Sunday, February 06, 2005

News Thread February 6, 2005 Bring ‘em on News Bring ‘em on: 33 Iraqis and 3 US troops killed yesterday across Iraq. Bring ‘em on: Roadside bomb kills 4 Iraqi soldiers in Basra. Bring ‘em on: Four Egyptian engineers working for a telecoms company in Iraq have been kidnapped. Bring ‘em on: A previously unknown Islamist group has claimed responsibility for the kidnap in Iraq of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena and threatened to kill her in days unless Rome pulls its troops out of the country. Bring ‘em on: Oil pipeline linking two of Iraq's major refineries has been attacked. Election News Andrew Gilligan; remember him? He is the reporter that broke the David Kelly story and subsequently resigned following the Hutton Report. Writing in the Spectator he says that: “The almost desperate optimism of Tony Blair and George Bush about the elections turns out to have been shared, at least in part, by a substantial portion of people in an even more desperate situation: the Iraqis. Whenever I get back to Britain after visits to Iraq, I am asked how the inhabitants can survive. But as in so many other dreadful places, people here are more hopeful than they have a right to be, because their state is so precarious that it would be fatal to lose hope. Pessimism is a luxury that only the prosperous can afford.” Sistani’s Alliance slate has secured about 69% of the 3.2 million votes counted so far in the national assembly election, or about 38.5% of the total cast, according to a tabulation by the Los Angeles Times. Although that percentage will drop once the Kurdish provinces of the north are counted, the Alliance's share will almost certainly continue to be well over 50%. Although the 74-year-old Sistani insists that he wants nothing to do with politics, he has been arguably the most important figure on the Iraqi political scene almost from the day the Americans entered the country. Early in the occupation, he championed direct elections — a demand that the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority accepted only reluctantly. He also insisted that the constitution could only be written by a body directly elected by Iraqis. A year ago, hundreds of thousands of his followers took to the streets to support a faster timetable than one proposed by the U.S. and, even more impressively, Sistani was able to send them home, as if he were turning off a tap. Once elections were set, he engineered the formation of a largely Shiite slate of candidates, many with a religious orientation. Heading the list is Abdelaziz Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and a cleric who spent nearly 20 years in exile in Iran during the Hussein regime. Three of Sistani's envoys, all clerics, are on the list, and the Dawa Party, a theocratic Shiite party with ties to Iran, has a strong presence on it. A compromise candidate? The results indicated that list of Allawi, who is also a Shiite, came in the second rate with 579,000 votes. It added that so far some 3.3 million votes were selected in 35% of the ballot centers in the country. The third position was for the members of the "independent national elites" list led by Fathallah Ghazi Ismael which got 15% in the Iraqi capital. There could well be a “fix” on the cards here, but the key as to whether Allawi hangs from a lamppost in Baghdad or ends up in Government will depend on how the Kurds align themselves in the new Iraqi Government. Financial News The Financial Times reports that Russia said yesterday it had abandoned efforts to tie the rouble's movement closely to the dollar and switched to shadowing both the euro and the US currency. The move heightened expectations that other countries operating de facto dollar pegs, such as China, could follow suit. With 81 per cent of Russia's oil exports currently sold to Europe, the move also provoked fresh speculation that Russia could decide to denominate its oil in euros. Russia is the world's second-largest oil exporter, behind Saudi Arabia. PR News Advertising in the media to try and catch Osama Bin Laden. The United States placed a newspaper advertisement on Friday offering rewards of millions of dollars for information leading to the arrest of Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda kingpins. The half-page ad in the Urdu daily Mashriq, published in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border, puts a 5-million-dollar price on the head of the 9/11 mastermind and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. I thought the price tag was 5 times that! Reassurance? The United States wants Iraq to remain whole now that the first round of elections is over, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. She was attempting to reassure nervous Turkish leaders that Washington won't allow Iraqi Kurds to form a breakaway state. Anti-US sentiments have been strong in Turkey since the start of the war in neighbouring Iraq. She also said Israel and the Palestinians should control their own path to peace, with help from Middle East nations and others. The United States does not need to take a leading role now. Yes, we are all reassured now. Opinion Naom Chomsky: Let's just imagine what the policies might be of an independent Iraq, independent, sovereign Iraq, let's say more or less democratic, what are the policies likely to be? Well, there's going to be a Shi'ite majority, so they'll have some significant influence over policy. The first thing they'll do is reestablish relations with Iran. Now they don't particularly like Iran, but they don't want to go to war with them so they'll move toward what was happening already even under Saddam [Hussein], that is, restoring some sort of friendly relations with Iran. That's the last thing the United States wants. It has worked very hard to try to isolate Iran. The next thing that might happen is that a Shi'ite-controlled, more or less democratic Iraq might stir up feelings in the Shi'ite areas of Saudi Arabia, which happen to be right nearby and which happen to be where all the oil is. So you might find what in Washington must be the ultimate nightmare - a Shi'ite region which controls most of the world's oil and is independent. Furthermore, it is very likely that an independent, sovereign Iraq would try to take its natural place as a leading state in the Arab world, maybe the leading state. And you know that's something that goes back to biblical times.


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