Tuesday, August 31, 2004

France's Foot In Baghdad's Door

Belmont Club has a thought-provoking post on the current crisis surrounding the two French hostages being held in Iraq. The current flurry of diplomatic activity to get the two reporters released, and the interesting tit-for-tat between Iraq's interim president Ayad Allawi and the French Foreign Ministry, may point to a quid pro quo being in the making between France and the Iraqi group holding its reporters.

But Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, said bluntly that the kidnapping proved that France's position on Iraq, presumably its opposition to the war and the absence of a troop presence - offered it no protection from terrorism.
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"Neutrality doesn't exist, as the kidnapping of the French journalists has shown," Allawi said in an interview with several European and American newspapers. "The French are deluding themselves if they think they can remain outside of this. Today, the extremists are targeting them too."
Paris was quick to respond:
Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's declaration, which came after the kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq and accused France's position towards terrorism, was "unacceptable," the French Foreign Ministry said Monday.

"This declaration seems in fact to have cast doubt on France's determination in the fight against terrorism ... France is leading untiringly a resolute action against this scourge and it is always bringing its support and contribution to all the initiatives of the international community in this field," said Cecile Pozzo di Borgo, spokeswoman of the French Foreign Ministry.

The spokeswoman reiterated her country's call for efforts to seek a "political solution" to the Iraqi crisis, adding that "the organization of free and democratic elections would permit to get together conditions of a real political and economic reconstruction of Iraq".
Belmont Club points to a whole host of nasty Middle Eastern leaders (and I'm just reading now that Hamas, right after claiming the twin attacks on the Be'er Sheba buses today, killing 16, is also calling for the reporters' release) pleading on behalf of France.

Belmont Club explains the quid pro quo as follows, mainly based on the comments of the French Foreign Ministry today:
This suggests that the French diplomats are attempting to link the release of the French hostages to changes in the method and manner in which the Iraqi elections will be held. The mere fact that France is negotiating implictly means there will be a quid for the quo.
The beefing up of the Baghdad embassy staff with heavyweights could point towards an opportune moment for the French to enter the foray, without any loss of face (Gallic pride is almost, well, ehm, Arab). Their plea to the terrorists holding the reporters could be that, apart from paying them a nice sum, France will do its utmost to ensure their political goals are met come the next elections. The beefing up of the embassy, and remarks to Allawi about the upcoming elections could be a first step, or proof of faith.

It works both ways this way, and their analysis is enticing, though a bit Machiavellian. France, over the captured reporters' backs, gains entrance to the Iraqi political process, covered by the 'we will stop at nothing to get our citizens released'. The captors gain status, the prospects of a strong backer in their corner, a true friend of terrorists everywhere, plus some cash with which they can immediately recruit and spread further terror.

Which in turn will enforce France's message to Allawi that something needs to change with the upcoming elections.

But I'm sure they'd settle for a few oil concessions to back off.

If You Had Been Vietnamese

Thanks to Perry On Politics, take a look at this flyer from Vietnam Veterans Against The War, the group that Kerry helped lead after his return from Vietnam.

Can't imagine this going down well with other veterans, can you?

Algerian Army Strikes GSPC hideouts

UPI reports:

The Algerian daily al-Khabar quoted security sources as saying soldiers carrying out a combing operation in the province of Boumedras, east of Algiers, clashed with Muslim militants Monday, killing three.

The operation was in response to a major attack perpetrated by 30 gunmen from Algeria's most feared extremist group, the Salafi Grouping for Daawa and Fighting, 10 days ago in Boumedras in which five troops and two army intelligence officers were killed.

In another incident, the army killed a militant Sunday in the province of Ghlisan, 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of Algiers.
Must activity has taken place in the vast woods of the Boumerdes province, some 40 miles east of the capital Algiers. The Al Qaeda-linked GSPC has been on an offensive lately, recently threatening Algerians through their website to stay away from public buildings, leading to speculation on an upcoming car bombing campaign.

