Monday, August 31, 2009

Ridge backpedals on pressure to raise terror alert level

WASHINGTON — Former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge, speaking for the first time about accusations made in his new book, says he did not mean to suggest that other top Bush administration officials were playing politics with the nation's security before the 2004 presidential election.
"I'm not second-guessing my colleagues," Ridge said in an interview about The Test of Our Times, which comes out Tuesday and recounts his experiences as head of the nation's homeland security efforts in the first several years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the book, Ridge portrays his fledgling department as playing second fiddle to other Cabinet-level heavyweights. As secretary, he says he was never invited to participate in National Security Council meetings, he was left out of the information loop by the FBI and his proposal to establish Homeland Security offices in major cities such as New Orleans were rejected.

His most explosive accusation: that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft pressed him to raise the national threat level after Osama bin Laden released a videotape criticizing President Bush shortly before Election Day 2004. Ridge writes he rejected raising the level because bin Laden had released nearly 20 such tapes since 9/11 and the latest contained nothing suggesting an imminent threat.

Noting that Bush's approval ratings typically went up when the threat level was raised, Ridge writes that Ashcroft and Rumsfeld pushed to elevate it during a "vigorous" discussion.

"Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level, and was supported by Rumsfeld," he writes. "There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered, 'Is this about security or politics?' "

Although he prevailed and the threat level was not elevated, Ridge writes that the episode reinforced his decision to resign. He did so weeks after the election.

Last week, when word got out about Ridge's accusations, Rumsfeld's spokesman Keith Urbahn issued a statement calling them "nonsense."

Now, Ridge says he did not mean to suggest he was pressured to raise the threat level, and he is not accusing anyone of trying to boost Bush in the polls. "I was never pressured," Ridge said.

The former secretary and Pennsylvania governor, who now heads a security consulting firm called Ridge Global, also said in the interview that:

• He and his immediate successor, Michael Chertoff, recently were asked to speak with a panel considering changes to the color-coded threat advisory system for new Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

• He is "dumbfounded" that the government still has no way to track foreign visitors who don't leave the country when their visas expire, noting that two of the 9/11 hijackers were in the country on expired visas.

• Government officials and members of Congress rarely discuss homeland security issues and have "lost the sense of urgency" about protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. Because of the economy and growing budget deficits, he also is worried about funding for future efforts to tighten security.


These people should all go to jail.

ABC News Exclusive: National Security Adviser Says President Obama Is Having Greater Success Taking Terrorists Out of Commission Than Bush Did

Responding to criticism from former Vice President Cheney that President Obama is making the nation more vulnerable to terrorism, the president’s National Security Adviser, Gen. Jim Jones (Ret.), told ABC News in an exclusive interview that actually the reverse is true: President Obama’s greater success with international relations has meant more terrorists put out of commission.

“This type of radical fundamentalism or terrorism is a threat not only to the United States but to the global community,” Jones said. “The world is coming together on this matter now that President Obama has taken the leadership on it and is approaching it in a slightly different way – actually a radically different way – to discuss things with other rulers to enhance the working relationships with law enforcement agencies – both national and international."

Jones said that “we are seeing results that indicate more captures, more deaths of radical leaders and a kind of a global coming-together by the fact that this is a threat to not only the United States but to the world at-large and the world is moving toward doing something about it.”

The former Marine General didn't provide any specific numbers to back up his claim, but he said “there is an increasing trend and I think we seen that in different parts of the world over the last few months for sure.” He added that he was not “making a tally sheet saying we are killing more people, capturing more people than they did -- that is not the issue.”

But the numbers are going up, he said. “The numbers of high value targets that we are successfully reaching out to or identifying through good intelligence” from both the CIA and intelligence agencies from US allies has made the difference, he said. “We have better human intelligence; we know where the terrorists are moving. Because of the dialogue and the tone of the dialogue between us and our friends and allies...the trend line against terrorism is positive, and that’s what we want. If we have a positive trend line we have a safer country.”

Jones made his comments the day after Mr. Cheney said he has “serious doubts” about the extent to which President Obama “understands and is prepared to do what needs to be done to defend the nation.” Cheney assailed the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to begin a preliminary investigation into whether any CIA officers went beyond what they were told was legally permissible in interrogating detainees.

“It's an outrageous precedent to set, to have this kind of, I think, intensely partisan, politicized look-back at the prior administration,” Cheney said.

Jones dismissed questions that the investigation was the result of political pressure and said “people that were acting within the law don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Obviously the former Vice President feels strongly about certain things,” Jones said, “I don’t know if it is a question of legacy.”

“I take exception” to assertions “that something that we decided or the president decided will make the country less safe,” Jones said. “I just don’t agree with that. We are about making this country safe. I think that we are fashioning global relationships with other countries around the world.”

“We are doing everything to make this country safe every single day,” Jones asserted.

Jones didn’t buy Cheney’s argument that the effectiveness of the Bush-Cheney counterterrorism policies are proven in the fact that the U.S. didn’t experience any terrorist attacks on U.S. soil after September 11, 2001. “It’s very easy to leave office and say, ‘Well, no other disaster happened on the size and scope of 9/11, so we did our job well.’ Well, maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.”

Jones did not dismiss Cheney’s argument that Holder’s decision could have a chilling effect on the willingness of CIA officers to do what they are told to do.

“I think it is something we have to address,” Jones said. “I think anybody who works in a law enforcement agency -- whether it is the police or FBI or CIA -- have to know clearly what the rules are and have to know what the law says and have to act with the parameters of the law. I think we are back, we are getting to a more consistent point.”

“We’re a nation of values,” he told ABC News. “I was on active duty when these techniques were used. I was surprised and disappointed.” The United States, he said, isn’t “known as a country that tortures people.”

Jones said he couldn’t provide any definitive answer as to whether, as Cheney argues, any detainees who were interrogated using methods President Obama has banned – ones that qualify as torture under international law – provided information they would not have offered using other means.

“I haven’t seen any compelling evidence that would argue because somebody was subjected to enhanced techniques that there was a revelation that we wouldn’t have had,” he said, “but it is very hard to prove the negative on this.”

Jones argued that a recent report that terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provided information after being water boarded dozens of times is counter-balanced by KSM’s testimony to the International Committee of the Red Cross that some of those times he provided false information.

“He himself admitted that in order to get them to stop doing it, he lied,” Jones said, “and he is smart enough to play out the lie a little bit. I just think it comes down to our laws and our values and we are what we say we are or we are not and I think we are on the way back to being what we say we are.”


DC Dems Move To Save Rangel

House Democrats are willing to rally around Rep. Charles Rangel in his latest spate of tax missteps -- but only as long as no more embarrassing revelations come to light, sources told The Post.

The head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee last week amended six years' worth of financial disclosure forms and revealed he'd earned $1.3 million in previously unreported income. That's on top of ongoing House Ethics Committee probes into four other areas of Rangel's financial past -- including failure to properly report income taxes on a Caribbean villa he owns.

But unless the Ethics Committee probes hit Rangel with something more than a slap on the wrist -- or a bigger scandal arises -- Democrats are unlikely to push him off the Ways and Means Committee, a Washington insider said.

"He doesn't strike me as someone who would go quietly, and he's not afraid to play the race card on his own party," the DC source said.

Friends like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the New York delegation are committed to keeping Rangel in place, sources said.

"Unless he's done something absolutely insane that hasn't come out yet, he's protected," said a Democratic official.

Rangel filed his amended forms during Congress' August break, just three days ahead of his extended deadline.

"He was smart to get this new information out now, before we are back in session and working on the health-care bill," said a Republican lawmaker close to the issue.

"If he'd waited two more weeks, a lot more Republicans would be there to demand he step down," the Republican said.


The Age Of The Celebrity Tyrant

Move over, Hollywood, Bollywood and all the rest of you glitterati. The world has entered the age of the Celebrity Tyrant. Hardly a week goes by without the exploits of some despot or other snatching the headlines--whether it's North Korea's Kim Jong Il hosting Bill Clinton for dinner and a detainee pickup; Muammar al-Qaddafi celebrating the parole of one of his Lockerbie-bombing terrorist agents; or Burma's Than Shwe milking the hostage-politics racket for a house call from Senator Jim Webb.

Not that despots are anything new. But about a generation back, they were a lot less bold and a lot less rich in cachet. What with the 1991 Soviet collapse and the waves of democratization then sweeping Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, dictatorship had become something of an embarrassment. Even just a few years ago, despots were a breed largely beyond the pale, with the late Saddam Hussein hiding in his spider hole, al-Qaddafi trying to placate the American cowboy and Syria's Bashar al-Assad teetering on his dynastic perch.

No longer. With regime change off the table, and President Obama dishing out "mutual respect" faster than the rulers of Tehran, Tripoli, Pyongyang or Caracas can spit their contempt right back in his face, tyrants are becoming ever more weirdly trendy. They are globalized, in our face, on the Web, on television--and as New York braces for the September opening of the United Nations General Assembly, some of them, with considerable ceremony, are coming to town.

The most flamboyant among them enter a VIP orbit, in which they may be officially reviled, but also eagerly sought after. Recall the banquet hosted by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last September at the midtown Manhattan Grand Hyatt for 1,000 or so of his closest friends. Or remember the gushing accounts two years ago of the invitations sent out, as Time magazine described it, on "creamy stationery with fancy calligraphy," to a select 50 or so American opinion-makers to sup with Ahmadinejad at the Intercontinental Hotel in New York. Whatever the protesters shouted outside the security cordon, it has become an accepted part of New York's fall season that Ahmadinejad and his retinue arrive for a hoopla of motorcades, talk shows, press conferences and banquets.

