Saturday, December 31, 2005

Jerusalem Post | Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World

Jerusalem Post | Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World

'US planning strike against Iran'
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The United States government reportedly began coordinating with NATO its plans for a possible military attack against Iran.

The German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel collected various reports from the German media indicating that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are examining the prospects of such a strike.

According to the report, CIA chief Porter Gus, in his last visit to Turkey on December 12, requested Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide military bases to the United States in 2006 from where they would be able to launch an assault.

The German news agency DDP also noted that countries neighboring Iran, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, and Pakistan were also updated regarding the supposed plan. American sources sent to those countries apparently mentioned an aerial attack as a possibility, but did not provide a time frame for the operation.

Although Der Spiegel could not say that these plans were concrete, they did note that according to a January 2005 New Yorker report American forces had entered Iran in 2005 in order to mark possible targets for an aerial assault.

KR Washington Bureau | 12/27/2005 | Kurds in Iraqi army proclaim loyalty to militia

KR Washington Bureau | 12/27/2005 | Kurds in Iraqi army proclaim loyalty to militia

By Tom Lasseter
Knight Ridder Newspapers

KIRKUK, Iraq - Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops that are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.

The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga - the Kurdish militia - and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.

"It doesn't matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own battalion," said Gabriel Mohammed, a Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi army who was escorting a Knight Ridder reporter through Kirkuk. "Kirkuk will be ours."

The Kurds have readied their troops not only because they've long yearned to establish an independent state but also because their leaders expect Iraq to disintegrate, senior leaders in the Peshmerga - literally, "those who face death" - told Knight Ridder. The Kurds are mostly secular Sunni Muslims, and are ethnically distinct from Arabs.

Their strategy mirrors that of Shiite Muslim parties in southern Iraq, which have stocked Iraqi army and police units with members of their own militias and have maintained a separate militia presence throughout Iraq's central and southern provinces. The militias now are illegal under Iraqi law but operate openly in many areas. Peshmerga leaders said in interviews that they expected the Shiites to create a semi-autonomous and then independent state in the south as they would do in the north.

The Bush administration - and Iraq's neighbors - oppose the nation's fragmentation, fearing that it could lead to regional collapse. To keep Iraq together, U.S. plans to withdraw significant numbers of American troops in 2006 will depend on turning U.S.-trained Kurdish and Shiite militiamen into a national army.

The interviews with Kurdish troops, however, suggested that as the American military transfers more bases and areas of control to Iraqi units, it may be handing the nation to militias that are bent more on advancing ethnic and religious interests than on defeating the insurgency and preserving national unity.

A U.S. military officer in Baghdad with knowledge of Iraqi army operations said he was frustrated to hear of the Iraqi soldiers' comments but that he had seen no reports suggesting that they would acted improperly in the field.

"There's talk and there's acts, and their actions are that they follow the orders of the Iraqi chain of command and they secure their sectors well," said the officer, who refused to be identified because he's not authorized to speak on the subject

American military officials have said they're trying to get a broader mix of sects in the Iraqi units.

However, Col. Talib Naji, a Kurd serving in the Iraqi army on the edge of Kirkuk, said he would resist any attempts to dilute the Kurdish presence in his brigade.

"The Ministry of Defense recently sent me 150 Arab soldiers from the south," Naji said. "After two weeks of service, we sent them away. We did not accept them. We will not let them carry through with their plans to bring more Arab soldiers here."

One key to the Kurds' plan for independence is securing control of Kirkuk, the seat of a province that holds some of Iraq's largest oil fields. Should the Kurds push for independence, Kirkuk and its oil would be a key economic engine.

The city's Kurdish population was driven out by former Sunni Arab dictator Saddam Hussein, whose "Arabization" program paid thousands of Arab families to move there and replace recently deported or murdered Kurds.

Stratfor warns of attacks on Houston Oil business and chemical plants

We still believe that when al-Zawahiri told jihadists to target the "Muslims' stolen oil," he was not issuing a warning to the oil industry or the West but rather was giving al Qaeda supporters targeting guidance. It is important to note that this statement did not say exactly where the oil infrastructure was to be targeted. The assumption on our part -- which we are now rethinking -- was that al Qaeda followers would attempt to carry out this mandate where they can feasibly do so -- meaning within their local reach, namely the Middle East. We know al Qaeda has strength in the Middle East, so that's one logical area to beef up defenses around oil infrastructure; but we failed to look at the possibility that al-Zawahiri's comments could have been directed toward a sleeper operation or jihadist sympathizers inside the United States. We don't know that they have strength within the United States, but it is a possibility that should be seriously considered and evaluated in looking at the threat from 360 degrees.

Why the United States?

We have long believed that a small number of deeply embedded al Qaeda sleeper agents are inside the United States and have gone to ground because of the U.S. counterterrorism community's relentless counterterrorism disruption activities. In addition to this, it has been well documented that organizations in the United States such as the al-Kifah Refugee Center, popularly known as the “Brooklyn Jihad Office,” have sent thousands of people from the United States to be trained and to fight in the jihad. Though many of these individuals did not formally pledge allegiance to Osama bin Laden or become part of the al Qaeda organization, they did become part of the wider jihadist movement. Many of them maintain connections with friends and fellow jihad veterans. Al Qaeda's Internet use and the proliferation of jihadist forums have made it possible for these jihad alumni to maintain or re-establish contact with the cause and their friends. In the past, jihadist operational planners have gone to places such as Brooklyn and mobilized jihad veterans to conduct attacks.

Al Qaeda also has used the Internet to introduce aspiring jihadists to its ideology through vehicles such as the Al-Battar Camp online magazine, which provides online training and instructional manuals. Thus, as al Qaeda's status changed from group to movement, individuals no longer needed to travel to Afghanistan to receive ideological indoctrination and paramilitary training.

There is no doubt that a number of operations -- many of which have been deemed serious -- have been disrupted inside the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks. Al Qaeda operations, funding and infrastructure have been eliminated brick by brick; however, our intelligence assessment indicates that although al Qaeda might have been seriously affected, it is not necessarily down for the count. If one believes -- which we do -- that al Qaeda has the operational capability or operators in place, the words "I call on mujahideen to concentrate their attacks on Muslims stolen oil" sound like a possible signal to go forth with an operation inside the United States, specifically Houston.

Why Houston?

First, we have long held that the Houston area is a logical target for al Qaeda because of the region's refineries and chemical plants and its very busy port. Furthermore, we have received what we believe to be credible reports that some of the facilities in the Houston area have been targets of suspected hostile pre-operational surveillance. We have also recently written that there is really only one target in the Western Hemisphere that, if damaged, could have a major effect on energy supplies: the Houston Ship Channel. The channel snakes from Galveston Bay through a network of refineries and petrochemical plants and into downtown Houston. The channel itself is not vulnerable, but if a large craft -- perhaps an oil tanker -- were sunk in it, it would block the United States' most vulnerable energy corridor. We do not think this vulnerability has escaped al Qaeda's attention.

Additionally, jihadist operators -- specifically the 1993 cell led by Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Blind Sheikh -- have used Houston as a safe-haven and for logistical staging. Ahmed Ajaj, who was convicted for his participation in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, lived in Houston before leaving the United States to attend bin Laden's Khalden training camp in Afghanistan. The investigation of the 1993 bombing revealed that Ajaj, Mahmoud Abouhalima, Ibrahim Elgabrowny and Abdel Basit (a.k.a. Ramzi Yousef) had a number of contacts in the Houston area. Later investigations of jihadist activity in the United States involving such people as Wadih el Hage, Abdul Hakim Murad and Ali Mohammed have also led authorities to learn of jihadist connections to the area. Notably, this later group -- el Hage, Murad and Ali Mohammed -- was also connected to the 1993 group of Ajaj, Abouhalima, Elgabrowny and Basit.

We discussed last summer our belief that Houston currently harbors an operational jihadist cell that has gone to ground due to law enforcement pressure. We do not believe this cell has been neutralized or ferreted out by the FBI.

Though many people have focused on concerns about al Qaeda obtaining chemical, biological and radiological weapons, we remain skeptical of the group's efficacy in developing and employing chemical weapons. As seen in the case of Aum Shinrikyo's sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway, chemical weapons are very difficult to manufacture, transport and effectively employ. Comparing Aum Shinrikyo's attacks in Tokyo with al Qaeda's attacks in Madrid and London clearly shows that conventional explosives deliver far more "bang for the buck" than chemical and biological weapons.

That said, we still believe a strike on a major chemical plant -- hitting the right plant in the right place -- could cause a toxic cloud that would potentially kill thousands of citizens in a radius as big as 25 miles. Many people have held that al Qaeda would not necessarily pick chemical plant locations since the loss of life within the compounds would not be that large. However, in much the same way that the collapse of the World Trade Center caused more death and destruction than the initial impacts of the aircraft flown into it, the toxic cloud released by a chemical plant attack could carry with it a death toll that far surpasses that of the initial attack. If the right facility were attacked, the outcome could be more devastating than the Sept. 11 attacks and could rival the 1984 accident at the Union Carbide Corp. chemical plant in Bhopal, India, that killed thousands of people. This would be an "outside of the box" chemical attack that would far surpass an Aum Shinrikyo-type attack. And considering the complex logistics of acquiring nuclear material for a dirty bomb or radioactive detonation device for an attack in the United States, a chemical plant strike would be comparatively simple to carry out.

