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American Christians Visit Iran on Journey for Peace

August 31st, 2007 - by admin

Mehr News.com – 2007-08-31 10:32:45

http://www.mehrnews.com/en/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=455010

TEHRAN (February 21, 2007) — A multi-denominational Christian delegation from the United States has come to Iran to meet religious and political figures and the Iranian people in order to “build bridges of peace and security” between Iran and the US.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad traveled to New York in September 2006 to attend the UN General Assembly session. Forty-six Christian and Muslim religious leaders met with Ahmadinejad on September 20 to discuss the influence of religious communities on the improvement of relations between Iran and the United States.

On Ahmadinejad’s invitation, the 13-member group arrived in Tehran early on Monday and will be staying until February 25. Improving relations between the people of Iran and the US is one of the main goals of the delegation.

The Tehran Times and the Mehr News Agency conducted an interview on February 19 with two members of the delegation, Mary Ellen McNish, the general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, and Ron Flaming, the international program director of the Mennonite Central Committee.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: Could you tell us about the purpose of your visit to Iran?

McNish: We are here to build bridges of peace and security between the people of Iran and the United States.

Flaming: We came so that the American people also can understand, have a better picture of the Iranians, and not just based on what they see in the media and other voices, which might be distorted in terms of what they are hearing.

So I think it’s important to go back to our churches, to the churches that we represent, with whatever message we can bring back about our visit to Iran.

Q: When you went to the Congress, were there any specific members of Congress favorable to your views, or are some of them favorable to this view or trying to push it?

Flaming: First of all, let’s be clear that we are not representatives of the government. We don’t represent them and we haven’t been sent by them.

However, there are many in the Congress who are calling for direct negotiations with Iran to resolve the differences between our two nations.

In that sense, we have heard encouragement for these kinds of efforts to begin to talk together.

Q: Any specific people or…

Flaming: There would be many others who are on the record for calling for this administration to engage in more direct conversation.

McNish: We sent a letter to President Bush advocating direct negotiations.

Q: Can you please elaborate on the obstacles to dialogue?

Flaming: I think a part of the obstacle is that we haven’t been talking to each other and… It’s little wonder if you don’t talk to each other that trust is not very high between our two countries. So there is this wall that is built up because of that. I think we have to find ways to talk with each other more directly so those issues can be dealt with, and find ways to resolve them.

Q: But usually there are some extremists who try to block the way.

Flaming: Certainly. But we understand that what we are trying to do is to see if we can provide a bridge which overcomes those kinds of obstacles by coming here directly as a people concerned, trying to find a way to connect.

McNish: And as religious leaders, we feel it is our duty to not only build bridges for peace and security, but also to begin a dialogue person to person as a model for others to follow.

Q: Basically you are a coalition of church groups. But I notice a lot of the members of the group are Mennonites and…

McNish: Mennonites and Quakers are our cosponsors.

Q: These are the Christian groups known for being more peace-oriented and pacifist.

McNish: Both Mennonites and Quakers are part of the traditional peace church, but what we find is that the Catholics, the peace people, the Methodists, and many members of the National Council of Churches are with us.

Flaming: While we disagree about many things, on this issue we are very concerned about the current tensions between our two countries, and all of us agree about that. And we are concerned that this could end very badly. But we also think that there are possibilities for a new path that would lead to a different future, and that we all agree on. And we are here to try and work on that agenda.

McNish: And there are very deep divides, but our expectation is that as we get to know the people, and all these networks grow bigger, people of peace who want to work together will be gathered. And we can have partners here in Iran that we can work directly with. So it’s really a mission of peace, building peace.

Flaming: We (the Mennonites) have been in Iran for the last seventeen years, working at relief work with the Red Crescent Society, first in the earthquake in 1990, and then working together with the Red Crescent Society and the relief work on the Afghanistan war refugees, and more recently in the Bam earthquake, and we have developed an exchange program…

Q: Could you tell us about your two meetings earlier today?

McNish: Well, they were very different meetings. The first one was with the Archbishop of the Armenian (Orthodox) Church (Archbishop Sebu Sarkissian), and that was a very interesting conversation where we were learning of what it’s like for the Christian community in Tehran.

It’s very interesting to hear how they have a good relationship with their Muslim neighbors and it seems to work well and they seem very happy. And we talked a little bit about how we can work together with them, and we got some ideas, and we will meet him again tomorrow. And we met with Ayatollah (Mohammad Emami) Kashani and we were all moved by how spiritually-centered he was. We asked a couple of questions. We heard him say that Islam forbids weapons of mass destruction, and we were very happy to hear him confirm that.

We really are worried about our own government’s capacity for aggressive talk. And we, the members who are here, really believe that peace is the only way to the future and that it is incumbent on each one of us to participate in some peacemaking effort so that another tragedy or suffering can not possibly happen.

Flaming: A common theme I heard in both cases was a strong call for more people-to-people exchanges, dialogues, discussions, which gets us back to our mission, which is trying to build bridges of understanding and security.

Q: You said, besides meeting the officials, you are going to meet the average citizens. Do you have any plans for that?

Flaming: We are still finalizing our program, and this is one of the things we are sorting out. This is a very short visit, but we are still working on it.

We are going to see Isfahan and Qom.

Q: A lot of people in the United States are not aware that there is a Christian community in Iran.

Flaming: That’s why it is very important for us to meet with various groups, including the Christian group.

Q: Isn’t it being somehow suppressed in the media in the U.S.? There is a Jewish community here, too, but Iran has always been accused of being anti-Jewish, although Jews are living normal lives here also. This information seems to be suppressed in the media in the West and especially in the U.S.A.

Flaming: I would say that there is misperception on both sides. And that’s again why it is important for us to find ways to connect person to person, people to people, and learn from each other, and to try to build relations or bridges. Certainly, those misperceptions are there.

McNish: And just like in Iran, the media explosion in the United States makes it difficult. They only want to cover sensational things, they don’t want to cover diplomacy and a lot of people are not informed.

And that’s our job. We are really looking forward to going back to not only educate all of our churches but also to try to influence how they influence our public officials.

Q: Are the Mennonites and Quakers now having a greater influence on other Christian groups?

McNish: Well this came on the heels of our meeting with President Ahmadinejad in New York in September, when he was in New York for the UN General Assembly session, and in that meeting with him he invited us to come. It was the Mennonites who had relationships in Iran who asked to host that meeting, and then together we organized this delegation. We invited all these people, and they were anxious to join us because the message of peace is far greater than just historic peace churches. They believe we live with the God of peace and it’s our responsibility to help others come to reconciliation over differences. There are differences, no question. But reconciliation is the key, not a kind of military action.

Q: There are religious groups in the U.S. which are closer to President Bush. And they support war. Why do the religious groups not have a common position toward such issues?

Flaming: Certainly, as you can imagine, we have differences on many things, and I don’t think we will ever agree on many things in terms of the various groups. We are focusing on what we can do together in common with this group of people. We represent a significant part of the Christian community. If we can do something about this, if we can have some influence on other groups, we certainly will try. But our approach is to focus, at this point, on what we can do, what bridges we can build.

Q: So, after you return home, you are going to meet congressmen. Are you hopeful that you can influence their position toward Iran?

McNish: We particularly want to share the message that we offer over and over and over again, that it is against Islam to have or develop or use nuclear weapons.

We believe that many people in the United States are fearful, inflamed by the media, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. We want to try not to be naive or anything like that. But we want to say… what we heard when we were in Iran. It was very strong. Whether it will work the first time, that message, it has to be brought over and over again, and we are really looking to this most recent tension, but we heard some news developed just today that there is a possibility that (EU foreign policy chief) Javier Solana came up with a new idea around the Security Council resolution and a third party is coming in there to broker. That would be very positive.

Q: Could you tell us about the peace movement in the United States?

McNish: There is a new peace and justice movement, particularly for the Palestinians. There is enormous support among our churches. All of them are on record saying that there must be a just peace proper for the Palestinians. We work on that. We work on that in the Congress, we work on that in our communities, and there is a growing movement.

Flaming: Thank you for your interest in our visit.

McNish: We want both sides to forgive each other. We know that we made mistakes. This is a journey for peace.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Aid Failings ‘Hit Afghan Progress’: Can War Be Won?

August 31st, 2007 - by admin

David Loyn / BBC News & John Simpson / BBC News – 2007-08-31 10:23:40

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6764345.stm

AFGHANISTAN (August 31, 2007) — More than five years after the defeat of the Taleban in Afghanistan, the failure of international aid to make a difference to Afghanistan is now having serious security consequences.