This kind of performance emboldens others. Small wonder Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez might be provisionally listed in the U.N. speakers' lineup for next month, looking for another bite of the Big Apple. And of course Libya's al-Qaddafi, no longer exiled from world gatherings, now wants a piece of this action. Al-Qaddafi has parlayed his way at the U.N. to a slot even higher than Ahmadinejad on the schedule for Sept. 23, the first day of speechifying.

In a chat on Saturday, radio talk show maestro John Batchelor asked me whether al-Qaddafi--making what one account described as his "maiden appearance" next month on the U.N. stage--might steal the show from both President Obama and Ahmadinejad.

Batchelor's question was asked in fun, but with a serious point. There is a strange, alternate universe overtaking the international stage, in which the competition is less about decency, morality or democratic values than about intrigue, thrills, trappings and ultimately the ability to hold the attention of a crowd. And yes, it's possible that for the novelty of the season, al-Qaddafi at the U.N. General Assembly next month will trump them all. The debate continues over where exactly he will stay, and whether he will bring such affectations as his Bedouin tent--an item which for gossip value promises to briefly outrank even Hollywood's Jolie-Pitt saga.

True to celebrity form, modern despots have their cliques. Between the road shows and house calls in which they now deal as erstwhile equals with envoys of the world's democracies, modern thugs enjoy advertising their sit-downs with each other. Before the U.N. General Assembly convenes, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has been variously advertised as heading to Libya, Belarus, Syria, Russia and Iran.

How many of those pit stops Chavez might actually make, as he loops his way toward a provisional speaking slot Sept. 24 on the U.N. stage in New York, we don't yet know. But it is increasingly obvious that among many of today's tyrants, there is a camaraderie which serves to embolden them all. Al-Qaddafi has named a soccer stadium in Libya after Chavez. Iran's regime has awarded Chavez the Islamic Republic's highest medal of honor. Chavez has lavished praise on Ahmadinejad, celebrating the inroads both can make against the U.S. "as long as we remain united."

On a related front, although Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir heads a genocidal regime and is under indictment by the U.N.'s International Criminal Court, a Sudanese news service bragged this week that al-Bashir has been invited by al-Qaddafi to an African Union summit on Aug. 31.

Tyrants have usually relied on showboating at home. Whether their fellow citizens believe in these acts or not, there is a certain amount of circus performance needed to sustain the propaganda with which they justify the deprivation and brutality that accompanies despotism.

But these days, with high tech ease, the propaganda quickly goes global. In places like London, Paris and New York, the images cultivated by despots blur into personae of benign celebrity--eccentric, perhaps, but hardly visible manifestations of evil. Russia's Vladimir Putin bares his chest for the camera and is depicted as bravely shooting a tiger; then tenderly receiving a tiger cub as a gift.

Operating with the budgets of billionaires, tyrants travel with entourages that can shut down entire hotel floors, and flash enough cash to impress. Some like to shop. Syria under President Bashar al-Assad may be a place of poverty and repression, but Syria's British-born first lady, Asma al-Assad, has been flaunting her designer wardrobe on Facebook.

Others cultivate the false modesty of casual clothes. Ahmadinejad has his trademark zip-up windbreaker, and Fidel Castro has recently reappeared in his warm-up suit. And, human nature being what it is, the item that gets instant attention too often tends to be the wardrobe in front of the camera, rather than the shadowy apparatus of secret police and atrocities back home.

Were this all some piece of ancient history, it would be fascinating to follow the adventures of these despots, complete with their social schedules, mutual back-scratching, signature apparel and stage appearances.

But however enlightened the world around many of us may appear, this is happening now. The social circuit for this crew is also a conduit for deals, alliances and a kind of gangland solidarity that makes it ever more difficult to shut any one of them down.

These are celebrities who answer to no law and no electorates. They are increasingly in the business of eroding rules of conduct that are vital to any civilized world order. They are riding much too high these days, and while it may be human nature to watch them with interest, it would be folly to forget for even a moment that all that glitter, wealth and showmanship--from Bedouin tent to designer shoes to creamy stationery--comes from the barrel of a gun.


The Fall Guy

In the game of political football that is today national security, spare a thought for CIA Director Leon Panetta. Quarterbacking is hard enough without getting sacked by your own team.

President Barack Obama fought hard for the former California congressman during his uncertain February confirmation fight. That's about the last thing the president has done for his spy chief. Quite the opposite: If the latest flap over CIA interrogations shows anything, it's that Mr. Panetta has officially become the president's designated fall guy.

The title has been months in the making. Mr. Obama is contending with an angry left that's riled by his decisions to retain some Bush-era counterterrorism policies. He's facing Congressional liberals still baying for Bush blood. He's hired Attorney General Eric Holder, who is giving the term "ideological purity" new meaning. Mr. Obama's way to appease these bodies? Hang the CIA and Mr. Panetta out to dry.

That strategy first showed its face in April, when the president released Justice Department memos with details of the enhanced interrogation program. Arguing against the full release of these memos was Mr. Panetta and four prior CIA directors. Disclosure, they said, would damage national security. Arguing for their release was Mr. Holder, and White House General Counsel Greg Craig, who articulated the views of The president threw the left some red meat, refusing even Mr. Panetta's pleas to redact certain sensitive details.

True, the president showed up at the CIA a few days later to reassure Mr. Panetta's demoralized troops. Don't "be discouraged" that you've "made mistakes," the president said, smiling, as Mr. Panetta stood grimly by. "That's how we learn." Mr. Obama vowed to be "vigorous in protecting" the organization. Later, at the White House, he announced plans to release photos showing detainee abuse—at the demand of the ACLU.

Then came House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's full-frontal assault, claiming the agency had lied to her about waterboarding. This would have been an excellent time for some "vigorous" protection of the CIA, since agency documents flatly contradict the speaker. But with his domestic agenda in the hands of Congress, the White House was mum. It showed equal interest in defending Mr. Panetta against the threat of congressional investigations.

This week the White House visited on the CIA director what ranking Senate Intelligence Committee member Kit Bond declared a "hat trick" of unpleasant moves. With his prior attempts to mollify his base on national security having failed— and those troops even more bitter about the flagging fortunes of the "public option" in ObamaCare—the president wheeled out Mr. Panetta for one more round.

Reversing prior promises not to prosecute CIA officials who "acted in good faith," Mr. Holder appointed a special counsel with the ability to prosecute officials who acted in good faith. This was paired with release of a 2004 CIA report that the administration spun as more proof of agency incompetence. As a finishing touch, the White House yanked the interrogation program out of Mr. Panetta's hands, relocating it with the FBI. With friends like these . . .

If Mr. Panetta has learned one lesson on the job, it's that he's alone. In the wake of the Pelosi blow-up, he took a stab at reconciliation with Democrats, trekking to Capitol Hill to tell the intelligence committees about a previously undisclosed (though hardly shocking) CIA idea for killing al Qaeda brass. His repayment was a letter, leaked to the press, from House Intelligence Chair Silvestre Reyes, claiming the new briefing simply proved the CIA had indeed previously lied to Congress.

Mr. Panetta is doubling down in defense of his agency. He issued a list of the 40 briefings Congress received. He's fought in court against more disclosure. He's warned publicly the country will "pay a price" if Congress plays politics with intelligence. He's sent countless feisty memos to his people, correcting mistakes in the public record and praising their work.

Yet Mr. Panetta can only do so much to reassure his troops. Faced with legal jeopardy, CIA staff will avoid intelligence-gathering risks, making it that much harder for the CIA director to succeed in his day job—protecting the country from harm. It will matter little that the president retained successful Bush-era counterterrorism programs if there is no intelligence-community will to implement them.

Sen. Bond notes that the Obama moves are "reopening old wounds" after years of effort to tear down walls within the intelligence community. Arguably the high point of cooperation was the work Justice and CIA did together in devising the interrogation program, which has yielded invaluable information. Now, the Missouri Republican tells me, "instead of the CIA viewing the Department of Justice as their lawyer, they view them as their prosecutor."

This week ABC News reported Mr. Panetta had engaged a month ago in a "profanity-laced screaming match" at the White House and had threatened to quit. The CIA says it is "absolutely untrue" that he has plans to leave. But who could blame him?

The C-SPAN revolution. I don't know if it's Lamb or all of them over at c-span but they are becoming the network of record. It's C-SPAN and then there is the rest of tv.

The coverage of the health care debate is must see tv, this weeks Q&A and tonight's show with the doctors is just so good It's causing me to miss parts of Xica!

Ecuador's Correa to close private TV station for 'spying'

QUITO — Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa announced Saturday he is seeking to definitively shut down a private television station that he accused of "espionage" on his office.

The station Teleamazonas, a private broadcaster that has been critical of Correa and his government, has already been fined multiple times for breaking broadcasting law, notably for reporting opposition charges of voter fraud during April's general elections.

This week the station broadcast a secretly recorded conversation between Correa and a Quito lawmaker -- seemingly the last straw for Correa, who has sought the station's closure for months.

"I ask that Teleamazonas... is finally closed," Correa said on his own weekly television and radio show Saturday.

"They have spied on a meeting in the office of the president -- that's an attack on national security.... We will not accept these things," said Correa.

Also Saturday, Correa ordered that the pan-American Telemundo talk show helmed by wildly popular Peruvian host Laura Bozzo be taken off Ecuadorian airwaves, describing the show as "junk" and "corruptive." Within minutes of the order the show's broadcast in Ecuador was terminated.

