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Mugabe uses ‘subliminal terror’ to hold power

December 31st, 2008 - by admin

Robyn Dixon / Los Angeles Times – 2008-12-31 13:30:58

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/18/MNRD14NM33.DTL

HARARE, Zimbabwe (December 18, 2008) — For a very literal example of Robert Mugabe’s staying power, look no further than a recent crisis summit of southern African leaders designed to settle the political impasse that has seen the longtime Zimbabwean leader stubbornly cling to the presidency.

The leaders wanted him to leave the room so they could deliberate in private. He refused.

Between their misguided politeness and his famous capacity to intimidate, the presidents meekly backed down. Mugabe stayed.

Be it with his fellow African leaders, the West or the Zimbabwean opposition, the 84-year-old Mugabe has outmaneuvered – and outlasted – his critics for more than a quarter of a century, through a careful calibration of the international reaction and domestic effect of his actions. As close as the end sometimes seems, Mugabe has managed to survive.

To help understand his staying power, one need only rewind to the 1980s and the massacres of his early years in power, when he was a conquering hero who had thrown out the white minority regime of Ian Smith.

The name of the murderous operation, Gukurahundi, was as lyrical as a haiku: the wind that blows away the chaff before the spring rains.

Mugabe’s political opponents were the chaff. The spring rains were supposed to signify the golden era of a one-party state (or rather, a one-man state).

Western leaders and news media ignored the massacres of the “dissidents” by the army’s crack Five Brigade in Matabeleland province in southern Zimbabwe. Some estimates put the dead at 20,000.

Mugabe drew his most important lesson from the West’s blase reaction, analysts believe: that there’s a level of “acceptable” violence that will escape international condemnation but still destroy any threat to his power.

“He’s never, ever been frightened of war,” said analyst Tony Reeler of the Research & Advocacy Unit, an independent think tank in Harare, the capital. Mugabe learned that he could get away with “subliminal terror” that would not trigger international intervention, he said.

“It’s just below the threshold that upsets people, and it’s deliberately so,” he said.
Opponents not tolerated

The shadow of the Gukurahundi campaign has haunted Zimbabwe since the early 1980s. Mugabe repeatedly revived its message that opponents would be killed or tortured. But those who felt the rushing “wind” that was Gukurahundi needed no reminding.

“It’s painful to remember. It’s a story told in blood,” said a 61-year-old retired military officer who was attached to the Five Brigade when it “cleansed” villages in 1982, arresting the men, interrogating and torturing them to identify opposition guerrillas. Like others cited in this report, he spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing repercussions.

He said he saw thousands of people killed. Women were shut into thatched huts and burned alive. Even the children were targets.

“They would take these young boys about a year old and they would say, ‘This one will grow up to be a dissident,’ and they would smash his head against a tree, or against a wall, or against the ground.”

Others who were behind Gukurahundi are now among Mugabe’s closest and most trusted allies.

Emerson Mnangagwa was head of security when the massacres started and is now Mugabe’s heir-apparent. He was succeeded as security chief in the 1980s by Sydney Sekeremayi, now defense minister. The Five Brigade was commanded by Perence Shiri, the current air force commander.

Like Mugabe, all are obsessed with hanging on to their assets and avoiding prosecution. Their only guarantee of that is clinging to power.

Mugabe has rekindled the terror whenever he has perceived a political threat. He unleashed violence in elections in 2000 and 2002 after the rise of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. He seized land from white farmers beginning in 2000 because many supported the MDC. In 2005, he launched Murambatsvina, or Operation Clean Out the Filth, evicting 700,000 urban people in MDC strongholds from their homes.
Less popular, more feared

With every operation, he grew less popular among the people – but more feared. It seemed that he no longer could distinguish between the two.

On election day in March of this year, Mugabe affected the air of a leader so popular that he needn’t concern himself with the opposition. He had shown extraordinary energy in the campaign, blitzing several rallies a day clad in his favorite election garb: a peaked cap and a yellow, lime green or red suit decorated with his own grinning face.

“Why should I cheat?” he said, fixing the camera with a beady eye after casting his vote. “The people are there supporting us, day in, day out. The moment people stop supporting you, then that’s the moment you should quit politics.”

After his shocking defeat by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the first-round presidential vote, he blamed traitors in his ZANU-PF party, according to several party sources. Enraged, he accused top ZANU-PF Party figures of “de-campaigning,” or campaigning against him.

He told military and ruling party leaders that he was ready to step down, according to numerous party sources. But rather than ceding control to the “securocrats” and generals, he has instead strengthened his position with these hard-line forces in the party, the sources say.

“It was done strategically,” a ZANU-PF insider said. “It was to jolt people into action, and it had the desired effect. There was a lot of lethargy and despondency in the party at the time, and people thought Tsvangirai was coming in. Mugabe told some people he was willing to concede defeat, and this jolted them into action.
Concession not allowed

“These are people who depend on Mugabe for their own political existence. Without Mugabe, they’re nothing. They realized they could not afford to let Mugabe concede, for their own reasons.”

So, in the most recent echo of Gukurahundi, the military and war veterans recruited youthful militants and set up hundreds of militia bases, beating thousands of MDC supporters, burning their houses and torturing and killing opposition activists. At least 130 people died, though the figure could be higher because much of the violence occurred in remote rural areas out of sight of human rights groups and journalists.

Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round in June because of the violence, and African observers condemned the result.

After his electoral setbacks, Mugabe initially seemed like a badly mauled lion, unlikely to survive a night of circling hyenas. In July, when he was trapped by TV cameras at an African Union conference in Cairo, video of his rattled, seething responses surfaced almost instantly on YouTube.

Yet since then he has pulled back from the brink and, amazingly, remains in power, still recognized as president by African leaders despite his lack of a legitimate mandate.

Even opponents grudgingly concede that it has been a masterful recovery. Mugabe has taken advantage of the jumble of motives among ZANU-PF figures, buying loyalty by doling out rewards such as farms and benefits. None of them is clean, so all feel vulnerable.

Southern African leaders meeting as the Southern African Development Community have the job of settling the crisis, but Mugabe has cleverly played on the feelings of the old boys’ club of African liberation movements, most of which see the rise of a strong opposition as an unwelcome precedent in the region.

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Ex-Colombia Hostage Tells Her Tale

December 31st, 2008 - by admin

Santiago Fourcade with Mark Walsh / Chronicle Foreign Service – 2008-12-31 13:21:09

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/19/MN8A14LM35.DTL

BOGOTA, Colombia (December 19, 2008) — In a nondescript hotel lobby, Clara Rojas stares into the distance before speaking in a hesitant voice.

The former vice presidential candidate, who spent nearly six years held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its acronym FARC, settles into a sofa seat, and sets the ground rules for an interview. No questions are off limits except those regarding her former running mate, Ingrid Betancourt, the French Colombian politician.

The Colombian media has reported that Rojas has criticized Betancourt for making “a big circus” over their captivity. There are also reports that a rift ensued between the two women during their imprisonment.

“The media tends to forget about the real problems and focuses on the superficiality of it all,” Rojas said. “Now the media is spreading rumors about fights that we had, but really nobody can judge us over those moments. How can you criticize companions for having little patience after six years of imprisonment?

“I took a decision that led me to be kidnapped and there’s no point crying about it. I was held captive for six years because I went along with a friend at a moment when I thought I could change the world. Would I do it again? Never.”