A recent Red Cross report showed that the worsening conflict in the south is now spreading to the north and west, alongside an upsurge of suicide bombing in Kabul.

The amount of money promised per head for Afghanistan was far lower than in other recent post-conflict countries, and too little of it has gone into increasing the capacity of the Afghan government to run things for itself.

In a report more than a year ago, the World Bank warned of the dangers of an ‘aid juggernaut’, a parallel world operating outside the government economy, with Afghans not even able to bid for major infrastructure contracts, such as roads.

The quality of much of what has been delivered remains very low. In schools where lots of money has been spent and the project signed off as functioning and open, girls are still being taught in tents in the mud.

There have been some successes. President Hamid Karzai often reminds audiences that 40,000 Afghan babies would not be alive today but for improvements in Afghan health care.

And some aid is successfully going through the state for basic services.

One in 10 Afghan teachers have their salaries paid by British taxpayers, but to the teachers their pay packets are not earmarked as ‘foreign aid’ – they come from the Afghan Education department.

Similarly, some small rural schemes – drainage, clinics, small power projects and schools are now being built through the National Solidarity Programme. That is a fund managed and distributed through the Afghan government, with almost all of the money coming from international donors.

Slow Process
There have recently been some indications that the Americans, the biggest spenders in Afghanistan, are beginning to see the sense in these kinds of programmes, and planning to put more of their aid money through the government.

Changing policy in this direction is a slow process, although the theory at least is now US doctrine.

Building up the institutions of the state is after all a central part of fighting insurgencies, according to the new counter-insurgency manual being used by US forces – the first written since the end of the Vietnam War.

The manual even emphasises that the new state does not have to do things especially well: “The host nation doing something tolerably is normally better than us (the United States) doing it well.”

But the doctrine has not yet worked through to changing the culture of how to spend aid money, either through USAid, or the Pentagon which runs its own aid programme.

Most international officials, aid workers and consultants in Afghanistan live a hermetically sealed life – advised not to step outside by armed security guards, and often working at very high salaries on very short-term contracts.

So too much of the money earmarked for aid to Afghanistan actually goes straight back to donor countries.

The Chief of Staff at the Afghan Counter-Narcotics Ministry, Abbie Aryan, condemned the culture of “champagne and caviar consultants” who come to Afghanistan and “deliver nothing”.

There is still no internationally agreed strategy on how to tackle the drugs problem.

Britain plays a lead role in trying to stop the cultivation of opium poppies, and Mr Aryan says that large amounts of British money have been wasted on things that the Afghans do not need.

‘Unwanted Luxuries’
He agreed to talk to the BBC on the record because of a growing concern in the Afghan government that the international community is only paying lip service to the idea that Afghanistan should determine aid priorities for itself.

Rather than responding to Afghan concerns, and helping to fund an eradication coordination unit, when the Counter Narcotics Ministry wanted to set one up, the British government is instead funding a project for aerial photography that will cost more than $10m.

The Director of Survey and Monitoring at the ministry, Engineer Mohammad Ibrahim Azhar, told the BBC that when the project was first proposed, the Minister Habibullah Qaderi asked the British why they could not use a local plane, or at least provide equipment that would still be there when the project finished.

Instead the contract is with a British firm, with two British engineers running it in Kabul.

Mr Aryan said: “Our minister is concerned about this. We are constantly telling the British that you are supposed to be providing us with tools to fight narcotics, rather than all this luxury stuff, which we didn’t ask for and didn’t need.”

Concern
The minister is reported to have asked the British why they could not have made the money available for Afghanistan to employ people to survey the poppy-growing areas on the ground.

British policy towards Afghanistan is now undergoing its most radical review since the fall of the Taleban in 2001

The Deputy Minister of Counter Narcotics, General Khodaidad, is very supportive of the British position, but several other sources in the ministry have expressed concern about British priorities.

Mr Aryan says that the aerial photographs replicate material already available from the US, UN and British systems: “We can just look at the photo and say ‘Wow, a five million dollar photo’.”

Other concerns have been raised over a fund designed to provide alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers.

Of $70m earmarked for this project, little more than $1m has actually been spent.

Afghan officials blame bureaucratic obstacles put in the way of spending the money. The UK Foreign Office admitted that there have been “teething problems”, for a fund that is operating “in a challenging environment”.

Behind the criticism over spending lies a more serious concern that the counter-narcotics policy is not working.

Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is on the increase again, and rising fastest in areas under British control. A number of officials believe that the problem is now out of control, and that the international community has lost the war on drugs.

British policy towards Afghanistan is now undergoing its most radical review since the fall of the Taleban in 2001. There is a big increase of staff in Kabul, including a doubling of diplomats on the political side, directly engaged in relations with the Afghan government.

The review will include security, drug control policies, and development spending under a new ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles. He told the BBC that Afghanistan is now “one of Britain’s top foreign policy priorities”.

© BBC MMVII


Can the War in Afghanistan Be Won?
John Simpson / BBC NEWS

(June 17, 2007) — The Taleban have new confidence and new tactics, and their campaign against the government and its NATO backers has been increasingly successful since the beginning of this year.

In the east of the country, around Jalalabad, suicide bombings have become such frequent occurrences that the road from there to Kabul is now known as “the Baghdad road”.

I have been coming to Jalalabad since 1989, but for the first time in my experience we needed a police escort to drive around there. In the countryside near the town, they urged us not to get out of our vehicle when we stopped, despite the intense heat. “There are spies everywhere,” the police explained.

The police themselves are a major target for the Taleban and al-Qaeda guerrillas who operate here now.

Outside the main police headquarters in the town, a senior policeman ran out and ordered us to stop filming in case our presence attracted the attentions of a suicide bomber.

There have been several attacks there, and an unexploded rocket is still lodged in a tree in front of the building.

Terror Tactics
Until the end of last year, Jalalabad was relatively quiet. Now it is becoming a battleground.

Along part of the length of the so-called “Baghdad Road”, local people point out the places where American soldiers fired at passers-by a few weeks ago, after an attempted suicide bombing. The soldiers claimed they had come under small-arms fire from the side of the road.

The local authorities later apologised and paid compensation for the deaths. So far neither Nato nor the government of President Karzai seems to know how to counter the resurgent Taleban

As a result of this and other incidents in this part of the country, Nato and US troops are often regarded with dislike and distrust.

The Taleban’s tactics are designed to make people feel there is no safety anywhere.

Last week, just north of Kabul in an area which has always been a stronghold of support for the government and for the Northern Alliance which swept the Taleban from power in November 2001, the Taleban staged a fierce and concerted attack on a pro-government village.

Just south of Kabul, in Logar province, two schools have been attacked in the past few days, and schoolgirls murdered or injured. The Taleban are particularly opposed to the education of women.

At the hospital where one of the schoolteachers and her pupils were being treated, they begged us not to film them for fear of the consequences.

And the capital itself experienced on Sunday its worst bombing since the fall of the Taleban in 2005, when more than 30 people were killed in an attack on a police bus.

Uncertain Future
For several years after the Taleban were chased out of power, they seemed to be finished. Girls went back to the schools which the Taleban had closed down, women’s groups started up and women appeared on television as newsreaders.

Now a new campaign of murder against prominent women has begun.

With Nato troops mostly tied up in the southern part of the country, the Afghan police and army are finding it harder to operate elsewhere. New recruits, new weapons and new tactics are coming in to help the Taleban from outside.

Especially from Iraq. Al-Qaeda, the Taleban’s close ally, is redirecting some of its forces here.

The new al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa bin Yazid, has himself had combat experience in Iraq, and is thought to be behind the new tactic of suicide-bombing; something that was relatively rare in Afghanistan until recently.

But the Taleban are not winning all the battles. I spoke to a senior Taleban figure who has just defected to the government in Kabul after falling out with the overall Taleban leader, Mullah Omar.

He maintained that many Taleban leaders like himself are hostile to al-Qaeda, and are looking for some third way between the government with its Nato allies and the foreign extremists led by bin Yazid.

But he agreed the Taleban were proving increasingly successful against the government, and confirmed that their strategy was to surround Kabul and eventually capture it.

While NATO forces are in the country, that will not happen. But so far neither Nato nor the government of President Karzai seems to know how to counter the resurgent Taleban.

© BBC MMVII

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, eudcational purposes.

Afghan Refugees’ Camp ‘Extended’

August 31st, 2007 - by admin

BBC News – 2007-08-31 10:09:30

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6972308.stm

(August 31, 2007) — Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s largest camp have been given another six months to relocate, local media reports say.

