Sunday, September 30, 2012

Netanyahu's Iran cartoon bomb timed to make big impact


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line on a graphic of a bomb as he addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 27, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
NEW YORK | Fri Sep 28, 2012 1:42pm EDT
(Reuters) - The "Bibi bomb" was born of days of discussions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a brains trust of close advisers on how to make a powerful impact in yet another speech on Iran's nuclear program.
"The diagram made his address special," a senior official in Netanyahu's entourage said on Friday about the cartoonish drawing of a bomb the Israeli leader, who is nicknamed "Bibi," used at the U.N. General Assembly as a prop to illustrate what he sees as Iran's drive for an atomic weapon.
It may have raised a titter on Twitter, where the New Yorker magazine quipped, "if Wile E. Coyote ever gets hold of this, the Roadrunner is toast." But the graphic got what Israel was hoping for - attention.
Such a Looney Tunes analogy would not have been lost on Netanyahu, who was educated in the United States, and at least one of his top advisers, Ron Dermer, who was born there and immigrated to Israel.
But on the world stage at the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu took out a marker and dramatically drew a red line just below a label reading "final stage" to a bomb, in which Iran would be 90 percent along the path to having sufficient weapons-grade material.
"I tried to say something yesterday that I think reverberates now around the world," Netanyahu said at a meeting on Friday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Iran denies allegations by Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear power, that it is enriching uranium in order to build a weapon.
So who was the father of the "Bibi bomb?"
The Israeli official would not say.
"He's got a small group of close advisers," the official said. "In different meetings, people throw out all sort of ideas. Ultimately, the prime minister makes a decision which ideas to accept."
The team met for days, proposing "countless drafts" and a decision was made that "by using the diagram, the people would get the message - people would understand", the official added, calling the drawing "a useful tool."
He said he did not know who actually drew the bomb or if it had been copied from a computer graphics program. And, as with any Netanyahu speech, it's unclear until the last moment what stays in and what is left out.
"He's making changes until the very end. He was making changes as he was being introduced in Congress last year," the official said about Netanyahu's address to a joint meeting of the U.S. legislature in May 2011.
Netanyahu has also done some public sketching in the past.
While he was finance minister from 2003 to 2005, Netanyahu illustrated the burden of Israel's bloated public sector on the economy by drawing stick figures of a thin man - private enterprise - carrying the weight of a heavy man on his back.
At a news conference in April, he used a tablet, projected onto a large screen, to draw a tree whose fruit and stability he said symbolized his government's achievements.
It is not the first time visual or audio props have been used to make a point at the United Nations.
During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson unveiled during a televised U.N. Security Council meeting photos taken by U-2 spy planes of Soviet missiles and launch pads on Cuba and dramatically confronted Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin with the charges.
In 1983, U.S. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick played an audio recording of a Soviet interceptor pilot involved in the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007 over the Sea of Japan, which killed all 269 passengers and crew. Afterward, it was impossible for the Soviets to deny their involvement.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 2003 speech to the U.N. Security Council in which he presented intelligence about Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's alleged nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs was less successful.
Perhaps attempting to follow in Stevenson's and Kirkpatrick's footsteps, Powell's speech employed images, audio recordings, even a vial of white powder that was intended to look like enough anthrax to kill the entire U.S. Senate.
That speech, based on evidence now known to have been erroneous, did nothing to sway the skeptical French, Russians and Germans. They eventually forced the frustrated United States and Britain to abandon their efforts to secure a green light from the United Nations for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In 2009, the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi held up a copy of the U.N. charter and tossed it over his shoulder during a rambling 1-1/2 hour speech to the General Assembly. It was his first and last U.N. speech.
Also that year at the General Assembly, Netanyahu displayed a copy of the blueprints for the Nazi death camp Auschwitz to decry Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Christopher Wilson)

