Monday, December 31, 2007

Beauty shall save the world!

'Beauty shall save the world' wrote the great Russian author Dostoevsky. Beauty also is, in essence, the same thing as Truth, Goodness and, of course, Love said another great Russian, the philosopher and priest Father Pavel Florensky (murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1937).

I will spare you all a boring lecture in Russian philosophy, but I do want to share with you a little bit of joy and beauty, in particular for those of you who, unlike me, do celebrate the New Year today.

So rather than post something depressing about all the ugly news in the world, I will post a video: two versions of the truly fantastic composition "Aspan" by my favorite guitarist, John McLaughlin. In these two versions he interprets "Aspan" with French pianist Katia Labeque; these are, I think, his best interpretations of this piece (although the one with fellow guitarists Al DiMeola and Paco de Lucia is also very good).

I will be traveling for the next 10-12 days and while I will check my emails on a daily basis, I will not be posting here until my return. Please stay in touch, dear friends, keep en eye on the RSS newsfeeds on the left side of this page (they are automatically updated), and keep sending me anything of interest.

I leave you with with the joy-filled music of John McLaughlin. Enjoy and many blessings for 2008!

The Saker


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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dahr Jamail's analysis of the war in Iraq in 2007

CHALLENGES 2007-2008: Iraq Progresses To Some Of Its Worst

Inter Press Service
Analysis by Dahr Jamail

Despite all the claims of improvements, 2007 has been the worst year yet in Iraq.

One of the first big moves this year was the launch of a troop "surge" by the U.S. government in mid-February. The goal was to improve security in Baghdad and the western al-Anbar province, the two most violent areas. By June, an additional 28,000 troops had been deployed to Iraq, bringing the total number up to more than 160,000.

By autumn, there were over 175,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq. This is the highest number of U.S. troops deployed yet, and while the U.S. government continues to talk of withdrawing some, the numbers on the ground appear to contradict these promises.

The Bush administration said the "surge" was also aimed at curbing sectarian killings, and to gain time for political reform for the government of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

During the surge, the number of Iraqis displaced from their homes quadrupled, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent. By the end of 2007, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that there are over 2.3 million internally displaced persons within Iraq, and over 2.3 million Iraqis who have fled the country.

Iraq has a population around 25 million.

The non-governmental organisation Refugees International describes Iraq's refugee problem as "the world's fastest growing refugee crisis."

In October the Syrian government began requiring visas for Iraqis. Until then it was the only country to allow Iraqis in without visas. The new restrictions have led some Iraqis to return to Baghdad, but that number is well below 50,000.

A recent UNHCR survey of families returning found that less than 18 percent did so by choice. Most came back because they lacked a visa, had run out of money abroad, or were deported.

Sectarian killings have decreased in recent months, but still continue. Bodies continue to be dumped on the streets of Baghdad daily.

One reason for a decrease in the level of violence is that most of Baghdad has essentially been divided along sectarian lines. Entire neighbourhoods are now surrounded by concrete blast walls several metres high, with strict security checkpoints. Normal life has all but vanished.

The Iraqi Red Crescent estimates that eight out of ten refugees are from Baghdad.

By the end of 2007, attacks against occupation forces decreased substantially, but still number more than 2,000 monthly. Iraqi infrastructure, like supply of potable water and electricity are improving, but remain below pre-invasion levels. Similarly with jobs and oil exports. Unemployment, according to the Iraqi government, ranges between 60-70 percent.

An Oxfam International report released in July says 70 percent of Iraqis lack access to safe drinking water, and 43 percent live on less than a dollar a day. The report also states that eight million Iraqis are in need of emergency assistance.

"Iraqis are suffering from a growing lack of food, shelter, water and sanitation, healthcare, education, and employment," the report says. "Of the four million Iraqis who are dependent on food assistance, only 60 percent currently have access to rations through the government-run Public Distribution System (PDS), down from 96 percent in 2004."

Nearly 10 million people depend on the fragile rationing system. In December, the Iraqi government announced it would cut the number of items in the food ration from ten to five due to "insufficient funds and spiralling inflation." The inflation rate is officially said to be around 70 percent.

The cuts are to be introduced in the beginning of 2008, and have led to warnings of social unrest if measures are not taken to address rising poverty and unemployment.

Iraq's children continue to suffer most. Child malnutrition rates have increased from 19 percent during the economic sanctions period prior to the invasion, to 28 percent today.

This year has also been one of the bloodiest of the entire occupation. The group Just Foreign Policy, "an independent and non-partisan mass membership organisation dedicated to reforming U.S. foreign policy," estimates the total number of Iraqis killed so far due to the U.S.-led invasion and occupation to be 1,139,602.

This year 894 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, making 2007 the deadliest year of the entire occupation for the U.S. military, according to ICasualties.org.

To date, at least 3,896 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Defence.

A part of the U.S. military's effort to reduce violence has been to pay former resistance fighters. Late in 2007, the U.S. military began paying monthly wages of 300 dollars to former militants, calling them now "concerned local citizens."

While this policy has cut violence in al-Anbar, it has also increased political divisions between the dominant Shia political party and the Sunnis – the majority of these "concerned citizens" being paid are Sunni Muslims. Prime Minister Maliki has said these "concerned local citizens" will never be part of the government's security apparatus, which is predominantly composed of members of various Shia militias.

Underscoring another failure of the so-called surge is the fact that the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad remains more divided than ever, and hopes of reconciliation have vanished.

According to a recent ABC/BBC poll, 98 percent of Sunnis and 84 percent of Shias in Iraq want all U.S. forces out of the country.

Albanian terrorists issue threat

Kosovo Armed Group Issues Warning

27 December 2007 Pristina: A shadowy armed group in Kosovo, the Albanian National Army, is preparing for potential trouble in the Serb-inhabited north of the region after Kosovo’s expected declaration of independence, Balkan Insight can reveal.

By Krenar Gashi

In an exclusive interview for Balkan Insight, the group’s frontman, identified only as Arberi, said that his group, known by its initials as the ANA, was focusing its efforts on the ethnically-divided city of Mitrovica, and the rest of the northern part of Kosovo dominated by Serbs.

“We are worried that there will be fresh violence from the Serbian armed forces when Kosovo declares independence”, Arberi told Balkan Insight on Wednesday.

He explained that his group of armed men stayed out of the glare of the public in recent months, as they were focusing on mobilisation and logistics, with an emphasis on northern Kosovo.

“We want to make sure that nothing happens to the Albanian population of this area when Kosovo’s parliament declares independence. We will be there to avoid any inter-ethnic clashes”, Arberi went on.

The guerrilla leader in his thirties said that KFOR troops of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo have shown they are not able to deal with violence.

“Look back to 2004 when KFOR soldiers locked themselves into their bases while Albanians and Serbs were killing each other”, he said referring to Kosovo's worst bout of violence since the war in 1999.

He was sitting in a café with two other ANA members, all without their trademark balaclavas, and dressed in civilians clothes.

“They have not been able to defend their own commander”, he addes, referring to a much more recent incident.