Captivity Routine
They were mostly “quiet days, when you would wake up at 5 a.m., listen to the radio that broadcast messages of support from relatives and hope somebody would offer you a mug of hot coffee. Then you would work out how to make the hours pass and each person would have different routines for killing time.”

For the most part, Rojas lived in a camp with 26 other hostages, which included Betancourt. The worst days occurred when the FARC forced them to march.

“The march could last 10 hours with a 30-kilo (66 pound) pack on your back. It’s incredibly hard and exhausting. Many times fatigue becomes a desolation that is hard to control and desperation gets the better of you. It was crucial to stay motivated so you didn’t lose your mind. The jungle pardons nothing and the monotony of the place wears you down.”

A Son Is Born
Her son, Emmanuel, was delivered in a jungle camp by Cesarean section. Before using a carving knife, a rebel with no medical training gave her an anesthetic. The baby’s arm was fractured during birth.

The identity of her son’s father is a secret that she guards closely. Rojas has made no claim of rape, suggesting a brief liaison. FARC commanders have confirmed that Rojas had a relationship with one of her captors, who was probably executed as a result of the relationship.

Rojas is also coy about whether Emmanuel, now 4, will be told the facts about his father.

“The initial indications suggest he is dead, and if I start to tell that to my boy it would be too confusing for him. I want to continue being the only one responsible for my son; that’s the reality and I don’t expect anything else. For me, it’s a closed chapter.”

After Emmanuel’s birth in 2004, Rojas received little support from the guerrillas aside from carving a few toys and helping her sew clothes from scraps.

“I tried to keep some kind of basic hygiene by washing clothes daily and bathing the baby whenever I could. There were no diapers, of course, so I used an old sheet cut into sections. The whole situation was a disaster.

“They are such extreme moments that you have to rely completely on all the mental strength you can summon. Emmanuel was my world and my imprisonment revolved around him.”

Rojas’ time with Emmanuel, however, was short-lived.

When he was 8 months old, the FARC high command decided to separate mother and child for security reasons. It was a decision that hit Rojas very hard.

“It was the most difficult moment I endured. I got no further news about him and I spent the whole time that I was kidnapped thinking about whether I would ever see him again.”

The separation lasted more than 2 1/2 years. In December 2007, almost six years after she was taken hostage, FARC told Rojas that she and her son would be freed as part of talks brokered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Soon afterward, however, and much to the surprise of everyone involved, Colombian officials confirmed that a boy matching Emmanuel’s description had been found in the central city of Villavicencio and was being cared for at a state welfare home in Bogota. He had been given to a farmer and left at a hospital under a false name. DNA tests confirmed that he was Rojas’ son.

The revelation was a major public relations fiasco for FARC, which had placed the boy with a peasant family and had been unable to find him. A month later, Rojas was released.

Freedom at Last
In contrast to the dramatic military mission that freed Betancourt and three US contractors six months later, Rojas’ release in January was a low-key affair. On Jan. 10, FARC allowed Red Cross to land military helicopters at a secret location to pick up Rojas and former Congresswoman Consuelo Gonzales.

“It was 6 in the afternoon and we were listening to the radio just before being told to go to sleep. At that moment, the news report said FARC had released an official statement and obviously we all crowded round the set with tremendous hope. They repeated the message and we heard that I was going to be released. I was so happy that I couldn’t move from my bed.

“When I heard the news, I stayed composed because it was something that I had worried about and waited for so anxiously through the long years that I was separated from my son.”

Three days later, Rojas was reunited with Emmanuel at a foster center in Bogota.

“They took him away from me when he was age 8 months old and I had to wait almost three years to hold him in my arms again as a free woman. Making up for lost time is a fantastic thing, because every day we get to know each other anew and enjoy the experiences of being a mother and son together.

“Now when I see him in school, smiling and enjoying the company of his friends, I feel all the years of effort and suffering without him were worthwhile.

“Today my only wish is that my son will be able to live in peace.”

Finding Forgiveness
Rojas believes forgiveness is the only solution of Colombia’s long-standing civil war.

“It is crucial to look for a route toward reconciliation with the armed factions, and that’s why I’ve thought a lot about forgiveness. It’s an attitude that has to come from the heart, and perhaps it’s the only way to achieve peace in a country that is desperate for reconciliation.”

Rojas says the experience has made her appreciate her freedom.

“I came to understand how important life is and how we must cherish it. And freedom is an integral part of that, like an ingredient that you only miss when it’s not there for the first time.

“Because I suffered and am now free, I realize that life has greater meaning when you walk unchained.”

Abduction Background
In 2002, Clara Rojas was abducted by leftist rebels in secret jungle camps. Held hostage for almost six years, she became pregnant by one of her captors only to see her son taken away.

Now, in an exclusive interview with The Chronicle, the woman who once ran for vice president talks about her time in captivity, the birth of her child and the possibility of forgiving her captors, members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the acronym FARC.

On Feb. 23, 2002, Rojas, then 37, and running mate, Ingrid Betancourt were abducted while campaigning in San Vicente del Caguan, a then-demilitarized zone in the south. The kidnapping turned the women into two of the world’s most famous political hostages.

Rojas made international headlines after an imprisoned policeman escaped from a FARC camp. He later told the media that Rojas had given birth to a son, Emmanuel, in captivity in 2004 and that FARC had separated the two soon after his birth. The revelation provoked national outrage, and sparked the launching of “Operation Emmanuel” to seek their release that included Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

In January, Rojas was finally released by FARC. Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician, three Americans and a group of other hostages were later rescued in a dramatic military operation in July.

Today, Rojas divides her time between caring for her son and writing a book about her experience in the jungle.

At least 20 politicians, police officers and soldiers, some of whom have been held for more than a decade, remain in FARC hands along with hundreds of other prisoners.

– Santiago Fourcade with Mark Walsh

E-mail Santiago Fourcade and Mark Walsh at

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Bosnia Lacks Cash to Clear Away Killer Mines

December 31st, 2008 - by admin

William J. Kole / Associated Press – 2008-12-31 13:19:03

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/19/MN8M14PRE2.DTL

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (December 19, 2008) — Muriz Jukic keeps reliving the day last winter when his tractor hit a land mine, unleashing shrapnel that tore one of his eyes from its socket and left him stumbling and screaming.

“I dream about that flash, and I wake up soaked in sweat,” says Jukic, 43, who was injured while gathering firewood near his home in the northeastern Bosnia village of Vitinica.
Scores of victims

Thirteen years after Bosnia’s 1992-95 war ended, mines are still claiming scores of victims. A closer look by the Associated Press shows the problem is not that officials don’t know where most of the explosives are buried. It’s that they just can’t seem to scrape together enough cash to get them out of the ground.

Under an international treaty, Bosnia was supposed to be mine-free by March 2009. Instead, the Balkan country has quietly obtained another decade to clear 220,000 remaining mines and other unexploded ordnance that pose a hidden menace to schoolchildren, farmers, hunters, hikers and woodsmen.

Authorities in Europe’s most mine-infested nation acknowledge that more than 600 square miles of territory – an area larger than Los Angeles – is still riddled.

Take all the former front lines where most of the mines lurk, lay them end to end, and you would have a belt stretching 8,700 miles. The danger zone would reach more than a third of the way around the Earth, or cover at least two Great Walls of China.

Since the war ended, mines have claimed 1,665 victims, including 487 fatalities. So far this year, 19 people were killed and 18 others maimed.