How Would Al Qaeda Carry Out Such An Attack?

There are a few likely attack scenarios:

1. Air attack. There is no doubt that passenger aircraft are more secure today than on Sept. 11, 2001; however, vulnerabilities remain, such as the use of cargo and private aircraft that take off from private airstrips around the nation. A fully fueled cargo Boeing 747 or a large general-aviation aircraft such as a Boeing Business Jet or Global Express nose-diving into a chemical plant could cause significant damage. We are highly skeptical that air assets could shoot these inbound missiles down in time to prevent an attack.

2. Internal sabotage. An al Qaeda sympathizer employed inside a chemical plant could be used wittingly or unwittingly to compromise security. The operator -- or sleeper -- could place homing devices or beacons for inbound air attacks, or sabotage a valve or other piece of critical equipment. The Bhopal accident reportedly was caused by a faulty valve.

3. Suicide attack. Though security is better today at major oil and chemical plants in the United States than it was prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, it is still possible for a suicide operative to drive a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device into many chemical plants.

Though striking a proper target or node within a chemical plant is still an issue, al Qaeda and other jihadist groups have an extraordinarily high number of engineers in their midst. Nidal Ayyad, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was a chemical engineer who worked for a large chemical company in Morristown, N.J.

Ayyad used his company affiliation to order chemicals for the truck bomb built and used in the 1993 attack -- a present-day al Qaeda member or jihadist sympathizer with similar qualifications employed at a chemical company would not have much difficulty pinpointing the exact place to strike.

One could argue that al Qaeda has had ample time and opportunity to carry out a follow-on attack since Sept. 11. The United States has invaded two countries, and the al Qaeda leadership has lost command-and-control capabilities. However, al Qaeda is an organization that adapts to security and counterterrorism measures and still manages to kill (as seen in Madrid, London, Bali and Amman).

There is no doubt the intent to strike remains, but it all boils down to operational capability. Can al Qaeda pull it off? We remain convinced it can. Why? Discussions with various counterterrorism officials in the United States have revealed that several terrorism suspects are currently under investigation in the United States, and many more are suspected of being embedded in the U.S. social fabric.

Unfortunately, it is reasonable to assume that the United States will not be able to stop all of the threats. For example, look at the recent hotel attacks in Jordan, which has the best intelligence service in the Middle East in our assessment (no offense intended to Israel's Mossad). The Jordanian GID has thwarted plots specifically directed at hotels in the past but was unable to stop the trifecta on the American hotels in Amman. Sooner or later, the FBI will also fail. The law of probability is against U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Shortly after the July 7 bombings in London, an anonymous British counterterrorism official told The Independent, "It is concerning that none were on the intelligence radar. There are quite probably others we do not know about out there. Over the past 10 years, we have been successfully disrupting a number of groups of people who could have carried out bombing attacks similar to those we have seen in the past few weeks. We can't disrupt them all. They only have to be lucky once -- and they have been. At some point there will be another suicide or bombing group." This maxim still applies to the United Kingdom -- and the United States.

Although security at many U.S. refineries, chemical plants and other sites initially was beefed up after Sept. 11, security at those sites has gradually relaxed. In the four and a half years since the Sept. 11 attacks, the economic implications of such security measures have been felt and security budgets have been dramatically reduced.

Whereas impatience and complacency have led Americans to let down their guard, al Qaeda values and uses patience in planning its attacks. Bin Laden himself said in his "Message to the American People" that al Qaeda will not quit or equivocate, and we believe him. Eight and a half years elapsed between the first World Trade Center bombing and the Sept. 11 attacks. There were several thwarted plots to hit the U.S. mainland between the two bombings, but al Qaeda patiently and intently continued toward its goal of striking big where it would hurt the United States the most. Just because several more attacks have been pre-empted since Sept. 11 does not mean the United States is in the clear. Even if the FBI can thwart the next major attack, there are others in the pipeline, and these plots will continue to threaten Americans as long as al Qaeda exists. The enemy is still patiently planning, and as the United States relaxes, it will become easier for it to attack successfully.

This quote is from Stratfor's email newsletter, which I highly recommend you sign up for at Stratfor.com

Trucks start rolling as Iraq tackles fuel crisis | Reuters.com

Top News Article | Reuters.com

Trucks start rolling as Iraq tackles fuel crisis

By Waleed Ibrahim and Gideon Long

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq started trucking fuel from its main oil refinery in the north to cities across the country on Saturday to ease a crisis that has triggered panic buying and long queues at petrol stations.

Exasperated drivers waited for over three hours to fill their tanks in Baghdad, capital of a country which sits on the third-largest proven oil reserves in the world, as trucks rolled out of the Baiji refinery for the first time in 10 days.

Nearly three years after a U.S. invasion which many thought would lead to the revival of Iraq's dilapidated oil industry, the authorities cannot provide their citizens with even basic fuel requirements.

Long lines of cars, vans, and rust-bucket white-and-orange taxis snaked down the streets of Baghdad, watched over by armed policemen on the lookout for queue-jumpers.

"A week ago it took half an hour to fill my car, but I've been standing here since 7 o'clock and now it's 12," said 55-year-old taxi driver Saed Abu Ali as he leant on his car by the side of a Baghdad highway.

"When we voted (on December 15) we believed our circumstances would get better but things are worse than before. It's a disaster."

The electricity supply is also sporadic, ravaged by years of war, sanctions and now guerrilla sabotage; the U.S. military says the average Baghdad household now gets only six hours of power a day compared with a peak of 11 hours in October.

Many Iraqis are still reeling from big subsidy cuts that caused hefty fuel price increases 12 days ago; the price of gasoline and diesel jumped by up to 200 percent and bottled household gas doubled in price.

The cuts were linked to a deal with the International Monetary Fund under which Iraq gets relief from debts run up under Saddam Hussein in return for moving to a market economy.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, a key player in its politics, signaled more big changes ahead in a New Year statement:

"The U.S. and Iraq will work together next year to shift Iraqi resources from unproductive subsidies to productive uses that enable Iraqis to earn livelihoods," Zalmay Khalilzad said.

VDH's Private Papers::The Plague of Success

VDH's Private Papers::The Plague of SuccessAfghanistan in October, 2001, conjured up almost immediately warnings of quagmire, expanding Holy War at Ramadan, unreliable allies, a trigger-happy nuclear Pakistan on the border, American corpses to join British and Russian bones in the high desert — not a seven-week victory and a subsequent democracy in Kabul of all places.

Nothing in our era would have seemed more unlikely than democrats dethroning the Taliban and al Qaeda — hitherto missile-proof in their much ballyhooed cave complexes that maps in Newsweek assured us rivaled Norad's subterranean fortress. The prior, now-sanctified Clinton doctrine of standoff bombing ensured that there would be no American fatalities and almost nothing ever accomplished — the perfect strategy for the focus-group/straw-poll era of the 1990s.

Are we then basking in the unbelievable notion that the most diabolical government of the late 20th century is gone from Afghanistan, and in its place are schools, roads, and voting machines? Hardly, since the bar has been astronomically raised since Tora Bora. After all, the Afghan parliament is still squabbling and a long way from the city councils of Cambridge, La Jolla, or Nantucket — or maybe not.

The same paradox of success is true of Iraq. Before we went in, analysts and opponents forecasted burning oil wells, millions of refugees streaming into Jordan and the Gulf kingdoms, with thousands of Americans killed just taking Baghdad alone. Middle Eastern potentates warned us of chemical rockets that would shower our troops in Kuwait. On the eve of the war, had anyone predicted that Saddam would be toppled in three weeks, and two-and-a-half-years later, 11 million Iraqis would turn out to vote in their third election — at a cost of some 2100 war dead — he would have been dismissed as unhinged.

But that is exactly what has happened. And the reaction? Democratic firebrands are now talking of impeachment.

What explains this paradox of public disappointment over things that turn out better than anticipated? Why are we like children who damn their parents for not providing yet another new toy when the present one is neither paid for nor yet out of the wrapper?

One cause is the demise of history. The past is either not taught enough, or presented wrongly as a therapeutic exercise to excise our purported sins.

Either way the result is the same: a historically ignorant populace who knows nothing about past American wars and their disappointments — and has absolutely no frame of reference to make sense of the present other than its own mercurial emotional state in any given news cycle.

Few Americans remember that nearly 750 Americans were killed in a single day in a training exercise for D-Day, or that during the bloody American retreat back from the Yalu River in late 1950 thousands of our frozen dead were sent back stacked in trucks like firewood. Our grandparents in the recent past endured things that would make the present ordeal in Iraq seem almost pedestrian — and did all that with the result that a free Germany could now release terrorists or prosperous South Korean youth could damn the United States between their video games.

Instead, we of the present think that we have reinvented the rules of war and peace anew. After Grenada, Panama, Gulf War I, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and the three-week war to remove Saddam, we decreed from on high that there simply were to be no fatalities in the American way of war. If there were, someone was to be blamed, censured, or impeached — right now!

