Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bob Woodward deserves more respect

Kash Kheirkhah

Background of the story: On November 14, 2005 Bob Woodward gave a two hour deposition to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald regarding the Valerie Plame affair. The deposition was reported in the Washington Post's November 16th issue, in which it was stated that an unnamed senior official in the Bush administration told Woodward that Plame was a CIA analyst in June 2003, prior to any other known disclosure of the information by a government official making the initial revelation to Woodward the seminal event in the crime. Prior to the November 16 article, Woodward did not publicly reveal that he had any special knowledge about the scandal. Mr Woodward was forced to make a public apology to the Washington Post, the paper's editor and readers for his conscious concealment of crucial information about a major federal scandal but maintained he was only standing up for the principle of confidentiality in his reporter-source relationship.

Bob Woodward, the most famous reporter in America whose Watergate reporting along with Carl Bernstein's eventually led to the downfall of Richard Nixon administration, is still under ferocious attacks not just over not informing his executive editor about his valerie Plame conversation (for which he apologized) but now for the very style of investigative journalism he has conducted since Watergate.

Ariana Huffington continued to blast Woodward on Sunday for his refusal to reveal the identity of his source, calling him "the purest distillation of what journalism has been reduced to in Washington":

the thirst for access -- not to better serve the public, but to better serve the journalist. Access as an end, not a means, access resulting in little details ("dressed casually in a handsome green wool shirt") that make the reader feel part of history and, even more important, make the journalist sound like part of history, with all the perks that flow from that -- book contracts and TV appearances and speaking engagements. This is the access that validates the journalist as player rather than the journalist as truth-seeker.
"The administration plays along with this by giving him some juicy details in service of the larger effort to make Bush look like he walks on water," wrote Robert Kuttner, co-editor of the American Prospect. "Bob is the willing enabler of that, and it's shameful. Bob has it both ways -- he's the court biographer and he keeps intact his reputation as an investigator."

But in my opinion, shameful are such short-sighted comments which are directed at a true American hero-reporter whose only sin is protecting his source.

Mr Woodward is protecting his source in the Bush White House the same way he did "Deep Throat" in the Nixon White House and 33 years afterwards. The people who now accuse him of playing both ways can't have it both ways themselves, lauding him for protecting a source who helped bring down the Nixon white house, yet lambasting him for refusing to reveal a source whose secret identity helps rather than hurts the Republican administration this time around.

This is sheer hypocrisy.

Bob Woodward's style of reporting depends on confidential sources. That's investigative journalism 101. He talks to his sources and then, in return for what they tell him, guarantees that he would never reveal their identity. Very simply put, that's how Woodward broke the Watergate and how he has continued to provide the public with his first-hand accounts of secret decision-making process in Washington. Woodward's' highly-acclaimed book "Plan of Attacks' in which he first exposed the deep friction between then-Secretary of State Collin Powell and Vice president Dick Cheney over the Iraq War and the term "slam dunk case" which the then-CIA Director George Tenet used on the weapons intelligence in making a case for the invasion of Iraq is anything but a favor to the Bush administration. Some of the information in the book were damaging enough to the white House to be used by the Kerry campaign in 2004 election and some of the same armchair critics who are now questioning Mr Woodward's motives and his journalistic ethics.

Another big factor in what's driving some of these critics to turn loose their baseless attacks on Bob Woodward is jealousy as Jeff Leen, Washington Post's assistant managing editor for investigations tells Howard kurtz in Monday's Post: "People like to see the king fall. . . . There are a lot of armchair quarterbacks who couldn't carry Woodward's shoes but are weighing in on whether he should keep his job."

Bob Woodward has not been covering up another Watergate, nor has he breached any journalistic rules of ethics by protecting his source. He is why hundreds of thousands of people like me want to be in journalism. He is the true embodiment of American journalism and deserves much more respect for the service he's done to Journalism and the free press.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sunday Telegraph: Teheran 'secretly trains' Chechens to fight in Russia

Iran is secretly training Chechen rebels in sophisticated terror techniques to enable them to carry out more effective attacks against Russian forces, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

Teams of Chechen fighters are being trained at the Revolutionary Guards' Imam Ali training camp, located close to Tajrish Square in Teheran, according to Western intelligence reports. In addition to receiving training in the latest terror techniques, the Chechen volunteers undergo ideological and political instruction by hardline Iranian mullahs at Qom.

The disclosure that Iran is training Chechen rebels will not go down well in Moscow, which regards itself as a close ally of the Iranian regime. Russia has sided with Iran in the diplomatic stand-off over Teheran's controversial nuclear programme.

While the British and American governments have accused Iran of having a clandestine nuclear weapons programme, the Russians, who are building Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, back Teheran's claim that their nuclear intentions are solely peaceful. Moscow has offered a face-saving formula to prevent Iran from being reported to the United Nations Security Council for its failure to co-operate fully with UN nuclear inspection teams.

Under the terms of the deal, the Russians would oversee Iran's nuclear enrichment activities to ensure that only partially enriched uranium, which is not of weapons grade, is produced. At this weekend's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, America and Britain gave their qualified backing to the Russian proposal in the hope that it might resolve the crisis in the agency's dealings with Teheran.

But the Iranians are growing increasingly suspicious of Moscow's intentions, and it is for this reason that Western intelligence officials believe that Iran's hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has sanctioned the training of Chechen fighters in Teheran. "Just as they have orchestrated attacks against British troops in Basra to pressure Britain to drop its opposition to Iran's nuclear programme, so they are trying to put pressure on Moscow by backing Chechen fighters," said a senior intelligence official.

Bush to reach out to Iran in bid to quell Iraq unrest

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President George W. Bush has asked US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad to reach out to Iran for assistance in subduing the unrest in Iraq — the first high-level US contact with Tehran in decades, Newsweek magazine reported yesterday. “I’ve been authorised by the president to engage the Iranians,” Khalilzad told Newsweek in its edition set to hit newsstands today. “There will be meetings, and that’s also a departure and an adjustment,” he said in an interview with the magazine.

ABC television confirmed the proposed US approach to Iran on its This Week programme yesterday, reporting that Khalilzad was to make direct contact with the Iranian government about the ongoing insurgency in Iraq. The contact would be the first high-level communication at the senior level between Washington and Tehran since relations ruptured in 1979.

Meanwhile, Britain, France and Germany agreed yesterday to hold talks with Iran on resuming negotiations which broke down in August about the country’s disputed nuclear programme, a British spokesman said. “I can confirm that a letter has been written by the three foreign ministers offering to have talks about restarting the negotiations on the nuclear issue,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Barcelona, where Blair was attending a Euro-Mediterranean summit.

Earlier Iran’s official Irna news agency said ambassadors of the so-called EU3 countries handed over a letter accepting a resumption of the talks in December, quoting a statement issued by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Movie quote of the week

Billy Fish: He [ the ruler of the village] wants to know if you are gods.
Peachy Carnahan: Not gods - Englishmen. The next best thing.

Michael Cane (Peachy Canahan) and Saeed Jaffrey (Billy Fish) in "The Man Who Would Be King" (1975), the story of two British soldiers in India (Sean Connery & Michael Cane) who travel to Afghanistan and are mistaken for gods.

Sunday press review: Iraq

Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek - Panic Is Not The Solution

The rising clamor in Washington to get out of Iraq may be right or may be wrong, but one thing is certain: its timing has little to do with events in that country. Iraq today is no worse off than it was three months ago, or a year ago. Nor has there been a sudden spike in the numbers of American troops being killed. In fact, in some ways things have improved recently. What's driving this debate, however, are events in America...

James, Q. Wilson, Wall Street Journal - We are winning, and winning decisively

Terrorist leaders such as Zarqawi have lost. Most Sunni leaders, whom Zarqawi was hoping to mobilize, have rejected his call to defeat any constitution. The Muslims in his hometown in Jordan have denounced him. Despite his murderous efforts, candidates representing every legitimate point of view and every ethnic background are competing for office in the new Iraqi government. The progress of democracy and reconstruction has occurred faster in Iraq than it did in Germany 60 years ago, even though we have far fewer troops in the Middle East than we had in Germany after Hitler was defeated...

Jim Hoagland, Washington Post - Bush's Iraq vision has unfrozen the Middle East

"But it is a Middle East in which those who believe in democracy and civil society are finally actors, even though we still face big obstacles," says Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egypt's battle-scarred democratic activist.Ibrahim originally opposed the invasion of Iraq. But it "has unfrozen the Middle East, just as Napoleon's 1798 expedition did. Elections in Iraq force the theocrats and autocrats to put democracy on the agenda, evenif only to fight against us. Look, neither Napoleon nor President Bush could impregnate the region with politi-cal change. But they were able to be the midwives," Ibrahim told me in Washington...