Insight: Azerbaijan eyes aiding Israel against Iran


BAKU | Mon Oct 1, 2012 2:07am EDT
(Reuters) - Israel's "go-it-alone" option to attack Iran's nuclear sites has set the Middle East on edge and unsettled its main ally at the height of a U.S. presidential election campaign.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exudes impatience, saying Tehran is barely a year from a "red line" for atomic capacity. Many fellow Israelis, however, fear a unilateral strike, lacking U.S. forces, would fail against such a large and distant enemy.
But what if, even without Washington, Israel were not alone?
Azerbaijan, the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic on Iran's far northern border, has, say local sources with knowledge of its military policy, explored with Israel how Azeri air bases and spy drones might help Israeli jets pull off a long-range attack.
That is a far cry from the massive firepower and diplomatic cover that Netanyahu wants from Washington. But, by addressing key weaknesses in any Israeli war plan - notably on refueling, reconnaissance and rescuing crews - such an alliance might tilt Israeli thinking on the feasibility of acting without U.S. help.
It could also have violent side-effects more widely and many doubt Azeri President Ilham Aliyev would risk harming the energy industry on which his wealth depends, or provoking Islamists who dream of toppling his dynasty, in pursuit of favor from Israel.
Yet despite official denials by Azerbaijan and Israel, two Azeri former military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Azerbaijan and Israel have been looking at how Azeri bases and intelligence could serve in a possible strike on Iran.
"Where planes would fly from - from here, from there, to where? - that's what's being planned now," a security consultant with contacts at Azeri defense headquarters in Baku said. "The Israelis ... would like to gain access to bases in Azerbaijan."
That Aliyev, an autocratic ally of Western governments and oil firms, has become a rare Muslim friend of the Jewish state - and an object of scorn in Tehran - is no secret; a $1.6-billion arms deal involving dozens of Israeli drones, and Israel's thirst for Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea crude, are well documented.
Israel's foreign minister visited Baku in April this year.
But a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2009 quoted Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003, describing relations with Israel as "like an iceberg, nine tenths ... below the surface".
That he would risk the wrath of his powerful neighbor by helping wage war on Iran is, however, something his aides flatly deny; wider consequences would also be hard to calculate from military action in a region where Azerbaijan's "frozen" conflict with Armenia is just one of many elements of volatility and where major powers from Turkey, Iran and Russia to the United States, western Europe and even China all jockey for influence.
Nonetheless, Rasim Musabayov, an independent Azeri lawmaker and a member of parliament's foreign affairs committee, said that, while he had no definitive information, he understood that Azerbaijan would probably feature in any Israeli plans against Iran, at least as a contingency for refueling its attack force:
"Israel has a problem in that if it is going to bomb Iran, its nuclear sites, it lacks refueling," Musabayov told Reuters.
"I think their plan includes some use of Azerbaijan access.
"We have (bases) fully equipped with modern navigation, anti-aircraft defenses and personnel trained by Americans and if necessary they can be used without any preparations," he added.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear it does not welcome Israel's occasional talk of war and that it prefers diplomacy and economic sanctions to deflect an Iranian nuclear program that Tehran denies has military uses.
Having also invested in Azerbaijan's defenses and facilities used by U.S. forces in transit to Afghanistan, Washington also seems unlikely to cheer Aliyev joining any action against Iran.
The Azeri president's team insist that that will not happen.
"No third country can use Azerbaijan to perpetrate an attack on Iran. All this talk is just speculation," said Reshad Karimov from Aliyev's staff. He was echoing similar denials issued in Baku and from Israel when the journal Foreign Policy quoted U.S. officials in March voicing alarm that Azeri-Israeli action could thwart U.S. diplomacy toward Iran and across the Caucasus.
Israeli officials dismiss talk of Azeri collaboration in any attack on Iran but decline public comment on specific details.
Even speaking privately, few Israeli officials will discuss the issue. Those who do are skeptical, saying overt use of Azeri bases by Israel would provoke too many hostile reactions. One political source did, however, say flying unmarked tanker aircraft out of Azerbaijan to extend the range and payloads of an Israeli bombing force might play a part in Israeli planning.
Though denying direct knowledge of current military thinking on Iran, the Israeli said one possibility might be "landing a refueling plane there, made to look like a civilian airliner, so it could later take off to rendezvous mid-air with IAF jets".
A thousand miles separates Tehran and Tel Aviv, putting much of Iran beyond the normal ranges of Israel's U.S.-made F-16 bombers and their F-15 escorts. So refueling could be critical.
There is far from unanimity among Israeli leaders about the likelihood of any strike on Iran's nuclear plants, whether in a wider, U.S.-led operation or not. Netanyahu's "red line" speech to the United Nations last week was seen by many in Israel as making any strike on Iran unlikely - for at least a few months.
Many, however, also assume Israel has long spied on and even sabotaged what the Western powers say are plans for atomic weapons which Israel says would threaten its very existence.
A second Israeli political source called the idea of Azerbaijan being either launch pad or landing ground for Israeli aircraft "ludicrous" - but agreed with the first source that it was fair to assume joint Israeli-Azeri intelligence operations.
The Azeri sources said such cooperation was established.
As part of last year's arms deal, Azerbaijan is building up to 60 Israeli-designed drones, giving it reconnaissance means far greater than many analysts believe would be needed just to guard oil installations or even to mount any operations against the breakaway, ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
"With these drones, (Israel) can indirectly watch what's happening in Iran, while we protect our borders," legislator Musabayov said - a view shared by Azeri former military sources.
Less reserved than Israeli officials, the sources in Azerbaijan and in Russian intelligence, which keeps a close eye on its former Soviet backyard, said Baku could offer Israel much more, however - though none believed any deal was yet settled.
The country, home to nine million people whose language is close to Turkish and who mostly share the Shi'ite Muslim faith of Iran, has four ex-Soviet air bases that could be suitable for Israeli jets, the Azeri sources said. They named central Kyurdamir, Gyanja in the west and Nasosny and Gala in the east.
The Pentagon says it helped upgrade Nasosny airfield for NATO use. It also uses Azeri commercial facilities in transit to Afghanistan. But U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan is limited by Washington's role as a mediator in its dispute with Armenia.
One of the sources with links to the Azeri military said: "There is not a single official base of the United States and even less so of Israel on the territory of Azerbaijan. But that is 'officially'. Unofficially they exist, and they may be used."
The source said Iran had been a main topic of talks in April with Israel's Soviet-born foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
Azeri tarmac, a shorter flight from key sites in northern Iran including the Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant and missile batteries at Tabriz, might feature in Israeli war planning in less direct ways, the former Azeri officers said.
With Israel wary of its vulnerability to pressure over air crew taken prisoner, plans for extracting downed pilots may be a key feature of any attack plan. Search and rescue helicopters might operate from Azerbaijan, the sources said - or planes that were hit or low on fuel could land at Azeri bases in extremis.
Such engagement carries risks for Azerbaijan and its oil platforms and pipelines operated with international companies.
Defending against Iran is part of public debate in Baku. The United States has provided Azerbaijan with three Coast Guard cutters and has funded seven coastal radar sites as well as giving Baku other help in protecting its oil installations.
Relations have long been strained between the former Soviet state and Iran, which is home to twice as many ethnic Azeris as Azerbaijan itself. Tehran beams an Azeri-language television channel over the border which portrays Aliyev as a puppet of Israel and the West, as well as highlighting corruption in Baku.
Azerbaijan sees Iranian hands behind its Islamist opposition and both countries have arrested alleged spies and agitators.
Faced with an uneven balance of force, Aliyev's government makes no bones about Israel being an ally. As one presidential aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained: "We live in a dangerous neighborhood; that is what is the most powerful driving force for our relationship with Israel."
However, Israel's confrontation with Iran may turn out, the arms build-up in Azerbaijan, including recent Israeli upgrades for its Soviet T-72 tanks, may have consequences for the wider region and for the stand-off with Armenia - consequences that would trouble all the powers with stakes in the Caspian region.
"We keep buying arms. On the one hand, it's a good strategy to frighten Armenia," one of the former Azeri officers said of the shaky, 18-year-old ceasefire over Nagorno-Karabakh. "But you don't collect weapons to hang on the wall and gather dust.
"One day, all these could be used."
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Nigeria Deploys 140 Police Officers to Somalia