Second, there is a sort of arrogant smugness that has taken hold in the West at large. Read the papers about an average day in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Detroit, or even in smaller places like Fresno. The headlines are mostly the story of mayhem — murder, rape, arson, and theft. Yet, we think Afghanistan is failing or Iraq hopeless when we watch similar violence on television, as if they do such things and we surely do not. We denigrate the Iraqis' trial of Saddam Hussein — as if the Milosevic legal circus or our own O.J. trial were models of jurisprudence. Still, who would have thought that poor Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, a mass-murdering half-brother of Saddam Hussein, would complain that Iraqi television delayed lived feeds of his daily outbursts by whimpering, "If the sound is cut off once again, then I don't know about my comrades but I personally won't attend again. This is unjust and undemocratic."

A greater percentage of Iraqis participated in their elections after two years of consensual government than did Americans after nearly 230 years of practice. It is chic now to deprecate the Iraqi security forces, but they are doing a lot more to kill jihadists than the French or Germans who often either wire terrorists money, sell them weapons, or let them go. For what it's worth, I'd prefer to have one Jalal Talabani or Iyad Allawi on our side than ten Jacques Chiracs or Gerhard Schroeders.

Third, our affluent society is at a complete disconnect with hard physical work and appreciation of how tenuous life was for 2,500 years of civilization. Those in our media circus who deliver our truth can't weld, fix a car, shoot a gun, or do much of anything other than run around looking for scoops about how incompetent things are done daily in Iraq under the most trying of circumstances. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that our technologies and wealth give us a pass on the old obstacles of time and space — as if Iraq 7,000 miles away is no more distant than Washington is from New York. Perhaps soldiers on patrol who go for 20 hours without sleep with 70 pounds on their back are merely like journalists pulling an all-nighter to file a story. Perhaps the next scandal will be the absence of high-definition television in Iraq — and who plotted to keep flat screens out of Baghdad.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Squirt Alert: Science News Online, Dec. 24, 2005

Squirt Alert: Science News Online, Dec. 24, 2005: "Designed to survive

Some 3,000 species of squirts inhabit waters from the equator to the poles. For most of Gretchen Lambert's 40 years spent studying these animals, 'I was kind of like the Maytag repairman,' she says. 'Nobody ever called.'

Squirts were a little-valued detail in the seas' vast diversity of inhabitants, explains the taxonomist, who is affiliated with the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories in Seattle. Demand for her expertise rose precipitously a dozen or so years ago, she says, when an unremitting tide of nonnative marine species began upsetting the balance of established ecosystems in near-coast waters around the world. Some of the more unusual pests were foreign squirts.

'Now, I spend virtually all of my time on invasive species,' she says—particularly on that 'very interesting scourge' known as Didemnum sp.

Like other sea squirts, this one begins life as a tadpolelike larva with eyes, a gut, a heart, and a primitive, backbonelike notochord. Once a sea squirt larva finds a suitable surface, it bonds to it. At that point, the larva metamorphoses into a barrel-shaped animal with a cover—its tunic—that's strengthened by hard clumps of cellulose. Squirts are the only animals to make cellulose, a primary structural component of plants.

The animals take their name from their two siphons at or near the top of the barrel. One draws in water laden with food—bacteria, algae, and other goodies—and squirts it into a filter basket lined with a sticky mucus. The critter then squirts out the water via the other siphon.

Most squirts are solitary animals, and some can grow several inches high and a few inches in diameter. Among the Didemnums, each individual, or zooid, is tiny, but it's usually part of a larger population. These colonies expand by budding new zooid clones from their edges.

The Didemnum in U.S. waters is like a squirt on steroids, notes Robert B. Whitlatch of the University of Connecticut in Groton. This 'beast,' as he refers to it, grows several times faster than any other sea squirt known. Within a few seasons, a single zooid can clone itself into a mat that's a meter in diameter. The zooids can also reproduce sexually, and each summer spew larvae into the water to establish distant colonies.

In colors ranging from white to peach, Didemnum mats have the slick feel and compressibility of cured silicone caulking, Whitlatch says. A colony's surface is acidic as is that of others of its genus—presumably, to make it unappetizing to potential predators. However, Whitlatch notes, 'with a pH of 2, equivalent to stomach acid,' the invasive species' coating is more acidic than that of its cousins.

How long can each animal live? 'We don't know,' Lambert says, 'but theoretically, it could be immortal' because it can continue to clone."

Scientists Say Everyone Can Read Minds

Scientists Say Everyone Can Read Minds

Scientists Say Everyone Can Read Minds
By Ker Than
Special to LiveScience
posted: 27 April 2005
07:01 am ET


Empathy allows us to feel the emotions of others, to identify and understand their feelings and motives and see things from their perspective. How we generate empathy remains a subject of intense debate in cognitive science.

Some scientists now believe they may have finally discovered its root. We're all essentially mind readers, they say.

The idea has been slow to gain acceptance, but evidence is mounting.

Mirror neurons

In 1996, three neuroscientists were probing the brain of a macaque monkey when they stumbled across a curious cluster of cells in the premotor cortex, an area of the brain responsible for planning movements. The cluster of cells fired not only when the monkey performed an action, but likewise when the monkey saw the same action performed by someone else. The cells responded the same way whether the monkey reached out to grasp a peanut, or merely watched in envy as another monkey or a human did.

Because the cells reflected the actions that the monkey observed in others, the neuroscientists named them "mirror neurons."

Later experiments confirmed the existence of mirror neurons in humans and revealed another surprise. In addition to mirroring actions, the cells reflected sensations and emotions.

"Mirror neurons suggest that we pretend to be in another person's mental shoes," says Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. "In fact, with mirror neurons we do not have to pretend, we practically are in another person's mind."

Since their discovery, mirror neurons have been implicated in a broad range of phenomena, including certain mental disorders. Mirror neurons may help cognitive scientists explain how children develop a theory of mind (ToM), which is a child's understanding that others have minds similar to their own. Doing so may help shed light on autism, in which this type of understanding is often missing.

Theory theory

Over the years, cognitive scientists have come up with a number of theories to explain how ToM develops. The "theory theory" and "simulation theory" are currently two of the most popular.

Theory theory describes children as budding social scientists. The idea is that children collect evidence -- in the form of gestures and expressions -- and use their everyday understanding of people to develop theories that explain and predict the mental state of people they come in contact with.

Vittorio Gallese, a neuroscientist at the University of Parma in Italy and one of original discovers of mirror neurons, has another name for this theory: he calls it the "Vulcan Approach," in honor of the Star Trek protagonist Spock, who belonged to an alien race called the Vulcans who suppressed their emotions in favor of logic. Spock was often unable to understand the emotions that underlie human behavior.

Gallese himself prefers simulation theory over this Vulcan approach.

Natural mind readers

Simulation theory states that we are natural mind readers. We place ourselves in another person’s "mental shoes," and use our own mind as a model for theirs.

Gallese contends that when we interact with someone, we do more than just observe the other person’s behavior. He believes we create internal representations of their actions, sensations and emotions within ourselves, as if we are the ones that are moving, sensing and feeling.

Many scientists believe that mirror neurons embody the predictions of simulation theory. "We share with others not only the way they normally act or subjectively experience emotions and sensations, but also the neural circuits enabling those same actions, emotions and sensations: the mirror neuron systems," Gallese told LiveScience.

Gallese points out, however, that the two theories are not mutually exclusive. If the mirror neuron system is defective or damaged, and our ability to empathize is lost, the observe-and-guess method of theory theory may be the only option left. Some scientists suspect this is what happens in autistic people, whose mental disorder prevents them from understanding the intentions and motives of others.

Tests underway

The idea is that the mirror neuron systems of autistic individuals are somehow impaired or deficient, and that the resulting "mind-blindness" prevents them from simulating the experiences of others. For autistic individuals, experience is more observed than lived, and the emotional undercurrents that govern so much of our human behavior are inaccessible. They guess the mental states of others through explicit theorizing, but the end result is a list -- mechanical and impersonal -- of actions, gestures and expressions void of motive, intent, or emotion.

In Iraq, A Push For Unity On Vote

In Iraq, A Push For Unity On Vote

In Iraq, A Push For Unity On Vote
Factions Negotiate Following Protests

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 25, 2005; Page A01

BAGHDAD, Dec. 24 -- After angry street protests and charges of vote-rigging in last week's elections heightened tensions in an already divided Iraq, U.S. officials and leaders of the country's main factions are negotiating the formation of a government that would represent all groups in hopes of heading off further fragmentation and a possible surge of violence.

Each of the country's three largest communities -- Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and ethnic Kurds -- voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 15 for lists of parliamentary candidates that represented its own group. According to preliminary, unofficial ballot counts, the largest share of votes was won by the alliance of Shiite Muslim religious parties that leads Iraq's outgoing government. Minority Sunni Arabs, meanwhile, appeared to have won fewer votes than they had anticipated.


U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, right, meets with Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani in Irbil, northern Iraq. The Kurds are one of three main groups negotiating the formation of a representative new government.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, right, meets with Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani in Irbil, northern Iraq. The Kurds are one of three main groups negotiating the formation of a representative new government. (By Azad Lashkari -- Reuters)
News From Iraq

* In Iraq, A Push For Unity On Vote
* Halabja Watches Hussein's Trial and Waits for Its Day in Court
* U.S. Airstrikes Take Toll on Civilians
* Court Sentences Businessman for Poison Gas Sale

Iraq in Transition

Photos, graphics, live discussions and the latest headlines on Iraq's parliamentary elections and new constitutional government.

