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Archive for November 29th, 2006

Iraq, Iran reach agreement on security


TEHRAN, Iran – Iraq’s president said Wednesday he had reached a security agreement with Iran, which the United States accuses of fueling the chaos in the war-torn country. Iran’s president called on countries to stop backing “terrorists” in Iraq and for the Americans to withdraw.

Tehran is believed to back some of the Shiite militias blamed in the vicious sectarian killings that have thrown the country into chaos. The United States has said the Iraqi government should press Iran to stop interfering in its affairs in a bid to calm the violence.

Presidents Jalal Talabani of Iraq and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran held talks Wednesday hours before U.S. President George W. Bush was due to meet with the Iraqi prime minister in Jordan in talks aimed at finding a solution to Iraq’s spiraling bloodshed.

Talabani gave no details on the security agreement with Iran, and Ahmadinejad made no mention of any deal at a joint press conference in Tehran.

“We discussed in the fields of security, economy, oil and industry. Our agreement was complete,” Talabani told reporters. “This visit was 100 percent successful. Its result will appear soon.”

It was not clear if Talabani’s comments reflected an agreement by Tehran to try to rein in Shiite militias. Most of the militias are run by political parties that are a powerful part of the coalition government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He has resisted U.S. pressure to crack down on the militias.

Ahmadinejad repeated his calls for the United States to withdraw its forces from Iraq.

“I advise you to leave Iraq,” he said, addressing the Americans. “Based on a timetable, transfer the responsibilities to Iraqi government. This will agree to your interests, too.”

He urged countries to stop backing militants in Iraq, saying, “supporting terrorists is the ugliest act that they can do.” He did not specify which countries he was referring to.

Ahmadinejad said “extremists should be dismissed (from the Iraqi government) no matter to which group and ethnicity they belong to. This is the only way to salvation.”

“Enemies of Iraq are trying to create differences and extend hostility among the Iraqi people,” he said.

The United States accuses Iran and its ally Syria of stirring up violence in Iraq. Tehran denies this, saying it seeks calm in its neighbor and that an end to the bloodshed can only come when U.S. forces withdraw.

Al-Maliki and Talabani both have longtime ties with Iran. The Iraqi president has been in Iran the past three days, meeting Ahmadinejad and the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Talabani and Ahmadinejad attended a ceremony for the signing of two memorandums of understanding for cooperation in education and industry.

Ahmadinejad vowed that Iran “will stand by its Iraqi brothers,” saying “no one can divide nations of Iran and Iraq.”

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U.S.-Iraq summit put off until Thursday

AMMAN, Jordan -
President Bush high-profile meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday was canceled in a stunning turn of events after disclosure of U.S. doubts about the Iraqi leader’s capabilities and a political boycott in Baghdad protesting his attendance.

Instead of two days of talks, Bush and al-Maliki will have breakfast and a single meeting followed by a news conference on Thursday morning, the White House said.

The abrupt cancellation was an almost unheard-of development in the high-level diplomatic circles of a U.S. president, a king and a prime minister. There was confusion — and conflicting explanations — about what happened.

Bush had been scheduled to meet in a three-way session with al-Maliki and Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Wednesday night, and had rearranged his schedule to be in Amman for both days for talks aimed at reducing the spiral of violence in Iraq.

The last-minute cancellation was not announced until Bush had already come to Raghadan Palace and posed for photographs alone with the king.

White House counselor Dan Bartlett denied that the delay was a snub by al-Maliki directed at Bush or was related to the leak of a memo written by White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley questioning the prime minister’s capacity for controlling violence in Iraq.

“Absolutely not,” Bartlett said.” He said the king and the prime minister had met before Bush arrived from a NATO summit in Latvia. “That negated the purpose to meet tonight together in a trilateral setting.”

A senior administration official, who spoke with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, basically echoed Bartlett’s account.

The Jordanians and the Iraqis jointly decided it was not the best use of time because they both would be seeing the president separately, said the official.

Members of the Jordanian and Iraqi delegations contacted Khalilzad, who called Air Force One and spoke with Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, giving them a heads-up, the official said.

However, Redha Jawad Taqi, a senior aide of top Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim who also was in Amman, said the Iraqis balked at the three-way meeting after learning the king wanted to broaden the talks to include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Two senior officials traveling with al-Maliki, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said the prime minister had been reluctant to travel to Jordan in the first place and decided, once in Amman, that he did not want “a third party” involved in talks about subjects specific to the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.