KFOR commander Xavier Bout de Marnhac and Joachim Ruecker, head of the UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, were involved in a fracas when inhabitants of the Serb village of Gorazdevac assaulted their military escort at the beginning of December.

Kosovo has been under UN administration since 1999 when NATO’s bombing forced the Serbian authorities to withdraw their troops from the territory.

KFOR’s peacekeeping mission was installed in order to maintain peace and security, and to support the UN administration, UNMIK.

The ANA, which is also known by its Albanian initials as AKSH, was labelled a terrorist organisation by UNMIK in 2003.

Members of the ANA, have been seen in the territory periodically since the conflict ended in 1999.

They have taken responsibility for several bomb attacks in Kosovo since then.

However, the group shunned publicity for a time while an earlier phase of the internationally-mediated negotiations on Kosovo’s status was underway.

Shocking images of the ANA’s masked gunmen checking vehicles along one of Kosovo’s most frequented highways were broadcast in early October by Kosovo’s public TV station, RTK.

Since the internationally mediated negotiations over Kosovo’s final status ended with no concrete results in early December, the ethnic Albanian-dominated authorities in Kosovo are expected to declare independence in the next few months.

Many fear that such a declaration, which is expected to be recognised by the US and most of EU countries will be followed by a similar act from the Kosovo Serbs who will decide to proclaim the independence of northern Kosovo.

The ANA members say their mission is to protect Kosovo’s territorial integrity.

“If by any chance Kosovo gets de facto partitioned, we will do everything to unify and protect our territories,” said Arberi, who did not wish to disclose the number of his armed men or the weapons they possess.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Iraq's Muqtada Sadr studying to issue fatwas

Al-Arabia reports:

Iraqi Shiite cleric and head of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada Al-Sadr, is doing intensive study to earn the title of 'marjea' ('expert' or 'authority'), which will entitle him to issue fatwas (religious edicts) for his followers, in accordance with Shiite traditions.

Al-Sadr is studying at the Al-Hawzah religious institution in Najaf, his official spokesman Sheikh Salah Al-Obeidi said in a press statement carried by Quds Press on Saturday.

Al-Hawzah -- Arabic for 'seminary' -- is a theology school for Shiite clergymen located in the preeminent center for Shiite teaching before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. The seminary in the city of Qom took the lead afterwards.

Al-Hawzah, whose clerics were routinely subjected to expulsions and mass arrests at the time of Saddam Hussein, is made up of four senior Grand Ayatollahs.

Obeidi did not specify how long it would take Al-Sadr to qualify to issue fatwas, but it usually takes several years to reach that degree of knowledge.

Despite being the head of a political party, Al-Sadr has not completed his religious or civil education, and is known for his inability to improvise. Sadr has to read off a written paper when giving a speech, and consequently, his media appearances have been scant.

Prominent Shiite scholars have remarked that Al-Sadr lacks proper education for a person of his position -- he controls the formidable Mahdi Army, the Iraqi paramilitary force that initiated the first armed confrontation with American troops. His party constitutes a major bloc in the Iraqi parliament, and he has supporters all over the country.

Experts say the anti-occupation cleric is pursuing a religious degree to become a key player in the power struggle in the oil-rich south and to increase his support among the Shiite majority.

Al-Obeidi denied the claims, saying Al-Sadr was not interested in money or power.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Israeli UAV support Turkish strikes on Kurdistan

Ha'aretz reports the following:

Crews from Israel Aerospace Industries, operating unmanned aerial vehicles, are participating in Turkish military operations against PKK militants in northern Iraq, according to Turkish reports to be published today in the Turkish Daily News.

Ten days ago, the Turkish television station Star reported that IAI Heron UAVs are being used in the offensive against the Kurds.

The same report stated that Turkey's Chief of Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit, had observed the UAVs' operations in real time, in the operations room of the Batman air force base near the border with Iraq. The intelligence relayed by the UAVs was used by the Turkish Air Force in targeting the Kurdish militants.

However, in the Turkish Daily News report, a Turkish military source is quoted expressing criticism that the IAI and Elbit, which is also part of the Heron program, have failed to meet their contractual obligations and have delayed the supply of UAVs ordered for the Turkish Air Force in 2005.

"The delays have left the TuAF critically short of UAVs when intelligence input from those valuable reconnaissance assets are exceedingly required," the Turkish military official was quoted as saying.

According to the Turkish newspaper, the presence of the Israeli crews is an interim solution that was offered following the delay in the delivery of the UAVs.

So here we have yet another example of Israeli support for Turkey and of the long term 'cozy relationship' between these two countries. For an interesting analysis of the current development see Mizgin's excellent blog.

The Battle for Kosovo is a battle for Serbia’s freedom

Belgrade, Dec 26, 2007 – Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica stressed today in address to MPs that the battle for Kosovo is the battle for Serbia’s freedom as neither as people or state are we free if Kosovo is not the province within Serbia as written in the Constitution.

The Serbian government’s official website brings the Prime Minister’s speech in full.

"Honourable parliament members,

You have before you today the report of the state negotiating team so that you could fully get introduced with all relevant facts on the negotiations so far. Before you is also the proposal of the resolution envisioning further work and committing state institutions to protect sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia.

I think that the UN Security Council session in which the report of the mediating troika was considered deserves special attention. It is my duty to inform you that in this session held on December 19, the will of the US and a few European countries stopped the Russian initiative to continue the negotiating process and thus blocked the work of the Security Council in finding a compromised solution to the future status of the Serbian province of Kosovo-Metohija.

The Western countries led by the US stated that following the presidential elections in Serbia they would recognise an unilateral independence of the province based on the rejected Ahtisaari’s plan.

So, we are in a situation where the US decided that no further negotiations are possible, with an explanation that no compromise can be reached for the Kosovo issue. Furthermore, America decided to resolve one problem that was initially addressed in the Security Council with its resolution and to solve it outside the Security Council by violating Resolution 1244, UN Charter and Helsinki Final Act. When all this is considered, the question arises why America decided to openly violate international law and the UN system.

I believe that it has not crossed anyone’s mind that the US is doing so to protect the interest of the Albanian national minority in Kosovo-Metohija. That was best seen in the UN Security Council session in which representative of Kosovo Albanians did not even participate. The idea on unilateral independence of Kosovo was advocated and defended by US and British ambassadors, with authentic militancy and zeal that one uses only to defend own interests.

Undoubtedly, America is hampering the valid UN Security Council Resolution 1244 above all because of executing its military and security interests. The US is conscientiously sacrificing Serbia’s state and national interests as well as life interests of Kosovo Albanians just to make a quasi-state in which NATO would be the final authority body in an independent Kosovo, as written in Annex 11 of Ahtisaari’s plan.

To better understand this policy of force, we can set things like this: if we are to compare who has greater force, we accept that the force is on the side of America. But we also bear in mind the other side of the medal that America, which at one point seemed as symbol of freedom to the rest of the world, is embodying through the example of Kosovo everything that is more and more becoming the symbol of policy of force. Serbia cannot be happy for this policy has turned against us, but we can be calm as our force is based on respect of law and as we defend the simple truth that Kosovo is Serbia.