The Jalozai camp, near Peshawar city, was planned for closure on Friday but the refugees have been given an unofficial extension, say journalists.

The UN refugee agency earlier appealed to Pakistan to postpone the closure, warning that “tens of thousands” of Afghans were being pressured to leave.

Pakistan’s government has not yet commented on the reports.

But it has said that the “voluntary repatriation” of the refugees will continue and that the camp in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) must be closed.

Local journalists say the refugees will have to re-locate to three designated camps in six months.

Till a few months ago, there were 109,000 refugees in Jalozai. Of these, 20,000 have left for Afghanistan and some have moved to other camps. But most of the remaining are reluctant to leave.

The Pakistani government says that some of the camps – mostly inhabited by people who have fled decades of fighting in Afghanistan – have been used as a safe haven by Taleban and al-Qaeda militants.

But the UN said that refugees in Jalozai had been given a “very short deadline” to leave, and that it would be “impossible to manage a safe, voluntary and sustainable repatriation operation”.

The agency has warned that camp closures late in the year result in “secondary internal displacement” with returnee families living in inadequate and makeshift shelters over the winter.

The UN says that the closure of Jalozai should be suspended until 2008 to permit a more “dignified and controlled conclusion to the process”.

Correspondents say many refugees do not want to return because they do not have land, shelter or jobs in Afghanistan.

Some have lived all their lives in Pakistan.

© BBC MMVII

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

More Afghan Civilians Die in Clashes

August 31st, 2007 - by admin

BBC News – 2007-08-31 10:04:24

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6972482.stm

Afghan Attack ‘Kills Civilians’
BBC News

(August 31, 2007) — The dead were reported to be civilians killed when rockets or mortars missed the base and landed on a village in the eastern province of Kunar. Police said Taleban insurgents carried out the attack, in Chawkai district.

Earlier, two Afghan soldiers died in a suicide bombing outside the airport in the capital, Kabul. The attack was aimed at Nato troops, officials said. It was not immediately clear who carried out the suicide attack, but one report said the Taleban had claimed responsibility.

Several other people were hurt in the blast, at the entrance to the military section of Kabul airport.

Meanwhile, NATO forces confirmed that one of their bases had come under attack in Kunar. Spokesman Sgt Dean Welch said the compound had “received 10 rounds in indirect fire. We did not return any fire,” he told AFP news agency.

Police official Abdul Sabour Allahyar said the Taleban had “fired several rockets over the base”, but they had fallen short and landed on civilian homes.

Bloodshed in Afghanistan has returned to levels not seen since the fall of the Taleban in 2001, with parts of the south and east hit particularly hard.

Some 4,000 people are believed to have died in 2006 in the insurgency — about a quarter of them civilians.

© BBC MMVII


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6763865.stm

Afghan Villagers Answer your Questions
BBC NEWS

(June 19, 2007) — Nearly two years ago, BBC News website readers put their questions to people in a village north of the capital, Kabul, where the Taleban had destroyed many homes during the civil war.

Since we met the villagers in September 2005, international aid pledges to the country have risen to more than $10.5bn (£5.9bn). But corruption has got worse, and the Taleban have been fighting back.

Our reporter Soutik Biswas revisited the village of Asad Khyl to find out how life has changed during the last two years. Here, villagers answer questions sent to them by readers.

Are things improving? Is there safety, shelter, enough food and water?
— Roy, Kansas, US

RAHMAT GUL, teacher: In our village, security has actually improved a bit. But living conditions haven’t changed much. People are poor, there are no jobs and the crop is poor because of lack of water.

I have a job as a teacher and my salary is about US$60. It is not enough to maintain my family.

In my opinion, one good way to improve our lives is to provide us opportunities to export our grapes and raisins because they are of a very good quality.

MOHAMMED SHARIF, village chief: Rahmat is right, but I think a better way to bring prosperity to our village is to set up factories, which make fruit juices.

We can sell our good fruit to these factories, and residents can get jobs there. So it will solve the problem of unemployment and our farmers can make money too.

RAHMAT GUL: Unfortunately, not much has been done in our village. Out biggest problem is water. We just don’t have enough water to irrigate our land.

We had two wells when you last visited us. Since then, the government has dug out two more wells.

Inflation has gone up and food costs more in the market.

A bag of flour used to cost 900 Afghanis ($19) two years ago, today it costs 1400 Afghanis (US$30). Five kilograms of vegetable oil used to cost 200 Afghanis (US$4) two years ago, now it costs 340 Afghanis (US$7). Beef costs more too – from 120 Afghanis (US$2.5) for a kg of meat two years ago, it has now gone up to 200 Afghanis (US$4).

We need more water to irrigate our fertile land. With enough water we can have two crop seasons – one to grow paddy (rice), and the other – to grow grains and fruits. Do you know that we can easily grow peach, apricot, pomegranates, apple, pears, watermelons, cherries and grapes?

This used to be a very fertile area before the Soviets bombed our irrigation canals. I had apple trees full of the fruit, my brother had two dozen peach trees at home. Now things are different.

MOHAMMAD SHARIF: There was a time before the Soviets invaded us Asad Khyl was so prosperous that we used to feed poor people coming to the village.

RAHMAT GUL: The government did build a canal, which passes through the village, but it does not help irrigate our land. The water is of no use to us — there is no way we can channel it from there to our lands.

There have been a few minor achievements though – when you visited us last, we did not have electricity. Now a generator has been installed in the village, which supplies us with electricity for five hours between 7 pm and 11 pm every day. We have to pay 75 Afghanis ($1.55) for every light bulb a month.

With electricity available, 60% of the people in the village have television sets and have more entertainment, compared to only listening to the radio.

Television has made us more aware, and better informed. When we see TV, we realise how backward we are. At the same time, we want to preserve our Islamic values.

SHUKRULLAH, student: I love watching educational programmes and music programmes on TV. TV has helped me understand mathematics better and has taught me some English.

Shukrullah, what kind of changes happened in your life since last time? What is your most urgent need now?
— Kamran, Birmingham

SHUKRULLAH: I am 20 years old now, I am studying in the sixth grade. I study Dari, geography, geometry, mathematics, English, Pashtun and history four hours a day at school. These days I also go to the local madrassa [religious school] in the morning.

I still want to become a civil engineer. I still help my father to weave carpets in my free time. We earn $170 for a carpet but it takes two months to weave one.

The one change that has happened is that I have become a football trainer at school. I always played football, but now I teach the game to the youngsters.

What scares me is the joblessness that I see around me. Factories and new towns need to be built so enough jobs are created. I worry a lot when I see people hanging around with no work.

It is often argued that Afghanistan was peaceful during the Taleban rule, and that after their fall, the country has not enjoyed the same level of peace and stability. Do you agree? Do you see the presence of foreign forces important for the future of Afghanistan or should the Taleban be invited to participate in a broad national government?
— Farid Mamundzay, Birmingham, UK

RAHMAT GUL: You are partly right. People did enjoy peace and stability. But Taleban laws were harsh and draconian. Now the laws are within the framework of a democracy and if we implement them we could have more peace and security.

To your second question – I think foreign forces should coordinate their operations with Afghan forces in a bigger way to avoid civilian casualties.

The thing is that if you invite the Taleban to join a broad-based national government, there will be no need for foreign troops in the country at all. It would not be such a bad idea, though I wonder how the Taleban would react to such a proposal.

It would be a good idea to declare an amnesty for all the indigenous Taleban and bring them into the mainstream of politics. The foreign Taleban should be kept out.

What are your hopes for an end to corruption and fighting?
— Anne Thorpe, Conder, Australia

RAHMAT GUL: Corruption has become a big problem in Afghanistan. It openly mocks the laws. I haven’t been affected personally, but I keep hearing stories of how deep-rooted and wide-spread it is.

MOHAMMAD SHARIF: I can tell you some stories about how corruption is ravaging our society.

Two months ago, a judge in Qarabagh district [Asad Khyl is in Qarabagh] was caught taking a 10,000 Afghani (US$210) bribe from a man in return for forging some land documents. The man complained to the shura [village council] and the judge was caught and sacked by the villagers.

When I became village chief last year, I went to Kabul to get a letter of approval about my position from authorities. The officer made me wait for a couple of days, and then he demanded a bribe for the letter.

Whenever you visit government offices, employees are telling you, ‘shirni bee’, which means ‘give me sweets.’ ‘Sweets’ is a euphemism for a bribe. So ‘shirni’ has become a dreaded word in Afghanistan now.