* Full Report: Iraq Elections


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That voting pattern, and the subsequent unrest and charges of fraud by Sunnis, exacerbated long-standing fears and distrust that had emerged since the fall of Saddam Hussein almost three years ago, Iraqi officials and Western diplomats said. In recent weeks, Shiite and Sunni leaders have called for the formation of sectarian armies to police their respective regions, a step some observers say could be a precursor to open clashes between the groups. The Kurds, who dominate most of northern Iraq, already have their own fighting force, as do several Shiite parties.

"Every group here is afraid of every other group: The Sunnis are afraid, the Shiites are afraid, and the Kurds are afraid," said a Western diplomat in Baghdad who agreed to be interviewed on the condition he not be named. "And the response to that has been to sort of draw together as a kind of self-preservation tactic. When it came down to it, people voted on the basis of identity, and now it is time to walk everybody back and choose a government that represents the country. This is a critical time."

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

ABC News: India's Outsourcing Boom Runs Into Trouble

ABC News: India's Outsourcing Boom Runs Into Trouble

Dec. 24, 2005 — A chronic shortage of skilled workers is threatening India's outsourcing industry. Call centers and outsourcing firms are growing fast, but their human resources employees despair because most of the young Indians they interview are, they say, "unemployable."

Some people in the IT industry have said that only one in 10 graduates is worth taking on. "Just look at their English," fumed a frustrated Mumbai-based call center manager as he waved around letters written by employees. One read: "As I am marrying my daughter, please grant a week's leave." Another said: "I am in well here and hope you are also in the same well."

India employs about 350,000 people in the outsourcing industry and adds 150,000 new jobs each year. But filling those vacancies is proving to be a nightmare. At this moment, the industry needs to hire around 9,000 people but can't find them.

The crisis is set to worsen. The industry faces a shortfall of half a million workers in a few years' time, according to a study this month by McKinsey & Company and the Indian IT body Nasscom.

The specter haunting the industry is that it could lose its leading position as the world's "back office."

"If the industry has to go on paying higher and higher salaries to retain the staff it has, costs will rise and India will lose its biggest advantage — cheap labor," said Saurabh Wig, a former call center sales manager.

If the industry fails to recruit workers at reasonable wages, India will lose orders to countries such as the Philippines and China, according to Nasscom.

With half of its 1.2 billion people under age 25, how can India possibly be short of workers? The problem is not quantity but quality. Many of the 3.6 million graduates churned out every year by Indian universities are considered mediocre.
[...]


Could Foreigners Benefit?

The labor shortage, however, is good news for foreigners. Disgruntled British and American workers who have seen their jobs outsourced to India could get them back — with one catch. They need to move to India where their English and their accents will be an asset.

"When foreigners take calls from their respective countries, it helps that they know the culture of the person they are speaking to. That can often be the differentiating factor between a successful Indian outsourcing company and a failure," Avaneesh Nirjar, chief operating officer of Hero ITES, an outsourcing firm.

Young British graduates just out of college and looking for a year's travel and work experience are already taking jobs in New Delhi, Bangalore and Bombay. So are British call center workers looking for a change?

Currently, about 30,000 to 50,000 foreigners work in the outsourcing industry. But a World Bank report says that by 2009, up to 16,000 of those jobs will be filled not by Indians but by Britons.

It's estimated that, apart from fluent English speakers, the outsourcing industry will also need 160,000 professionals with European languages by 2010. Only 40,000 Indians are expected to have this specialization. The remaining 120,000 jobs will have to be filled by Europeans or Americans.

U.S., Citing Abuse in Iraqi Prisons, Holds Detainees - New York Times

U.S., Citing Abuse in Iraqi Prisons, Holds Detainees - New York Times

U.S., Citing Abuse in Iraqi Prisons, Holds Detainees

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By ERIC SCHMITT
and THOM SHANKER
Published: December 25, 2005

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 - The commander of American-run prisons in Iraq says the military will not turn over any detainees or detention centers to Iraqi jailers until American officials are satisfied that the Iraqis are meeting United States standards for the care and custody of detainees.

"Bottom line, we will not pass on facilities or detainees until they meet the standards we define and that we are using today," the commander, Maj. Gen. John D. Gardner of the Army, said in a telephone interview this week from Iraq.

The comments by General Gardner come in the aftermath of two recent raids of Iraqi government detention centers that uncovered scores of abused prisoners. They also follow calls by American officials for the Iraqi government to bar militias from dominating the security forces. American military experts have joined Iraqi officials in inspecting Iraqi detention centers.

The general's remarks also come at a time when three of the main American-operated prisons in Iraq remain severely overcrowded despite a $50 million expansion that is nearly finished and when Americans are training Iraqis to take over detention duties.

Pentagon and military officials say that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, has expressed frustrations over the heavy burden of guarding and caring for a detainee population that is growing far faster than inmates can be processed and turned over to Iraqi authorities.

CNN.com - Officials: Muslim sites subject to secret monitoring for radiation - Dec 24, 2005

CNN.com - Officials: Muslim sites subject to secret monitoring for radiation - Dec 24, 2005:

"WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Since 2002 the U.S. government has been monitoring for suspicious radiation levels outside more than 100 predominantly Muslim-related sites in the greater Washington, D.C., area, as well as various sites in other cities, several government officials with knowledge of the program confirmed to CNN Friday.

One government official said the authorities don't obtain warrants because the testing is conducted from outside the buildings on what they consider public property.

An official with the Federal Bureau of Investigation said that none of the FBI's programs target gathering places of any specific segment of the population and that non-Muslim sites were also monitored for radiation. (Watch how sources say the monitoring took place nationwide -- 1:31)

A Muslim advocacy group has said that the program is 'misguided' and targets 'the wrong people.'

'It is a waste of time, it is a waste of resources and it is causing us to be concerned about our citizenship, our constitutional rights,' Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told CNN.

Several sources said the covert program is legal because the authorities conduct the testing in areas like parking lots."

Too bad the article doesn't mention that the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, has had terrorists and terrorist sympathisers as members, leaders, and visitors, and doesn't renounce all forms of terrorism. Some terrorism is justified they claim. People affiliated with the organization have been arrested and deported in the past as well. They are the first to pop up and say that Muslims are being harmed however, despite the fact that the American public, admirably, has refrained from anti-Muslim violence since 9/11. Many Muslims are fine people, but some support terrorism, and that's bad.

Friday, December 23, 2005

World Tribune.com -- China recruiting U.S. IT grads

World Tribune.com -- China recruiting U.S. IT grads

China recruiting U.S. IT grads

Special to World Tribune.com
EAST-ASIA-INTEL.COM
Friday, December 23, 2005

China's rapid economic expansion has allowed Beijing to fund a recruitment drive targeting some of the best and brightest IT graduates from U.S. universities, according to Chinese sources.

In turn, this brain trust is being used by China both as a control on its own Internet revolution as a potential resource for North Korea' cyberwar program.

South Korea’s defense ministry said North Korean hackers are targeting the most tightly-guarded systems of that country's main foes to extract intelligence information and to spread viruses capable of wiping out material or, at least, slowing down computers.

North Korean students learn how to use computers at an elite school in Pyongyang. AFP
Defense officials said privately that North Korea, with no great pool of computer whizzes from which to select, is relying on Chinese aid and advice to train some 600 qualified hackers in five years.

One Hong Kong-based specialist said China has a budget for hiring the best IT graduates from U.S. universities to monitor and control Internet news reporting, and useage within its own borders as well as for a national security resource. "They've got the money, and they are spending it," he said.

In North Korea, the campaign ranks as a priority for Kim Jong-Il, who whetted his appetite for computer skullduggery during visits to China and Russia several years ago. Kim made a point of visiting computer labs in both countries and decided that all North Koreans should somehow become adept at operating computers even though Internet access is forbidden except for the highly privileged elites.

Those having access include Kim Jong-Il’s closest relatives, friends and allies, notably from the armed forces, as well as extremely well-trained technicians who had to pass strenuous tests of loyalty before being accepted into the elite computer course.

Students are studying in China and also at an academy that South Korean officials say has been educating a cadre of elite technicians for more than 20 years in a remote mountainous region.

New York Daily News - Home - Al Qaeda fiend targeted Bush

New York Daily News - Home - Al Qaeda fiend targeted Bush

Al Qaeda fiend targeted Bush

By JAMES GORDON MEEK

WASHINGTON - Before he was captured last spring, Osama Bin Laden's top operational commander was solely focused on killing President Bush and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharaff, the Daily News has learned.

The capture last May of Al Qaeda's No. 3 leader, Abu Faraj Al-Libi, apparently thwarted plots to assassinate the two partners in the global war on terror, said a senior Pakistani official, whose information was corroborated by two senior U.S. counterterrorism officials.

"Al-Libi had one mission: Kill Bush and Musharraf," the Pakistani official told The News. "He wanted to kill Bush in the White House, preferably."

"It was clearly something they wanted to do. There's no question about that. It's the holy grail of jihad," a senior U.S. counterterrorism official confirmed.