Earlier this month the leftist leader, a strong ally of regional firebrand leaders Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, proposed further restrictions of press freedoms by calling for controls of media "excesses."

During an inauguration ceremony of his second term in office, Correa accused his opponents of being motivated by profits and described the media as his "greatest enemy" during his first term as president.

Correa took office in 2007 for a four-year term to end in 2011, but after winning a constitutional reform earlier this year he gained re-election until 2013.

Correa and other leaders at the newly formed regional body, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), called in May for the creation of a specific body to defend governments against "press abuses."


Rebel bunker destroyed in Afghanistan: NATO

KABUL (AFP) – Afghan and international troops have destroyed a massive bunker complex in eastern Afghanistan used by the Haqqani insurgent network to store arms and shelter foreign fighters, officials said Sunday.

The troops were backed by helicopters in a battle on Friday that lasted 24 hours and resulted in the deaths of "a large number of enemy militants," the defence ministry and NATO said in a joint statement.

The operation took place in an isolated mountain region of Urgun district, in Paktika province which borders Pakistan, it said.

The joint force under command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) "engaged small arms fire from hostile militants" during the operation, it said.

"The force used direct fire and close air support to repel the attacks from militants.

"The force killed a large number of hostile militants and recovered multiple anti-aircraft artillery pieces, two heavy machine guns, two light machine guns, several assault rifles, multiple chest racks, ammunition and communications gear.

"The force destroyed the bunker complex and all enemy weaponry in place," it said.

The Haqqani network is a powerful group based in northwest Pakistan closely linked to Al-Qaeda and known for its ruthless and sophisticated attacks, including an assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2008.

It is led by former mujahideen leader Jalaludin Haqqani, who was a hero of the resistance against Soviet occupation during the 1980s. He aligned himself with the Taliban in the 1990s and became an important insurgent leader in 2003.

His son Siraj is believed to have taken recent command of the network.


Rocket attack


"That stands for Improvised Rectal Explosive Device; Al-Qaeda's newest weapon.
The suicide bomber who tried to assassinate a Saudi prince used an unusual place to conceal his explosive charge; his anus."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Layla Anwar On The Death Of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim

President Bush Gives A Warm Welcome To Rabid Death Militia
Leader al-Hakim, Who Is Making Goo-Goo Eyes At Bush - cr: UPI

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the "Butcher of Baghdad," one of the "Thousand Saddams" that came in to power after the US invasion, recently took a Shia death nap from his duties as chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and head of the nefarious murdering Badr Brigades militia.

I knew al-Hakim assuming room temperature (which is hellishly hot in Iraq after all) would provoke mon petit papillon, Layla Anwar into a fugue of highly fevered angered arousal, and Ms. Anwar sweetly, scathingly came through:

A.Hakeem head of the despicable SIIC, head of the Badr Brigade, the Shiite Iranian militia (by the way all the Shiites militias are Iranian militias), A.Hakeem who landed in Baghdad thanks to American tanks, A.Hakeem who had close ties with the neo cons. A.Hakeem head of the thugs who raped, tortured, murdered Iraqis, including Iraqi scientists, academics, doctors, ex-army officers and exiled thousands of Arab Sunnis...A.Hakeem who was tirelessly aiming for an "independent" southern Iraq, falling smack into the Zionist plan for the partition of Iraq. A.Hakeem whose son Ammar is known for his criminality, corruption and theft. A.Hakeem and his fucked up Shiite revivalism, hoping to turn Iraq into a full fledged Iranian colony so the long awaited Persian Mahdi can finally materialise in the Wilayat Al-Faqih...the Wilayat Al-Faqih Khameini style...A.Hakeem with close ties to Hassan Nasrallah of ze Lebanon...A.Hakeem died in IRAN today.

Whoooo, she sounds a bit agitated, doesn't she? Alas, this is Layla, and Layla wouldn't be Layla be without sweet words for her favorite leader habibi, Saddam:

S.Hussein, the martyr hero Iraqi President, who was lynched by none others than the Iranian criminals, till his last breath proclaimed nothing but the UNITY of Iraq, died in IRAQ, and this criminal venerated by Shiites as one of their supreme leaders died in Iran.

Ahhh, Layla's jaunt into the Arab Parallel Universe with the rightful criticism of Safavid stooge al-Hakim, followed by a veneration of genocidal maniac Saddam.

Medvedev: blaming Soviets for WWII a 'cynical lie'

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's president defended Moscow's role in World War II before the 70th anniversary of its outbreak, saying in an interview broadcast Sunday that anyone who lays equal blame on the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany is telling a "cynical lie."

Dmitry Medvedev's remarks were the latest salvo in Russia's bitter dispute with its neighbors over the war and its aftermath. The Kremlin has launched a campaign for universal acceptance of its portrayal of the Soviet Union as Europe's liberator.

In Eastern Europe, however, gratitude for the Nazi defeat is diluted by bitterness over the decades of postwar Soviet dominance.

Medvedev suggested in the interview with state-run Rossiya television that nobody can question "who started the war, who killed people and who saved millions of lives - who, in the final analysis, saved Europe."

"You cannot label someone who defended himself an aggressor," Medvedev said.

Tuesday marks 70 years since the Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, shortly after Josef Stalin's Soviet Union reached a nonaggression pact with Germany that included a secret protocol dividing eastern Europe into spheres of influence.

Weeks after the German invasion, the Soviet army entered Poland from the east. After claiming its part of Poland, the Soviet Union then annexed the Baltic states and parts of Finland and Romania.

Germany is widely considered the chief culprit in the war, but many Western historians believe Hitler was encouraged to invade by the treaty with Moscow, called the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The Kremlin recently has mounted a defense against suggestions that the Soviet Union shares responsibility for the outbreak of the war.

Russians contend that the Soviet leadership saw a deal with Nazi Germany as the only alternative after failing to reach a military agreement with Britain and France, and that the pact bought time to prepare for war.

Medvedev lashed out at the parliamentary assembly of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe over a July resolution equating the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, saying: "Excuse me, but this is a cynical lie."

In the broadcast interview, Medvedev accused Western nations of turning a blind eye to what he said is the practice of Ukraine and the Baltic ex-Soviet republics of treating "former Nazi disciples" as "national heroes."

He suggested there was greater agreement between Moscow and the West about the moral aspects of World War II during the Cold War than there is now.

Russian leaders accuse Western countries of rewriting history and understating the staggering sacrifices of the Soviet Union, which lost an estimated 27 million people in the war. In May, Medvedev created a commission to fight what he said were growing efforts to hurt Russia by falsifying history.

Kremlin critics have accused Russia of doing the falsifying, saying its leadership glosses over the Soviet government's conduct at home and abroad.

In recent months, Poland has expressed dismay over a program on state-run Russian television and a research paper posted on the Russian Defense Ministry's Web site that seemed to lay significant blame on Poland for the outbreak of WWII.


What an idiot.

Al-Qaida claims attack that injured Saudi prince

CAIRO (AP) - Al-Qaida claimed responsibility Sunday for a suicide attack that injured a Saudi prince and said the bomber - a wanted militant who had fled to Yemen - arrived on a royal jet after convincing the ruling family he wanted to surrender.

Despite the attack on Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, his father, Interior Minister Prince Nayef, said the kingdom would not change its offer for militants to repent. Saudi Arabia has been praised for having one of the world's best terrorist rehabilitation programs in the world.

Saudi officials have said the prince was lightly wounded in the bombing at his home in Jiddah Thursday night while he was receiving well-wishers for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. If al-Qaida's claim proves to be true, it would be an embarrassment for the prince and his father, two of the kingdom's top anti-terrorism officials. Prince Nayef is a half brother of Saudi King Abdullah and one of the most powerful members of the royal family.

"You tyrants ... your bastions and fortifications will not prevent us from reaching you. We will come to you soon," al-Qaida warned in an Internet statement. The authenticity of the message could not be independently verified, but it was posted on militant Web sites often used by al-Qaida.

In one version of the events, Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned television network, said the attacker concealed the explosives in his anus, allowing him to evade detection. The network also quoted an expert as saying that the method of concealment aimed the blast away from the target, while blowing the bomber to bits.

Saudi officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the al-Qaida claim. They have refused to say exactly how the bomber arrived at Prince Mohammed's home, disclosing only that he was a wanted militant who convinced authorities he wanted to turn himself in.

Prince Nayef said Saturday the attack on his son "will not change the policy of keeping the door open for those who repent," the official Saudi Press Agency reported. At the same time, he warned that future attacks could be more sophisticated, and therefore more dangerous.

Prince Mohammed has already admitted he ordered guards not to search the attacker when he arrived at his home to surrender, even though the man was wanted by authorities. Saudi officials have said the prince wanted to treat the militant with respect and trust to encourage other wanted militants to come forward.

Al-Qaida identified the bomber as Abdullah Hassan Tali Assiri, a Saudi citizen. Yemen's foreign minister and al-Qaida both said he crossed the border from Yemen into Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qaida and a Saudi newspaper have said the attacker, who also goes by the alias Abu al-Kheir, was on Saudi's list of 85 wanted militants, most of them Saudi. Al-Arabiya said Assiri is 23 and has a 27-year-old brother Ibrahim who is also on the wanted list.

Yemen's foreign minister, Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the attacker came from an area neighboring Saudi Arabia known to be an al-Qaida sanctuary.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed the bomber managed to pass through security checkpoints at both the Saudi airports in Najran, a city on the border with Yemen, and Jiddah before he arrived at Prince Mohammed's home.

