"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

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The Emerging Axis of Iran and Venezuela

From Robert M. Morgetnheu writing for the Wall Street Journal.

The diplomatic ties between Iran and Venezuela go back almost 50 years and until recently amounted to little more than the routine exchange of diplomats. With the election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, the relationship dramatically changed.

Today Mr. Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez have created a cozy financial, political and military partnership rooted in a shared anti-American animus. Now is the time to develop policies in this country to ensure this partnership produces no poisonous fruit.

Why should we be concerned?

The public needs to be aware of Iran's growing presence in Latin America. Moreover, the U.S. and the international community must strongly consider ways to monitor and sanction Venezuela's banking system. Failure to act will leave open a window susceptible to money laundering by the Iranian government, the narcotics organizations with ties to corrupt elements in the Venezuelan government, and the terrorist organizations that Iran supports openly.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Who Was Behind Wednesday's Attacks? [In Baghdad]

From Omar writing for Iraq the Model.

There is near-full agreement in Iraq that Wednesday’s wave of attacks were more than indiscriminate acts of terrorism. Most politicians, commentators and observers believe those behind the attacks want to influence political alignments and voter decisions before general elections next January.

Reading OSINT, it seemed that all were in agreement that the attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday were perpetuated by Sunni insurgents. However, Omar wraps up below why it could have possibly been Shia insurgents or Special Group cells from Iran. When you take the events in Baghdad together with the Iraqi Government recent seige of Ashraf, it provides and interesting perspective on why certain events are unfolding.

First of all, the deterioration in security undermines Maliki’s reputation and weakens his position in a critical time before elections. Second, it spreads fear among the people about a possible return to the dark days of 2006-2007. This in turn reduces the chances of secular parties and encourages voting along sectarian lines as a means to seek protection from the perceived threat other sects poses. Third, it sends a message to Maliki that if he stays close to the U.S. and insists on his increasingly nationalist, non-sectarian course, then he would not have much of a country left to rule.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Put Moussavi, Khatami, Karroubi on trial says Iran general (Roundup)

From Monsters and Critics.

A senior general of the Iranian revolutionary guards said Sunday that top opposition leaders should be tried for having planned a coup against the Islamic establishment, the official news agency IRNA reported Sunday.

Yadollah Javani, head of the guards' political bureau, demanded that Mir-Hossein Moussavi, former president Mohammad Khatami and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi be put on trial.

President Ahmadinejad is floating the idea of putting key figures on trial. While Iran has put normal citizens on trial with no real loss in support, trying to put these leading figures on trial will cause the regime to crumble. These figures have not yet really taken sides against the regime. If this trial gains traction, they will be forced to take sides against the regime. If and when they do, it will be an ugly day for Iran.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Khatami: Referendum can end Iran's election crisis

From AP via Yahoo.

Former president Mohammad Khatami has called for a nationwide referendum on the legitimacy of the government, saying Iranians have lost faith in their political leaders after last month's disputed election, according to reports posted Monday on several reformist Web sites.

It seems the forces in Iran are beginning to take sides. Between Rafsanjani's sermon Friday and now Khatami calling for a nationwide referendum, things are not going well for the regime. The fact that both are publicly stating these things like this show how much power and control the regime has lost in Ahmadinejad's bid for reelection.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Failed Peace Deal: Iran Regime Nixes Compromise

From Amir Taheri writing for the New York Post.

IRAN moved a step closer to prolonged civil strife yester day when the government rejected a compromise offered by a key figure of the regime to settle the dispute over last month's election.

The deal was offered byformer President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a prominent mullah-cum-businessman and one of the founders of the Islamic Republic. In his proposal, the dispute over the presidential results would be referred to the Supreme Court for final judgment, while the opposition would stop daily skirmishes between its supporters and security agents. The government would then release the 5,000 or so people arrested since the dispute broke out June 13 and publish the full list of those killed in the insurrection.

Mr. Taheri point out other parts of the compromise which the Iranian regime rejected. He also goes on to site how the sides are lining up and the cold shoulder being given to Ahmadinejad in Mashad. But most importantly, he ends with the following statement which shows where the regime is heading.

The split within the Khomeinist establishment is deepening by the day, creating the impression of a regime adrift in a sea of troubles.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Thousands throng again as Rafsanjani speaks in Tehran

From Monsters and Critics.

Thousands thronged to Friday prayers in Tehran to hear an address by former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The event rekindled open protests at alleged fraud in the June 12 presidential election, which saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retain power.

Witnesses said as many as 100,000 opposition supporters took part in the demonstrations in searing heat of 40 degrees centigrade or more. Police used tear gas when clashes broke out after the event.

Things are still not right in Iran. Rafsanjani spoke out defiantly against the establishment. The fact that he was able to do this with carefully chosen words is indicative that the ruling establishment in Iran has lost a certain amount of control.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Iran opposition: Election result 'unacceptable'

From Hareetz.

Iran's embattled opposition leader has branded last month's presidential election "illegitimate" and has demanded the regime release all political prisoners.

Mir Hossein Mousavi's defiance came Wednesday in a new message on his Web site that also called for election reforms and press freedoms.

Mousavi insisted that Iran's disputed June 12 election was riddled with fraud. He contended that he - not incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - was the rightful winner.

The pot continues to stew. One thing is important to note in this article. It is the title. "Iran Opposition". These are important, and very new words.

To read the full article, click here.

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Turkey increases Iraq water flow

From Alsumaria.

Turkey increased the volume of water flow in Euphrates River by 50% to reach 570 cubic meters per second, a percentage claimed by Iraq to plant rice in half of its land in the middle and the south of the country, Ministry of Water Resources declared on Sunday. Iraq hopes that Turkey will keep on increasing the water flow in order to provide water for agricultural purposes and other uses, said an official statement

This simple act, increasing water into Iraq, will do more to eliminate the insurgent threat in Iraq than any additional increase in American Soldiers or Iraqi checkpoints at this stage of the conflict.

As I interface with Iraqis daily, this one issue always surfaces. Water is not only the key to life; in Iraq it is a key ingredient in developing jobs and commerce in this young democracy. It is also critical at returning dependents to their homes, many of which still remain displaced due to lack of drinking or agricultural water.

Reports like this make the chances increase dramatically of this young, fragile democracy surviving to become a solid democracy which will be a beacon for all other countries in the Middle East.

This increase in chance that this additional water brings is as dramatic as the revoluion going on in Iran right now.

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In Afghanistan, crackdown hurts Iran's once-sterling image

From Philip Smucker wrtiing for McClatchy.

"The Iranian government has finally exposed itself as a theocratic, totalitarian regime," said Faqiri, 23, a leader of the organization of a dozen students who meet secretly once a week because the Afghan government frowns on their independent political activities. "Iranian leaders are trying to hang onto power by killing people and destroying their free media."

What is important here is Iranian influence which is rapidly degrading among Middle Eastern nations. What is happening in Iran is a revolution. What is happening to Iranian influence in the region, is revolutionary.

By virtue of its economic ties and support for key areas of the Afghan government, Iran still wields considerable influence in Afghanistan. Increasingly, though, it's viewed by the broader public and by university students in Herat as an anachronistic and authoritarian regime that opposes the will of its own people.

Indeed, after the government crackdown and the popular defiance following the disputed June 12 election, Iran's political influence in Afghanistan is in a downward spiral.

For a full read of the article, click here.

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Iran is the Key

From Robert D. Kaplan writing for the New York Post.

Iran is so central to the fate of the Middle East that even a partial shift in regime behavior -- an added degree of nuance in its approach to Iraq, Lebanon, Israel or the United States -- could dramatically affect the region. Just as a radical Iranian leader can energize the "Arab street," an Iranian reformer can energize the emerging but curiously opaque Arab bourgeoisie. This is why the depiction of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi as but another radical, albeit with a kinder, gentler exterior than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, completely misses the point.

Mr. Kaplan points out that like the old USSR, Iran can only change from the inside. It is an insightful article with many interesting comments.

For a full read, click here.

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Report: Iranians Behind Recent Attacks In Iraq


Qassem Ata, spokesman for the Baghdad Security Plan, has warned residents of the city of possible suicide operations by Iranian infiltrators in holy places during the 'Eid Al-Fitr holiday.

He said that Iranians who had infiltrated into Iraq were behind recent suicide attacks in the country.

Iran has recently pushed Special Group operatives across the border into Iraq to continue to promote instability in the region. Iraq's ability to thwart these attacks will be a test of their ability to maintain security in their country. The full analysis of these Special Groups is in the above link.

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Armed groups cross into Iraq for attacks

From Alsumaria.

Dhi Qar police chief Sabah Al Fitlawi affirmed that extremist armed groups that have trained in Iran have entered the country the last past days in aim to execute bombings targeting senior officials. Al Fitlawi noted that these special groups which include each 10 militants have crossed the borders from Iran into Amara City. He asserted that these forces are targeted against officials around Iraq mainly in Al Nassiriya. He clarified that local authorities have intensified security measures and banned circulation of motorcycles.

This action from Iran will be a good test for Iraqi Security and Coalition Forces' ability to track down these Special Group militants and detain/kill them. PM Maliki's recent surges in Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City effectively defeated Special Groups in Iraq causing them to either die in battle, disperse and go to ground, or retreat back to Iran.

Iran has been training Special Groups in an attempt to re-establish their influence within Iran. From this article it appears the training is complete (of at least the first group) and Iran is wanting to re-establish their influence as quickly as possible.

A couple of points here are worth mentioning.

1. Al Qaeda was defeated in Iraq due to its extremism and attacking the population it initially supported. These two factors resulted combined with the surge of American forces to provide seucrity for the population resulted in its loss of tacit support and therefore its unassailable base among the population. The same can be said for Sadr's militia and Special Groups. While initially providing essential services for the population, these entities quickly showed their extremism and attacked the very population which was protecting them resulting, over time, in their loss of popular or tacit support thereby losing their unassailable base leading to their downfall.

2. The capability of the Iraqi Security Forces allows it to protect the population now. Can it defend the country from external major combat operations? No, but it can protect the population from externally led insurgencies and has ties to several people who inform on militants. This fact is how they were able to diminish and almost eliminate Iranian influence in Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City.

3. The Iraqi government is providing essential services now to most Iraqis. While limited, projects are underway for better and more efficient services. Commerce is beginning to take hold in the country, not only in Baghdad, but also in smaller townships. While significant problems still exist, they are being resolved slowly but surely.

4. The recent violence is still fresh in many Iraqis minds. They do not want to return to violent extremism of 2006. Special Groups coming into communities will not be welcomed and I predict will be informed upon. Expect to see ISOF operations in the near future taking down these groups once they attempt to establish a base of operations from which to launch attacks.

5. These Special Groups may get one or more attacks off. If they do, the possible renewed violence will have many groups informing on these Special Groups further limiting their ability to carry out future attacks.

Iran needs to quit these forms of operations as it will only hurt their political and economic impact they could have within Iraq. Iran is still trying to stir up insurrection to keep the US military consumed in Iraq. However, the game has changed and Iraq is moving from a war to nation building. Iran's attempt to bring back a state of war will fail as ISF capacity is now too great to allow large scale open warfare by an insurgency. In addition, Coalition force numbers are still too great to allow this to happen.

There are many within Iraq who would favor much Iranian influence in Iraq; however, not by an insurgency or Special Groups. Iran's major influence in Iraq right now could be political. Trying to re-establish an insurgency will only hurt their political efforts.

The Hezbollah model used in Lebanon will not work in Iraq as Iraq has a robust provincial and tribal influence which makes it down to the normal Iraqi and provides for the tribe. Unlike Lebanon, reconciliation in Iraq started from the bottom up vice the top down. The only places where this model had hopes of florishing were Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City. All of these places and their inhabitants are now better off without Iranian Special Group influence and the people know it. Commerce quickly came back to Basra and Sadr City once Special Groups were contained/defeated. In additon, oil wealth is making it down to these groups already. This fact will only become more and more evident as essential services become more and more robust.

Attacks will also not work as they will only spur popular dissent against these groups.

Iran's best bet at this time is to attempt to influence the government. Unfortunately, its major power brokers in this realm is Sadr and his political members who are walking on egg shells at this time as they have lost popular support especially in Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City. Also unfortunately, Sistani, the revered spiritual leader in Iraq, is very much against a theocracy and has stayed out of polititics as the country develops its democratic ways.

Given its goal of maintaining an isurgency to keep the US tied down, Iran has no other good choice, in the near term, except to bring in Special Groups to continue or promote an bloodshed. While it may get off a spectacular attack, I predict this project will fail miserably as Iraqis are tired of war, are finally experiencing what a free, democratic society can do for them, and are quite frankly liking it.

Once this project fails, Iran will continue to train Sadr and wait for Sistani's death in the hope that they can re-introduce Sadr as an Ayatollah. However, by that time, democracy should be so ingrained in Iraq that this religious influence will be seen as an infringement of democratic rights. That is why Sistani is allowing this democracy to learn and grow without religious influence right now. He understands that while a democracy will keep the church and state separate, a strong democracy can lead to a strong conservative religious movement which can benefit from the power of the secular state.

This fact is lost on leadership of Iran which has a strong religious totalitarian state which must suppress its people to maintain control. However, it is not lost on its people who will shortly see that crossing over the border to Iraq will allow for democratic freedoms they have been lacking for almost 30 years. This fact is what Iran truly fears most. It is a fact which all totalitarian states in the region fear most, and it is why all these states allowed members from their soil enter Iraq to attempt to destroy the young democracy.

For its part, the US must maintain a strong presence in Iraq until successful handover of power from pronvincial and national elections. At that point, the democracy in Iraq will be unstoppable for Iraqis have given what is needed to allow for a successful democracy to persist and flourish. Namely, they have given their blood. The current generation will not soon forget this very gruesome fact.

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The Endgame in Iraq

From Jack Keane, Frederick W. Kagan & Kimberly Kagan writing for The Weekly Standard.

On September 16, General Raymond Odierno will succeed General David Petraeus as commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. The surge strategy Petraeus and Odierno developed and executed in 2007 achieved its objectives: reducing violence in Iraq enough to allow political processes to restart, economic development to move forward, and reconciliation to begin. Violence has remained at historic lows even after the withdrawal of all surge forces and the handover of many areas to Iraqi control. Accordingly, President Bush has approved the withdrawal of 8,000 additional troops by February 2009.

With Barack Obama's recent declaration that the surge in Iraq has succeeded, it should now be possible to move beyond that debate and squarely address the current situation in Iraq and the future. Reductions in violence permitting political change were the goal of the surge, but they are not the sole measure of success in Iraq.

The United States seeks a free, stable, independent Iraq, with a legitimately elected representative government that can govern and defend its territory, is at peace with its neighbors, and is an ally of the United States in the war on terror. The Iraqi leadership has made important strides toward developing a new and inclusive political system that addresses the concerns of all Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups. But it has also taken steps in the wrong direction.

These authors of the surge of American forces in 2007 provide an interesting and insightful analysis of not only military, but political considerations in Iraq. They discuss how and when we should drawdown force, long-term security agreements, and the way ahead to ensure Iraq remains a stable democracy and ally to the United States.

For a full read, click here.

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How to Leave a Stable Iraq - Building on Progress

From Foreign Affairs.

The Iraq war has become one of the most polarizing issues in American politics. Most Democrats, including Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), want large, early troop cuts; most Republicans, including Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), want U.S. troops to stay until Iraq's stability is guaranteed. Years of bad news from the front have hardened these divisions along partisan lines and embittered many on both sides. Today, however, there is reason to believe that the debate over Iraq can change. A series of positive developments in the past year and a half offers hope that the desire of so many Americans to bring the troops home can be fulfilled without leaving Iraq in chaos. The right approach, in other words, can partly square Obama's goal of redeploying large numbers of U.S. forces sooner rather than later with McCain's goal of ensuring stability in Iraq.

This article is one of the most comprehensive articles which accurately describes the current security and political situation in Iraq. The authors detail the history of violence in Iraq and how this violence has transformed into a relative, but tenuous, peace.

This remarkable change in Iraq's security situation results from the interaction of AQI's errors, the surge in U.S. troop levels, the growing capacities of the ISF, and the downstream consequences of all of this for the Shiite militias. AQI's first big mistake was bombing the Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra in February 2006. The attack drew the Shiite militias (many of which had been merely defensive) into the civil war in force and on the offensive, and so began the battle of Baghdad -- a yearlong wave of sectarian violence pitting Sunni insurgents and their AQI allies against JAM and its allies. At the time, Americans saw this wave of bloodshed as a disaster, and in terms of human life it clearly was. But it enabled a later wave of cease-fires by fundamentally changing the Sunnis' strategic calculus. The battle of Baghdad gave the Sunnis a clear view of what an all-out war would really mean, and they did not like what they saw.

When discussing troop projections, the authors cite troop projections are not time, but situation dependent and note that by 2011 it would be possible to reduce our presence in Iraq by half if the security situation remains stable.

Exact projections of troop requirements are difficult to make, but current trends suggest that the United States should be able to cut its presence in Iraq substantially -- perhaps by half -- over the course of 2010 and 2011. Doing so would be contingent on making further progress against the insurgency, keeping the peace during the upcoming provincial and parliamentary elections, and continuing to assist the Iraqis as they work toward healing their sectarian divisions. A destabilizing election, a renewal of sectarian violence sparked by badly handed refugee returns or poor resolution of the Kirkuk dispute, or more destabilizing activity by Iran would change this timing. Any schedule for withdrawal will be subject to the inherent uncertainty of a conflict as complex as the one in Iraq.

While this article is long, it is also extremely detailed and provides a good background and way ahead for US forces in the region.

For a full read, click here.

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News From Iraq

I have noticed lately a lack of news from Iraq. I found a couple of items which are representative of Iraqi news.

From the Khaleej Times.

With Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, Iraq's first Christian militia enforces one simple rule on the border of this little village. 'Anyone not from Tel Asquf, is banned.'

From the The Post Chronicle.

U.S. soldiers, tipped by Iraqis, found a major cache of bomb-making materials in Babil province, military officials said Sunday.

The soldiers discovered more than 2,500 components that could be used to make penetrator-type bombs, the officials told American Forces Press Service. The materiel was found in an area southeast of the village of Samrah.

From Al Sumaria.

Police chief Brigadier-General Sabah Al Fitlawi ordered the arrest of the owner of a virtual company under the name of “Iraq Reconstruction” which has branches in eight southern provinces and Baghdad on account of judicial complaints accusing him of seizing millions of dollars. Al Fitlawi affirmed that arrest warrants against Ali Mohsen Al Rubaie, his father and his brother were issued five days ago on account of citizens’ complaints.