Eliminating the threat “is not the impossible task we once thought it would be,” says Sylvie Brigot, executive director of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in Geneva. “It’s possible to get rid of all these mines, provided there’s a plan in place so funding is secured.”

But an AP review of documents, and interviews with senior officials coordinating the effort, found that Bosnia is raising only about a third of the $50 million a year that Prime Minister Nikola Spiric says his impoverished nation needs to rid itself of mines by 2019, the new deadline.

For 2008, $18.4 million was raised for mine clearance in Bosnia. Though that’s up from $14.9 million in 2007, it still falls far short of what experts say is needed.
Cost of scanning

It costs $2.50 to scan a square yard of suspicious territory – more than the going price for some land. That sounds cheap until you consider the vast areas of Bosnia that must be poked and prodded to ensure they’re safe. All told, locating and removing a single mine costs $10,000.

Unlike many other crisis areas worldwide – where soldiers laid the mines and military records detail where they’re buried – Bosnia must also grapple with “guerrilla minefields” where records are more sketchy, says Ahdin Orahovac, deputy director of the national Mine Action Center.

A typical record, he says, reads like this: “3 mines, 3 yards from the apple tree.” But when deminers scout for the spot, what was an orchard is now a forest, “and all we know is that somewhere there are three mines.”

“It’s the biggest problem in the world,” says Orahovac, pointing to a large map covered with clusters of colored dots.
Clusters of red dots

Blue marks places that have been cleared. Red marks areas still mined. And there’s a lot of red.

Salih Hadzic is among the intrepid deminers working to change that. Clad in a flak vest, a helmet with a protective visor and green cotton pants stained with soil, he sweeps a squawking metal detector over a hillside on the outskirts of Sarajevo.

Here, within view of the capital’s office buildings and mosques, deminers recently unearthed one of the deadliest types of mine: a PROM, designed to jump a few feet in the air before exploding and sending fragments that kill everything in a 50-yard radius.

“I have to concentrate. If I let my mind wander, it could be fatal,” says Hadzic, who’s forbidden to drink alcohol, has a 10 p.m. bedtime and works in painstakingly slow 30-minute intervals with mandatory breaks.

“But when I go home after work,” he says, “I know I’ve conquered another couple of square yards where children can play and no one’s going to get hurt or killed.”

Underscoring how mines indiscriminately claim lives: On the same day in March that Spiric announced a campaign to raise more foreign donations, two deminers were killed and a third critically injured trying to clear a field.

Sarajevo, which hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, made a halfhearted bid for the 2010 Games. It was eliminated largely because the ski slopes on Mount Igman and bobsled run on Mount Trebevic are still heavily mined.

That underscores how mines hamper work to expand agriculture, build highways, schools, housing and factories, and lure tourists.

“I don’t think there’s any question that it’s hindered development,” says David Rowe, a mine expert with the U.N. Development Program.

Mines complicate efforts to coax refugees back into their prewar homes and recover remains from mass graves, many of which were booby-trapped.

They kill animals, too, and Orahovac says exploding sheep can serve as a low-tech detection system for farmers in remote regions.

Fourteen other countries also got 10-year extensions of their obligations under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, some with mines or ordnance dating to World War II: Britain, Chad, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, Jordan, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, Senegal, Thailand, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

Donors, meanwhile, are shifting resources to new crisis areas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Interest in this region is quickly fading,” says Sabina Beber Bostjancic, head of international relations at the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance in Ljubljana, Slovenia, which raises cash for the Bosnian effort.

Bostjancic says Bosnia’s government plans to chip in $20 million for demining in 2009. But it contributed only $2.4 million this year, and many are skeptical.
Most are in rural areas

There’s been progress: Since demining began in 1996, an estimated 750,000 mines have been cleared, and most of those that remain are in rural areas.

But Bosnians are poor, and as winter approaches, many will venture into forests to gather firewood – a potentially deadly chore.

Ismihana Jukic, the wife of the man blinded in one eye this time last year, says she knew a mine got him the instant a boom echoed across the valley. “I dropped the potatoes I had in my hand, and I ran down the road,” she recalls, sobbing.

These days, her husband seldom ventures off asphalt.

“People had gone down that path before,” he says. “That mine seemed to be waiting for me.”

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

EAW Wishes You a Peaceful and Green Holiday Season. Our regular daily postings will continue after the New Year

December 31st, 2008 - by admin

– 2008-12-31 13:17:17

EAW Wishes You a
Peaceful and Green
Holiday Season.

Our regular daily postings
will continue after the New Year

US Moves to Secure Afghans’ Voting Rights

December 31st, 2008 - by admin

Jason Motlagh / Chronicle Foreign Service – 2008-12-31 13:16:56

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/18/MNB314MEC0.DTL&hw=securing+afghanistan+elections+motlagh&sn=002&sc=992

DILA, Afghanistan (December 18, 2008) — The Chinook helicopters surged toward a landing zone where a scout had sighted a band of suspected Taliban fighters; gunfire was expected.

“There are at least 20 guys down there. It could be a good day” to engage the enemy, said Lt. Chris Dewey, a wad of tobacco bulging from his lower lip.

Moments later, two US Army platoons from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry charged into the open, heaving themselves to the ground, rifles forward, as the helicopters pulled away and a dust cloud whipped up by huge twin rotors settled back on the uncertain terrain of southeastern Paktika province.

The US operation is part of a campaign to protect residents who want to register to vote in a presidential election to be held sometime in the second half of 2009. It is one of a host of similar “disruptive” maneuvers across Afghanistan that aim to separate the local population from Taliban and other insurgents, who have a permanent presence in nearly three-quarters of the country, according to a recent report by the International Council on Security and Development, an independent security think tank with offices in Paris and Kabul. NATO and Afghan government officials have rejected the findings.

The voter drive began Oct. 14 and has already registered some 2 1/2 million voters, according to government figures. Millions more are expected to register in coming weeks to choose the successor of President Hamid Karzai.

In an e-mail message to local media early this month, Taliban leader Mullah Omar cautioned Afghans not to be “deceived by this dishonest election announcement. In reality, the choice will be made in Washington,” he wrote. Omar then warned coalition forces that “current armed clashes which now number into tens, will spiral up to hundreds of armed clashes. Your current casualties of hundreds will jack up in to the thousands.”

The Americans landed at Dila, a village of about 2,000 residents. Like many Paktika province communities, it is a patchwork of crumbling mud buildings situated in a sparsely populated moonscape bereft of roads, economic prospects and the rule of law.

Such circumstances favor the Taliban and their allies, who have made inroads deep into the region from rear bases in Pakistan just 50 miles away by attacking coalition and Afghan security forces and critical transport lines, according to the US military.

Dila’s police post has been abandoned since the summer, giving militants freedom to maneuver in the area. Capt. Jeff Farmer, the field commander of the operation, says he hopes the Taliban “will be confused by our presence, worried about it enough to carry us through voter registration.”

Since September, Farmer and his troops have been based at a base in the town of Kushamond – a 13-minute helicopter ride away. Built by American engineers shortly after the US-led 2001 invasion, the Kushamond base was originally a staging area for the construction of a road network to integrate the back country. The highway project, however, never got off the ground and the base fell into disrepair.

Charlie Company has since reinforced its dirt-packed blast walls with wire fencing, constructed wooden barracks with piped heating, and is now boring a well for water, which is currently air-dropped daily by Russian civilian pilots.