With Maliki already gone from the palace, Bush had an abbreviated meeting and dinner with the king before heading early to his hotel.

The cancellation came after the disclosure of a classified White House memo, written Nov. 8 by Hadley. In one particularly harsh section, Hadley asserted: “The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”

Administration officials did not dispute the leaked account, saying that on balance the document was supportive of the Iraqi leader and generally portrayed him as well-meaning.

The president “has confidence in Prime Minister Maliki,” said Bush spokesman Tony Snow, who added that al-Maliki “has been very aggressive in recent weeks in taking on some of the key challenges.”

The memo recommended steps to strengthen the Iraqi leader’s position, including possibly sending more troops to defend Baghdad and providing monetary support for moderate political candidates for Iraq’s parliament.

The Iraqi prime minister also faced political pressure at home about the summit. Thirty Iraqi lawmakers and five cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said they were boycotting Parliament and the government to protest al-Maliki’s presence at the summit.

Bartlett said that Wednesday night’s three-way meeting had always been planned as “more of a social meeting” and that Bush and Maliki on Thursday would have a “robust” meeting on their own.

The president was expected to ask the embattled Iraqi prime minister how best to train Iraqi forces faster so they can shoulder more responsibility for halting the sectarian violence and, specifically, mending a gaping Sunni-Shiite divide. There are about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and Bush is under unrelenting pressure from Democrats and many Republicans to start bringing them home.

Some analysts suggested that the memo might actually help more than damage al-Maliki, showing distance between him and Bush.

Jon Alterman, former special assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said the memo’s doubts about al-Maliki “seemed calculated to steel his spine.”

“This memo reads to me more like a memo to Prime Minister al-Maliki than to President Bush,” said Alterman, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It has his entire to-do list as well as a list of what he’ll get if he agrees.”

In Washington, Sen. Jack Reed (news, bio, voting record), D-R.I., called on Bush to appoint a high-ranking special envoy to work with the Iraqi government on disbanding militias, including all Iraq’s factions in the nation’s political process and equitably distributing resources such as oil revenue.
“Steps have to be taken now,” he said.

Bush’s meeting with al-Maliki is part of a new flurry of diplomacy the administration has undertaken across the Middle East. Hadley’s memo suggests that Secretary of State Rice should hold a meeting for Iraq and its neighbors in the region early next month and also that the U.S. could step up efforts to get Saudi Arabia to help. It was written just weeks before Secretary of State Dick Cheney was dispatched to Saudi Arabia.

Senior administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the document is still classified even though published, said that many of the concerns raised by Hadley have been or are being rectified in the month that has passed since his trip to Baghdad.

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US setbacks see dollar plunge to near 15-year low

The dollar tumbled to a near 15-year low against sterling yesterday on fresh signs of economic trouble in the United States.

An 8.3pc crash in US industrial orders and an admission by the Federal Reserve chairman that Washington does not know how bad housing really is set off another day of wild gyrations on the currency markets.

US house prices fell 3.5pc to an average $221,000, the third month of declines. Stocks of unsold homes rose to 7.4 months’ supply, the highest since 1993. The US consumer confidence index fell sharply to 102.9.

The “truckers index” of tonnage shipped by US haulage companies was down 1.8pc in October, a leading indicator of contraction. Merrill Lynch called the fall “borderline recessionary”.

The dollar continued its slide against the euro, dropping to $1.3194 after the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, said the housing slump “would be a drag on economic growth into next year”. Mr Bernanke said official figures did not pick up the “sharp increase” in cancellations on house deals and might understate the inventory glut.

“Any significant effect on consumer spending arising from further weakness in housing would have important implications for the economy,” he said.

The pound briefly touched $1.95 and surged to eight-year highs against the yen.

The Japanese currency has been in freefall for months on repeated weak data. It suffered a fresh blow yesterday after retail sales fell for a second month, increasing fears that Japan’s export-dependent economy may slow in lock step with America.

The OECD club of rich nations gave warning yesterday in its bi-annual economic outlook that the world’s second-biggest economy was still too fragile after years of debt deflation to risk a rapid rise in rates from 0.25pc.

“The return to price stability is proving longer and less assured than expected. Further monetary tightening should wait until a fully-fledged exit from deflation finally materialises,” it said.

The OECD downgraded its global growth forecast for the 30 leading economies from 2.9pc to 2.5pc in 2007, and said the US might need to start cutting interest rates next year.