And another article from Al Sumaria.

The political council for national security did not convene to discuss Khanaqin crisis as some Kurdish leaders were not present in Baghdad. Therefore, the dilemma over Iraqi Army deployment in Khanaqin is unsettled mainly that some parties claim that the political council is not concerned with this issue.

These articles are representative of the main news coming out of Iraq in the last few weeks. Citizens are solving local security issues. Coalition forces found and cleared another cache. The police are searching for a corrupt businessman. Political councils are trying to resolve a border issue.

It struck me that several of these issues are also seen in many western democracies. Folks, concerned about security are starting a neigborhood watch, granted, they have AKs, but it is a neighborhood watch none the less.

While there still are explosions here and there, a larger part of the news involves caches being found. In this particular case, the cache was some 2500 components which could be used to make EFPs.

As things have settled down, locals are beginning to wonder where millions of dollars in reconstruction money went and thus are searching for the culprit.

Finally, politicians are getting together to solve the Khanaqin issue. Notice there are not firefights over the issue just parties getting (or in this case, not getting) together to attempt to resolve an issue peacefully.

Make no doubt about it, Iraq is still a dangerous place. However, the intent of the surge, which effectively just ended with the last of the surge forces being pulled out last month were to quell violence by bringing down insurgent groups, provide the time necessary for the Iraqi Army to build capacity so that they could not only police themselves but also go after insurgents, to provide breathing space to the Iraqi Government so they could begin the reconciliation process, and allow the Iraqi Government to begin to govern beyond the Green Zone.

From the articles above, it sound precisely like all objectives have been accomplished. While Iraq will still need to fall under the security umbrella of the US for some time to come, Iraq is beginning to move beyond a young democracy only securing its politicians into a democracy which secures the population, which allows the population to prosper, which allows the population to grow economically, which in turn allows a population to invest in its own future, which brings in immigrants due to superior market forces (more money than one can make in their own country).

Yes, Iraq is fast becoming the beacon of democracy in the center of the Middle East for all other countries to emulate. Yes, there are still problems. Yes, it ain't perfect. But it is a heck of a lot better with Saddam gone, not supporting terrorists anymore, and growing into a vibrant democracy which one would presume would be friendly to the United States.

One point I would like to make. If I were Mullahs in Iran, I would be extremely worried to have such a vibrant growing economy on my borders which houses a majority Shia population. Fellow Shias may begin to wonder why they are not prospering to the same degree. This fact was after all, the strategic objective for going into Iraq in the first place.

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Pakistan reopens vital border crossing to NATO

From Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal.

Pakistan has reopened the vital Torkham border crossing point to NATO supply trucks destined for Afghanistan. The crossing point was closed late on Sept. 5, the same day the Pakistani military threatened to retaliate against the US for conducting attacks against the Taliban and al Qaeda inside Paksitan.

Pakistan's defense minister said the border closure was meant to show the US that it would not tolerate airstrikes and raids inside its borders, Daily Times reported.

It is interesting to note it is also being put out through other government channels that the Khyber Pass was closed due to security reasons. Whenever there is confusion like this within one government, it usually points to a political vice a security issue. Expressed a different way, the security reason was the excuse to close the crossing but the real reason was political.

As Mr. Roggio points out, the US has conducted many raids within Pakistan recently to include assaulting in forces in helicopters. One of the many reasons Musharraf lost power in Pakistan is his close ties with the US. This mistrust from the people also made it difficult for him to fully engage the Taliban/Al Qaeda in the tribal regions.

Pakistani leaders still want the same ties with the US, but they do not want to run the risk of losing the popular support of the people. So where does that leave them? The Pakistani leadership can express their anger at the US and even close a crossing for a day to show their anger. Standing up in this way to the US endures them with their people. At the same time, they can allow US forces to continue to bomb Al Qaeda positions in the tribal regions to keep Al Qaeda on the defensive, and quite possibly get lucky enough to kill a significant leader here and there.

Since a counterinsurgency is not only a military fight, but also a fight for popularity among the people, the Pakistani government puts itself in a win-win situation. Al Qaeda leaders are taken out which increases the popularity of the government and helps in protecting the population. The Pakistani government protests and occassionally closes a vital supply route to show the US it can affect its supplies to Afghanistan. The people are happy because their leadership is showing them they are not puppets to the US and will stand up for their sovereignty.

I believe Pakistani and US leaders have finally come up with a winning strategy in dealing with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan will continue to use US high technology to strike deep targets within its borders keeping the Al Qaeda leadership on the run. In turn, Al Qaeda and the Taliban respond to such attacks with suicide bombs against the populous which results in the populous moving against these groups which makes it easier for Pakistan to use its military internally to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Since the key terrain in a counterinsurgency is the populous, winning over this terrain is key to stopping an insurgency. This fact is something Musharraf failed to accomplish but the PPP leadership in Pakistan is focusing on. Only when the population turns against the insurgent can military forces be used effectively to hunt key leaders which run the insurgency. What we are seeing now in Pakistan are shaping operations to win over the key terrain, the population. This ballet between shaping operations and decisive operations will continue until the population is fully won over, at which time we will see more direct military actions. This fact was also the reason why a temporary halt in direct military operations was called for in Pakistan during the month of Ramadan.

Make no doubt about it. Pakistani leaders want to ensure the battle against Al Qaeda and the Taliban are conducted on their terms, meaning defeating these insurgencies while maintaining power of the government. This fine balancing act is what Musharraf was unable to maintain. We will see if the PPP can maintain the balancing act better.

As winter approaches in this region, the insurgents will again go to ground and begin planning operations for next spring. Come next spring, we will see more Coalition troops in Afghanistan who will be able to move out and confront the Taliban. We will see the Pakistani military begin to take the fight more directly to the insurgents in the FATA/NWFP regions. We will see the population in Pakistan come closer and closer in line with the elected government and begin to rise up against the insurgents who will move their operations to the Afganistani side of the border just in time for Coalition forces to finish them off. A year or two from now, Pakistan will have a greatly diminished insurgent problem. As such, Afghanistan will also benefit.

The birthplace of the Salafist insurgency will be no more or will move to another location to begin to rebuild its base of support. Iraq will be a relatively free democratic government supportive of US interests in the region as will Pakistan and Afghanistan. Iran will probably be closer and closer to acquiring a nuclear warhead or will have finally acquired one. But it will be surrounded by a NATO member, Turkey, to the north and US friendly regimes to its west, Iraq, and east, Afghanistan which will have large armies to prevent it from using it fanaticism to "wipe" Israel off the map. Pakistan and India will become partners freeing up their forces to focus on the common enemy in the region, Iran. Who knows, Israel and Syria may have established diplomatic ties by then, further isolating Iran.

With all these US friendly regimes on its borders, intelligence coming out of Iran will be easier as their borders are infiltrated by tribal boundaries which overlap territorial boundaries. Good intelligence is the key factor which prevent wars and if wars become inevitable, its what makes wars winnable.

As I described above what is undoubtedly the long term strategic goal of the US above, it is not by any means as rosy as it appears. Three countries are also vying for control of this region, namely Iran, Russia, and China. Russia and China are two superpowers we know how to deal with. They have established countries and are players in the world economy. They too suffer from insurgencies. They will be easy to bring along as gains in this region will undoubtedly make these countries economically more secure. Iran is the country not willing to be a member of the greater world economy and is the promoter of a global insurgency. It is, in reality, the last unassailable base for radical islamic forces.

It must, in time, be taken to task for support to radical islamists. That is why Iran let us move into and dethrone Saddam. That is why Iran is now supporting an insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. It knows its time will come. It; however, can only delay the inevitable.

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Iran’s Fantasy: A Renewed Cold War between "Infidels" Russia and America

From Walid Phares at Counter Terrorism Blog.

The post-Soviet world has never been closer to what we knew as the Cold War than right now. Iran is pleased. We should all be concerned. New proxy conflicts may soon emerge.

Why is Iran pleased?

In Iran, strategic planners knew all too well that even though it was the United States which threatened the regime’s ambitions, it was in fact the passive entente between the old foes of the Cold War that allowed Americans to come so close to Iran’s borders. Hence, in order to reverse the Western advance in the Middle East and, more importantly, in order to escape a democratic revolution against the regional tyrannies, the Russo-American entente would have to crumble. Therefore, the current escalation into what looks like—but is not exactly— a return to the Cold war is a “gift from heaven” to the Iranian regime. For even if these tensions do not climax into a full fledge comeback to the post-WWII era, they will and have already allowed Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to break loose from the containment and isolation processes. Here is how.

In the past years after 9/11, Russia worked cooperatively with the West to pressure Iran and its allies in the region at the UN Security Council with the passing of UNSCR 1559 and its subsequent resolutions regarding Syria and Lebanon. Moscow still walked with the international community in pressuring Tehran to cooperate on the nuclear crisis. But in the last few years, Russian-Iranian, and to a lesser degree Russian-Syrian, cooperation began to grow and the attitude of the Kremlin towards U.S. policies in the region became more and more rigid.

Once again, Walid Phares provides an interesting perspective from a Middle East viewpoint. I concur with Mr. Phares. The US needs to ensure we do not resort to Cold War mentality with Russia. We need Russia as a partner against the greater Islamist threat.

For a full read, click here.

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Taliban win a fight - and settle scores (- As do others in the global match for control)

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

When several hundred Pakistani troops backed by paramilitary forces on Friday launched an operation against militants in Bajaur Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan, they received a most unwelcome surprise.

News of the offensive, which proved to be the most bloody this year in Pakistan, had been leaked to the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda militants by sympathizers in the security forces, and the army walked into a literal hail of bullets.

In the first few hours, 65 Pakistani Soldiers were killed, 25 were taken prisoner, and several more were wounded. Furthermore, in the article Shahzad notes,

On Wednesday morning, Haji Namdar, the chief of the "Vice and Virtue" organization in Khyber Agency, a tribal region on the Afghan border, was gunned down in his office by Baitullah's men.

Although Namdar supported the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, he was a strategic asset for the Pakistani security agencies trying to wipe out al-Qaeda-influenced radicals and the neo-Taliban.

In April, he sold out the Taliban after initially agreeing to help them target the North Atlantic Treaty Organization supply lines passing through Khyber Agency. (See Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass Asia Times Online, April 26, 2008.) Namdar had survived an earlier suicide attack in which about 30 people died.

The above linked story is great read to understand why Namdar was killed. In another story in the Asia Times Online, Syed Saleem Shahzad reviews Al Qaeda's/The Taliban's strategy.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda have with some success squeezed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's)supply lines that run through Pakistan into Afghanistan, especially goods in transit in Khyber Agency on the border.

He continues with the Taliban's two major objectives,

An al-Qaeda member told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity, "The single strategy of severing NATO's supply lines from Pakistan is the key to success. If the blockage is successfully implemented in 2008, the Western coalition will be forced to leave Afghanistan in 2009, and if implemented next year, the exit is certain by 2010."

Several al-Qaeda cells have apparently been activated in Karachi to monitor the movement of NATO supply convoys.

This focus on Karachi coincides with two major events. First, the Pakistani armed forces are heavily engaged in fighting against militants in Bajaur Agency and in the Swat Valley in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.

At the same time, the coalition government in Islamabad is preparing to impeach Washington's point man in the region, President Pervez Musharraf, mainly over his implementation of a state of emergency and dismissal of the judiciary last year when he headed a military administration

Later Mr. Shahzad notes,

NATO is understandably acutely concerned over protecting its supply lines into land-locked Afghanistan. When routes in Khyber Agency came under attack this year, NATO reached an agreement with Russia for some goods to transit through Russian territory. This alternative is costly, though, given the distances involved, and can only be used in emergencies.

Washington tried to get Iran to permit the passage of goods from its seaports into neighboring Afghanistan, but Tehran refused point-blank.

Now we are beginning to see the bigger geo-strategic picture, especially when tying together other players in this region. Iran, to no surprise refused to allow supplies thru its territory. In addition, America has had a pretty timid response with regards to Russia and its ongoing actions in Georgia. Finally, Isreal is also in the mix.

With the eruption of fighting between Russia and Georgia, Israel has found itself in an awkward position as a result of its arms sales to Georgia. Israel is now caught between its friendly relations with Georgia and its fear that the continued sale of weaponry will spark Russian retribution in the form of increased arms sales to Iran and Syria.

So, American supplies lines are threatened in Pakistan, especially with the death of Namdar. The only other option available is bringing supplies thru Russia, who could quickly turn this supply line off if the US interferes with its Georgia operations. Israel, who supplies arms to Georgia, is hard-pressed to continue to supply Georgia as Russia may retaliate by sending more arms to Iran, hindering its ability to reduce a potential nuclear threat from Iran. Finally, we have an article from an earlier Rambling from the Rock post about a naval task force composed of the US, Britian, and France on station at the Persian Gulf with a Russian naval task force in the Mediterranean

All the parties/players in this region are positioning themselves for control in key oil producing or oil shipping regions. A storm is coming, make no doubt about it. Who ultimately comes out victorious may well decide control of this region for decades to come.

Noting the coming storm, all parties may settle for a win-win proposition. Russian wants to reclaim Georgia and have control of its strategic oil fields and pipeline. Israel wants to diminish Iran's nuclear capability, as does all the other players, to include Russia. Russia; however, wants to limit US influence in its backyard, the Middle East, and therefore has no problem giving Iran nuclear technologies to keep the US focused on this enemy and not on its own actions in the Caucus region. For its part, Russia can continue to sell nuclear material to Iran knowing down the road the Iranian nuclear program has a good possibility of being bombed out of existence by Britian, France, the US, and/or Israel.

The staging of its (Russia's) naval task force close to, but in a position to not affect, an allied attack shows its supports Iran, but unfortunately could not come to its aid (in direct action against the US or its western allies which it fears). Therefore Russia continues to have good relations with Iran, possibly beginning again to build its nuclear capability, and in the meantime swallows up Georgia with future sites on the Ukraine. It becomes a winner with more capability down the road.

The reduction of Iran's nuclear ability will be the winning game for Britian, France, Israel, and the US, if they have the nerve to attack. If not, Russia wins this battle also. If they do attack, Russia still wins Georgia and can continue to resupply Iran and maintain influence in the Middle East.

If the US decided to blunt the attack in Georgia and attack Iran, Russia could assist the Taliban in closing the Khyber Pass supply line and close its own, or better yet, keep it open at a hefty cost. Russia still wins, but to a lesser extent. Russia could also decide to supply Iran with better air defense missiles allowing it to still influence Iraq without fear of retribution, thus continuing to tie up Allied forces in Iraq. As it stands now, the coalition just lost another partner in Iraq as 2000 Georgian troops are flying home to defend their country.

All the chess pieces are on the board. Now it is just a matter of future moves, counter-moves, and reactions. The permutations are endless, but the winners and losers are already identified.

Now for a lesson in global politics and strategy. Do you want to be a country in the global politics who can influence and defend its own future path or a country who depends on others to influence its future path? Personally, I want to be part of a country which has major pieces on the chess board to determine its own future path as opposed to a featherweight boxer in the ring with a heavyweight boxer.

The USA is the heavyweight champion in the realm of global politics and strategy. Russia is the contender who has been beaten once but is inline for a rematch. All others are lesser contenders who need the support of either of these two heavyweights to have say in the modern world.

As we move closer to another general election where the candidates are clearly for and against a military or other presence in the Middle East, we must keep in mind what is truly at stake. At stake is whether we will be the heavyweight champion in the region, the beaten contender, or just another featherweight boxer who needs a heavyweights assistance to have any say in global strategy and in the global economy. To me, the choice is easy.

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SPECIAL REPORT: Kuwait Readying for War in Gulf?

From the Middle East Times.

The US, Britian, and France are assembling a large naval force in Persian Gulf.

Leading the pack is the nuclear-powered carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and its Carrier Strike Group Two; besides its 80-plus combat planes the Roosevelt normally transports, it is carrying an additional load of French Naval Rafale fighter jets from the French carrier Charles de Gaulle, currently in dry dock.

Also reported heading toward Iran is another nuclear-powered carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan and its Carrier Strike Group Seven; the USS Iwo Jima, the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and a number of French warships, including the nuclear hunter-killer submarine Amethyste.

Once the naval force arrives in the Gulf region it will be joining two other U.S. naval battle groups already on site: the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Peleliu; the Lincoln with its carrier strike group and the latter with an expeditionary strike group.

Just how big is this task force and why is it being established?

This deployment is the largest naval task force from the United States and allied countries to assemble in the strategic waters of the Persian Gulf since the two Gulf wars.

The object of the naval deployment would be to enforce an eventual blockade on Iran, if as expected by many observers, current negotiations with the Islamic republic over its insistence to pursue enrichment of uranium, allowing it, eventually, to produce nuclear weapons yields no results.

Is Russia also getting into the act or strategically positioning itself where it cannot assist Iran since it would have to fly over Iraq to offer such assistance?

Adding to the volatility is the presence of a major Russian navy deployment affected earlier this year to the eastern Mediterranean comprising the jewel of the Russian fleet, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov with approximately 50 Su-33 warplanes that have the capacity for mid-air refueling. This means the Russian warplanes could reach the Gulf from the Mediterranean, a distance of some 850 miles and would be forced to fly over Syria (not a problem) but Iraq as well, where the skies are controlled by the U.S. military, and the guided missile heavy cruiser Moskva. The Russian task force is believed to be composed of no less than a dozen warships as well as several submarines.

Only time will tell, but the naval task force being assembled is significant to say the least.

For a full read, click here.

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Iran on Its Heels

From Vali Nasr writing for the Wasington Post.

For the first time since 2003, Iran has stumbled in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to confront Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City last month caught Tehran off guard. The Mahdi Army lost more than face: It surrendered large caches of arms, and many of its leaders fled or were killed or captured. Crucially, the militias lost strategic terrain -- Basra and its chokehold on the causeway between Kuwait and Baghdad and Iraq's oil exports; Sadr City and the threat it posed to Baghdad security.

Mr. Nasr ends with,

It is a frequent refrain in Washington that the United States needs leverage before it can talk to Iran. In Iraq, Washington is getting leverage. America has the advantage while Iran is on its heels. Engaging Iran now could even influence who wins the Iraq debate in Tehran.

I could not agree more.

For a full read, click here.

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The Ultimate Sadrist Spin

From Nibras Kazimi at the Talisman Gate.

