is fighting.

In dragging its feet, the Indian state does nobody a greater disservice than Indian Muslims. When there are no real suspects, arrests or trials, everyone becomes a suspect. Already an underclass, with low literacy rates, low incomes and poor representation in government jobs, Indian Muslims are increasingly alienated. There is also great pressure on them.

Nobody wants to listen to genuine grievances about poverty, illiteracy and unemployment in the face of a real threat to the country. Many Hindus want Muslims to come clean on the issue of the jihad and to make clear whose side they’re on.

Far from responding positively to this pressure, some Indian Muslims are simply beginning to see their grievances as part of a global conflict between Muslim and non-Muslim.

India’s position in this is unique. It has the largest Muslim minority population in the world (13.4% of the population, or about 150m) but unlike Muslims in western Europe, they are not immigrants.

They have been part of India for centuries.

This is why all Indians — Muslims and Hindu alike — know that the deepening divide threatens the country’s existence.

Many years ago, a divide like this re-energised the Hindu nationalist BJP. Today who knows who it might throw up? The hour of men like Narendra Modi, who oversaw a pogrom of Indian Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, might have come at last.

Aatish Taseer is the author of Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey through Islamic Lands, to be published in March by Canongate.


IRAQ: Marines move to break Iraqi dependency on U.S.

Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the top Marine in Iraq, calls the strategy "the last 10 yards" -- the push to get the Iraqi national and provincial governments to cooperate with each other.

Other than that, Kelly says, the Marine mission in Iraq has largely been accomplished in Anbar province: The insurgency has been routed, reconstruction and economic growth are moving apace, and a semblance of normalcy has returned.

The time has come to "break the dependency" of the Iraqis on the Americans, and to send home a significant portion of the 22,000 troops under his command, Kelly says. Keeping a large number of troops in Anbar could actually be counterproductive.

"My working thesis is 'If we have it, we'll use it and Iraqis won't be doing it,' " Kelly said.

Take the mentoring of the Iraqi army by Marines. "We learned that if you have a type-A Marine out there, the real leader is the Marine captain, not the Iraqi lieutenant colonel."

Kelly, 58, a Marine for 38 years, is in his final months as commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). He was an assistant commander of the 1st Marine Division during the 2003 assault on Baghdad and the spring 2004 fight in Fallouja. His two sons, both Marines, have served in Iraq.

Under Kelly's orders, Marine combat troops have pulled out of the larger cities in Anbar, security checkpoints have been turned over to the Iraqis, and several of the Marines' larger bases have been closed. Also, steps were taken to reduce the Marines' presence in the everyday life of Iraqis -- all convoys, for example, are now done at night.

Much of Kelly's efforts are aimed at getting officials from the provincial government in Ramadi and the national government in Baghdad to work together on common problems.

Babylon & Beyond

I'm guessing we wont have to wait six months to know how the Iraqis will vote on the referendum.

Georgia cuts ties to Nicaragua

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) - Georgia says it is cutting diplomatic relations with Nicaragua after the Central American nation recognized the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Nicaragua is the only country other than Russia to have recognized the regions as independent nations.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry made the announcement in a statement late Friday. It cited Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's Sept. 2 resolution. There was no immediate comment from Nicaragua.

Georgia and Russia fought a war in August after Georgia attacked South Ossetia.

Russia has unsuccessfully pushed for other nations to recognize the two regions, often citing Kosovo as a precedent.

Iraq's top Shiite cleric has concerns over US pact

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's top Shiite cleric has expressed concern about the country's security pact with the United States, fearing it gives too much power to the Americans and does not protect Iraqi sovereignty, an official at his office said Saturday.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's comments fell short of outright rejection but will put pressure on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government to sell the deal to the public before Iraqi voters render a final decision in a referendum to be held by July 30.

The pact also has to be ratified by Iraq's three-man presidential council before it comes into force.

Al-Sistani, who wields tremendous influence among Iraq's majority Shiites, had indicated that he would not object to the pact if it was passed by a comfortable majority in parliament.

Parliament approved the agreement Thursday in a session attended by just under 200 of the legislature's 275 lawmakers. Of those in attendance, about 150 voted for the pact, which would allow American forces to remain in Iraq for three more years.