The group, which formed in January when al-Qaida operations in Yemen and Saudi Arabia merged, described the attack as "the first-ever intelligence and security penetration of its kind in the Arabian Peninsula." It was the first known attack by the newly merged group inside Saudi Arabia.

A crackdown on al-Qaida's Saudi branch forced it to move most of its operations to Yemen, where poverty, instability and widespread lawlessness have enabled it to take root. Saudi officials have expressed concern that al-Qaida could use Yemen as a sanctuary to launch cross-border attacks.

The attack was the first attempt against a member of the royal family in decades and was also the first significant attack by militants in the kingdom since 2006. Saudi Arabia has waged a fierce crackdown on al-Qaida militants in the country. It has killed or captured most of their leaders after a string of attacks that started in 2003.

Before Thursday's bombing, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula made several unsuccessful attempts to strike inside the kingdom.


Digging up the Saudi past: Some would rather not

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Much of the world knows Petra, the ancient ruin in modern-day Jordan that is celebrated in poetry as "the rose-red city, 'half as old as time,'" and which provided the climactic backdrop for "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."

But far fewer know Madain Saleh, a similarly spectacular treasure built by the same civilization, the Nabateans.

That's because it's in Saudi Arabia, where conservatives are deeply hostile to pagan, Jewish and Christian sites that predate the founding of Islam in the 7th century.

But now, in a quiet but notable change of course, the kingdom has opened up an archaeology boom by allowing Saudi and foreign archaeologists to explore cities and trade routes long lost in the desert.

The sensitivities run deep. Archaeologists are cautioned not to talk about pre-Islamic finds outside scholarly literature. Few ancient treasures are on display, and no Christian or Jewish relics. A 4th or 5th century church in eastern Saudi Arabia has been fenced off ever since its accidental discovery 20 years ago and its exact whereabouts kept secret.

In the eyes of conservatives, the land where Islam was founded and the Prophet Muhammad was born must remain purely Muslim. Saudi Arabia bans public displays of crosses and churches, and whenever non-Islamic artifacts are excavated, the news must be kept low-key lest hard-liners destroy the finds.

"They should be left in the ground," said Sheikh Mohammed al-Nujaimi, a well-known cleric, reflecting the views of many religious leaders. "Any ruins belonging to non-Muslims should not be touched. Leave them in place, the way they have been for thousands of years."

In an interview, he said Christians and Jews might claim discoveries of relics, and that Muslims would be angered if ancient symbols of other religions went on show. "How can crosses be displayed when Islam doesn't recognize that Christ was crucified?" said al-Nujaimi. "If we display them, it's as if we recognize the crucifixion."

In the past, Saudi authorities restricted foreign archaeologists to giving technical help to Saudi teams. Starting in 2000, they began a gradual process of easing up that culminated last year with American, European and Saudi teams launching significant excavations on sites that have long gone lightly explored, if at all.

At the same time, authorities are gradually trying to acquaint the Saudi public with the idea of exploring the past, in part to eventually develop tourism. After years of being closed off, 2,000-year-old Madain Saleh is Saudi Arabia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site and is open to tourists. State media now occasionally mention discoveries as well as the kingdom's little known antiquities museums.

"It's already a big change," said Christian Robin, a leading French archaeologist and a member of the College de France. He is working in the southwestern region of Najran, mentioned in the Bible by the name Raamah and once a center of Jewish and Christian kingdoms.

No Christian artifacts have been found in Najran, he said.

Spearheading the change is the royal family's Prince Sultan bin Salman, who was the first Saudi in space when he flew on the U.S. space shuttle Discovery in 1985. He is now secretary general of the governmental Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities.

Dhaifallah Altalhi, head of the commission's research center at the governmental Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, said there are 4,000 recorded sites of different periods and types, and most of the excavations are on pre-Islamic sites.

"We treat all our sites equally," said Altalhi. "This is part of the history and culture of the country and must be protected and developed." He said archaeologists are free to explore and discuss their findings in academic venues.

Still, archaeologists are cautious. Several declined to comment to The Associated Press on their work in the kingdom.

The Arabian Peninsula is rich, nearly untouched territory for archaeologists. In pre-Islamic times it was dotted with small kingdoms and crisscrossed by caravan routes to the Mediterranean. Ancient Arab peoples - Nabateans, Lihyans, Thamud - interacted with Assyrians and Babylonians, Romans and Greeks.

Much about them is unknown.

Najran, discovered in the 1950s, was invaded nearly a century before Muhammad's birth by Dhu Nawas, a ruler of the Himyar kingdom in neighboring Yemen. A convert to Judaism, he massacred Christian tribes, leaving triumphant inscriptions carved on boulders.

At nearby Jurash, a previously untouched site in the mountains overlooking the Red Sea, a team led by David Graf of the University of Miami is uncovering a city that dates at least to 500 B.C. The dig could fill out knowledge of the incense routes running through the area and the interactions of the region's kingdoms over a 1,000-year span.

And a French-Saudi expedition is doing the most extensive excavation in decades at Madain Saleh. The city, also known as al-Hijr, features more than 130 tombs carved into mountainsides. Some 450 miles from Petra, it is thought to mark the southern extent of the Nabatean kingdom.

In a significant 2000 find, Altalhi unearthed a Latin dedication of a restored city wall at Madain Saleh which honored the second century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

So far, there has been no known friction with conservatives over the new excavations, in part because they are in the early stages, are not much discussed in Saudi Arabia, and haven't produced any announcements of overtly Christian or Jewish finds.

But the call to keep the land purged of other religions runs deep among many Saudis. Even though Madain Saleh site is open for tourism, many Saudis refuse to visit on religious grounds because the Quran says God destroyed it for its sins.

Excavations sometimes meet opposition from local residents who fear their region will become known as "Christian" or "Jewish." And Islam being an iconoclastic religion, hard-liners have been known to raze even ancient Islamic sites to ensure that they do not become objects of veneration.

Saudi museums display few non-Islamic artifacts.

Riyadh's National Museum shows small pre-Islamic statues, a golden mask and a large model of a pagan temple. In some display cases, female figurines are listed, but not present - likely a nod to the kingdom's ban on depictions of the female form.

A tiny exhibition at the King Saud University in Riyadh displays small nude statues of Hercules and Apollo in bronze, a startling sight in a country where nakedness in art is highly taboo.

In 1986, picnickers accidentally discovered an ancient church in the eastern region of Jubeil. Pictures of the simple stone building show crosses in the door frame.

It is fenced off - for its protection, authorities say - and archaeologists are barred from examining it.

Faisal al-Zamil, a Saudi businessman and amateur archaeologist, says he has visited the church several times.

He recalls offering a Saudi newspaper an article about the site and being turned down by an editor.

"He was shocked," al-Zamil said. "He said he could not publish the piece."


Chávez’s Covert War

Venezuela's strongman Hugo Chávez recently warned that the "winds of war" were blowing in South America, and called on his military to "prepare for combat" against neighboring Colombia, a U.S. ally. Should we take his prediction seriously, or is this another cry of "wolf" by the loud lieutenant colonel? And how worried should be the American government be in either case?

An overt Venezuela-Colombia war is unlikely. To be sure, saber-rattling by someone who wears battle fatigues in public cannot be ignored. But Chávez's generals are in no mood to face the Colombians or anyone else. Corruption and politicization have weakened Venezuela's military, despite its acquisition of billions of dollars of Russian and other foreign weaponry. Plus, in his 10 years in power, Chávez has only ever pointed his guns at defenseless Venezuelan civilians. Bullies like him do not forewarn their intended victims. He does not fight openly, preferring to intervene covertly -- either directly or through his regional "anti-imperialist" alliance, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a collection of the highest-decibel, lowest performing leaders in the region, from countries including Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and, until June, Honduras.

Honduras has been the most recent target of Chávez's subversion. There, he convinced a gullible follower, Manuel Zelaya, to retain his office through ALBA's so-far successful modus operandi: After reaching power democratically, change the rules, neutralizing the legislative and judicial systems so that no opposition leader can ever rise democratically again. Chávez has guided this strategy in Bolivia and Ecuador, and ALBA member Daniel Ortega is attempting the same in Nicaragua. Thankfully, however, Honduras's institutions of democracy -- the justice system and legislature -- proved too strong. The Supreme Court unanimously found Zelaya guilty of high crimes and ordered the military to remove him from office.

Losing Zelaya -- the first reversal in the drive to spread "21st Century Socialism" in the region -- has driven Chávez to near hysteria. He has repeatedly promised to "overthrow" the new Honduran president, Roberto Micheletti, who was constitutionally appointed to office by an overwhelming congressional vote. (All but three members of Zelaya's own party voted for Micheletti.) No Chávez soldiers have been spotted in Honduras, but there are reports that Venezuelan and Cuban intelligence operatives are fomenting violence in order to damage the government's image, a common tactic in Latin America.

In Colombia, Chávez cries wolf to disguise his concealed aggression, such as his support for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), internationally condemned as a "narco-terrorist organization." The discovery of Venezuelan support for terrorists has routinely triggered Chávez's public tantrums. In March 2008, for example, Colombian Special Forces raided a FARC command and training camp situated more than a mile inside Ecuador. They captured laptops belonging to the FARC's second-in-command, Raul Reyes, who was killed in the assault. The computers revealed Chavez's long-standing financial, political, diplomatic, and military aid to the FARC. They documented Chávez's offer of $300 million for the FARC in Colombia and for other Marxist groups in Latin America, as well as collaboration with and political contributions to Ecuadorian President (and ALBA cheerleader) Rafael Correa, one of Chávez's most vocal allies. Correa and other leftist leaders condemned Colombia for its "violation of Ecuador's sovereignty" -- rather than denouncing the presence of a transnational terrorist camp, which must have existed with government acquiescence.