Al-Libi organized several failed assassination attempts on Musharraf before he was nabbed, officials have said. But the plot by Al Qaeda's international operations chief to send assassins to the U.S. to kill Bush was only disclosed this week.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Independent Online Edition > Britain becomes a Satanic police state

Independent Online Edition > TransportL Britain will be first country to monitor every car journey

Britain is to become the first country in the world where the movements of all vehicles on the roads are recorded. A new national surveillance system will hold the records for at least two years.

Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years.

The network will incorporate thousands of existing CCTV cameras which are being converted to read number plates automatically night and day to provide 24/7 coverage of all motorways and main roads, as well as towns, cities, ports and petrol-station forecourts.

By next March a central database installed alongside the Police National Computer in Hendon, north London, will store the details of 35 million number-plate "reads" per day. These will include time, date and precise location, with camera sites monitored by global positioning satellites.

Already there are plans to extend the database by increasing the storage period to five years and by linking thousands of additional cameras so that details of up to 100 million number plates can be fed each day into the central databank.

Senior police officers have described the surveillance network as possibly the biggest advance in the technology of crime detection and prevention since the introduction of DNA fingerprinting.

But others concerned about civil liberties will be worried that the movements of millions of law-abiding people will soon be routinely recorded and kept on a central computer database for years.

Germany Secretly Frees Hezbollah Terrorist Murderer: Debbie Schlussel Blog

Debbie Schlussel's blog

BREAKING SCHLUSSEL EXCLUSIVE: Germany Secretly Frees Hezbollah Terrorist Murderer of Navy Diver Robert Stethem (Trades Terrorist for Hostage in Iraq)

By Debbie Schlussel

In June, we wrote about the 20th anniversary of hijacking of TWA flight 847 and murder of Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem by Hezbollah terrorists.

Stethem was a true American hero. Only 23 years old, he was tortured, beaten, and trampled to death by the Hezbollah terrorists for the crimes of being an American, a U.S. serviceman, and refusing--to his last breath--to denounce America.

We're sad to report that yet another prediction of ours has now come true. We predicted in June that Mohammad Ali Hamadi, one of the Hezbollah terrorists who murdered Stethem, would be released by the German government.

On Friday, the Stethem Family informed us that our worst fears have been realized and that Hamadi will not face justice for his brutal act of terrorism. Germany secretly released Hamadi to freedom in Lebanon.

The German government captured Hamadi in 1987. (Stethem's other three murderers--Imad Fayez Mugniyeh, Hasan Izz-Al-Din, Ali Atwa--remain free, and are believed to be in Lebanon, Iran, or Syria.) Hamadi was carrying liquid explosives that were the same kind used in previous explosive terrorist attacks in France and Germany. Unfortunately, because Germany opposed our death penalty, Hamadi--who remains under indictment in the U.S.--was tried by the German government, not ours. He was given life in prison without the possibility of parole. But there was always an understanding that Hamadi would be extradited to the U.S. to face justice, if the Germans ever released him.

Germany kept none of its promises and showed the world that it really has no resolve in fighting terrorism. The Stethem family learned Friday that Hamadi was released to freedom. Despite a sentence of life without parole, Hamadi was up for parole twice and served only 16 years in prison. And unlike all other extraditions sought by the U.S. under an extradition treaty with Germany, Germany violated the extradition treaty and Hamadi's extradition was not granted. Reportedly, Germany did this for two reasons 1) to gain the release of a female German hostage, Susanne Osthoff (a German convert to Islam), from terrorists in Iraq (apparently, the Germans do negotiate with terrorists); and Hezbollah has a strong connection with the ones in Iraq); and 2) in retribution for reported CIA terrorist camps in Europe. This is an outrage.

What's worse is that Germany released Hamadi clandestinely and provided armed security to escort him to freedom in Lebanon, where his two brothers and other family members are high-ranking Hezbollah officers. Hezbollah-dominated and Syrian-controlled Lebanon--where Hamadi is a hero for murdering Stethem--will never extradite Hamadi to the U.S. to face justice.

The Stethem family is very upset. And all of us should be, too.

Germany is supposed to be our ally in the War on Terror. But actions like freeing Hamadi clearly demonstrate otherwise. The fact that the U.S. government is not making a big deal out of this also speaks volumes.

Before 9/11, Hezbollah murdered more Americans than any other terrorist group. Both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have confirmed that Hezbollah is a component of the Al-Qaeda network and is training Al-Qaeda terrorists at camps in Lebanon. Both have also reported that Hezbollah is training insurgents who murder our troops in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently reported that Qaeda explosives used in Iraq bear the trademarks of Hezbollah "craftsmanship."

But instead of publicly denouncing the actions of the Hezbollah and the German government in allowing a Hezbollah terrorist and murderer go free, our government is making nice with the enemy.

Top ranking federal officials--U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy III, FBI Special Agent in Charge for Michigan Daniel Roberts, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Special Agent in Charge for Michigan and Ohio Brian Moskowitz, Citizenship and Immigration Services official Carol Jenifer--recently broke pita at the Detroit-area mosque of one of Hezbollah's and Iran's top agents in the United States. They laughed with him about Hezbollah being on the State Department terrorist list, seeming to scratch their heads as to why it's on the list. They clapped enthusiastically when he described what's going on in Southern Lebanon as "resistance, not terrorism."

Germany Secretly Frees Hezbollah Terrorist Murderer: Debbie Schlussel Blog

Debbie Schlussel's blog

BREAKING SCHLUSSEL EXCLUSIVE: Germany Secretly Frees Hezbollah Terrorist Murderer of Navy Diver Robert Stethem (Trades Terrorist for Hostage in Iraq)

By Debbie Schlussel

In June, we wrote about the 20th anniversary of hijacking of TWA flight 847 and murder of Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem by Hezbollah terrorists.

Stethem was a true American hero. Only 23 years old, he was tortured, beaten, and trampled to death by the Hezbollah terrorists for the crimes of being an American, a U.S. serviceman, and refusing--to his last breath--to denounce America.

We're sad to report that yet another prediction of ours has now come true. We predicted in June that Mohammad Ali Hamadi, one of the Hezbollah terrorists who murdered Stethem, would be released by the German government.

On Friday, the Stethem Family informed us that our worst fears have been realized and that Hamadi will not face justice for his brutal act of terrorism. Germany secretly released Hamadi to freedom in Lebanon.

The German government captured Hamadi in 1987. (Stethem's other three murderers--Imad Fayez Mugniyeh, Hasan Izz-Al-Din, Ali Atwa--remain free, and are believed to be in Lebanon, Iran, or Syria.) Hamadi was carrying liquid explosives that were the same kind used in previous explosive terrorist attacks in France and Germany. Unfortunately, because Germany opposed our death penalty, Hamadi--who remains under indictment in the U.S.--was tried by the German government, not ours. He was given life in prison without the possibility of parole. But there was always an understanding that Hamadi would be extradited to the U.S. to face justice, if the Germans ever released him.

Germany kept none of its promises and showed the world that it really has no resolve in fighting terrorism. The Stethem family learned Friday that Hamadi was released to freedom. Despite a sentence of life without parole, Hamadi was up for parole twice and served only 16 years in prison. And unlike all other extraditions sought by the U.S. under an extradition treaty with Germany, Germany violated the extradition treaty and Hamadi's extradition was not granted. Reportedly, Germany did this for two reasons 1) to gain the release of a female German hostage, Susanne Osthoff (a German convert to Islam), from terrorists in Iraq (apparently, the Germans do negotiate with terrorists); and Hezbollah has a strong connection with the ones in Iraq); and 2) in retribution for reported CIA terrorist camps in Europe. This is an outrage.

What's worse is that Germany released Hamadi clandestinely and provided armed security to escort him to freedom in Lebanon, where his two brothers and other family members are high-ranking Hezbollah officers. Hezbollah-dominated and Syrian-controlled Lebanon--where Hamadi is a hero for murdering Stethem--will never extradite Hamadi to the U.S. to face justice.

The Stethem family is very upset. And all of us should be, too.

Germany is supposed to be our ally in the War on Terror. But actions like freeing Hamadi clearly demonstrate otherwise. The fact that the U.S. government is not making a big deal out of this also speaks volumes.

Before 9/11, Hezbollah murdered more Americans than any other terrorist group. Both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have confirmed that Hezbollah is a component of the Al-Qaeda network and is training Al-Qaeda terrorists at camps in Lebanon. Both have also reported that Hezbollah is training insurgents who murder our troops in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently reported that Qaeda explosives used in Iraq bear the trademarks of Hezbollah "craftsmanship."

But instead of publicly denouncing the actions of the Hezbollah and the German government in allowing a Hezbollah terrorist and murderer go free, our government is making nice with the enemy.

Top ranking federal officials--U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy III, FBI Special Agent in Charge for Michigan Daniel Roberts, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Special Agent in Charge for Michigan and Ohio Brian Moskowitz, Citizenship and Immigration Services official Carol Jenifer--recently broke pita at the Detroit-area mosque of one of Hezbollah's and Iran's top agents in the United States. They laughed with him about Hezbollah being on the State Department terrorist list, seeming to scratch their heads as to why it's on the list. They clapped enthusiastically when he described what's going on in Southern Lebanon as "resistance, not terrorism."

