Friday, September 30, 2011

Conflict Escalates in Syria

Syria Slips towards Civil War as Sanctions Bid Fails

UN resolution diluted after veto threat from China and Russia.

By Alastair Beach
The Independent
Thursday, 29 September 2011

Fears are mounting that Syria may be on the verge of civil war as reports emerged yesterday that hundreds of army deserters were battling Bashar al-Assad's forces in the first major confrontation against the regime.

With an intensification of violence looking increasingly likely, Britain and its EU allies have been forced to drop calls for immediate UN sanctions against Syria after major powers failed to agree upon a suitable course of action.

The UK, along with France, Germany and Portugal, circulated a heavily-diluted draft Security Council resolution condemning the Baathist regime in Damascus.

But calls for immediate sanctions were scrapped in the face of Russian and Chinese opposition. Delegates hoped that the weaker document, which demanded an "immediate end to all violence", would eventually be approved by the two veto-wielding members.

One Syrian lobbyist, who was in New York yesterday pushing for firmer action, criticised the proposed resolution as "basically useless". "In reality, it is very weak," said Wissam Tarif, executive director of the Insan human rights organisation. "It doesn't mention the International Criminal Court and it doesn't mention an arms embargo."

A series of European and US-sponsored sanctions against the Syrian regime are already in place, but no measures have yet been approved at the UN.

The developments in New York came as heavy fighting continued in the central Syrian town of Al-Rastan, an opposition stronghold which has become a bolthole for army deserters. Activists said that at least 1,000 former soldiers and armed citizens were now waging a battle against security forces, who were laying siege to the town backed up by tanks and helicopter gunships.

According to New York-based human rights organisation Avaaz, the Syrian regime was even deploying jets to bomb the town of 40,000 people, a claim that was repeated by at least two activist organisations monitoring the violence.

A third group said the jets had dropped poison gas, though it was impossible to verify either of the claims. Speaking to Avaaz, one witness said: "In Rastan they're using military jets to shell their own people."

Elsewhere in the town, there were reports of tanks shelling homes, helicopters strafing neighbourhoods with heavy machine guns, and electricity and water supplies being severed.

Nadim Houry, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Beirut, said he had heard reports of jets over Al-Rastan but had received no information about bombs being dropped. If the claim is true, it would mark a serious escalation of the violence. It will also heighten concerns that Syria is slipping into a Lebanese-style conflict that could seriously destabilise the region.

Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian exile and prominent opposition voice, said the fighting in Al-Rastan highlighted the need for firmer international action.

"This is why we need a no-fly zone," he said, adding that such a measure would provide a much-needed safe haven for defecting troops.

Britain's minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, said: "If ever there was a stark reminder that the UN must take further action, this is it."

Although Syria's protest movement has been largely peaceful since unrest erupted in March, recently there have been numerous reports of mutinous troops cobbling themselves together into rebel groups. The area around Homs, the central Syrian city about 10 miles south of Al-Rastan, has seen the greatest number of desertions. Some of the bloodiest crackdowns on protesters have happened in the region. The battle in Al-Rastan is the first major confrontation between deserters and the regime, though the majority of troops still remain loyal to the army.

Even so, activists have told The Independent that some protesters, in the face of brutal state-sponsored violence, are now looking to arm themselves. "People are looking for contacts and finance," said one, who asked not to be named. Yesterday's continuing violence came as Human Rights Watch called for a UN investigation into the decapitation of an 18-year-old Syrian woman.

Zainab al-Hosni, from Homs, was tortured and beheaded before her body was returned to her family. A nuclear engineer was also shot dead in Homs yesterday, according to Syria's state news agency. Officials blamed "armed terrorists", but activists said the regime was targeting academics.

Bahrain Penalizes Medical Workers

Bahrain Court Hands Down Harsh Sentences to Doctors and Protesters

By J. David Goodman
The New York Times
September 29, 2011

A court in Bahrain sentenced a protester to death on Thursday for killing a police officer in March, and it issued harsh prison terms to medical workers who treated protesters wounded during the months of unrest there this spring, according to the official Bahrain News Agency. The punishments drew strong criticism from rights groups.

The agency reported that eight people it identified as doctors who worked at a central hospital in the capital, Manama, received 15-year sentences. Other medical personnel at the hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain’s largest public hospital, were given terms of between 5 and 15 years.

The sentences were the latest sign that the country’s Sunni monarchy would continue to deal severely with those involved in widespread protests this year, mostly held by members of its repressed Shiite majority. Much of that effort has been focused on the doctors and nurses who treated demonstrators.

At the height of the protests, security forces commandeered the Salmaniya hospital and arrested dozens of doctors and nurses. Rights activists have since accused the government of having made systematic efforts to deny medical services to wounded protesters. The international relief organization Doctors Without Borders stopped working in Bahrain last month after its offices were raided.