Vanguard (Lagos)

Abuja — The Nigerian Police Force has deployed 140 officers to participate in the African Union Peacekeeping operation in Somalia , with all its assets inclusive, Police authorities said in Abuja yesterday.
The deployment came just as the Inspector General of Police announced that in the last three months, the Police Force has spent close to $1. 6million on police peacekeeping operations Vis a Vis procurement of equipment for formed units and payment of allowances for officers going on such operations.
And after several years of engaging in international peacekeeping operations, the Nigerian Police Force yesterday inaugurated the first peacekeeping hall fully equipped with teaching and other facilities necessary for ensuring proper preparations before police officers embark on such operations.
Speaking at the inauguration, the IG pointed out "Since I assumed office, I have made sure that the allowances of our officers going on such mission are paid upfront so that the standard for which we are known, are sustained. You can not send an officer on a foreign mission without a kobo as was the case in the past. You are sending him to give bad image to the country".
Describing the peacekeeping hall as a world class hall comparable with those of other peacekeeping centers around the world, the IG said it was befitting of a police force whose officers and men have brought honour, pride to the nation to the extent that so many countries are making daily request to have Nigerian police peacekeepers posted to help them.
"On the home front, the IG said, "Yes we are adored abroad because the UN provides what is needed. I want to tell you that at home, if we are given the nitty- gritty, wherewithal to do the job, the capacity and manpower is here to checkmate all forms of criminality".
Earlier, Director of Peacekeeping at Force headquarters, DCP Aderanti disclosed that the hall was put in place to facilitate training for policemen going on such operations, noting that since his assumption of office few months ago, the department has deployed 2 formed units to UN and AU operations which has never happened before.
"Thanks to the support of the IGP, 140 officers with full complement of equipment, arms and allowances were recently deployed to Somalia to participate in AMISOM and we have started getting commendation for the performance of the peacekeepers", he said.

Killing of Journalists on the Rise in Somalia?

In what is being described as a series of killings on media workers in the country's capital Mogadishu, another journalist was shot dead just hours after he reported on a suicide bomb blast that killed three of his colleagues.
  • UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 28 September 2012
    The situation of journalists in Somalia is becoming increasingly precarious as the country struggles to put behind it years of lawlessness following the recent successful election ... read more »
Press censorship: Somalia is the most dangerous country in Africa to practice journalism, says the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Somalia: Journalist Beheaded, the Other Shot Dead in Mogadishu As Targeting Continues

Mogadishu — Two journalists have been killed within 24 hours of each other as the targeted killings of journalists has escalated in Mogadishu over the past weeks, Garowe Online reports.
The last journalist to be killed in Mogadishu was shot dead in the Dharkenley district on Friday. Ahmed Abdullahi Farah was a journalist who worked for a media agency in Yemen and was shot dead after leaving a house in Mogadishu.
According to local sources, at least two gunmen approached Mr. Farah, gunned him down and escaped from the scene.
Somali government police arrived at the scene of the killing and stated that they are pursuing the shooters.
However many reporters have expressed discontent in the police's lack of arrests in the countless killings of journalists in Somalia.
"The government of Somalia other than maybe one arrest hasn't made any
convictions in the numerous killings of journalists throughout the past 9 months," said Mohamed Dahir a Garowe based freelance journalist.
Abdirahman Mohamed Ali, another journalist, was gruesomely beheaded and his body left in Mogadishu's biggest market, Suuqa Holaha. Police were notified after his remains were found the next morning by business owners.
Mr. Ali was working for a sports media agency and was based in Mogadishu.
Al Shabaab hasn't claimed responsibility for the two killings of the Mogadishu based journalists.
This is the fifth journalist to be killed in Mogadishu in the past week and the rising death toll of journalists has worried many journalists in Mogadishu who expressed serious concern in their security.
"Government officials have protection and can't easily be attacked, but we are journalists who are amongst the community, don't have bulletproof vehicles, we don't have guards or even carry weapons. The government showed us that they cannot protect us then some will take matters into our own hands,' said Ahmed Adan a freelance journalist based in Mogadishu.
There have been 13 killings of journalists in Somalia with most of the killings occurring in Mogadishu where 3 journalists were killed in a suicide attack last week.
Despite the AMISOM and Somali forces initiative in Mogadishu, assassinations have spiked since the new President Hassan Sheikh took office earlier this month.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Somalia: 200 Former Al Shabaab Agents Surrender to Allied Forces