Chicago Tribune - Finishing the job in Iraq

Iraq will one day stand on its own. That process is under way. Some 200,000 Iraqi personnel have been trained by U.S. forces, including some 84,000 police officers. Iraq troops have been shouldering increasing responsibility in some areas, with U.S. forces playing a supporting role. The U.S. will leave when Iraqis are able to defend themselves against the terrorists who would sabotage the country's future. No one wants the troops there any longer than necessary.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Canada: No-confidence motion for government good news for Quebec's separatists

Kash Kheirkhah

On Monday, Canada's Parliament will vote on a motion of no-confidence backed by the three opposition parties which could topple Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal government soon. If the government falls, Canadian will have an election on their hands in January 2006, preceded by the hasty campaigning that will take place over the Christmas and new Year Holidays.

Liberals' defeat in the next election, whenever that may be, will be more than welcoming news to separatists in Quebec. A conservative government in Ottawa with no seats in Quebec coupled with the ascent of a young charismatic Andre' Boisclair to the head of Parti Quebecois and the low approval ratings of Quebec's Liberal Premier Jean Charest will most probably lead PQ into the next election victory and even beyond that, to the eventual independence of the province of Quebec.

Mr Boisclair is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Unlike Jacques Parizeau--Quebec's former premier who, in his 1995 referendum concession speech, offensively said his referendum had been beaten by money and the "ethnic" votes--Mr Boisclair has actively sought the participation of ethnic minorities in his drive to lead the PQ, and, in his victory speech, assured Anglophones that their rights would be protected if Quebec became a separate nation. In fact, the new generation of immigrants who have been schooling here in Quebec no longer think any differently than the native French Canadians who believe in sovereignty as a matter of pride.

But for me as an immigrant who currently lives in Quebec but loves being part of a large, economically successful and culturally diverse country such as Canada the sovereignty talk is very unfortunate. I believe the notion of "independence" for Quebec, whose unique blend of European and North American life styles and vibrant cultural diversity contribute immensely to the unsurpassed quality of Canada, is simply rejected by the underlying principles that have turned Canada into a beautiful mosaic of more than a 100 different ethnicities and cultures, each enriching rather than weakening the best country in the world.

If Mr Martin's government survives Monday's no-confidence vote or the next election, it should help Quebec's Liberals regain their momentum by underlining to the Quebecers Liberal party's concrete ideas for the future against Mr Boisclair's sugar-coated cliches of the past and the separatist mentality which seeks the solution to all Quebec's economic, social and political problems in the fallacy of "secession".

Weekend news review

Observer - Ayad Allawi: Iraq worse than under Saddam

Human rights abuses in Iraq are now as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein and are even in danger of eclipsing his record, according to the country's first Prime Minister after the fall of Saddam's regime.

'People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse,' Ayad Allawi told The Observer. 'It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.'

'We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated,' he added. 'A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations. We are even witnessing Sharia courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them.'

NY Times - How Reality Cut Likud's Vision Down to Size

Eyal Arad joined Likud 30 years ago, at the age of 17.

"We had a dream - Jewish sovereignty in the biblical Land of Israel, on both banks of the Jordan River, and Palestinians could have self-rule and not independence," he said. "I believe it was a beautiful and just dream, but it crashed against the walls of reality."

It was Mr. Sharon who shook dreamers like Mr. Arad awake, and who last week threw a grenade into Likud itself, quitting the party to form his own and to pursue his own approach to what he sees as Israel's new realities...

Henry Kissinger - Merkel will give Germany, U.S. a fresh start

It is likely that any German chancellor would have been reluctant to join the war in Iraq. But no chancellor or foreign minister not of the '68 generation would have based his policy on overt and systematic opposition to the United States and conducted two election campaigns on a theme of profound distrust of America's ultimate motives. Nor would demonstrative joint efforts with France and Russia to thwart American diplomatic efforts at the U.N. have been likely.

The Bush Administration has shown every willingness to cooperate. Indeed, one concern is that cooperation may shade into an enthusiasm that overwhelms the dialogue with short-term schemes drawn from the period of strain. The administration needs to take care to restrain its proclivity to conduct consultation as a strenuous exercise in pressing American preferences. Scope needs to be left for the elaboration of a German view of the future. The key challenge before the Atlantic nations is to develop a new sense of common destiny in the age of jihad, the rise of Asia, and the emerging universal problems of poverty, pandemics and energy, among many others.

Washington Times - US convinced Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons

U.S. intelligence agencies are convinced that Iran is working to build nuclear weapons in secret based on a confidential report produced last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and on information from a former Iranian opposition figure.

"In terms of Iran's pattern of behavior, it's a very clear picture that they are hiding and deceiving the world about their nuclear-arms program by claiming it is for peaceful purposes," one official said. "They have clearly lied, and they keep getting caught in one lie after another."

NY Times - A Rush to Excavate Ancient Iranian Sites

Iran has been planning for a decade to build the Sivand Dam in Fars Province, between the ruins of the ancient Persian cities of Persepolis and Pasargadae. But the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization knew little about the broader region until three years ago, when archaeologists identified 129 potentially important sites in the region that will be flooded by the new dam.

Pasargadae, founded by Cyrus the Great as the first dynastic capital of the Achaemenids and the Persian Empire, was known for its architecture as well as its liberality and respect for cultural diversity before it fell to Alexander the Great.Persepolis was founded by Darius the Great, Cyrus's eventual successor, as the empire's ceremonial capital in 518 B.C.

Observer - How a heart-throb became the voice of liberal America

George Clooney was adamant about one thing last week: he was not attacking the President in his gripping new film about the Middle East - he was slamming the entire geopolitical system.
'It is not an attack on the Bush administration, but it is an attack on the system that has been in place for 60 or 70 years - oil always being at the centre of it,' the actor told an interviewer.

The debonair Clooney, the playboy actor once best known for keeping a pet pig and being the consummate ladies' man, has clearly taken on an unlikely role: the new King of Liberal Hollywood.

In Syriana, Clooney's latest work, which opened last week in New York, the actor plays a world-weary CIA agent caught in a web of political intrigue surrounding control of oil in the Middle East. It is a complex story of interwoven plots which aims to expose the true realities of power in the world. Clooney was also executive producer on the film, which pulls no punches in its conclusion that the political system has become a slave to the oil industry.

He is planning a television remake of the 1970s hit movie Network, a dark comedy in which cynical TV producers discover the on-air nervous breakdown of an anchorman is a huge ratings hit. They then plot for him to be killed on air in order to get more viewers. The film includes the famous line: 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!' Ironically, that could now serve as a new motto for Clooney himself: the Hollywood heart-throb turned real world activist.

Friday, November 25, 2005

US winning card: Russia's compromise proposal

Kash Kheirkhah

Although I share Ilan Berman's frustration over the US and Europeans dilly-dallying over Iran's referral to the UN's Security Council, I do believe this reprieve will definitely be mullahs' last chance to comply with the IAEA's demands.

Involving Russia in talks with the Islamic Republic, as I recommended few months ago, was a very intelligent policy recommended by Dr. Condoleezza Rice and wisely adopted by the Bush administration.

Until recently, Russia had shrewdly managed to stay above the nuclear fray, playing both sides. But the new US policy in backing the Russian compromise proposal under which Iran can still maintain a civilian nuclear program but transfer enrichment to Russia, will effectively pull out the rug from under the Russians' feet and remove the only remaining obstacle on the way of referring Iran to the Security Council.


It is highly unlikely that Russians will be able to reach an enrichment compromise with Tehran. Earlier today, only one day after the IAEA Board of Governers decided to to give Tehran one more chance through Russia's proposal, Reuters reported that "diplomats and intelligence officials, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this week, said Iran was preparing to start enrichment at its underground plant in Natanz."

The report also refers to "a 4-page confidential intelligence report citing a 'senior Iranian foreign ministry source' as saying that on October 24 the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, called an emergency meeting of current and former members of Iran's nuclear negotiating team to weigh the various options for the timing of the Natanz operation."

America and the Eu-3 are fully aware of Iran's nuclear intentions. Given Tehran's past violations of IAEA resolutions and the recent revelations of a document in Iran's possession on casting uranium into hemispheres--a process whose primary use is for engineering nuclear explosions--they have no doubt that Iran is seeking purposes far beyond its alleged civilian ones with its nuclear program.

So why did they let the IAEA board give Russia's proposal a chance after all?

To quote a senior European diplomat at the end of the Reuters report:

"The US is just waiting for the Russian proposal to fail and then they'll go to the Security Council."

