Monday, March 24, 2008

4,000 Dead in Iraq, No Closer to Victory

Are we closer to victory? We are being told we are. But things could be returning to the bad ole days:

Tensions are simmering again in once bloody Anbar province, Washington's prize good news story for security in Iraq.

Along the main road through Anbar's second city of Falluja, a former insurgent stronghold and scene of fierce battles with U.S. forces in 2004, markets and car workshops are re-opening for business.

But many say that growing anger at a lack of jobs, basic services and political progress threatens to shatter peace in the western province, which makes up about a third of Iraq.

"The situation till now is still not certain in Anbar, and the peace is only relative to before. Calm always comes before a storm," Sunni tribal leader Sheikh Yaseen al-Badrani said.

The U.S. military said in January it could transfer security responsibility for Anbar to Iraqi forces as early as this month, but now it is more cautious.

In an interview with Reuters, Major-General John Kelly, commander of U.S. forces in Anbar, would give no time-frame, saying only that the handover would take place soon.

Sunni tribal leaders, credited with cutting violence in Anbar by ordering their men to turn on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, are growing increasingly impatient with politicians.

"We thought that when security was established in Anbar, then the situation would turn to development and reconstruction, but we're surprised to see neglect from the government," said Kamal Nouri, a member of Anbar's tribal council.

The Sunni tribal leaders' thousands of followers, who once formed the backbone of a Sunni Arab insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi forces, are demanding to be drafted into Iraq's army and police force, or given other decent jobs.

"Where is the prime minister? Does he know what we have to do to earn a living to feed our families? Call this a job? The government has failed," said Salam Faraj, a petrol pump worker.

[...]Crucial to the turnaround in security in Anbar are the 4,000 members of the Awakening Councils, or Sahwa, a mostly Sunni movement dedicated to fighting al Qaeda. Many members were former insurgents.

The councils are headed by tribal leaders, who started the now nationwide movement in Anbar province because they were disgusted by al Qaeda's indiscriminate attacks and harsh interpretation of Islam.

At a police graduation ceremony in Falluja, trainers in close contact with the Sahwa said they were battling to keep the men at their posts.

The U.S. military pays Sahwa members $300 a month to patrol their neighbourhoods and man checkpoints. Many want to join the army and police, where the pay is better.

"If the Sahwa is not included in the security forces, there will be tensions. They fought the terrorists with us, and many of them were killed," police trainer Ahmed Marthy said.

"Some have quit, but we keep asking them to wait ... if this continues, we're really afraid tragedies will return," he added.

And if you think a McCain presidency would bring us victory just read this article:
Last week we finally got a clue as to why John McCain has been slavishly supporting the Bush administration policy on Iraq for all these years: He doesn't have a clue what it is.

That became obvious during a press conference in Jordan Tues day. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who had just come from Iraq, stated that "Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran."

This prompted his fellow senator and fellow neoconservative Joe Lieberman of Connecticut to whisper something in his ear. McCain promptly corrected himself. But the damage was done, forcing him to issue this elaboration later in the week.

"I corrected my comment immediately. To think that I would have some lack of knowledge about Sunni and Shiite after my eighth visit and my deep involvement in this issue is a bit ludicrous."

Ludicrous? No, It's true. What McCain's critics failed to note was that this gaffe fit within a pattern of gaffes that show not just a lack of knowledge but astounding ignorance. Consider this comment a few weeks earlier about al Qaeda's prospects in Iraq in the event of an American withdrawal: "My friends, if we left, they wouldn't be establishing a base," McCain said. "They'd be taking a country."

No, they wouldn't. The Sunni radical group al Qaeda is a minority within a minority in Shi'a-dominated Iraq. The real threat is from such radical groups as the Iranian- based Dawa Party and from that other Iranian-born group that until recently called itself the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

But we don't have to worry about Dawa and SCIRI taking over after we leave. They already run Iraq. The real tragedy of the Iraq War is that Iraq is now firmly in the hands of Iranian-allied Shi'a groups and will remain so no matter what we do.

China Jails man who Urged Rights over Olympics

Yang Chunlin will be forgotten eventhough he is a hero. He put his life in jeopardy in the interest of basic civil and human rights. Tragically the world will ignore his message in favor of the lure of China's Olympic propaganda show. We're even ignoring the fact that this country's economic leadership is poisoning the world's goods, massacring the freedom seekers in Tibet, and jailing people just expressing their sincere views, like with Chunlin. We must follow his example by boycotting the Chinese Olympic games this summer. Just as we should have boycotted the 1936 Berlin Olympic games:

Chinese dissident Yang Chunlin, who called for human rights to take precedence over the Olympic Games, has been sentenced to five years in jail on charges of inciting subversion, his family and lawyer said on Monday.

The unemployed factory worker from the northeastern city of Jiamusi in Heilongjiang province went on trial in February after he helped nearby villagers issue a petition about disputed land last year that declared: "We don't want the Olympics, we want human rights."

Yang's sister, Yang Chunping, said on Monday the reason he was jailed was because of essays he posted online that were critical of China's parliament, the ruling Communist Party and Communism in general.

"He said he's not guilty, and he was just exercising his freedom of speech and publication. But because courts lack legitimacy he said there was no use in appealing," she said.

Lawyer Li Fangping confirmed the sentence but said Yang Chunlin maintained his innocence.

"He believes that he's innocent," Li said. "After the official verdict is given to us, he'll have 10 days to decide what to do. So, we hope we can sit down with him so he can make a serious decision whether to appeal or not."

The petition touched a nerve in the Communist-run country that has been going all out to prepare for the Games. China's leadership is hoping the Games, which start in Beijing on August 8 will showcase the country's economic prosperity and social unity.

Prosecutors had said the petition stained China's international image and amounted to subversion.

Already some have taken the lead. Show the world that some of us haven't been bought off:
Rights activists and Tibetan protesters breached tight security to staged anti-Chinese demonstrations Monday at the lighting of the Olympic flame for the Beijing Games.

Three members of the Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reports Without Borders -- RSF) group unfurled a flag calling for a boycott of the Beijing Games during the ceremony.

Afterwards, about 10 Tibetan activists covered in red paint to simulate blood marched out of a hotel in Olympia and lay in the town's main street, shouting slogans against Chinese rule in Tibet.

Police detained the three RSF members, including its chief Robert Menard, and some of the Tibetan activists.

Menard and two other members of RSF staged their protest as the chief Chinese Olympics organiser, Liu Qi, made a speech before the flame was lit at the ancient Greek temple of Olympia.

One man unfurled a flag declaring "Boycott the country that tramples on human rights." Another tried to grab the microphone from Liu and shouted "freedom, freedom" at the official stand where International Olympic Committee chairman Jacques Rogge and other dignitaries were sat.

Security officers quickly dragged all three away.

"I think it's always sad when there are protests, but they were not violent and that's the most important thing," Rogge told reporters after the incident.

Greek police had imposed heavy security around the site, which included armed police watching down from nearby hills. Chinese intelligence was also involved in the security operation.

Several thousand people were at the ceremony but all were meant to have special accreditation.

Greek and Chinese state television quickly cut their live broadcasts to an image away from the protesters when the incident started.

RSF has made calls for international heads of state to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games on August 8.