We can also accept that there is such situation in the world today in which for many countries law, truth, justice and dignity of state and people mean almost nothing. Maybe the violation of Resolution 1244 already marked a new epoch in which true values are force, violence, injustice, humiliation of the weaker and trade with national goods and state interests. Serbia has not joined or seized the benefits of this policy of force and we draw our strength from people’s will that established the Constitution of Serbia and the position of Kosovo within Serbia. The grounds also lies in the decision of parliament that entrusted us with the task to defend Kosovo and Serbia by respecting law and justice. Therefore, if we admit that the force is on the side of America, we can be sure that when it comes to law, the things are completely in Serbia’s favour.

And here, in parliament, we can support this with firm evidence already presented to the whole world, namely: it was America and not Serbia that said negotiations should stop, while Serbia supports the continuation of negotiations; it was America and not Serbia that said no compromise is possible, while Serbia is advocating reaching a compromise; it was America and not Serbia that said it will use unilateral solutions, while Serbia is explicitly against unilateral acts; it was America and not Serbia that said it will act disobeying the decisions of the Security Council, while Serbia is advocating that all decisions must be brought by the Security Council; it was America and not Serbia that threatened to violate the valid Resolution 1244 and UN Charter illegally recognising the unilateral independence while Serbia requires strict respect of the Resolution and the UN Charter.

Honourable parliament members, let us imagine that the roles are changed so that Serbia now supports the stances on the Kosovo issue, which we have listed here and which are advocated by countries of the old western democracy. There is no doubt that all international media would immediately tie Serbia to the pillar of shame and even crueler methods would not be neglected. When you think about one such change of roles, you can see better that Serbia is in the right and it becomes even clearer that it is fighting for what is its own right. Great Serbian Patriarch Pavle has left a legacy to his people in the form of a commandment never to commit injustice, not even when our own heads are at stake. These are the words that the Serbian Patriarch is sending to the entire world today.

Therefore we must show more self-consciousness and self-respect for the fight which the entire Serbian people is leading in order to defend Kosovo-Metohija. Kosovo has never been betrayed by any generation of the Serbian people and it was always defended within the limits of its possibilities. This is why we have to do what we can and must, what our duty and conscience command. Future and better generations may do even more if they can.

I believe that we all, or at least almost all, share the joint devotion to the stance that once and for all, Serbia rejects any kind of the province’s independence and that this is Serbia’s first and final statement. In this hour, our last line of defence from violence and unilateral independence must be a strong resolution which Serbian parliament will adopt today.

This is at the same time a message to Serbs in Kosovo that they have their government and their parliament in Belgrade, that they must know they have absolutely equal rights with all citizens of Serbia, and that they should fully ignore the illegal document on unilateral independence and treat it as non-existent.

We all know very well that Russia has been Serbia’s strong and faithful ally, that it defended international law and Serbia’s right to its territory in a principled manner. President Putin did not allow the Security Council to humiliate Serbia and make it the first state since the UN were founded to have its territory taken away. Had it not been for Russia, our struggle, in the eyes of the international pubic, would have been reduced from the supreme defence of our rights to a mere regional conflict in which two sides are fighting to achieve their particular interests. Creators of Kosovo independence had devised to mark Serbia with a stigma of being the only state allowed to be dismembered and to call that, as they say, a unique and unrepeatable case, which would not be a precedent, because it concerns Serbia. All proposals of new resolutions, which were based on Ahtisaari’s plan and envisaged sending an EU mission to implement monitored independence, were prevented from adoption at the Security Council thanks to Russia and Serbia’s joint policy. This is why we are immensely grateful to Russia.

Honourable parliament, the struggle for Kosovo is the struggle for Serbia’s freedom. It would be best to reach an agreement with Kosovo Albanians to live peacefully, freely and together because Kosovo is big enough for all of us to realise our essential interests. This is, of course, in line with the values of multiethnicity with which the entire democratic world vows. The problem is that apart from Serbian and Albanian essential interests, it is obviously impossible to satisfy American interests, which is why the US is preventing Kosovo Albanians from moving towards an agreement. Serbia will not give up the search for agreement, let alone from Kosovo because we as a people cannot be free if Kosovo is not free, if it is not a province within Serbia, as it says in the Constitution.

Honourable parliament, could Serbia give away a portion of its territory, could it give Kosovo, in exchange for any other goal or interest? Whoever thinks so must first get the approval of the people to change the Constitution before trying to fulfill such an intention. Until then, the Constitution orders us to see the preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity as the first and highest constitutional obligation of all Serbian state institutions.

The future of our country cannot be a crippled Serbia, our future must be a whole Serbia. Just like any other people, we must fight for our future and for the preservation of Serbia’s unity. If some countries think they have crippled us through unilateral independence, Serbia must show them in the upcoming years that for us, unilateral independence is but a puppet creation which should disappear.

We must fight for and attain Serbia’s future, because there is no other road for us. Otherwise, someone might just get the idea to keep dismembering the already maimed Serbia, as they feel like it.

The future of Serbia and the fate of Kosovo are permanently linked and it is therefore clear to us what we must do. As for Serbian parliament and all state institutions, in line with the Serbian Constitutions, Kosovo-Metohija will remain an integral and unalienable part of Serbia. This is our duty which we must fulfill. Therefore, I call upon you, honourable parliament members, to vote for the proposed resolution for the sake of the preservation of Kosovo, for the sake of Serbia’s future and its freedom”, said Kostunica.

Interesting declaration of ex-Italian President Francesco Cossiga

I personally take no other position on 911 other than claiming that the official version is so obviously full of holes that it is an insult to anyone's intelligence. My hunch is that several foreign intelligences agencies, including the Russians, Israelis and French, had warned the USA but in yet another display of its trademark incompetence the US government never acted on this info. The cover-up today is most likely a 'butt-covering operation' to prevent this SNAFU from becoming public knowledge. But that's just my guess, nothing more. I am open to any and all theories about what really happened on 911.

Today though, I came across a rather interesting newsitem: a rather curious declaration of ex-Italian President Francesco Cossiga in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Take a look for yourself :

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Da ambienti vicini a Palazzo Chigi, centro nevralgico di direzione dell'intelligence italiana, si fa notare che la non autenticità del video è testimoniata dal fatto che Osama Bin Laden in esso 'confessa' che Al Qaeda sarebbe stato l'autore dell'attentato dell'11 settembre alle due torri in New York, mentre tutti gli ambienti democratici d'America e d'Europa, con in prima linea quelli del centrosinistra italiano, sanno ormai bene che il disastroso attentato è stato pianificato e realizzato dalla Cia americana e dal Mossad con l'aiuto del mondo sionista per mettere sotto accusa i Paesi arabi e per indurre le potenze occidentali ad intervenire sia in Iraq sia in Afghanistan.