Iran: Leadership crisis deepens

Independent - Iran's President Digs in as Leadership Crisis Deepens:

A power struggle of titanic proportions has broken out between Iran's newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country's parliament. Now the President's domestic political agenda is in danger of collapse, after MPs refused to accept his choices for the top post of oil minister. And a new scandal in Tehran municipality tarnished his election promises to weed out corruption. The President's former parliamentary supporters say they have been alienated by his closed-door style of rule that has opened deep rifts in the ruling conservative faction. An investigation into municipal spending has revealed Tehran's conservative council exhausted most of its £11.6m budget for cultural activities in the run-up to June's presidential election when Mr Ahmadinejad was city mayor. Officials have admitted there is little documentation for the spending, leading to speculation that it was used unofficially for the election campaign.

Economist - He's Even Stirring Up the Oil Ministry:

He pledges to lay low those “aristocrats” who sit on a dozen managing boards, default with impunity on loans from public banks and drive armour-plated cars worth USD300,000. But the fight picked by Iran's fiery president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will be hard to win—not least because, in Iran's semi-socialist economy, the line between entrepreneur and civil servant is all but invisible and the rot so pervasive. He has already made an enemy of the architect of many of these ambiguities, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who selectively liberalised the economy when he was president in the 1990s.

...Most worrying for the president, three months into his tenure, he does not have a grip on the oil ministry, the linchpin of the system he detests. Here, Mr Rafsanjani, a grandee who retains much influence over the ministry, has been helped by parliament, which also gets on badly with the new president. This autumn, deputies have withheld votes of confidence in Mr Ahmadinejad's successive nominees to be oil minister; this week they rejected Mohsen Tasalloti, his third choice. One top oil official criticised the government's plans to spend $3 billion of oil revenues to buy petrol, of which Iran consumes far more than it produces, and its refusal to stop subsidising prices at the pump. Another questioned the existence of what the president calls the “oil mafia”...

Football legend George Best dies

This just in:

George Best, whose flamboyant life took him from the heights of sporting success at Manchester United to the depths of alcoholism, died on Friday aged 59. The Northern Irishman, widely regarded as the only British footballer in the same league as Pele, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff, died in the London hospital where he had spent the final two months of his life, drifting in and out of consciousness.

Prime Minister Tony Blair led tributes to the man he called "probably the most naturally gifted footballer of his generation, one of the greatest footballers the UK has ever produced".

"Anyone who has seen him as a football fan will never forget it," Mr Blair said from the Commonwealth Head of Governments meeting in Malta.

Republic of Ireland Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said: "George should be remembered as the very best at what he did. He was quite simply a football genius."

Sir Bobby Charlton said his former Manchester United team-mate "made an immense contribution to the game, and enriched the lives of everyone that saw him play".

"Football has lost one of its greats, and I have lost a dear friend. He was a marvellous person."
A statement from the club said: "For the goals, the audacious dribbles and all the wonderful memories, Manchester United and its legions of fans worldwide will always be grateful."

A minute silence is to be observed at every Premiership football match this weekend in Best's memory.

Unfortunately, I wasn't even born when Best was in his prime but as a football buff, I do know what a gem in UK football he was in mid '60s.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

NRO:The sorry state of world Iran policy

Ilan Berman, National Review Online - Another month, another diplomatic reprieve for the Islamic Republic of Iran. On Thursday, the board of governors of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, will meet for what many had hoped would be a decisive step toward curbing Iran's runaway nuclear ambitions. But already, all the signs suggest that the summit is shaping up to be anything but.

...Secretary-General Mohamed ElBaradei has reportedly urged member states to give Iran "one last chance" to cooperate with the international community, throwing his weight behind a new proposal to Iran to conduct uranium enrichment in Russia. And now, there are signs that the United States and Europe are doing just that, backing away from plans to push for immediate Security Council referral at the board meeting Thursday in order to give the Russian government time to persuade its long-time strategic partner to accept the new enrichment deal.

This diplomatic dance provides a revealing glimpse into the sorry state of international policy toward Iran. Since mid-2003, Europe has been engaged in a series of halting, haphazard talks with Tehran over its nuclear program. This dialogue, aimed at securing a lasting Iranian freeze on uranium enrichment, is long on diplomatic and economic carrots but alarmingly devoid of strategic sticks. Yet over time, it has become the principal international vehicle for dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions. Even Washington, for lack of a better strategy, has signed on to this approach, endorsing Europe's deeply deficient nuclear diplomacy as the best method to defuse the Iranian threat.

The outcome is deeply disturbing. After all, the reasons for concern over a nuclear Iran have little if anything to do with Iran's nuclear program itself. Rather, they stem from the nature of the regime that will ultimately wield those capabilities. It is the current Iranian regime's intimate relationship with international terrorism, and its potential for catastrophic proliferation, that will make a nuclear Islamic republic a truly global threat.

Unfortunately, for both the United States and Europe, diplomatic negotiations have become a substitute for serious strategy. To be sure, diplomacy can certainly help to deter and contain Iran's nuclear drive. But ultimately, if European and American policymakers are serious about neutralizing the dangers posed by an atomic Islamic Republic, they must also focus their energies upon spurring a fundamental transformation of that regime.

The means to do so exist. All that has been lacking so far has been the political will.

Ilan Berman is vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C. and author of Tehran Rising.

Latest Mideast headlines

Washington Post Editorial - Reshaping Israel's Politics:

It remains to be seen whether Israelis really will embrace the new party on an election day four months away. Even murkier are Mr. Sharon's intentions: So far, he has offered few indications of what his party will stand for. Some speculated that the prime minister mainly sought to rid himself of troublesome Likud adversaries and consolidate presidential-like authority in a new government; he told reporters that "life in the Likud has become unbearable." Others suggested that Mr. Sharon made his move so as to enable a decisive follow-up to Gaza.

NY Times Editorial - Iraqis Getting Together:

"Iraqi Factions Seek Timetable for U.S. Pullout" is hardly the kind of headline the White House wants to read these days. But it refers to a joint statement by Arab Shiite, Arab Sunni and Kurdish political leaders at a conference sponsored by the Arab League in Cairo this week that represents one of the more encouraging developments in Iraqi politics in quite some time.

David Ignatius, Washington Post - In Cairo, Clarity on Iraq:

What will be galling to Americans in the Cairo statement is its endorsement of the Iraqi insurgency's "legitimate right" to resist U.S. occupation. Too many U.S. troops have died from insurgents' bombs for that to go down easily. The flip side is that the conference condemned as illegitimate the Muslim terrorists headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi. That fosters America's goal of separating rank-and-file Sunni insurgents from Zarqawi, whose al Qaeda movement poses the greatest long-term danger to Iranians, Saudis, Syrians and Iraqis, as well as to Americans. This shared interest in opposing al Qaeda is an essential building block for progress.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Syriana: It's all about oil

I hope George Clooney's Syriana, a political thriller about the oil business in the Middle East, will match up to my expectations as I'm getting more and more tantalizied by every report or review I read about it, including this one in today's Globe & Mail (UPDATE: Read my review of "Syriana" here.)

For those wondering what the word Syriana means, G & M explains that Syriana takes its title from a term used by certain Washington think-tanks to describe a hypothetical Middle East reshaped by their ideas of democracy. Stephen Gaghan the writer- director of the movie says he began contemplating on the plot--the global oil industry--while researching Traffic, which uses multiple storylines to explore the human cost of the U.S. anti-drug wars. He then makes a very insightful analogy between the user-dealer paradigm of Traffic and the context of the oil business in the Middle East:

"If you're a user standing in the kitchen of a drug dealer, you might see handguns lying on the coffee table and his kids sitting close by watching TV and think to yourself, 'This is not good parenting.' But as a user, you're not about to comment on this," he explains. "Similarly, for many years the dynamic between oil-producing and oil-consuming nations essentially involved a tacit support of the status quo in the Middle East.Now, of course, America is involved in a massive democracy deportation exercise." (Listen to Stephen Gaghan speaking about he movie here.)

Syriana is loosely based on former CIA agent Robert Baer's memoir "See No Evil" which forms basis for the character of Bob Barnes in the movie, a CIA veteran played by George Clooney.

Syriana will open tomorrow in select cities and on December 9, nationwide. To watch the trailer click here.