Spain's Commitment To Peace

Seems rather, well, you decide. Spain's socialist Minister of Retreat Defense, José Bono (link in Spanish), told reporters on Monday that Spain's contingent to be sent to Afghanistan to assist in that country's presidential elections, would be "at risk", but assuringly told that it wasn't a risk stemming from an offensive operation, but a humanitarian one.

El ministro de Defensa, José Bono, ha reconocido que la misión española en Afganistán "entraña riesgos, pero no es una acción bélica sino humanitaria". El 30 de septiembre se completará el despliegue de los 1.040 efectivos que integrarán el contingente.

The Minister of Defense, José Bono, acknowledged the Spanish mission to Afghanistan "entails risks, but it isn't a warlike action, but a humanitarian one". On September 30 the deployment of the 1,040 troops which make up the contingent, should be complete.
Thanks for explaining that. But not to worry too much, to ensure Spain's finest are being kept as much out of harm's way as possible, Bono added that no matter what, the contingent (and who knows the present contingent of some 300 troops as well) will be pulled out no later than 90 days after they arrive, sooner if the electoral process finishes before that date.

Look for an attack, or hostage situation involving Spanish nationals, just prior to that date. He'd pull out again in the face of terrorism, and the terrorists would have another easy victory for their recruitment aparatus.

A final note on another remark he made:
Bono, en declaraciones a los periodistas tras finalizar la reunión, destacó que desde hace 14 años España es uno de los países que más ha contribuido en medios a la paz mundial, con más de 60.000 personas y 2.500 millones de euros. El ministro explicó que a día de hoy hay 1.755 soldados españoles en alguna de las misiones de paz en el exterior, entre otros lugares en Bosnia, Kosovo, Afganistán o Haití.

Bono, in statements to the press after the meeting, pointed out that for the last fourteen years, Spain has been one of the countries most contributing to world peace, with more than 60,000 persons and 2.5 billion Euros. The minister explained that as of today, 1,755 Spanish troops are taking part in peace missions abroad, amongst which Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Haiti.
This ties in nicely with another post I'm working on, on President Bush's remarks (I was off vacationing, so I'm catching up with the rest of the world still!) on The US Armed Forces in Europe.

New tool: SharpReader

I just finished installing SharpReader, a very handy (and free!) little tool to read all those XML and RSS feeds in an outlook-styled environment. Very intuitively set up, I quickly got set up and am now reading most of my favorite blogs out of it. Also handy is an online search function, and filtering options for all the downloaded feeds. Maybe not essential for readers of blogs, but for those who are blogging (and looking for the stuff to blog about!) I can definitely recommend it.

National Journal Full Access

Via the Command Post:

National Journal Magazine, which is read by every politico in the United States and typically available only for a stiff subscription fee, is providing full access to its site during the RNC.

It’s crack for political junkies … use wisely.
My favorite so far: The Bush Record, with detailed analysis of President Bush's record on a host of issues. Good indepth stuff, likely to keep you reading for a while.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Queen In Iran

Just read this interesting piece, also on Middle East Online (like the last two entries, sorry but have lots of work here, so little time to do some extensive surfing today I'm afraid), on Queen being the first 'official' rock band to market their music, with approval of the Mullahs.

I did not know that Freddy Mercury was Iranian, but I just had to ask myself how he would have felt to sell his music in Iran with the Mullahs' blessing.

TEHRAN - Rock band Queen, fronted by outlandish gay icon Freddie Mercury, have become the first rock band to be given the official seal of approval in Iran with the release of an album of their greatest hits, a source in the company that released the album said Monday.

Mercury, who died of AIDS in 1991, was proud of his Iranian ancestry and supposed Zoroastrian origins, which made Queen one of the most popular bands in Iran, but western music is largely frowned upon in the Islamic republic, where homosexuality is considered a crime.

"Authorities approved of the tunes that had a social theme, leaving out the love songs," an executive in the company said.

The album contains smash hits such as "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Miracle" and "I Want to Break Free".

