Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Horn of Africa teeters on the cusp of all-out war

Neighbours arethreatening to turn Somalia into a battleground for their old scores

December 23, 2006
Michelle Shephard

The struggle to rule Somalia got closer to igniting a proxy war across the Horn of Africa this week, drawing neighbouring countries – and, according to some intelligence reports, foreign terrorist groups – into a protracted battle with international ramifications.

The fighting over the last three days has reportedly driven hundreds of war-weary Somalis from their homes and witnesses said yesterday Ethiopian tanks have come rumbling to the defence of Baidoa, seat of the UN-backed Somali government that has struggled for legitimacy and power since its inception two years ago.

Officials in Addis Ababa denied their government had sent tanks onto the territory of their neighbour and ally. The Union of Islamic Courts, which has pacified Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and effectively controls most of the south of the country, said its militias were preparing to attack Baidoa.

Analysts agreed it would not be an easy fight against Ethiopia's powerful army, and the UIC's reported allies – Eritrea and Yemen – may be tempted to join the southern militia. Already, they have covertly supplied arms and training to the UIC, according to a UN report obtained by Associated Press.

Eritrea and the predominantly Christian Ethiopia fought a three-decade war of independence and since Eritrea became a country in 1993, the two have skirmished regularly across their border.

Many have warned that Somalia – which hasn't had a centralized government during the 15 years since President Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991 – could become the battleground for neighbours looking to settle old scores.

Peace talks held periodically in Khartoum, Sudan, between the transitional government and UIC have been stalled in part by the Islamists' demands that Ethiopian troops supporting the transitional government leave the country.

UIC leaders set last Tuesday as a deadline for the troops' exodus before following up on a promise of armed jihad against Ethiopia. If the battle is viewed as that of the Islamists versus Ethiopia and its Western allies, there's a fear the war could join the ranks of those being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and attract a new generation of mujahedeen.

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned yesterday that dozens of civilians have been killed and more than 200 wounded during the last three days of fighting and a UN envoy for the region yesterday issued a plea for peace.

Somalia's future has special significance to Canada – believed to be home of the world's largest Somali diaspora outside Africa. Aside from a community of more than 100,000 residing mainly in Toronto and Ottawa, who sought refuge here in the past decade, there are many Somali-Canadians who have returned to east Africa to assume positions of power within the transitional federal government or the UIC.

The Toronto Star met with prominent Somali-Canadians and the leadership of the UIC during a trip into Mogadishu this fall. What was clear on the streets of Mogadishu, considered one of the most anarchic and dangerous cities in the world, was the widespread support for the UIC. Although foreigners are still at risk within Mogadishu, and the Star travelled with an armed convoy and had sought the written permission of the UIC to work in the city, residents of the city enjoyed unprecedented security and order.

Many did express concerns about the UIC's adherence to a strict interpretation of sharia law that curtailed many freedoms once enjoyed in a Muslim country that traditionally had secular rule. But there seemed a general acceptance among a population beaten down by years of fighting from rival warlords that some rights had to be sacrificed for security.

There is no doubt the UIC was able to do what no other local or international force could accomplish (the most horrific example being the notorious 1993 Black Hawk Down incident, when a failed U.S. mission to capture warlords ended in the deaths of hundreds of Somalis and 18 elite American soldiers).

But the U.S. has warned that senior UIC members have links to Al Qaeda and some compare their leadership to that of the Taliban – alleging that if the Islamists win control, Somalia will become a safe haven for terrorists fleeing other conflicts.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer was emphatic in her claims earlier this month that an Al Qaeda cell controls the UIC's leadership. "The top layer of the court are extremists. They are terrorists," she told local reporters, drawing rebukes from the UIC.

UIC military leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is on the U.S.'s terrorism watch list for alleged connections between a Somali group he founded in the 1990s and Al Qaeda.

During a September interview with the Star, Aweys denied any connection to groups outside Somalia and warned any U.S. intervention or support for the transitional government would be perceived as part of an American war on Muslims.

Unconfirmed local reports stated Aweys flew out of Mogadishu yesterday but would not reveal his destination.

If a full-scale war in Somalia is to be averted, the international community must first look to its meddling neighbours and help Ethiopia and Eritrea resolve their unresolved tension, argues Terrence Lyons, an associate professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution in his paper "Avoiding Conflict in the Horn of Africa."

Lyons says the 2000 peace process that ended the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is falling apart – in particular, failing to demarcate a new border between the countries – and only by ending this stalemate can regional war be averted.

International involvement is now key – both in helping facilitate peace talks and avoiding strong-arm tactics that could draw foreign fighters and incite the wider war that Osama bin Laden called for during his last taped message.

Canada has traditionally had very little involvement in Somalia since our failed mission there in 1993, which ended in the beating death of a Somali teenager and the disbanding of Canada's elite Airborne Regiment.

Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay issued a statement expressing Canada's concern over the "deteriorating security situation."

"We strongly urge both the Transitional Federal Government and the Union of Islamic Courts to resume peace talks as soon as possible," he stated.

But government sources say there are no plans to participate directly in the talks, and with Canada's involvement in countries such as Afghanistan, Sudan and Haiti, there appears little hope that the government will make Somalia a priority.

Friday, December 22, 2006

UN poised to pass Iran sanctions despite threat

· Ahmadinejad warns of immediate retaliation
· US and Britain step up naval presence in Gulf

Ewen MacAskill and Richard Norton-Taylor
Friday December 22, 2006
The Guardian

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been dismissive about the impact of sanctions. Photograph: AP

The United Nations security council is finally expected to pass a resolution today to impose international sanctions on Iran for the first time since the 1979 revolution, a punitive move that will heighten diplomatic tensions and risks a military confrontation in the Gulf.
Iran has threatened immediate retaliation, even though the proposed sanctions have been significantly watered down this week. Tehran's options include withdrawal from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, which would mean Iran would conduct its nuclear programme free from international monitoring, and possible closure of the Strait of Hormuz, the channel for 20% of the world's oil supplies.

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Western diplomats think that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his colleagues are bluffing but, just in case, the US announced this week it is reinforcing its fleet in the Gulf.
The British government is also increasing its naval presence. Two minehunters arrived in Bahrain on Tuesday but the Ministry of Defence said their deployment was mainly for training with Gulf states and "not to counter any increased threat". Tony Blair, on a visit to the Middle East this week, portrayed Iran as a major threat.

The resolution will impose extremely limited restrictions on international travel on Iranians associated with the nuclear programme, a freeze on their overseas assets and a ban on nuclear-related exports. Western officials yesterday predicted that a draft resolutionwould be voted on today in New York, bringing to an end six months of negotiations.

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, who is responsible for nuclear negotiations, was quoted by an Iranian news agency yesterday as saying that Iran would not be deflected by the sanctions. "The nature of this resolution is not capable of pressuring Iran, and Iran will give an appropriate response to it," Mr Larijani said, adding: "This behaviour will just create more problems." He said that Iran would review its cooperation with the IAEA and look at other political, economic and cultural options.

Closure of the Strait of Hormuz would push up oil prices and increase chances of a military clash, but the Iranians might decide such an option is too dangerous. Mr Ahmadinejad was also dismissive about the impact of sanctions. "America and some European countries know well that they are incapable of doing anything against the Iranian nation," he said.

The security council has been deadlocked over an Iran resolution since it was first proposed before the summer. The US has been seeking tough measures while Russia and China, both of which have close economic ties with Iran, have been arguing in favour of the weakest possible measures. Britain and France have been occupying the middle ground, trying to achieve a consensus, and are the co-authors of the resolution.

Diplomats said yesterday that Washington was unhappy with the outcome, feeling the Europeans had conceded too much ground to Russia, which squeezed compromises out of London and Paris on Wednesday. Instead of an outright travel ban on senior Iranians working at nuclear plants, Russia secured a compromise in which each country would retain discretion over who should be banned.

Items to be banned include all that relate to uranium-enrichment, which is a step on the way to achieving a nuclear weapons capability, or ballistic missiles. Again, Russia obtained a compromise leaving this to the discretion of each country, though exports will have to be reported to the UN sanctions committee. Funds and financial assets owned overseas by organisations working on thenuclear programme are to be frozen.


UN resolution will provoke war in Somalia

Islamic militia says UN resolution will provoke war in Somalia

Published: Friday, December 8, 2006 | 12:48 AM ET

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - Ethiopian troops have shelled a central Somalia town, two days after the UN passed a resolution to ease an arms embargo on Somalia, an official of the country's Islamic courts said Friday.

This is the second time in 10 days the Ethiopians are reported to have shelled Bandiradley, about 630 kilometres northeast of the capital, Mogadishu.

"Ethiopian soldiers have massed around Bandiradley soon after the arms embargo had been lifted and started firing missiles toward our positions," said Sheikh Abdullahi Ali Hashi, a spokesman for the Council of Islamic Courts told The Associated Press by telephone from central Somalia.

On Thursday, Islamic officials in control of most of southern Somalia warned that war will erupt over a UN Security Council decision authorizing an African force to protect the country's virtually powerless government.

The Security Council unanimously approved the resolution Wednesday, saying it hoped to restore peace in Somalia and avert a broader conflict in the region.

Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedis, formerly one of Somalia's prominent warlords, welcomed the decision and urged its immediate implementation.
Continue Article

The U.S. resolution, co-sponsored by the council's African members, urged the Islamic Courts union, which controls the capital of Mogadishu and most of the south, to stop any further military expansion and join the transitional government in peace talks.