The official at al-Sistani's office said the Iranian-born cleric did not believe there was a national consensus in favor of the pact and that this "may lead to instability in the country."

The official added that al-Sistani considered parts of the agreement vague, particularly those pertaining to legal jurisdiction over U.S. troops and controls over the exit and entry into Iraq of American forces.

The agreement was backed by the government's Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni Arab blocs, but was opposed by the 30 lawmakers loyal to anti-American Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr as well as smaller groups.

A deadly rocket attack on the U.S.-protected Green Zone early Saturday bore the hallmarks of Shiite militiamen loyal to al-Sadr and may also have been linked to the security deal.

The rocket struck near a U.N. compound, killing two foreigners and wounding 15 people.

Al-Sistani also believed the pact did not offer sufficient guarantees to restore Iraq's full sovereignty or protect its assets, according to the official, who spoke from the cleric's office in the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity.

He also thought al-Maliki's government was not strong enough to withstand "American pressure" when implementing the agreement. Al-Sistani, the official said, will leave "the acceptance or rejection of the agreement to the Iraqi people through the referendum."

The agreement gives a clear timeline for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, from the cities by June 30 and the entire country by Jan. 1, 2012. It gives Iraq strict oversight over their movements and operations as well as limited jurisdiction in the case of serious crimes committed by U.S. soldiers and civilian Pentagon employees when off-base and off-duty.

If the agreement is rejected by voters, Iraq's government would either have to re-negotiate it with the Americans or drop it altogether. Putting the agreement to a vote was one of several concessions made by the government to a group of lawmakers, most of whom are Sunnis, in exchange for their support for the pact.

Al-Sistani doesn't speak to reporters or give media interviews and communicates his views through edicts or leaks to the media by officials at his office.

He could have buried the agreement had he publicly spoken against it before Thursday's parliamentary vote. But the comments attributed to him Saturday clearly show he was unhappy about the margin of support it had won in the vote.

His comments are likely to be welcomed by the Sunnis who had campaigned hard to get the Shiites and Kurds to meet their demand to put the pact to a popular vote.

But al-Sistani's views leave al-Maliki and his Shiite allies in the awkward position of having to sell a deal that doesn't enjoy al-Sistani's full backing.

Saturday's rocket attack in the Green Zone occurred as al-Sadr's followers hoisted black flags on houses, mosques and Sadrist offices in their Baghdad stronghold to protest the U.S.-Iraqi pact.

Tech. Sgt. Chris Stagner, a U.S. military spokesman, said American explosives experts determined Iranian-made rockets were used in the Green Zone attack as well as another late Friday that targeted Camp Victory, the main military headquarters on Baghdad's western outskirts. That attack caused only minor damage, he said.

The U.S. military accuses Iran of providing weapons, funding and training to Shiite militants who attack U.S. forces in Iraq. Iran has consistently denied the charge.

The attack on the U.N. compound was the first in more than a month against the Green Zone - a sprawling central Baghdad area that also houses the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government offices.

Rocket and mortar strikes against the U.S.-protected Green Zone have been common throughout the war but tapered off after al-Sadr declared a cease-fire, ending weeks of fighting between the Mahdi Army militia and U.S. and Iraqi troops in the spring.

The U.N. did not give names and nationalities of the dead pending notification of relatives. But the U.N. said no Iraqi or international U.N. staff members were among the casualties. The dead worked for a catering company, the U.N. said.


Cyber-attack on Defense Department computers raises concerns

Reporting from Washington -- Senior military leaders took the exceptional step of briefing President Bush this week on a severe and widespread electronic attack on Defense Department computers that may have originated in Russia -- an incursion that posed unusual concern among commanders and raised potential implications for national security.

Defense officials would not describe the extent of damage inflicted on military networks. But they said that the attack struck hard at networks within U.S. Central Command, the headquarters that oversees U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and affected computers in combat zones. The attack also penetrated at least one highly protected classified network.

Military computers are regularly beset by outside hackers, computer viruses and worms. But defense officials said the most recent attack involved an intrusive piece of malicious software, or "malware," apparently designed specifically to target military networks.

"This one was significant; this one got our attention," said one defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing internal assessments.