At that time, Chávez's hysteria reached a fever pitch. Chávez called Colombian President Álvaro Uribe "a criminal" and Colombia a "terrorist state," equating its aggressiveness with Israel's. On television, Chávez histrionically ordered his generals to "send 10 battalions of tanks" to the border, which he closed, stopping all trade. The measures soon had to be repealed lest they damage Venezuela's economy more than Colombia's.

Thus, the winds of war announced by Chávez last year did little lasting damage. Is this year any different?

The latest cause of Chávez's bellicosity is the announcement that Colombia will host U.S. advisors at some of its army, navy, and air bases. Chávez and his leftist chorus, including Argentina and Brazil, immediately accused Uribe of providing "military bases" for "an aggression by the empire against our region" (in the words of Bolivian President Evo Morales).

The United States has repeatedly stated that there are no military bases being established in Colombia. Nor are there plans for any. No additional U.S. forces are being sent. In fact, the number of American military and civilian advisors in Colombia has steadily declined over the past few years, and today totals less than a thousand. At the same time, the number of Cuban and other rogue-state advisors in Venezuela is reported to be many times that number.

The U.S. presence on Colombian soil is not a threat to regional peace -- quite the contrary. U.S. advisors have helped Colombia's security forces crush narcotics traffic and terrorism. Under Uribe, the number of Marxist guerrillas has been halved, from about 18,000 to 9,000. Right-wing paramilitaries have lost so many men (over 30,000 have surrendered) that they no longer exist as organized forces. And an official U.N. report credits Colombia's anti-narcotics programs for cutting coca cultivation and production by double digits in one year.

So why the cries of war? Because, once again, Chávez's ties to the illicit weapons and drugs pipelines have been exposed.

On August 3, the New York Times reported: "Venezuelan officials have continued to assist commanders of Colombia's largest rebel group, helping them arrange weapons deals in Venezuela and even obtain identity cards to move with ease on Venezuelan soil." The article adds that captured materials "point to detailed collaboration between the guerrillas and high-ranking military and intelligence officials in Mr. Chávez 's government as recently as several weeks ago."

A recent example illustrates Venezuela's brazen arms trafficking. When Colombia found Swedish-made anti-tank rocket launchers in FARC hands, the Swedish government asked Venezuela for an explanation. In the original sales agreement, Venezuela promised Stockholm that the weapons would not end up in the hands of terrorists -- but there they were. Chávez has refused to issue an official reply, saying in public only that the arms had been "stolen" from a Venezuelan military base.

Chávez's government is also deeply involved in drug trafficking. Last September, the U.S. Treasury Department designated three senior Venezuelan government officials as "Significant Foreign Narcotics Traffickers" under the Drug Kingpin Act. They charged Henry Rangel Silva, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, and Hugo Armando Carvajal with "materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC."

In equivalent positions in the United States, these individuals would be director of the FBI and CIA, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and U.S. attorney general and secretary of homeland security. Does anyone really think these men act without Chávez's knowledge and protection? Not surprisingly, in July, the non-partisan U.S. General Accountability Office reported that "Venezuela has extended a lifeline to Colombian illegal armed groups by providing significant support and safe haven along the border. As a result, these groups, which traffic in illicit drugs, remain viable threats to Colombian security."

But Colombia is far from the only target. The United States is the principal market for Colombia's illicit drug industry, of which Chávez's allies in FARC control 60 percent of production. Clearly, an undeclared war is already underway between Hugo Chávez's government and the United States and Colombia.

Faced with this and much more damning evidence, some still classified, of Chávez's covert war, what should the U.S. response be? First, call Chávez what he is: a supporter of drug trafficking and terrorism. Second, designate Venezuela as an official state sponsor of terrorism. The National Security Council has made this recommendation since 2003. Some U.S. officials, well-meaning but misguided, feel that diplomacy alone will convince Chávez to change his ways. It has not and will not. Third, end the self-defeating U.S. dependence on the Venezuelan oil that finances Chavez's anti-democratic and anti-American aggression. The United States can find new sources for 8 percent of its imports much more quickly than Venezuela can find an alternate market for 72 percent of its exports.

Some may say this last response is "disproportionate" or "confrontational." They should try saying that to the mother of the American child who died of a drug overdose, the wife of the U.S. policeman murdered by traffickers, or the orphan of the Colombian soldier killed by weapons provided by Hugo Chávez. Such a non-belligerent reaction by the United States, whose national security is under attack, is fully justified.


The Science of Islamic Terror

A number of important advances made in the past decade are now helping us to put together a scientific model or theory of the phenomenon of religion-based terror. This has ranged from new studies on the contrasting evolution of India and Pakistan, to a recent statistical analysis of Islamic doctrines and an analysis of the impact of the propagation of Islam funded through Middle Eastern petrodollars. On the side of tackling terror, insights have been gained on the origin of terror and its propagation. We are also able to better understand how a broad coalition of people and nations could be mobilized to tackle terror. Some ideas have been developed on how, by advancing rational thinking, one might wean away educated Muslims from terrorist ideologies.

The context of studying the relative evolution of India and Pakistan is that although the majority religions in these two nations are different, they share language, culture, ethnicity, and culinary habits, and yet Hindu-majority India has managed to create wealth and focus on development but Islamic Pakistan has turned into a major fountainhead of religion-based terror.

Statistical analysis is a useful tool for deciphering the character of an entity or ideology that sends out mixed signals, perhaps to camouflage its true intent.

It is now increasingly realized that there are specific political objectives behind the religion-based terror war called jihad. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden outlined a condition for terror attacks against America to cease: “I invite you to embrace Islam.” During the past sixty years most non-Muslim minorities in all Muslim-majority regions of South Asia were terrorized into leaving for nearby non-Muslim-majority lands. Those who stayed behind were subjected to state-sponsored discrimination and exclusion, so that they would either convert to Islam or leave the country. All of this points to conquering — even during contemporary times — land and people for Islam.

If conquest is the ulterior motive then terror should be just one of the — albeit important — means of achieving the objective. Indeed, in Muslim-minority nations such as India, Islamists are seen to gain access to power through their control of the Muslim vote block and then promote or advocate policies that advance their agenda. This may be called a non-violent form of jihad.

From where does the passion to conquer come?

A recent groundbreaking statistical examination of Islamic doctrines appears to overwhelmingly identify the roots of the motivation to conquer with the doctrines themselves. About sixty-one percent of the contents of the Koran are found to speak ill of unbelievers or call for their violent conquest; at best only 2.6 percent of the verses of the Koran are noted to show goodwill toward humanity. While there might be some subjectivity to this analysis, the overwhelming thrust of the inferences should be taken note of. This new analysis sheds light on not only understanding the roots of terror, but also on how to address Islamic radicalism.

Even if conquest is emphasized in the doctrines, if the structure of a religion itself allows room for personal growth, the focus of its adherents will likely be oriented constructively inward.

What is now commonly known as Sharia or Islamic law deals with many aspects of day-to-day life. This “divine” law was formulated over a thousand years ago and reflects the customs and traditions of Arab tribes of a bygone era. Just about all communities in Muslim-majority nations find themselves under different degrees of the Sharia — and, as a result, are hard-pressed to embrace a modern way of life, including modern education. This is the likely reason that, despite oil wealth, in the Human Development Index (HDI) published each year by the United Nations — a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, and standards of living — of the 32 countries rated “high” in 2006, not one was a Muslim-majority country. However, of the 30 countries rated “low,” 16 were Muslim countries.

In other words, Sharia makes the process of wealth creation — the basis of building modern civilizations — difficult for Muslim communities to achieve and indirectly helps channel Muslim energies toward the outlet of the adventure of conquest through jihad. Besides the theological grounds, the cover for waging a multi-front jihad is derived by associating unbelievers with certain “injustices” perpetrated on Muslims. The perception of the so-called injustices created and sustained relentlessly can be viewed as the primary mode of building up anger and hatred in the minds of Muslims.

Yet an ideology alone is not capable of making a transnational impact unless it has resourceful and committed backers. The main backing comes from Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and a nation that uses Islamic doctrines in place of a constitution — and is very well endowed with oil. This free or unearned wealth has shielded the flaws of the Sharia-based system there from being exposed. By many accounts, the Saudi Arabian government alone has spent billions of dollars since the mid-1970s to propagate Islam around the world as a conduit for advancing its interests. In addition to distributing Islamic doctrines, substantial amounts have been spent on constructing new mosques, staffing them, and producing propaganda material.

This funding has coincided with an increase in violent extremism directed at non-Muslims and a regressive outlook seen in Muslim communities all over the world. If the Islamic doctrines and their subsequent interpretations are overwhelmingly and violently disposed toward non-Muslims and emphasize the importance of adhering to outdated customs, their propagation will inevitably lead predominantly to the abovementioned characteristics. In retrospect, we now realize that attacks such as the one on 9/11 — or what are yet to come — are an inevitable consequence of this long-term funding and indoctrination process.

How could the terror threat be mitigated?