Muqtada al-Sadr throws down his arms at Maliki’s feat in the last act of his months-old saga of surrender; he officially disbands the Mahdi Army to everyone’s disbelief, including mine,

Mr. Kazimi continues,

I read Sadr’s directive yesterday: I have to admit that at first I dismissed it as a forgery, seeing that it appeared on an anti-Sadrist website that had peddled forged statements attributed to Sadr in the past. Not only was the wording weird and disjointed, but Sadr actually demobilizes the Mahdi Army, going far beyond “freezing” its activities as he did twice in the past year. He limits “resistance” to a “group that shall be authorized to do so by us in writing soon” and that they alone were the ones allowed to carry arms. Everyone else must turn pacifist.

This piece is very interesting. Beginning in March, PM Maliki began going after the Mahdi Army and Special Groups. He had success in Basrah and later repeated that success in Sadr City. Now Sadr is disbanding the Mahdi Army while Iraqi Army forces are going after his and Iranian elements in Maysan.

PM Maliki is also using the Iraqi Army against the last remaining remnants of Al Qaeda in Mosul.

Having just returned from Iraq recently, I can honestly say it is quite different from a few years ago. But more about that later.

For a full read, click here.

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The Problem With Talking to Iran

From Amir Taheri at the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Taheri point out why talking to Iran is futile. He points out every president has tried to talk to Iran as has fellow Arab states. All talks have failed. Why?

The reason is that Iran is gripped by a typical crisis of identity that afflicts most nations that pass through a revolutionary experience. The Islamic Republic does not know how to behave: as a nation-state, or as the embodiment of a revolution with universal messianic pretensions. Is it a country or a cause?

A nation-state wants concrete things such as demarcated borders, markets, access to natural resources, security, influence, and, of course, stability – all things that could be negotiated with other nation-states. A revolution, on the other hand, doesn't want anything in particular because it wants everything.

Another interesting read. For a full read, click here.


PROFILE: Ali Larijani - New strong man in Iran's parliament

From Monsters and Critics.

With his imminent election as speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani will not only become the head of the legislature but also the main challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad....

Larijani's main political career started in the mid 1980s as culture minister under president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. In 1994, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made him head of the state television network IRIB. A decade later, Khamenei appointed him as his advisor in the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).

An opponent of the reform movement led by president Mohammad Khatami, Larijani ran in the 2005 presidential elections but failed to make it into the second round. Nevertheless, election winner Ahmadinejad appointed him secretary of the SNSC and chief nuclear negotiator.

Larijani is an up and coming leader in Iranian politics. While a conservative, he disagreed with Ahmadinejad on how to deal with Iranian nuclear development and eventually resigned his post as chief nuclear negotiator under Ahmadinejad. He created an alternative conservative movement which won the most votes in parliament. He is also an opponent of the reform movement led by president Mohammad Khatami. He is suspected to challenge Ahmadinejad for the presidency in 2009.

For a full read, click here.

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Cat’s Out of the Bag: Onwards to Maysan

From Nibras Kazimi at the Talisman Gate.

Well I guess enough people are openly discussing this now in Baghdad that it’s okay for me to write about it. Mind you, all the following is classified under the category of gossip:

The Iraqi Army and the Marines are preparing for a major campaign against Mahdi Army and Iranian targets in Maysan Province (‘Amara). Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may even put the entire elected leadership of ‘Amara—many of whom are Sadrists—out of a job, by flexing his authority under emergency powers. There is even talk of air strikes against military targets—weapons depots, transportation vehicles and individuals—on the Iranian side of the fence; these are targets that are arming and otherwise supporting the Special Groups throughout Iraq.

The Maysan Province is home to the major ratline of supplies from Iran. It is also home to many Iranian agents inside of Iraq. As such, Mr. Kazimi states,

I expect the battle for Maysan to be difficult: this would be Iran’s last stand in Iraq. The fighting would also be occurring on topographical and human terrain that the Iranians have been studying and cultivating for decades. It could start incrementally, and the ante could be raised as the operation faces increased resistance, eventually leading to bombing runs inside Iran.

The province is worth watching. If a battle occurs in this region, it will mark the formal end of all friendly relations between Iraq and Iran and will fully test PM Maliki and his Security Forces.

For a full read, click here.

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Gates: US endgame now close in Iraq

From Alsumaria.

While security forces are pursuing their fight against terrorism and outlaws, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates considered that the “endgame” is now close in Iraq stressing that withdrawal of US Forces will be carried out along a slow process. Yet, he warned of the costly consequences of an early pullout.

Gates made the comments in a speech delivered to US special operations forces at their headquarters in Tampa, Florida, recalling the past failures when security was handed over to Iraqi forces before they were ready based on overly optimistic predictions that didn’t necessarily conform to reality.

“We must be realistic about the challenges still facing Iraq: al Qaeda remains a lethal force always looking to metastasize and regenerate; armed militias still undermine the rule of law; and the government, while making great strides, still has a lot to learn about how to deliver basic services and security to its people,” he said.

The strategic goal in Iraq is a unified democratic federal Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror.

In order to be a unified democratic federal Iraq, it first and foremost must be secure. Security can be provided by US forces, but it is better provided by Iraqi forces. Iraqi forces have now proved they can enter and secure the three largest population centers in Iraq - Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul. In short, it can defend itself.

In order to be a unified democratic federal Iraq, it must provide basic services to its population. This capacity has been built up in Iraq since day one and is currently being built up to a greater extent in Iraq now that the security situation is improving. Security improvements will lead to providing essential services in a democracy. If it doesn't, leaders will not win re-election.

As military capacity and governance increases, Iraq will be able to sustain itself in due course. This is why we must be cautious of a rapid withdraw of US forces. The surge made great strides in Iraq, not only militarily, but also politically, economically, and informationally. A gradual withdraw will ensure these strides are not reverse, but in fact continue forward.

Iraq is proving it is an ally in the war on terror as it is the central front in the war on terror. Our two biggest enemies, Al Qaeda and Iran are being defeated and/or contained in the region. The democratically elected government in Iraq does not want to be controlled by Iran nor does it want to be subjected to the violence that Al Qaeda offers.

The National Command Authorities strategic objectives are close to being fully realized in Iraq. Once these strategic objectives cannot be compromised can we begin to withdraw forces from the region. Timetables have never worked in war or nation building. Benchmarks have been set and are being met, but Iraqis will meet them on their own timeline. Our operational mission as a military is to continue to push them towards accomplishment and assist with security so they can continue to pursue these benchmarks. Tactically, this comes down to defeating Al Qaeda and other militants in the region and assisting the government with providing essential services.

It has taken awhile in Iraq for all parties to come online to pursue the same strategic, operational, and tactical objective, but pursuing they are all doing now. With enemy's of these objectives in full retreat we will see rapid expansion and resolution of our, now combined, objectives.

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Red Herring Fatwas

From Nibras Kazimi at the Talisman Gate.

So what happens if the western media can’t spin or sensationalize events in Iraq when not much is happening? Why, they make it up!

The Associated Press put out a wire report yesterday hinting that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is about to declare jihad against the Americans. Whhhhhaaaaaat???

Mr Kazimi goes on to show how the AP misinterpreted Sistani's statements. Even more telling is this remark.

So let me pull rank here and tell you all that I’ve met Sistani. In fact, I sat in on an hours-long conversation between Sistani, his eldest son who runs his father’s daily affairs, Adil Abdul-Mahdi (Iraq’s current Vice-President) and Ahmad Chalabi. This happened in the early spring of 2004. It was an illuminating discussion that delved into law-making, the role of Islam, history, international relations and of course, gossip.

An interesting read indeed.

For a full read, click here.

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Iran cleric blasts US-Iraqi military agreement

From Yahoo via AFP.

A senior Iranian cleric on Friday slammed as treachery to Islam a security accord due to be sealed between Baghdad and Washington on the presence of American troops in Iraq.

This agreement shows that "Iraqi tribunals will not be able to judge American military personnel and employees of firms who work for the US military," Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said during weekly prayers in Tehran.

Khatami then went on to say.

"American forces will keep the ministries of defence, interior and intelligence under their supervision for 10 years... and will be able to have private jails in Iraq," he said.

Khatami charged that the accord will allow US troops to launch attacks from Iraq "against any country that backs terrorist groups."

"It is open-ended slavery. It is the worst humiliation.

"Any hand that signs such an agreement will be considered by Iran as a traitor to Islam, to Shiism and to the Iraqi people," he added.

I find Khatami's statements interesting and telling.

Obviously, he is concerned that the US will have private jails in Iraq which will hold terrorists and supporters of terrorists. The US will be able to attack countries from Iraq which back terrorists and those countries will be humiliated by the US. Finally, if Iraq signs the upcoming SOFA agreement, Iran will consider Iraq a traitor to Iranian Shiism.

If this isn't considered a military, political, and diplomatic victory in Iraq, what is?

Iran will be and is becoming more contained every day and it does not quite frankly like it. It will have US forces on both its western and eastern borders. It will have aircraft carriers along it southern coast. Economic sanctions are having an impact on its country because it refuses to give up nuclear production and state support of terrorism in the region. Its one ally in the region is discussing a formal declaration of peace with Israel.

Again, it is extremely interesting how much different a year makes. The US is in a position of authority again in the region. We could have cut and run last year and lost much of our international clout and prestige, but President Bush decided to surge combat forces to the region. Now, almost one year later from the start of the surge, Iraq is mostly secure, Al Qaeda in Iraq is effectively defeated, the Mahdi Army is subdued, Israel and Syria are discussing a peace treaty, and Iran is feeling contained and alone.

We can argue all day about whether we should have gone into Iraq in 2003. But in 2008, it appears the Bush Doctrine is well on its way to solving many long standing situations in the Middle East.

For a full read, click here.

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ANALYSIS: Syrian-Israeli contacts worry Iran, Hezbollah

From M & C.

'Will there be another war this summer?' is a question frequently heard in Arab capitals these days....

Secret, indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel - held since April 2007 with Turkish mediation and publicly confirmed by Turkey and Syria for the first time last week - make no sense at all in this context. Or do they?

Arab commentators conjecture that Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is negotiating with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in order to break Syria's tight embrace with Iran, Israel's archenemy.

A commentator from the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat wrote that by concluding a peace treaty with Syria, Israel could 'strike Iran in the middle of the heart' and also weaken Hezbollah, which is said to be still getting Iranian weapons via Syria.

If this peace treaty is successful, Assad would get the Golan Heights back, end international isolation, and possibly stave off any further investigation of the Rafik Hariri murder. Israel would get a peace treaty with a as yet unfriendly neighbor to the northeast which would theoretically also weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon resulting in a secure north. There exists a lot of win-win in this agreement for both sides. The fact that a deal has not been struck between the two parties has probably less to do with the benefits both sides would gain from a treaty then the distrust of each of the participants for the other side.

The treaty with Syria would allow Israel to focus on the Iranian nuclear issue without worrying about attacks from the North since Syria would theoretically not violate a new agreement and risk loosing the Golan Heights again. In turn, Hezbollah's power would be greatly reduced without a big brother resupplying them. We need not forget the fact that while Hezbollah did a good job of thwarting an Israeli offensive, they themselves never went on the offensive. Specifically, Hezbollah is a purely defensive entity. The only thing they could do to Israel is fire a whole bunch of rockets into Israel. Doing so without Syrian support would be risky. Once Israel finished with Iran, they could turn their Air Force back onto southern Lebanon.

Undoubtedly, Iran knew these negotiations were ongoing which begs the question. What was their reaction? Amir Taheri reported earlier that PM Maliki did not move into Basra on the offensive, but it was instead a defensive maneuver aimed at limiting Iranian consolidation of power in the south. If true, Iran's reaction was to consolidate power across Southern Iraq extending the Persian reach to Jordan in its quest westward towards the Mediterranean. If successful, this advance would have surely reduced the likelihood of Assad negotiating a peace with Israel. However, it proved unsuccessful. Iran is now weakened and within a few weeks, we hear of secret negotiations between Syria and Israel. In addition, attacks against Iranian sponsored groups, namely the Mahdi Army, continue in their strongholds of Sadr City and Basra, further weakening Iranian efforts across Iraq.

Turkey is not only a mediator, but it is an active participant as it cleans up the PKK problem in the north. While no state in the region wants a fully independent Kurdistan, one which is part of a greater Iraq is less threatening and acceptable for not only states, but apparently the Kurds also. Complete independence for Kurds can be something worked out in decades to come.

Last December (2007) PM Maliki's government signed a "memorandum of agreement" with the Kurdish and Sunni leaders which layed the groundwork for the continuation of PM Maliki reign after national elections in 2009. His recent action into Basra not only further consolidated his power in Iraq with the Kurds and Sunnis, but also limited Iranian influenced control in the South which is why the Sunnis just came back to the government.

Currently, Iraqi diplomats are in Iran proving to the government Iranian sponsored unrest in Iraq. While Iran can continue to deny, the fact that Iraqi officials are showing the Iranian leaders what proof they have is significant in and of itself. It shows the international community, and more importantly Sunni dominated countries bordering Iraq in the Middle East, that while Iraq will be Shiite dominated from now on, it will not be a puppet of Iran. Why is all this important?

In order for a Shiite led Iraq to persist for decades to come, the Iraqi leadership has to show its neighbors it is not a puppet of Iran else it will be in constant conflict with its Sunni neighbors, most notably Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and Turkey. Preventing Iranian control in the south clearly showed Sunni neighbors this fact which is why Iraqi Sunnis shortly afterward returned to the government. Showing Iran directly further proves this point, not to Iran who knows darn well what it is doing in Iraq, but to Iraqi's Sunni neighbors. The uncertainty of continued US presence in the region is only intensifying this diplomacy since that the US sponsored surge has allowed the Iraqi government the breathing room to consolidate power and grow its Army to defend not only its borders, but its interior.

I have stated before The Battle of Basra completely changed the dynamics in the region. The new dynamics are now starting to show themselves. Iran is becoming further isolated which is what all Middle East players wanted. Iraq is showing its independence from Iran and is building up its future role as a mediator between Sunni dominated governments and Iran in the future. No government, not even an uncommitted US has the military to take over Iran; hence, the only way to prevent further confrontation in the Middle East is to continue diplomatic pressure on Iran to further isolate it, just like Syria for the last few years. Syria, seeing the writing on the wall, is closer to peace with Israel in hopes of resecuring control of the Golan Height.

The sacrificial lambs in these latest developments are the Mahdi Army, Hezbollah, the PKK, and Al Qaeda. The beneficiaries are a stable democratic Iraq, a stable democratic Lebanon, a stable Turkish southern border which is doing a banner business with the Kurdish north who can focus its efforts on getting into the EU, a Syria which will be allowed back in the international community, Saudi Arabia and Jordan which no longer have to worry about a strong extremist salafist movement within their borders or a strong Shiite Theocracy in the east, and finally a free-independent Israel which can in the near term focus on Iranian nuclear aspirations and then later on an independent West Bank now that it has a new peace treaty with a former unfriendly neighbor, Syria.

While none of this could have been planned in March 2003 when the United States went to war in Iraq, it was a major tenet of the Bush Doctrine that a democracy in the heart of the Middle East would lead to a more friendly and stable Middle East. If even half of the above comes to pass, the invasion of Iraq would have accomplished its objectives.

The trouble makers of the Middle East will have been tamed. Iraq was made into a democracy. Syria is being turned away from Iran. Iran is being further isolated with not only enemies on its borders, but now US friendly enemies on its borders. Israel is seeing more friendly neighbors in a democractic Lebanon, a peace wanting Syria, and a Saudi government who, below the scenes, is cooperating with them against terrorists. Saudi Arabia is also able for the first time to confront Wallabism as intellectual turbulence created by a violent Al Qaeda has Muslims the world over wondering how they created a force which kills not only fellow Muslims but also innocent women and children. Simultaneously, the Great Satan, the United States, has gained international respect since it is shouldering the military burden of cleaning up the mess which was the Middle East.

Not a bad two terms for President Bush to say the least. The battles currently ongoing are either part of World War IV, continuing battles of the Cold War, or the final battles of World War II, but that is for another article. Whichever proves to be correct, it is why I have always stated that we are doing the Lord's work in with military operations Iraq and Afghanistan and diplomatic operations in the Middle East. Thank God President Bush had enough faith to not listen to defeatist liberals who wanted to pull defeat from the jaws of victory and defiantly executed a surge of forces in Iraq which again, by everything above, has been a resounding success, not only for Iraq, but the greater Middle East, which by the way, was exactly what was intended as part of his Greater Middle East Initiative, which most pundits would say failed, or has it.....

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Are Sadr and al-Qaeda Teaming Up in Iraq?

From Omar Fadhil.

A few days ago, there were two suspiciously coordinated statements emerging from Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr made open-war threats followed immediately by a similar threat from al-Qaeda.

As they say, there is usually no smoke without fire.

For a full read, click here.

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How We'll Know When We've Won

From Frederick W. Kagan at The Weekly Standard. Mr. Kagan reviews the war's objectives in Iraq.

Virtually everyone who wants to win this war agrees: Success will have been achieved when Iraq is a stable, representative state that controls its own territory, is oriented toward the West, and is an ally in the struggle against militant Islamism, whether Sunni or Shia.

So, how are we and the Iraqi government doing in these areas?

Stability. Violence is the most obvious indicator of instability and the easiest to measure. The fact that violence has fallen dramatically in Iraq since the end of 2006 is evidence of improving stability. But critics are right to point out that areas tend to be peaceful both when government forces control them completely and when insurgents control them completely. Violence can drop either because the government is winning or because insurgents are consolidating their gains. So in addition to counting casualties and attacks, it is necessary to evaluate whether government control has been expanding or contracting. In fact, it has expanded dramatically over the past 15 months.

Not a lot of argument about increased stability in Iraq. What about representative government?

Representative government. The Iraqi government is the product of two elections. The Sunni Arabs boycotted the first, with the result that Iraq's provincial councils and governors do not reflect its ethno-sectarian make-up. The second saw a large Sunni Arab turnout and the seating of a multiethnic, multisectarian government in Baghdad. The Iraqi government recently passed a law calling for provincial elections later this year, and the United Nations special envoy to Iraq, Steffan de Mistura, has been consulting with Baghdad about the details of the election, including efforts to ensure that the various committees overseeing it are not unduly influenced by militias or political parties. Surveys show that the Iraqis are nearly unanimous in their desire to vote, particularly in Sunni areas. The Anbar Awakening has turned into a political movement, introducing political pluralism into Sunni Arab politics for the first time. Similar movements, including the splintering of Moktada al-Sadr's "Sadrist Trend," are underway more haltingly among the Shia.