Reacting to the verdicts and punishments announced Thursday, Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy group in Cambridge, Mass., called on the government of Bahrain to set them aside. “These are medical professionals who were treating patients during a period of civil unrest, as their ethical duty requires them to do,” the group’s chief policy officer, Hans Hogrefe, said in a statement on the group’s Web site. “To imprison them as part of a political struggle is unconscionable.”

The Bahrain News Agency, in describing the sentences handed down by a security court on Thursday, said the medical workers had taken over the hospital and used it as a base for antigovernment activity. They were convicted of possessing fuel bombs and light weapons, confiscating medical equipment, and “fabricating stories and lies.”

The medical professionals have said it was their duty to treat anyone who arrived at the hospital and have rejected accusations that treating protesters was akin to supporting their cause.

In the case of the officer’s death, the court said the convicted man, identified as Ali Yusuf Abdulwahab al-Taweel, had run down the officer with his car during antigovernment protests in Sitra, an oil hub just south of the capital, and was guilty of an act of terror. Another man, driving a second car, was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement.

Sitra, known for its activist Shiite population, was a stronghold of antigovernment activists at the height of the demonstrations.

The government of Bahrain, with help from Saudi Arabia, violently quashed the country’s peaceful protest movement in March. Despite the crackdown, demonstrations still occur regularly, especially in places like Sitra, where youths battle security forces after sundown. Graffiti clutters almost every wall there. “We will only kneel before God,” one slogan reads.

“The government has turned to using the law for repression,” said Mohammed al-Maskati, the head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights.

On Wednesday, the security court upheld life sentences for eight prominent political leaders, The Associated Press reported. Earlier in the week, the court sentenced 32 people, including at least two members of the Bahrain national handball team, to 15 years in prison for protesting illegally.

“They are sending a very negative message to the international community that Bahrain is not moving in the right direction in terms of respecting human rights,” Mr. Maskati said.

Human rights groups say that since the unrest began in the Persian Gulf kingdom of only about 525,000 citizens, 34 people have been killed, more than 1,400 have been arrested and as many as 3,600 people have been fired from their jobs. Four people also died in custody after torture, the rights groups say.

Anthony Shadid contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Terrorizing Palestinians in the West Bank

According to the below article, the Palestinian Authority's petition for state membership to the United Nations is stoking tensions in the West Bank. Hmm. Unconvincing to say the least. And very indicative of the way Americans understand this conflict. Of course this is only one snapshot from a long film reel that continues to play out. But life is not a controlled experiment. There is always a bigger picture. Without occupation there would be no UN effort. Without occupation there would be no need for resistance. Settlers would not be at risk if they did not illegally occupy other people's land. The Israeli army would not face stones if they had just stayed in Israel. Leaving this context out of the report is anything but objective, and obscures the truth more than helping us to reach it...

Palestinian Statehood Bid Stokes Tensions in West Bank

By Joel Greenberg
The Washington Post
September 28 2011

QUSRA, West Bank — In this village tucked among the rocky hills of the northern West Bank, flags are flying to celebrate the bid for membership of a Palestinian state in the United Nations.

A poster in the village center carries a picture of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is riding a wave of popularity after defying U.S. pressure and submitting the membership application last week.

But larger posters carry the likeness of Issam Odeh, 36, a father of seven killed in a stone-throwing clash with Israeli soldiers that followed a confrontation with Jewish settlers on Friday. The incident occurred hours before Abbas took the podium at the U.N. General Assembly to present the Palestinian case for recognition of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

At nearby road junctions leading to Jewish settlements, Israeli flags have been raised on lampposts, and posters put up in advance of the Jewish New Year this week declare: “Next year, Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria,” the biblical names for the West Bank.

A banner in Hebrew and Arabic put up by settlers at a major intersection proclaims: “This is the Land of Israel.”

The U.N. statehood bid has given Palestinians a morale boost and put Israeli settlers on edge in the West Bank, but it has not unleashed the mass marches and confrontations envisioned in worst-case contingency plans made by Israel’s security forces.

Instead, it has ratcheted up the chronic, sporadic violence that plagues this territory, a patchwork of areas under Israeli and Palestinian control whose future remains as murky as ever after the Palestinian statehood application, which is under consideration by the U.N. Security Council.

In Qusra, residents have organized local watch teams after militant settlers, angered by the Israeli army’s demolition of three houses in an unauthorized settlement outpost this month, defaced the local mosque, scrawling “Muhammad is a pig” on a wall and throwing burning tires into the building.

Groups of village men, carrying flashlights, cellphones and sometimes sticks, walk the perimeter of the village at night, on alert for any incursions by settlers from the neighboring wildcat outpost of Eish Kodesh, a collection of mobile homes and shacks set up without authorization more than a decade ago on a hill.