Chief economist Jean-Philippe Cotis said there was no cause for alarm, arguing that the US would achieve the “soft-landing” it eluded after the dotcom bubble in 2000. “What the world may be facing is a rebalancing of growth,” he said. “In the euro area, recent hard data suggest that a solid upswing may be under way. Growth should remain buoyant in China, India, Russia and other emerging economies.”

In a rare piece of good news that helped calm Wall Street after the equity rout on Monday, Mr Bernanke said inflation had been “somewhat better behaved of late”.

David Lereah, chief economist for the US National Association of Realtors, said there might be light at the end of tunnel for the housing market, citing a slight rise in transactions.

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U.S. moving up to 2,700 troops into Baghdad


WASHINGTON (CNN) — In an effort to restore security in Baghdad, the U.S. military plans to move at least three more battalions of American soldiers into the Iraqi capital, a senior Pentagon official said.

Between 500 and 900 troops are in an Army battalion, but the Pentagon official could not give the exact number of troops involved in the movements.

The official said the troops will not include Marines based in Sunni-dominated Anbar province, where troops and insurgents have been fighting along the Euphrates River corridor. Instead, the official said, the troops will be moved from more peaceful regions, such as northern Iraq.

The troop shifts won’t require an increase in forces in the country, the official said.

Some troops are in the Baghdad area but will be moved closer into the city.

As sectarian violence rages in parts of Iraq, securing Baghdad has been the top priority in the U.S. strategy to bring democracy to the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government hasn’t been able to devise an effective strategy to stem the Sunni-Shiite violence that some observers say has plunged Iraq into civil war.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking at meeting of business leaders in Dubai on Wednesday, said Iraq’s violence meets the standard of a “civil war.” (Full story)

President Bush this week refused to debate whether Iraq was experiencing civil war. He called the latest violence “part of a pattern” of attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq to divide Shiites and Sunnis. (Full story)

President Bush was in Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday for a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, but the talks were put off after public disclosure of U.S. doubts about his capacity to control sectarian warfare. The two are scheduled to meet Thursday, the White House said. (Full story)

Al-Maliki’s his political standing weakened when allies of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a key Shiite supporter of al-Maliki’s government, said Wednesday they were stopping their participation as Cabinet ministers and members of parliament. (Full story)

Other developments

The Pentagon on Wednesday released the identity of the missing flier whose F-16 crashed near Baghdad on Monday. He is Maj. Troy L. Gilbert, who is listed as duty status whereabouts unknown. It said Gilbert is assigned to the 309th Fighter Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. (Watch why military thinks pilot killed in crash )

The Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel assessing U.S. policies in the war in Iraq, will issue its report next Wednesday, a source told CNN. The report, prepared at the urging of Congress, is expected to include recommendations that will help the Bush administration deal with the conflict.

Fighting Wednesday between coalition forces and insurgents shut down the city of Baquba, killing scores of militants and civilians, The Associated Press reported. (Full story)

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In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

O, Almighty God, bestow upon humanity the perfect human being promised to all by You, and make us among his followers.

Noble Americans,

Were we not faced with the activities of the US administration in this part of the world and the negative ramifications of those activities on the daily lives of our peoples, coupled with the many wars and calamities caused by the US administration as well as the tragic consequences of US interference in other countries;

Were the American people not God-fearing, truth-loving, and justice-seeking, while the US administration actively conceals the truth and impedes any objective portrayal of current realities;

And if we did not share a common responsibility to promote and protect freedom and human dignity and integrity;

Then, there would have been little urgency to have a dialogue with you.

While Divine providence has placed Iran and the United States geographically far apart, we should be cognizant that human values and our common human spirit, which proclaim the dignity and exalted worth of all human beings, have brought our two great nations of Iran and the United States closer together.

Both our nations are God-fearing, truth-loving and justice-seeking, and both seek dignity, respect and perfection.

Both greatly value and readily embrace the promotion of human ideals such as compassion, empathy, respect for the rights of human beings, securing justice and equity, and defending the innocent and the weak against oppressors and bullies.

We are all inclined towards the good, and towards extending a helping hand to one another, particularly to those in need.

We all deplore injustice, the trampling of peoples’ rights and the intimidation and humiliation of human beings.

We all detest darkness, deceit, lies and distortion, and seek and admire salvation, enlightenment, sincerity and honesty.