(TRANSLATION:

"From areas around the Palazzo Chigi, the nerve centre of headquarters of the Italian intelligence community, it is noted that the non-authenticity of the video is demonstrated by the fact that Osama bin Laden in it 'confessed' that Al Qaeda was behind the 911 attacks against the Twin Towers in New York, while all of the democratic countries of, America and of Europe, with at the forefront the Italian centre-left, now know well that these cataclysmic attacks were planned and realized by the American CIA and Mossad with the help of the Zionist world to put Arabic countries under accusation and to persuade the Western Powers to intervene in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
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So the man that revealed to the world the scope of the NATO false flag operation Gladio now claims that 911 was a joint Israeli-US "inside job". Cossiga is well-known for making controversial declarations, but not for making false ones.

I have not much of an opinion about all this (other than noting that the official and corporate media obediently ignores this statement by a major former European head of state).

Any opinions you want to share about all this? Please post away!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Al-Jazeera at the deathbed of the Greenback

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Shah of Iran discusses Israel Lobby

A friend of mine just sent me this old video from 1976. Interesting, isn't it?


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Latest Iraqi Resistance Stats (must read!)

The always excellent blog Lenin's Tomb has posted a very good commentary on the latest statistics out of Iraq. I urge everybody interested in the Iraq war to go to Lenin's Tomb and read this analysis and see why 'the Surge is working'.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Somalia: the forgotten front in the US GWOT

Somalia is a mostly forgotten front of the US Global War on Terror. True, only a limited number of US personnel is deployed there or directly involved in the fighting; this is a war by proxy, courtesy of the US backed regime in Ethiopia who invaded Somalia under orders from Washington.

After many years of chaos and violence Somalia had finally found a modicum of stability under the Islamic Courts Union, an umbrella organization bringing together various Islamist groups. Obviously, to have Somalia return to some stability under the leadership of an Islamist group was just not something the Empire could tolerate and it ordered Ethiopia, a faithful ally of the Empire in the GWOT, to (illegally) invade Somalia and oust the Islamic Courts Union (for more details about this war, see here).

Needless to say, just like in Afghanistan or Iraq, this intervention plunged the country in total chaos, violence is everywhere, the Somalis are fighting the Ethiopian invaders in endless and brutal clashes which resulted in over half of the population of the capital city, Mogadishu, leaving their homes and becoming 'internally displaced persons'.

In a bizarre and ironic twist of fate, some are now floating the idea of sending a UN peacekeeping force to Somalia ('Black Hawk Down' anyone?) instead of overlooking the self-evident first step to resolve this unfolding nightmare: demand an Ethiopian withdrawal. The other solution, which is what I predict will eventually happen, is for the Somalis themselves to expel the Ethiopians and liberate their country.

In the meantime, here is a good Al-Jazerra report on the humanitarian consequences of the GWOT in Somalia:


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The end of Israel?

by Hannah Mermelstein, The Electronic Intifada, 19 December 2007 (reprinted with the kind permission of the author and the editors of The Electronic Intifada)

I am feeling optimistic about Palestine.

I know it sounds crazy. How can I use "optimistic" and "Palestine" in the same sentence when conditions on the ground only seem to get worse? Israeli settlements continue to expand on a daily basis, the checkpoints and segregated road system are becoming more and more institutionalized, more than 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners are being held in Israeli jails, Gaza is under heavy attack and the borders are entirely controlled by Israel, preventing people from getting their most basic human needs met.

We can never forget these things and the daily suffering of the people, and yet I dare to say that I am optimistic. Why? Ehud Olmert. Let me clarify. Better yet, let's let him clarify:

"The day will come when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights. As soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished."

That's right, the Prime Minister of Israel is currently trying to negotiate a "two-state solution" specifically because he realizes that if he doesn't, Palestinians might begin to demand, en masse, equal rights to Israelis. Furthermore, he worries, the world might begin to see Israel as an apartheid state. In actuality, most of the world already sees Israel this way, but Olmert is worried that even Israel's most ardent supporters will begin to catch up with the rest of the world.

"The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us," he told Haaretz, "because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents."

Perhaps Olmert is giving American Jews too much credit here, but he does expose a basic contradiction in the minds of most American people, Jewish and not: most of us -- at least in theory -- support equal rights for all residents of a country. Most of us do not support rights given on the basis of ethnicity and religion, especially when the ethnicity/religion being prioritized is one that excludes the vast majority of the country's indigenous population. We cannot, of course, forget the history of ethnic cleansing of indigenous people on the American continent. But we must not use the existence of past atrocities to justify present ones.

I am optimistic not because I think the process of ethnic cleansing and apartheid in Israel/Palestine is going to end tomorrow, but because I can feel the ideology behind these policies beginning to collapse. For years the true meaning of political Zionism has been as ignored as its effects on Palestinian daily life. And suddenly it is beginning to break open. Olmert's comments last week are reminiscent of those of early Zionist leaders who talked openly of transfer and ethnic cleansing in order to create an artificial Jewish majority in historic Palestine.

We must expel the Arabs and take their places and if we have to use force to guarantee our own right to settle in those places -- then we have force at our disposal. - David Ben-Gurion, Israel's "founding father" and first prime minister, 1937

So this idea of a "two-state solution" a la Olmert -- which I would argue provides neither a "state" nor a "solution" for the Palestinian people -- is the new transfer. It is no longer popular in the world to openly discuss expulsion (though there are political parties in Israel that advocate this), but Olmert hopes that by creating a Palestinian "state" on a tiny portion of historic Palestine, he can accomplish the same goal: maintaining an ethno-religious state exclusively for the Jewish people in most of historic Palestine. His plan, as all other plans Israeli leaders have tried to "negotiate," ignores the basic rights of the two-thirds of the Palestinian population who are refugees. They, like all other refugees in the world, have the internationally recognized right to return to their lands and receive compensation for loss and damages. This should not be up for negotiation.

So why am I optimistic? Why do I think Olmert will fail, if not in the short term, at least in the long term? There are many signs.

The first and most important is that Palestinian people are holding on. Sometimes by a thread, but holding on nonetheless. Despite the hope of many in Israel, Palestinians will not disappear. They engage in daily acts of nonviolent resistance, from demonstrations against the wall and land confiscation, to simply remaining in their homes against all odds. Young people are joining organizations designed to preserve their culture and identity. Older Palestinians have said to me, "We lived through the Ottoman Empire, we lived through the British Mandate, we lived through Jordanian rule, and we will live through Israeli occupation." This too shall pass.

In Israel, it seems that within the traditional "Zionist left," Jewish Israelis are beginning to have open conversations about the exclusivity of Zionism as a political ideology, and are questioning it more and more.

In the US, I have been traveling around speaking to groups about Palestine, and they get it. Even those whose prior information has come only from US mainstream media, when they hear what is actually happening, they get it. When we explain the difference between being Jewish (a religion or ethnicity), Israeli (a citizenship), and Zionist (an ideology), people understand.

"Does Israel have a right to exist?" people ask. What does that mean? Do countries really have rights, or do people have rights? The Jewish people have a right to exist, the Israeli people have a right to exist, but what does "Israel" mean? Israel defines itself as the state of the Jewish people. It is not a state of its citizens. It is a state of many people who are not its citizens, like myself, and is not the state of many people who are its citizens, like the 20 percent of its population that is Palestinian. So if we ask a Palestinian person, "Do you recognize the right for there to be a country on your historic homeland that explicitly excludes you?" what kind of response should we expect?