The only way to curb corruption is to punish officials. But the salaries of government workers should also be increased. They are paid too little, so there is a lot of incentive to take bribes.

Are you happy by the efforts by the government to improve the condition of the people?
— Ritesh, Hyderabad, India

RAHMAT GUL: I think that the government has done a fairly decent job. They have built some roads and schools, provided some electricity. Twenty four new schools have been opened in the Qarabagh district alone.

But the progress is very slow, and a lot more needs to be done.

The international community should help more. They should give aid directly to the government, and not through NGOs to help us. I know that people working with NGOs have very high salaries, so most of the aid actually goes back to the foreign countries as pay and prerequisites.

The government should set up an independent commission, which will be responsible for receiving aid and allocating it to various departments. The commission should have honest, patriotic people at the top so that the money is not stolen or misused.

How passionate do you feel about your right to vote and about building a democratic Afghan society?
— Savannah, Houston, Texas

RAHMAT GUL: Democracy only in name is nonsense. It should be put into practice. Democracy alone does not deliver much. People should work hard and be honest.

Yes, I am passionate about my right to vote. I use my vote carefully – I must know the person and his work well enough to vote for him. I voted for Hamid Karzai in the presidential election. I also voted in the parliamentary election.

What do you see as the biggest threat to the future of Afghanistan — the Taleban, the West, corruption, illiteracy, poverty, drought or something else?
— Kate Mather, London, England

HAJI ABDULLAH SALEH, village elder: The Taleban is the biggest threat to the future of Afghanistan. They are not powerful enough to topple the government, but they are a big problem. Pakistan and Iran are supporting them with arms and funds.

They don’t want the country to stand on its own feet, prosper and become peaceful. They destroyed most of the country, and their legacy is all about burning schools, gardens and houses. This is unacceptable and it is against Islamic law.

The Taleban have made a comeback in the past year, they have re-grouped. You can even see them in the north of the country these days. They have begun using suicide attackers. This is another big worry. Recently, they killed some schoolgirls. All this is all very worrying.

It seems people are supporting the Taleban on the pretext that the Taleban are defending Islam against Western values. Do you agree? Ezra Kaimukilwa, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

HAJI ABDULLAH SALEH:The Taleban has trampled upon the good name of Islam. They don’t observe Islamic values and laws. They are against education.

If they served Islam, people would not have hated them, and they would have succeeded. They don’t even have the power to defend Islam, let alone protect it. They get outside support to create trouble.

Do you still think Americans can establish democracy in Afghanistan? Is President Hamid Karzai acting independently or as a puppet of US? Saran , Bremen, Germany

HAJI ABDULLAH SALEH:American style democracy is not going to work in Afghanistan. Our democracy has to be moulded by ourselves, not any outsider.

As for Karzai – yes, he cannot act independently. He had to release people who worked against Islam because of pressure from foreign powers – the Muslim man who converted to Christianity was released.

He could not secure the release of the kidnapped Afghan translator of an Italian journalist, who was also taken hostage by the Taleban. The journalist was freed, but the translator lost his life.

Karzai should be the puppet of the Afghan people, instead he is the puppet of the US.

Has support for the Taleban risen due to lack of improvements in daily life?
— Karen DeBiase, Chester, VA

HAJI ABDULLAH SALEH:Support for Taleban is coming from countries like Pakistan.

There is a big rumour these days that the US is actually helping the Taleban to keep the war going. The Taleban were created by the US and the US has all the powers in the world, so people here find it very difficult to believe that the US can’t take them out. It just doesn’t make sense.

Would you like to see the grandson of the previous king back in power and would he able to unite the country? Simon, London, UK

HAJI ABDULLAH SALEH:It is possible. People are still fond of the royal family. The grandson of the former king is a member of a coalition of parties opposed to the government. It is possible for the royal family to reunite the people. They will get a lot of support from the people.

Shaista, have you been able to carry on going to school and do you still plan to be a doctor?
— Thone, Liege, Belgium

SHAISTA:I am in grade seven in school. I want to reach my dream and still wish to become a doctor and help my people.

There are still a lot of difficulties I am facing – I don’t have shoes, I don’t have proper school clothes, I don’t have enough books.

I bought eight books for school recently. I needed more, but I could afford to pay only for eight. Each book cost 20 Afghans (US$0.40). This was from my own money that I had saved.

Now we have electricity for few hours in the evening, and I watch TV, some educational programmes and Indian serials.

I’ve never missed a class. But my father tells me these days that I should stop going to school from next year.

My father and other people say girls don’t go to school, only boys do. But I want to continue, study medicine and graduate. It is my dream to become a doctor.

Are there more opportunities for women to work and support themselves? What kind of education opportunities do they have?
— Tammy Georgeson, Salt Lake City, US

LAL BIBI, widow: There are no opportunities for women to work here. Women always stay home.

If men are jobless at least they can go to bazaar and find work there. But for women like us there are no opportunities.

I have tried a lot to find some work for myself, but I have not succeeded.

I need to do some tailoring, embroidery and literacy courses, which would be helpful to earn a living.

There is absolutely no opportunity for education for women. We have not received any aid from foreign NGOs.

In fact no-one is helping women here. If the government or the NGOs that are working for women establish some courses in tailoring, embroidery and literacy, that can help women to make a living.

I did a month-long training course last year, conducted by a Dutch NGO on how to keep cows and livestock.

I passed the training, borrowed some money and bought a cow. I collect fodder for the cow from the gardens.

I sell the milk in the market to buy sugar, tea and basic food.

That is not enough for me. Everything is expensive.

I can work as a tailor, embroider, carpet weaver. But there is no such opportunity. Life is too difficult for me.

Story from BBC NEWS:

© BBC MMVII

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

ACTION ALERT: Administration Source Confrims Cheney Plan to Attack Iran

August 30th, 2007 - by admin

USAlone.com & Time Online – 2007-08-30 08:12:05

http://www.usalone.com/cheney_impeachment.php

If you thought the Cheney White House could not be so crazy as to attack Iran given the existing debacle in Iraq, we have news for you. They ARE that crazy.

As reported by Time magazine on line, an administration official declared unilaterally “There will be an attack on Iran”, based on the totally bogus assertion that they are the source for the IEDs being used in Iraq. And the only way to stop the insanity is to impeach the Vice President immediately.

• ACTION PAGE ON CHENEY IMPEACHMENT:
http://www.usalone.com/cheney_impeachment.php

Never mind that all anyone has to do is Google the words “missing explosives iraq” and in seconds you will find all the links to how 340 bulk tons of the most powerful military explosives just walked away from the Al Qa’qaa storage depot and others, which HAD been under U.N. seal, until they were left entirely unguarded for a month and a half while the US military was only interested in protecting the oil ministry.

Never mind that all one of the strategic Keystone Cops in the Vice President’s office would have to do is Google the words “ieds copper discs” and in seconds they too would find all the links to how local machine shops in Iraq were cranking out the parts needed to make all those IEDS as a cottage industry, given that they now have enough stolen high explosives stockpiled for a 200 year insurgency at current rates of attacks.

And yet still the push is from Cheney’s office to tell even bigger lies about Iran than he ever told about Iraq, and to escalate yet another fraudulent casus belli into world war with a billion Muslims, 99.999 percent of whom would have rather just be left alone in peace had we not gone out of our way to bomb their cities.

Remember that Cheney is the originator of the irrational 1 percent doctrine, by which he asserted that even if the chance of potential threat is very small we must act preemptively to take that threat out. As a result of such doctrinaire dogma, 99 percent of the million Iraqis killed so far, and of the millions more made into refugees or maimed, have been innocent bystander civilians.

That’s a whole lot of hearts and minds. Operating with at most 1 percent intelligence, and 99 percent of the certainty of a paranoid, delusional madman, Dick Cheney has turned US foreign policy into a self-fulfilling disaster.

This is the same Dick Cheney who when interviewed in 1994 explained (in a private assessment he wishes he could suppress now) what a bad idea it would have been to try to depose Saddam by ourselves all alone with nobody from the region with us, and how it would lead to nothing but a quagmire and Iraq flying apart into sectarian pieces. THAT 9/11 did not change. But were they candid with the American people about the risks of an occupation of Iraq? No, they lied about that too.

They told us it would be a six week cake walk with candy and flowers, to sucker us into sacrificing thousands of American lives and a trillion dollar from our treasury to Cheney’s war profiteering cronies, only to then tell us that’s the reason we can’t just leave now.