Counter arguments can be brought about a representative government, but provincial elections later this year and national elections next year will show whether or not a representative government exists and can transition in Iraq. What about terroritial control?

Control of territory. The restoration of large urban and rural areas formerly held by insurgents and militias to government control is a key indicator of Iraqi progress. And there are others: the Maliki government's determination to clear Basra and Sadr City of militia influence; Iraqi operations to clear Mosul of al Qaeda fighters; the dramatic growth of the Iraqi Security Forces in 2007 and the further growth underway in 2008. There is anecdotal confirmation of this progress, such as the dramatic decline in the number of illegal militia-controlled checkpoints, most of them set up in and around Baghdad in 2006 for purposes of control, extortion, and murder.

Again, there can be no argument here. Iraqi Security Forces are controlling more and more of their territory as they become larger and more capable.

Orientation toward the West. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Iraq in March 2008 and was warmly received, prompting concern in the United States that the Iraqi government was tilting toward Tehran....

A closer examination shows this to be false....

It has asked the United Nations to endorse the Multinational Force mission supporting it, a mission that includes American forces--but not Iranian ones. It has requested a bilateral security agreement with the United States--and not with Iran. It has determined to purchase American weapons and equipment for its armed forces, to replace the Warsaw Pact gear it had been using--and has not requested equipment from Iran or its principal international suppliers, Russia and China. Baghdad is organizing, training, and equipping its military and police forces to be completely interoperable with the United States--and not with Iran.

Mr Kagan makes a great point here. Iraq will stand with the United States if the United States stands with Iraq. They have clearly showed this fact to be true.

An ally in the war on terror. Al Qaeda has killed many more Iraqis than Americans. Iraq has eight army divisions--around 80,000 troops--now in the fight against al Qaeda, and another three--around 45,000 troops--in the fight against Shia extremists. Tens of thousands of Iraqi police and National Police are also in the fight. Thus, there are far more Iraqis fighting al Qaeda and Shia militias in Iraq than there are American troops there. Easily ten times as many Iraqi as Pakistani troops are fighting our common enemies. At least three times as many Iraqi soldiers and police as Afghan soldiers and police are in the fight. And many times more Iraqi troops are engaged in the war on terror than those of any other American ally. In terms of manpower engaged, and sacrifice of life and limb, Iraq is already by far America's best ally in the war on terror.

This example clearly shows Iraqi are in the fight with the United States. They have committed more troops to battling not only Al Qaeda, but also Shiite extremists. Granted the war is in their country, but they are not sitting back like they did in 2006. They are now actively pursuing Al Qaeda and Shiite militias.

From all these facts, it is clear that the Government of Iraq is well on its way to being a stable, representative state that controls its own territory, is oriented toward the West, and is an ally in the struggle against militant Islamism, whether Sunni or Shia.

For a thorough read of all of Mr. Kagan's points, click here.

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Iraqi forces see victory in Basra

From Times Online.

Iraqi soldiers are standing proud in Basra one month after launching a surprise offensive to wipe out murderous gangs of Shia militants that had been allowed to flourish under Britain’s watch.

Many of them say the operation has boosted their confidence, but the militiamen warn that the only reason the fledgling Iraqi army had any success was because they continue to observe a ceasefire order by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

This article is posted by Deborah Haynes from Basra. Yes, Basra. To prove it, one of the photos shows here sitting on a tank, specifically a T-55 Tank.

So, what is the significance of a T-55 Tank? The Iraqi Army only owns T-72s. So, where did the T-55 come from? Must be Sadr. This begs the question of where did Sadr get it? Interesting to say the least.....

For a full read, click here.

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Iranian arms aid 'visible' in Basra

From the Washington Times. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing evidence continues to mount that Iran is continuing to supply arms to insurgents.

"The Iranian government pledged to halt such activities some months ago. It's plainly obvious they have not. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way," he said. "In these last couple years, you know, that tensions continue to rise, Iran does not respond, and in fact they seem to be ratcheting it up in terms of their support for terrorism."

The admiral said the fighting in Iraq's southern oil hub disclosed that Iran had a significant "level of involvement" in the insurgency.

Not only was Iran caught with their pants down when the Iraqi Army came in and cleared Basra in the last month of Special Group, Mahdi forces, and criminal, but they also discovered the great extent of Iranian arms support in the south. General Petraeus is due to give testimony to Congress soon showing the level of Iranian support for the insurgency in Iraq. While Adm Mullen stated,

"The solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure (against Iran)," Mullen said.

Still, while Mullen acknowledged that launching a third conflict in that region would be extremely stressful for US forces, he said he has reserve capabilities in the Navy and the Air Force for any needed military action.

"It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability," he said.

The US does not seek another war in the Middle East. However, it cannot let Iran continue to prop up the insurgency in Iraq. An insurgency needs an unassailable base, which is now completely taken away from both Al Qaeda and Special Groups. In addition, to persist, it needs external support. Iran, clearly, continues to provide this support.

Adm Mullen is doing the right thing. Gen Petraeus will clearly lay out support for insurgents in Iraq in upcoming testimony showing they are still delivering arms. Adm Mullen is also clearing showing his hand saying that while ground forces are committed, he has a whole Air Force and Navy which is not.

Hopefully, PM Maliki's push into southern Iraq to include the final phases of clearing Basra, the embarrassment suffered by the Iranian government in the south not only in terms of exposing their continued support of arms, but also their collapse when confronted by Iraqi Army forces, and finally Adm Mullen stating we still have a lot of reserve combat power will get Iran to pull support for the insurgency in Iraq. If not, with sanctions, ground military action in southern Iraq, this information campaign, and diplomatic pressue all failing, we may have only one solution, an aerial campaign against Iran.

The future at this point is up to Iran.

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One Step on the Road to Defeating the Islamists

From Douglas Farah.

One of the more interesting things to me in the recent spate of statements by Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders is al Qaeda’s need now to constantly and viciously attack other Islamist tendencies, particularly Iran and Shities, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Brotherhood-linked Hamas.

In addition to the attacks, the recent communications show two things: a clear awareness of current events, and the ability to comment on them quickly; and a clear lack of understanding of how the world really operates.

I have been wonder why Zawahiri decided recently to switch to such public rebukes of Hamas and Iran. Mr. Farah has his own views on why this is occurring. I do not necessarily agree with his reasoning, but I do agree with the overall outcome, it can only be good news to us.

All of this points to some growing isolation by al Qaeda and its core leadership, from others outside their group. The splintering of the Islamist groups that share the same overarching objective-our obliteration-can only be good news.

For a full read, click here.

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US finds new Iran-made weapons in Iraq

From Khaleej Times.

The U.S. military says it has found caches of newly made Iranian weapons in Iraq, leading senior officials to think that Iran is still shipping weapons to Iraq, even though it pledged not to, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Just how new?

Officials in Baghdad and Washington said the newly made arms, consisting of mortars, rockets and explosives, had date stamps indicating they were manufactured in the past two months, the Journal reported.

For a full read, click here.

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Swiss freeze assets of 12 more Iranian firms

From Yahoo via AFP.

Switzerland said on Wednesday it had frozen the assets of a further 12 Iranian companies in accordance with new United Nations sanctions aimed at stopping Tehran's alleged nuclear programme.

The 12 companies, and 13 individuals, have been added to an existing blacklist of 23 companies and 27 people.

Five Iranian nationals are also banned from entering and passing through Switzerland, the country's Federal Council said in a statement.

Switzerland will also ban the delivery of so-called "dual use" materials that could be used for the manufacture of nuclear plants, and the export of some drones and missiles, the statement said.

The economic instrument of national power is being vigorously pursued against Iran.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraqi Army soldiers discover large cache with Iranian-marked weapons during Operation Charge of the Knights

From MNF-I. If anybody is wondering what is the purpose of Operation Charge of the Knights, one only has to read this story from MNF-I.

The Iraqi Army discovered a large weapons and munitions cache in a house located in the Al Hyyaniyah area of Basrah April 19.

Soldiers from the 1st Iraqi Army discovered the cache during the search phase of Operation Charge of the Knights. The cache consisted of a large number of weaponry with Iranian markings.

The cache included a 240 mm high-explosive war-head and approximately 160 mortars. Some of which were less than 12 months old.

The cache also contained approximately 25 artillery shells, more than 20 complete improvised explosive devices, large quantities of IED components, several explosively formed projectiles and dozens of grenades and fuses. Also included was more than 20 blocks of plastic explosives, homemade anti-personnel mines packed with ball bearings, hundreds of meters of detonation cord, improvised rocket launching rails, and thousands of rounds of small-arms ammunition.

Let's put these dates into perspective. It is currently April 2008. President Bush announced the Surge of forces in Iraq in January 2007 of which the first Brigades arrived in February or March of 2007. The full complement of surge Brigade were on the ground and the Surge effectively started 15 June 2007. This story is dated 19 April 2008 and some munitions were less than 12 months old meaning they were manufactured in Iran after April 2007 and then transported to Iraq probably at the earliest May 2007 or possibly later. In August 2007, after a very public battle in Karbala, Sadr announces a ceasefire to allow US forces to help him rid his militia of rogue elements. Meanwhile, the Mahdi Army continues to receive a supply of weapons from Iran.

As the surge is focusing on Al Qaeda in Iraq elements in and around Baghdad, the Iranian regime is stockpiling weapons in the south in support of the Mahdi Army and other Special Groups. By January 2008, the surge against Al Qaeda in Iraq is effectively winding down as it has been routed and focus is starting to shift to the next most powerful enemy, the Mahdi Army and Special Groups, in February 2008. Sadr announces a continuation of the ceasefire in February 2008.

Iran attempts a coup in Southern Iraq in March 2008 which PM Maliki blunts. In April 2008, the Iraqi Army is still clearing Basra and Sadr City after having secured the cities of Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah in March 2008. Iran's coup is blunted, and its Qods Forces Commander must come to Basra to personally assure the Iraqi General in charge of operations that his forces will be pulled out of Basra.

All of these actions by Iran are taking place while it is denying any involvement in Iraq, support of Special Groups, and support of the Mahdi Army.

One must wonder what Iran is doing with regards to nuclear weapons in its own coutnry if it is attempting to do all of this under the nose of the US and Iraqi government in southern Iraq, all the while saying its nuclear development is only for peaceful purposes.

I stated before, the Battle of Basra is a major strategic turning point in Iraq. It showed all external forces, both Al Qaeda and Iran, that the Iraqi Army, the Government of Iraq, and PM Maliki have the courage to defend their country at the risk of harming relationships with Iran, a neighbor and also a Shia led power. In addition, it showed the Iraqi Army can quickly be repositioned to affect an attempted coup while still maintaining order elsewhere in the country. Also, it showed Sistani would allow (and even approve) Shiite on Shiite attacks as long as it was happening to ensure the terroritorial integrity of Iraq. Finally, it showed the weakness of the Mahdi Army, and Sadr in particular, which PM Maliki is now capitalizing upon in Sadr City as his forces are seeking to dislodge the Mahdi Army from this last bastion of control in Iraq.

Far from showing PM Maliki's and the Iraqi Army's weakness, the Battle of Basra has shown both are willing and able to secure their country. It is no wonder the Iraqi Accord Front (the major Sunni bloc in government) just announced it would return to the government. It also appears the Iraqi List (headed by interim prime minister Iyad Allawi) and Al Fadila party (an offshoot of Sadr's Mahdi Army) will possibly be returning soon.

PM Maliki just showed Iran and its Special Groups, Sadr and his Madhi Army, and the Sunnis who once were associated with Al Qaeda that military coups are no longer possible in Iraq. If an element wants to have influence in Iraq, it must seek this influence politically within the frameworks of the constitution and through democratic elections. Militarism will no longer be tolerated. In fact, militarism will be put down by force.

While many mistake the Battle of Basra for a small tactical battle which some say the Iraqi Army lost, it has much larger operational (Iraqi Army able to reposition forces quickly) and strategic (rule of law back by a strong central government) consequences.

This undeniable fact is proved by the Qods Forces Commander personally coming to Iraq to validate a ceasefire, the Iraqi Accord Front, Iraqi List, and Fadila party looking to come back into the government, PM Maliki's continual push into Basra and Sadr City, Sadr's unheeded words that he will unleash his Madhi Army, and finally Al Qaeda in Iraq's yet unseen renewed terror.

Iran will continue to attempt re-establish its influence in Southern Iraq. Al Qaeda will continue to attempt re-establish its campaign of terror in the west and northwestern part of Iraq. However, people making progress in Iraq are doing so within the democratic framework established by the constitution, like the Kurds who will continue to work within the constitution and with the central government for semi-autonomy. Neighboring countries will continue to open embassys, to include Kuwait. The EU is even in the process of signing up for oil from Iraq.

The much feared month long offensive by Al Qaeda in Iraq has failed to materialize as will Iranian influence in Southern Iraq wain. Iran's remaining major influence, Sadr's militia, is being systematically dismantled. Al Qaeda is the walking dead with leaders being killed or captured daily. This is not an organization the Sunnis wish to rejoin, in fact, they are rejoining the government.

In this war where we have the strategic Corporol whos actions have far reaching ramifications, we have small battles like Basra which have large strategic implications. While the US was slow to realize this fact, it did realize it in late 2006 and adjusted its tactics with the surge in early 2007. Al Qaeda in Iraq still has not realized the implications of the strategic Corporol, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. Iranian Special Groups may have just realized it, which is why Coalition forces have now shifted focus to these Special Groups.

As I have stated before, 2008 will be an interesting year for the Global War on Terror. It is shaping up to be an interesting year indeed. Al Qaeda is defeated in its central front and has changed tactics to blunt losses in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran has lost a major underground effort in southern Iraq and is currently losing its voice in the Iraqi Parliament as Sadr's party will potentially be banned from participation in future elections. It may very well lose all influence if the Mahdi Army is defeated wholesale in Sadr City and Basra. The two Muslim extremists groups vying for power and control in the region have suffered major defeats at the hands of freedom and democracy, thanks to the Great Satan.

Iraq is truly becoming the beacon of democracy in the Middle East. The defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007 and the defeat of Iran in the Battle of Basra in 2008 has assured this young democracy is alive, well, and will continue to influence other nations in the Middle East. President Bush's bold maneuver in the heart of the Middle East is paying off. A democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East is fast becoming a shining star which all other Middle Eastern country's will emulate.

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Operation Charge of the Knights begins phase 3 in Hyyaniyah

From MNF-I.

BASRA, Iraq – Operation Saulat al Fursan, or Charge of the Knights, began a new phase of operations April 19.

Phase 3 of the operation focuses on the criminal militia strongholds within the Hyyaniyah district area. Iraqi Army soldiers from the 1st and 14th Infantry Divisions are conducting the deliberate clearance operation.

The operation began at approximately 6 a.m. when British artillery and US aircraft released ordnance against known criminal rocket and mortar sites west of Hyyaniyah.

British and American Military Transition Teams are working alongside Iraqi Army units to provide leaders with advice, access to surveillance and the ability to “call for fire” and other support, if needed.

“As with the earlier phases of Operation Charge of the Knights, this remains an Iraqi led, planned and executed mission,” said Major Tom Holloway, the British Army’s spokesman in southern Iraq. “Coalition troops are ready to provide support to Iraqi Security Forces as requested and required.”

Operation Charge of the Knights began on March 24.

For all those who believe MSM reports which say the Iraqi Security Forces pulled out of Basra with their heads between their legs, they continue to clear district in Basra. Today, they are entering Phase 3 of yet an undetermined number of phases to clear Basra of criminal elements and militias.

While the Mahdi Army laid down weapons and agreed to a unilateral ceasefire which the Iranian Qods Force Commander was dispatched to Iraq to directly validate, Iraqi Security Forces continue to clear, secure, and hold more and more districts in Basra. Those Mahdi Army forces which did not lay down their weapons and other criminal and militia elements continue to be rolled up.

It must be noted again what is going on operationally to have a strategic outcome. Baghdad is being secured by US and IA forces. Mosul (the second largest city) is being secured by IA and US forces. Basra (the third largets city) is being secured by IA forces with US/British assistance. The three largest cities in Iraq are being secured and criminal elements are being pushed out, whether they be Al Qaeda, Iranian sponsored, or just plain opportunistic thugs. Finally, the Sadr stronghold of Sadr City, in Baghdad is systematically being cleared of rogue elements. US forces in the region signaled a shift of focus from Al Qaeda to Special Groups almost a month ago. The battles are now happening.

It must also be remembered, the Mahdi Army suffered major setbacks in Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah within the first 48 hours of PM Maliki's surge into southern Iraq. Many of these represent the next largest cities in Iraq behind the top three noted above. These operations, along with operations ongoing in Basra is why an Iranian Qods Forces Commander was dispatched to Iraq to broker a Mahdi Army ceasefire. He had to at least keep what remaining elements under Sadr's command still existed in hopes of fighting another day.

Today, the New York Times is reporting,

Iraqi soldiers took control of the last bastions of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in Basra on Saturday, and Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad strongly endorsed the Iraqi government’s monthlong military operation against the fighters.

Just last week, the New York Times reported on the dismal showing of Iraqi forces, mass defections within the Iraq Army, and resiliency of Sadr's forces. Now, just a week later, the New York Times is reporting the "last bastions" of Sadr's forces are being rolled up in Basra. What many miss, including the New York Times, is PM Maliki, after securing Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah within the first 48 hours and much of Basra within the same timeframe, demanded that the Iranian Qods Forces commander come to Basra to guarantee the surrender of Iranian-backed Special Groups, chiefly among them the Madhi Army. In addition, Sadr directly told his force to lay down their weapons.

Those groups now fighting against Iraqi Army forces now have no backing from Iran, as such they are being systematically destroyed. Of course the Iranian Ambassador is going to support the continual operations in Basra after its failed attempt to take over the southern part of the country. First, it is the only thing Iran can do to save a little face in the region by signaling it support for ongoing operations, now into their third week. Second, it main sponsored ally in the region, Sadr and his Madhi Army, have either been killed, captured, wounded, or disarmed in all the southern cites and is being systematically cleared in Basra and Sadr City.