So when Olmert warns that we will "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights" and that "the state of Israel [will be] finished," I get a little flutter of excitement. I think of the 171 Palestinian organizations who have called on the international community to begin campaigns of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until Israel complies with international law. This is already a South African-style struggle, and we outside of Palestine need to do our part. Especially those of us who live in the US, the country that gives Israel more than $10 million every single day, must take responsibility for the atrocities committed in our name and with our money.

Ultimately, this is our role as Americans. It is to begin campaigns in our churches, synagogues, mosques, universities, cities, unions, etc. It is not to broker false negotiations between occupier and occupied, and it is not to muse over solutions the way I have above. But one can dream. And as a Jewish-American, I know that while it might be scary to some, while it will require a lot of imagination, the end of Israel as a Jewish state could mean the beginning of democracy, human rights, and some semblance of justice in a land that has almost forgotten what that means.

Hannah Mermelstein is co-founder and co-director of Birthright Unplugged, which takes mostly Jewish North American people into the West Bank to meet with Palestinian people and to equip them to return to their own communities and work for justice; and takes Palestinian children from refugee camps to Jerusalem, the sea, and the villages their grandparents fled in 1948, and supports them to document their experiences and create photography exhibits to share with their communities and with the world. Anna Baltzer helped contribute to this article.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Iraqis Blame U.S. for Sectarianism, U.S. Says That's Good

by Binh, author of the blog "Prisoner of Starvation", originally published on his blog and reprinted here with Binh's kind permission.
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Every so often, you pick up a newspaper and read something that boggles your mind.

The Washington Post has a story with a big headline that says: "All Iraqi Groups Blame U.S. Invasion for Discord, Study Shows." The second paragraph starts with the following sentence: "That is good news, according to a military analysis of the results."

Say what? It's good news that Iraqis of all sects agree on one thing: that the U.S. military's invasion and occupation is the number one cause of sectarian warfare in Iraq? It's good news that despite the sectarian hatred that has ripped Iraq apart, they all agree that America is to blame?

These idiots are so desperate for good news they're spinning anti-occupation sentiment among Kurds, Shias, and Sunnis as proof that the surge is working.

The article mentions that other polls conducted by the State Department and private companies have all been consistent on one issue: a majority of Iraqis think a U.S. withdrawal would make their lives better. Duh. Not having the 130,000+ soldiers from the world's most lethal military and tens of thousands of armed, lawless contractors roaming your country killing at will would be an improvement.

Over a million Iraqis have died as a result of the occupation and the U.S. opted for a divide-and-rule strategy when a unite Shia-Sunni resistance became a threat in spring of 2004. Fracturing the resistance along sectarian lines helped maintain an otherwise unsustainable occupation but had the unintended consequence of igniting a full-scale civil war that has torn Iraqi society apart. Fear and sectarian militias now rule the streets.

Many Americans who oppose the war also oppose immediate withdrawal based on this reality. Their argument, echoed by mainstream politicians who want to stay in Iraq to protect its oil not its people, is that there will be genocide, chaos, and unthinkable bloodshed if the U.S. leaves. If anything, the opposite is true: there will be genocide, chaos, and unthinkable bloodshed if the U.S. stays against the will of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, especially given that the main sponsors of the sectarian death squads, the Shia parties Dawa and SIIC, are in the government, control the armed forces, and have American protection. The fact that every year of occupation was worse than the last should be enough proof that what Iraq needs is not more of the same.

Withdrawing the largest, deadliest militia - the U.S. military and its Blackwater counterparts - would reduce the amount of Iraqi bloodshed exponentially. The polls of Iraqis show that 1) they want a total U.S. withdrawal ASAP and 2) they realize that the occupation is the main reason Iraq has become divided against itself. Removing the occupation from the equation will produce a much more democratic and representative government than what exists now in the Green Zone. Without American protection and sponsorship, the Dawa and SIIC parties, will not be able to stay in power. Indeed they've been blocking elections in southern Iraq because they fear they will lose, and lose badly, to the Sadrists.

Obviously Iraq will not become some kind of mythical paradise or utopia once U.S. forces get out. (Another duh.) The country has already been pushed back almost to an almost feudal era, without a national government, where warlords and their militias rule by fear and terror, where women are forced to wear veils in public, with little or no basic services like clean water, an education system, or health care, thanks to a decade of murderous sanctions imposed by Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton and a war launched by Bush Jr. That the U.S. government and companies like Halliburton who profitted from Iraq's destruction owe Iraq tens of billions in reparations is the understatement of the century.

Make no mistake: there will be a civil war to determine who will come out on top of the post-U.S. political order, but it won't be nearly as bloody as having a civil war and an occupation at the same time, which has been the situation for the past five years.

Neither the Mahdi Army, the Badr Brigade, the various Sunni resistance groups, Al-Qaeda, nor the Kurdish Pershmerga have anything remotely approaching the firepower or destructive capability of the U.S. military. They have AK-47s, mortars, rockets, and roadside bombs, all of which limit how many Iraqis they can kill, even assuming they want to conduct a full-scale genocide.

Furthermore, a post-occupation civil war wouldn't necessarily be a straight Sunni vs Shia vs Kurd battle. The sectarian parties that control the Shia south (SIIC, Dawa) and the Kurdish north (KDP, KUP) both have an interest in creating strong regional governments and a weak central government, which reflects their geographic and political sway. They want to monoplize control of the oil revenues, and the country's oil deposits are conveniently located in southern and northern Iraq.

The Sadrist movement, on the other hand, has strongly opposed any move in that direction because a weak central government would mean less oil money invested into the movement's Sadr City stronghold in Baghdad. This opposition puts the Sadrists in the same camp as the Sunni resistance, who contorl the central and western areas of the country, which would also receive little to no oil money if the central government is weak.

The problem is that these Sunni resistance groups see Al-Qaeda being closer to them than the Sadrist movement because of the sectarian murders committed by many members of the Mahdi Army. Sadr has declared a ceasefire against the U.S. to buy himself the peace he needs to purge his militia of the disloyal sectarians who, by murdering their Sunni brethren, have made it all but impossible to unite with the Sunni resistance against the occupation. At the same time, Sadr is also cramming to become an Ayatollah, to counter the influence of SIIC which has the backing of the top Shia religious authority in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

So I guess I agree with the U.S. military analysts. It is good that Iraqis blame the occupation for the sectarian strife. Hopefully that will be enough of a basis for them to unite and pry the eagle's claws off their country.

Torture versus international law: a highly interesting interview with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

In the US of A it is often considered "de bon ton" to trash the United Nations and all the other international institutions which were created after World War II to replace the rule of the jungle with the rule of law in international affairs. Ignorant inbred rednecks hate the UN because they fear that the "Black Helicopters" will invade their villages, libertarians hate the UN because they hate anything 'government' and they assume (mistakenly) that the UN is, or tries to be, a 'world government', conservatives hate the UN because it tells them that they cannot bomb whom they want without a UNSC authorization and the democrats hate the UN simply because they think that hating the UN makes them look more 'patriotic'. Hardly anyone is aware of the fact that UN is much bigger and much more diverse that just the UNSC.