Such improvements mean more attention can be paid extending security “outside the wire” where fear of the Taliban is widespread, Farmer says.

Back in Dila, Afghan interpreters monitoring Taliban radio traffic quickly picked up conversations that showed militants were monitoring the Americans: “We are watching to see what they do next, be ready,” said one, and “Don’t worry, I’ll give you everything you need,” said another.

For the next two days, Charlie Company went door-to-door, documenting residents, and searching for weapons and insurgents. They followed outdated maps that numbered each home, finding only two undocumented residences.

In dozens of conversations with residents, the frequency of Taliban visits and their current whereabouts were impossible to pin down. Some said they last visited four months ago while others said they had come just four days before. There was only one consensus – the Taliban had all gone to Pakistan to spend the winter, a line the Americans did not buy.

Haji Azrat, a tribal elder with a long, white beard, finally broke from the village script. With the confidence of someone who has lived long enough to speak his mind, he denounced the Taliban in colorful terms. “When the police were here, we at least had some security, but then they left,” said Azrat. “Can you bring them back?”

Lt. Dewey assured him: “This we can do for you.”

Later that day, Dewey’s platoon uncovered a small weapons cache at a home in a far corner of the village. It contained loose rounds from a Russian PK machine gun and Dragunov sniper rifle, a rusty handgun, sleeping bag and an old Red Army belt. A next-door neighbor said the owner, a former mujahedeen who had fought the Soviets in the 1980s, had gone to Pakistan.

The next morning, a shura, or meeting, was held in front of a mosque at the center of the village. Abdul Ahad, the chief of police of Kushamond, announced a plan to raise a village police force. When he asked aloud why so few young men were in the crowd, he was told they had gone to Kandahar, Pakistan and Iran to find work.

Malik Mohammed Mazir, a local patriarch, however, could not hold back his frustration.

“You are wasting your time,” he shouted at the police chief, saying past attempts to empower local authorities had failed. “Millions of dollars have come into this country, and Kabul (government) doesn’t even look at us,” he said.

The shura ended when US soldiers began distributing food and clothing. Elbows flew when a box of children’s jackets was unpacked.

While some soldiers doled out goods, others scanned surrounding rooftops. The Americans were told a suicide bomber dressed in an Afghan police uniform might strike. At the same time, insurgent voices again crackled over radios held by the Afghan interpreters. Taliban lookouts are watching, the interpreters said.

Word soon got back to the Americans that two men had been found in a field with radios. Some squad members then gave chase but the weight of their body armor kept them from catching the suspected militants. “We should have just shot them,” an American soldier later said.

As Charlie Company prepared to leave for the short helicopter flight back to base, the owner of a home that had been commandeered by US officers as a temporary command post began to protest.

The militants were surely angry with him, he said, in what seemed to be an attempt to receive extra payment. He was then given clothing and food, including Army-issue Meals Ready to Eat.

“The bottom line is they have no government, no police,” said Farmer. “It’s just hard to convince these people we’re the side they need to support when they’ve never even seen the government.”

Meanwhile, voter security for next year’s election is expected to be mostly handled by Afghan security forces. When a reporter asked a group of men in the town center whether they would vote in next year’s election, they replied in unison: “What for?”

E-mail Jason Motlagh at foreign@sfchronicle.com.

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

UN Wants More Protection for Afghan Civilians

December 31st, 2008 - by admin

Heidi Vogt / Associated Press & Fisnik Abrashi / Huffington Post – 2008-12-31 13:09:14

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/18/MNPH14PSMI.DTL&hw=searches&sn=009&sc=570

UN Wants More Protection for Afghan Civilians
Heidi Vogt / Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (December 18, 2008) — The UN chief in Afghanistan called Wednesday for international military forces to revise their agreement with the Afghan government to include practices that will better safeguard civilians.

“For the sustainability of our military presence, for the continued strong support of the Afghan people, it should be done as quickly as possible,” said Kai Eide after making the appeal at a news conference in the capital.

The United Nations has repeatedly criticized international forces for not doing enough to protect Afghan civilians during air strikes, house searches and when detaining suspects. The censure reflects growing uneasiness among the country’s citizens and politicians that an increase in US troops next year could bring more civilian deaths.

“There is a need to revise the agreement that exists,” Eide said. He said foreign troops should standardize practices to minimize air strikes in populated areas, to make Afghan troops the first to enter during house searches, and to make more information available about detainees so that innocent people are not held for long periods on incorrect information.

“If the right provisions are in with regard to house searches, for instance, I believe we can avoid tragic mistakes that are being made today,” Eide said, referring to incidents where confrontations resulted from soldiers not observing local cultural norms. Some reforms already have started, he noted, saying that air strikes in particular have gotten more precise.

The United Nations said in September that 577 Afghan civilians had been killed this year by US, NATO and Afghan troops, a 21 percent jump from 2007.

However, the UN tally said Taliban fighters and other insurgents had killed even more civilians: at least 800 this year.

Military officials say they have policies in place that try to minimize civilian casualties, with specific instructions for more populated areas. Even so, an increased force could mean more civilian deaths, said Lt. Gen. J.B. Dutton, the deputy commander of NATO’S International Security Assistance Force.

“Statistically, if you create opportunities for military action, the chances of creating civilian casualties also exists. So, if you have more opportunities, you might get more civilian casualties,” Dutton said.

Eide said he had already discussed revising military agreements for more civilian protection with Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of US and NATO forces, and Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak.

US troops operate in Afghanistan under a bilateral agreement from 2003, while NATO forces act under a UN mandate and a “military technical agreement” established in the same year.

Eide’s statements came as yet another raid sparked confusion in a community about who fired first and who to blame.

The US military said it killed three militants in an overnight raid with Afghan police on a compound housing people with al Qaeda links.

People who were in the compound said that the dead were civilians and that none of them had fired on the troops, according to Jahangir Pashtun, a spokesman for the governor’s office of eastern Khost province. These witnesses told Pashtun that the US troops opened fire on the compound.

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.


UN Accuses US-Led Troops Of Killing Afghan Civilians
Fisnik Abrashi / Huffington Post

KABUL, Afghanistan (August 26, 2008) — In a stark warning to US forces, the Afghan government said it will try to regulate the presence of US troops and their use of airstrikes, while the UN on Tuesday announced that “convincing evidence” exists that an American-led operation killed 90 civilians.

The UN sent in a team of investigators, who relied solely on villagers’ statements in alleging the American-led operation in the western province of Herat on Friday killed 60 children and 30 adults. The US military stood by its account, that 25 militants and five civilians were killed in the operation.

“I don’t have any information that would suggest that our military commanders in Afghanistan don’t believe, still, that this was a legitimate strike on a Taliban target,” Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said in Washington.

The UN allegation comes a day after President Hamid Karzai’s government said it will try to put more controls on the way American and NATO troops operate, a response to a series of airstrikes and other operations this summer that have caused the deaths of scores of civilians.

Afghanistan’s Council of Ministers ordered the ministries of defense and foreign affairs to open negotiations with the US and NATO over the use of airstrikes, house searches and the detentions of Afghan civilians. It also called for a “status of force” agreement to regulate the troops’ presence.

Afghanistan’s effort to rein in foreign forces is similar to steps taken by the Iraqi government, which has demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops and greater control of US operations until their departure.