What many people outside the region do not understand is Sistani's power and how it plays into this battle and the region in general. Tithes are given to sects which people in this region believe is their Ayatollah or spirtual ruler. The overwhelming plurality of Shiites in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon give their tithes to Sistani, not Hezbollah's Nasrallah nor Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei nor Sadr. The Badr Organization in the south is completely loyal to Sistani also. Religiously, Iran and Sadr now coming out in support of Sistani, who supports the Basra (and Sadr City) operations to disarm militias is the only logical thing Iran and Sadr can do to save face. The difference between Basra is it is a completely Iraqi led operation while the clearance of Sadr City, while Iraqi led, is seen as more US influenced. Hence the Iranian Ambassador can come out and claim "The Great Satan" is indiscriminantly killing civilians.

The battles for control of Southern Iraq and Sadr City is just plainly the next phase of the surge which initially focused on Al Qaeda and has now shifted to focus on Special Groups. Iran has seen its largest Special Groups element effectively wiped out in about 48 hours, with only Basra and Sadr City elements able to hold on longer. If the New York Time article cited above is correct, the "last bastions" of Basra are now under IA control, meaning Mahdi elements have been completely defeated in Basra. The next focus will be Sadr City and then possibly a larger effort in Mosul.

Following these actions, we should see low level insurgencies as Al Qaeda and Special Groups remnants attempt to regain some footing in their respective regions. However, provincial elections in October will drastically change the local landscape in Iraq and who controls the distribution of the country's oil wealth. Moving into national elections with a country which is rather secured, PM Maliki has a good chance of resuming his Prime Ministership as he will not only have the backing of a small but influential Shiite sect, but also have the backing of Sunni and Kurds, which he signed a memorandum of agreement with in December of 2007.

In sum, PM Maliki has consolidated power in Iraq. While his party does not have a militia, he now controls the Iraqi Security Forces, the largest and best equipped force in the region. He was able to do this by establishing agreements with both Sunnis and Kurds. His old alliances, namely Sadr, has now been formally dissolved and its militia is quickly being defeated in Basra and Sadr City. Al Qaeda is only a remnant of its former self, and its leaders are the walking dead. If they stay too long in one place they are ratted out by the Sons of Iraq and Special Forces teams move in to detain or kill them. Iran's attempt to co-op southern Iraq has failed wholesale and now they are actually publically supporting the Mahdi Army's distruction. Oil revenues into the Iraqi treasury are at an all time high, which Iran does not get its fair share due to sanctions. Major oil contracts have just been announced in Iraq. Iraq is now a net oil exporter. Finally, Iraqi Security forces are gaining in capacity and experience. Let there be no mistake why the two greenist divisions were put directly into the fight in Basra and Sadr City. It was to give them combat experience, which shortly, may very well be hard to come by in Iraq.

The future of Iraq has greatly changed not only in the last year during the American military surge, but also in the last three weeks during the Iraqi Army surge.

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Iran's Busted Iraq Bid - Basra "Rising" Was Tehran's Op

From Amir Taheri. Mr. Taheri always provides great insight into Iran. In this New York Post article, he discusses the Tehran connection in Basra.

A GAMBLE that proved too costly.

That's how analysts in Tehran describe events last month in Basra. Iran's state-run media have de facto confirmed that this was no spontaneous "uprising." Rather, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tried to seize control of Iraq's second-largest city using local Shiite militias as a Trojan horse.

Tehran's decision to make the gamble was based on three assumptions:

* Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wouldn't have the courage to defend Basra at the risk of burning his bridges with the Islamic Republic in Iran.

* The international force would be in no position to intervene in the Basra battle. The British, who controlled Basra until last December, had no desire to return, especially if this meant getting involved in fighting. The Americans, meanwhile, never had enough troops to finish off al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, let alone fight Iran and its local militias on a new front.

* The Shiite clerical leadership in Najaf would oppose intervention by the new Iraqi security forces in a battle that could lead to heavy Shiite casualties.

It appears now that Iran misjudged PM Maliki and Sistani. While they thought they had the inside track on both of these leaders, they obviously did not as PM Maliki had the courage to stand up to Iran and Sistani gave his blessing to the Maliki led operation. More important; however, is the outcome of each side. On the Iraqi side,

Soon, however, the tide turned. Maliki proved that he had the courage to lead the new Iraqi Security Force (ISF) into battle, even if that meant confronting Iran. The ISF showed that it had the capacity and the will to fight.

Only a year ago, the ISF had been unable to provide three brigades (some 9,000 men) to help the US-led "surge" restore security in Baghdad. This time, the ISF had no difficulty deploying 15 brigades (30,000 men) for the battle of Basra.

Led by Gen. Mohan al-Freiji, the Iraqi force sent to Basra was the largest that the ISF had put together since its creation five years ago. This was the first time that the ISF was in charge of a major operation from start to finish and was fighting a large, well-armed adversary without US advisers.

During the Basra battles, the ISF did call on British and US forces to provide some firepower, especially via air strikes against enemy positions. But, in another first, the ISF used its own aircraft to transport troops and materiel and relied on its own communication system.

Iraq has shown Iran it is able to defend itself. Iran cannot directly attack Iraq due to US presence in the area so they tried to insight an "internal" uprising. It failed to materialize and the "internal" uprising was smashed. On the Iranian side,

After more than a week of fighting, the Iraqis forced the Quds commanders to call for a cease-fire through Sadr. The Iraqi commander agreed - provided that the Quds force directly guaranteed it. To highlight Iran's role in the episode, he insisted that the Quds force dispatch a senior commander to finalize the accord.

The Iran-backed side lost more than 600 men, with more than 1,000 injured. The ISF lost 88 dead and 122 wounded.

Some analysts suggest this was the first war between new Iraq and the Islamic Republic. If so, the Iraqis won.

Tactically and operationally, the Iraqis won this first war. However, strategically, it was a draw.

But the battle also showed that the ISF still lacks the weapons systems, including attack aircraft and longer-range missiles, needed to transform tactical victories into strategic ones. The Iranian-sponsored Special Groups and their Mahdi Army allies simply disappeared from the scene, taking their weapons with them, waiting for another fight.

Now, all the pieces are starting to fall together better. Ahmadinejad visits Iraq a few weeks ago to test the waters in Iraq. He was able to test the waters with Maliki, but obviously came out with the wrong data. He was unable to see Sistani, as Sistani quitely refused to see him. Sadr, still adhering to a ceasefire, allowed the Qod forces to use his forces to attempt to take control of southern Iraq. This action failed miserably. Sadr is both militarily and politically weakened. PM Maliki is both militarily and politically strengthened. In addition, he is now seen by Kurds and Sunnis as a true Iraqi leader and not just an Iranian puppet. Iran has shown it hand in Iraq and now must restart from ground zero.

Basra was not the defeat that many western media outlets touted. It was, in fact, a major military and operational victory for Iraq. While strategically it is considered a draw, now Iran is in a much worse position to influence affairs inside southern Iraq specifically, and Iraq in general.

This battle has significantly changed the tide in Iraq and the balance of power in the Middle East.

For a full read, click here.

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Israel begins largest-ever home-front emergency drill

From Monsters and Critics.

With fears of Iran's nuclear programme very much in mind, Israel embarked on its largest-ever home-front emergency drill Sunday, meant to simulate responses to war and other emergency situations, such as a large-scale terrorist attack.

The operative part of the five-day drill, dubbed 'Turning Point 2,' will begin Monday and will include, among other scenarios, simulated missile attacks on towns in populated areas.

For a full read, click here.

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The Great Green Zone Freak-Out of ‘08

From Nibras Kazimi at the Talisman Gate.

Mr. Kazimi discusses in his blog what happened in Basra with Maliki's forces and what happened in the Green Zone. It seems that PM Maliki went planned the Basra operation without Coalition assistance. In fact, while Coalition forces had developed a plan and the timing to go into Basra with Iraqi and American forces, PM Maliki rejected these plans and went with plans drawn up and created strictly by his generals. According to Mr. Kazimi, PM Maliki is asserting himself and his military in Iraq despite what General Petreous and Ambassador Crocker may or may not want to do.

Some Iraqi officers, headed by the Deputy Chief of Staff, had worked on this Iraqi-American plan that is being referred to by Gordon and they were miffed when Maliki went with an alternative plan laid out by the Army’s point man in Basra General Mohan al-Freiji. These disgruntled Iraqi officers were sounding off during the first days of the offensive but have now gone quiet, opting to join the winning side.

If true, then PM Maliki is coming into his own. This situation supports my first take on the Basra situation is that PM Maliki is taking control of the south while Americans are taking it to Al Qaeda in the center and the Kurds are covering the north.

One thing we as a military have to do is allow the Iraqis to do their own thing. While we may do it better than Iraqi forces in many respects (building combat power, fighting, and logistics), they also do better than the Coalition forces in many other respects (less hindered by rules of engagement, they know the terrain better, and they can distinguish between good guy and bad guy better than we can).

As the situation unfolds, it appears that Sadr's forces took a beating in Basra in a purely planned, led, executed and supported Iraqi operation which was not synchronized with Americans in the Green Zone. This situation caught American personnel in the Green Zone off guard and caused an initial panic of top American generals. PM Maliki is continuing his rhetoric against Sadr stating,

Maliki, for his own purposes, was vocal in his musings earlier today that certain areas of Baghdad such as Sadr City need an Operation Cavalry Charge of their own. Maliki seems confident and this confidence is reflected in the smiling faces and good cheers throughout the halls of the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad.

While the timing of PM Maliki's attacks in Basra may not coincide with American timelines, PM Maliki is operating on his own timeline. This situation shows that the government of Iraq is coming into its own. In addition, earlier I stated that PM Maliki's "memorandum of agreement" with Sunnis and Kurds is possibly now coming more and more into effect. Mr. Kazimi supports this contention with the following interesting tidbit from Sadr.

They are saying that Maliki “is fighting us with Sunni troops” and that the majority of military divisions and police units involved in the fight were comprised entirely of Dulaim tribesmen from Anbar.

If true, then reconciliation is more on track in Iraq than one would have thought a few days ago. In addition, politically this situation is also important because it shows that PM Maliki is not using Hakim's forces (which may or may not be loyal to him) but instead is using Sunni troops to battle Sadr and other criminal elements in Basra (Badr forces?) to ensure the country's oil wealth is going into the right coffers.

As stated before, the situation in Basra will be interesting to watch as it unfolds and more becomes known about the actual battles in the city. However, a few things are certain.

1. PM Maliki is now completely acting like an independent PM. When he wants to do something contrary to American policy, he will do it for his country's benefit regardless of what American commanders think.

2. PM Maliki has totally split with Sadr, the man who put him into power a few years ago. This tends to support the argument that PM Maliki now has other friends at the national level and does not need Sadr backing. Are these other friends Sunnis and Kurds who signed the "memorandum of agreement in December of 2007?

3. The Iraqi military is coming into its own. It is planning and executing completely independent operations. It is moving around the country from province to province, taking the battle to insurgents, and logistically supporting itself.

4. Whatever Maliki was doing in Basra was not what Iran wanted since they had to call in elements to stop the battle and convinced Sadr to lay down his arms.

All of these things above are good things, even if they are not in line with the Americans. Some other items which may be coming to pass are:

1. If Maliki did use Sunni forces and not Hakim's forces, he may also be splitting with the SIIC. This situation would definitely tend to suggest that PM Maliki has entered into different partnerships.

2. If Maliki did use Sunni forces, reconciliation is more predominant than one would expect.

3. PM Maliki is consolidating his power and now actively protecting his country's wealth, oil.

4. PM Maliki is setting the stage for provincial elections to take place in October 2008.

5. The political situation in Iraq has just drastically changed. The change is not beneficial to Iran nor Sadr. It is however, first and foremost, beneficial to Iraq's national unity.

Mr. Kazimi is always a good read and provides an interesting perspective. For a full read, click here.

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Operation Cavalry Charge - Maliki's Show of Force in Basra

From Talisman Gate.

Today, the Iraqi Army launched its first major military operation to fully control Basra, the second largest city in Iraq, without any—ANY—Coalition assistance. One source tells me that during the preparation phase of this campaign the Americans offered to position some U.S. Special Forces and air-cover near the Basra battle theater to act as back-up if needed but their Iraqi counterparts planning this operation politely turned down the offer....

Its chief objective is to flush out the organized crime cartels that control the port of Basra and the oil pipelines of the province. One major criminal force in the Basrawi scene are groups that affiliate themselves with the Sadrist movement and its Mahdi Army. Many of these criminal rings are also associated with certain factions of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that operate in Basra both for intelligence/sabotage purposes as well as enriching themselves. By knocking out these egregious manifestations of lawlessness, Operation Cavalry Charge will have the accrued benefit of mashing up the more subtle patterns of Iran’s malignant influence in Iraqi Shiism’s foremost economic prize, the oil fields and port of Basra.

The question always becomes, why now?

Maliki has sent 50,000 Iraqi soldiers to deal with about a dozen criminal cartels. Militarily, this will be an easy fight. Those counseling caution and delay stressed that smashing Sadrist-related criminal cartels would spark a large-scale Sadrist reaction across Iraq at a time when the Bush administration wants to keep Iraq quiet especially with the ‘4000’ milestone that was being approached and got passed a couple of days ago. Another argument against action counseled that the Iranians are angling for a fire-fight to sully any talk of progress that Gen. Petraeus may give in a couple of weeks when he appears before Congress, and that the Democrats and their allies in the US media would take these images out of Basra and elsewhere and package the news as a “security meltdown” (…which they would and have done so, irrespective of reality).

Talisman Gate believes Maliki does not care about US politics, but instead is concerned about Iraqi politics and its relations with it neighbors.

Maliki decided that he doesn’t give a damn about US presidential elections and that the only timeline that concern him are Iraq’s own upcoming elections. Maliki also concluded, from intensive intelligence reporting, that the Sadrists are weak and that Iran doesn’t really have much punch to its supposed influence in Iraq. That’s why he decided to go for it.Muqtada al-Sadr knows fully well that should a third all-out confrontation erupt between forces associated with him on the one hand and U.S. and Iraqi government troops on the other, then it can only end with his death, arrest or the much more unlikely prospect of escape to Iran from which he won’t return to Iraq for a very, very long time—Muqtada really doesn’t like being in Tehran from what I’ve heard.

What does Sadr think about the attack on his forces?

One well-placed source claims that al-Sadr is lashing out at his inner circle and crying out “You’re going to get me killed! You’re going to get me killed!” I cannot gauge the veracity of this account, but this source had in the past accurately corroborated accounts from al-Sadr’s inner sanctum given to me by a fully trustworthy source (now deceased).

This is the weakest that the Sadrist movement has ever been: they are divided, their leader is absent, some answer to Iran, and affluence has made them slothful and soft.

Finally, what about ordinary Iraqis?

Politically, too, the Shia middle class no longer sees a need to tolerate Sadrist hoodlums as the shock troops of the Shia sect in case a civil war breaks out with the Sunnis because that threat has long receded and is essentially forgotten, by both sides.

These are the changed circumstances of the Sadrists; they no longer have the appetite for a bruising fight as they did in the spring and autumn of 2004. It has become much more difficult as the Iraqi state is now associated with Shia power (…and wealth transfer) and the vast majority of Shias, who’ve grown wiser about these things, don’t want to see this historic achievement imperiled in any way.

Oil is the wealth of the Iraqi nation. As long as crime cartels and militants control sections of the country's wealth, it can never be truly free and self-sustaining. Maliki is ridding the country of it last main non-government militia (the Mahdi Army) and a entrenched criminal organizations, controlled mostly by Special Groups. He is seeking to limit Iranian influence in his country.

In addition, this operation officially ends his ties with Sadr, who's 30 parliamentary seats, put Maliki into power and has up to this time prevented the government from embracing reconcilitation to a greater extent.

Early in December, a "memorandum of understanding" was signed between the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Dawa Party. Maliki also needed to enlist the support of Hakim's Badr Organization to seal his control of the country. Most military units in Southern Iraq are heavily Badr. Given that these forces are now listening to Maliki and attacking the Mahdi Army and Special Groups, it is obvious that Maliki is telling Iran to get out of Iraq and quit meddling in Iraqi politics by directly attacking those forces Iran supports. In turn, he intends to fully establish his government legitimacy over the country's oil wealth.

I concur with Talisman Gate. Far from this action being a flare up of violence, it is truly a consolidation of nationalistic power across the country and an indirect attack on Iranian influence in the region. The absence of US forces in the mix are a way for Maliki to show other countries his forces are now strong enough to stop defend his country. The presence of US troops in his country will prevent any overt attack. This operation is designed to stop subversive attacks within his country.

Kurdish forces have always been strong in the North and have continued to secure this region. Coalition forces in the center are busy defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq wholesale. The southern fight is Maliki's and he aims to show all Iraqis he can protect his country.

For a full read, click here.

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Iran's Fear - Iraq's Chance

From Amir Taheri.

'I HAVE lost hope of liberating Iraq and turning it into an Is lamic society." So said Muqtada al-Sadr in an open letter to his followers published last week.

The young Shiite mullah once claimed he would lead Iraq "back to true Islam," but he has been in Iran for at least the last six months. He had been expected to announce an end to the cease-fire observed by his Mahdi Army since 2007. Instead, he voiced a litany of woes that ended with an implicit pledge not to reactivate his death squads.

The exodus of Sadr from Iraqi politics came as a shock to many observers, including this one. But, as always the questions must be asked, why? The answer lies in his exodus speech.

Muqtada blamed members of his entourage and unnamed mullahs and Shiite notables for having "undermined the struggle" for "worldly reasons" and for having succumbed to the temptation of wealth and power presented to them by the Iraqi government. [Emphasis Added]

There exists two characteristics of a young democracy.

First, it brings a weak federal government. A weak central government is a result of a constitution which is overly cautious of tyranny. A weak central government is plaqued with a series of checks and balances buttressed by extreme partisanship which hinders its ability to serve the people. In addition, new democratic leadership is still focused on the old power (the wealthy) vice the new power (the people). We are seeing this phenomenon in Iraq currently.

Secondly, as a result of the weak central government's inability to serve the people, local power brokers arise. These power brokers arise as a result of the need of the people to be served. In Iraq, this niche is being filled by tribal leaders and political parties.

Sadr, early on, represented an old power and hence became a power broker at the local level. He lost the support of the people because of a third phenonoma of a young democracy, namely the violent, mafia-style ruling of local power brokers. Specifically, his organization side-stepped the new rule of law established in the democracy and begin to extort vice protect the people.

It was not the people in Iraq who "succumbed to the temptation of wealth and power". Instead, it was his organization itself that succumbed to this temptation.

Thus, Sadr withdrew from politics, at least in the near term.

Iraq is not only maturing as a young democracy, but also has external influences thrust upon it (Al Qaeda, Syria, and Iran) which have stymied its maturation. The bad side of this external influence is typically violence as the opposing powers seeks influence in the new state. The good side of this external influence is violence accelerates the learning process of a new democracy.