However, peace talks slated for later this month appeared unlikely, with the Islamic group saying it will now have to reconsider joining any such dialogue with the UN-backed administration.

A spokesman for the Islamic movement said the resolution will introduce sophisticated weapons into Somalia and provoke a war between his group and the struggling government.

"We see the approval of the resolution as nothing but an evil intention," Abdirahin Ali Mudey, spokesman for the Islamic Courts, told The Associated Press.

Mudey accused the Security Council of giving the Somali government's main ally, Ethiopia, permission to occupy the country.

"The international community has proven to be biased and unjust," he said.

The resolution, however, bans Somalia's neighbours from sending soldiers, which would prohibit participation in the force by troops from Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. Uganda is the only country that has so far volunteered troops.

But eyewitnesses in Dagaari village near Bandiradley said that they saw hundreds of Ethiopian troops and tanks take up new positions near the town in co-ordination with militiamen from the northeastern semi autonomous region of Puntland and Qeybdiid's militia.

They said that this new movement puts these forces and their rival Islamic courts' militias only 2 kilometres apart.

"Ethiopians and their ally regional militia have increased their military presence here. Now they are advancing towards Bandiradley," said a local resident on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.

The arms embargo against Somalia was imposed in 1992, a year after warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another. An interim government was formed two years ago with the help of the UN, but was ignored both by both the warlords and the Islamic militia, which eventually drove the warlords from Mogadishu and most of the south.

Critics of the resolution, including some non-governmental organizations, accuse the UN Security Council of taking sides in the dispute between the government and the Islamic movement.

But there are fears that, without international action, Somalia could become a proxy battleground for Ethiopia and Eritrea, which fought a border war in 1998-2000.

A confidential UN report obtained recently by The AP said 6,000-8,000 Ethiopian troops were in Somalia or along the border, supporting the transitional government. It also said 2,000 soldiers from Eritrea were inside Somalia, supporting the Islamic militia - which Eritrea denies.

Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu denounced the Security Council resolution as an "attack on the Somali people."

He also said it provided support for just one warlord, an indirect reference to Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf's past as one of the country's major warlords.

The authorized force "is not a peacekeeping force, it is an invasion-keeping force," Abdu told Al-Jazeera television.

The resolution authorizes a seven-country East African group known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, and the African Union to establish "a protection and training mission in Somalia" for an initial period of six months.

Council diplomats said IGAD envisions a force of eight battalions, each with 700 to 800 troops, but only two would be deployed in the first phase.

The UN last authorized peacekeepers to enter Somalia in December 1992, with the U.S. leading an international force to help feed famine victims in the midst of widespread violence between warlords.

By 1993, the mission evolved into disarming factions hindering relief efforts, including a search for Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a leading warlord. On Oct. 3, an urban battle with Aidid's forces killed 18 U.S. soldiers and wounded 84.

Public outrage over the troops' violent deaths - fed by televised pictures of the bodies of U.S. soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu - generated political pressure that forced then-president Bill Clinton to order all troops to withdraw by March 31, 1994.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Diplomat's suppressed document lays bare the lies behind Iraq war

Diplomat's suppressed document lays bare the lies behind Iraq war

By Colin Brown and Andy McSmith

12/15/06 "
The Independent" --- -- The Government's case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

A devastating attack on Mr Blair's justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests."

Mr Ross revealed it was a commonly held view among British officials dealing with Iraq that any threat by Saddam Hussein had been "effectively contained".

He also reveals that British officials warned US diplomats that bringing down the Iraqi dictator would lead to the chaos the world has since witnessed. "I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed)," he said.

"At the same time, we would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that 'regime change' was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos."

He claims "inertia" in the Foreign Office and the "inattention of key ministers" combined to stop the UK carrying out any co-ordinated and sustained attempt to address sanction-busting by Iraq, an approach which could have provided an alternative to war.

Mr Ross delivered the evidence to the Butler inquiry which investigated intelligence blunders in the run-up to the conflict.

The Foreign Office had attempted to prevent the evidence being made public, but it has now been published by the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs after MPs sought assurances from the Foreign Office that it would not breach the Official Secrets Act.

It shows Mr Ross told the inquiry, chaired by Lord Butler, "there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material" held by the Iraqi dictator before the invasion. "There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US," he added.

Mr Ross's evidence directly challenges the assertions by the Prime Minster that the war was legally justified because Saddam possessed WMDs which could be "activated" within 45 minutes and posed a threat to British interests. These claims were also made in two dossiers, subsequently discredited, in spite of the advice by Mr Ross.

His hitherto secret evidence threatens to reopen the row over the legality of the conflict, under which Mr Blair has sought to draw a line as the internecine bloodshed in Iraq has worsened.