On a related note, IMDB reports that George Clooney has rejected claims his latest movie is a veiled attack on President George W Bush but refuses to apologize for the film's politically sensitive themes:

Syriana - a political thriller focusing on the oil industry - has sparked controversy for its sympathetic portrayal of two Pakistani boys who become suicide bombers, but Clooney is adamant their story must be told. And he is disgusted by claims the film, in which he plays a CIA agent, singles out George Bush for criticism, arguing it is an attack on "the system" rather than a particular person. He says, "There are going to be people who will be very angry at the idea that we took a couple of suicide bombers and showed how they could be formed, instead of just categorizing them as evil. I'm an old-time liberal and I don't apologize for it. With Syriana we're going to get beaten up politically in some places. Fair enough, because we've taken a stand. It is not an attack on the Bush administration but it is an attack on the system that has been in place for 60 or 70 years - oil always being at the center of it."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Movie quote of the week

"You are, all of you, amateurs. And international affairs should never be run by gentlemen amateurs. Do you have any idea of what sort of place the world is becoming all around you? The days when you could just act out of your noble instincts, are over. Europe has become the arena of realpolitik, the politics of reality. If you like: real politics. What you need is not gentlemen politicians, but real ones. You need professionals to run your affairs, or you're headed for disaster!"

US Congressman Lewis (Christopher Reeve) on the Europeans' appeasement policy toward Hitlerite Germany in 1935, in The Remains of the Day (1993)

I was trying to escape...

BEIJING (Reuters) - Irked by a reporter who told him he seemed to be "off his game" at a Beijing public appearance, President George W. Bush sought to make a hasty exit from a news conference but was thwarted by locked doors.

At the end of a day of meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other Chinese officials, Bush held a session with a small group of U.S. reporters and spoke at length about issues like religious freedom, Iraq and the Chinese currency.

The final reporter he called on critiqued Bush's performance earlier in the day when he stood next to Hu in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square to deliver a statement.

"Respectfully, sir -- you know we're always respectful -- in your statement this morning with President Hu, you seemed a little off your game, you seemed to hurry through your statement. There was a lack of enthusiasm. Was something bothering you?" he asked.

"Have you ever heard of jet lag?" Bush responded. "Well, good. That answers your question."
The president then recited a list of things of that he viewed as positive developments from his Beijing meetings, including cooperation on North Korean nuclear disarmament and the ability to have "frank discussions" with his Chinese counterpart.

When the reporter asked for "a very quick follow-up," Bush cut him off by thanking the press corps and telling the reporter "No you may not," as he strode toward a set of double doors leading out of the room.

The only problem was that they were locked.

"I was trying to escape. Obviously, it didn't work," Bush quipped, facing reporters again until an aide rescued him by pointing to him toward the correct door.

Sunday Iran news roundup

As we get closer to the crucial IAEA meeting on Thursday in which Iran's nuclear case and the possibility of its referral to the UN Security Council will take the center stage, more news reports and commentaries are being run on Iran and its fate in the world's media:

Amir Taheri - Why Iran can't be trusted:

There are only two ways to find out the truth [about Iran's nuclear program].The first is to march into Iran and find out on the spot. That means invasion, regime change and an Iraq-style undertaking only on a much larger scale. It is clear that even the most gang-ho advocates of regime change do not have the stomach for such an adventure.

The second way is to wait until Iran detonates its first bomb and brings the good news to the whole world...

Economist - Igor's Turn, Will Russia Help, or Just Get in the Way?

By supposedly considering the Russian idea, Iran may simply hope to escape further IAEA censure. A new inspectors' report on November 18th was expected to show that it has been a bit more forthcoming. But inspectors have more questions, especially about potentially militarily useful help Iran received in the past, including from the network run by Pakistan's Abdul Qadeer Khan. America, meanwhile, has again been showing around documents that purport to be Iranian design work on a missile nose-cone of a sort that that could carry a nuclear warhead. Not reassuring.

Sunday Telegraph - US offer will allow Tehran to enrich Uranium in Russia

The significant switch in America's position comes even though Iran, which Western intelligence is convinced is secretly seeking to develop nuclear arms, admitted last week that it had resumed conversion of uranium, the stage before enrichment, in defiance of an international ban.

The regime also admitted to the International Atomic Energy Authority that it had possessed a document containing partial instructions on the construction of a nuclear bomb, believed to have been obtained through the black market weapons network of rogue Pakistani atomic scientist AQ Khan.

The fresh diplomatic manoeuvring seems certain to mean that America and EU3 will not try to have Iran referred to the UN Security Council over its forbidden nuclear activities at Thursday's meeting in Vienna of the IAEA. Until the middle of last week, America intended to push for referral...

Newsweek: Will a weak Iraq become Iran's playground?

Newsweek reports on the extent of Iran's involvement in Iraq and how it is helping prolong instability in that country:

the Bush administration worries that a fractured Iraq under weak leadership will be Tehran's playground, a place where rabid anti-Americans like Ahmadinejad can continue to sap U.S. strength, diverting Washington from its efforts to confront Iran over its own nuclear plans. Already many Iraqis are convinced that Iranian intelligence provides key support to Shiite militias. Some see Iranian hands in the torture chambers discovered last week beneath an Interior Ministry compound, which was run by Shiite officials allegedly linked to Tehran.

Iraqi officials are all too aware of how deeply Iran has infiltrated Baghdad. Some assert that a special unit controlled by a man named Ahmed al-Mohandiss, with ties to Iran, abused the prisoners in the Interior Ministry facility. Last week, as the government was launching a promised investigation into alleged torture at the Jadriyah jail, three senior Iraqi officials told NEWSWEEK that Mohandiss was now in Iran...

And this also from Newsweek on the movie I've long been waiting for: George Clooney's new movie "Syriana", a political thriller directed by Stephen Gaghan, winner of the Best Screenplay Academy Award for Traffic :

As he did in his Oscar-winning screenplay for "Traffic," Gaghan shuffles multiple stories, often continents apart, only gradually unveiling how they're connected. There's an Arabic-speaking CIA agent left out in the cold by his handlers in Washington, played by a bearded, heavyset, deglamorized George Clooney. There's an ambitious Washington lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) investigating a questionable merger between two Texas oil firms—that want drilling rights in Kazakhstan, and the powerful boss of the law firm (Christopher Plummer), who insinuates himself in the power struggle between two heirs vying to become the emir of a Persian Gulf country. One of those princes (Alexander Siddig, an actor to watch) has given his country's drilling rights to the Chinese, which makes him an official enemy of the U.S. government. Yet his new adviser (Matt Damon) is an American oil consultant, based in Geneva, who's parlayed the tragic death of his son at the emir's Spanish home into an economic opportunity. At the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder is an unemployed Pakistani migrant oil worker (Mazhar Munir) who's taken under the wing of a radical Islamic mentor.

Gaghan's movie doesn't play by conventional Hollywood action-movie rules (when it tries to, in one action scene near the end, it can sacrifice sense for sensation). This is a movie that sticks its political neck out, that throbs with dread, paranoia and outrage, that doesn't coddle the audience by neatly tying things up. "Syriana" demands both an alert mind and a stout heart, and not just for its powerfully unpleasant torture scene. Its dark, dog-eat-dog vision of the world we live in may give you geopolitical nightmares.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Anderson Cooper named one of People's Sexiest Men Alive

Anderson Cooper, my favorite newscaster after Peter Jennings and CNN's man of the hour, has been named one of People Magazine's Sexiest Men Alive alongside Matt Damon, Keith Urban and cover star Matthew McConaughey:

"I am pale and skinny with gray hair," says the host of Anderson Cooper 360º. "I don't get the appeal." But his viewers do. Anderson, 38, is CNN's "Man of the Hour," and his riveting coverage of Hurricane Katrina helped propel his program into a coveted prime-time spot. "I am haunted by people I have met, stories I have told, places I have been. I am changed by all the stories I do."

Way to go Anderson !

UN censures Iran over human rights

CanWest News Service - Canada led a UN censure of Iran yesterday over human rights abuses, the same day the world body's nuclear watchdog revealed the Islamic republic has a blueprint for making at least part of a nuclear bomb.

...The Canadian-proposed human rights censure of Iran marked the third successive year Ottawa has sought and won such a measure.

Iran suggested Canada was acting out of spite because of poor relations between the countries, which have deteriorated significantly since the 2003 death in Iranian police custody of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-born photographer with Canadian citizenship.

The resolution demanded Iran end numerous violations, including public floggings, executions of children, torture, intimidation of political reformists and persecution of religious minorities.
It was passed by 77 to 51, with 45 abstentions in a committee open to all 191 UN member states.

Next month, the resolution will go to the UN General Assembly, which is expected to make it a part of the international record.

"We've tried dialogue with the government of Iran, and we've tried engagement, and it hasn't worked," Allan Rock, Canada's ambassador to the UN, said after the vote.

"This is not a situation of isolated incidents ... [When] the government of the country is part of the problem [as] an instrument in human rights abuses, it's time for the international community to speak up."

He said evidence Iran had lobbied heavily to try to have countries reject the resolution showed how much it considered the censure a major blow...