The UN’s allegation of such a large number of civilian deaths could set the US, UN and the Afghan government on a collision course over the use of military force in Afghan villages, where international troops battle Taliban and al-Qaida militants daily.

Russia on Tuesday circulated a draft Security Council press statement expressing serious concern about the numerous civilian casualties reportedly caused by the airstrike and saying member nations “strongly deplore the fact that this is not the first incident of this kind.”

Press statements must be approved by all 15 Security Council members and Western diplomats said that there was no chance the Russian draft would be adopted.

The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, recognizes the need to combat terrorism, but notes “that killing and maiming of civilians is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”

It calls on the US-led coalition, the International Security Assistance Force and all parties in Afghanistan to take steps to ensure the protection of civilians, particularly women and children.

The Russians called for an investigation of the incident.

A recent spate of civilian deaths has added fuel to long-simmering public anger surrounding the issue. In the first week of July, 69 Afghan civilians were killed in two separate operations in eastern Afghanistan, including 47 people killed in Nangarhar province while walking to a wedding party, Afghan officials say.

Afghan officials say that scores of civilians _ between 76 and 90 _ were killed in Herat province on Friday. The head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Ahmad Nader Nadery, has confirmed reports that a memorial ceremony was being held for a militia commander allied with the Afghan police and several relatives and friends from outside the area were staying overnight in the village at the time of the attack.

Civilian casualties have long been a major source of friction between Karzai and his Western backers. Afghan officials say civilian deaths create a rift between the government and the people that Taliban and other anti-government forces use as leverage to turn villagers away from the government.

In addition, Afghans targeted in US raids have complained for years of being pursued based solely on information provided by other Afghans who sometimes are business rivals, neighbors with a vendetta or simply interested in generic reward money for anti-government militants.

According to an Associated Press tally, 705 civilians have been killed this year: 536 by militants, and 158 by international forces; 11 civilians have died in cross fire. The numbers do not include figures from the Herat battle and likely do not account for all civilian deaths this year.

US and NATO officials say they take great care in their targeting but also accuse the militants of hiding in civilian homes and using Afghans as human shields.

Another factor, diplomats in Kabul say, is that Karzai is running for re-election next year. Blaming foreigners for the ills afflicting the country is a sure way to win popular support.

Anti-foreigner sentiment has been rising over the years here, partly because of civilian deaths but also because many Afghans do not see the benefits of billions of dollars in aid that have poured into the country since the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001.

Karzai’s spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said Tuesday that the ministers’ decision was made after Afghan officials “lost patience” with foreign forces, and the killings and detentions of civilians during raids in remote villages.

“We do not want international forces to leave Afghanistan until the time our security institutions are able to defend Afghanistan independently,” Hamidzada told reporters.

But the presence of those forces has to be based “within the framework of Afghan law with respect to international law,” he said.

Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said the legal framework for the presence of US troops in Afghanistan was established in a 2003 agreement between Kabul and Washington. Done via an exchange of diplomatic notes, the pact is considered a bilateral agreement and is like a status of forces agreement, Ryder said.

In a statement Tuesday, the UN put its weight behind the Afghan government claim of civilian deaths in Herat, saying its investigators “found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men.”

The UN did not provide photos or evidence that its investigators who went to the scene saw any graves or that any militants were among those killed. Instead it relied on statements of villagers, local officials and eyewitnesses.

Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the UN in Kabul, said the world body’s investigation is ongoing.

The UN said that “residents were able to confirm the number of casualties, including names, age and gender of the victims.”

“The destruction from aerial bombardment was clearly evident with some 7-8 houses having been totally destroyed and serious damage to many others,” the statement said.

The top US coalition commander has ordered an investigation.

“We welcome getting all the facts on the table,” said Corina Sanders, a US Embassy spokeswoman. “We take civilian casualties very seriously.”

Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report from Washington.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Troops Confiscate Toy Guns in Iraq

December 31st, 2008 - by admin

Kim Gamel / Associated Press – 2008-12-31 13:06:20

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/18/MN6F14N3A4.DTL

MAHMOUDIYA, Iraq (December 18, 2008) — Two boys approached a US soldier, pulled out a pistol and handed it over. They got a smile and some candy in return.

The gun was plastic, and the boys were following a local Iraqi military order to surrender all toy weapons – an effort to prevent children from being mistaken for insurgents.

With more children on the streets now that violence is down, American soldiers have a new mission in this former “triangle of death” city south of Baghdad: clearing all toy guns from the bustling shopping area as they search for suspected insurgents and weapons caches.

The toy gun ban shows how jittery the US and Iraqi forces still are in a country where the enemy doesn’t wear a uniform.

The United States warned early this year of a “disturbing trend” of al Qaeda in Iraq recruiting and teaching boys to kidnap and kill. The military released several videos seized from suspected al Qaeda hideouts in Diyala province north of the capital showing militants training children who appeared as young as 10.

Teenagers have also carried out actual attacks. On Dec. 1, a teenage suicide bomber followed by a parked car bomb struck police recruits in Baghdad, killing 16 people. On Jan. 20, a teenager carrying a box of candy blew himself up at a gathering of tribal members near Fallujah, killing six people.

From a distance, a soldier can’t tell whether the weapon is real and has to make a fast decision that could cost someone his or her life.

Soldiers in the Mahmoudiya area recently became alarmed when they saw a boy pointing a gun that looked very realistic. They went on alert and held the child until it was determined that the gun was a toy.
Split-second decision

“This is one of the biggest issues that we’re encountering right now,” said Lt. Cameron Mays, 24, of Marion, Ky. “Right now it’s a gray area. You’re talking about a prime situation where a US soldier has a split-second to make a decision about whether there’s a danger.”

The order to ban toy guns in Mahmoudiya and surrounding areas was handed down by Staff Maj. Gen. Ali Jassim al-Freiji, the commander of the Iraqi army’s 17th Division, which oversees the region.

1st Lt. Tray Marsh, who took the plastic pistol, congratulated the boys for doing the right thing as he and other US soldiers began a joint foot patrol recently with their Iraqi counterparts through the city’s main market area. The gun was black and had a red cap.

Members of Delta Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, based in Fort Riley, Kan., have collected some 15 plastic weapons in the past two weeks, piling them up on filing cabinets and hanging some on the walls in their office at the US base at Mahmoudiya.

Marsh, 34, of Shreveport, La., later showed another gun from the plastic weapons cache that could easily be mistaken for a real nickel-plated .45-caliber pistol from a distance.

There’s no punishment for having a toy gun. The soldiers will just take them away if they find them and perhaps talk to the parents to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Welcome change

Going after toys is somewhat of a welcome change for the soldiers – many of whom are on at least their second tour in Iraq and participated in the fierce fighting that raged as recently as this spring. Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of the capital, is part of a region that was long known as the “triangle of death” because of ongoing battles between Sunni and Shiite extremists.

British soldiers in the southern Iraqi province of Basra have also become concerned about children playing with toy guns, although no ban has been imposed.

The British military issued a public safety announcement on Friday asking parents not to allow their children to play with toy guns on the streets “in case security forces mistake them for real weapons and open fire.”

Maj. Bill Young, a British military spokesman, said the issue was coming up for the first time since the war started nearly six years ago – perhaps because of a possible influx of toy guns or because better security is encouraging people to spend more time outdoors.

“Maybe last year children wouldn’t have been out on the ground and their parents wouldn’t have let them play with the toy guns,” he said. “But there is still a risk with a significant number of British and Iraqi troops on the ground with weapons.”