Mr Ross says he questioned colleagues at the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence working on Iraq and none said that any new evidence had emerged to change their assessment.

"What had changed was the Government's determination to present available evidence in a different light," he added.

Mr Ross said in late 2002 that he "discussed this at some length with David Kelly", the weapons expert who a year later committed suicide when he was named as the source of a BBC report saying Downing Street had "sexed up" the WMD claims in a dossier. The Butler inquiry cleared Mr Blair and Downing Street of "sexing up" the dossier, but the publication of the Carne Ross evidence will cast fresh doubts on its findings.

Mr Ross, 40, was a highly rated diplomat but he resigned because of his misgivings about the legality of the war. He still fears the threat of action under the Official Secrets Act.

"Mr Ross hasn't had any approach to tell him that he is still not liable to be prosecuted," said one ally. But he has told friends that he is "glad it is out in the open" and he told MPs it had been "on my conscience for years".

One member of the Foreign Affairs committee said: "There was blood on the carpet over this. I think it's pretty clear the Foreign Office used the Official Secrets Act to suppress this evidence, by hanging it like a Sword of Damacles over Mr Ross, but we have called their bluff."

Yesterday, Jack Straw, the Leader of the Commons who was Foreign Secretary during the war - Mr Ross's boss - announced the Commons will have a debate on the possible change of strategy heralded by the Iraqi Study Group report in the new year.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

Gorilla Radio for Monday December 18, 2006

PEJ News
- C. L. Cook - This week on GR: Environmental and social activist Mike Nickerson and 'Life, Money, & Illusion: Living on Earth as if We Want to Stay.' And; Janine Bandcroft brings us up to speed with holiday goings-on in and around Victoria in the coming week.

Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, airing live every Monday,
5-6pm Pacific Time. In Victoria at 101.9FM, 104.3 cable,
and on the internet at:
He also serves as a contributing editor at the progressive
web news site: You can check out the GR blog at:

Gorilla Radio for Monday December 18, 2006

C. L. Cook

PEJ News
December 18, 2006

How did it happen; how did things get this far? In the dying days of 2006, it seems humanity has run out of luck: It seems we are nigh near that end that mystics and madmen throughout time have warned would come. Wars and rumours of war, pestilence, disease, and death are arrived now with apocalyptic urgency, bringing too in their cataclysmic train Mother Nature herself, angry and terrible. And this misery is of our own making. Every day, millions go about their business, toiling to provide the things they believe needed to sustain themselves, while all they do brings the planet nearer to unihabitable for we humans. But, is there a another way? Mike Nickerson is a long time environmental and societal change activist. He is the founder of Institute for the Study of Cultural Evolution, and is the author of Bakavi; Change the World I Want to Stay On and the recently released Life, Money & Illusion: Living on Earth as if We Want to Stay. Mike Nickerson in the first half.

And; though the recent extreme snow, wind, and rain storms may give some a moment's pause, Christmas 2006 seems likely to happen, and in the second half the Gorilla Radio Christmas tribute.

And; Janine Bandcroft will be here at the bottom of the hour to bring us up to speed with some of the seasonally good things you can get up to in the coming week. But first, Mike Nickerson and seeing through our societal illusions.

G-Radio is dedicated to social justice, the environment, community, and providing a forum for people and issues not covered in the corporate media.

Some past guests include: M. Junaid Alam, M. Shahid Alam, Joel Bakan, Maude Barlow, David Barsamian, Rhoda Berenson, William Blum, Luciana Bohne, William Bowles, Vincent Bugliosi, Helen Caldicott, Noam Chomsky, Michel Chossudovsky, Diane Christian, Juan Cole, David Cromwell, Murray Dobbin, Jon Elmer, Reese Erlich, Anthony Fenton, Jim Fetzer, Laura Flanders, Chris Floyd, Connie Fogal, Susan George, Stan Goff, Amy Goodman, Robert Greenwald, Denis Halliday, Chris Hedges, Sander Hicks, Julia Butterfly Hill, Robert Jensen, Dahr Jamail, Diana Johnstone, Kathy Kelly, Naomi Klein, Anthony Lappe, Frances Moore Lappe, Jason Leopold, Jeff Leys, Dave Lindorff, Jim Lobe, Jennifer Loewenstein, Wayne Madsen, Stephen Marshall, Linda McQuaig, George Monbiot, Loretta Napoleoni, John Nichols, Kurt Nimmo, David Orchard, Greg Palast, Mike Palecek, Michael Parenti, Robert Parry, Kevin Pina, William Rivers Pitt, Justin Podur, Jack Random, Sheldon Rampton, Paul Craig Roberts, Paul de Rooij, John Ross, Danny Schechter, Vandana Shiva, Norman Solomon, Starhawk, Grant Wakefield, Paul Watson, Bernard Weiner, Mickey Z., Dave Zirin, and many others.

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