Friday, November 18, 2005

Iran's nuclear program: Time's running out for the Bush administration

Kash Kheirkhah

In his testimony before U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Mr Ray Takyeh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies in Council on Foreign Relations, called for an effective American participation in the nuclear talks with Tehran's regime. Mr Takyeh's suggested strategy for solving Iran's nuclear imbroglio came on the day Iran--dismissing a new offer by Russia to ease tensions over its nuclear ambitions-- began converting additional uranium at Isfahan's nuclear facility.

The fact that Mr Takyeh seems to be persistently ignoring is that, as I explained in my response to Mr Fareed Zakaria's argument on Iran's nuclear crisis, Tehran's nuclear program is the key to the survival of the regime. It simply doesn't matter whether the U.S. gets involved in the talks or not. The fact that no economic and political incentives offered by the Europeans have so far managed to lure Iran away from running its uranium conversion program is nothing but a clear sign that Tehran is seeking goals beyond an alleged simple civil nuclear program.

Iran's government has time and time again proved its nuclear program is not negotiable even with countries such as Russia--its biggest ally-- which now seems to be the main obstacle on the way of US referring Iran to the UN Security Council. Iran even rejected a deal--offered by Igor Ivanov, Russia's former foreign minister last week-- that would have allowed it to continue operating the Isfahan facility as long as the converted uranium from Isfahan could be shipped to Russia for enrichment.

It doesn't take a genius to see that Tehran's current strategy is based on utilizing tactics that will buy it enough time to move from one IAEA session to the next until first, its nuclear program has passed the point of no return and second, it has seen the second term of Bush's presidency out.

On the one front, Tehran is very cleverly playing with IAEA inspectors, half-cooperating with them and making sure it has gained itself enough saftey margin to avoid a UN Security referral. On the other front, as Tehran continues to beguile the IAEA, the uranium conversion program in Isfahan facility moves forward as planned, keeping Iran's nuclear program on track.

As Washington Post reports, it's been more than two years that the Bush administration has been unable to persuade its allies to send the Iranian nuclear case to the U.N. Security Council, where Iran could not only face economic sanctions for failing to disclose a nuclear energy program built in secret over 18 years, but also evidence of its involvement in the past and present terrorist activites around the world.

The current US administration hasn't got much time left. If Mr Bush and his foreign policy team can't devise a strategy to put an end to this cat and mouse game in the six months ahead, a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic of Iran and its dire consequences for the Iranian people and the world will be inevitable.

UPDATE: AP reports that Iran received designs from the nuclear black market run by a Pakistani scientist showing how to cast highly radioactive uranium into a form that could be used to build the core of an atomic bomb, diplomats said Friday.

Reuters also reports that The U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a confidential report on Friday it had found an Iranian document which one European diplomat described as a "cookbook" for a nuclear weapon...

Fighting Totalitarianism - Gianfranco Fini

The Wall Street Journal - The suicide bombing this past Nov. 9 in Amman is just the latest in a string of indiscriminate massacres of innocent civilians perpetrated by terrorist groups. These shocking images of death and destruction, however, should not make us lose sight of the extraordinary new phase of transformation that has begun in the Middle East.

The signs are there for all to see: encouraging developments in Iraq's political and institutional process; the Beirut Spring; the reopening of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians; and the elections in Egypt. With sustained support, this could lead to a future of peace, freedom, democracy and prosperity for a region long battered by hatred and conflict. The opponents of just such a prospect will certainly continue their savagery to assure its failure.

This is why the Italian government is committed to doing its part to ensure that these hopes can be realized. For us it is a foreign policy priority to unite the countries of the Middle East (as well as our Mediterranean neighbors) in a common area of friendship, cooperation and solidarity.

This is a moral and political imperative. It is also in the strategic interest of the European Union as our still vivid recollections of the bombings in New York, Madrid and London make all too clear. But it will take more than good will to achieve peace. The EU will have to do more than make solemn declarations if it wishes to cooperate effectively in the fight against terrorism with the United Nations, the U.S., and its other leading international partners.

It will have to do more than issue noble proclamations if it wishes to make progress toward the parallel but closely related goal of establishing peace and democracy in the Middle East. Hence the importance of Israel's request for EU assistance in patrolling the Rafah border. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave me advance notice of this appeal during my recent visit to Israel.

The agreement that has just been reached for an EU mission under the command of Italian General Pietro Pistolese to supervise the border between Gaza and Egypt represents a unique opportunity. It will allow the EU to play a crucial role in bolstering confidence and trust between the parties and improve security on the ground. If it succeeds, Europe will have made a vital contribution to the efforts of the Quartet, which is striving to reopen negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

The same logic applies to Iraq where Europe can and should do more to help in the rebuilding of the country and its institutions. The benefits of success would spread far beyond the Iraqi borders. The terrorists are the first to understand this, which helps to explain the growing iniquity of the enemies of a free and democratic Iraq.

But the barbarous threats of suicide bombers have failed to prevent millions of Iraqis from lining up to vote with their heads held high. Their heroic sense of civic duty bears noble witness to a sincere democratic will that we cannot disregard. The Iraqi people's desire to participate in the formation of their new government is gradually overcoming internal divisions. The peaceful methods of civil and democratic dialogue are starting to replace acrimonious conflict.

The active involvement of the international community in this new Iraq -- as envisaged by the unanimously adopted U.N. Security Council Resolution 1637 -- will be vital for helping its nascent institutions to complete the transition. Equally indispensable will be the efforts of the multinational forces deployed there to help the Iraqi forces gradually take full control of their own security. Success here will be one of the primary conditions for determining the length of the mandate of the multilateral forces.

Italy, as we have often stated, has no intention of staying in Iraq one minute more than our Iraqi friends want us to. But neither shall we stay one minute less. Europe has also a crucial contribution to make to the current negotiations with Iran: To convince Teheran to act responsibly and thereby dispel the cloud of nuclear proliferation hanging over all of our heads. Italy and Iran have a special, ancient tradition of friendship and familiarity. We are convinced that an Iran finally liberated from the shackles of radical fundamentalism can play an essential role in ensuring the stability of the entire region.

This is why we were so dismayed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's irresponsible statements calling for the elimination of the state of Israel. We are not alone in our concerns. Such declarations illustrate the magnitude of the constant threat looming over the Israeli people, a threat which has thwarted so far all prospects of peaceful coexistence in the region.

Today more than ever, peace and democracy in the Middle East may be within our grasp. But they will not be achieved unless we first uproot the absolute hatred that sets as its goal the total annihilation of the adversary.

Today peace and democracy are threatened by forms of totalitarianism somehow unlike those experienced in 20th century Europe. But this hatred has never ceased to show its evil face in periodic outbreaks of anti-Semitism, surreptitious but no less lethal than the terrorist totalitarianism it accompanies. To weaken the former we must combat the latter, without indulgence or justification. Europe and Italy have a special responsibility that we cannot ignore. Italy, for one, has no intention of doing so.

Mr. Fini is foreign minister of Italy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Regime change the only US foreign policy objective toward Iran-Newt Gingrich

From the testimony of Mr Newt Gingrich, Co-Chair, Task Force on the United Nations , United States Institute of Peace in U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee Hearings November 15, 2005.

Title: Iran: Teheran's Nuclear Recklessness and the U.S. Response -- The Experts' Perspective:

...The current Iranian regime is the most dangerous in the world and is the single most urgent threat to American national security.

...Regime change is the only moral and practical foreign policy objective of the United States government toward Iran.

While the United States should actively work bilaterally with Russia and multilaterally through international institutions to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, let us keep our eye on what should be our overall objective – regime change in Iran.

We must actively work toward the day when Iranians can have free elections and a government that is accountable to the people. As a moral matter, regime change should be our objective as the current Iranian regime’s internal repression and external support of terror is so beyond the norms of civilization as to not be tolerated by the world community.

As a practical matter, regime change should be our objective because the current Iranian regime is by its own definition a non-status quo power which is dedicated to exporting revolution and destroying the United States and Israel. There is no compromising with a regime that puts the choice like that. And if that is the choice that is put to us by the current Iranian regime, then our strategy for dealing with it should be crystal clear: we win, they lose. There is no détente with a regime committed to killing you.

Lastly, if regime change is achieved in Iran through a democratic revolution, the question of Iranian nuclear weapons is automatically lessened because everything we know about the Iranians' attitudes suggests that they will be pro-western and peaceful. U.S. Military Readiness, Victory in Iraq, and a Coordinated, Vibrant, and Consistent Democratization Program Offer the Best Chance for Regime Change in Iran Short of Armed Conflict A policy of regime change in Iran does not mean that our first step is military invasion or air attack.

It is not.