Only impeachment can save us now. Only impeachment can remove Cheney from office before he executes the final solution leading inevitably to all out nuclear war and to the end of civilization. We do not have time for the next election to save us.

With more and more evidence surfacing that the last two presidential elections were stolen outright, with them putting into place secret presidential directives to declare martial law and worse in response to the crisis they themselves are determined to precipitate, only if you speak out now can we save ourselves.

Please cast your vote on the action page above, just as over 100,000 of your fellow alarmed citizens already have, which will send your message in real time to all your members of Congress, and letter to the editor of your nearest daily local newspaper if you like as well.

In doing so we can pressure more members of Congress to sign on to H.Res. 333, calling for the impeachment of Vice President Cheney, just as 20 House members already have. If enough of us speak out Congress absolutely will act. All House members are up for reelection. They cannot ignore us all.

Please speak out. Click a mouse one time. We need YOUR voice to join in the mounting calls for impeachment NOW. Please.

Please take action NOW, so we can win all victories that are supposed to be ours, and forward this message to everyone else you know.

If you would like to get alerts like these, you can do so at http://www.usalone.com/in.htm

MSNBC, CNBC Refuse to Run Pro-war Ads

August 30th, 2007 - by admin

Powerblogline.com – 2007-08-30 07:52:29

MSNBC, CNBC Refuse to Run Pro-War Ads

(August 28, 2007) — We wrote here about the television commercials that Freedom’s Watch has produced, featuring veterans and their families, that urge Congress and the public to continue supporting the Iraq war.

The commercials are well done, and convey the simple message that the Iraq war is important and winnable, and that we should allow our troops to see the mission through. The ads are appearing in the context of a blizzard of anti-war ads by left-wing groups, intended to pressure Senators and Congressmen into pulling the plug on the Iraq effort.

Freedom’s Watch has placed its ads on Fox and CNN, but CNBC and MSNBC have refused to run the ads. Ari Fleischer wrote this morning on behalf of Freedom’s Watch to let us know that CNBC and MSNBC have stubbornly refused to air the pro-war ads, even though they have run issue ads on other controversial topics. Freedom’s Watch has written to CNBC and MSNBC to protest their decision.

Here is the text of that letter:

John Kelly
Senior Vice-President of NBC News Network Sales
30 Rockefeller Plaza
12th Floor
New York, NY 10112

Dear Mr. Kelly,

We understand that MSNBC and CNBC (the “Networks”) are refusing to sell advertising time to Freedom’s Watch (“FW”) to air a series of educational advertisements. It is our understanding that the purported basis for the denial is a Network policy denying access to groups that wish to sponsor advertising on controversial issues of public importance.

Given your recent history of airing such ads (see below), we must wonder if your denial to FW is a subjective decision because the network officials disagree with the FW ads’ message? If you continue to refuse to air FW’s advertisement we request an explanation of your basis in writing or station policy within two (2) days from the date above as time is of the essence.

FW has requested time on your networks to air advertisements discussing the War Against Terrorism. Your reporters and commentators discuss this issue on your programs at every hour of the day so you clearly agree this is an issue of great public importance. FW’s advertisements, to be sure, present a view of this debate that rounds out your coverage.

These ads feature Iraq War Veterans and their families discussing their sacrifices in personal terms and their belief that we must allow the military time to complete its mission in Iraq and seek victory. This is a side of this issue that should not be silenced by national cable networks. We believe that rather than censor these American heroes, you should let the American public hear their story.

As noted above, it’s troubling that the Networks appear to be airing messages on issues on a selective basis. Our research indicates that your network has accepted and aired advertisements dealing with controversial issues of national importance in the recent past. For example, the Networks aired an advertisement entitled “Shameless Politicians” sponsored by Move America Forward regarding the war on terror in October 2004.

In November 2006, the Networks aired advertisements sponsored by the American Medical Association entitled “Patient Voice” concerning the controversial issue of access to health care and coverage for the uninsured. During July 2007, the Networks aired advertisements sponsored by the Save Darfur Coalition. Your history of airing other issue advocacy advertisements makes the denial of FW advertisements troubling and raises the issue of whether your denial is based on an editorial disagreement with FW’s message.

These ads are about important issues that will shape our national security policies for years to come. These ads present a point of view that your viewers are not now receiving.
Your viewers deserve to hear all sides of this issue so that they can make informed judgments about the future of their country.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request. Please respond to me through Larry Weitzner at Jamestown Associates.

Very Truly Yours,

Bradley A. Blakeman_President and CEO

Freedom of speech: at some of our cable networks, you can’t even buy it! We’ll follow up with any response that may be forthcoming from NBC.

Iraq Corruption Whistleblowers Face Penalties

August 30th, 2007 - by admin

The Associated Press – 2007-08-30 07:45:50

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20430153/

(August 25, 2007) — Cases show fraud exposers have been vilified, fired, or detained for weeks.

One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.

Or worse.

For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers — all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. He told a federal agent the buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees.

The seller, he claimed, was the Iraqi-owned company he worked for, Shield Group Security Co. “It was a Wal-Mart for guns,” he says. “It was all illegal and everyone knew it.”

So Vance says he blew the whistle, supplying photos and documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in his hometown of Chicago because he didn’t know whom to trust in Iraq.

For his trouble, he says, he got 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison outside Baghdad that once held Saddam Hussein, and he was classified a security detainee.

Also held was colleague Nathan Ertel, who helped Vance gather evidence documenting the sales, according to a federal lawsuit both have filed in Chicago, alleging they were illegally imprisoned and subjected to physical and mental interrogation tactics “reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants.”

No Noble Outcomes
Corruption has long plagued Iraq reconstruction. Hundreds of projects may never be finished, including repairs to the country’s oil pipelines and electricity system. Congress gave more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq, and at least $8.8 billion of it has disappeared, according to a government reconstruction audit.

Despite this staggering mess, there are no noble outcomes for those who have blown the whistle, according to a review of such cases by The Associated Press.

“If you do it, you will be destroyed,” said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

“Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, ‘Should I do this?’ And my answer is no. If they’re married, they’ll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything,” Weaver said.

They have been fired or demoted, shunned by colleagues, and denied government support in whistleblower lawsuits filed against contracting firms.

“The only way we can find out what is going on is for someone to come forward and let us know,” said Beth Daley of the Project on Government Oversight, an independent, nonprofit group that investigates corruption. “But when they do, the weight of the government comes down on them. The message is, ‘Don’t blow the whistle or we’ll make your life hell.’

“It’s heartbreaking,” Daley said. “There is an even greater need for whistleblowers now. But they are made into public martyrs. It’s a disgrace. Their lives get ruined.”

One Whistleblower Demoted
Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse knows this only too well. As the highest-ranking civilian contracting officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she testified before a congressional committee in 2005 that she found widespread fraud in multibillion-dollar rebuilding contracts awarded to former Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

Soon after, Greenhouse was demoted. She now sits in a tiny cubicle in a different department with very little to do and no decision-making authority, at the end of an otherwise exemplary 20-year career.

People she has known for years no longer speak to her.

“It’s just amazing how we say we want to remove fraud from our government, then we gag people who are just trying to stand up and do the right thing,” she says.

In her demotion, her supervisors said she was performing poorly. “They just wanted to get rid of me,” she says softly. The Army Corps of Engineers denies her claims.

“You just don’t have happy endings,” said Weaver. “She was a wonderful example of a federal employee. They just completely creamed her. In the end, no one followed up, no one cared.”

No Regrets
But Greenhouse regrets nothing. “I have the courage to say what needs to be said. I paid the price,” she says.

Then there is Robert Isakson, who filed a whistleblower suit against contractor Custer Battles in 2004, alleging the company — with which he was briefly associated — bilked the U.S. government out of tens of millions of dollars by filing fake invoices and padding other bills for reconstruction work.

He and his co-plaintiff, William Baldwin, a former employee fired by the firm, doggedly pursued the suit for two years, gathering evidence on their own and flying overseas to obtain more information from witnesses. Eventually, a federal jury agreed with them and awarded a $10 million judgment against the now-defunct firm, which had denied all wrongdoing.

It was the first civil verdict for Iraq reconstruction fraud.

But in 2006, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III overturned the jury award. He said Isakson and Baldwin failed to prove that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-backed occupier of Iraq for 14 months, was part of the U.S. government.

Not a single Iraq whistleblower suit has gone to trial since.