Somalia: 200 Former Al Shabaab Agents Surrender to Allied Forces

AU forces close in on al-Shabab stronghold

Several Killed in a Shooting in Minneapolis

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A workplace shooting resulted in several killings, including the gunman, who died of a self-inflicted wound, the police said.
“We do have several victims inside that are dead,” Deputy Chief Kris Arneson of the Minneapolis police said in an evening news conference outside the office of the company where the shooting took place, Accent Signage Systems. She would not specify the number of fatalities, saying the police were still investigating.
The police had previously said at least two people were killed and four were wounded during the shootings at the business, which is in a largely residential area on the city’s north side. Chief Arneson would not release details about the victims, but said the gunman’s body was found inside the building.
Hennepin County Medical Center was treating three people from the scene, all in critical condition, said a spokeswoman, Christine Hill. She said the hospital was not expecting more patients with critical injuries.
Officers received a 911 call around 4:30 p.m. from inside the business reporting a shooting.
Dozens of squad cars and police vehicles were still surrounding the business in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood by Thursday evening. Traffic was stopped on a nearby bridge, where earlier in the day law enforcement officers had rifles drawn and pointed at a park below.
People from the neighborhood milled around, but deputies kept them back.
Marques Jones, 18, of Minneapolis, said he was outside a building down the street having his picture taken when he and his photographer heard gunfire that sounded close. “We heard about four to five gunshots,” Mr. Jones said. “We were shocked at what happened, and we just looked at each other. We all just took off running to our vehicles.”
Accent Signage Systems’ Web site says the company makes interior signs and lists its founder as Reuven Rahamim.
“Very sad situation in Bryn Mawr,” Mayor R. T. Rybak posted on Twitter on Thursday afternoon. “Please stay away and let the police do their work.”

1000s of Indian Muslims hold anti-US demo in Kolkata

Muslims protest against a US-made anti-Islam movie in India, September 23, 2012.
Muslims protest against a US-made anti-Islam movie in India, September 23, 2012.
Fri Sep 28, 2012 4:25AM GMT

Thousands of Muslims have staged a demonstration in India to express their outrage at a blasphemous movie produced in the United States and a French magazine’s publication of cartoons that insult Islam and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

On Thursday, over 15,000 protesters gathered in front of the US consulate in the city of Kolkata, the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal.

“The protesters threw stones at the police who blocked the marchers from approaching the US consulate nearby… The police brought the situation under control and the crowds dispersed later in the evening,” said RK Mukherjee, a local police officer.

Over the past days, the Muslim world has been outraged by the blasphemous movie and the French weekly Charlie Hebdo’s September 19 publication of the insulting cartoons.

Demonstrations against the anti-Islam moves have been held across the Muslim world and several non-Muslim countries, with protesters in some countries marching on the US embassies and torching US flags.

Al Shabaab stronghold Kismayu falls



Updated 23 mins ago
By Cyrus Ombati
Kenya Defence Forces alongside Amisom have taken control of Al Shabaab stronghold and headquarters of Kismayu in Somalia.
Kenya military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna said Kismayu fell at 2am Friday after a fierce battle with the terror militants.

The troops are urging the residents of the port to avoid areas under their control to avoid any form of collateral damage.
The port was the last bastion for the Somalia militants al-Shabaab which has been in control for the last couple of years.
Department of Defence headquarters said in a tweet the troops are in control of Kismayu without elaboration.
“KDF troops have taken control of Kismayu. Residents are advised to avoid areas where KDF and Somalia National Army troops are to avoid collateral damage,” said KDF in a tweet.
Spokesman Col. Oguna said the first group of troops arrived at Kismayu at about 2 am on Friday.
“Yes our troops are in control of Kismayu and urge residents to avoid the areas they are for now,” said Col Oguna.
The incident came two days after KDF jets and ships destroyed Al-Shabaab armoury store and warehouse after shelling Kismayo airport in an attack that shaped up the take over of the port.
It was the second time in less than a month that the troops were hitting Kismayu. Other reports indicated Islamist group Hizbul Islam has broken ranks with Al-shabaab militants. This has weakened the gang in many ways.
Lobby groups had warned that there could be many more civilian casualties in the battle ground which often go unreported.
The AMISOM forces are now pacifying the port of Kismayu—seen as the bedrock of the Al Shabaab militants

Kenya troops take control of Kismayu

September 28,  2012

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By NATION Reporter
Posted  Friday, September 28  2012 at  08:27

KENYA DEFENCE Forces take control of Kismayu, the last remaining al-Shabaab stronghold in Somalia.