On the side of ideology that generates the passion for jihad sit the clergy and mosques. However, execution of jihad has to involve educated Muslims. After all, without modern education, the tools of the modern world — from weapons to other kinds of infrastructure — could not be effectively used to conduct terror. Yet this critical segment of the Muslim population is also susceptible to rational ideas. A nuanced, science-based analysis and articulation of ideas, designed to deemphasize the importance given to Islamic scriptures and to loosen the vice-like grip of the clergies, has to be part of any logical approach to winning the war of ideas. This could be among the critical missing pieces in unraveling the terrorism jigsaw puzzle.

For instance, if available evidence suggests that an ancient scripture was taken down and stored in an unreliable manner, then one could arguably conclude that the scripture couldn’t be taken literally.

A war of ideas makes the war on terror similar to the Cold War between the Soviet-based communist ideology and American-led liberal democracies. The West won the Cold War as a non-occupying power — and brought liberty and development to the former communist states by vigorously undercutting the ideology of its former adversaries.

In the context of the model of terror discussed here, some of the most talked-about ad hoc strategies of neutralizing terror — “backing the moderate Muslims,” “promoting democracy in the Muslim world by familiarizing the success of the Western democracies in Muslim communities,” “protecting populations from terrorists (in Iraq and Afghanistan),” or “bringing forth economic and educational development” — may be seen as either not focused enough or not efficient enough to undercut the ideologies that are spawning religion-based terrorism.

Terrorism continues to exact a huge toll on human lives and diversion of scarce resources. The sheer scale might make these acts a crime against humanity. As discussed before, much of the ideology behind the terror was propagated around the planet by nations in the Middle East. Even the so-called non-state outfits such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, or Hamas have their funding sources and ideological guidance traced to nations in the Middle East or South Asia.

A multi-pronged approach to tackling terror has to involve taking certain nations to task on the grounds of sponsoring crimes against humanity, for backing certain terror outfits and other entities. However, this has become particularly complicated because a broad ideology-based movement located in these nations is behind terror funding and sponsorship. Hence, this undertaking is necessarily massive and calls for a broad coalition of nations. Building up, on the basis of grievance, a coalition of states that are victims of terror, including ones from the developing world — India, Thailand, the Philippines, to name a few — is called for. In particular, a large and strategically located nation such as India, a perennial victim of religion-based terror and the next-door neighbor of Pakistan, gives the West some compelling ideological, political, and military options.


Yemen's army steps up pressure on Shiite rebels

Yemen's army continued a near three-week-long offensive on Shiite northern rebels on Saturday as officials said the army had inflicted heavy losses on their strongholds in Saada region and surrounding areas.

Yemen's air force has bombarded Zaidi rebels' positions in al-Talh, in Saada, while troops destroyed other positions and arms caches in the district of Malaheez, also in Saada, a military spokesman told Saba state news agency.

Television footage showed warplanes striking targets in the rugged mountains and salvos of rockets being fired by a line of launchers.

The Zaidi rebels -- also known as Huthis -- meanwhile claimed in a statement late Friday that warplanes have been targeting civilian neighborhoods and camps of displaced people in Saada, which is near the Saudi border.

It said that the rebels have stopped troops from advancing in several areas, including Malaheez, and Sufyan district in neighboring Imran province.

Rebels also claimed capturing an undetermined number of soldiers and destroying two tanks in an attack on an army point in Maqash, near the city of Saada.

The military spokesman claimed that the army killed several rebels in the same clash in Maqash, adding to confusion about the developments on the ground amid a lack of independent sources of information.

"Operation Scorched Earth"

The army's "Operation Scorched Earth" has entered its 18th day. There are no reliable sources on the numbers of casualties, but rebels say dozens of civilians have been killed.

Rebels have also alleged neighboring Saudi Arabia has been sending warplanes to aid Yemeni troops, a claim ridiculed by the Yemeni government which accuses Shiite Iran of backing the rebels.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh vowed on Thursday to crush the rebellion within weeks.

The government had offered a six-point plan to end the fighting but the rebels dismissed the offer, recalling that a Qatari-brokered peace deal reached in June 2007 had never been implemented.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said last week that around 35,000 people have been displaced by the clashes.

An offshoot of Shiite Islam, the Zaidis are a minority in mainly Sunni Yemen but form the majority community in the north and want to establish anew the imamate overthrown in a 1962 coup.

Thousands of people have been killed since the conflict first erupted in 2004.

Al Arabiya

Revenge killers target Taliban

NEARLY three months after the Pakistani army retook the Swat valley from the Taliban, corpses are appearing on the streets almost every day.

This time the killings are about revenge. The bodies are suspected militants or Taliban collaborators. Their killers are alleged to be the security forces, although this is denied officially.

The murders are a sign that peace has not yet returned, even though the American government has hailed the offensive as a successful blow against militancy, and refugees are returning.

The body of Afzal Khan, who was in his mid-thirties and lived in the village of Salampur, is one of dozens that have been found since last month. Khan used to serve food to the Taliban and was friendly with Shah Dau-ran, their commander. Dau-ran was killed in June.

“Khan went missing from his house one night and after 15 days, we found his corpse with bullet wounds to his head,” said a neighbour.

Akhatar Khan, a clerk in Mingora, the main city of Swat, met a similar fate. He was told by friends that he was on the security forces’ wanted list. He went to the police to clarify his position and his body was found dumped near his home a few days later.

Some families have protested that innocent relatives have been targeted: the Ullah brothers were found blindfolded, with their hands tied behind their backs, after they had been killed with a shot to the head. “My sons had nothing to do [with the Taliban]. They were innocent,” said their mother, Bakht Begum.

The reprisals are a grim echo of the Taliban’s own reign of terror. However, many believe they are the only way to stamp out the Taliban forever.

“They must be punished for their atrocities, for beheading people, lashing girls and destroying schools,” said Ameer Muhammad, the owner of a shop selling records. The Taliban had warned him to close his business.

Zahoor, a security guard in Mingora, said he he had not been able to sleep since the Taliban killed an innocent man in the street near his home.

“Those responsible for such acts do not deserve any other treatment than the one being given to them,” he said.


Elections in Afghanistan: A Heritage Foundation Event

"Pretty interesting panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation. I was wondering what Barno's thoughts on all this were...
In other news, Hamid Karzai is doing his best to exhaust the patience of the United States."
Abu Muqawama

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Iraq to fetch MiG fighter planes from Serbia

BAGHDAD — An Iraqi military delegation has gone to Serbia to bring back 19 MiG fighter planes that Saddam Hussein's regime sent for servicing 20 years ago, the defence ministry said on Saturday.

"General Othman al-Fredji, a defence ministry adviser, and Anwar Mohammed Amin, head of the air force, are in Serbia negotiating the return (of the planes) at the earliest possible date," spokesman General Mohammed al-Askari said.

The Soviet-built MiG-21 and 23 aircraft, whose existence has just been discovered, "were sent by Saddam's government in 1989 for maintenance and everything was paid for with Iraqi money," he said.

Askari said the planes are important for Iraq as "our air force only possesses helicopters."

The former Yugoslavia was a major exporter of arms to Saddam's dictatorship before breaking up in the 1990s.

Askari said the ministry "is searching in the United States, France, Italy, Russia and some Arab countries to locate funds or military equipment that the former government bought for its army."

Iraq has found two navy vessels belonging to it in Egypt and two others moored in Italy as well as "aircraft and equipment in Russia and France," the spokesman said, without giving further details.


Damn, no stolen equipment in the US? How did that happen.

Iraq’s Ambivalence About the American Military

BAGHDAD — Iraqi military officials often refer to their American counterparts as “the friends,” a circumlocution full of Eastern subtlety that is often lost on the friends themselves. Add some more quotation marks, and it comes closer to the sense intended, “the ‘friends.’ ” Not sarcastic, exactly, but rather colored with mixed emotions, as in the sentence, “The ‘friends’ came by yesterday to complain again about payroll skimming.”

Americans find this hard to understand about the Iraq war, that their trillion-dollar enterprise in Iraq has made Iraqis and particularly the Iraqi military not only deeply dependent on America, but also deeply conflicted, even resentful about that dependency. After all, we saved them from defeat at the hands of a ruthless insurgency that a few years ago indeed could have destroyed them, and we spent 4,000 lives doing it, left probably 10 times that many young Americans crippled for life, and they’re not grateful?

That is not, at bottom, how the Iraqis see it. They are grateful, many of them, but gratitude is a drink with a bitter aftertaste. They also chafe at the thousands of daily humiliations they endure from a mostly well-meaning but often clueless American military. An Iraqi politician who wishes to remain nameless (“I have to deal with the friends,” he explains) tells of traveling with the Iraqi Army’s chief of staff, a general in uniform, epaulets bristling with eagles, stars and swords. They were at the Baghdad airport, about to get on one of the few Iraqi military planes, when an American sergeant stopped him and refused to allow him to board. Despite the general’s remonstrations of rank and privilege, the sergeant made sure the plane took off without him.

“Once I had a meeting with the division commander in charge of Baghdad,” the politician went on. “A private meeting. In walks an American colonel and sits there with a translator, taking notes on our conversation. He apologized and said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do anything about this.’ ”

This indirectly explains a lot about the current state of affairs, post June 30. Iraqis have enthusiastically embraced their newfound military sovereignty, even when, as is often the case, they’re not really ready for it. They can field troops who can fight, but they can’t fix their Humvees. They can mount their own operations against insurgents, but are reluctant to do so without air cover — which so far only the Americans can provide. They can marshal large numbers of soldiers — their army now is more numerous than America’s in Iraq — but they depend on the Americans to handle most of their logistics, since their own are plagued by corruption and mismanagement.