“It’s a sad, heartbreaking comment on the system,” said Isakson, a former FBI agent who owns an international contracting company based in Alabama. “I tried to help the government, and the government didn’t seem to care.”

US Shows Little Support?
One way to blow the whistle is to file a “qui tam” lawsuit (taken from the Latin phrase “he who sues for the king, as well as for himself”) under the federal False Claims Act.

Signed by Abraham Lincoln in response to military contractors selling defective products to the Union Army, the act allows private citizens to sue on the government’s behalf.

The government has the option to sign on, with all plaintiffs receiving a percentage of monetary damages, which are tripled in these suits.

It can be a straightforward and effective way to recoup federal funds lost to fraud. In the past, the Justice Department has joined several such cases and won. They included instances of Medicare and Medicaid overbilling, and padded invoices from domestic contractors.

But the government has not joined a single quit tam suit alleging Iraq reconstruction abuse, estimated in the tens of millions. At least a dozen have been filed since 2004.

“It taints these cases,” said attorney Alan Grayson, who filed the Custer Battles suit and several others like it. “If the government won’t sign on, then it can’t be a very good case — that’s the effect it has on judges.”

The Justice Department declined comment.

Placed Under Guard, Kept in Seclusion
Most of the lawsuits are brought by former employees of giant firms. Some plaintiffs have testified before members of Congress, providing examples of fraud they say they witnessed and the retaliation they experienced after speaking up.

Julie McBride testified last year that as a “morale, welfare and recreation coordinator” at Camp Fallujah, she saw KBR exaggerate costs by double- and triple-counting the number of soldiers who used recreational facilities.

She also said the company took supplies destined for a Super Bowl party for U.S. troops and instead used them to stage a celebration for themselves.

“After I voiced my concerns about what I believed to be accounting fraud, Halliburton placed me under guard and kept me in seclusion,” she told the committee. “My property was searched, and I was specifically told that I was not allowed to speak to any member of the U.S. military. I remained under guard until I was flown out of the country.”

Halliburton and KBR denied her testimony.

She also has filed a whistleblower suit. The Justice Department has said it would not join the action. But last month, a federal judge refused a motion by KBR to dismiss the lawsuit.

“I Thought I Was Among Friends”
Donald Vance, the contractor and Navy veteran detained in Iraq after he blew the whistle on his company’s weapons sales, says he has stopped talking to the federal government.

Navy Capt. John Fleming, a spokesman for U.S. detention operations in Iraq, confirmed the detentions but said he could provide no further details because of the lawsuit.

According to their suit, Vance and Ertel gathered photographs and documents, which Vance fed to Chicago FBI agent Travis Carlisle for six months beginning in October 2005. Carlisle, reached by phone at Chicago’s FBI field office, declined comment. An agency spokesman also would not comment. The Iraqi company has since disbanded, according the suit.

Vance said things went terribly wrong in April 2006, when he and Ertel were stripped of their security passes and confined to the company compound.

Panicking, Vance said, he called the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where hostage experts got on the phone and told him “you’re about to be kidnapped. Lock yourself in a room with all the weapons you can get your hands on.”‘

The military sent a Special Forces team to rescue them, Vance said, and the two men showed the soldiers where the weapons caches were stored. At the embassy, the men were debriefed and allowed to sleep for a few hours. “I thought I was among friends,” Vance said.

An Unspoken Baghdad Rule
The men said they were cuffed and hooded and driven to Camp Cropper, where Vance was held for nearly three months and his colleague for a little more than a month. Eventually, their jailers said they were being held as security internees because their employer was suspected of selling weapons to terrorists and insurgents, the lawsuit said.

The prisoners said they repeatedly told interrogators to contact Carlisle in Chicago. “One set of interrogators told us that Travis Carlisle doesn’t exist. Then some others would say, ‘He says he doesn’t know who you are,”‘ Vance said.

Released first was Ertel, who has returned to work in Iraq for a different company. Vance said he has never learned why he was held longer. His own interrogations, he said, seemed focused on why he reported his information to someone outside Iraq.

And then one day, without explanation, he was released.

“They drove me to Baghdad International Airport and dumped me,” he said. When he got home, he decided to never call the FBI again. He called a lawyer, instead.

“There’s an unspoken rule in Baghdad,” he said. “Don’t snitch on people and don’t burn bridges.” For doing both, Vance said, he paid with 97 days of his life.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

‘A Ticking Nuclear Time Bomb’

August 30th, 2007 - by admin

James Kirkup & Conor Sweeney – 2007-08-30 07:37:32

http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=862932007

MURMANSK (June 2, 2007) — Suspended from the ceiling, they are covered in deadly radioactive material that drops off them in lumps to the wet floor beneath. The 20,000 fuel rods contained in three tanks at the Andreeva Bay storage site once held enough nuclear energy to power Russia’s entire submarine fleet.

Now, cracks in the concrete walls of the dilapidated tanks have allowed seawater and rainwater to seep in and corrode the lethal contents.

The situation is so bad Russia’s nuclear agency has warned rods at the site could explode in an “uncontrolled chain reaction”, according to a Norwegian environmental group, which says it has a leaked copy of a report.

Experts say that could set off an explosion scattering radioactive material across northern Europe, reaching even as far as Britain, in an environmental catastrophe worse than the Chernobyl disaster.

“We are sitting on a powder keg with a fuse that is burning, but we don’t know how long that fuse is,” said Alexander Nikitin, a former Russian navy officer and Bellona environmental activist who first revealed the existence of the dump at Andreeva Bay, on the Kola peninsula of north-western Russia.

The nightmare scenario, identified by Russia’s Federal Nuclear Agency, raises new fears that Moscow is failing to properly manage the potentially deadly nuclear legacy of the Cold War, which has left the country with tonnes of plutonium and uranium and millions of tonnes of nuclear waste to deal with.

The report, leaked to the Norwegian group Bellona, centres on Andreeva Bay, only 30 miles from the Norwegian border. “Ongoing degradation is causing fuel to split into small granules. Calculations show that the creation of a homogenous mixture of these particles with water can cause an uncontrolled chain reaction,” reads Bellona’s translation of the document.

Such a chain reaction would generate enormous heat and potentially release hydrogen from the seawater. That could lead to an explosion, hurling radioactive material into the atmosphere. “The radioactive fallout could be higher and affect northern Europe to a greater degree than the region was hit by the Chernobyl disaster.” said Nils Boehmer, the atomic physicist who heads Bellona.

John Large, an independent British nuclear consultant who has visited the site several times, also likened the possible result to the Chernobyl explosion in 1986. “This wouldn’t be a thermonuclear or atomic explosion as in a bomb, but the outcome is just as bad,” he said.

“Remember Chernobyl? Well if you had the right weather conditions, the right wind pattern, this would mean a radioactive cloud drifting over Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

Uranium used in Britain’s civil nuclear plants is normally only 3 per cent enriched; Russian military uranium is often enriched at levels between 20 and 40 per cent, making the material at Andreeva Bay especially toxic.

Attempts to clean up Russia’s nuclear legacy are complicated by the secrecy of its defence establishment about the sites. The Kola dump is thought to be the largest, with all the nuclear waste from the Russian navy’s northern fleet stored there, although Moscow still insists much of the fuel comes from nuclear-powered ice-breakers.

Ben Ayliffe, head of nuclear campaigning at Greenpeace, said the Andreeva Bay dump was “potentially incredibly dangerous – there is huge risk that the balloon could go up there”. He also raised security concerns, warning: “It’s open house up there – anyone who wants can just walk into the place.”

A spokesman for the Russian nuclear agency, known as Rosatom, denied there was any threat to the public from the storage tanks. “The objects are being kept in such a way that there’s no danger of an explosion or an uncontrolled chain reaction,” he said

But Dr Large, who helped salvage nuclear material from the Kursk, the Russian submarine that sank in the Barents Sea in 2000, said the state of the Andreeva Bay site was symptomatic of Russia’s management of its nuclear legacy.

“This is what happens when a superpower decays – people in Britain talk about what to do with our nuclear waste, but what should concern us far more is the way the Russians are dealing with theirs,” he said.

Complicating the picture is confusion over the Russian government structures responsible for nuclear sites. Rosatom is formally responsible for all nuclear sites in the Russian Federation, but the defence ministry has also claimed to have final control over military nuclear sites, particularly Trekhgorny and Lesnoy, which were “closed cities” dedicated to weapons research in the Soviet era.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has sharply cut its stockpile of nuclear warheads, from 45,000 to less than 7,000. Now, it is its non-weaponised nuclear material that causes greatest concern in western capitals.