Nevertheless, ensuring the readiness of our armed forces and conveying quite clearly to the current Iranian leadership our willingness to use military force in an overwhelming manner to protect American lives--and to protect our democratic allies--from Iranian actions is the first step. This means that we require a defense and intelligence budget capable of meeting the threat posed by Iran. While we may be heavily engaged on the ground in Iraq, the current Iranian regime should understand that the United States has more than ample air and naval forces to defend its interests. The following are a set of additional thoughts on how to bring about regime change in Iran:

1. Victory in Iraq.

2. Recognize the Weakness of the Iranian Regime and Let it Be Known Far and Wide.

3. Have Confidence in the Power of American Values and the Words of the American President to Change History.

4. Support Iranian Democracy Movements.

5. We Must Think Creatively on How To Make It Easier for Russia and China to Opt Out of their Support for the Iranian Government.

6. Avoid Broad Economic Sanctions, Especially Avoid Oil Sanctions.

7. Announce Formation of Special Tribunals for Members of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps and the Basij.

8. Develop and frequently revisit a ballistic missile and EMP Intelligence Military Plan for Iran.

9. Develop Contingency Plans In Case Iranian Government Collapses or Civil War Breaks Out...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

New Yorker's Q & A: The young Iranians

New Yorker - This week in the magazine, Laura Secor writes about Iran’s new generation of dissidents and the collapse of the nation’s reformist movement. Here, with Matt Dellinger, she discusses the situation and her travels in Iran:

MATT DELLINGER: What do the dissidents want? To overthrow the government? Or are there specific, more modest reforms that they seek?

LAURA SECOR: Iran had a revolution pretty recently, followed by the traumas of war and dictatorship. As badly as many people want change, very few are inclined to put their lives and their country’s fundamental stability on the line for it. That said, there are dissidents who flatly say that the system has to go, and that it should be replaced by a constitution based not on Islamic law but on the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A lot of people would probably agree with that as a long-term goal. The question is how to get there, in a country where even taking that position openly is exceedingly dangerous...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Condoleezza Rice: Iran's government divorced from its educated sophisticated people

AP - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave her strongest rebuke yet on Sunday to the renewed hardline Islamic leadership of Iran, saying that "no civilized nation" can call for the annihilation of another.

Rice was referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's remark last month that Israel is a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map." Her words drew applause from politicians, diplomats and others gathered for a U.S.-Israeli symposium.

"No civilized nation should have a leader who wishes or hopes or desires or considers it a matter of policy to express that ... another country should be pushed into the sea," Rice said, speaking slowly and sternly. "It is unacceptable in the international system."

...Profound shifts are underway in the Middle East, Rice said near the close of a diplomatic trip that began with encouragement for incipient democracy in post-Saddam Iraq and will end Monday with condolences for nearly 60 people killed in a terrorist bombing last week in Jordan.
"We have hope for peace today because people no longer accept that despotism is the eternal political condition of the Middle East," Rice said.

The hard-liner Ahmadinejad was the surprise winner in June elections in Iran, and he immediately set about undoing the reforms and international outreach of the previous moderate-leaning government.

"When we look at a country like Iran we see an educated and sophisticated people who are the bearers of a great civilization," Rice said. "And we also see that as Iran's government has grown more divorced from the will of its citizens it has become more threatening, not less threatening."...

In other news

NY Times - Relying on Computer, U.S. Seeks to Prove Iran's Nuclear Aims

In mid-July, senior American intelligence officials called the leaders of the international atomic inspection agency to the top of a skyscraper overlooking the Danube in Vienna and unveiled the contents of what they said was a stolen Iranian laptop computer. The Americans flashed on a screen and spread over a conference table selections from more than a thousand pages of Iranian computer simulations and accounts of experiments, saying they showed a long effort to design a nuclear warhead, according to a half-dozen European and American participants in the meeting.

The documents, the Americans acknowledged from the start, do not prove that Iran has an atomic bomb. They presented them as the strongest evidence yet that, despite Iran's insistence that its nuclear program is peaceful, the country is trying to develop a compact warhead to fit atop its Shahab missile, which can reach Israel and other countries in the Middle East...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

UK hostage Linda Davies: Amnesty International has a new donor

Linda Davies and her husband Rupert Wise were taken as hostages after they were seized at gunpoint by the Iranian navy as they sailed towards the disputed island of Abu Musa from their home in Dubai. In a lengthy Piece in UK's Daily Telegraph today, Ms. Davies explains about her two-week ordeal in Iran :

...When we arrived at Teheran, we were ushered down the steps into a minibus. Once inside, we heard the doors being ostentatiously locked. The windows were curtained, and all attempts to discover where we were being taken were vigorously rebuffed. The driver sped off at breakneck speed, only to slam on the brakes theatrically five minutes later.

We were then frogmarched into the cold Teheran air and ordered into another minibus. Again, the curtains were pulled. But not completely: a crack enabled me to see the rain sluicing down the windows, the razor wire that flanked the quiet road. I did think then that I was on the way to my own execution...

I had always been blasé about freedom and democracy. No more: what I have taken for granted, I now treasure. Amnesty International has a new donor.

I'm sure Ms. Davies is now very well able to imagine what Iran's political prisoners, journalists and democracy activists are going through at the hands of Tehran's regime. I do Hope Ms. Davies -- having gone through that ordeal herslf-- will now help put more prresure on UK government to pay more serious attention to the grave state of human rights in Iran.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Cicero article: How dangerous is Iran?

Dan Darling (The Weekly Standard): While Iranian president Mahmood Ahmadinejad's recent call to wipe Israel off the map has elicited a great deal of much-needed international condemnation, relatively little focus has been paid since to Iran's long-standing support for international terrorism. Thankfully, a recent article published in the German political magazine Cicero, titled "How Dangerous is Iran?" serves as a welcome supplement to the Iranian president's remarks that, among other things, argues that Iran is currently harboring the surviving al Qaeda leadership.

This information is by no means new. In September 2003 for example, the Washington Post reported that "after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the locus of al Qaeda's degraded leadership moved to Iran. The Iranian security services, which answer to the country's powerful Islamic clerics, protected the leadership." But the same article also claimed that after the May 2003 Riyadh bombings "the Iranians, under pressure from the Saudis, detained the al Qaeda group."

Most news reports on Iranian support for terrorism since then have claimed that the al Qaeda leaders are being held in some form of light detention or perhaps loose house arrest. According to the new information in Cicero, however, whatever the situation might have been in May 2003, it is no longer the case.

After spending some time addressing the disillusionment of the Iranian reformist movement in the wake of the triumph of Ahmadinejad and his hardline backers as well as the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program, the Cicero article shifts its focus to the issue of Iranian support for terrorism, leaving little doubt that the Iranian regime views terrorism as a legitimate means of achieving its policy objectives.

A member of the Jordanian intelligence agency GID is quoted as saying, "Ahmadinezhad [sic] can and will use the terrorist card every time as extortion against the West . . . If Europe does not accommodate Iran in the dispute over the Mullahs' nuclear program, they will threaten terrorism against British soldiers in Iraq and French interests in Lebanon." If British accusations of explosives being shipped into Iraq from Iran for use against Coalition troops are any indication, this card is already being played. The article's revelations, however, go far beyond that:

The author of this article was able to look at a list of the holy killers who have found safe refuge in Iran. The list reads like the Who's Who of global jihad, with close to 25 high-ranking leadership cadres of Al-Qa'ida--planners, organizers, and ideologues of the jihad from Egypt, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, and Europe. Right at the top in the Al-Qa'ida hierarchy: three of Usama Bin Ladin's sons, Saad, Mohammad, and Othman.

Al-Qa'ida spokesman Abu Ghaib enjoys Iranian protection, as does Abu Dagana al-Alemani (known as the German), who coordinates cooperation of the various jihadist networks throughout the world from Iran. They live in secure housing of the Revolutionary Guard in and around Tehran. "This is not prison or house arrest," is the conclusion of a high-ranking intelligence officer. "They are free to do as they please."

Saif al-Adel, military chief and number three in Al-Qa'ida, also had a free hand. In early May 2003, Saudi intelligence recorded a telephone conversation with the organizer of the series of attacks in the Saudi capital Riyadh that claimed over 30 victims, including seven foreigners, in May 2003. Saif al-Adel gives orders for the attacks from Iran, where he operated under the wing of the Iranian intelligence service.

For years, according to the findings of Middle Eastern and Western intelligence services, Iranian intelligence services have already worked together repeatedly with Sunni jihad organizations of Al-Qa'ida. "As an Islamist, I go to the Saudis to get money," the Jordanian GID man outlines the current practice of Islamist holy warriors. "When I need weapons, logistical support, or military terrorist training and equipment, I go to the Iranians."