George Kenney, a former State Department diplomat who resigned over the US policies the the Balkans, has a very interesting blog called "Electric Politics" which features interesting articles, discussions and an extremely well designed weekly interview available for podcast and download. On November 16th of this year, George Kenny interviewed Manfred Nowak, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. The interview is available here for download.

I urge everybody to listen to this most interesting conversation, in particular all my readers in the USA, as it touches on many crucial issues including the importance, nature and relevance of the international legal instruments on such issues like torture, and on what kind of socio-cultural evolution is taking place in Europe and the rest of the world while the USA is *regressing* on pretty much all issues of internationally agreed conventions, practices and policies. Nothing illustrates this better than the issues of torture and secret detention.

Check out all the other podcasts available on George Kenny's website. Almost all of them are extremely interesting.

The truth behind the Surge

The so-called 'Surge', and its alleged success, are based on two fundamental tactics: the first one is the so-called 'Redirection' which consists of buying off the Sunni resistance, including all those groups who only yesterday were called 'terrorists'; the second new tactic is massive increasing in the use of airpower. The blog Lenin's Tomb has just published an excellent analysis which proves that the occupation forces are now truly engaged into a 'rolling wave of massacres' as 'Lenin' writes:

Both countries have taken a hammering, but Afghanistan in particular has taken the brunt of a massive series of air attacks in part due to the 'risk-transfer' conception of war, in which civilians are to bear the brunt of death and destruction rather than US combatants. The hostile terrain of Afghanistan, and the fact that few are actually covering it very extensively, makes it an ideal target for this kind of ferocious assault - with, as we saw last year, a rolling wave of massacres in the country. Inevitably, since the air war hasn't been covered much by the media, and given its insensitivity to 'enemy' casualties, those massacres reported are a tiny sample of the true total. Without a Lancet-style survey, we will remain very much in the dark about the true nature of this assault and its effects.

Arming the Sunnis + using air strikes = a successful 'Surge', at least statistically, for the time being. In reality, this will make the situation even worse as the Sunnis will inevitably turn on the occupation force they hate, the Shias will be even further alienated by their betrayal, and the thousands of new civilian casualties will only result in more hatred for the brutal occupation. Add to this the US support for Turkey against the Kurds and you have all the ingredients of a complete nightmare and even more bloodshed. The 'Surge' will go down in history as one of the dumbest and most immoral political stunts ever devised.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Taleban Ambush in the Mountrains: a video analysis

Maybe it is because I did my basic training in the mountains, or maybe its because I just love them; the fact is that I have always been fascinated by how mountains totally change the face of presumably 'modern' warfare. In the mountains, a horse if much better than an APC, helicopters are sometimes very useful and at times utterly useless, a platoon can stop a regiment, air strikes are often impossible to execute and triangulating a radio transmitter position becomes a nightmare. Nothing wears down engines as well as mountain operations.

Mountains are truly the ultimate defensive terrain.


In the mountains the weather can change in less than one hour from balmy hot to a hellish blizzard. Roads which appeared reliable only yesterday can simply disappear overnight. Soldiers need much more food and water just to survive while the supply lines are always compromised. Logistics become a nightmare and even cooking can be a challenge for an untrained person.

I have just come across this short video of a Taleban ambush against what appears to be a small resupply convoy. It seems to be lead by a truck which is a rather bizarre concept, (unless there is a guide in it or some locally hired people are used as 'mine clearing personnel'). The video is of poor quality and I cannot really tell. What is really interesting here though, is how well this video shows the degree to which mountains restrict movement and thus give a huge advantage to any ambushing force. The vehicles in this video are totally stuck and cannot move anywhere, even well into the attack.

The ambushing force seems to be composed of only one machine gun operator, one RPG operator, at least one spotter (you can hear the radio traffic), a couple of AK shooters (you can hear but not see them) and the camera operator. Just imagine what a platoon sized force could have done to the convoy (identified on the LiveLeak website where I found the video as "4th Platoon D Company getting ambushed on the KOP Road. Korengal Valley 1-32 Inf 10th Mountain").

Speaking of the radio traffic. One of the most effective way to protect any force in such terrain is to place radio intercept positions on mountain tops. Such positions are usually easy to protect, to resupply and, if needed, to evacuate. They are also ideal to intercept enemy radio traffic between the spotter and the ambushing force. As I mentioned before, triangulating the exact position of the radio signal is hard because such signals tend to bounce off the mountain sides, but it is possible to isolate a general area. Here is how a radio intercept force would protect the convoy:

Anywhere between 3 to 5 radio intercept positions would be placed in carefully selected mountain tops each manned by by a small number or electronic warfare pioneers and a small covering force. 10-12 men in total are plenty. They would be in radio contact (ideally via encrypted and frequency hopping communications) with a electronic warfare HQ (typically a EW company HQ). A datalink would be even better. Any radio traffic would be reported to the HQ, ideally recorded and possibly translated by a language specialist, and plotted on a map. The intelligence officer would then match than up with the planned troop movements for the day and if a spike in traffic was detected in the area of movement of a convoy an alarm could be triggered and a covering force sent: either attack helicopters or transport helicopters dropping off a protecting force (one or more platoon-size units) on the high ground above the threatened convoy. At least one vehicle in the convoy should be able to act as a FAC. In most cases the ambushing force will detect the arrival of the protection force and call off the attack.

Another highly effective tactic is counter-ambushing in which a special operations unit is covertly dropped several days in advance in a likely ambush location and waits for the insurgent force to take up position and to attack before destroying it (they are most detectable at the time when they bury the mine or IED which is supposed to hit the first vehicle).

In this case it appears that the US forces are not making full use of such capabilities. They should have learned from the experience of the Soviet forces in Afghanistan which used such tactics with great success (with rather basic hardware, I would add).

Anyway - take a look for yourself and see for yourself what a mountain ambush looks like. Notice that the RPGs are being fired at a distance which is bigger than their ideal one (about 100-150 yards only for poorly trained operators) and that the first IED/mine does not explode under the truck, but under the first Humvee. Typically, that the entire attack takes less than a couple of minutes.

The Kurds have a saying that "the Kurds have no friends but the mountain". I would only add that this is also the best friend to have.

video

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

US occupation forces open a new front in their war against the people of Iraq (updates 1 and 2)

I just saw this really interesting piece of news from Reuters. Reporting about the air and artillery strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan Reuters wrote:

Dismissing reports the raids hit villages, Turkey's General Staff said its targets were fixed "after it was established that they were definitely not civilian residential areas." The three-hour offensive, reported to involve 50 fighter jets, also included ground forces shelling suspected positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. "According to initial valuations, all the planned targets were hit accurately," the General Staff said on its Web site. The Turkish army has massed up to 100,000 troops near the border, raising fears that a major cross-border operation could further destabilise Iraq and fuel ethnic and sectarian tensions. However, initial responses to the weekend raids from Turkey's main allies stopped well short of condemnation. The United States, Turkey's main military ally, has said it was informed of the raids in advance but did not authorise them. A Pentagon spokesman also said Washington had given Turkey intelligence to track Kurdish fighters hiding in Iraq, but would not say whether it gave precise targets used in the raids.