Although officials are withholding many details, the attack underscores the increasing danger and potential significance of computer warfare, which defense experts say could one day be used by combatants to undermine even a militarily superior adversary.

Bush was briefed on the threat by Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen also briefed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Military electronics experts have not pinpointed the source or motive of the attack and could not say whether the destructive program was created by an individual hacker or whether the Russian government may have had some involvement. Defense experts may never be able to answer such questions, officials said.

The defense official said the military also had not learned whether the software's designers may have been specifically targeting computers used by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, suspicions of Russian involvement come at an especially delicate time because of sagging relations between Washington and Moscow and growing tension over U.S. plans to develop a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The two governments also have traded charges of regional meddling after U.S. support for democratic elections in former Soviet states and recent Russian overtures in Latin America.

U.S. officials have worried in recent years about the possibility of cyber-attacks from other countries, especially China and Russia, whether sponsored by governments of those countries or launched by individual computer experts.

An electronic attack from Russia shut down government computers in Estonia in 2007. And officials believe that a series of electronic attacks were launched against Georgia at the same time that hostilities erupted between Moscow and Tbilisi last summer. Russia has denied official involvement in the Georgia attacks.

The first indication that the Pentagon was dealing with a computer problem came last week, when officials banned the use of external computer flash drives. At the time, officials did not indicate the extent of the attack or the fact that it may have targeted defense systems or posed national security concerns.

The invasive software, known as agent.btz, has circulated among nongovernmental U.S. computers for months. But only recently has it affected the Pentagon's networks. It is not clear whether the version responsible for the cyber-intrusion of classified networks is the same as the one affecting other computer systems.

The malware is able to spread to any flash drive plugged into an infected computer. The risk of spreading the malware to other networks prompted the military to ban the drives.

Defense officials acknowledged that the worldwide ban on external drives was a drastic move. Flash drives are used constantly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many officers keep them loaded with crucial information on lanyards around their necks.

Banning their use made sharing information in the war theaters more difficult and reflected the severity of the intrusion and the threat from agent.btz, a second official said.

Officials would not describe the exact threat from agent.btz, or say whether it could shut down computers or steal information. Some computer experts have reported that agent.btz can allow an attacker to take control of a computer remotely and to take files and other information from it.

In response to the attack, the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the military's cyberspace defenses, has raised the security level for its so-called information operations condition, or "INFOCON," initiating enhanced security measures on military networks.

The growing possibility of future electronic conflicts has touched off debates among U.S. defense experts over how to train and utilize American computer warfare specialists. Some have advocated creating offensive capabilities, allowing the U.S. to develop the ability to intrude into the networks of other countries.

But most top leaders believe the U.S. emphasis in cyberspace should be on improving defenses and gathering intelligence, particularly about potential threats.

On Tuesday, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, received a specialized briefing about the malware attack. Officers from the Air Force Network Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana outlined their efforts to halt the spread of the malware and to protect military computers from further attack.

Schwartz, praising those efforts, said that the attack and the military's response were being closely monitored by senior military leaders.

The offending program has been cleansed from a number of military networks. But officials said they did not believe they had removed every bit of infection from all Defense Department computers.

"There are lots of people working hard to remove the threat and put in preventive measures to protect the grid," said the defense official. "We have taken a number of corrective measures, but I would be overstating it if I said we were through this."


This is still going on, must be serious

A Loosely Drawn American Victory

WASHINGTON — The security agreements between Iraq and the United States mark the beginning of the end of the war. They are only the beginning, though, and the terms of the agreements create uncertainties that could disrupt the smooth withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The agreements — a broad “strategic framework” and a more detailed security pact that were ratified Thursday by the Iraqi Parliament — set a deadline that critics of the war have long wanted. They require that all American forces withdraw from Iraq no later than Dec. 31, 2011, but they offer no timetable for withdrawals, and in theory could add three more years to a war that has already lasted five and a half.

The United States has also agreed to remove all combat forces from Iraqi cities and villages by the end of next June, though the agreements remain silent on what constitutes “combat” troops and where exactly they will move. Those decisions have been left to a Joint Military Operations Coordination Committee, a body of Americans and Iraqis that could prove to be as ungainly as its acronym, Jmocc.