Military officials said it was up to Iraqi authorities to impose such bans as part of local security measures. Iraq has no law forbidding ownership of real guns, and every household is permitted to have one firearm for self defense.

But nobody likes to see a child cry – and even battle-weary soldiers have a soft spot.

Mays stopped short during the recent market tour after getting a call on his radio about the latest discovery, then doubled back to the soldiers hovering around the toddler cradling the toy gun.

Iraqi company commander 1st Lt. Mouwaffak Mohammed al-Janabi talked his American counterpart into letting the boy keep the toy, saying his father had been killed by an insurgent.

“OK, but that’s the last time. We’ve got to support Gen. Ali’s orders,” Mays said.

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

ACTION ALERT: Peace Activists to Deluge White House with Tossed Shoes Wednesday, Dec. 17

December 17th, 2008 - by admin

Code Pink & Shoes for Bush – 2008-12-17 01:27:38

http://codepink4peace.org/blog/2008/12/official-release-peace-activists-take-shoes-to-white-house-in-solidarity-with-shoe-throwing-iraqi-journalist/

ACTION ALERT: Shoes for Bush!!!

Don’t let the Iraqis be the only ones that present Mr. Bush with a fitting going-away tribute!

• Send your old shoes to:
George W. Bush
c/o The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Muntadar al-Zaidi is a journalist with more guts than any American journalist. He was beaten and tortured while Bush joked about his shoe size.

Reports in the New York Times state: “Mr. Maliki’s security agents jumped on the man, wrestled him to the floor and hustled him out of the room. They kicked him and beat him until ‘he was crying like a woman.;”

And, from the Associated Press: “As they dragged him off, he was moaning and screaming as if in pain. Later, a large blood trail could be seen on the carpet where he was dragged out of the room.”

These are conveniently being edited out in further stories.


OFFICIAL RELEASE: PEACE ACTIVISTS TAKE SHOES TO WHITE HOUSE IN SOLIDARITY WITH SHOE-THROWING IRAQI JOURNALIST

WASHINGTON (December 15, 2008) — Peace Activists Take Shoes to White House in Solidarity with Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist.

Call for his release and tribute to Iraqis who have suffered under US occupation

• WHAT: Peace activists to gather with shoes in solidarity to Iraqi journalist
• WHEN: 11 a.m., Weds. Dec. 17
• WHERE: In front of White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In solidarity with an Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush at a Baghdad press conference Sunday, peace activists will gather outside the White House with bags of shoes representing Iraqis and U.S. soldiers who have died since the Bush Administration’s illegal invasion of Iraq.

They aim to show support for Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, who hurled his shoes at President Bush while he spoke at the conference on his “surprise” visit to discuss the war. Al-Zaidi is currently being held by Iraqi police and questioned on his actions.

The peace activists are calling on the Iraqi government to release al-Zaidi without charges and have set up a fund to support him and his family.”

“It’s outrageous that al-Zaidi could get two years in prison for insulting George Bush, when Bush is directly responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis and 4,200 U.S. troops, and 5 million displaced Iraqis,” says Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK. “The one who should be in jail is George Bush, and he should be charged with war crimes.”

The gesture of throwing shoes is considered a major insult in Arabic culture.

“Al-Zaidi’s act of civil disobedience expresses the disgust that so many Iraqis and Americans feel towards a man who has caused so much pain and suffering,” says Anas Shallal of Iraqi Voices for Peace. “It is indeed a fitting tribute to the end of the Bush reign of terror.”

U.S. veterans who served in Iraq will also participate in the shoe action at the White House.
“Having one shoe thrown at George Bush pales in comparison to the suffering that veterans and Iraqis go through everyday,” says Geoffrey Milliard of Iraq Veterans Against the War. “Perhaps if Bush can see some more of these shoes before he leaves office, he will feel some of our pain.”

• CONTACT: Jean Stevens, CODEPINK media coordinator, 646-723-1781

CODEPINK, founded in 2002, is a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end the war in Iraq, stop new wars, and redirect our resources into health care, education and other life-affirming activities. With an emphasis on joy and humor, CODEPINK women and men seek to activate, amplify and inspire a community of peacemakers through creative campaigns and a commitment to non-violence. For more info, visit www.codepinkalert.org.

Bush Shoe-Tosser Triggers Global Reactions

December 17th, 2008 - by admin

Timothy Williams & Sharon Otterman / New York Times & Chelsea J. Carter / Associated Press – 2008-12-17 01:07:27

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2008/12/16/MNLP14ODPP.DTL

Shoes Toss at Bush Has Widespread Impacts
Timothy Williams & Sharon Otterman / New York Times

BAGHDAD (December 16, 2008) — A day after a little-known Iraqi television journalist threw his shoes at President Bush at a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday, his act of defiance toward the American commander in chief continued to resonate throughout Iraq and beyond.

In Sadr City, the sprawling Baghdad suburb that has seen some of the most intensive fighting between insurgents and American soldiers, thousands of marchers called for his release. In Syria, he was being hailed as a hero. In Libya, he was given an award for courage.

Across much of the Arab world, the shoe-throwing incident generated front-page headlines and continuing television news coverage. A thinly veiled glee could be discerned in much of the reporting, especially in places where anti-American sentiment runs deepest.

Muntadar al-Zaidi, 29, the correspondent for an independent Iraqi television station who threw his black dress shoes at Bush, remained in Iraqi custody on Monday.

While he has not been formally charged, Iraqi officials said he faces up to seven years in prison for committing an act of aggression against a visiting head of state.

Hitting someone with a shoe is a deep insult in the Arab world, signifying that the person being struck is as low as the dirt underneath the sole of a shoe. Compounding the insult were al-Zaidi’s words as he hurled his footwear at President Bush: “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” While calling someone a dog is universally harsh, among Arabs, who traditionally consider dogs unclean, it’s an even stronger slur.

According to his family, al-Zaidi was kidnapped in November 2007 by militants and, separately, detained briefly by the US military. Over time, they said, he came to hate both the US military occupation and Iran’s interference in Iraq.

The incident has been a source of embarrassment for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who, in a statement on Monday, called the shoe throwing a “a shameful savage act” and demanded a public apology from Al-Baghdadia, the independent satellite channel that employs al-Zaidi.

“The act damaged the reputation of the Iraqi journalists and journalism in general,” the statement said.

As of Monday night, no apology from the station was forthcoming. Instead, the network posted an image of al-Zaidi in the corner of the screen for much of the day. Telephone callers were invited to phone in their opinions, and the vast majority said they approved of his actions.

Opponents of the continued American presence in Iraq turned al-Zaidi’s detention Monday into a rallying cry. Support for the detained journalist crossed religious, ethnic and class lines in Iraq — vaulting him to near folk-hero status.

“I swear by God that all Iraqis with their different nationalities are glad about this act,” said Yaareb Yousif Matti, a 45-year-old teacher from Mosul, a city contested by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.

In Samarra, one of the centers of the Sunni insurgency against American forces, al-Zaidi received nearly unanimous approval from people interviewed Monday.

“Although that action was not expressed in a civilized manner, it showed the Iraqi’s feelings, which oppose American occupation,” said Dr. Qutaiba Rajaa, a 58-year old physician.

In Sadr City, thousands of marchers on Monday called for an immediate American withdrawal from Iraq. The demonstrators burned American flags and waved shoes attached to long poles in a show of support for al-Zaidi.