Whereas the US went through several stages of robber barons and mafia control in relative safety due to its geographic isolation, Iraq is going through these stages with antagonists on its immediate borders. The main power broker in the region, Iran, still seeks to make Iraq into a puppet state. However, Iran has recently realized something as a result of the surge.

In recent months, Tehran policymakers have begun to understand a crucial fact about Iraq: Any weakening of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government now could persuade the United States to throw its support behind an alternative, anti-Iranian coalition of Arab Sunnis, Kurds and secular Shiites openly hostile to Iran. [Emphasis Added]

Thus, Tehran and Washington have a joint interest in keeping al-Maliki's coalition in power - at least until next year's Iraqi general election.

As such, Iran, being the theocracy it is, is gravitating to what it knows, namely schooling Sadr to become a full fledge ayatollah to replace the aging Sistani, who many Iranians (and Shiite Lebanese for that matter) still look upon as the spiritual leader of Shiism.

Iranians are looking long term in Iraq, which is why they are risking taking Sadr out of the mix for 5 to 10 years. However, Iraqis are also looking long term and are realizing what all young democratic people realize, namely extremism (whether political or religious)brings factionalization resulting in war which hinders growth and economic prosperity.

Iraqis have shunned extremists. It first happened in Al Anbar when the Sunni tribes kicked Al Qaeda in Iraq out of the province. It happened with Sadr's Madhi Army which was forced into a ceasefire in August 2007 after the violence it perpetuated in Karbala. It more recently happened south of Baghdad in the triangle of death region. It is currently happening in the religiously mixed area of the Diyala and the city of Mosul.

So where does this leave Iraq, Iran, and the US. The US has a few major factors going for it. First, it is impartial and is not taking sides among extremists. Secondly, it brought forth and continues to bring freedom and democracy to the region. Thirdly, it is assisting the people. These three factors are why the US is the major power in the region.

Iraq, attempting to model the instruments of power the US wields is establishing a strong, mostly secular Army that is going after all extremists, whether Sunni or Shia. The government is attempting to bring economic prosperity to its people. It is allowing free press which tells of its achievements and its failings. Finally, it is diplomatically pursuing external relationships among its fellow nations, including Iran.

Iran, unfortunately for them, gravitates only to what it knows, namely theocratic rule and suppression. Democracy has been brought to Iraq. Iraqis have fought for and are still fighting for the freedom that democracy brings. Iran, with it sectarian ways, continues to alienate fellow Iraqis who only want freedom and democracy.

If Sadr had real power, his position as an ayatollah would not matter. Iran believes it does matter and is taking Sadr out of the mix to increase his theocratic power. However, by the time he returns, Iraq (the most secular nation in the middle east prior to 2003) will grow more secular and be more distrustful of theocratic powers.

The only thing the US needs to continue to do is maintain its nonpartisanship presence in the region. It needs to support the duly elected powers in Iraq and continue to push for a transparent, democratic government. Upon new elected powers, it needs to support the new government as long as they maintain the rule of law and continue to pursue a tranparent democracy.

Iraqis want freedom and democracy. The US has given it to them. Iraqis have fought for and won their freedom and are continuing to build a democracy which every day is learning better to serve the people that brought it into power. Upcoming provincial and national elections are important, as Mr. Taheri points out, because it will continue to bring in new local power brokers to the federal government. If wanting to stay in power, these now national level, local power brokers will have to legislate for the people.

Iran is operating under the wrong paradigm. As such, it will fail to achieve its objective as long as the US maintains a fair, nonpartisan presence in the country. Al Qaeda never learned this lesson and was expelled from Al Anbar because of it. It is currently being expelled wholesale from Iraq. As Iraqs continue to experiment with democracy and the democracy grows to serve the people, Iran, and other neighbors, will continue to by stymied in all attempts to pursuade the Iraqi government to adopt its principles.

What no nation in the region understands is the transformation taking place in Iraq. It is transforming from a feudal, tribal society to a federalist democracy. Iraqiness is becoming more important than anyting because of the blood that has been spilled to maintain a unified Iraq.

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Iran and the Road Ahead

From The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Recently, two important developments have broken months of gridlock on the Iranian nuclear issue: a third round of UN sanctions and a new warning by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Although both measures are positive, their ultimate impact will depend on how aggressively and effectively key governments implement them.

For a full read, click here.

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ANALYSIS: Elections in Iran - Referendum for changes

From Monsters and Critics.

After more than 30 months of the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians will show in next week's parliamentary elections whether they still support the presidential course or rather vote for changes.

The March 14 elections will, in effect, be a pro- or contra- Ahmadinejad referendum.

What are the chances for a anti-Ahmadinejad referendum? Rather large if one believes this analysis. Who is most likely to benefit from an anti-Ahmandinejad referendum?

The reformists have formed a coalition led by ex-presidents Khatami and Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Most of their candidates have, however, been disqualified for ideological reasons by the senate-like Guardian Council. So they have no top candidate, and would be more than happy to win even one-third of the seats....

Observers have, however, focused on the new conservative faction led by former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani. Last October he resigned from his post owing to differences with Ahmadinejad over the president's uncompromising nuclear policies.

The new faction, also supported by Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, is loyal to the system, but unlike Ahmadinejad follows a more moderate course.

'The criteria of the voters have changed - the economic crisis has made the economy the main issue, and even political considerations tend towards that direction,'

March 14 parliamentary elections in Iran will be interesting to watch. Ex-presidents Khatami and Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani are not expected to win more than 1/3 of the available seats. Both of these parties started and continued Iran's nuclear enrichment programs. Ahmadinejad's party is also expected to go down in defeat due to concern over the economy while oil is at $100 per barrel. In addition, he contines nuclear enrichment.

Instead, a new faction, led by former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani is expected to win control of the parliament. It must be remembered that Larijani resigned as Ahmadinejad's chief negotiator due to differences in dealing with the EU and America over the nuclear issue. Larijani was willing to suspend enrichment for economic assistance. Ahmadinejad wasn't.

If Larijani's party assumes control of the Parliament, it will not only signal a defeat for the "old guard" in Iran, but may also signal a willingness for Iran to compromise over its nuclear enrichment. Russia and China for their part recently fully back tough sanctions against Iran signally their intentions to seek a more moderate Iranian Parliament and in the future, a president.

Diplomatically and economically, Iran is becoming increasingly isolated. Thanks to tough new sanctions, this isolation will increase. The US maintains the upper hand in negotiations as sanctions are now in full effect. For sanctions to be lifted or reduced, Larijani's party will have to show its willingness to not only suspend enrichment, but also to suspend support of Special Groups in Iraq. In addition, Iran's support of Hezbollah may also be in play.

Again, the outcome of 14 March parlimentary elections may very well mark a significant turning point in Iranian relations with the rest of the Middle East and America in general. It will be interesting to see the outcome.

For a full read, click here.

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USS Cole and Hizballah

From the Counterterrorism Blog.

On February 28, the USS Cole was deployed off the coast of Lebanon. Ostensibly, the presence of the warship is intended to demonstrate Washington's ongoing commitment to the democratically elected pro-West government vis-à-vis the Hizballah-led opposition and ally, Damascus. Hizballah and Syria are currently preventing presidential elections in Lebanon; the office has been vacant since November 2007....

Senior Hizballah officials have described the USS Cole as "a threat." In October 2007, Hizballah officials threatened that if US troops ventured onto Lebanese soil, they would be treated as “occupation forces” and attacked. UNIFIL has been attacked three times since its deployment in 2006.

Even more significant than it being any warship is the fact it is the USS Cole which was attacked by terrorists in a boat in a Yemeni port in October 2000. If that does not help in showing America's resolve to a democratically elected Lebanon, nothing will.

For a full read, click here.

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Russia warns Iran over nuclear program

From Yahoo via Reuters.

Russia toughened its stance towards Iran on Wednesday, threatening to back further United Nations sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program unless it halted uranium enrichment in the next few days.

Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin said Moscow could back a sanctions resolution the Western powers have drafted and which they want to discuss in the U.N. Security Council this week.

"If Iran in the next few days does not stop the enrichment activities of its heavy water project then yes, Russia ... has taken upon itself certain commitments... to support the resolution that has been drafted in the past month," Churkin told reporters via a video link from New York.

One has to wonder why the sudden change in Russia's stance towards increased sanctions against Iran given the recent agreement between Gazprom and Iran to develop oil and gas facilities.

For a full read, click here.

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Mugniyah behind establishment of Mahdi Army

From Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal.

Imad Mugniyah, the senior Hezbollah military commander who was killed in Syria earlier this month, helped form the Mahdi Army, the military wing of the radical Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr, according to an Iraqi intelligence official. He was described as a “co-founder” of the Mahdi Army, Naharnet reported, based on a translation from the Iraqi daily Al Zaman.

Mugniyah helped form the Mahdi Army after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003. He recruited from the Shia communities in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and then sent the recruits to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley for training. “The 300 fighters were trained on the use of assault rifles, booby-trapping and kidnapping operations,” the unnamed intelligence official told Al Zaman.

Another excellent analysis by Mr. Roggio.

For a full read, click here.

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Iran: Slain Hezbollah military chief's widow points the finger at Syria

From Adnkronos International.

The wife of assassinated militant leader Imad Mughniyeh, claims that Syria was behind the killing of her husband, reported Alborz, a pro-Iranian government source.

Her husband, Imad Mughniyeh was killed in a bombing in Damascus on 13 February and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Syria and Iran have blamed Israel for assassinating him.

Mughniyeh was the intelligence chief of Hezbollah's secretive military wing, the Islamic Resistance. "

The Syrian traitors assisted in my husband's murder," said the wife.

Very Interesting.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraq Sadr declare 3day mourning for Mughniye

From Alsumaria.

Spokesman for Cleric Moqtada Al Sadr Salah Al Ubaidi announced that Sayyed Al Sadr has issued a statement in which he declared three-day mourning in Sadrist bloc offices in Iraq for the martyrdom of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniye who was assassinated on Tuesday due to a car bomb explosion in the Syrian Capital, Damascus. Al Ubaidi added that Al Sadr Bloc condemns the assassination and reject it completely.

If this declaration does not express where Al Sadr's loyalties ride, nothing does. While Sadr has withdrawn from the government, put his militia into a cease fire, and is undergoing training to become an ayatollah, he is only biding his time awaiting for US forces to withdraw from Iraq. Afterwards, his organization is wanting to mirror Hezbollah in Lebanon.

However, unlike Hezbollah, the Badr Organization is a strong pro-government militia that is currently keeping and will keep his organization in check.

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Mughniyah's Assasination

From the American Thinker.

When the news reported that Imad Mughniyah was assassinated I was stunned. This is equivalent to killing Bin Laden. Except that locating and successfully executing an attack on "Mughsy" was a much more difficult task.

To say he had a heightened security posture would be the understatement of the year. He is/was the mythological equivalent of the unicorn, something that has always been talked about but never actually seen. To illustrate this point, most of the pictures Mughniyah were taken very early in his life (his late teens/early 20s... he is now roughly 45). He was vital to Iranian interests in Lebanon because he was someone the Iranians could depend on to execute Tehran's will. He demonstrated that back in 1983 when he orchestrated the Marine Corps Barracks bombing. He was vital to Hezb'allah because of his trusted status with Tehran and the weapons, finance, and training they provided.

For a full read, click here.

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US intel links Iran with nuke bomb bid

From Yahoo via AP.

The U.S. has recently shared sensitive information with the International Atomic Energy Agency on key aspects of Iran's nuclear program that Washington says shows Tehran was directly engaged in trying to make an atomic weapon, diplomats told The Associated Press on Thursday.

For a full read, click here.

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Becoming an Ayatollah: The New Iraqi Politics of Moqtada al-Sadr

From the Jamestown Foundation.

As a political and military force, Iraq’s Shiite Sadrist movement has undergone a number of radical transformations since 2003, when its leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, surprisingly emerged as a leading political figure. Al-Sadr’s recent decision to continue with his seminary studies and graduate as an ayatollah at the conservative seminary school of Najaf underpins a major change in the movement’s structure that could have serious repercussions for the future of Iraq. Against the backdrop of changing political alliances between Kurds and Sunnis, al-Sadr is transforming his movement into a new political phenomenon with implications for the country’s political structure and security dynamics. The consequences are also immense for Shiite Iraq, posing serious challenges to the conservative clerical establishment in Najaf.

Once an ayatollah, Sadr would be able to wield a large amount of power in Iraq and also receive a lot of money in the future. While in the short term, Sadr realizes he cannot regain power due to his inability to directly confront the American military, he is now looking longterm in Iraq. The article notes,

With Hezbollah of Lebanon serving as a model for the new JaM, the result could be an impressive, newly equipped and armed military force, unlike its origin as a populist militia with limited abilities

For now, Sadr will contain his militia as he continues his studies in the effort to fill in the void left by Sistani who will not live forever. It is notable that many Shiites in Lebanon also follow the teachings of Sistani much to Nasrallah's dismay. Both he and Sadr are looking to fill his void in their respective countries.

Once can only hope that democracy will become pre-eminent in Iraq with Sadr able to influence, but not control, the forward progression of the democracy as it grows.

For a full read, click here.

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Iran starts up advanced centrifuges

From Yahoo via AP.

Iran's nuclear project has developed its own version of an advanced centrifuge to churn out enriched uranium much faster than its previous machines, diplomats and experts said Thursday.

They said that few of the IR-2 centrifuges were operating and that testing appeared to be in an early phase, with the new machines rotating without processing any uranium gas.

For a full read, click here.

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Ahmadinejad battles on the home front

From Asia Times Online.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has garnered headlines around the world for his defiance of Washington, as well as his rhetorical grandstanding on Palestinian issues, Israel and his government's alleged support of Shi'ite militias in Iraq.

Still, it appears that Iran's parliamentary elections in March will be determined less by debates over the country's foreign policy than by rising criticism of incompetence and economic mismanagement of conservatives and hardliners in the legislature and in Ahmadinejad's office.

For a full read, click here.

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Iran tries to make up lost ground

From Asia Times Online.

The conventional wisdom, particularly in the United States, is that Iran has gained from the US's invasion of Iran's neighbors since the events of September 11, 2001. Yet, a careful reading of the changing security calculus caused by the exponential increase in the US's military presence in Iran's vicinity leads to the opposite conclusion.

Sure, Iran has gained from the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein and his dreaded Sunni Ba'athist regime in Iraq, yet the problem with the standard analyses, for example by the US's ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, is that even though they are couched in the language of "balance of power", nonetheless these analyses are tainted by a major gap. That is, forgetting the US superpower's role in the equation that, on balance, has tipped the scales away from Iran, in a word, amounting to a net loss for the country.

For a full read, click here.

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Prelude to War

From Amir Taheri.

When he first provoked a confrontation with the United Nations over Iran's nuclear programme, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was visibly counting on a sharp but short clash that would strengthen the Islamic Republic in the long run.

In defiant mood, the firebrand leader based his policy on the Nietzschean dictum: What cannot kill me makes me stronger!

Mr. Taheri goes on to explain the dramatic effects sanctions are having on Iran. The only reason their economy is currently afloat is $100 per barrel oil prices. He also notes, the only thing which will stop the current crisis in Iran is,

the Islamic Republic must stop uranium enrichment and place its centrifuges under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It is clear that Ahmadinejad cannot agree to such a move.

For him to do so would be tantamount to committing political suicide.

Mr. Taheri hits the nail on the head. Almadinejad expected a swift clash with the west. President Bush and the EU have stayed in for the long term sucking the life out of the Iranian economy. Now Iranian leaders have a choice to make since Almadinejad cannot make it for himself.

But removing Ahmadinejad from power is not easy. Nor is it certain that the star-chambre of Khimeinism in Tehran could prevent the firebrand president from winning a second term.

Whether anyone likes it or not, and I certainly don't, Ahmadinejad remains popular with that shrinking constituency that still believes in the Khomeinist revolution. In the absence of normal freedoms, it is hard to establish the actual strength of that constituency.

Finally, Mr. Taheri points out the similarity between the current Iranian situation and several other countries and past leaders.

Regimes that lack domestic mechanisms for policy change are bound to have change imposed on them by external force.

Mr. Taheri seems to show that regime change in Iran can only come by external forces. Unfortunately, I believe the same.

For a full read, click here.

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Nazaha uncovers Iran violations of Iraq oil

From Alsumaria.

Vice President of Nazaha (Virtue) commission Faraj Moussa revealed to Al Hayat Newspaper about Iranian violations of Iraqi wells through inappropriate excavation, crossing borders, and seizing oil wells after dismissing Iraqi architectural cadres and operators therein. Moussa explained that there are more than 1000 oil well linked to 12 pipelines in Basra, six of which hold in crude oil and six others are used for oil derivatives in a region near Bucca detention facility.

Oil smugglers perforate oil pipelines and pull oil into ponds to use them up via pipelines and transport them into floating tanks which pour them into ships parked in illegal ports in Shat Al Arab.

Moussa noted that the Oil Ministry is incapable of determining the quantity of oil in pipelines or the quantity extracted from wells because they are not equipped with counters.

He added that smuggling does not include only crude oil but also imported oil derivatives especially through Safwan village near Kuwaiti borders. Moussa related that tankers loaded with oil derivatives crossing this passage return back with their full load after conspirators stock and refinery managers hand tanker drivers official documents of handing shipments. He asserted that cases of oil smuggling in the region extending from Al Nassiriya till Basra have been brought to justice after the commission uncovered names of smugglers and conspirators of facility protection forces in Basra and pointed out locations of smuggling and illegal ports through air footage. Moussa affirmed that a detailed study has been submitted to the ministerial council including information on oil smuggling and means to solve this problem.

It is to be noted that a source from the Oil Ministry in Tehran denied these accusations clarifying that Baghdad and Tehran have signed during the term of Prime Minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari a deal that consist of pulling Iraqi oil via a special pipeline from Basra into Abadan refineries to treat it and return it via another pipeline. He added that the deal has entered in force after current Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki signed it during his latest visit to Iran.

This may be a reason that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani announce on 26 December 2007 the cancellation of the 1975 Algiers Accord which divides the Shatt Al Arab waters. Preisdent Talabani later retracted this statement, but stated there were issues which Tehran needed to deal with.

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US envoy: Iran gained from US invasions

From Yahoo via AP.