The journalist who authored the article, Bruno Schirra, is no lightweight. In the spring of 2005, he wrote another piece for Cicero, titled "The World's Most Dangerous Man." An exposé of Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, Schirra quoted extensively from German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) documents that collated data from German, American, French, and Israeli intelligence sources. These documents, some of which were classified, listed the Zarqawi's activities, passports, phone numbers, mosques used or controlled by his followers in Germany, and his benefactors.

In addition to confirming much of the evidence presented by Collin Powell to the United Nations Security Council on the activities of Zarqawi's network in Europe, the documents also stated point-blank that Iran "provided Al-Zarqawi with logistical support on the part of the state."

Schirra's ample use of classified documents in making his claims appear to have alarmed the German government--in September 2005, German authorities raided Cicero's Potsdam offices as well as Schirra's home at the order of then-Interior Minister Otto Schily. These efforts to learn the identity of Schirra's source prompted widespread outrage from the German parliament and, ironically, seem to have verified the truth of Schirra's original article.

As the United States continues to debate both internally and with its European allies over how to deal with Iran and its new president, it would seem that this new information, coming from a country that strongly opposed the Iraq war, would be a welcome contribution to the discussion.

Dan Darling is a counter-terrorism consultant for the Manhattan Institute's Center for Policing Terrorism.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Second coming for imam is first concern for Iranian president

Financial Times-At the mosque of Jamkaran, 110km south of Tehran and just east of the holy city of Qom, tens of thousands gather on Tuesdays to pray and drop messages for the "missing" imam into a well.

Abul-Qassem Mohammed, the 12th leader whom Shia Muslims regard as a successor to the prophet Mohammed, entered "occultation" in 941 and will one day return to rule justly before Judgment Day.

...Veneration of the 12th Imam is common among Iran's 68m population, whose religious practices mix piety, respect for learned clerics and age-old mysticism. But the new president, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, has placed a special emphasis on the 12th Imam, even referring to him in his October United Nations speech.

While many analysts highlight Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's background in the Basij Islamic militia or his promotion of former Revolutionary Guards to key positions, the discreet talk among those close to the regime is more about his religious beliefs.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad has not only reached out to millions of pious Iranians through venerating the 12th Imam, but has engaged with deeply conservative religious groups that shunned politics for much of the 26 years of the Islamic Republic.

...Hojjatiyeh, a group laying special stress on the Imam's return, was banned by Ayatollah Khomeini in the revolution's early years. But a crucial development came in 1989 when, after Ayatollah Khomeini died, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei replaced him as Iran's supreme leader.

Lacking his predecessor's political and religious credentials, Ayatollah Khamenei turned to religious conservatives for support. "Ayatollah Khamenei spoke of Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi [seen by many intellectuals as Iran's most uncompromising cleric] as a great teacher," remembers Mohsen Kadivar, a reformist cleric and philosophy professor. "Later Mr Ahmadi-Nejad also looked to such conservatives for legitimacy."

Three months after Mr Ahmadi-Nejad became president, whispers about his view of the 12th Imam are growing. According to one rumour, as mayor of Tehran he drew up a new city plan for the imam's return.

Some senior clergy are alarmed. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a conservative, has attacked maddahs for singing about dreams and "fake meetings" with the imam.

In foreign policy, officials worry an emphasis on the 12th Imam not only puzzles Europe and Russia while Iran tries to revive talks over its nuclear programme but alienates Sunni, a majority in the Muslim world, who do not share the Shia view of the Imam's return.

The consequences of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's religiosity are also uncertain for Ayatollah Khamenei, to whom many look to rein in the president. "So far, the leader has seen Mr Ahmadi-Nejad as loyal, someone who should reach the 12th Imam through him," says a senior reformist. "But this is an unstable situation..."

According to Shia Islam, the 12th descendant of Prophet Mohammad went into hiding when he was a child, some 1,300 years ago. Shias believe he will reappear when the world is brimming with corruption and injustice. He and his desciples will then end all that and instead create the most just government ever witnessed on earth. Mahmoud Ahamdinejad's religious ideology is to make sure that he sets the stage for the return of Shias' 12th Imam which--he believes-- is only possible by precipitating the world into a full-scale crisis. Within this context, his remarks on Israel and his nuclear defiance aimed at seeking a direct military confrontation with the United States make perfect sense. The West could pay a dear price in the future if it doesn't take Ahamadinejad seriously now - Kash

Monday, November 07, 2005

Bush's Iran policy falters amid futile sanctions, diplomacy

Bloomberg -- ...The lawmakers' frustration reflects a central dilemma: U.S. policy on Iran contains few good options. With economic pressure largely ineffective and no credible military option because U.S. troops are tied down in an unpopular war in Iraq, the Bush administration has little direct leverage over Iran. Instead, it's relying on European-managed diplomacy to curb Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology and support for terrorism.

Kenneth Pollack, who directed Iran policy in the White House under President Bill Clinton, says the administration "recognized that neither the military option nor regime change is a winner.''

Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute, a Washington- based policy research group, says it's widely known the U.S. "can't invade and occupy the country,'' undermining any threat of military action on the part of administration policy makers.

"They have become so beleaguered and so besieged and so confronted with challenges that they've made a conscious decision that diplomacy will now be the most turned-to tool of power,'' Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, says of the Bush team's approach to Iran."

The diplomatic route has proven bumpy. The Europeans offered economic incentives and security guarantees if Iran abandoned its nuclear program, only to have Iran reject the offer and resume work on uranium conversion. That's a possible prelude to uranium enrichment, which in turn could lead to production of nuclear weapons.

Some analysts say negotiations will prove futile because Iran has no interest in abandoning its nuclear program. Others say the European offers have not been enticing enough and that Iran needs a U.S. guarantee that it will not attack Iran as part of a nuclear deal.

Pollack says there won't be any diplomatic progress "unless there's some form of engagement'' between the U.S. and Iran. Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, agrees, saying the administration must open direct talks with Iran if it's to achieve "any lasting solution to Iran's nuclear program.''

"The United States is capable of engaging Iran in direct dialogue without sacrificing any of its interests or objectives,'' Hagel said in a speech Oct. 30 at Iowa State University in Ames.
The Bush administration says it's seeking ways to do that. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 19, said the U.S. is making "new efforts'' to communicate with the Iranians...

At this point I don't think it's important anymore whether the Bush administration has a policy on Iran or not, as long as our people and opposition forces do nothing but keep their fingers crossed that one fine day a US president and his administration are going to liberate them, nothing will happen.

In fact, as long as we ourselves don't care about the future of our country and continue to sit on our hands and watch generations of Iranians go wasted one after another under the Islamic regime, it doesn't matter if the US has a policy on Iran or not, or if its president is a Democrat or Republican. To quote William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar "There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. ... Cassius was right: 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not our stars, but in ourselves.'" - Kash

Tony Blair and Jack Straw: Does the left hand know what the right one is doing or is this just a joke?

The UK's policy toward Tehran's regime has got me wondering if there's sort of a cat and mouse game going on with Iran. For the past two months or so, Prime Minister Tony Blair has used some pretty strong language against Iran, throwing all his diplomatic cautions to the wind and officially lambasting mullahs for supporting terrorism. But just as if these comments are nothing more than media-friendly statements, his Foreign Secretary Jack Straw wastes no time to make amends with Tehran, making sure his Iranian friends are not hurt by his boss's harsh words.

Today, it was Mr Blair's turn again to blast Tehran for its support for terrorism and meddling in Iraq's affairs:
"There is a reason why Iran and Syria do their best to destabilize the situation in Iraq because they know that if Iraq is allowed to develop as a strong, Muslim state but with secular democratic government, then it's the best argument you can possibly have for people in Iran and in Syria to say 'Why don't we have some
of that democracy? Why don't we have proper civil and human rights, too?"

OK. That's great thinking Mr Blair. So?

Well let me answer that:

So make sure to stay tuned to hear from Mr Jack Straw himself, sending a diplomatic "It's all right chaps. Tony was just a bit ticked off. You know him. But don't you worry. It'all taken care of" message to Tehran later this week.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sunday Telegraph:Teheran 'providing refuge for al-Qaeda terrorists'

Well, this doesn't come as any surprise, does it?

Sunday Telegraph-About 25 al-Qaeda leaders, including three of Osama bin Laden's sons, are running terrorist operations from their refuge in Iran rather than languishing under house arrest as the Teheran regime claims, intelligence officials have said.

A "top-ranking Western secret service agent" has told Cicero magazine that the senior al-Qaeda operatives, who fled across the border from Afghanistan into Iran after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, have been provided with a secure hiding place, logistical support and equipment by the Revolutionary Guards.

Cicero is a German investigative publication known for its strong intelligence contacts.

United States intelligence sources have told the Sunday Telegraph that the group was living in compounds in eastern Iran guarded by al-Qaeda bodyguards. There have also been persistent but unconfirmed reports that bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, might be in hiding near the Afghan-Iranian border rather than Afghanistan's frontier with Pakistan.