In Najaf, several hundred people gathered on a central square to protest Bush’s Sunday visit to Iraq, and demonstrators threw their shoes at a passing American military convoy.

But support for al-Zaidi was not universal. His action ran counter to deeply held Iraqi traditions of hospitality toward guests, even if they are enemies. And those who have cooperated or welcomed the American presence in Iraq were far more apt to side with the government in their condemnation.

Ahmad Abu Risha, the head of the Awakening Council in Anbar province, a group of local tribal leaders that started a wave of popular opposition against al Qaeda fighters in Iraq, said that he condemned what happened “because the American president is the guest of all Iraqis. The Iraqi government has to choose good journalists to attend such conferences.”

“This is unsuitable action by an Iraqi journalist,” said Kamal Wahbi, a 49-year-old engineer in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya, where pro-American sentiment is strong. “His action served terrorism and radical national extremism. I think he could send the same message by asking Bush embarrassing questions.”

Witnesses said that al-Zaidi had been severely beaten by security officers on Sunday after being tackled at the press conference and dragged out. One of his brothers, Maythem al-Zaidi, said Monday that the family had not heard from al-Zaidi since his arrest, and that a police officer who picked up al-Zaidi’s cell phone at midnight on Sunday had threatened the family.

It was unclear whether al-Zaidi had planned his actions beforehand, or whether – as his brother said – he had become infuriated by Bush’s words of farewell to Iraqis and made a spontaneous decision to insult him.

Head under Heels
An Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President Bush quickly became an Internet sensation.

Video clips of the incident, posted in several languages on YouTube, have been watched more than 1 million times.

A fan page dedicated to the shoe tosser quickly appeared on Facebook, where it gathered 1,382 acolytes around the world.

Meanwhile, a Denmark programmer posted the Bush Shoe Throw Game, and several quick thinkers created products commemorating the spectacle, including T-shirts, dog-shirts and a Bush shoe throw pillow.

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.


Iraqis Demand Release of Shoe-hurling Journalist
Chelsea J. Carter / Associated Press

BAGHDAD, (December 15, 2008) Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets Monday to demand the release of a reporter who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush in anger at US policies, as support for the act and the journalist flowed in from across the Arab world.

The protests came as suicide bombers and gunmen targeted Iraqi police, plus US-allied Sunni guards and civilians, in a series of attacks Monday that killed at least 17 people and wounded more than a dozen others, officials said.

The journalist, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, was being held by Iraqi security Monday and interrogated about whether anybody had paid him to throw his shoes at Bush during a news conference Sunday in Baghdad, said an Iraqi official.

He was also being tested for alcohol and drugs, and his shoes were held as evidence, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Showing the sole of your shoe to someone in the Arab world is a sign of extreme disrespect, and throwing your shoes is even worse. Iraqis whacked a statue of Saddam Hussein with their shoes after US Marines toppled it after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Iraqi security guards wrestled al-Zeidi to the ground immediately after he tossed his shoes.

Bush was not hit by the shoes, but White House press secretary Dana Perino suffered an eye injury when she was hit in the face with a microphone during the melee.

On Monday, reporters were repeatedly searched and asked to show identification before entering the heavily guarded Green Zone, where the press conference took place.

Newspapers across the Arab world printed front-page photos of Bush ducking the flying shoes, and satellite TV stations repeatedly aired the incident, which was hailed by the president’s many critics in the region.

Many are fed up with US policy and still angry over Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam.

As many as 98,000 Iraqi civilians may have been killed since the war began, according to Iraq Body Count, an independent organization that tracks media reports as well as official figures. The war has cost nearly $576 billion so far, according to the National Priorities Project.

Wafa Khayat, 48, a doctor in the West Bank town of Nablus, called the attack “a message to Bush and all the US policy makers that they have to stop killing and humiliating people.”

In Jordan, a strong US ally, a 42-year-old businessman, Samer Tabalat, praised al-Zeidi as “the man. … He did what Arab leaders failed to do.”

Al-Zeidi’s TV station, Al-Baghdadia, repeatedly aired pleas to release the reporter Monday, while showing footage of explosions and playing background music that denounced the US military presence in Iraq.

“We have all been mobilized to work on releasing him,” said Abdel-Hameed al-Sayeh, the manager of Al-Baghdadia in Cairo, where the station is based.

Al-Jazeera television interviewed Saddam’s former chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi, who offered to defend al-Zeidi, calling him a “hero.”

In Baghdad’s Shiite slum of Sadr City, thousands of supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burned American flags to protest against Bush and call for the release of al-Zeidi.

“Bush, Bush, listen well: Two shoes on your head,” the protesters chanted.

In Najaf, a Shiite holy city, some protesters threw their shoes at a passing American patrol. Witnesses said the American troops did not respond and continued on their patrol.

Violence in Iraq has declined significantly over the past year but daily attacks continue. A truck bomb killed at least nine police officers Monday and wounded 13 others in Khan Dhari west of Baghdad, said Dr. Omar al-Rawi at the Fallujah hospital, where dead and wounded were taken.

The US military said eight Iraqi police officers were killed and 10 people were wounded in the blast. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings.

Hours earlier, a female suicide bomber knocked on the front door of the leader of a local chapter of the Sunni volunteer militia north of Baghdad and blew herself up, killing him, said an Iraqi police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Also Monday, gunmen killed seven people from a single family, members of the minority Yazidi sect, when they stormed into their home in northern Iraq, police said.

AP journalists from across the Mideast contributed to this report.

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Shoe Thrower ‘Beaten in Custody’; Iraqis Rally for Journalist’s Release

December 17th, 2008 - by admin

BBC World News – 2008-12-17 00:57:33

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7785338.stm

Shoe Thrower ‘Beaten in Custody’
BBC World News

(December 16, 2008) — The brother of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W Bush has said that the reporter has been beaten in custody. Muntadar al-Zaidi has suffered a broken hand, broken ribs and internal bleeding, as well as an eye injury, his older brother, Dargham, told the BBC.

Mr Zaidi threw his shoes at Mr Bush at a news conference, calling him “a dog”.

The head of Iraq’s journalists’ union told the BBC that officials told him Mr Zaidi was being treated well. The union head, Mouyyad al-Lami, said he hoped to visit his colleague later. An Iraqi official said Mr Zaidi had been handed over to the judicial authorities, according to the AFP news agency.

Earlier, Dargham al-Zaidi told the BBC’s Caroline Wyatt in Baghdad he believed his brother had been taken to a US military hospital in the Iraqi capital.

A second day of rallies in support of Mr Zaidi have been held across Iraq, calling for his release. Meanwhile, offers to buy the shoes are being made around the Arab world, reports say.

Hero Figure
Mr Zaidi told our correspondent that, despite offers from many lawyers, his brother has not been given access to a legal representative since being arrested by forces under the command of Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security adviser.

The Iraqi authorities have said the 28-year-old will be prosecuted under Iraqi law, although it is not yet clear what the charges might be. Iraqi lawyers have speculated that he could face charges of insulting a foreign leader and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, who was standing next to President Bush during the incident. The offence carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

Our correspondent says that the previously little-known journalist from the private Cairo-based al-Baghdadia TV has become a hero to many, not just in Iraq but across the Arab world, for what many saw as a fitting send-off for a deeply unpopular US president. As he flung the shoes, Mr Zaidi shouted: “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog.”

