The ‘coalition of the willing’ becomes an army of one
By Hannah Allam | McClatchy Newspapers
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The British said cheerio back in July, around the same time the Romanians cleared out “Camp Dracula,” their compound on a U.S. base in southern Iraq. Tonga and Kazakhstan left ages ago, and no one seems to remember if any Icelandic forces ever made it to Iraq.
It doesn’t matter now, anyway, because as of Friday, former president George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” formally ceases to exist, leaving only the U.S. military’s 130,000 or so forces to shepherd their Iraqi counterparts through a volatile election season before a full American troop withdrawal that’s expected by the end of 2011.
British universities sometimes seen as breeding grounds for radical Islam
By Karla Adam
Friday, January 1, 2010
LONDON — The case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused in the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner, has reinvigorated a debate about whether British universities are being used as breeding grounds for radical Islam.
For three years, Abdulmutallab made the short journey from his apartment in central London to an 11-story brown brick building at University College London (UCL), where he was enrolled as a mechanical engineering student.
Before him, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted in connection with the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, attended the London School of Economics. British citizens Asif Mohammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif were enrolled at King’s College London before launching a suicide attack in Tel Aviv in 2003.
C.I.A. Takes On Expanded Role on Front Lines
By MARK MAZZETTI
Published: December 31, 2009
WASHINGTON – The deaths of seven Central Intelligence Agency operatives at a remote base in the mountains of Afghanistan are a pointed example of the civilian spy agency’s transformation in recent years into a paramilitary organization at the vanguard of America’s far-flung wars.
Even as the C.I.A. expands its role in Afghanistan, it is also playing a greater role in quasi-military operations elsewhere, using drone aircraft to launch a steady barrage of missile strikes in Pakistan and sending more operatives to Yemen to assist local officials in their attempts to roll back Al Qaeda’s momentum in that country.
The C.I.A. operatives stationed at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province, where Wednesday’s suicide bombing occurred, were responsible for collecting information about militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting missions to kill the networks’ top leaders.
TSA nominee misled Congress about accessing confidential records
By Robert O’Harrow Jr.
Friday, January 1, 2010
The White House nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration gave Congress misleading information about incidents in which he inappropriately accessed a federal database, possibly in violation of privacy laws, documents obtained by The Washington Post show.
The disclosure comes as pressure builds from Democrats on Capitol Hill for quick January confirmation of Erroll Southers, whose nomination has been held up by GOP opponents. In the aftermath of an attempted airline bombing on Christmas Day, calls have intensified for lawmakers to install permanent leadership at the TSA, a critical agency in enforcing airline security.
Exclusive: Secret Army squad ‘abused Iraqis’
MoD inquiry into claims that ‘shadowy’ unit is guilty of torture
By Robert Verkaik, Home Affairs Editor Friday, 1 January 2010
A secret army interrogation unit accused of being responsible for the widespread abuse of Iraqi prisoners is being investigated by the Ministry of Defence.
Fourteen fresh claims of torture against the British Army include detailed accounts of a shadowy team of military and MI5 interrogators who are alleged to have authorised the physical and sexual abuse of Iraqi detainees.
The new allegations bring the total number of cases being investigated by the Government to 47.
Many of the Iraqis allege they were abused after they were sent to a unit called the Joint Forward Intelligence Team (JFIT) based at the Army’s Shaibah Logistics Base, 13 miles from Basra, between 2004 and 2007.
Vatican reveals Secret Archives
A 13th-century letter from Genghis Khan’s grandson demanding homage from the pope is among a collection of documents from the Vatican’s Secret Archives that has been published for the first time.
By Nick Squires in Rome
Published: 7:00AM GMT 01 Jan 2010
The Holy See’s archives contain scrolls, parchments and leather-bound volumes with correspondence dating back more than 1,000 years.
High-quality reproductions of 105 documents, 19 of which have never been seen before in public, have now been published in a book. The Vatican Secret Archives features a papal letter to Hitler, an entreaty to Rome written on birch bark by a tribe of North American Indians, and a plea from Mary Queen of Scots.
The book documents the Roman Catholic Church’s often hostile dealings with the world of science and the arts, including documents from the heresy trial against Galileo and correspondence exchanged with Erasmus, Voltaire and Mozart. It also reveals the Church’s relations with princes and potentates in countries far beyond its dominion.
How should we deal with the emergence of China as a superpower?