The 25 members of the Iran-backed al-Qaeda hierarchy are said to include bin Laden's oldest son Saad, often mentioned as an heir to his father, and his siblings Mohammed and Othman; the senior commander Saif al-Adel, who is the number three in the network's military structure; and a spokesman Sulaiman abu Ghaith.

In an indication of the men's continued involvement in acts of terrorism, Saudi intelligence recorded a telephone call from al-Adel in Iran in May 2003 giving orders for the Riyadh bombings that claimed more than 30 lives, including eight Americans, Cicero said.

The publication's offices in Potsdam were raided in September by the German authorities seeking leaked intelligence documents after an article that exposed Teheran's funding for the Iraqi terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and even gave his Iranian telephone numbers.

In his new book, Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran, Ken Timmerman, a US expert on Iran, has also exposed the "rat run" across Iran used by al-Qaeda operatives before and since the fall of the Taliban regime.

"The most immediate threat Iran poses is not its nuclear programme. It is the safe haven Teheran is giving al-Qaeda terrorists who are planning and directing jihad across the globe," Peter Brookes, the senior fellow for national security at the conservative Heritage think-tank, said last week.

"If the US and its allies in the war on terror do not take firm action against Iranian support to al-Qaeda, the price in blood attributable to Osama bin Laden's killers - in Iraq and elsewhere - will continue to soar."

Iranian animated film for children promotes suicide bombings

Just as you imagine it can't get any worse, Islamic regime in Iran comes up with something more sickening. Why should our kids go through this? How many generations should be ruined before islamic Republic Regime let go of Iran?

Sunday Telegraph-Iranian state television has broadcast a cartoon that glorifies suicide bombings against Israelis, depicting a young boy blowing himself up after being told: "Go and show the Zionists how brave and heroic are the children of Palestine."

The cartoon, one of a series shown by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting on "Jerusalem Day" nine days ago, presents the actions of a boy who kills himself to strike back against Israelis as a noble example for children to follow.

At the start of the 10-minute animated film, translated into English by the Middle East Media Research Institute (Memri), Abd al-Rahman, a Palestinian youth, watches as Israeli soldiers murder his family.

They are depicted laughing as they strike his mother in the face with a rifle butt and then shoot his father, whose blood splashes the oranges on the trees he cultivated.

Abd comforts his sister and weeps, declaring: "Oh God, I must take revenge upon these bloodthirsty aggressors, who murdered my father, mother and brother." His cousin Karim introduces him to a neighbour's son, Jassem, who is a member of a "resistance group".

Jassem instructs the boys to take part in an attack against Israeli soldiers, applauding their "deep faith" and telling them that they "may become martyrs". Abd's aunt bids the boys a tearful farewell. "God willing, you'll be successful," she says. "Go, my children. Go and show the Zionists how brave and heroic are the children of Palestine."

As he lies in wait, Abd ties a string of grenades around his waist. The convoy approaches and the cartoon shows satanic-faced Israeli soldiers sitting in a lorry around an ammunition box decorated with a Star of David.

Abd shouts, "I place my trust in God. Allah Akbar", pulls the grenade pins and leaps onto the lorry. When the smoke clears, the bodies of Abd, the Israeli troops and the attackers are strewn around the road.

A young Palestinian boy then walks over to Abd's body, takes his bloodstained keffiyeh head-dress, drapes it over his own shoulders and walks off into the sunset.

Dan Shaham, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London, said: "This phenomenon of inciting children to commit suicide attacks is revolting. It corrupts young minds and makes sure conflict continues. President Ahmadinejad is not only dangerous in the here-and-now but the Iranian extremist ideology is affecting future generations. Something needs to be done today."

The Iranian embassy declined to comment. Last week, it emerged that Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Iran's ambassador to Britain, was being recalled to Teheran in a worldwide purge of about 40 Iranian diplomats ordered by Mr Ahmadinejad.

Ali Ansari, an Iranian analyst at St Andrew's University, said the cartoon was "gory stuff" and different from previous anti-Israeli propaganda. "It's interesting they've gone to these lengths to develop a cartoon like this that is obviously directed towards kids.

A spokesman for Memri said that the cartoon was one of 10 being translated. In another, Palestinian children throw aubergines at Israeli soldiers who think they are being attacked with grenades and flee.

Such naive propaganda fits in with Mr Ahmadinejad's simplistic world view and is likely to alienate most ordinary Iranians who, as Shia Persians, rather than Sunni Arabs, are far from fixated on the Palestinian issue.

You can watch the cartoon here.

Iran: The week in review

Here are the major articles on Iran published throughout the week:

Dr Abbas Milani-Regime Change

The time for a new grand bargain with Iran's people has arrived. Instead of saber-rattling, the U.S. must encourage the unfolding discussions in Iran. It must reassure the Iranian people that it respects their right to develop a nuclear program that conforms with international law, and that the problem is not with the people but with those who have coercively monopolized the right to speak for them

Kenneth Timmerman-No leeway due Iran

Allowing Iran to buy more time will only guarantee its additional progress toward nuclear weapons capabilities. The U.S. cannot risk allowing the world's most flagrant international terror sponsor to become a nuclear weapons-capable state.

Weekly Standard-Bush's Great Middle East Gamble

A knowledgeable observer would have to conclude that the clerical regime--which, properly understood, is a somewhat more conservative, cautious variation on the Sunni holy warriorism that struck us on 9/11--is going to get the Bomb despite the Bush administration's limited efforts to stop it. And again, contrary to the accepted wisdom in Washington, restraint in responding to clerical Iran's quest for nuclear weapons is much more likely to cause problems in Iraq than a muscular approach to countering Tehran's ambitions

Ha'artz-Hitler from Tehran

There is an upside to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's shocking call to wipe Israel off the map: it is a good thing that the Iranian leader has revealed his hopes. For by doing so, he has helped those who are still undecided as to how to relate to the Iranian regime

Economist-Is the new president truly an exterminator?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's diatribe against Israel and the United States was made against a backlog of muddle, infighting and weakness

And this today:

Irish Independent-Wishing-well Politics Prove that the Leader of Iran is Mad

There are two views currently circulating about Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The first is that by calling for Israel's liquidation and by defying the international community on the nuclear issue, he is simply reaching out to his anti-American support-base. The second is that he is mad. Let me tell you why I think the second view is correct.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

My entertainment blog 'Infotainment cafe' is finally up

Well, I tried hard to fit my entertainment posts into the newsroom, but politics, specially the hard news we deal with here doesn't go with the loosy-goosy entertainment stuff I enjoy talking to you about, however I tweak it. As a result, my other blog Infotainment Cafe is finally up. If you are into entertainment as much as I am or even more, then get a coffee, stop by and we'll talk music, movies, books and other fun stuff for ever!

I heard the voice of your revolution...

On this day, November 5, 1978 (Aban 14, 1357), the late Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in what would go down in history as his famous last words, addressed a nation, crippled by non-stop violent street protests and widespread strikes:

"I heard the voice of your revolution ... Let all of us work together to establish real democracy in Iran ... I make a commitment to be with you and your revolution against corruption and injustice in Iran ... I urge dear young Iranians not to ruin their future by their own hands..."

Shah's emotional plea to the Iranian people for an end to what he admitted as "revolution" came at a time when the country had already plunged into an all-out chaos. A couple of days earlier, in response to a general strike order dictated by Ayatollah Khomeini from his retreat in Neuohle-le Cateau, France, oil workers had walked out and paralyzed Iran's oil industry. Riots had begun to spread to other cities, and university and high school students had now joined the so-called "Islamic revolution". Banks, cinemas, public buildings and hotels in Tehran were constantly being sacked and burned. The country had already turned into a mad house in which no one was willing to listen to common sense.

I still don't know what prompted Shah to make such a self-defeating speech. He might have thought that admitting the past mistakes at that point in time could be his best shot at restoring stability and calm to the country.

But histroy would prove him wrong.

Shah's speech no only dealt a fatal blow to his image as a strong leader in charge, but furthured the crisis it had intended to diffuse. Emboldened by the specch, Khomeini and his revolutionary followers pushed for a more aggressive approach toward toppling Shah's government and eventually succeeded in doing so, in February, 1979.

Now, 27 years later and in light of the horrible events that followed Shah's speech in Iran and the Middle East, one can't help but think, where would Iran be standing now, if Iranian people had held Shah to his promise of reforms and narrowed their demands to their constitutional rights only?

Did Shah--whose government, unlike the current outlaw regime, never turned to bloodshed to save itself-- not deserve to be given a second chance?

Or maybe this is all 'Monday morning quarterbacking' on my part...