The headline of this article, "US envoy: Iran gained from US invasions" does not accurately represent what Khalilzad stated or implied in his speech at Columbia University, but unfortunately will be used as another example of the failure vice success of Bush's presidency.

Iran is stronger today because of the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the American ambassador to the United Nations said Friday.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq removed a key rival of Shiite Iran with the ouster of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government. Iran has friendly ties with the Shiites now in power in Iraq....

And Afghanistan, too, the change was helpful to Iran."

Five terrorist sponsoring states in a row (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) enabled terrorists to freely roam from Asia to Europe. Now three of those five states are actively pursuing terrorists. Two are still actively supporting terrorists. This dramatic change is not a bad record for seven years however it is attempted to be portrayed. Khalilzad notes,

"And I used to tease the (Iranian) ambassador that we have done so much for you in Iraq and Afghanistan, the least you can do is to be helpful to this effort. Otherwise, one day you will get a big bill."

The two remaining terror sponsoring states have indeed been momentarily strengthened due to the decline of other terror sponsoring states; however, Khalilzad also warned Iran to be helpful to this effort or it may one day get a big bill. The following statement would be a much more appropriate title, "US envoy: Iran will pay for its defiance" because in time it will pay for the terrorists it supports or harbors just like Pakistan is currently paying for it.

For a full read, click here.

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Is Ahmadinejad setting a trap for Israel and the US?

From James Lewis at The American Thinker.

Like the Jedi Knights in Star Wars, much of Israel's safety depends on an absurdly small number of daring pilots and their jet planes. The Israel Air Force has managed to use that capacity with amazing skill and daring, as it showed last September when a dozen fighter bombers and support aircraft jammed Syria's Russian-supplied air defenses and destroyed a secret nuclear facility on the Euphrates river --- not far from Iran. The nature of that target has still not been revealed, but it must have been important enough to risk triggering a missile attack from Syria. That means the target was believed to be very important: most likely a joint Iranian-Syrian-North Korean nuclear facility.

Mr. Lewis believes Ahmadinejad, with Russian assistance, is attempting to trap the Israeli airforce.

The whole thing smells like an Ahmadi-Nejad shell game, with Russian help: put your nuclear materials under a dozen different giant concrete shelters, and dare the enemy to attack all of them, without knowing which one has nuke materials. All of the sites would be heavily defended with state-of-the-art Russian anti-aircraft missiles. Not just one trap for attacking aircraft, but a dozen or more.

For a full read, click here.

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Geopolitics of Gaza

From The Terror Wonk.

The Terror Wonk provides a different perspective on the "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza brought about by the Israeli blockade and subsequent destruction of the border wall with Egypt.

In the coverage of the breach of the Gaza border, the focus has been on the increased threat to Israel. While there is little question that terrorists will acquire new capabilities and use them against Israel, their gaze may turn to a nearby but softer target.

In his memoirs Knights under the Prophet’s Banner: Meditations on the Jihadist Movement, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri observed:

The problem of finding a secure base for jihad activity in Egypt used to occupy me a lot, in view of the [activity against us] by the security forces and because of Egypt’s flat terrain, which made government control easy, for the River Nile runs in its narrow valley between two deserts that have no vegetation or water. Such a terrain made guerilla warfare in Egypt impossible…

Many folks see the destruction of the border wall between Egypt and Gaza as a response to the recent Israeli blockade. However, this is an incorrect inference. The wall was cut with torches and then explosive charges were strategically set along the wall which resulted in almost two-thirds of a 12km section coming down.

As shown in this photo, provided by Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty, this was a large, synchronized, deliberately planned operation by Hamas, not something that could have been done in a few days. Instead, a better inference would be that the current crisis was a manufactured by Hamas. For its part, Hamas played Israel perfectly in this crisis and won unhindered access to Egypt as a result.

Hamas used Israel's targeting on militants as stepping stone to start the crisis. Hamas begin to bombard Israel with a multitude of rocket. Israel in turn started a blockade. Knowing Israel's response, Hamas sought international sympathy by playing up a "humanitarian crisis" happening in Gaza as a result of the blockade. At the height of the Israeli blockake, Hamas brought the wall down, not only effectively ending the blockade, but also opening a new, porous border with Egypt as shown in the photo below (courtesy of the BBC).

The Terror Wonk provides the reasoning for Hamas' action.

However, a new base of operations against Egypt could have vast geopolitical implications. Egypt has a fragile economy, frustrated populace with a large Islamist movement, and an aging leadership. There have already been terror attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula with Gaza links. Even if the regime is not overthrown, HISH [Hezbollah-Iran-Syria-Hamas] will acquire substantial leverage over Egypt, and further the penetration of radical Islam into the largest Arab state, while acquiring a staging ground into the Maghreb, sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond.

For a full read, click here.

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US military says suspected Shiite militia leader killed

From The Jerusalem Post.

US and Iraqi commandos killed a suspected Shiite militia leader Monday during a raid in western Baghdad, the military said. But relatives said the man was an innocent truck driver who was killed while trying to shield his wife from the troops.

Hundreds of men chanted "there is no God but Allah" and carried a huge Iraqi flag as they followed the coffin of Jawad Abdul-Kadim during a funeral service in the Amil neighborhood. Protesters said he was not affiliated with any militant groups.

The military said the slain extremist brigade commander led a network of 10 groups in Baghdad that were implicated in murder, kidnappings and other criminal activity against Iraqi security forces and civilians. The suspect had established a group to collect information used to target Iraqi troops, according to the statement.

"Credible intelligence indicates he and his group are responsible for the sectarian murder of several hundred Iraqi civilians in the past year," the statement said.

Hundred of men (probably military age) carrying a "truck driver's" coffin and carrying a huge Iraqi flag protesting his killing.

Somethings just do not add up, like this guy not being a "truck driver". Truck drivers, while a noble profession, do not typically get large, patriotic funerals. This is they type of funeral prossession that militant, Iranian-backed Palestinian commanders get, not truck drivers.

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Al Qaeda's 2008 Outlook - Iran's Future

From Yahoo/AP.

This Yahoo article has a good roll up of recent battlefield activities in Iraq and while at the end of the article, it sums up Operation Phantom Pheonix with the following.

He [Rear Adm. Gregory Smith] said 121 militants were killed, including 92 so-called "high-value targets" and 1,023 detained since the most recent operation against them began on Jan. 8.

Since 08 January 2008, when Operation Phantom Pheonix began, 121 militants were killed, 92 of which were high-value targets (HVTs - which means they were cell leaders, financiers, recruiters, organizers, and/or operators), and 1,023 were detained. The significance of these numbers must be viewed with another number. McClatchy Newspapers also reports today via Kansas City Star on the number of foreign fighters entering Iraq.

[Rear Adm. Gregory] Smith also said that most foreign insurgents in Iraq come from Saudi Arabia, which President Bush visited on his trip. Other foreign fighters have come from Libya, Yemen, Syria, and even a few from France, Smith said.

In the last year, improved border enforcement by Syria and increased profiling by Saudi officials of single men traveling to Iraq have helped cut the number of foreign fighters entering Iraq in half, Smith said. Between 40 and 50 a month are thought to be entering Iraq now, he said.

Between 50 and 60 percent of those become suicide bombers, and 90 percent of the suicide bombers are thought to be foreigners. (ephasis added)

So, in 13 days (since Operation Phantom Pheonix began), 1144 insurgents have been killed or detained. In this same time, insurgents have received approximately 22 replacements (given 50 enter Iraq monthly). These numbers are hardly a winning strategy and show how desparate the situation for Al Qaeda in Iraq has become. While this just shows what has happened during the last 13 days, The Surge has produced similar numbers for the seven months it has fully been in effect.

In addition and much more significant, 92 HVTs were killed in the past 13 days. Ninety-two leaders, with specific leadership knowledge, skills and abilities, will no longer be able to hand down their expertise to incoming recruits. This sobering fact is clearly demonstrated in the two recently failed suicide attacks in Anbar. Four suicide bombers were not able to kill corresponding Awakening leaders in Anbar. What we see is Coaliton and Awakening leadership exponentially developing while at the same time Al Qaeda leadership exponentially being eliminated, in some case permanently.

In addition, several other leaders who were detained (although precise numbers are not given in these articles) are now giving up Al Qaeda's secrets to Coalition forces which will lead to further reduction in Al Qaeda in Iraq's overall numbers and leaders in particular.

The Yahoo/AP article also notes the following.

[Rear Adm. Gregory] Smith, the U.S. military spokesman, said the military had al-Qaida on the run with recent operations. But he warned the group remains a force in eastern Anbar, northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, in areas surrounding the northern city of Kirkuk, "in small numbers to the south of Baghdad" and in the northern city of Mosul.

"Mosul will continue to be a center of influence for, a center of gravity for al-Qaida because of its key network of facilitation — both financing and foreign fighters," he said.

A few things are significant about this statement. The first is the region which is not listed, namely Baghdad. In fact, a recent USA Today article cited that 75% of Baghdad is secured compared to 8% in the same month last year. The USA Today article also states,

The 310 neighborhoods in the "control" category are secure, but depend on U.S. and Iraqi military forces to maintain the peace. The 46 areas in the "retain" category have reached a level where Iraqi police and security forces can maintain order, a more permanent fix. The remaining areas have fewer security forces based there, though they are not necessarily violent. (emphasis added)

Therefore, in Baghdad, the center of gravity in this war, 75% of the neighborhoods have seen enemy activity mostly eliminated and normal economic activity resuming. The other 25% of the neighborhoods are "not necessarily violent", but neither are they secured by Coalition forces.

Despite a recent killing of a US Marine in Anbar (which has not occurred since 08 October 2007) and the two recent failed suicide attacks, Anbar is also secure, enemy activity has been mostly elminated and normal economic activity is resuming. Finally, the entire southern part of Iraq and the northern Kurdish part of Iraq continue to be secure.

The US Military now has two divisions (the 1st Armored Division and the 3rd Infantry Division respectively) along with several Iraqi Divisions focusing on securing north of Baghdad to Kirkuk and Mosul (focused in the Sunni Triangle region) and south immediately south of Baghdad (focused in the Triangle of Death region).

The success of The Surge overall and Operation Phantom Pheonix lately can be found thoughout this blog.

  • 1144 insurgents killed or detained in the past 13 days
  • Insurgent replacements of approximately 22 in the past 13 days
  • 92 leaders killed in the past 13 days
  • An unspecified number of leaders detained in the past 13 days
  • 50% reduction in foreign insurgents entering Iraq
  • 75% of Baghdad secured
  • 25% of rest of Baghdad not necessarily violent
  • 100% of Anbar secured
  • 100% of Kurdish north secured
  • 100% of Shiite south secured
Finally, the three most important items of all:

1. Al Qaeda is clearly losing wholesale in Iraq, which Bin Laden himself called the central front in his war against the west. Like Hitler losing Paris or failing to defeat Great Britain, Bin Laden has lost Iraq. Even though Al Qaeda, like Nazi Germany, may be able to surge, the facts speak for themselves. It is now just a matter of time until the complete destruction of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

2. Al Qaeda has been unable to defeat the democratic government in Afghanistan. In fact, approximately 4500 Taliban have been killed in 2007 alone. The number of wounded is probably twice this number. Again, like Nazi Germany against Russia, this endeavor has just wasted precious resources for absolutely no gain militarily.

3. Due to his significant losses in Iraq and no appreciable gain in Afghanistan, Bin Laden has been forced to turn inward to Pakistan, once a safe haven for Al Qaeda. To wage the fight in Pakistan, Musharraf has repositioned 100,000 Regular Army troop from Kashmir to the FATA and NWFP regions in addition to the tens of thousand Frontier Corps already in the region. While shaping operations are already underway, decisive operations will begin shortly after the 18 February parlimentary elections.

Just like Hitler, holed up in an underground bunker in Berlin in the final days of the war, knowing that the 1000 year reign of the Third Reich had come to an abrupt, permature end, Bin Laden also sees his grand plan to establish a caliphate from Spain to China crumble as Coalition forces ever so slowly close in on him.

For all its outrageous and boisterous rhetoric, Iran is not unlike Japan in WWII. Coalition forces have island hopped to surround the theocratic leader of Iran in the Persian Gulf, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and shortly in Pakistan. While not part of the coalition in this war, Turkey is a member of NATO and is pressuring Iran from the north, similar to China's and Russia's pressure on Japan in WWII.

For Iran's sake, it may want to surrender or it may see some of its major cities completely obliterated.

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"Syria's Jihadists and Hezbollah are two arms of one body"

From Walid Phares at Counterterrorism Blog commenting on who targeted Ambassador Feltman.

Following the bombing of a US embassy car in Beirut this week many analysis were made available about the authors of this terror attack. Several thesis struggled with what they coined different and opposed possibilities. One main option being Hezbollah and the other option being Jihadi groups controlled by Syria. I argued that as long as it is either Hezbollah or Syrian-controlled Jihadists executing the operation, these two networks are two arms of one body. The decision-making process is at the "axis" level, that is Tehran and Damascus joint war room in the region.

Dr Phares cites Stratfor analysis of the attack which states it is unlikely to be Hezbollah which executed the attack, but instead believes the attack was executed by Jihadist forces. He points out that these two forces are linked.

"What is strange in the analysis is that it says that Hezbollah is unlikely to carry an attack against US target, but Jihadists controlled by Syria are very likely to do so. But these are two arms from one Terror body, the Syro-Iranian axis."

I concur with Dr. Phares. The two groups are different arms of the same body. They are all ultimately controlled by Iran.

For a full read, click here.

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A Message for Departing Ambassador Feltman

From Counterterrorism Blog.

Yesterday’s car bomb attack on a US embassy convoy in Beirut comes just days before US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman returns to Washington. The bomb, which killed three Lebanese civilians and injured dozens—purportedly at least one of whom was a host country national employee of the embassy—appears to have been intended for the Ambassador. According to press reports, the carbomb hit the wrong group of cars: Ambassador Feltman was traveling in another convoy and escaped injury.

Given the operational capabilities and extensive intelligence networks of the groups that most likely perpetrated this outrage (i.e., Hizballah, Syria, Fatah al Islam) it’s difficult to imagine that this was a failed operation. An alternative and perhaps more convincing explanation is that this attack intentionally missed the Ambassador. In this context, the bombing was intended as a message to Ambassador Feltman—who was a key driver of the robust US policy in Lebanon backing the democratically-elected anti-Syrian March 14th Government—and his successor, Ambassador Sison, who was confirmed by Congress last week and heads out to Beirut in February. Quite simply, this message is: “stay out of internal Lebanese politics.”

Lebanon is a dangerous diplomatic post for US personnel, and is increasingly becoming a dangerous locale for international deployed forces: UNIFIL has been attacked three times in the past year. The attack on the US Embassy and the increasing frequency of attacks targeting the international community are cause for serious concern. In the past, the response to these kind of developments has been for the US and the international community to draw down and scale back. Obviously, this response is what those who seek to destabilize Lebanon most want.

To counter this dangerous trend, it is increasingly important for Washington and the international community to strengthen the commitment to Lebanon. A good demonstration of this commitment would be to press forward expeditiously with the seemingly stalled UN-mandated international tribunal to prosecute the murderers of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri. Movement on the tribunal stands a chance of changing the current dynamic in Lebanon. At the very least, it would put the Syrians and their allies in Lebanon—who currently hold the initiative—on the defensive. (emphasis added)

David Schenker makes a great point. This could have been a message and should be followed up by an appropriate response. Expediting the international tribunal for the Hariri assassination should be the first step in a U.S. response.

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Iran & Hezbollah Targeted U.S. Embassy Officials in Lebanon

From Andrew Cochran at Counterterrorism Blog.

Today's bombing which targeted a U.S. Embassy car in a northern Beirut neighborhood most likely was an assassination attempt by Hezbollah and their Iranian superiors on the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, or senior embassy personnel. The blast killed three Lebanese and injured a local embassy employee as Amb. Feltman was getting ready to attend farewell reception for him before his next assignment. Our special correspondent in Lebanon, "Karim," who has provided valuable information for us here before, reports, "Apparently the bombers didn't know which car in the convoy was his, this one turned off the main road, they assumed it was his and blew it up." He discounts another theory, that a judge on the Hariri tribunal was targeted: "Usually to assassinate a Lebanese judge, they would blow up his car or shoot him to send a message to others."

Retired Lebanese Col. Charbel Barakat, speaking on behalf of the World Council of the Cedars Revolution, considers this terrorist act as directed by Hezbollah's war room against the United States and Lebanese citizens. "It is an act of terror ordered by Tehran's Pasdaran against a U.S. diplomatic target in Lebanon as President Bush is visiting the region. It should be investigated by both Lebanese and international authorities." Col. Barakat warns of further terrorist attacks by Hezbollah against U.S. personnel and targets in Lebanon.

It is interesting they would choose to assassinate an ambassador who is leaving Lebanon. This would lead one to believe it was a vendeta against Ambassador Feltman, himself.

Taking a quick look at Wikipedia lends to a possible motive for the attack.

In a speech following the Israeli failed invasion of Lebanon in 2006, the "Secretary-General" of Hizbollah, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, dubbed Fouad Siniora's government in Lebanon as Feltman's Government. Nasrallah's label stressed what Hizbullah sees as Feltman's deep influence on the Lebanese government's decisions. The title of "Feltman's Government" has since been widely used among several opposition parties in Lebanon whenever referring to Siniora's government.

This assassination attempt should be thoroughly investigated. If it can be tied to Hezbollah, we should strike a Hezbollah target itself in retaliation to send a message.

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Dubya's Middle East Agenda - Can He Consolidate His Revolution.

From Amir Taheri.

Once again, Amir Taheri has his hand on the pulse of the Middle East and apparently a better understanding of President Bush's purpose of his Middle East visit.

GEORGE W. Bush will set a new presidential record on his Middle East grand tour, visiting at least 10 countries in a short period. In some, he'll be the first US president to make a state visit. But what is the visit for?

Cynics would suggest that Bush is looking for photo opportunities that might add some spice to his future memoirs. More generous commentators might see the tour as the continuation of an American tradition: All US presidents since Woodrow Wilson have dreamed of themselves as peacemakers and tried to help others sort out ancient disputes.

While he states that both of these opinions may be true, he point to a larger reason.

But Bush realized post-9/11 that it was the very status quo that America had helped preserve that had produced its deadliest foes. He became the first US president to adopt an anti-status quo, not to say revolutionary, posture toward the Middle East.