The committee will have the authority to approve American military operations; the use of bases and facilities; the detention of Iraqis by American forces; and even — in rare cases, it would seem — the prosecution of American troops accused of “grave premeditated felonies” committed while off duty and off base. Any number of circumstances could strain cooperation and even lead to conflict.

“Question marks remain in the agreement concerning freedom of action for U.S. soldiers, vague security commitments and protection of Iraqi assets,” Travis Sharp, a defense analyst at the Council for a Livable World, a nonprofit advocacy group, wrote in a statement after the Iraqi Parliament voted.

The council has long opposed the war, but it was telling that it expressed support for the agreements. The reason is that the vagueness of some of the terms and definitions also gives President-elect Barack Obama a fair amount of flexibility to carry out his campaign promises to end the war.

That opponents of the war support the agreements is a victory for President Bush, albeit a mixed one. It is also a vindication of Mr. Obama’s insistence on establishing a timetable to withdraw, forcing the Americans and the Iraqis to contemplate a time without foreign troops occupying the country.

Already American commanders have begun considering how to accelerate withdrawals of combat brigades on a schedule much closer to Mr. Obama’s than seemed possible a year ago. At the same time, the agreements leave room for keeping in place a larger contingent than Mr. Obama’s supporters might have envisioned, with tens of thousands of American troops remaining in training and other support roles at least for the time being.

Brooke Anderson, a policy adviser and spokeswoman for Mr. Obama’s transition team, welcomed Iraq’s approval of the agreements, saying that the Obama team was “encouraged to see progress” in establishing the conditions for an American presence beyond the expiration of the United Nations mandate at the end of the year.

The reason the agreements are a victory for Mr. Bush is that his administration has effectively negotiated an end to a costly and widely unpopular war that was begun in 2003 with a rationale — eliminating Iraq’s unconventional weapons — that has since been discredited.

In the waning months of his presidency, Mr. Bush had to drop his initial opposition to any firm deadlines for American withdrawal, as Mr. Obama urged on the campaign trial, and agree to Iraqi demands to have a greater and greater say in the country’s governance in the meantime.

“Given where we were in January 2007, we have seen an almost unthinkable pace of progress on political, economic and security issues,” Mr. Bush’s spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said in a statement, describing the agreements as evidence of the success of the president’s strategy. “So much so that the improved conditions allowed us to come to this mutual agreement with a sovereign Iraq that is solving its problems in the political process, not with guns and bombs.”

The concessions that Mr. Bush accepted to Iraqi sovereignty have raised concerns among prominent Democrats in Congress, including Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and his counterpart in the House, Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri.

But any withdrawal from Iraq was inevitably going to accompany stronger assertions of Iraqi sovereignty and thus an uncertain period of transition in which real operational control passes from the American military to Iraq’s.

Article 9 of the agreement governing security forces, for example, gives Iraq control of its airspace for the first time since the war began but goes on to say that Iraq may request “temporary support” from the United States.

Still unclear is how many American forces are expected to remain between now and the deadline for withdrawal, and whether any could stay beyond then. What is clear is that beginning on Jan. 1, when the agreements go into effect, American-led operations in Iraq will be conducted under far greater restraints.

The history of the war suggests that security gains are reversible, that whatever political reconciliation unfolds will be punctuated by eruptions of violence, that American forces will continue for some time to oversee an ethnic and sectarian patchwork that could quickly revert to civil war.

As part of the effort to win passage from Iraq’s Parliament, the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki also agreed to hold a national referendum next year on the agreements. A vote against them would put the American forces then in Iraq — almost certainly more than 100,000 troops — in a legal limbo without the United Nations mandate the agreements are intended to replace at the end of this year.

“It is quite apparent that the Bush administration will be leaving the Obama administration with a messy, complicated and unstable situation in Iraq,” the National Security Network, a policy group made up mostly of Democrats who have sharply criticized Mr. Bush’s policies, said in a statement.

It has also left Mr. Obama a way out.


Friday, November 28, 2008

UPDATE 1-Iraq says Kurdish contracts not legal

CAIRO, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Oil contracts signed by the Kurdish regional government (KRG) with foreign oil companies are not recognised by central government in Baghdad, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani said on Friday.

The comments come despite an initial agreement on Thursday between the central Iraqi oil ministry and the largely autonomous Kurdish authorities to allow exports from Kurdistan to Turkey.