The Globe and Mail: Creating first synthetic life form

Creating first synthetic life form

Work on the world's first human-made species is well under way at a research complex in Rockville, Md., and scientists in Canada have been quietly conducting experiments to help bring such a creature to life.

Robert Holt, head of sequencing for the Genome Science Centre at the University of British Columbia, is leading efforts at his Vancouver lab to play a key role in the production of the first synthetic life form -- a microbe made from scratch.

The project is being spearheaded by U.S. scientist Craig Venter, who gained fame in his former job as head of Celera Genomics, which completed a privately-owned map of the human genome in 2000.

Dr. Venter, 59, has since shifted his focus from determining the chemical sequences that encode life to trying to design and build it: "We're going from reading to writing the genetic code," he said in an interview.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

World Tribune.com -- Report: Syria agrees to hide Iran nukes

World Tribune.com -- Report: Syria agrees to hide Iran nukes

Report: Syria agrees to hide Iran nukes

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

LONDON — Syria has signed a pledge to store Iranian nuclear weapons and missiles.

The London-based Jane's Defence Weekly reported that Iran and Syria signed a strategic accord meant to protect either country from international pressure regarding their weapons programs. The magazine, citing diplomatic sources, said Syria agreed to store Iranian materials and weapons should Teheran come under United Nations sanctions.

Iran also pledged to grant haven to any Syrian intelligence officer indicted by the UN or Lebanon. Five Syrian officers have been questioned by the UN regarding the Hariri assassination, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The sensitive chapter in the accord includes Syria's commitment to allow Iran to safely store weapons, sensitive equipment or even hazardous materials on Syrian soil should Iran need such help in a time of crisis," Jane's said.

The accord also obligated Syria to continue to supply the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah with weapons, ammunition and communications. Iran has been the leading weapons supplier to Hizbullah, with about 15,000 missiles and rockets along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

The accord, negotiations of which began in 2004, was signed on Nov. 14 and meant to prepare for economic sanctions imposed on either Iran or Syria. Under the accord, Jane's said, Iran would relay financial aid to Syria in an effort to ease Western sanctions in wake of the UN determination that Damascus was responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Iran also pledged to supply a range of military aid to Syria. Jane's cited technology for weapons of mass destruction as well as conventional arms, ammunition and training of Syrian military.

Teheran would seek to upgrade Syrian ballistic missiles and chemical weapons systems. Under the accord, Iran would also be prepared to operate "advanced weapon systems in Syria during a military confrontation." Jane's said.

"The new strategic accord is based on the existing military MoUs, with the addition of the sensitive chapter dealing with cooperation in times of international sanctions or military conflict," Jane's reported.

There were a ton of trucks leaving Iraq prior to the US invasion, heading into Syria. The arms inspectors admitted these trucks could have contained all of Iraq's forbidden arms, but said there was no way to tell. I think that's exactly what happened. In the first gulf war Saddam sent his entire air force to Iran, why wouldn't he send his WMD to Syria?

BREITBART.COM - Number of electoral democracies reaches 122 as freedom spreads

BREITBART.COM - Number of electoral democracies reaches 122 as freedom spreads


The number of electoral democracies around the world rose from 119 to 122 this year, setting a new record as freedom made inroads in the Middle East and Africa, an independent monitoring group said. But in its annual report rating every nation in the world as "free," "partly free" or "not free," Freedom House on Monday expressed concern about countries like the United States and France, where it saw "looming problems" with electoral setups and immigrant integration.


"These global findings are encouraging," said Arch Puddington, director of research at the organization.

"Among other things, the past year has been notable for terrorist violence, ethnic cleansing, civil conflict, catastrophic natural disasters, and geopolitical polarization," he added. "That freedom could thrive in this environment is impressive."

The three additions to the list of electoral democracies were the African nations of Burundi, Liberia and the Central African Republic.

The three countries afforded considerable space for political opposition and met the minimum standard of a fair vote count, the report said.

But the most significant improvements were noted in the Middle East, where Lebanon was upgraded from "not free" to "partly free," despite a series of political killings that shook the country.

The Lebanese witnessed major improvements in both political rights and civil liberties following the withdrawal of Syrian troops based in the country, the report said.

It also noted elections held in Iraq, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories, the introduction of women's suffrage in Kuwait, and improvements in Saudi Arabia's media environment among other encouraging signs in the region.

"This emerging trend reminds us that men and women in this region share the universal desire to live in free societies," commented Thomas Melia, acting executive director of Freedom House.

In a rare critique of the United States, the survey complained about what it called "the widespread use of sophisticated forms of gerrymandering," or redrawing of electoral districts, that the authors said has "reduced competitiveness in congressional and state legislative elections."

Just last week, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a case dealing with redistricting in the state of Texas engineered by former House Republican majority leader Tom DeLay that allowed Republicans to pick up six more seats in the House of Representatives in the 2004 elections.

Meanwhile, several European countries, including France, faced challenges to their democratic institutions stemming from their failure to effectively integrate non-European immigrants, the report said.

Scotsman.com News - International - Stalin's half-man, half-ape super-warriors

Scotsman.com News - International - Stalin's half-man, half-ape super-warriors

Stalin's half-man, half-ape super-warriors
CHRIS STEPHEN AND ALLAN HALL

THE Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior.

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."

In 1926 the Politburo in Moscow passed the request to the Academy of Science with the order to build a "living war machine". The order came at a time when the Soviet Union was embarked on a crusade to turn the world upside down, with social engineering seen as a partner to industrialisation: new cities, architecture, and a new egalitarian society were being created.

The Soviet authorities were struggling to rebuild the Red Army after bruising wars.

And there was intense pressure to find a new labour force, particularly one that would not complain, with Russia about to embark on its first Five-Year Plan for fast-track industrialisation.

Mr Ivanov was highly regarded. He had established his reputation under the Tsar when in 1901 he established the world's first centre for the artificial insemination of racehorses.

Mr Ivanov's ideas were music to the ears of Soviet planners and in 1926 he was dispatched to West Africa with $200,000 to conduct his first experiment in impregnating chimpanzees.

Meanwhile, a centre for the experiments was set up in Georgia - Stalin's birthplace - for the apes to be raised.

Mr Ivanov's experiments, unsurprisingly from what we now know, were a total failure. He returned to the Soviet Union, only to see experiments in Georgia to use monkey sperm in human volunteers similarly fail.

Lefties should be pround of their ancestors! This shows you the ultimate end to leftist thinking. If we were all brainless apes, serving the state like slaves, we would all be happy and equal, and the state wouldn't be bothered worrying if we were treated well or not!

Monday, December 19, 2005

U.S. sub may have toured Canadian Arctic zone

U.S. sub may have toured Canadian Arctic zone
'We don't have any idea what's going on up there': expert


Chris Wattie, National Post

A U.S. nuclear submarine cruised through the Arctic Ocean last month -- probably passing through Canadian territorial waters -- but the federal government is refusing to say whether it gave permission for the voyage.

However, experts say it is highly unlikely Canada was even notified of the USS Charlotte's northern tour, which included a Nov. 10 stop at the North Pole, because it has no way of tracking what goes on beneath the Arctic ice.

And that could threaten Canada's claim to hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of the North, including the Northwest Passage route across the Arctic, said Michael Byers, who holds the Canada research chair in global politics and international law at the University of British Columbia.

"This is very important -- it's crucial," he said. "Any unauthorized passage could have a serious effect on our claim."

Prof. Byers said potentially lucrative oil and gas resources off the Queen Elizabeth Islands could slip out of Canadian control if foreign navies are operating in the Arctic without our permission. "The fact of the matter is that we've spent nothing on Arctic sovereignty over the past 20 years."

Pierre Leblanc, a retired colonel and former commander of the Canadian Forces' northern command, said foreign submarines have been travelling through the Canadian Arctic for decades, but the federal government usually finds out about it only by accident.

He said the nations controlling the submarines -- the Americans, British and French -- usually do not tell Canada when their vessels enter the Arctic. "We're relying on their goodwill to know if they're in our waters or not."

Sunday, December 18, 2005

neo-neocon: Bianca and Ramsey

Bianca and Ramsey:
A post from the neo-neocon blog

[...]

Writing in Friday's NY Post, Amir Taheri reports on a speech given by Bianca at a Foreign Press Association meeting in London. Taheri writes that a prize was given to there to "Akbar Ganji, an Iranian investigative reporter who is on a hunger strike in Tehran's Evin Prison."

Taheri has learned from experience that ordinarily there are certain unwritten rules about awarding such prizes:

Together with several colleagues, I had been trying for months to persuade the Western media to take an interest in Ganji, a former Khomeinist revolutionary who is now campaigning for human rights and democracy [by the way, that sounds like another fairly dramatic "change" story, doesn't it?]. But we never got anywhere because of one small hitch: President Bush had spoken publicly in support of Ganji and called for his immediate release.

And that, as far as a good part of the Western media is concerned, amounts to a kiss of death. How could newspapers that portray Bush as the world's biggest "violator of human rights" endorse his call in favor of Ganji?

To overcome that difficulty, some of Ganji's friends had tried to persuade him to make a few anti-American, more specifically anti-Bush, pronouncements so that the Western media could adopt him as a "hero-martyr."... Would Ganji adopt [this] tactic in order to get media attention in the West? The answer came last January and it was a firm no.