Western music is strictly censored in Iran and those selling foreign music need special permits, although millions of bootlegged banned CDs and cassettes are sold on the black market throughout the country.

The album is already selling very well. "It is the first rock album to hit the market legally and people are surprised and pleased to see it has the lyrics, not just the music," said Akbar Safari, a salesman at a Tehran book and record store.
I mean, for God's sake, the guy was maybe the biggest flamer in music, and homosexuality is considered a crime in Iran and carries the death penalty. Guess his surviving band members saw a way to cash in quick, now that he's dead.

I never was a fan, and didn't particularly support Mercury's 'in your face' -ahem- behavior. Let's just hope that something good will come of it, and that Iran's Rock fans will crave for more and more, until the Mullahs take it away from them again. And then maybe someone will say 'No More'.

We will rock you, indeed.

Mauritania Accuses Libya Of Coup Plot

Mauritania's government today accused both Libya and Burkina Faso of being behind a foiled plot to overthrow President Maaouiya Ould Taya.

NOUAKCHOTT - Already tense relations between Mauritania and Libya have been jarred by new accusations that Tripoli was behind a foiled plot to overthrow President Maaouiya Ould Taya.

And while Burkina Faso, whose President Blaise Compaore is a long-time ally of Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi, is also accused of backing the failed putsch on August 9, Tripoli is bearing the brunt of the accusations.

Observers in Nouakchott said Friday that the coup, allegedly timed to coincide with a trip to France by the president, was a hostile response by Kadhafi to Mauritania's diplomatic ties to Israel.

Kadhafi has excoriated the pro-Western government of Taya since it opened relations in 1999 with the "Zionist menace".

In return, Mauritania has repeatedly accused Libya of fomenting dissent among its mostly Muslim population of 2.7 million people, spread out across the arid nation the size of France and Spain combined.

Pro-government media have made no secret of their convictions that Kadhafi was involved a June 8, 2003 putsch that was put down by loyalist military after 36 hours of fighting in Nouakchott, though Taya himself has been more circumspect.
The same Khadafi that is now back in grace with the EU and the US.

The leopard and his spots, mark my words.

GSPC Ambush Kills Seven

The Al Qaeda-linked Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC, see Blogger's new search feature at the top of this page to search Southern Watch for more related posts) ambushed a security forces patrol last Monday, killing five soldiers and two police men, and injuring thirteen. Some thirty terrorists opened fire on their convoy with mortars and automatic weapons.

According to sources close to the security forces, the attack was carried out by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), the largest Muslim radical group still active in Algeria and said to be linked to the Al-Qaeda network.

The GSPC set fire to a games centre for local youths to lure the security patrol into the ambush, the sources told the press.

A teenage boy was seriously wounded when he was caught in crossfire as the patrol responded after the ambush.

The attack occurred near Boumerdes, 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Algiers, where the wooded and hilly terrain provides an ideal hiding place for radical groups.

Security sources told the press that the attackers are believed to be from the same radical cell that carried out a series of attacks on the busy main road that links Algiers with the east of the country.

In those attacks, which occurred two weeks ago, some 20 Islamic radicals disguised as members of the security forces set up false roadblocks on National Route Five just outside Algiers. Two people were killed in the attacks, including one soldier.

Monday's ambush was the deadliest to target the security forces since June, when 14 soldiers were killed in an ambush in the Bejaia region, 260 kilometers east of Algiers.

Nearly 40 people have been killed in July and August and 340 since the start of the year in incidents involving armed Islamists, according to officials and the Algerian media.
Thanks to Winds Of Change's excellent Winds of War roundup.

Back At The Helm

We're back, after a long vacation which took me amongst others to eastern Turkey (Anatolia), refreshed and with lots of catching up to do, both at work and at play (this blog here). I hope to post soon, while travelling fairly little news filtered through. I'd like to do a small piece on Turkey's entry into the European Union, now that I have some first hand experience, but need to finish some research on that first too. Ideas abound though, so check back over the next few days!