Norwegian oil company DNO (DNO.OL: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) has a concession with the KRG from which it hopes to start exports of 100,000 barrels daily in the first quarter of next year.

But Shahristani said the revenues from oil produced anywhere in Iraq belonged to central government for redistribution around the country.

"Those contracts have not been reviewed by the ministry of oil and have not been recognised by the federal government," he told reporters in Cairo.

"The decision is that any oil that is produced in any part of the country has to be handed over to the federal government and the ministry of oil will export it. The revenues will go to the central budget for distribution inside the country."

Shahristani was speaking to reporters before a Saturday OPEC meeting.


Spiderman Sheets, Burning Playstations, And Turkey Dinner...

"Thursday, November 27, 1735 hrs.

So it is Thanksgiving here in beautiful, sunny AssCrackIstan. And it really is sunny. It was unseasonably warm today. Probably somewhere around 65 degrees and given the temperatures we have been dealing with for the past few weeks it felt like summertime around here.

We got up this morning. Our first full day as the mission platoon. Basically that means that we are the guys who have to do all the work while the other platoon housesits, err guards the FOB. I guess since it is Thanksgiving the commander decided to give us the day off. However, our platoon sergeant didn't quite see it that way. Now something that anyone who has been in the military for more than a day or two will tell you is this, when they have nothing for you to do, they have no qualms about making it up."
Embrace the Suck


"One night, few years ago I fancied a hand watch at a store in Baghdad. Few days later, I took a friend of mine who was, unlike me, good in Bargaining and went to the store to get that watch. The guy at the store did not budge off his position regarding the price of that watch which was really cheap. My Friends efforts went in Vain, but it was I who actually managed to get that watch in a price less than the asked price. No, I did not “Make him an Offer that he can’t refuse” in Marlon Brando’s tactic at the Godfather. I simply talked to him in the manner that every Iraqi understands. I simply Said to the seller “ do you really expect me to go back home with the watch and tell the people at home that I actually bought the watch for the asked price!”. The Man immediately realized the sense in what I was saying (as an Iraqi) and sold me the watch for 14000 Iraqi Dinnar in stead of the 15000 the guy was asking for in the first place. Back then the difference was less than a Dollar.
You might ask what made me remember this incident. Well when I saw the Iraqi Government sending the back the Final draft of the security draft to Washington for last minute changes, this incident jumped to my mind immediately. The draft was fine for the Iraqi Government and they would have said yes to it at that Moment, but this would have made them look bad that they have actually said yes without a little bargaining."
Great Baghdad


"Every time I get called "Najma" by a professor, I go into a small period of not-knowing-what-to-do, only to decide, after a while, to do the easiest thing: nothing..
Now I know both of the dean's associates know about my blog, both are very kind and encouraging however, and though it's weird, I still feel comfortable writing here.

These last two weeks were very frustrating. I have been struggling with two subjects: Microwave and Electronic Communications. The thing is, I know I can get good at them and I know I can love them, but as we have been told many times by our professors: A good communication system requires a good transmitter, a good receiver and a good environment. And it's certain that we have big transmitter problems in these two subjects."
A Star from Mosul

Alive with dead spirit..

"Dear friends .. It has been unbelievably hard week, I was about to loose control of my study and mind ! .. Last weekend, I was planning to write a shared post with Baghdad dentist, we were chatting at noon, and a dreadful explosion happened, it was the loudest one I've ever heard, I put the laptop a side and ran to my sister who was creaming "something hit my head" she was actually under the curtain I carried her she was unable to stand and crying, I started to cry then both of us fall and I carried her again and reached the corridor almost crawling! suddenly she fainted I got panicked,"
Days of my Life

Mumbai survivor: 'There were bodies everywhere'

MUMBAI, India (AP) - At first, waiter Joseph Joy Pulithara thought the blasts were rows of liquor bottles exploding for some reason behind the Mumbai hotel's sleek bar. Running to the scene, he found a woman screaming - and a young man spraying gunfire.

The gunman was a member of a team that was well-armed, well-prepared and had just begun a two-day siege that would shut down India's financial and entertainment capital, leave more than 150 people dead and 370 injured, and turn the city's ritzy seaside district into a scene of horror.