The pure human essence of the two great nations of Iran and the United States testify to the veracity of these statements.

Noble Americans,

Our nation has always extended its hand of friendship to all other nations of the world.

Hundreds of thousands of my Iranian compatriots are living amongst you in friendship and peace, and are contributing positively to your society. Our people have been in contact with you over the past many years and have maintained these contacts despite the unnecessary restrictions of US authorities.

As mentioned, we have common concerns, face similar challenges, and are pained by the sufferings and afflictions in the world.

We, like you, are aggrieved by the ever-worsening pain and misery of the Palestinian people. Persistent aggressions by the Zionists are making life more and more difficult for the rightful owners of the land of Palestine. In broad day-light, in front of cameras and before the eyes of the world, they are bombarding innocent defenseless civilians, bulldozing houses, firing machine guns at students in the streets and alleys, and subjecting their families to endless grief.
No day goes by without a new crime.

Palestinian mothers, just like Iranian and American mothers, love their children, and are painfully bereaved by the imprisonment, wounding and murder of their children. What mother wouldn’t?

For 60 years, the Zionist regime has driven millions of the inhabitants of Palestine out of their homes. Many of these refugees have died in the Diaspora and in refugee camps. Their children have spent their youth in these camps and are aging while still in the hope of returning to homeland.

You know well that the US administration has persistently provided blind and blanket support to the Zionist regime, has emboldened it to continue its crimes, and has prevented the UN Security Council from condemning it.

Who can deny such broken promises and grave injustices towards humanity by the US administration?

Governments are there to serve their own people. No people wants to side with or support any oppressors. But regrettably, the US administration disregards even its own public opinion and remains in the forefront of supporting the trampling of the rights of the Palestinian people.

Let’s take a look at Iraq. Since the commencement of the US military presence in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, maimed or displaced.

Terrorism in Iraq has grown exponentially. With the presence of the US military in Iraq, nothing has been done to rebuild the ruins, to restore the infrastructure or to alleviate poverty. The US Government used the pretext of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but later it became clear that that was just a lie and a deception.

Although Saddam was overthrown and people are happy about his departure, the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people has persisted and has even been aggravated.

In Iraq, about one hundred and fifty thousand American soldiers, separated from their families and loved ones, are operating under the command of the current US administration. A substantial number of them have been killed or wounded and their presence in Iraq has tarnished the image of the American people and government.

Their mothers and relatives have, on numerous occasions, displayed their discontent with the presence of their sons and daughters in a land thousands of miles away from US shores. American soldiers often wonder why they have been sent to Iraq.

I consider it extremely unlikely that you, the American people, consent to the billions of dollars of annual expenditure from your treasury for this military misadventure.

Noble Americans,

You have heard that the US administration is kidnapping its presumed opponents from across the globe and arbitrarily holding them without trial or any international supervision in horrendous prisons that it has established in various parts of the world. God knows who these detainees actually are, and what terrible fate awaits them.

You have certainly heard the sad stories of the Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib prisons. The US administration attempts to justify them through its proclaimed “war on terror.” But every one knows that such behavior, in fact, offends global public opinion, exacerbates resentment and thereby spreads terrorism, and tarnishes the US image and its credibility among nations.

The US administration’s illegal and immoral behavior is not even confined to outside its borders. You are witnessing daily that under the pretext of “the war on terror,” civil liberties in the United States are being increasingly curtailed. Even the privacy of individuals is fast losing its meaning. Judicial due process and fundamental rights are trampled upon. Private phones are tapped, suspects are arbitrarily arrested, sometimes beaten in the streets, or even shot to death.
I have no doubt that the American people do not approve of this behavior and indeed deplore it.

The US administration does not accept accountability before any organization, institution or council. The US administration has undermined the credibility of international organizations, particularly the United Nations and its Security Council. But, I do not intend to address all the challenges and calamities in this message.

The legitimacy, power and influence of a government do not emanate from its arsenals of tanks, fighter aircrafts, missiles or nuclear weapons. Legitimacy and influence reside in sound logic, quest for justice and compassion and empathy for all humanity. The global position of the United States is in all probability weakened because the administration has continued to resort to force, to conceal the truth, and to mislead the American people about its policies and practices.

Undoubtedly, the American people are not satisfied with this behavior and they showed their discontent in the recent elections. I hope that in the wake of the mid-term elections, the administration of President Bush will have heard and will heed the message of the American people.