The result was that Ganji, probably the most outspoken and courageous prisoner of conscience in the Islamic Republic today, became a non-person for the Western media. Even efforts by the group Reporters Without Frontiers, and the International Press Institute, among other organizations of journalists, failed to change attitudes towards Ganji.

Taheri was heartened when the Foreign Press Association decided to defy convention and to honor Ganji despite his refusal to denounce the evil Bush. But then, at the awards ceremony, Bianca Jagger turned out to be the speaker of the evening. And it was quite a speech she made:

She started by telling us about her recent trips to Tehran and Damascus, presumably the two capitals of human rights that she likes best, and how she had been told "by officials and others" that she and other Westerners had "no moral authority" to talk about human rights and freedom.

She then proceeded by saying it is all very well to remember Ganji but that should not prevent us from remembering "those held in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and all other secret prisons" that the United States is supposed to be running all over the world.

The rest of the little speech had nothing to do with Ganji and everything to do with the claim that the United States is drawing an almost sadistic pleasure by practicing torture. I couldn't believe my ears.

There was this caricature of a "UNICEF ambassador" equating Ganji — a man who has fought only with his pen — with men captured armed in hand on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.


[...]
Taheri had the following post-speech exchange with Jagger:

Having swallowed my anger, I gave the "UNICEF Ambassador" a piece of my mind. She seemed surprised. No one had ever told her such things, especially not in a polite society of dinner jackets and long robes. "Is Ganji the same as the alleged terrorists in Guantanamo Bay?" I asked.

"Well, yes, I mean no, I mean yes," she mumbled. "But they are all prisoners, aren't they?"

They are all prisoners, aren't they? That's it; that's the key. In Jagger's eyes, all prisoners are the same: victims.

Friday, December 16, 2005

In Iran, Arming for Armageddon

In Iran, Arming for Armageddon

By Charles Krauthammer

Friday, December 16, 2005; Page A35

Lest you get carried away with today's good news from Iraq, consider what's happening next door in Iran. The wild pronouncements of the new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have gotten sporadic press ever since he called for Israel to be wiped off the map. He subsequently amended himself to say that Israel should simply be extirpated from the Middle East map and moved to some German or Austrian province. Perhaps near the site of an old extermination camp?

Except that there were no such camps, indeed no Holocaust at all, says Ahmadinejad. Nothing but "myth," a "legend" that was "fabricated . . . under the name 'Massacre of the Jews.' " This brought the usual reaction from European and American officials, who, with Churchillian rage and power, called these statements unacceptable. That something serious might accrue to Iran for this -- say, expulsion from the United Nations for violating its most basic principle by advocating the outright eradication of a member state -- is, of course, out of the question.


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (By Saman Aqvami -- Associated Press)
Beyond a 'Democratic Peace'
» Susan E. Rice | The struggle for Mideast democracy will be a human triumph if it succeeds -- but not, by itself, a victory for American national security.

* Krauthammer: Iran's Armageddon
* Dionne: Worn-Out GOP Ideas
* Editorial: Where's Bush? Not New Orleans.

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To be sure, Holocaust denial and calls for Israel's destruction are commonplace in the Middle East. They can be seen every day on Hezbollah TV, in Syrian media, in Egyptian editorials appearing in semiofficial newspapers. But none of these aspiring mass murderers are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons that could do in one afternoon what it took Hitler six years to do: destroy an entire Jewish civilization and extinguish 6 million souls.

Everyone knows where Iran's nuclear weapons will be aimed. Everyone knows they will be put on Shahab rockets, which have been modified so that they can reach Israel. And everyone knows that if the button is ever pushed, it will be the end of Israel.

But it gets worse. The president of a country about to go nuclear is a confirmed believer in the coming apocalypse. Like Judaism and Christianity, Shiite Islam has its own version of the messianic return -- the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam. The more devout believers in Iran pray at the Jamkaran mosque, which houses a well from which, some believe, he will emerge.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Environment News: Federal Court Rejects EPA Secondhand Smoke Study (September 1998)

Environment News: Federal Court Rejects EPA Secondhand Smoke Study (September 1998)

Federal Court Rejects
EPA Secondhand Smoke Study

Decision has far-reaching implications

In one of the most embarrassing setbacks for EPA in recent memory, a federal judge has thrown out the agency's landmark 1993 risk assessment linking secondhand smoke to cancer.

The ruling, handed down July 17, invalidated EPA research linking exposure to secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), to 3,000 cancer deaths each year. The agency's ETS risk assessment was subsequently challenged by tobacco industry officials who feared--quite rightly, as it turned out--that the agency's findings would be used to justify smoking bans in public places. Tobacco companies argued that EPA cherry-picked data and ignored standard scientific and statistical practices to reach its conclusions, an opinion shared by a large number of independent scientists.

The new court ruling could have a profound effect on the risk assessments and other scientific reviews periodically released by the federal government. If allowed to stand, the decision will establish a precedent that risk assessments are subject to judicial review in instances where they have a regulatory impact. That prospect is nothing short of a nightmare for federal agencies unaccustomed to seeing their scientific pronouncements challenged in court.

In his blistering 92-page decision, Judge William Osteen of the Middle District of North Carolina essentially vindicated those who had accused EPA of manipulating data in order to reach a preconceived conclusion. Osteen ruled that EPA had violated provisions of the 1986 Radon Gas and Indoor Air Quality Act, under which the agency determined that exposure to ETS is hazardous.

"EPA publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun; excluded industry by violating the Act's procedural requirements; adjusted established procedure and established scientific norms to validate the Agency's public conclusion; and aggressively utilized the Act's authority to disseminate findings to establish a de facto regulatory scheme intended to restrict Plaintiff's products and to influence public opinion," Osteen wrote.

Among other things, the Act requires that a broad-based, stakeholder advisory panel--one that includes the participation of affected industries--be convened to review the findings of EPA research alleging a substance is dangerous to human health. Judge Osteen noted, however, that the tobacco industry had been excluded from the secondhand smoke panel.

"Findings Based on Selective Information"

Osteen added that EPA's findings were based on insufficiently rigorous statistical tests and were therefore invalid. EPA, he noted, "disregarded information and made findings based on selective information . . . ; deviated from its risk assessment guidelines; failed to disclose important [opposition] findings and reasoning; and left significant questions without answers."

Osteen's ruling isn't expected to have much impact on smoking bans already in place. (Some California communities might be an exception, where bans on smoking in bars are immensely unpopular with patrons and owners.) But the ruling is certain to discourage lawsuits aimed at recovering damages for people claiming to have been harmed by exposure to ETS. Plaintiffs will no longer be able to cite EPA's now-discredited risk assessment to buttress their claims.

No Choice but to Appeal

Although legal observers agree Osteen's ruling is likely to be upheld by a higher court, EPA has little choice but to appeal. Risk assessments are the foundation of the agency's regulatory action. To have one of its high-profile risk assessments invalidated by a federal judge for violating standard scientific and statistical practices is nothing short of an humiliation for EPA. It raises serious questions about the science underlying other EPA regulatory decisions, including last year's controversial decision to tighten standards for particulate matter and ground-level ozone. That action is also being challenged in court, with a ruling expected in the next twelve months.

Chicago just passed a smoking ban. I can't begin to tell you how angry I am. I hate my home town now.

FrontPage magazine.com :: The Pentagon Breaks the Islam Taboo by Paul Sperry

FrontPage magazine.com :: The Pentagon Breaks the Islam Taboo by Paul Sperry

The Pentagon Breaks the Islam Taboo
By Paul Sperry
FrontPageMagazine.com | December 14, 2005

Washington's policy-makers have been careful in the war on terror to distinguish between Islam and the terrorists. The distinction has rankled conservatives who see scarce difference.

A little-noticed speech by President Bush in October gave them some hope. In a major rhetorical shift, he described the enemy as "Islamic radicals" and not just "terrorists," although he still denies that radicalism has anything to do with their religion.

Now for the first time, a key Pentagon intelligence agency involved in homeland security is delving into Islam's holy texts to answer whether Islam is being radicalized by the terrorists or is already radical. Military brass want a better understanding of what's motivating the insurgents in Iraq and the terrorists around the globe, including those inside America who may be preparing to strike domestic military bases. The enemy appears indefatigable, even more active now than before 9/11.

Are the terrorists really driven by self-serving politics and personal demons? Or are they driven by religion? And if it's religion, are they following a manual of war contained in their scripture?

Answers are hard to come by. Four years into the war on terror, U.S. intelligence officials tell me there are no baseline studies of the Muslim prophet Muhammad or his ideological or military doctrine found at either the CIA or Defense Intelligence Agency, or even the war colleges.

But that is slowly starting to change as the Pentagon develops a new strategy to deal with the threat from Islamic terrorists through its little-known intelligence agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity or CIFA, which staffs hundreds of investigators and analysts to help coordinate Pentagon security efforts at home and abroad. CIFA also supports Northern Command in Colorado, which was established after 9/11 to help military forces react to terrorist threats in the continental United
States.

Dealing with the threat on a tactical and operational level through counterstrikes and capture has proven only marginally successful. Now military leaders want to combat it from a strategic standpoint, using informational warfare, among other things. A critical part of that strategy involves studying Islam, including the Quran and the hadiths, or traditions of Muhammad.