Under the new Status of Forces Agreement between the countries, not only did American troops leave all population centers after June 30, but they’ve also agreed not to get involved, in or out of the cities, unless invited to do so by the Iraqis. And the Iraqi inclination has been not to invite them, partly out of pride, partly out of concern for the political blowback from their own public when they do ask for help.

This was brought into sharp relief by the two ministry truck bombings on Aug. 19, which succeeded because fortifications had been prematurely removed from in front of those ministries. “It was Iraqi aspirations exceeding their ability to secure their country on their own,” says John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and an author of influential works on counterinsurgency. “The Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces are improving steadily but they’re not yet able to handle these threats responsibly,” Mr. Nagl says.

He argues that the Iraqi and American militaries need to set up standing pre-arrangements by which the United States can intervene in an emergency on the ground; such arrangements are entirely possible under the terms of the forces agreement, even if they may cause political difficulties, especially in an election year.

“The government of Iraq is going to have to ask us for our help, and it takes a while for the Iraqi government to process that,” he says. “The Iraqi government is not yet able to make a quick decision. This whole incident should serve as a wake-up call that the U.S. still has a very important role to play in Iraq’s security.”

The tension between Iraq’s desire to embrace its sovereignty and its continuing military shortcomings is likely to last many years, Mr. Nagl says, because the United States has done little so far to give the Iraqi military the ability to defend its country against external threats once Americans leave by the end of 2011.

The most glaring shortcoming is the almost complete lack of an air force, aside from a few transport and reconnaissance aircraft; there is not a single jet. The first T-6 jet trainer, a propeller- driven aircraft that simulates a jet, is on order for next December. Training pilots will take many years more. In a modern world, Mr. Nagl says, “You can’t defend the sovereignty of your country if you can’t defend your air space.”

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the American military’s training command, says that was inevitable in the rush to build large army and police ground forces to counter the insurgency.

General Helmick says he is unconcerned about the lack of an international defensive capability. “What do they need to defend themselves against?”

Nothing, so long as American troops are there in such numbers, but once they’re gone, Iraq will remain surrounded by potential enemies. Turkey has been regularly bombing Iraqi territory in the north, in an effort to wipe out Kurdish guerrillas who use the area as a sanctuary for attacks in Turkey. Iran is a friend now, but in the 1980s it fought a decade-long war involving many divisions of tanks, airstrikes and even chemical warfare. The Sunni Arab regimes to the west and south, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, are all nervous about a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq, and relations have been strained with all of them at times over issues ranging from support for insurgents to war reparations.

In recent days, Iraq and Syria recalled their ambassadors for consultations after Iraq accused Syria of harboring two Baathists it believes are responsible for the truck bombings.

At the highest levels, despite the bluster and the perennial ill-feeling, Iraqis know they will remain dependent on the United States for a very long time, even after the internal insurgency is vanquished. Nationalism, though, can be a dangerous and deluding force. It has, writes the analyst Kenneth Pollack in the forthcoming issue of The National Interest, “led many Iraqi politicians, including the prime minister, to take public positions unsupportive of the American presence, even though most know that America’s role as peacekeeper, mediator, adviser and capacity-builder remain critical to Iraq’s stability and progress.”

There’s an old saying that if you save someone’s life, they become your responsibility forever. It seems counterintuitive, but those it happens to know how true it is. Having interfered so intimately in another person’s fate, or another nation’s fate, it becomes very hard just to turn away.


Lockerbie bomber 'set free for oil'

The British government decided it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to make Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, eligible for return to Libya, leaked ministerial letters reveal.

Gordon Brown’s government made the decision after discussions between Libya and BP over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had hit difficulties. These were resolved soon afterwards.

The letters were sent two years ago by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, to Kenny MacAskill, his counterpart in Scotland, who has been widely criticised for taking the formal decision to permit Megrahi’s release.

The correspondence makes it plain that the key decision to include Megrahi in a deal with Libya to allow prisoners to return home was, in fact, taken in London for British national interests.

Edward Davey, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: “This is the strongest evidence yet that the British government has been involved for a long time in talks over al-Megrahi in which commercial considerations have been central to their thinking.”

Two letters dated five months apart show that Straw initially intended to exclude Megrahi from a prisoner transfer agreement with Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, under which British and Libyan prisoners could serve out their sentences in their home country.

In a letter dated July 26, 2007, Straw said he favoured an option to leave out Megrahi by stipulating that any prisoners convicted before a specified date would not be considered for transfer.

Downing Street had also said Megrahi would not be included under the agreement.

Straw then switched his position as Libya used its deal with BP as a bargaining chip to insist the Lockerbie bomber was included.

The exploration deal for oil and gas, potentially worth up to £15 billion, was announced in May 2007. Six months later the agreement was still waiting to be ratified.

On December 19, 2007, Straw wrote to MacAskill announcing that the UK government was abandoning its attempt to exclude Megrahi from the prisoner transfer agreement, citing the national interest.

In a letter leaked by a Whitehall source, he wrote: “I had previously accepted the importance of the al-Megrahi issue to Scotland and said I would try to get an exclusion for him on the face of the agreement. I have not been able to secure an explicit exclusion.

“The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom, I have agreed that in this instance the [prisoner transfer agreement] should be in the standard form and not mention any individual.”

Within six weeks of the government climbdown, Libya had ratified the BP deal. The prisoner transfer agreement was finalised in May this year, leading to Libya formally applying for Megrahi to be transferred to its custody.

Saif Gadaffi, the colonel’s son, has insisted that negotiation over the release of Megrahi was linked with the BP oil deal: “The fight to get the [transfer] agreement lasted a long time and was very political, but I want to make clear that we didn’t mention Mr Megrahi.

“At all times we talked about the [prisoner transfer agreement]. It was obvious we were talking about him. We all knew that was what we were talking about.

“People should not get angry because we were talking about commerce or oil. We signed an oil deal at the same time. The commerce and oil deals were all with the [prisoner transfer agreement].”

His account is confirmed by other sources. Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Libya and a board member of the Libyan British Business Council, said: “Nobody doubted Libya wanted BP and BP was confident its commitment would go through. But the timing of the final authority to spend real money was dependent on politics.”

Bob Monetti of New Jersey, whose son Rick was among the victims of the 1988 bombing, said: “It’s always been about business.”

BP denied that political factors were involved in the deal’s ratification or that it had stalled during negotiations over the prisoner transfer talks.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman denied there had been a U-turn, but said trade considerations had been a factor in negotiating the prisoner exchange deal. He said Straw had unsuccessfully tried to accommodate the wish of the Scottish government to exclude Megrahi from agreement.

The spokesman claimed the deal was ultimately “academic” because Megrahi had been released on compassionate grounds: “The negotiations on the [transfer agreement] were part of wider negotiations aimed at the normalisation of relations with Libya, which included a range of areas, including trade.

“The exclusion or inclusion of Megrahi would not serve any practical purpose because the Scottish executive always had a veto on whether to transfer him.”

A spokesman for Lord Mandelson said he had not changed his position that the release of Megrahi was not linked to trade deals.


Venezuela accuses protesters of attempting 'rebellion'

Venezuela's top prosecutor said Saturday that recent street protests were legally tantamount to "rebellion" against President Hugo Chavez's government and that demonstrators will now be charged.
The dramatic move by Attorney General Luisa Ortega capped a week of huge street protests, mostly directed against a new education law that critics say is politically charged.

"People who disturb order and the peace to create instability of institutions, to destabilize the government, or attack the democratic system, we are going to charge and try them," Ortega said in a statement, referring to the government of leftist-populist Chavez.

William Ojeda, of the opposition A New Time party, argued that "the very right to protest is being turned into a crime."

"The justice system is now being used as a tool of political and ideological persecution," Ojeda added.

Ortega claimed opposition groups were looking for "any reason to march, to create chaos, whatever they can, what they want is to destabilize, even by encouraging people to disobey the law."

Last Saturday, thousands of marchers protested against the education law and police used tear gas to break up the crowds and keep them from marching on the National Assembly.

"These precise actions are in effect criminal civil rebellion," Ortega stressed, warning in her statement that the crime carries sentences of between 12 and 24 years.

"I want those people who have risen up against the government with a hostile attitude against a legally formed government to know what the consequences are," Ortega warned.

Earlier in the week, 11 workers with the Caracas mayor's office, led by opposition Mayor Antonio Ledezma, were jailed for resisting authority.

On Thursday, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro accused the United States of seeking to "eliminate" Venezuela's leftist government and amass power in South America through a controversial deal allowing it access to military bases in Colombia.

Castro said the real US objective in Colombia was to "eliminate the revolutionary process" begun by Chavez, a key Cuban ally, and to "gain control of the oil and other natural resources in Venezuela.


Who is Obama Playing Ball With?

It looked like it was business as usual for President Barack Obama on the first day of his Martha’s Vineyard vacation, as he spent five hours golfing with Robert Wolf, president of UBS Investment Bank and chairman and CEO of UBS Group Americas. Wolf, an early financial backer of Obama’s presidential campaign, raised $250,000 for him back in 2006, and in February was appointed by the president to the White House’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Economic recovery for whom?

Interestingly, Wolf’s appointment came in the same month that UBS agreed to pay the U.S. $780 million to settle civil and criminal charges related to helping people in the U.S. avoid taxes. Not to worry. UBS, an ailing bank with a pre-existing condition, had great insurance coverage. It was actually receiving $2.5 billion in a backdoor bailout from bailed-out insurance giant AIG. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said, “It looks like we’re simply laundering this money through AIG.” UBS, this bank that shelters wealthy tax dodgers, was actually being bailed out by hardworking U.S. taxpayers.