By Clifford Coonan
Friday, 1 January 2010
This week, China executed a 53-year-old Briton, Akmal Shaikh, for bringing four kilos of heroin into the country in 2007. His family and supporters say he was mentally ill, suffering from bipolar disorder, and duped into carrying the drugs by the mafia in Tajikistan. Gordon Brown’s Government called in Chinese ambassador Fu Ying, who many see as a future foreign minister for a “full and frank discussion”, which is diplomats’ speak for reading the riot act. The Prime Minister said he was appalled by the decision to execute Mr Shaikh without a medical test.
The Chinese said he received a fair trial and that there was no evidence pointing to his mental instability, and basically Beijing told the British Government to back off. Beijing’s decision to brush off calls for clemency is the latest sign of China flexing its new diplomatic and political muscle, after the jailing for 11 years of top dissident Liu Xiaobo on Christmas Day and by its tough line on negotiations at the Copenhagen climate change talks, which some critics say had blocked a deal bringing deeper cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing is still furious about climate secretary Ed Miliband’s accusations post-Copenhagen that China tried to hijack the UN climate summit and “hold the world to ransom” to prevent a deal.
UN to withdraw staff from Pakistan
From Times Online
January 1, 2010
The United Nation is to withdraw a quarter of its international staff from Pakistan as the country descends further into violence.
At least 11 UN workers have been killed in Pakistan in the last year, and over 500 people have died in attacks since the army began an offensive against militants in the Taleban stronghold of South Waziristan in October.
In the latest deadly attack, 44 people were killed on Monday when a suicide bomber attacked a Shiite Muslim religious procession in the southern port city of Karachi.
UN security managers are seeking a reduction f up to 30 percent of its 250 international staff working in Pakistan, an official said, but the final number is expected to be lower.
In reversal, Egypt allows some foreign activists to enter Gaza
Some 1,400 activists from 43 countries had gathered in Cairo since Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the Gaza war. Egypt says about 100 will be allowed to march into the Gaza Strip.
By Yusri Mohamed and Yasmin Saleh Reuters / December 31, 2009
Egypt has allowed 84 pro-Palestinian foreign activists to march to Gaza, which is under an Israeli-led blockade, an Egyptian official in the North Sinai governorate said.
Some 1,400 activists from 43 countries had gathered in Cairo since Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the Israeli three-week offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Egypt said 100 activists would be allowed to pass through.
“Egyptian authorities made an exception and opened the Rafah border on Wednesday and allowed activists from the Gaza Freedom March to pass through,” Alhamy Aref, secretary-general of the North Sinai governorate, said.
The activists, several hundred of whom were from France, had asked Egypt for permission to cross into Gaza but the Interior Ministry said the march was illegal and a threat to national security.
In Israel, embattled Sderot comes back to life after rocket barrages of Gaza war
Sderot, Israel, was practically a ghost town a year ago, as daily rocket attacks from Gaza drove residents away. Today, it’s rebuilding and its residents are looking toward 2010 with some hope.
By Ilene R. Prusher Staff writer / December 31, 2009
It’s raining cats and dogs in Sderot, but that’s a welcome development. This time last year it was raining Qassam rockets by virtue of the fact that Sderot is the closest population center to northern Gaza, bringing it within range of Palestinian militants.
Sderot bore the brunt of rocket attacks during Israel’s 2008 offensive in Gaza – 50 to 60 rockets per week were fired at the small southern city at the height of the conflict, out of a total of 800 fired at communities all over southern Israel during the three-week war. About half the city’s residents left, while the other half spent their days rushing in and out of bomb shelters in the few seconds’ warning they got from the town’s alarm system.
Today, the rattled little city that was a ghost town a year ago is coming back to life. A new shopping mall is going up, and a large sports complex opened a few months ago, thanks largely to donor aid.
Book takes Mexico drug war to task
The book by two former Mexican government officials criticizes President Felipe Calderon’s campaign against the drug cartels. The authors say the focus should be on smaller-bore crimes.
By Ken Ellingwood
January 1, 2010
Reporting from Mexico City – Almost everything to do with the Mexican government’s war against drugs is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The threat from narco-trafficking is overblown. Fighting cartels won’t stop the flow of illegal drugs or erase Mexican corruption. The real battle over drugs lies on the U.S. side of the border.
That’s the gist of a provocative new book that challenges virtually every premise on which Mexican President Felipe Calderon has based his 3-year-old offensive against drug cartels.