Somalia: 'No Time to Lose' to Advance Peace and Democracy in Somalia - Ban

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today praised Somalia for the progress in its democratic transition and called on the international community to continue supporting the East African nation, stressing that "there is no time to lose" as the country is still facing serious humanitarian and security challenges.
"Today the change we have awaited so long has come," Mr. Ban said in his remarks at the mini-summit on Somalia, held in New York on the margins of the high-level debate of the 67th General Assembly.
After decades of warfare, Somalia has been undergoing a peace and national reconciliation process, with a series of landmark steps over recent weeks helping bring an end to the country's eight-year political transition period. These steps included the adoption of a provisional constitution, the establishment of a new parliament and the selection of a new president.
"The process of ending the transition was not always smooth. But it was more inclusive and representative than any such efforts Somalia has seen in a generation," noted Mr. Ban. "In full view of the Somali people, young and old, men and women from all clans took part. They showed courage and integrity in the face of immense pressure."
Among those attending today's meeting were senior African Union officials, the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), Augustine Mahiga, and Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali. The new Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, joined in by video link from the capital, Mogadishu.
"Today we begin a new partnership for peacebuilding in Somalia - on that is led by Somalis and grounded in shared principles - to build peace and opportunity for the long term," Mr. Ban said, adding that continued support is needed to address the security and humanitarian situations.
In recent weeks, there have been several attacks which have led to numerous deaths, including a member of parliament as well as journalists and civilians. In addition, two million people affected by drought and violence are in need of humanitarian assistance.
"I urge you now, immediately, to redouble your efforts to support Somalia," Mr. Ban told participants at the meeting. "We must also pave the way for Somali institutions to assume primary responsibility for security. I appeal to each of you to consider how you can contribute to democracy, justice and state-building in Somalia."
The Secretary-General also emphasized the importance of supporting Somali authorities to meet their human rights obligations and rebuild their institutions so that the country can successfully hold popular elections and a constitutional referendum in the next four years. However, he underlined that for progress to be long-lasting, Somalia would need continued international support.
"Our focus must be on helping to enable Somali institutions to rebuild and reconcile after two decades of war," Mr. Ban said. "Somalia's people have taken risks for peace and they will need to show even more courage in the years ahead. We must match their courage with our commitment."
During a meeting yesterday, Mr. Ban congratulated the Somali Prime Minister on the important political progress that has taken place with the completion of the transition period, and discussed the need for support for stabilization efforts in the coming months.

Tagged: Conflict, East Africa, External Relations, Governance, International Organisations

Kenyan Military: Al-Shabab Armory Destroyed in Key Somalia Town

The Kenyan army says it has destroyed key facilities belonging to al-Shabab militants in the Somali port city Kismayo, the group's largest remaining stronghold.
Army spokesman Cyrus Oguna told VOA Kenyan jets destroyed two sites at an al-Shabab airport on Tuesday.
“One was a warehouse where al-Shabab has been keeping weapons. The other one was an armory, also for keeping ammunition.”
Oguna said the area had long been a logistics center for the al-Qaida-allied group.
Kenyan forces with the African Union and Somali government troops are preparing to launch a major offensive to recapture Kismayo.
The international troops have been stationed about 60 kilometers outside the port city since last week.
Oguna said Kenyan jets fired more than 10 missiles around the city and that the strikes did not result in civilian casualties.
Al-Shabab militants in Kismayo have vowed to fight to the death against pro-government forces.
The militants have used the town's seaport to bring in weapons and other supplies to support their battle against the government.
The extremist group is seeking to impose a hardline form of Sharia throughout Somalia. It once controlled most of southern and central Somalia, but has lost most of its territory to pro-government forces since they launched a major offensive last year.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cyprus: Island of Forbidden Love

Al Jazeera World
When love crosses the religious divide Cyprus becomes a favoured destination for Lebanese couples seeking a civil union.
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2012 14:56

The island of Cyprus, according to legend, is the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. So it seems fitting that it is the destination each year for hundreds of Lebanese couples to get married - because they cannot do so back home.
In Lebanon, neither Christian nor Muslim religious authorities will perform marriages between couples from different religions. So Cyprus - 200 km off the coast of Lebanon - is the closest venue for mixed-faith couples wanting to get a civil marriage.
In other Arab countries the sharia governs personal status laws which cover marriage.
In Lebanon, there are as many laws as there are sects, with 18 different laws on personal status for Lebanon's 18 officially-recognised religious sects.
"Lebanon requires a legal framework for personal status. Without it, there is no state. There are different laws for different Lebanese groups. It’s not the same law for all Lebanese people and foreign laws are unacceptable. This is wrong. All sects and citizens should correct this situation."
- Dr Ogarit Younan, a personal status law expert
In 1936, a law known as LR60 - decreed by the then French high commissioner in the region - required all religious sects to submit their different systems of laws to the state for approval.
Law LR60 has roused strong opposition from Lebanon's Muslim sects, who felt the requirement of state approval was an interference by the state in their internal, religious affairs.
For Rabih and Varto Mosleh there was no other way except to marry in Cyprus despite opposition from family and their respective Christian and Druze religious sects.
"We decided to get a civil marriage. Neither my parents nor our sects accept this. But eventually I took this decision," says Rabih.
He adds: "In the end, we all live together. Sunnis, Christians, Druze, Shia. We are all in it together. When you fall in love, nothing can stand in your way. That's my story."
Lebanon's constitution - and its laws - have allowed the country's different sects to establish and organise their own religious courts, and to formulate their own systems of family law.
Fares and Siham Choufani married at the municipality of Aradippou, 10 minutes from Larnaca. They are part of a growing phenomenon of Middle Eastern couples, irrespective of religious leanings, seeking a civil marriage in Cyprus.
Fares explains why: "Siham and I are from the same Christian sect but we chose to have a civil marriage for several reasons. Firstly, to stress our own freedom to choose the kind of relationship we wish to have.
"Secondly, Lebanon's personal status laws do not reflect the equality between men and women. Thirdly, Lebanese laws are sectarian in character."
The process for foreign nationals to legally marry in Cyprus is fairly straightforward.
In Lebanon - love most often stays within the intangible red lines of the religious community. A civil union is commonly frowned upon as a marriage of convenience; chosen by people who are either renegades from their religion or who wish to keep options open for a later divorce.