Here is another Reuters piece, this time via Yahoo News:

The United States has given Turkey intelligence to track Kurdish fighters hiding in Iraq, a Pentagon spokesman said on Monday, but he would not say whether Washington gave Ankara precise targets used in weekend raids. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman also would not say whether the United States gave Turkey prior approval to use Iraqi air space to conduct the strikes. "The United States continues to assist with information to the Turkish government that will help them deal with the insurgent situation that they have up there," Whitman said.
The Pentagon had said it was helping Turkey gain the "actionable" intelligence needed for a strike against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants. Actionable intelligence refers to information that can be acted upon, such as data that pinpoints the location of a target for a military strike. Asked specifically whether the United States gave Turkey targets used in weekend raids, Whitman said he would not "get into details like that." He said the Pentagon was providing information that would be "helpful in dealing with this insurgent terrorist threat." When told by reporters that his answer implied the Pentagon had indeed provided such "actionable intelligence," Whitman said, "That's probably OK."

Is there any possible way to conclude from all that doublespeak that the USA was *not* involved in the preparation and execution of these strikes? The airspace over Iraq is under US control, and the Pentagon actually admits giving 'actionable intelligence' about the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan to the Turks.

There is no possible doubt that by providing the Turks with 'actionable intelligence' the Pentagon provided Ankara with targeting information crucial to the execution of these strikes. It would also appear that the USA could be held at least partially responsible for designating the targets as "definitely not civilian residential areas". The inescapable conclusion from all this is that the PKK guerrillas would be certainly justified in considering the US forces in Iraqi Kurdistan has an hostile enemy force.

One can only wonder at what was going through the minds of the Pentagon spokesman when he volunteered the information that the USA had given the Turks 'actionable intelligence': did he pause to think for one second that this kind of irresponsible (and useless) admission was putting all the US forces in Kurdistan at risk?

From the point of view of the PKK it would make perfect sense to blow up some valuable US military target (remember the Marine barracks in Beirut?) to teach the Americans a simple lesson: that the Kurdish fighters can turn Kurdistan into another nightmare for the US occupation forces if they proactively assist the Turks in their military operations.

By siding with Turkey the USA is risking opening yet another front in its war against the Iraqi people. US commanders, with their legendary short-term memory, seem to have forgotten that Kurdistan is no safe haven for US troops. Sure, for the time being the Kurds are tolerating the US occupation forces, just like the Shias have generally done so far. But the 'redirection' is already deeply alienating the Shias and the latest developments in Kurdistan indicate that with its typical imperial hubris the USA thinks that it can also afford to alienate the Kurds.

One can only wonder - are the Americans simply out of their minds?!
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Update 1: according to the BBC Massoud Barzani, head of the Iraqi Kurdish regional government, has refused to meet with Secretary Rice. Keep in mind that Barzani represents, at least in the minds of the Administration, the 'good Kurds', in contrast to the 'bad Kurds' of the PKK.

In the meantime, a small Turkish troops have made in incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan.

So far the Turkish actions are rather symbolic in nature (December is just not a good time for a ground invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan) and they are probably designed to please the public opinion in Turkey. Such 'armed PR' can end up having very serious consequences for the US occupation forces throughout Iraq.


Update 2: more details from the DemocracyNow website: U.S. Military Sharing Intelligence on Iraq With Turkey. Meanwhile Pentagon officials have revealed the U.S. is providing the Turkish military with real-time intelligence on northern Iraq. The Washington Post reports U.S. military personnel have set up a center for sharing intelligence in Ankara providing imagery and other immediate information gathered from U.S. aircraft and unmanned drones flying over Northern Iraq. One U.S. military official said the United States is “essentially handing them their targets.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

Interesting Dahr Jamail presentation about Iraq and the 'Surge"

On December 8th of this year Dahr Jamail made an interesting in Vancouver, Canada. His speech was recorded by Radio Ecoshock and made available for download here (I have also uploaded a copy of this presentation here).

I highly recommend Dahr Jamail's excellent presentation which totally debunks all the nonsense about the 'Surge' which the corporate media sheepishly repeats day after day. To anyone wanting to hear the truth about what Iraq looks like "Beyond the Green Zone" Dahr's presentation is a must.

Also, make sure to get a copy of Dahr's book Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq.

Last, but not least, keep an eye on Dahr's excellent blog.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The USA have betrayed the Kurds (yet again)

According to the BBC: "Turkey's air strikes against Kurdish rebels in Iraq on Sunday were approved by the United States in advance, the Turkish military says. The country's top general, Yasar Buyukanit, said the US opened northern Iraqi airspace for the operation. Jets targeted the Kurdish rebel PKK in areas near the border. The Turkish media said up to 50 planes were used. Iraqi officials say bombs hit 10 villages, killing one woman, while the PKK reported seven deaths. Iraq has summoned the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad and demanded a halt to the strikes"

Fascinating, isn't it? The USA has, presumably, returned its sovereignty to Iraq. Yet it enables an attack on Iraqi soil by one of its neighbors. The occupation forces have, of course, already kidnapped Iranian diplomats in Iraq against the will of the legal government of Iraq, but actually assisting an external power to conduct airstrikes on targets in Iraq is something of a different order of magnitude.

So much for the issue of whether one should speak of a sovereign Iraq or not. Ditto for whether the Imperial forces should be called 'coalition forces' or 'occupation forces' (not to mention that there still is no SOFA agreement in Iraq).

These airstrikes also settle the issue of whether the USA supports the Kurds or not: while having to deal with the 'good' Iraq Kurds who are needed as a showcase for the 'stable Iraq' Washington is more than willing to assist Turkey to attack the 'bad' Turkish Kurds even if that means carrying out strikes inside the territory controlled by the 'good Kurds'. Washington's "good Kurds, bad Kurds" policy is yet another monument to the phenomenal hypocrisy of the Neocons whose entire Middle-East policy is defined by one and only overwhelming goal: to please the Israeli Likudniks, hence the support for Turkey against the "bad Kurds" and AIPAC's support of Turkey in Congress (talk about an 'axis of evil'!).

What will the effects of these strikes be? Beyond stroking the ruffled feathers of the Turkish population and killing a number of (mostly civilian) Kurds - nothing. If there is one thing which military history has proven beyond the slightest doubts is that air and artillery strikes do not work in mountains.

There is, of course, the remote possibility that these strikes are just part of a preparation for a larger ground invasion by the Turkish military. I personally doubt that the Turks could actually be stupid enough to try something like that, but then I would never have thought that Olmert would be stupid enough to launch a ground invasion of Lebanon last year. So maybe the Turks need a good whopping by the PKK to come back to their senses.

The only certain effect of the US support for these strikes is that it will show, yet again, to the Kurds and the Iraqis that they are dealing with one common enemy who hypocrisy truly know no bounds. But they already knew that, of course.

