Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian election victory pleased just about everyone except the extremists. It could reopen the stalled dialogue with the Israeli government
SHARON'S 10-MINUTE PHONE CALL WITH NEW PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS
Earlier Sharon told his Cabinet he would seek coordination on security matters, based on a Palestinian effort to "stop terrorism" against Israelis, and added: "I believe there will be a meeting between us soon." Maher Shalabi, an adviser to Abbas, said the two leaders talked about "ways to revive the peace process and about a meeting, which will be set up in the next few days." While Abbas wants a cease-fire, he has rejected Israeli demands to crush the militants, calling them "freedom fighters" whom he wants to integrate into the Palestinian mainstream. (Beirut Daily Star, Wednesday, January 12, 2005)
LOW VOTER TURNOUT RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT THE STRENGTH OF ABBAS' MANDATE
Haaretz comments: "...What's left is to examine the reasons for the low turnout: 45 percent of the eligible voters. Palestinian society is supremely political. So the abstention was also very political. It proves that the Palestinian public is not suffering from the illusion about who really rules over its life. It is not Abu Mazen, or Fatah, but the Israeli government and its emissary, the army. At no point on election day was it possible to forget that..."(Haaretz, January 12, 2005)
37 QUESTIONS FOR DONALD RUMSFELD
Tom Engelhardt writes: "Pick a week, any week, and you can now be guaranteed that yet more gruesome news will seep out about the global torture regime the Bush administration has set up around the world..." Indeed, the debate swirling around the confirmation hearings for attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales, made it clear that some Americans may think that torture, and suspension of the U.S. system of justice is not that bad, if that is what it takes to get the "bad guys." How do you know it is "really a bad guy" without some recourse to law? The president seems to think he knows. So does the Secretary of Defense, although neither one seems to know how Abu Ghraib happened. Engelhardt gives an interesting rundown of the ongoing debate. (TomDispatch.com, January 10, 2005)
WANT TO SAVE A FEW BUCKS ON A NUCLEAR CLEAN-UP? WHY NOT CREATE A WILDIFE REFUGE...
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists observes that by promising to turn the Rocky Flats Nuclear Facility, 16 miles from Denver, into a wild-life refuge, the administration may have found an excuse for a less exhaustive clean-up operation than if the site had been made safe for human habitation, farmland or even a national park. (LeRoy Moore, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 2005)
TIGHTENING CONTROL OVER WESTERNERS IN INDONESIA'S TSUNAMI-STRUCK ACEH PROVINCE
Before the tsunami, Indonesia's army was under attack for widespread human rights abuse in Aceh. The influx of foreign aid workers has brought a brief respite in the otherwise brutal war. Now Jakarta is moving to reassert control over how much the foreigners actually get to see of what is going on. Foreign military aid to Aceh will be invited to leave in mid-March, for the moment, any foreign aid workers who want to travel outside the stricken capital will need permission from the army. (BBC, January 12, 2005)
Debating tsunami debt relief
Discussion of Indonesia's motives on Jim Lehrer's News Hour
SUDAN SIGNS PEACE AGREEMENT WITH REBELS
The peace agreement signed by the government of Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army over the weekend may effectively end one of the longest wars in African history, but the test will be whether terms of the agreement which involves sharing Sudan's new oil wealth can actually be implemented. The Center for Strategic and International Studies comments on the agreement's significance. (CSIS, January 9, 2005)
CSIS action plan for Sudan
IS AL QAEDA LOSING OUT IN SAUDI ARABIA?
Stephen Ulf, writing for the jamestown Foundation, notes: "The latest attempted bombing of the Interior Ministry building and the Special Emergency Forces headquarters training unit at Riyadh on December 29, appears to spell out more evidence of al-Qaeda's decline in the Peninsula. The bombings and related clashes with Islamist militants accounted for a total of 90 injuries and the death of one bystander. The cost to the mujahideen were five killed during the bombings (three of whom from suicide detonations) and a further 10 hunted down in gunfights which preceded and followed them. Three of the assailants were on the list of the 26 ‘most wanted' Saudi insurgents... A statement from al-Qaeda posted on the al-Ma'sada jihadist website (www.alm2sda.net) named the target of the attacks as the Kingdom's Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdel-Aziz, who was away at the time. The statement also laid emphasis on the killing of ‘a number [unspecified] of Crusader trainers killed in the Emergency Forces' headquarters and the wounding of several of those forces,' which contradicts the figures given out by the authorities. The statement ended with what may be a revealing phrase: ‘We are determined to re-organize ourselves and prepare for new exemplary operations'" (Stephen Ulf, Jamestown Foundation, January 10, 2005)
A LOOK AT THE NEW TEHRAN-BEIJING AXIS
Iran has already stated that it would prefer to have China replace Japan as the number one importer of Iranian oil. Fifty-one percent of China’s crude oil imports already come from the Middle East, and that figure is projected to jump to 70 percent by 2015. (Frederick Stakelbeck, Jr., In The national Interest, January 4, 2005
GETTING READY TO BOMB SYRIA?
UPI Intelligence Correspondent, Richard Sale, reports that: "Bush administration hard-liners have been considering launching selected military strikes at insurgent training camps in Syria and border-crossing points used by Islamist guerrillas to enter Iraq in an effort to bolster security for the upcoming elections..." (Richard Sale, UPI, January 11, 2005)
U.S. warns Syria against interfering in Lebanon's upcoming elections (Beirut Daily Star, January 5, 2005)
Rumsfeld denies plans to send "hit squads" to Syria
(AFP, January 11, 2005)
...AND NOW FOR IRAQ
ARE YOU GOING TO VOTE?
If you are a Sunni Iraqi, the answer does not seem very promising. A State Department intelligence report that has not been released publicly, gives a pessimistic view of Iraq's election prospects. AFP reports: "The preliminary findings of a new internal US State Department poll on Iraq obtained by AFP Thursday shows only 32 percent of Sunni Muslims are "very likely" to vote in landmark national elections this month and only 12 percent consider the event legitimate. (AFP, January 6, 2005)
JUAN COLE:ANALYZING THE SIGNIFICANCE OF INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES BAILING OUT OF IRAQ'S UPCOMING ELECTIONS
SOME AMERICAN OFFICERS IN IRAQ GET IT, AND THEY ARE SPREADING THE WORD ON THE INTERNET
Dan Baum, writing in this week's New Yorker, notes that one problem in Iraq is that U.S. troops have again been trained for the wrong war . But junior officers are using internet to get around the rigid structure of the Pentagon's hierarchy and to disseminate the kind of on-the-ground insight that is needed. Baum describes how Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hughes handled a potentially explosive situation: " The Iraqis were shrieking frantic with rage. From the way the lens was lurching, the cameraman seemed as frightened as the soldiers. This is it, I thought. A shot will come from somewhere, the Americans will open fire, and the world will witness the My Lai massacre of the Iraq war. At that moment, an American officer stepped through the crowd holding his rifle high over his head with the barrel pointed to the ground. Against the backdrop of the seething crowd, it was a striking gesture—almost Biblical. “Take a knee,” the office said, impassive behind surfer sunglasses. The soldiers looked at him as if he were crazy. Then, one after another, swaying in their bulky body armor and gear, they knelt before the boiling crowd and pointed their guns at the ground. The Iraqis fell silent, and their anger subsided. The officer ordered his men to withdraw..." As Baum notes, Army strategists have begun to pay attention. (Dan Baum, The New Yorker, January 10, 2005)
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