Somali refugees rest hopes in new leader

Al Jazeera English

Election of new president brings hope to millions of Somali refugees across Horn of Africa region.
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2012 12:56

The election of a new president is providing hope to millions of Somali refugees scattered throughout the Horn of Africa.
Many are waiting to see results, however, before attempting to return home.
Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow reports from the Qabri Bayah refugee camp in southeastern Ethiopia.

Changing fortunes in Ethiopia’s Ogaden

Al Jazeera English In depth

Wracked by war, insurgency, and famine, the government has launched development projects after years of neglect.
Last Modified: 17 Sep 2012 11:31

For as long as its people can remember, cycles of drought-induced famine and underdevelopment have plagued Ethiopia's eastern Ogaden region.
One of the least developed corners of Earth, the people of Ogaden often joke that "if Adam returns, he will definitely recognise our land".

But the once-sleepy regional capital Jijiga is slowly stirring awake. The Ethiopian government has in the past few years embarked on a charm offensive to woo the people of Ogaden, whose woes have exposed the flawed policies toward its mostly ethnic Somali population.
Ogaden’s recent history is also clouded by conflict that has killed thousands. Ceded to Ethiopia by the British in 1954, Ogaden has twice been fought over with Somalia, which claims the region as its own.
And for the past two decades, the Ogaden National Liberation Front has waged a rebellion, fighting for secession from Ethiopia.
As a result, there has been heightened military activity in Ogaden in recent years. Tens of thousands of Ethiopian troops and special counter-insurgency police have been deployed to fight the rebels, but also to secure the border and counter what is perceived as a threat by Somalia's al-Shabab militias.
The last thing Ethiopia wants is trouble along its long border with Somalia, and it is wary of further unrest being stoked among its ethnic Somalis.
Nomadic life
Ethiopian Somalis are traditionally nomadic pastoralists, and have been so for centuries. Life and survival revolves around livestock, with people constantly moving about to feed their animals. But as a result of increasingly frequent drought and chronic overgrazing, the region is facing serious environmental degradation.
There are attempts by the government to turn the nomads into agro-pastoralists -to settle and grow crops while still tending their livestock. But poor rains continue to hamper these efforts, too.
Near Qabribayah town, 50km outside the capital, Ahmednoor Abdullahi and his younger brother use their only camel to plough their small maize farm. Seventeen members of their family depend on the farm, about a quarter the size of a football pitch.
"We did not get a harvest during the last season, our crops failed," says Abdullahi. "Life here depends on rainfall. Most people moved away with their livestock, but we chose to stay and wait for the rain."
Ogaden’s barren land is littered with remnants of past conflict, including dilapidated military equipment such as rusted tanks and armoured-personnel carriers.
Jijiga on the rise
Jijiga, the regional capital, is a jumble of villages with a sprinkling of administrative buildings, shabby hotels, a busy market and a military base -all intertwined by countless mud houses with corrugated-tin roofs.
Many people who fled the hinterland and the battlefields have sought refuge here. Big 4x4 vehicles share the streets with squeaky horse-drawn carts that act as taxis. Nomads drive their herds of camels down the roads.
At midday in Jijiga, the temperature can rise to 35°C. The men have taken to chewing khat, the leafy narcotic brought from the Ethiopian highlands.
A visitor would be surprised by the sudden commotion on the dusty streets as a cacophony of car horns, screeching brakes, and shouting herald the happy news that the khat has arrived. 
"Universities now stand where there used to be frontlines or military bases. It has changed the perception of people about this region."  
 Sultan Muhidin Odowaa, university VP
In the afternoons, Jijiga becomes a ghost town, abandoned to the camels and cats. Locals are firmly ensconced behind closed doors in the confines of the mabraz -the khat den.
Here, people recline on cushions, smoke cigarettes and sip sweet tea while chomping on the stimulating leaves. Later, after the drug takes effect, lively debates break out.
From their conversations, it is clear most Ethiopian Somalis feel culturally and socially closer to their kin in Somalia than they do with the Ethiopian highlanders.
Economic ties to Somalia
On the economic side, Ogaden’s trade with and through Somalia is many times greater than that with the rest of Ethiopia. The Somali shilling is the main currency in some areas of Ogaden.
With the Somali border just 30 minutes away by car, smuggling flourishes. Rice, sugar, utensils, furniture, and even industrial machinery are brought into Jijiga in the dead of the night. Security checkpoints do nothing to stop it.
Ethiopia’s government has recently initiated numerous development projects, and the sprawling capital, being the most accessible and peaceful in the region, has received the bulk of these schemes.
Hundreds of kilometres of roads linking Jijiga to other areas have been constructed.
Workers were recently putting the final touches on a multi-million dollar hospital. Named after Ethiopia’s late prime minister Meles Zenawi, it will serve as the main medical facility for the region.
But it is investment in the education system that is most profound. At the Jijiga University, 15,000 students are attending 30 faculties.
"That universities now stand where used to be frontlines or military bases. It has changed the perception of people about this region," says Sultan Muhidin Odowaa, the university’s vice president. "Unlike before, education opportunities are now available to all."
Women, too, are benefitting from the construction boom. They’ve been taught how to pave roads and now can earn a decent living. 
"For any force to be effective they have to speak the language of the people they serve, and belong to their religion and culture" 
Abdi Mohamud Omar, Ogaden leader
Rights abuse allegations
Critics, however, say most development projects are limited to Jijiga and few other places. Ogaden’s leader, Abdi Mohamud Omar, says there are reasons for that.
"There is no doubt some provinces are ahead of others in terms of growth. There are those you can easily send workers to implement projects, and others that are insecure due to the activities of the rebels," he says.
A dearth of skilled manpower, inadequate infrastructure, and an acute shortage of communication facilities also constitute formidable constraints to developing the region. Neglect by previous regimes has not helped.
Abdi Mohamud’s administration has been effective in bringing security to some parts of the volatile region.
He created a special unit of counter-insurgency police, which now forms the backbone of the region’s security apparatus -so much so that they’ve replaced the Ethiopian army in fighting the rebels.
"For any force to be effective they have to speak the language of the people they serve, and belong to their religion and culture," says Abdi Mohamud. "It became necessary for the regional government to face head on its security challenges -hence the formation of the Liyu police."
Human rights groups, however, accuse the Liyu of engaging in serious abuses against civilians, including allegations of extrajudicial executions and torture.
"The Liyu police … fit into the context of impunity where security forces can more or less do what they want," says Laetitia Bader, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.
It is a claim the regional president denies.
"Human Rights Watch should be impartial," Abdi Mohamud says. "They usually peddle lies and propaganda from our opponents around. They should also examine the atrocities being committed by the rebels."
With tight controls imposed on access to Ogaden for independent journalists and aid workers, it is difficult to confirm these claims and counter-claims.
This month the Ethiopian government and the Ogaden National Liberation Front rebels announced they had commenced peace talks in neighbouring Kenya.
But until these negotiations result in a formal agreement, lasting peace in the Ogaden desert will remain elusive -as it has for the past 50 years.