UBS, which once stood for Union Bank of Switzerland, was founded more than a century ago. Its success hinges on Switzerland’s famous banking secrecy laws, allowing people to squirrel money away in untraceable “numbered accounts.” Secret Swiss bank accounts have become a favorite way for wealthy people in the U.S. to dodge taxes. According to the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, in a July 2008 report, “From at least 2000 to 2007, UBS made a concerted effort to open accounts in Switzerland for wealthy U.S. clients, employing practices that could facilitate, and have resulted in, tax evasion by U.S. clients.”

As part of the settlement, UBS agreed to share client account information with the U.S. government. While there may be as many as 52,000 such accounts, UBS is releasing around 4,450 client names. Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Doug Shulman said in a press release, “We will be receiving an unprecedented amount of information on taxpayers who have evaded their tax obligation by hiding money offshore at UBS.” UBS will be sending account holders notification that their names may be among those delivered to the IRS, and the IRS, in turn, is granting leniency to tax dodgers who turn themselves in before Sept. 23. Account holders won’t know if their names are included, though, so gamblers among them may keep quiet and hope their accounts stay secret.

Last Friday, as Wolf was preparing for his golf game with Obama, UBS whistle-blower Bradley Birkenfeld was sentenced to 40 months in prison for facilitating offshore tax evasion through UBS banking schemes, despite assisting federal investigators in exposing the secretive bank.

Above the entrance to UBS’s headquarters in Zurich is a bust of the Greek god Hermes — not only the fleet-footed messenger of the gods, but also the god of thieves and merchants. The symbolism is striking. Whether or not Wolf won his golf game against Obama, UBS has clearly scored a hole-in-one.


Suicide blast in Chechnya kills two, wounds six

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia: Two Chechen militants blew themselves up Friday to escape capture, wounding three policemen and three civilians in the process, police said.

It was the third suicide bombing in the past week in Chechnya and part of a rising wave of violence in Russia's predominantly Muslim North Caucasus that appears to have alarmed the Kremlin.

President Dmitry Medvedev called Friday for more comprehensive youth programs to discourage young men from joining the militants.

‘Unfortunately, rebel groups are still able to bring young people under their wing, into their criminal activities. This is a fact,’ Medvedev said during a televised meeting with regional political and religious leaders. He encouraged the leaders to offer educational programs and activities.

The two militants who killed themselves early Friday were on a federal wanted list and had been trapped inside a house by police in the town of Shali, Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman Magomed Deniyev said. When police demanded they give themselves up, the militants opened fire and then set off explosives attached to their bodies, he said.

Three policemen and three civilians were hospitalised with shrapnel wounds, the spokesman said.

A suicide bombing Tuesday at a gas station-carwash complex in the Shali region killed four Chechen police officers, and another four were killed last week by suicide bombers on bicycles.

The worst suicide bombing to hit the region in years occurred August 17 in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia, when a van packed with explosives blew up a police station, killing at least 25 people.

In another North Caucasus republic, Dagestan, police said they killed three militants early Friday who had opened fire on a police post. The post in Makhachkala, the capital, was unmanned at the time, but police patrolling nearby tracked the militants to a house and surrounded them there, Interior Ministry spokesman Mark Tolchinsky said.

Police, who were backed up by special forces and armoured vehicles, exchanged fire with the militants for several hours before killing them, he said.

Also Friday, a policeman was shot dead in a separate attack in Dagestan's capital, police chief Shamil Guseinov said.

Separatist militants and Russian troops fought two full-scale wars in Chechnya over the past 15 years. After a period of relative calm, Chechnya and other predominantly Muslim republics in southern Russia have seen a steady increase in attacks on police and soldiers.

From 200 to 250 police and soldiers have been killed in the North Caucasus republics so far this year, according to regional authorities.


Syria obligated to cooperate, Iraq says

BAGHDAD, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Syria is bound by specific U.N. Security Council resolutions to hand over any suspected terrorist believed to be plotting against Iraq, officials say.

Iraq blames Baathist supporters exiled in Damascus for plotting the deadly Aug. 19 attacks in Baghdad that killed more than 100 people.

Sadiq al-Rukabi, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, told the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat that Damascus was bound under U.N. Resolution 1618 to cooperate.

The United Nations adopted Resolution 1618 in 2005. In part, it "strongly urges" members states to "prevent the transit of terrorists to and from Iraq."

Rukabi said it is therefore "our right" to call on the international community "to stand with the Iraqi people against those lying in wait for them."

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the two Arab neighbors have a bilateral security agreement on extradition of suspected criminals, but Damascus has so far been uncooperative.

"We will not accept anything less than the extradition of these people who are accused of terrorist crimes and the expulsion of the organizations operating against Iraq," he said. "We will not accept anything less than this."

Damascus through its official Syrian Arab News Agency denied the allegations. A division of al-Qaida in Iraq issued separate claims of responsibility for the Aug. 19 attacks.


Iraq’s Assyrian Christians find refuge in Kurdistan

AINKAWA, Iraq -- For Rajo Qardaq Palander, a church security guard, the breaking point came last year, when insurgents demanded that he pay $20,000 or abandon his home in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood.

The choice was easy. He slipped out of Dora in the dead of night, joining the exodus of Assyrian Christians from Baghdad and Mosul to this haven in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled north.

"I held on as long as I could," said Palander, 35. "I have no future in Iraq."

One of Iraq's most ancient national groups, the Assyrian Christians, who are Eastern Orthodox Christians, have largely quit their ancestral home in Arab Iraq and fled to the Kurdish region, where tens of thousands now live, or abroad.

The pressure on the Assyrians continues: Five churches were bombed in Baghdad in early July, and killings continue in Mosul. In Ainkawa, a city of 40,000 on the outskirts of the main city of Irbil, there's sanctuary: castlelike churches that dominate entire city blocks. Liquor -- a trade that Christians dominated in Baghdad -- also is for sale openly in Ainkawa.

Still, refugees and others who are choosing to stay in Iraq fear the days ahead. They're hoping to make political gains in Iraq's Kurdish provinces and to reclaim lost land.

"For the time being, it's a better place. But it's a dark future," said Father Isha Najiba, an Eastern Assyrian priest in Ainkawa who served in Dora until 2002.

He stresses that everyone in Iraq has suffered because of the war. The numbers of Assyrians make the pain especially acute for a minority proud of its history as the descendants of an empire that covered much of northern Iraq, Syria, Turkey and parts of Iran in pre-biblical times.

"If 100 Muslims die, it will have the same impact as the killing of one Christian because there are so few of us," Najiba said. The number of Assyrians and Chaldean Catholics remaining in Iraq -- including Kurdistan -- is hard to pin down, with estimates ranging from 150,000 to 800,000. It's accepted that the war has driven as much as half the former population to seek refuge outside Iraq.

Najiba said that only 150 of the 1,100 Assyrians who lived in his Dora neighborhood before the war are still in Baghdad. The others are in Syria, Jordan or such cities as Ainkawa in Iraq's Kurdish provinces.

They leave a visible mark in Ainkawa. Residents say a third to half the people living here fled Baghdad or Mosul since the war started more than six years ago.

A huge poster showing Pope Benedict XVI greeting Kurdish President Massoud Barzani looms over the main intersection leading into the city, reflecting Barzani's overtures to the growing community.

Green banners for Heineken beer hang from restaurants and bars, advertising a hidden vice in the Muslim cities that surround Ainkawa.

The Kurds "don't do anything to harm us, and that's enough," said Samir Francis, 35, whose home in Dora was blown up two weeks after he abandoned it in 2006, a message telling him not to return.

Others are looking past the physical security and trying to reacquire land and protect their rights in Kurdistan. Assyrians are said to be the oldest ethnic group to live in the region known today as Iraq. Three millennia ago, they controlled an empire that extended from modern-day Syria to Turkey and included northern Iraq and parts of Iran.

Their native language is Aramaic, which is thought to be the language Jesus spoke. Assyrians are Christians and belong to the Assyrian Church, a Catholic rite, as well as the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Church, both eastern Orthodox rites.

Assyrians have been scattered across the globe since the Ottoman Empire flushed many of them out of Turkey in the early 20th century. They've lost territory in Iraq to Kurds and Arabs alike. Many Assyrians who could afford to leave fled the country under Saddam Hussein's Baath regime, settling in Europe, the U.S. and Australia.

Many now live in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, two primary destinations for Assyrians seeking refugee status in the U.S.

Before the U.S. military invasion in 2003, Assyrians in Iraq numbered 1.5 million, or some 8 percent of Iraq's population. At least half of them have since fled the country, however, after Assyrian churches, shops and businesses were attacked.

Assyrians and Chaldean Catholics describe Saddam's tenure as a time of persecution, but it was the sectarian violence that ripped apart Iraq between 2005 and 2008 that drove them from Baghdad and Mosul. They blame mostly Sunni Muslim insurgents.

Their main concern in Ainkawa today centers on the power of the two leading Kurdish political parties, Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Assyrians say their job prospects are limited if they don't join the KDP or the PUK.

Kurds are sensitive to charges that they ignore minority rights because of their history as victims of mass killings committed by Saddam's military. They say they were careful to respect Christian rights when they wrote a regional constitution that recognizes minority languages, allows them to run their own schools and buy property.

"We were oppressed; we don't want to do the same thing," said Wais Mohammad, a general director in the Kurdish ministry that oversees the affairs of displaced Iraqis.