My questions are the following:

Is there not a better approach to governance?
Is it not possible to put wealth and power in the service of peace, stability, prosperity and the happiness of all peoples through a commitment to justice and respect for the rights of all nations, instead of aggression and war?
We all condemn terrorism, because its victims are the innocent.

But, can terrorism be contained and eradicated through war, destruction and the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocents?
If that were possible, then why has the problem not been resolved?
The sad experience of invading Iraq is before us all.

What has blind support for the Zionists by the US administration brought for the American people? It is regrettable that for the US administration, the interests of these occupiers supersedes the interests of the American people and of the other nations of the world.

What have the Zionists done for the American people that the US administration considers itself obliged to blindly support these infamous aggressors? Is it not because they have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors?

I recommend that in a demonstration of respect for the American people and for humanity, the right of Palestinians to live in their own homeland should be recognized so that millions of Palestinian refugees can return to their homes and the future of all of Palestine and its form of government be determined in a referendum. This will benefit everyone.

Now that Iraq has a Constitution and an independent Assembly and Government, would it not be more beneficial to bring the US officers and soldiers home, and to spend the astronomical US military expenditures in Iraq for the welfare and prosperity of the American people? As you know very well, many victims of Katrina continue to suffer, and countless Americans continue to live in poverty and homelessness.

I’d also like to say a word to the winners of the recent elections in the US:
The United States has had many administrations; some who have left a positive legacy, and others that are neither remembered fondly by the American people nor by other nations.

Now that you control an important branch of the US Government, you will also be held to account by the people and by history.

If the US Government meets the current domestic and external challenges with an approach based on truth and Justice, it can remedy some of the past afflictions and alleviate some of the global resentment and hatred of America. But if the approach remains the same, it would not be unexpected that the American people would similarly reject the new electoral winners, although the recent elections, rather than reflecting a victory, in reality point to the failure of the current administration’s policies. These issues had been extensively dealt with in my letter to President Bush earlier this year.

To sum up:

It is possible to govern based on an approach that is distinctly different from one of coercion, force and injustice.

It is possible to sincerely serve and promote common human values, and honesty and compassion.

It is possible to provide welfare and prosperity without tension, threats, imposition or war.

It is possible to lead the world towards the aspired perfection by adhering to unity, monotheism, morality and spirituality and drawing upon the teachings of the Divine Prophets.

Then, the American people, who are God-fearing and followers of Divine religions, will overcome every difficulty.

What I stated represents some of my anxieties and concerns.

I am confident that you, the American people, will play an instrumental role in the establishment of justice and spirituality throughout the world. The promises of the Almighty and His prophets will certainly be realized, Justice and Truth will prevail and all nations will live a true life in a climate replete with love, compassion and fraternity.

The US governing establishment, the authorities and the powerful should not choose irreversible paths. As all prophets have taught us, injustice and transgression will eventually bring about decline and demise. Today, the path of return to faith and spirituality is open and unimpeded.

We should all heed the Divine Word of the Holy Qur’an:

“But those who repent, have faith and do good may receive Salvation. Your Lord, alone, creates and chooses as He will, and others have no part in His choice; Glorified is God and Exalted above any partners they ascribe to Him.” (28:67-68)

I pray to the Almighty to bless the Iranian and American nations and indeed all nations of the world with dignity and success.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President of the Islamic Republic of Iran 29 November 2006

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Powell: Bush must accept Iraq in civil war


A report filed by CNN asserts that former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that President Bush must accept that Iraq has descended into civil war.

“Powell says he thinks we can call it a civil war,” CNN’s Hala Gorani, reporting from Dubai, said today.

Powell also reportedly “added if he were still heading the State Department, he probably would recommend to the Bush administration that those terms should be used in order to come to terms with the reality on the ground.”

The remarks were made at an event closed to photographers.

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President Bush and U.S. Senator-elect Jim Webb got into a testy exchange over the status of Webb’s soldier son, who is serving in Iraq, The Hill is reporting.

At a White House private dinner just after the election featuring “newly elected lawmakers,” Emily Heil writes that Bush asked Webb “how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.” Webb replied to the President that he “really wanted to see his son brought back home,” according to a person who was present at the dinner.

“I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing,” Bush replied, according to The Hill’s source.

“Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn’t,” writes Heil. “It’s safe to say, however, that Bush and Webb won’t be taking any overseas trips together anytime soon.”

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