The war between the civilised man and the savage

AL Jazeera Opinion
Hamid Dabashi
Hamid Dabashi
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
A provocative ad which debuted last month in San Francisco is making its way to New York subways today.
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2012 12:19

A pro-Israel ad that debuted in San Francisco last month depicts Muslims as savages and Israelis as civilised [EPA]
Starting from Monday, September  24, 2012, as the UN General Assembly picks up momentum in New York and heads of states from around the world come to the Big Apple for their annual gatherings, New Yorkers and their out of town guests are treated to quite an advertising spectacle.  
"In any war between the civilised man and the savage," the ad will read, "support the civilised man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."  
The ad began its debut last month in San Francisco on city buses, and is now heading to New York subways. According to CNN: "New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority initially rejected the ad... But the authority's decision was overturned last month when a federal judge ruled that the ad is protected speech under the First Amendment."    
An organisation called the "American Freedom Defence Initiative" has produced the ad and "has been fighting to place the message in New York's subway system since last year after the authority refused to display it". 
According to the Washington Post, "A conservative blogger who once headed a campaign against an Islamic centre near the September 11 terror attack site won a court order to post the ad in 10 subway stations next Monday... The blogger, Pamela Geller, said she filed suit Thursday in the nation's capital to post the ad in Washington's transit system after officials declined to put up the ad in light of the uproar in the Middle East over the anti-Islam film." 
Over the last few days, since the news of this ad started circulating the media, pictures of the ad have appeared on the internet - with many Americans categorically denouncing its evident racism, while the more enterprising New Yorkers initiated a Twitter campaign to protest the ad to start on the same Monday with the hashtag #MySubwayAd. 
What's in an ad? 
Two crucial aspects of this ad have far reaching implications that its immediate and boorish racism can in fact conceal. We need to unpack this ad for the sign of something else that it is - first, who exactly is its audience, and second, what to make of its vintage vulgarity.  
"We need to unpack this ad for the sign of something else that it is - first, who exactly is its audience, and second, what to make of its vintage vulgarity."