There was almost no time to escape. "Within two minutes, they were on us," Andreina Varagona of Nashville, Tenn., said from her hospital bed in the intensive care unit. Wounded in the right leg and right arm, her curly brown hair was still caked with a friend's blood two days later.

An Indian commando said the attackers were indiscriminate. "Whoever came in front of them, they fired."

There were 10 targets across the city, including two five-star hotels, a train station, a popular restaurant and an ultra-orthodox Jewish center.

Inside the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi hotels, with their hundreds of rooms, the gunmen often seemed to have the advantage.

"These people were very, very familiar with the hotel layouts and it appears they had carried out a survey before," said an unidentified member of India's Marine Commando unit, his face wrapped in a black mask.

The gunmen moved skillfully through corridors slick with blood, thwarting efforts to pin them down, and switched off lights and plunged the rooms into darkness to further confuse the commandos.

The militants were ready for a long siege. One backpack the commandos found had 400 rounds of ammunition inside. Some of the gunmen carried almonds. They also had dollars, rupees and credit cards from local and international banks.

One gunman, who was still roaming the Taj Mahal nearly 48 hours after the assault began, was hiding in a ballroom, said army commander Lt. Gen. N. Thamburaj.

"He is moving in two floors. There is a dance floor area where he has cut off all the lights. Sometimes he gets holed up in the rooms and makes that area dark," Thamburaj said.

The commandos were hampered, too, because they could not use overwhelming force for fear of hitting the hundreds of civilians who were caught in the hotels.

Many guests hid in their rooms until they were rescued. Others were not so lucky.

The gunmen "appeared to be a determined lot, wanting to create and spread terror," a commando said.

Pulithara found panicked diners and staff running through the hotel bar. In the chaos, it took him a moment to realize he had been shot.

"My friend said there was a hole in my pants, and I was bleeding," said Pulithara, 22, who was hit in the leg.

He saw another colleague shot in the head - "She died on the spot," he said - but he said he managed to pull a tourist to safety through a fire exit. Then he ran down a flight of stairs, and was free.

For hundreds of others inside the hotels, however, the ordeal was just beginning.

Varagona, 45, a meditation teacher, says on her Web site she had taken the name Rudrani Devi, Sanskrit for "one who takes the pain away from others," in 2002. She was having dinner with friends in the Oberoi's plush restaurant when the gunshots rang out.

Survivors said the gunmen checked passports and looked for Americans and Britons, but Varagona said they just sprayed the room and didn't seem to care who they killed.

"They might have been targeting Westerners, but they still shot the wait staff," she said. "They were of Indian, Asian descent. There wasn't a foreigner among them."

Varagona said the gunmen kept firing, and bodies fell to the floor, at least a dozen.

"There were bodies everywhere. I felt like I was in a movie," Varagona said.

She dragged herself past the bodies and into the restaurant kitchen, where employees were huddled for safety. They picked her up, she said, and carried her out.

"If it wasn't for the wait staff, I wouldn't have made it out," she said.

Among those killed was a friend on the meditation retreat who had been dining at Varagona's table, Alan Scherr, 58, of Faber, Va., of the Synchronicity Foundation. Also slain was his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi.



Terror leader slams US, Afghanistan gov'ts

NEW YORK (AP) - Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader has lashed out at Afghanistan's government and claimed that any U.S. gains in Iraq will be temporary, a terror monitoring group said Thursday.
In a new video, Ayman Al-Zawahri also lauded his group's fight in several countries and criticized leaders of those nations for their fight to counter the terrorists, according to SITE Intelligence group.

Zawahri's comments, carried on a militant Web site Thursday, came about a week after his last message in which he accused President-elect Barack Obama of turning his back on his black heritage to gain power.

Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant didn't refer to the attacks in Mumbai, India, late Wednesday and early Thursday that killed scores. Intelligence analysts said the violence carried trademarks of al-Qaida but evidence has been pointing to homegrown terrorists. A little known suspected Islamic militant group has claimed responsibility.

In the video, SITE says Zawahri labeled Afghan President Hamid Karzai's recent attempt to negotiate with Taliban insurgents a sign of his government's weakness.