"Today we are confronted with a stateless threat that does not have at the strategic level targetable entities: no capitals, no economic base, no military formations or installations," states a new Pentagon briefing paper I've obtained. "Yet political Islam wages an ideological battle against the non-Islamic world at the tactical, operational and strategic level. The West's response is focused at the tactical and operation level, leaving the strategic level -- Islam -- unaddressed."

So far the conclusions of intelligence analysts assigned to the project, who include both private contractors and career military officials, contradict the commonly held notion that Islam is a peaceful religion hijacked or distorted by terrorists. They've found that the terrorists for the most part are following a war-fighting doctrine articulated through Muhammad in the Quran, elaborated on in the hadiths, codified in Islamic or sharia law, and reinforced by recent interpretations or fatwahs.

"Islam is an ideological engine of war (Jihad)," concludes the sensitive Pentagon briefing paper. And "no one is looking for its off switch."

Why? One major reason, the briefing states, is government-wide "indecision [over] whether Islam is radical or being radicalized."

So, which is it? "Strategic themes suggest Islam is radical by nature," according to the briefing, which goes on to cite the 26 chapters of the Quran dealing with violent jihad and the examples of the Muslim prophet, who it says sponsored "terror and slaughter" against unbelievers.

"Muhammad's behaviors today would be defined as radical," the defense document says, and Muslims today are commanded by their "militant" holy book to follow his example. It adds: Western leaders can no longer afford to overlook the "cult characteristics of Islam."

It also ties Muslim charity to war. Zakat, the alms-giving pillar of Islam, is described in the briefing as "an asymmetrical war-fighting funding mechanism." Which in English translates to: combat support under the guise of tithing. Of the eight obligatory categories of disbursement of Muslim charitable donations, it notes that two are for funding jihad, or holy war. Indeed, authorities have traced millions of dollars received by major jihadi terror groups like Hamas and al-Qaida back to Saudi and other foreign Isamic charities and also U.S. Muslim charities, such as the Holy Land Foundation.

According to the Quran, jihad is not something a Muslim can opt out of. It demands able-bodied believers join the fight. Those unable -- women and the elderly -- are not exempt; they must give "asylum and aid" (Surah 8:74) to those who do fight the unbelievers in the cause of Allah.

In analyzing the threat on the domestic front, the Pentagon briefing draws perhaps its most disturbing conclusions. It argues the U.S. has not suffered from scattered insurgent attacks -- as opposed to the concentrated and catastrophic attack by al-Qaida on 9-11 -- in large part because it has a relatively small Muslim population. But that could change as the Muslim minority grows and gains more influence.

The internal document explains that Islam divides offensive jihad into a "three-phase attack strategy" for gaining control of lands for Allah. The first phase is the "Meccan," or weakened, period, whereby a small Muslim minority asserts itself through largely peaceful and political measures involving Islamic NGOs -- such as the Islamic Society of North America, which investigators say has its roots in the militant Muslim Brotherhood, and Muslim pressure groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose leaders are on record expressing their desire to Islamize America.

In the second "preparation" phase, a "reasonably influential" Muslim minority starts to turn more militant. The briefing uses Britain and the Netherlands as examples.

And in the final jihad period, or "Medina Stage," a large minority uses its strength of numbers and power to rise up against the majority, as Muslim youth recently demonstrated in terrorizing France, the Pentagon paper notes.

It also notes that unlike Judaism and Christianity, Islam advocates expansion by force. The final command of jihad, as revealed to Muhammad in the Quran, is to conquer the world in the name of Islam. The defense briefing adds that Islam is also unique in classifying unbelievers as "standing enemies against whom it is legitimate to wage war."


It remains to be seen, however, whether our PC-addled political leaders would ever adopt such controversial measures.

France seizes military arsenal in Zarqawi-tied probe | Reuters.com

Top France seizes military arsenal in Zarqawi-tied probe| Reuters.com

France seizes military arsenal in Zarqawi-tied probe

By Thierry Leveque

PARIS (Reuters) - French police have seized large quantities of military weapons and explosives as part of a probe into an Islamic militant group said to have indirect links to al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, officials said on Thursday.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters the arsenal was discovered on Wednesday in a lock-up attached to a block of flats in the Clichy-sous-Bois suburb north of Paris.

Judicial sources said the haul included assault rifles, dynamite and TNT.

Police also arrested on Wednesday two new suspects in addition to the 25 rounded up in a string of dawn raids in the Paris area on Monday.

Investigators believe the gang financed Islamic militancy by staging armed robberies and judicial sources said one suspect had admitted planning one such robbery in Beauvais, north of Paris, in October.

Sarkozy told parliament this week that those detained had indirect links to key al Qaeda leaders and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the organization's leader in Iraq.

"Thanks to the arrests, an arms cache has just been discovered which reveals the seriousness of this matter. They are very determined people, with links between terrorist extremism and major crime," Sarkozy told BFM TV.

"We think they have indirect links, at a fairly high level, with al Qaeda," he said.

So despite being against the Iraq war, and basically doing anything at all to fight the war on terror, France is a target of Al Qaeda. Appeasement does not work. You think the French would know that by now!

Statistics Suggest Race Not a Factor in Katrina Deaths -- 12/14/2005

Statistics Suggest Race Not a Factor in Katrina Deaths
By Nathan Burchfiel
CNSNews.com Correspondent



(CNSNews.com) - Statistics released by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals suggest that fewer than half of the victims of Hurricane Katrina were black, and that whites died at the highest rate of all races in New Orleans.

Liberals in the aftermath of the storm were quick to allege that the Bush administration delayed its response to the catastrophe because most of the victims were black.

Damu Smith, founder of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, in September said that the federal government "ignored us, they forgot about us ... because we look like we look."

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in October said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency wasn't fit to help the storm's victims because "there are not enough blacks high up in FEMA" and added that, "certainly the Red Cross is the same."

Rapper Kanye West used his time on NBC's telethon for the hurricane victims to charge that, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

But the state's demographic information suggests that whites in New Orleans died at a higher rate than minorities. According to the 2000 census, whites make up 28 percent of the city's population, but the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals indicates that whites constitute 36.6 percent of the storm's fatalities in the city.

African-Americans make up 67.25 percent of the population and 59.1 percent of the deceased. Other minorities constitute approximately 5 percent of the population and represented 4.3 percent of the storm's fatalities.

Overall for the state, 658 bodies have been identified. Forty-seven percent were African-American and 42 percent were Caucasian. The remaining bodies were either non-black minorities or undetermined.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Police Seize Forged Ballots Headed to Iraq From Iran - New York Times

Police Seize Forged Ballots Headed to Iraq From Iran - New York Times

Police Seize Forged Ballots Headed to Iraq From Iran
By DEXTER FILKINS

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 13 - Less than two days before nationwide elections, the Iraqi border police seized a tanker on Tuesday that had just crossed from Iran filled with thousands of forged ballots, an official at the Interior Ministry said.

The tanker was seized in the evening by agents with the American-trained border protection force at the Iraqi town of Badra, after crossing at Munthirya on the Iraqi border, the official said. According to the Iraqi official, the border police found several thousand partly completed ballots inside.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Iranian truck driver told the police under interrogation that at least three other trucks filled with ballots had crossed from Iran at different spots along the border.

The official, who did not attend the interrogation, said he did not know where the driver was headed, or what he intended to do with the ballots.

The seizure of the truck comes at a delicate time in Iran's relations with both Iraq and the United States. The American government has said Iranian agents are deeply involved in trying to influence events in Iraq, by funneling money to Shiite political parties and by arming and training many of the illegal militias that are bedeviling the country.

Agents of the Iranian government are believed to be supporting the two main Shiite political parties here - the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party -with money and other assistance. Both parties support a strong role for Islam in the Iraqi state; however, compared with the Iranian government itself, which is a strict theocracy, the Iraqi version is relatively moderate.

In recent months, American officials in Baghdad and Washington, along with their British counterparts, have contended that sophisticated bombs have been smuggled across the border from Iran, and that some of them have been used against American and British soldiers. The bombs are thought to be far more sophisticated than most of the powerful but rather rudimentary ones used to attack American tanks and convoys here.

At a news conference on Tuesday, hours before the ballot seizure, the American ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, spoke of what he said were overt Iranian attempts to influence events in Iraq.

"Iraq is in a particularly difficult neighborhood," he said. "There are predatory states, the hegemonic states, with aspirations of regional hegemony in the area, such as Iran. There are states that fear success of democracy here - that it might be infectious and spread."

"We do not want Iran to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs," Ambassador Khalilzad said. "We do not want weapons to come across from Iran into Iraq, or training of Iraqis to take place."

UPDATE: 12/15/05

NYT may have been to quick to report this story...


The head of Iraq's border guards denied police reports on Wednesday that a tanker truck stuffed with thousands of forged ballot papers had been seized crossing into Iraq from Iran before Thursday's elections.

"This is all a lie," said Lieutenant General Ahmed al-Khafaji, the chief of the U.S.-trained force which has responsibility for all Iraq's borders.

"I heard this yesterday and I checked all the border crossings right away. The borders are all closed anyway," he told Reuters.