Clinton's ticking time bomb in the Balkans

With all the talk about the Neocon's fabulously evil and incompetent foreign policy one might forget that it did not all begin with Dubya and his administration. The first elective war which was fought in blatant and clear violation of international law, the UN charter and even basic decency was the US-lead NATO aggression on Yugoslavia.

It all really began with the joint US-Croatian attack on the UN protection areas in Croatia (in which UNPROFOR forces were secretly ordered to stand down and let the attacking forces enter the UN protection areas) and it ended with the NATO air campaign in support of the KLA in Kosovo.

As usual in such cases, the aggression was described as a 'humanitarian operation' in defense of the Kosovo Albanians. A Serbian police operation against a KLA unit in the village of Racak was re-branded a 'massacre' (the EU investigation which had uncovered the truth about this event was immediately classified as 'secret' and quickly forgotten, just like the UNPROFOR investigation of the Markale bombing in Sarajevo). Finally, the panicked exile of thousands of Kosovo Albanians was deemed a 'genocide' and the full scale bombing of Yugoslavia could be veiled in a pious 'humanitarian' cloak.


That huge air campaign failed miserably, at least in Kosovo proper: only a couple of tanks and APCs were destroyed, but the rest of the Army Corps deployed in Kosovo was left unscathed. The Empire then used its favorite and time-tested method: it expanded its air strikes to the civil infrastructure of Serbia and even Montenegro (the tactic used by Israel in 2006 against Lebanon). But even that did not really do the trick. The Empire then played its strongest card: it promised Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that he could stay in power as long as he agreed to betray his fellow Serbs in Kosovo.

Milosevic, who had already betrayed the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia by supporting a NATO blockade against them and, even more crucially, by ordering the Yugoslav armored units to withdraw when the Croats attacked, could be counted on to also betray the Serbs in Kosovo. The Serb forces withdrew from Kosovo, the Albanian returned, the Serbs fled and the systematic destruction of Orthodox churches and ancient monasteries by KLA goons began under the indifferent eyes of the NATO occupying forces.


Still, the Empire needed one more lie to fully achieve its aims: a promise that a negotiated solution for Kosovo would be found within international law, meaning that Kosovo would not simply be allowed to unilaterally secede from Yugoslavia and declare independence. Milosevic did not care as long as he was allowed to remain in power, and Russia was too busy being sucked dry by the 'oligarchs' and their western patrons. The Empire had won: th KLA thugs, which the Empire used to brand as 'terrorists' only a few years ago, were now presented to the world as respectable politicians.

Predictably, the KLA thugs now in power in Pristina were told that if no negotiated agreement was found with Belgrade they could declare independence and that, regardless of what the UNSC would decide, their independence would be recognized. Unsurprisingly, these negotiations failed and now the KLA is about to declare independence without a UNSC Resolution, but with a vast majority of western countries supporting such a move. Their approach is simple: its not like the Albanians would accept anything else anyway and screw Serbia - who cares about what they have to say!


The problem with this 'easy' solution is that it overlooks a number of important issues.

1) Albanians are not only Serbia's problem. They are also Greece's and Macedonia's problem. Not only that, but the KLA ideology claims that a good chunk of Macedonia should be part of a greater 'historical' Albania. The reality is that an independent Kosovo would can exist as long as the Empire's forces are willing to prop it up. Should the Empire collapse, or its forces be withdrawn, the 'Kosova' statelet would immediately be taken over by its neighbors (I remember having a conversation with a Greek officer who told me: "you know what? the Serbs should send one battalion into Macedonia, we should send another and just get it over with". I can just imagine what he would say about Kosovo). While Greece is more than capable to deal with its Albanian problem, Macedonia is not, and Albanian terrorists and criminal gangs are regularly involved in clashes with the Macedonian police and military forces. A KLA-controlled Kosovo will make this situation infinitely worse.

2) the Serbs will *never* accept an Albanian-controlled Kosovo for the simply reason that Kosovo is the birthplace of the Serbian national identity. It is, in many ways, far more important to teh Serb nation that Belgrade or any other part of Serbia. Having lived under the brutal Ottoman occupation for many centuries the Serbs are used to waiting for a long time if needed before liberating themselves. The Empire thinks about as far as the next election. The Serbs will, if needed, wait for centuries before re-taking Kosovo. Only a person wholly ignorant of the Serb culture and history could think that they would ever accept to be booted out of Kosovo by a joint KLA-NATO occupation.

3) Kosovo is totally landlocked and economically under-developed, even by local standards. As soon as independence is declared, it will come under embargo from Serbia (and possibly, at a later time, from Macedonia and Montenego). Kosovo's only 'economy' will be the one of illegal trade and trafficking (an Albanian long time specialty anyway). The fact that it will be run by former KLA field commanders will only make things worse. Finally, Kosovo's only neighbor who will be generally sympathetic to its independence will be Albania proper - yet another hotbed of crime, corruption and trafficking. It would be laughable to assume that US or European forces could do anything to stop the inevitable descent of Kosovo and Albania even further into state of crime and lawlessness which will affect all its neighbors. Simply put - nobody in the Balkans can afford a KLA run Kosovo which will prove a crime-spreading tumor which will metastasize throughout the Balkans and the rest of Europe.

4) Kosovo's independence will have another dangerous consequence: it will set a precedent. First, it will show that international law doesn't matter any more. Second, it will lead the way for a number of other national and ethnic groups aspiring for their own state. All these groups will now need is a single powerful patron. Paradoxically, a lot of client states of the USA in the former Soviet Union are likely to suffer from this: Georgia, the Ukraine, Moldavia, Azerbaijan and many others are already involved in armed struggles against their own separatist groups. All Moscow will need to do is recognize them "as the USA did with Kosovo" and they will be able to secede and there will be exactly nothing which Washington will be able to do to help its distressed clients. More insidiously, Moscow will also be able to only *threaten* to recognized such states in order to pressure the former allies of the USA to bring them into Russia's sphere of influence (this is the scenario which I find most likely, in particular in Georgia).

The situation is Kosovo is nothing short of a complete disaster, and it is about the become worse. Under Clinton the Empire was already lead by clueless, ignorant and narrow-minded politicians whose only concern at the time was to look good politically, to show some muscle, and to beat up what they perceived as Russia's ally in the region (keep in mind that at the same time when the West supported Albanian terrorists in Kosovo it also supported them in Chechnia). As usual, such illiterate policies will result in many forms of blowback, not only in the Balkans but far beyond.

I do not predict that anything truly dramatic will happen right after Kosovo declares its independence. NATO forces will be on high alert, the Albanians on their best behavior, and the Balkan countries will be quiet. TV crews will report scenes of elation in Pristina, and some will even report from the small Serb controlled enclaves. Belgrade will protest, and so will Moscow. There will be a lot of back-slapping in Brussels and Washington. And then everybody will forget about this statelet and turn to other, more important, issues. Then, and only slowly and gradually, will the tumor created by the Empire begin to spread throughout the Balkans and the first instances of blowback begin to strike back at the Empire.