Dargham al-Zaidi told the BBC that his brother deliberately bought Iraqi-made shoes, which were dark brown with laces. They were bought from a shop on al-Khyam street, a well-known shopping street in central Baghdad.

However, not everyone in Iraq has been supportive of the journalist’s action. Speaking earlier in Baghdad, Mouyyad al-Lami described Mr Zaidi’s action as “strange and unprofessional”, but urged Mr Maliki to show compassion.

“Even if he has made a mistake, the government and the judiciary are broad-minded and we hope they consider his release because he has a family and he is still young,” he told the Associated Press news agency. “We hope this case ends before going to court.” Abducted by insurgents The shoes themselves are said to have attracted bids from around the Arab world.

According to unconfirmed newspaper reports, the former coach of the Iraqi national football team, Adnan Hamad, has offered $100,000 (£65,000) for the shoes, while a Saudi citizen has apparently offered $10m (£6.5m).

Mr Zaidi said his actions were for Iraqi widows and orphans The daughter of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Aicha, said her charity would honour the reporter with a medal of courage, saying his action was a “victory for human rights”.

The charity called on the media to support Mr Zaidi and put pressure on the Iraqi government to free him. Mr Zaidi, who lives in Baghdad, has worked for al-Baghdadia for three years.

Muzhir al-Khafaji, programming director for the channel, described him as a “proud Arab and an open-minded man”. He said that Mr Zaidi was a graduate of communications from Baghdad University. “He has no ties with the former regime. His family was arrested under Saddam’s regime,” he said. Mr Zaidi has previously been abducted by insurgents and held twice for questioning by US forces in Iraq.

In November 2007, he was kidnapped by a gang on his way to work in central Baghdad and released three days later without a ransom. He said at the time that the kidnappers had beaten him until he lost consciousness, and used his necktie to blindfold him. Mr Zaidi never learned the identity of his kidnappers, who questioned him about his work before letting him go.


Iraq Rally for Bush Shoe Attacker
BBC News

(December 16, 2008) — Thousands of Iraqis have demanded the release of a local TV reporter who threw his shoes at US President George W Bush at a Baghdad news conference. Crowds gathered in Baghdad’s Sadr City district, calling for “hero” Muntadar al-Zaidi to be freed from custody.

Officials at the Iraqi-owned TV station, al-Baghdadiya, called for the release of their journalist, saying he was exercising freedom of expression. Iraqi officials have described the incident as shameful.

A statement released by the government said Mr Zaidi’s actions, which also included him shouting insults at President Bush, “harmed the reputation of Iraqi journalists and Iraqi journalism in general”.

Correspondents say the protesters are supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr – a leading critic of the US presence in Iraq. Smaller protests were reported in Basra and Najaf.

The Iraqi government has demanded an on-air apology from his employer.

An Iraqi official was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that the journalist was being interrogated to determine whether anybody paid him to throw his shoes at President Bush. He was also being tested for alcohol and drugs, and his shoes were being held as evidence, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV channel said Mr Zaidi should be freed because he had been exercising freedom of expression – something which the Americans had promised to Iraqis on the ousting of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. “Any measures against Muntadar will be considered the acts of a dictatorial regime,” the firm said in a statement.

The programming director for al-Baghdadiya, Muzhir al-Khafaji, described the journalist as a “proud Arab and an open-minded man”. He said he was afraid for Mr Zaidi’s safety, adding that the reporter had been arrested by US officials twice before. “We fear that our correspondents in Iraq will be arrested. We have 200 correspondents there,” he added.

‘Proud Arab’
Mr Zaidi leapt from his chair at Sunday’s news conference and hurled first one shoe and then the other at Mr Bush, who was joined at the podium by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

The shoes missed as Mr Bush ducked, and Mr Zaidi was immediately wrestled to the ground by security guards and frogmarched from the room.

“This is a farewell kiss, you dog,” he yelled in Arabic as he threw his shoes. “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”

Arabic TV stations have been repeatedly showing footage of the incident, which was also front-page news in many papers. Correspondents say the journalist’s tirade was echoed by Arabs across the Middle East who are fed up with US policy in the region. “He [George Bush] deserves to be hit with 100, not just one or two shoes. Who wants him to come here?” said a man in Baghdad. But his view was not expressed by everyone.

“I think this incident is unnecessary, to be honest. That was a press conference, not a war. If someone wants to express his opinion he should do so in the proper manner, not this way,” said another Baghdad resident.

Courts Criticised
Also on Monday, Human Rights Watch accused Iraq’s main criminal court of failing to meet basic international standards of justice. The New York-based group said torture and abuse of prisoners before trial appeared common, and legal representation was often ineffectual.

Human Rights Watch said some of the court’s failings showed disturbing similarities to those that existed during the Saddam Hussein era. The group called on Iraq to take immediate steps to protect detainees from torture, and ensure they had access to proper defence and received a prompt hearing.

© BBC MMVIII


Mid East Press Glee at Incident
Bush shoe-ing worst Arab insult

The Iraqi authorities have said the 28-year-old will be prosecuted under Iraqi law, although it is not yet clear what the charges might be. Iraqi lawyers have speculated that he could face charges of insulting a foreign leader and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, who was standing next to President Bush during the incident. The offence carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

Our correspondent says that the previously little-known journalist from the private Cairo-based al-Baghdadia TV has become a hero to many, not just in Iraq but across the Arab world, for what many saw as a fitting send-off for a deeply unpopular US president.

As he flung the shoes, Mr Zaidi shouted: “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog.”

Dargham al-Zaidi told the BBC that his brother deliberately bought Iraqi-made shoes, which were dark brown with laces. They were bought from a shop on al-Khyam street, a well-known shopping street in central Baghdad.

However, not everyone in Iraq has been supportive of the journalist’s action. Speaking earlier in Baghdad, Mouyyad al-Lami described Mr Zaidi’s action as “strange and unprofessional”, but urged Mr Maliki to show compassion. “Even if he has made a mistake, the government and the judiciary are broad-minded and we hope they consider his release because he has a family and he is still young,” he told the Associated Press news agency. “We hope this case ends before going to court.”

Abducted by Insurgents
The shoes themselves are said to have attracted bids from around the Arab world.
According to unconfirmed newspaper reports, the former coach of the Iraqi national football team, Adnan Hamad, has offered $100,000 (£65,000) for the shoes, while a Saudicitizen has apparently offered $10m (£6.5m).

Mr Zaidi said his actions were for Iraqi widows and orphans. The daughter of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Aicha, said her charity would honour the reporter with a medal of courage, saying his action was a “victory for human rights”. The charity called on the media to support Mr Zaidi and put pressure on the Iraqi government to free him.

Mr Zaidi, who lives in Baghdad, has worked for al-Baghdadia for three years. Muzhir al-Khafaji, programming director for the channel, described him as a “proud Arab and an open-minded man”. He said that Mr Zaidi was a graduate of communications from Baghdad University. “He has no ties with the former regime. His family was arrested under Saddam’s regime,” he said.

Mr Zaidi has previously been abducted by insurgents and held twice for questioning by US forces in Iraq. In November 2007 he was kidnapped by a gang on his way to work in central Baghdad and released three days later without a ransom. He said at the time that the kidnappers had beaten him until he lost consciousness, and used his necktie to blindfold him.

Mr Zaidi never learned the identity of his kidnappers, who questioned him about his work before letting him go.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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