By some estimates, Russia has 1,200 tonnes of highly enriched uranium and 15,000 tonnes of solid spent nuclear fuel. There are some 1,000 nuclear power plants of various types.

The Norwegian Nuclear Protection Authority said a chain reaction at Andreeva Bay was possible but insisted the likelihood was “extremely small.”

In 2002, the G8 group of rich nations agreed to spend as much as £10 billion securing and decommissioning Russia’s nuclear, chemical and biological research sites. The UK will contribute up to £325 million to such “threat reduction activities” over the next ten years, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, said at the time.

That includes money to help retrain and relocate former Soviet nuclear scientists, who are often poorly paid or even unemployed. “The last thing we want is people who know how to assemble a nuclear bomb taking up job offers from Iran, North Korea or, God forbid, Osama bin Laden,” a western official said yesterday.

As part of the international effort, Britain is paying £8 million to help fund maintenance work at Andreeva Bay.

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said the UK contribution included support for “in-depth studies by Russian experts into the potential for criticality events within the dry storage units for spent nuclear fuel at the site”.

He added: “The results of these studies have been peer reviewed by both UK and independent Russian experts. All of these studies and reviews conclude that a criticality event within the storage units in their present condition is very improbable.”

Deadly Inheritance
ACROSS Russia’s vast expanse there is a wide variety of nuclear facilities, ranging from ageing research labs, to power plants and even nuclear missile sites.

There are estimated to be as many as 1,000 nuclear generators, 15,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel, 177 million tonnes of solid radioactive waste and 500 million tonnes of liquid waste.

Nils Bøhmer, the head of the Russian division of the environmental group Bellona, said: “Most of this waste is scattered around a lot of different places.

“There has not been a good holistic approach to the waste problem, with much interim storage, but no clear programme on where to store nuclear waste. There are a lot of challenges for Russian nuclear industry and no good answer.”

Russia stays a world superpower, with regard to its military arsenal. Though reduced, it has thousands of warheads and it appears likely to start rebuilding its military machine.

This includes commissioning a new aircraft carrier, the development of new fifth generation of fighter jets and the successful test of new missiles capable of carrying ten warheads.

Like Ukraine, Russia has received substantial aid from western countries to help dismantle and securely store both weapons-grade plutonium and much of its former submarine fleet.

Related topics
• Nuclear defence
http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=373
• Russia
http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=98

In accordance with Title U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. —

Soldier Suicides Continue at Home: Fraggings in Iraq; Rumors of US Hit-Squads Targeting Dissident Troops

August 28th, 2007 - by admin

Seele / Green Zone Follie & Greg Mitchell / Editor and Publisher – 2007-08-28 22:19:08

http://iraqwar.mirror-world.ru/article/138861

US Military Said to Have Established ‘Hit-gang’ Hunting Dissident US GIs
Seele / Green Zone Follies

BAGHDAD (August 16, 2007) — “Growing discontent among the grunts here about certain very ugly stories, mostly true, of murders of soldiers and increasing suicides. Also, ‘fragging’ of dictatorial officers and NCOs are increasing.

Whenever you see ‘The death is currently under investigation’ .you know it was probably either a murder by the military or a suicide. They have a small gang attached here whom no one knows anything about but very strong and enduring rumor has it that they are an official ‘hit gang’ who go around offing GIs who are viewed as trouble makers or those who might talk too much if rotated.

And one of the reasons for increasing suicides is that fact that once here, you almost always stay here or, if sent home, it’s for a very short period of time and then back into the maw of the great death machine. Any grunt who dares to bitch or, most especially, to trash mouth Bush is looking for a “sniper’s bullet’ through the head.

Last week we lost three helicopters and eleven men but I see by looking at the DoD sites that only one was reported.

I would safely say the death toll is at least double what is reported and I know why the injury lists are never, ever, published.

If the public ever saw these kids with legs, arms or faces blown off by the terrible new bombs, there would be rioting stateside. The new propaganda line is that these deadly bombs are made in Iran but they are made right here with a little help from the Saudis.

Many of the brass here believe Bush lives in a weird world that no one wants to talk about and Cheney is a flat nut. But we can not talk about any of this.

So when you read about a death being ‘under investigation,’ take that with a huge block of salt. If there was a nice, neutral country connected with Iraq, half the troops (or probably more) would desert in one weekend and then the brass would have to leave their steel and concrete bunkers and get their legs and arms blown off. And we don’t see many Congressmen’s sons over here. Webb’s son is here but he’s the only one I know of. “


Why Isn’t the Press on a Suicide Watch?
Greg Mitchell / Editor and Publisher

NEW YORK (August 13, 2007) — Would it surprise you to learn that according to official Pentagon figures, at least 118 U.S. military personnel in Iraq have committed suicide since April 2003? That number does not include many unconfirmed reports, or those who served in the war and then killed themselves at home (a sizable, if uncharted, number).

While troops who have died in “hostile action” – and those gravely injured and rehabbing at Walter Reed and other hospitals — have gained much wider media attention in recent years, the suicides (about 3% of our overall Iraq death toll) remain in the shadows.

For whatever reason, I have always found soldiers who take their own lives especially tragic, though some might argue the opposite. Since the beginning of the war, I have written numerous columns on self-inflicted deaths, from average grunts to Col. Ted Westhusing (angry about contractor abuses), Alyssa Peterson (appalled by interrogation techniques) and Linda Michel (denied medication after returning home). But generally, the suicides get very little local or national attention.

In a sense, the press doesn’t know what to do about them. Did they serve their country well, but ultimately let it down? Or is their country fully responsible for putting them in a suicide-producing situation in the first place and has blood on its hands?

One recent case illustrates some of the issues. The Pentagon revealed the death, joining more than 3,650 others, on July 5 in one of its pithy releases: “Pfc. Andrew T. Engstrom, 22, of Slaton, Texas, died July 4 in Taji, Iraq, from injuries suffered in a non-combat related incident. His death is under investigation.”

Investigations can last months, but this time Engstrom’s parents were told the truth very quickly (this is not always the case). Families, for multiple reasons no doubt, often try to hide suicides from the press and public. We are usually informed that the death was “non-hostile,” which also covers the many killed in vehicle or gun accidents.

But in this case, a reporter for The Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal, Marlena Hartz, learned from Engstrom’s fiance — and a family friend that his parents had been told he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound “in the head.”

A local radio station published a couple of heartbreaking photos of the young man on its Web site,

captured from MySpace, along with a message his mother had posted online before his death: “My dearest son, you should know how much daddy and I are so proud of you, taking the stand like you did, when you did, living out what you dreamed of doing since you were a young child. Keep your chin up, your head down, and remember dad and I love you with our whole being. Mom.”

I found his page at MySpace (he called himself Sir Knight). The “last log-in” came on the day he died. His lead quote reads: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Biographical details included the statement “I don’t have heroes.”

The top entry in the comments section by his MySpace friends came from a young woman who wrote on July 13: “R.I.P. Andy.” His younger brother, 18, and his mother each have theirown MySpace pages which now include tributes. His mother described her “mood” in July as “depressed.”

Like I said: I can barely stand the tragedy in all of this.

On August 5, in response to an earlier piece on this subject, I received the following email: “My 26 yr old son hung himself June 21st. He was an ‘outstanding’ SSG with ‘great leadership skills’ per his Army records. Something is very wrong with the services that they receive. He had been stationed at Fort Carson. Disch on May 2 with PTSD 50% disability and dead less than 6 weeks later, I am trying so hard to make sense of this tragedy.”

This past January, Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman noted in The Hartford Courant that veterans advocates found the increase of suicides in 2006 “troubling.” Steve Robinson, director of government relations for Veterans for America, told them he was particularly disturbed by suicides in the war zone because combat troops are supposed to be screened for mental health issues before they join the military, and throughout their careers. “These people aren’t the kind of people that you would think would take this step,” he said.

Chekedel told me in an email recently,” we haven’t looked at 2007 suicides — and it’s a tough subject toget timely statistics on. The Defense Manpower Data Center reports, which come out periodically and arebroken down by ‘casualty category,’ do keep a running count of self-inflicted deaths — but because some cases are listed as ‘pending,’ and can be moved into the ‘confirmed’ category months later, it’s tricky to get an accurate tally by calendar year.”

Not even included in these tallies are cases like the following: “Two weeks ago Iraq vet Noah Pierce shot and killed himself in a remote section of northern Minnesota. The sheriff’s office revealed that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and that Pierce had said, before he fled home with a few firearms, that he may be a danger to others as well as himself.”