He also accused the United States of giving phony reports of success in the turbulent region, maintaining the Americans are doomed to fail in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Discussing Iraq, Zawahri said that U.S. gains are temporary. He also stressed that that Sunni Awakening Councils - former insurgents who have revolted against al-Qaida - will not be accepted by the Shiite majority government.

U.S.-based SITE said Zawahri defended against charges of al-Qaida's killing innocent civilians, calling the reports Western propaganda.


Iraq's PM may be weakened by dealmaking over pact

BAGHDAD (AP) - Parliament's approval of a security pact with the U.S. has propelled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into a position of strength unsurpassed among Iraqi political leaders since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Furious dealmaking preceded the vote Thursday, compelling al-Maliki to make a wide range of concessions to Sunni lawmakers in exchange for their support. As a result, he emerged with his main goal intact: a historic agreement in which the last American soldier would leave Iraq by Jan. 1, 2012, and restore the country's full national sovereignty.

Coming on top of a string of military and political successes this year, the agreement has given al-Maliki the aura of a national leader who rises above Iraq's chronic sectarian and ethnic divisions to pursue the greater interest.

Experts are divided on how long will the prime minister's political dominance will last however.

"The prime minister is involved in political struggles that have only just begun, and it is far from clear how well he can survive the power struggles and elections to come," said Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"The insurgency is still there, Arab-Kurdish rivalries are growing, Shiite-Sunni tensions are still critical, and no one can predict the future power struggle within each key ethnic and sectarian faction," Cordesman said.

Al-Maliki risked his future on the agreement with the United States, which many Iraqis see as an occupying power. Failure to win approval might have forced him to step down.

"Some thought they could use the agreement to weaken the prime minister," said Haidar al-Ibadi, a senior Shiite lawmaker and a close al-Maliki aide. "Frankly, they were playing with fire."

Realizing the stakes, a group of mostly Sunni lawmakers sought concessions from al-Maliki in exchange for their support.

Al-Maliki said that amounted to blackmail but, in the end, he met most of their demands in a three-page "Charter of Political Reform."

The declaration doesn't have the force of law. But it has committed al-Maliki to make changes on several thorny issues he had been reluctant to undertake.

Chief among them are the full integration into the security forces and government agencies of thousands of U.S.-backed Sunni fighters who revolted against al-Qaida in Iraq and recruiting more Sunnis in the Shiite-dominated army and police.

He also pledged to work for the release of thousands of Sunni security detainees not charged with specific crimes and allow wider participation in top-level decision making.

"Many political blocs, including those close to al-Maliki, have had fears that al-Maliki was becoming authoritarian. The Charter of Political Reform will stop him from becoming a one-man government," said Adnan al-Dulaimi, a Sunni politician and bitter critic of the prime minister.

The Sunnis had long been alone in publicly accusing al-Maliki of monopolizing power. Recently, however, some Kurds have started to repeat the allegation. The Kurds complained that the prime minister was violating the constitution by creating tribal "support councils" across Iraq ostensibly as a backup for security forces.

Critics see the councils as a move to undercut rival political parties and gain patronage in the Shiite south of the country. The quarrel came to a head last week, when the country's three-member Presidential Council publicly berated al-Maliki and ordered him to disband the councils or find legal coverage for them.

That blow to al-Maliki raised doubt whether he could muster enough support to retain his office after the 2009 general election. However his winning the security pact appears to put him back on a strong path.

"Assuming (the next elections) are free and fair ... I am not sure al-Maliki can survive them and get re-elected," said prominent U.S.-based Iraq expert Juan Cole.

Al-Maliki is already showing some of the trappings associated with authoritarian Arab rulers, something certain to be used against him in the run-up to the 2009 elections.

He has exploited the dramatic drop of violence as a tribute to his leadership and coverage of his activities, even the most mundane, dominates the state media's news.

There are signs to suggest he intends to do the same with the security pact.

"It's a historic day for our glorious Iraqi people," he said in a televised speech several hours after the passage. "We have realized one of our most important achievements in approving the agreement," he said in a kind of flowery Arabic usually reserved for a military victory.

Prior to the broadcast, state television showed footage of demonstrators hoisting portraits of the prime minister and a recital of a poem that praised his rule, but without mentioning him by name.


About a months worth of blogs, all in one story