While he notes that Iran, Russia, and China (America's chief rival) seem to have benefitted most from the change in the status quo, I believe he misses the point of a capitalistic democracy emerging in Iraq. Yes, countries such as Iran, Russia, and China have benefitted, in the short run. However, as the beacon of democracy which is Iraq begins to shine brighter each day and becomes a new model of government in the Middle East to replace the historic models of Turkey and Iran, the rest of the countries in the Middle East will benefit as will the rest of the world, to include the United States.

The United States always benefits where freedom and democracy prevail. While the war is costly, the benefits from a free, democratic Iraq will pay the United States back tenfold in commerce, which is our true benefit. Whether or not we own the corporations currently coming into Iraq is immaterial because the United States always benefit from more commerce as does the rest of the world.

President Bush has indeed kick started a revolution in the Middle East by bucking the status quo. Over time, more and more countries will become free, some may need to be forced, others will turn to freedom and democracy on their own. All transitions will be painful, as they should be since in order to remain free, a people need to have the courage to stand up to tyrannical forces that will appear and reappear in their country to challenge their freedom.

For a full read, click here.

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The Duel in Islam

From Amir Taheri.

Amir Taheri highlights the different ruling models in Iran and Turkey, whom he points have historically steered Islam for centuries and are beginning to do so again.

FOR centuries, Iran and the Ottoman Empire, of which modern Turkey and Egypt were parts, fought for influence in the Muslim world. That changed when Turkish westernizers under Kemal Ataturk and their Iranian counterparts under Reza Shah Pahlavi decided that religion was the cause of their nations' decline.

Ataturk adopted the legend that the Turks descended from the Celts while Reza Shah promoted the idea of Iran as an "Aryan nation."

Amir Taheri points to four major differences in how Iran and Turkey run their countries: provenance, dethod of gaining power, record in power, and road map for the future. The contrasts are quite clear. He notes that several other nations have began to adopt the Turkish model and in fact use the words, Justice and Development Party (AKP), in their names in several instances. He also notes a new party has emerged in Iran,

Last month, the AKP also found an Iranian imitator - the newly formed Justice and Development Party of Iran (Etedal va To'seeh), which unites elements disillusioned with Khomeinism. The new party has yet to make its position clear on the key issue of walayat faqih, but the outline of its program for next March's general election is an almost verbatim translation of the election manifesto of Turkey's AKP.

Recently, the new party received a wink and a nod from Hashemi Rafsanjani, the businessman-cum-mullah who's emerging as a challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's radical faction.

Amir Taheri end with a significant note.

Whether or not that is the case, what matters is that no one in Turkey is trying to imitate the Iranian model.

I would also note Musharraf in Pakistan is trying to implement Turkey's model; however, it is one country not using the term AKP in its party. In addition, it has both models vying for dominance in the country. The 18th of February will help determine which model succeeds in Pakistan and determine its fate for some time to come.

For a full read, click here.

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Israel: 'No Options' Out on Iran Nukes

From NewsMax.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a powerful parliamentary panel on Monday that Israel rejects no options to block Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, a meeting participant said.

The statement was the Israeli leader's clearest indication yet that he is willing to use military force against Iran.

"Israel clearly will not reconcile itself to a nuclear Iran," the meeting participant quoted Olmert as telling the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "All options that prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities are legitimate within the context of how to grapple with this matter."

Olmert addressed the panel days after discussing Iran's nuclear ambitions in face-to-face talks with President Bush in Jerusalem.

Rather strong words. One can only hope the U.S. will not prevent Israel from ensuring Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons.

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Iraq and al-Qaeda, Victory and Caution

From Steve Schippert at Threats Watch.

There is an understandable temptation to declare victory over al-Qaeda in Iraq. And while Iraqi and American forces have teamed to drive them from every sanctuary al-Qaeda had carved - including now the “Triangle of Death” south of Baghdad - and deliver a decisive blow to the terrorists, the state of the terrorist fighters in Iraq is not permanent or final considering the sources of their foreign origins and outside support.

From a symposium panel at FrontPage Magazine,

Those improvements are indeed occurring, but as my colleagues capably point out, it is too early to declare AQI’s defeat. I spoke with a military intelligence officer who recently returned from Iraq, and spoke of AQI’s resilience. Part of the reason for this is that AQI draws its support from a broader transnational movement: AQI can be completely crushed inside Iraq yet still regenerate based on the support it draws from beyond the country’s borders. Recent events clearly demonstrate the links between AQI and the broader al-Qaeda movement. For example, the recently captured Khalid Al Mashadani, who was considered the most senior Iraqi in AQI’s network, had served as an intermediary between AQI leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Key al-Qaeda leaders have made it clear that they view Iraq as a central front in their war against the U.S. And when U.S. and Iraqi forces recently killed an al-Qaeda financier named Muthanna (described as the emir of the Iraq and Syrian border area), they uncovered a list of 143 al-Qaeda fighters who were en route to Iraq. These fighters came from all over, including Algeria, Belgium, Egypt, France, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and Yemen. This emphasizes the human resources that AQI can draw upon to replenish its ranks.

From Michael Ledeen at National Review.

If you read down to the small print, you will find that the most important Treasury target, Brigadier General Ahmed Foruzandeh of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, also works with Sunnis.

In early April 2007, Foruzandeh provided ($25,000 U.SD) to two men claiming to be members of a Sunni terrorist organization in Iraq, promising…additional funds if they would deliver videos of attacks against Coalition Forces.

A very well informed person in the intelligence community tells me that the “Sunni terrorist organization in Iraq” is a big deal, is in many ways coextensive with al-Qaeda in Iraq, and clearly shows what I and others have been arguing for a long time: Iran supports al-Qaeda. To have discovered that the Revolutionary Guards are in cahoots with al-Qaeda in Iraq is enormously important, because it reminds us once again that we are engaged in a broad war in the Middle East, of which Iraq is simply one front. And it shows once again that the considerable efforts by many in Washington to gainsay Iranian support for the terror war against us are misplaced, and potentially very dangerous for our troops on the ground.

These points are critical to remember. Al Qaeda is drawing support from many external partners from which it can replenish its forces. While Al Qaeda is trying to start another front of its Terror War in Pakistan, Iraq is and will continue to be its central front so that it can build it caliphate from Iraq and spread to the rest of the Middle East.

Finally, while we think that a Shiite dominated Iran would not support a Sunni terror organization, both have the ultimate goal of reducing US influence in the region. Without the US presence in Iraq, for decades to come, a great battle would unfold in Iraq between these forces for control.

We literally have three players in the war in Iraq. Ourselves and the Iraqis, who wish to establish a strong, vibrant democracy which will become the symbol for other countries in the Middle East (and therefore is not greatly supported by its neighbors for fear that their own citizens will be in awe of this democracy). The Iranians, who hope to establish a Shiite Crescent from Iran to Lebanon in order to destroy Israel. And finally, Al Qaeda with goals of reestablishing the Caliphate from Iraq to the entire Middle East and beyond.

For a full read, click here.

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Middle East indebted to Bush

From Salim Mansur at the Toronto Sun.

This week's journey of U.S. President George W. Bush to the Middle East -- the itinerary beginning with Israel includes visits to the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt -- is greatly significant and yet, in keeping with his temper, a low-keyed affair as the last remaining months of his presidency unfold.

We likely can surmise there is one more visit to the region still to be made by Bush.

This will be a visit to Baghdad with an address to Iraq's democratically elected parliament before Bush takes leave from the White House for his ranch in Crawford, Tex.

When Bush stepped into the Oval Office -- a long time ago now it seems on that cold January morning in 2001 -- the Arab-Muslim world was furthest from his mind as it was from the minds of most Americans.

But the malignancy of the Middle East, ignored by the West and the previous occupants of the White House, would strike New York City, bringing the Arab-Muslim world's politics of fanatical hate, deep-seated resentment and a mountain of grievances to the shores of the United States.

The Arabs had squandered the 20th century just as they slept through much of the previous four centuries, while the West created a whole new world of science and democracy.

The independence won for the Arabs from the rule of the Ottoman Turks by Britain and France at the end of the First World War eventually became a cruel mockery with a people -- despite the resources and goodwill available -- incapable of lifting themselves up from the broken ruins of their tribal culture.

This is the root cause of Arab failure, and instead of embracing the modern world by reforming its culture the Arab political class has indulged in blaming others, most particularly Jews and Israel.

George Bush could have remained indifferent to the Arab-Muslim world's malignancy, mouthing pieties as members of the ever fashionable lib-left political class in the West endlessly does, while watching the Arabs sink deeper into the political squalor of their making.

Instead, Bush struck directly at the most rotten core of the Middle East -- Iraq, the land of two rivers, choked to death by the vilest of Arab tyrants in recent memory, Saddam Hussein -- to give the Arabs an opportunity one more time to make a better future.

Regime change in Baghdad has brought a new Iraq to emerge with American support despite the fanatical opposition of the most backward tribal warriors of the Arab-Muslim world.

Iraqis -- Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds -- now bear responsibility that comes with freedom to write a new history for Arabs as, for instance, the far more populous and ethnically diverse people of India are doing.

The Arab leaders greeting Bush remain frozen in their hypocrisy, unable to say publicly what they will say privately, being relieved in knowing the United States remains committed to maintaining order and security in the Persian Gulf region.

But free Iraq looms large in the capitals of the Arab states, and if Iraqis keep progressing in freedom their example will be an irresistible attraction for the Arab-Muslim world spread between the Atlantic and the Persian Gulf.

A democratic Iraq is George Bush's formidable legacy, and the Arabs will be talking about him long after his contemporary critics bite the dust and are forgotten

I could not have said it any better myself.

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U.S.: Iranian bombs rise in Iraq

From CNN.

Attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq with bombs believed linked to Iran -- known as explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) -- have risen sharply in January after several months of decline, according to the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Iraqi and U.S. officials indicated just a month ago that Iran was using its influence to improve security in Iraq by restraining cross-border weapons flow and militia activity. The U.S. military had said in recent months that the number of EFP attacks had gone down.

Gen. David Petraeus disclosed the reversal to reporters after a meeting with President Bush who was visiting troops in Kuwait.

"In this year, EFPs have gone up, actually, over the last 10 days by a factor of two or three, and frankly we're trying to determine why that might be," Petraeus said.

The answer is simple and can be summed up with three letters: N.I.E.

For a full read, click here.

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North Korea's True Colors

From John Bolton writing in The Wall Street Journal.

There's more positive news from the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea: Its leaders have refused to make any further disclosure concerning its nuclear programs.

How is this umpteenth violation of the Feb. 13, 2006, agreement in the Six-Party Talks positive? Because at a critical moment on a gravely important issue, North Korea has again shown its true colors, thus providing the United States an opportunity to extricate itself from this unwise and dangerous deal.

As always, Mr. Bolton is able to make an informed, knowledgeable recommendation for future dealings with North Korea.

For the full read, click here.

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Afghanistan: Army discovers Iranian mines on road from Kabul

From Adnkronos International.

Mines produced in Iran have been discovered and seized by Afghani armed forces along the road between the capital, Kabul, and the eastern city of Jalalabad."

These mines are the latest technology and considered very dangerous," said a spokesman from the organisation for Afghani national security.

It is not the first time that Iran has been accused of sending arms to Taliban guerillas who are fighting the government of Hamed Karzai.

Recently the head of the Canadian troops stationed in Afghanistan accused Tehran of collaborating with militants linked to the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.

Before him, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, spoke of Tehran's involvement in Afghanistan.

Now, direct proof they are meddling in Afghanistan. Many problems in the Middle East eventually come back to Iran. It is time to deal with this issue directly.

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Hezbollah's Billion Petrodollars

Walid Phares delivers his assessment of activities inside of Lebanon in this Human Events article. He discusses two major changes occurring inside Hezbollah.

The first change is a shift in leadership responsibilities. A report published initially in the Saudi owned Sharq al Awsat said the office of Ayatollah Khomenei appointed deputy secretary general Sheikh Naim Qassim as the new supreme commander of Hezbollah forces and the personal representative of the Ayatollah in Lebanon.

Why did Khomenei change leadership of Hezbollah forces?

They said it was in preparation for a potential massive move by Hezbollah to seize more power in Lebanon and before a possible clash with the Lebanese Government and the United Nations over the disarmament process.

Mr. Phares cites General Hajj's assassination as proof of this fact.

Sources believe the assassination of Brigadier General Francois Hajj, director of operations in the Lebanese Army was another preemptive measure ordered by the Pasdaran command in Lebanon. Hajj was slated to become the next commander of the Lebanese Army. The latter was to deploy across Lebanon and eventually begin the collection of weapons. Hence, believe the observers, a Syro-Iranian order was issued to preempt and eliminate a man who could have become the military commander to force Hezbollah to disarm.

The second major change in Hezbollah is a huge increase in its operating budget.

Hezbollah’s funding was elevated from $400 million US to $1 billion. This ballistic leap would enable the organization to crush any opponent inside Lebanon and engage in worldwide operations against Western Democracies and Arab moderates. According to experts in Lebanon, the $400 millions figure was enough to pay for hundreds of social centers and thousands of salaries enough to insure a full control over the Shia community, its representatives in Parliament and buy significant influence inside the Sunni, Druze and particularly Christian community. One hundred million dollars alone, could pay for the activities of movements opposed to the Cedars Revolution and the democratically elected Government of Seniora.

Mr. Phares notes that a billion dollars gives Iran a fleet to counterbalance the US Naval Fleet in the Middle East.

A month ago as I was participating in a cross fire program on al Jazeera facing off with a coordinator of Iranian propaganda in the Arab world, I was asked why the US maintains a Navy in the Middle East. "Where are Iran's fleets," he asked. I replied that the Iranian regime maintains land fleets. "Hezbollah's 30,000 rockets and its millions of dollars is an Iranian fleet" I answered.

For a full read, click here.

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Hizbullah Leader Nasrallah: 10 Days To Resolve Lebanon Crisis – Or Else

MEMRI is reporting that Nasrallah has given Al-Siniora's March 14 government 10 days to resolve the crisis in Lebanon or they will take,

"legitimate civilian measures, and will not promise that matters will not descend into the streets."

Since Lebanese have not been able to agree on a President, Siniora has become the defacto President in accordance with the constitution. Hezbullah wants over 1/3 of the parlimentary seats in the new government which would allow it to effectively veto any March 14 legislation. Siniora and Lebanese Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt have stated they will not give into Hezbullah's demands as it would give

the opposition the justice portfolio would endanger the establishment of the international tribunal for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.

The battle in Lebanon is a crucial political battle in the War on Terror. Success of the March 14 government will severely weaken Syria and Iran. Since Nasrallah is now not in charge of the Hezbullah Army, he can only conduct "civilian measures" in hopes of gaining ground, unless Kassam orders the Army into action. However, this would put Hezbullah in direct confrontation with the Lebanese Army which is deployed throughout Beruit; possibly inciting another civil war.

We will keep a watch on this area to see what develops.

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They Killed General Hajj

W. Thomas Smith, Jr, writing for Townhall, comments on Lebanon General. Francois Hajj, who was assassinated Wednesday and expected to take over as head of the military if General Michel Suleiman was elected as Lebanon's President.

Three motives for killing General Hajj are given in the article by Dr. Walid Phares.

1. Demoralize the Lebanese Army.

2. Prevent him from becoming the next head of the Lebanese Military.

3. Revenge killing for his engineering of Fatah al Islam's defeat a few months ago in Lebanon.

Later, however, Mr. Smith gives a fourth and important motive.

From what I knew of Gen. Hajj – and admittedly that knowledge is limited to what I learned while there -- he was a good man. He was a “strong man,” as others have said. He was a man who wanted freedom and democracy in Lebanon. He wanted the truth told about what is actually happening in Lebanon, and what was and is too often not reported, or what is manipulated by the Axis-influenced media.
And now they have killed him.

The Axis forces that Dr. Walid Phares points to in the article want the top three motives he points to as they weaken the Lebanese government and strengthen Hezbollah and other jihadist forces in Lebanon. However, first and foremost, all these parties want to destroy the Cedar Revolution and the fragile democracy in Lebanon.

The Axis forces are doing this in Iraq. The Axis forces are doing this in the Gaza Strip. The Axis forces are now supporting the Taliban against another young democracy in Afghanistan.

While I know we do not have the ground forces available in the U.S. Military to go after the leading Axis country, Iran, we do have the air and sea forces to signifcantly disrupt their country and hence their ability to export terror.

Fellow peers point out to me that if we attack Iran, we are just asking for more interference in our ventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I point out to them, can it be worse than killing 10,000's of Iraqis, 1,000's of Afghanistanis, 100's of Palestinians, and attempting to destroy a young demorcracy in Lebanon. Quite frankly, diplomacy has failed to get them back in their box for over six years.

Bullies continue to be bullies until they are confronted at which point they either run away, get more friends to help them, or get more weapons to make them invincible. The Iranian leadership (and the whole Axis in general) is nothing more than a bunch of bullies. While they have friends they will surely call upon, calling upon them makes them play their hand on our timetable. We must confront the bully prior to them getting nuclear weapons.

Iran has been bullying the Middle East for almost three decades. Its high time to stick up to the bully, expose his friends, and put them in their place before they have weapons capable of massive destruction.

Its high time to put them in their place prior to them killing more innocent people and destroying democracies which are trying their best to enhance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for their people.

This fact is, after all, what our Founding Fathers charged us with in the beginning for the Creator did not only endow Americans with these unalienable rights, but all people.

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Israeli Abuse Of Palestinians Rampant

Iran Daily has a story about abuses committed against Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces. Specifically,

One in four of Israeli troops serving at the hundreds of checkpoints across the occupied West Bank have engaged in or witnessed abuse of innocent Palestinians, an army-commissioned survey said on Sunday.

A full 25% of IDF Soldiers have apparently engaged in or witness abuse, physical or verbal according to a survey commissioned several months ago by the commander of Israel’s central command. Quoting a senior military officer, the article continues,

"We knew there was a problem, but we never imagined it was this grave."

This article leads me to a few questions/comments.

1. Israel's central command, realizing there may be a problem, commissioned a survey to see if suspected abuse did in fact occur. They obviously commissioned the report to confirm or deny abuses and the extent of abuses. The only reason to do this would be to know how to prevent or limit such abuses in the future.

2. The article does not state the extent of verbal abuse vice physical abuse, but I would assume that verbal abuse was more prevalent.

3. I have never seen an article from the Palestinian Authority commissioning a survey of abuse of Israelis at the hands of Palestinian officials. If they did commission one, the PA would probably be shocked that only 25% of PA officials witnessed or engaged in abuses against Israelis.

Just some thoughts.

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