In the Deseret (Utah) Morning News last Monday, Stephen Speckman noted that the suicide rate among all veterans is now about twice the national average among nonveterans. On top of that, he added, “Among Army members, suicide rates between 2003 and 2006 for soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom were higher than the average Army rate, 16.1 versus 11.6 soldier suicides per year per 100,000, according to U.S. Army Medical Command spokesman Jerry Harben.”

As for Andy Engstrom: There is no way of knowing right now why he put a bullet in his head in Iraq in early July. Some victims might have killed themselves without having served multiple tours of Iraq. Engstrom had been there since last October. But there was nothing to learn from press coverage of his funeral in Slaton on July 13: There was none that I could find.

Nothing at all.

These sad events are often covered extensively by local papers saluting their hometown heroes. Do the families in these cases usually request a blackout? Hartz, the Lubbock reporter, tells me, “We are just waiting for the official report on his death to be released by the military. … The family has not embraced coverage of Andrew’s death, and therefore, our coverage has been limited.” Locally, I can understand it, but there’s no excuse for the lack of national attention to the number of suicides among U.S. troops

Greg Mitchell (gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com) is E&P’s editor. His collection of columns on Iraq andthe media, So Wrong for So Long, will be published in March. He has written seven previous books on politics, history and the media.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Iran: Harassed and Threatened by Bush, Reassures UN on Nuclear Program

August 28th, 2007 - by admin

BBC & Mark Heinrich / Reuters – 2007-08-28 22:08:06

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/6967850.stm

Iran to Protest over ‘US Arrests’
BBC

LONDON (August 28, 2007) — Iran says it will make a formal protest to Iraq on Wednesday over the apparent arrest and detention of seven of its nationals by US troops in Baghdad.

The men were seized from one of the city’s main hotels and led away blindfolded and in handcuffs. The Iranian embassy in Baghdad says the men were experts helping to rebuild electricity power stations in Iraq.

The US military declined to comment, saying that the action was part of an operation that had not been completed. The group was detained at the Sheraton Ishtar Hotel. Video footage showed soldiers leading the men out of the building. Other soldiers were seen carrying what appeared to be luggage and a laptop computer bag.

The arrests came shortly after a speech by US President George W Bush in which he criticised Iranian interference in Iraq.

Tension between the US and Iran is running high — with the US accusing Iran of providing arms, money and military training to Shia insurgents in Iraq.

President Bush stated that he had authorised his military commanders in Iraq to confront what he called Iran’s “murderous activities” in the country. “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. We will confront this danger before it is too late,” Mr Bush said.

The White House said the section of the president’s speech which dealt with Iran was not an attempt to signal any change of policy. But the BBC’s Justin Webb in Washington says that while Mr Bush is not suggesting that the US has given up on diplomacy, he seems to be keen to keep other options open and openly discussed.

The president also said the entire region would be under the shadow of a “nuclear holocaust” if Iran developed nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful.

Earlier, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that US power in Iraq was on the verge of collapse and this would lead to “a huge vacuum” which Iran would be willing to fill.

In January, five Iranians — who the US say are linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and were training militants in Iraq — were captured in the northern city of Irbil. The five remain in US custody.

© BBC MMVII


Bush Attacks Iran
BBC

LONDON (August 28, 2007) — US President George W Bush has warned Iran to stop supporting the militants fighting against the US in Iraq.

In a speech to US war veterans in Reno, Nevada, Mr Bush renewed charges that Tehran has provided training and weapons for extremists in Iraq. “The Iranian regime must halt these actions,” he said.

Earlier, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned that US authority in the region was rapidly collapsing, and Iran would help fill the void.

“Soon, we will see a huge power vacuum in the region,” Mr Ahmadinejad said. “Of course, we are prepared to fill the gap, with the help of neighbours and regional friends like Saudi Arabia, and with the help of the Iraqi nation.”

‘Murderous Activities’
In his speech to the American Legion, Mr Bush hit back, accusing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of funding and arming insurgents in Iraq. And he said Iran’s leaders could not avoid some responsibility for attacks on coalition troops and Iraqi civilians.

“I have authorised our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities,” he said.

The BBC’s Justin Webb, in Washington, says this looks like a conscious effort by the White House to elevate the tension between Washington and Tehran to a new level.

Such an effort might be designed to avoid the need for armed conflict or might equally be an effort to bring that conflict about, our correspondent says.

Shortly after Mr Bush made his address, Iranian officials reported that seven Iranians working for the country’s electricity ministry had been arrested in Baghdad by US forces.

‘Nuclear Threat’
In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Bush also tackled the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambition — which Tehran insists is solely to provide power, but the US believes may be used to develop weapons.

“Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust,” he said.

“Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. We will confront this danger before it is too late.”

It was Mr Bush’s second major speech on foreign policy in a week. Correspondents say he is seeking to rally support for the so-called surge strategy of sending more troops to Iraq.

Comments
• Lots of accusations, but absolutely no evidence to support them. He’s not even taking the trouble to make any evidence up this time!
— David, Newcastle

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.


Iran Resolves Plutonium
Issues under Atom Pact: IAEA

Mark Heinrich / Reuters

(August 27, 2007) — Iran has resolved UN questions about tests with plutonium, a key fuel for atomic bombs, and the International Atomic Energy Agency considers the matter closed, according to the text of an IAEA-Iran accord released on Monday.

It would be the first major issue relating to the scope of Iran’s disputed nuclear program closed by the UN nuclear watchdog in a four-year investigation stonewalled up to now, with other questions to be settled within the next few months.

Iran and the IAEA reached a deal on August 21 meant to clarify questions about indications of illicit attempts to make atomic bombs in Iran’s declared drive for peaceful nuclear energy — suspicions that helped lead to UN sanctions against Tehran.

The plan’s other goal is to ensure regular, effective access for IAEA inspectors to Iran’s underground uranium enrichment plant where it plans industrial production of nuclear fuel.

But Western diplomats said the plan was flawed for not committing Iran to resume observing the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which permits wider-ranging, short-notice inspections of sites not declared to be nuclear.

Western powers embroiled in a standoff with Iran over its refusal to heed UN resolutions demanding it stop nuclear work say there is no way to rule out the risk Iran might have a covert military nuclear facility without the Protocol in place.

And the plan also declares that once Iran had clarified the issues listed, the IAEA would declare there were “no remaining questions and ambiguities” about Iran’s past activity, a gesture analysts called problematic without more sweeping inspections.

Iran has insisted that it seeks only electricity, not explosives, from enriched uranium.

The plan’s text said IAEA officials judged last week that information given by Iran this summer abut its plutonium experiments was consistent with inspectors’ findings.

“Thus this matter is resolved. This will be communicated officially by the Agency to Iran through a letter,” it said, without specifying exactly how suspicions were defused.

Iran and the IAEA also agreed to forge a legally binding accord governing inspections at the expanding, underground Natanz enrichment complex by the end of September.

Shadowy Centrifuge Research
Iran would then explain shadowy efforts to build advanced P-2 centrifuges, which can enrich uranium 2-3 times as fast as the outmoded, breakdown-prone P-1 model it now uses. Iran committed to resolving the P-2 issue by November.

Iran committed to settling questions surrounding particles of weapons-grade enriched uranium found in Tehran’s Technical University once the centrifuge matter was closed.

Other questions about Iranian activity to be closed, but without a deadline spelled out in the plan, included:

* What Iran did with a black-market document in Iran’s possession describing how to machine uranium metal into hemisphere shapes suitable for the core of a bomb.

* Western intelligence about secret, administrative links between uranium processing, high explosives tests and a missile warhead design. Iran agreed, “as a sign of goodwill and cooperation,” to examine the evidence that it previously rejected as “politically motivated and baseless allegations.”

The IAEA has touted the plan as a “milestone” for having secured Iranian agreement to a timetable for transparency.

But a Western diplomat accredited to the IAEA said a weakness of the plan was its failure to spell out steps Iran would take to provide access “to people, places and documentation” needed for closure.

“The IAEA’s (35-nation) board of governors has an obligation to ensure that, apart from resolving outstanding issues, confidence in Iran’s nuclear program is rebuilt — and that will take time, beyond December, and an Additional Protocol.”

US nuclear analyst David Albright told Reuters: “This plan looks problematic. Nothing in Iran justifies the IAEA pulling its punches without the Additional Protocol. You should never give up the right to ask further questions and follow up.”

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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