The timing of it with the UN General Assembly may create the impression that it is intended for a primarily global audience, while its astonishing vulgarity might make it appear as exceptional and the work of a lunatic fringe. Both these impressions need further scrutiny.  
Though the timing may in fact have targeted a global impact, a proposition compromised by the fact that the UN delegates don't usually take the bus or the subway in New York and are in fact chauffeured around in their diplomatic limousines while escorted by the New York police motorcades, the primary target of the ad is in fact domestic and only by extension global. That it is intended for Washington, DC may also mean targeting foreign embassies, but coupled by its initial campaign in San Francisco almost definitively marks its domestic targets. Targeting the domestic and foreign audiences need not be mutually exclusive, and can in fact be complementary. But given the foreign policy implications of the ad, the domestic audience should not be overlooked.  
Domestic targets 
The fact that this ad is primarily (but not exclusively) targeted for domestic use is evident in the two dominant tropes of "civilised man" and "savage" - the two terms immediately applied by the white supremacist European colonial settlers in the US and the Native Americans, respectively. As I have said on many occasions, the visual tropes and active vocabularies of white supremacist racism is very limited and they keep regurgitating it against one target of their anxiety or another. The "civilised man" was (and remains) the white European man and "the savage" was his designated trope for the Native Americans. "Savage" has in the course of American history been subsequently extended and transmuted to include African Americans, Latino Americans, and now only by extension Muslim Americans - all the moving targets of anxiety for white supremacists.  
Like all racist adages, the ad partakes in very old racist tropes and the appearance of the phrase "civilised man" twice in the span of a short sentence reveals the racist pedigree back to the early American history - and that it is in fact a woman who is using this phrase is an absolutely delightful mot juste that reveals the supreme victory of the phrase in the collective consciousness of racist brutes beyond age and gender!  
The target of the ad is thus primarily domestic against what is called multiculturalism, old and new immigrants, and the massive demographic changes in American society - a deeply anxiety-provoking fact for the fictive white man and his white supremacist limited regime of knowledge at work here.    
Precisely the same anxiety had led only a decade ago to "the clash of civilisation" thesis by Samuel Huntington, which Gellar now violently vulgarises. In my critique of "the clash of civilisation" thesis, published more than a decade ago in the International Journal of Sociology, I have already demonstrated in detail how the rise of civilisational thinking during the 1990s in the US was already targeted far more domestically than globally - a claim I made in 2001 and confirmed four years later when Samuel Huntington published his Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity (2005).     
The "clash of civilisation" thesis was the Harvard University professoriate version of this illiterate buffoonery that is now riding on New York subways - identical racism put in two different parlance, one polished and careful and the other vulgar and naked, both targeting domestic non-white Native Americans, African Americans, and recent immigrants by way of consolidating a fictive white man at the centre of American history and political culture.  
The fact that the principal culprit behind this bigotry is in fact a domestic danger to reason and sanity in the US has not been lost on progressive Americans who have been on her case for quite some time. The Southern Poverty Law Centre, a non-profit civil rights organisation "dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society", has in fact done a thorough exposé on her 
In a way, this ad is in fact a badge of honour for Muslims to have joined the ranks of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans and others who have periodically been the subject of white supremacist hatred. Muslims have finally arrived in America!  
"The ad is not an exception that proves a rule, but an exception that camouflages the rule."

In this sense, Geller's pathological utterance in public is thus identical to Mitt Romney's now infamous tape in which he openly denigrates and dismisses half of the American population as lazy freeloaders. Romney and Gellar are just not too intelligent to say what they mean in more guarded language. Indeed as Romney subsequently said in an attempt to justify his 47 per cent comment, he did not put it elegantly. Exactly. He is a badly educated and vulgar rich man who says things very nakedly, as is Geller. Two vulgar racist class-conscious supremacists thrown into the public ill-prepared to camouflage their racism as a Harvard professor would.    
The exception that hides the rule 
The second most visible aspect of this ad, immediately connected to the first, is its astonishing vulgarity. That vulgarity in effect and unwillingly mimics Zionism - stealing other people's homeland and crying uncle! By incitement to murder, by encouraging ethnic cleansing, by being associated with a vulgar Zionist who has been an inspiration to the European mass murderer, Anders Breivik, this ad stages a particular brand of American Zionism appropriately placed where usually advertisements for Calvin Klein underwear or "Gentlemen's clubs" and other similar commercials appear. 
By thus commercialising the Zionist cause, it places it squarely within the visual regime of loutish consumerism - where it now squarely belongs. It thrives on mimicking Zionism in its advanced stage of having wedded the ethnic cleansing of Palestine to the consumerist fetishism definitive to American militarism. 
But Americans and non-Americans alike baffled by the depth of this vulgarity in effect blind themselves to what this blatant vulgarity conceals and reveals at one and the same time.  
To understand this concealment, this commodified mystification of Zionism, we need a quick detour to the sublime insight of the exquisite French semiotician Roland Barth (1915-1980) in his reading of Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront (1954). In one of his most insightful short essays in his Mythologies (1957), "A Sympathetic Worker", Barth speaks of a certain kind of "truth vaccine" by which he means how in Elia Kazan's film "a small gang of mobsters is made to symbolise the entire body of employers, and once this minor disorder is acknowledged and dealt with like a trivial and disgraceful pustule, the real problem is evaded, is never even named, and is thereby exorcised".   
This is exactly what we are seeing here. The thick vulgarity of the ad turns it into a caricature, safely distances it from Harvard political scientists theorising "the clash of civilisation", as it distances it from the very core of American imperialism, so that "once this minor disorder is thus identified and acknowledged" as "a trivial and disgraceful pustule", the real problem - namely the fact that the entire American foreign policy, its demonisation of Muslims in the courses it teaches in its military academies, its flushing the Quran down the toilet by way of torturing Muslim "savages", by drone attacks on innocent people in Pakistan or Afghanistan, and by its unconditional support for Israel repeatedly articulated by President Obama are all "evaded, never even named, and thereby exorcised".   
So if you are angered, disgusted and outraged by this ad, watch it, you are being taken for a ride, and not just on San Francisco buses or the New York subway cars. For the ad is not an exception that proves a rule, but an exception that camouflages the rule.  
As to what exactly should be the Muslim response to this racist Islamophobic ad - well you just read one response: no kicking, no screaming, no climbing any walls, no burning any flag, no act of violence, no room for any corrupt Pakistani politician to cover up his own corruption by inciting to murder - just a little theoretical tit for a bit of vulgar tat. They want to terrorise you into silence; you turn around and theorise their vulgarity. That's all - on to the next atrocity.  
Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.  His most recent book is The Arab Spring:  The End of Postcolonialism (Zed 2012).
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.