After the confrontation Friday, villagers found hundreds of young olive trees cut down or uprooted on land around the village, the latest in a long series of assaults that villagers say have included the slaughter of some of their goats.

Abdullah Odeh, a psychology lecturer who is one of the organizers of the village watch teams, says they were formed spontaneously after the mosque attack, after villagers concluded that there was no one else to protect them. He said numerous complaints to the Israeli army and police had produced “no results and no prosecutions.”

“There’s no trust that the Israelis will provide protection,” he said. “So we’re defending our homes with our bodies.”

When a group of settlers reached farmland outside the village Friday, the alarm went up and scores of villagers gathered to confront them. Soldiers who pushed back the villagers were pelted with stones. After using tear gas, the soldiers fired live rounds, killing Issam Odeh.

The Palestinian statehood bid has also been accompanied by an increase in stone-throwing at Israeli soldiers and motorists in the West Bank, according to the Israeli military, which has beefed up its presence in the area in recent weeks.

The day of the fatal shooting in Qusra, an Israeli settler and his 18-month-old son were killed near Hebron when their vehicle overturned after it was stoned, police said. A police spokesman said the man, Asher Palmer, 25, an Israeli American living in the settlement of Kiryat Arba, was hit in the head by a rock and lost control of the car.

Palestinian stone-throwers have also clashed with Israeli troops at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, and in Hebron, where soldiers protect an enclave of a few hundred Jewish settlers in the heart of the city.

Still, Israeli military officials say they have cooperated with the Palestinian security forces in containing the violence, preventing it from spreading beyond a few points of contact that are the usual flash points in times of tension. Officers from both sides have even manned a joint operations room to monitor developments.

Thousands of Palestinians gathered for rallies in West Bank cities last week in support of the U.N. bid, and Palestinian police officers worked with their Israeli counterparts to ensure that the demonstrations did not spill over to Jewish settlements and Israeli army positions. Abbas has repeatedly urged his people to demonstrate peacefully in what he has called the “Palestinian Spring.”

Shlomo Vaknin, the chief security officer of the Yesha Council, the settlers’ umbrella group, said that although the army had trained rapid-response teams at settlements for possible mass marches on their communities, these had not materialized.

“In fact, the doomsday scenarios did not come true,” he said, adding that in general, “the situation is calm.”

Still Waiting for Democracy in Egypt

Frustrations with Egypt's military Rulers Grow

By Amir Ahmed
September 29, 2011

A coalition of 60 political parties and groups—including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood—are threatening to boycott Egypt's parliamentary elections set to start in November unless the country's military rulers meet specific demands by Sunday, a statement from the so-called Democratic Coalition said late Wednesday.

The demands presented to Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces include scrapping the country's emergency law, which is believed to have been used as a tool to suppress dissent under the rule of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Other demands include amending parliamentary election rules, holding the presidential election immediately after parliamentary voting, enforcing a law that prevents Mubarak supporters from running for political offices for a number of years, and handing authority to a civilian government by mid-2012.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also put pressure on the Egyptian government as she met in Washington with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr on Wednesday.

"We have encouraged and continued to encourage the government to lift the state of emergency," said Clinton. "The Supreme Council has said that it will be in a position to do so in 2012. We hope to see the law lifted sooner than that."

Meanwhile, many activists are going ahead with a "million-man march" at Cairo's Tahrir square on Friday to highlight the same demands presented by the Democratic Coalition.

However, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party—one of the country's most organized political forces—said it will not join the planned protests until Sunday to see how the military rulers will respond to the warning.

Dissatisfaction with the top military council has increased since it re-instated the emergency law following an attack on the Israeli embassy in Giza earlier this month. Local media outlets have become bolder in blaming the council for lack of democratic progress in the country since Mubarak was ousted on February 11.

And a recently released amateur video showing military personnel apparently joining police in torturing suspects has only fueled frustrations with the military rulers.

The video purports to show men in military fatigues and uniformed police special forces uniforms hitting and electrically shocking two suspects during questioning. CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the video.

According to Egypt's state-run news agency MENA, head of the military, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi on Wednesday ordered an investigation into the incident.

Voting in Egypt's first elections since the ouster of Mubarak is expected to begin in November 28, a week later than previously announced, the ruling Supreme Council said Tuesday.

The elections will take place in three stages across different districts, the council said.

As part of their demands, political parties want the council to approve a "treason law" first issued in the 1950s to fight political corruption, hoping that it will stop Mubarak supporters from running for office in the parliamentary and presidential elections.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Saudi Women to Vote in 2015

Saudi Monarch Grants Women Right to Vote

By Neil MacFarquhar
The New York Times
September 25, 2011

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Sunday granted women the right to vote and run in future municipal elections, the biggest change in a decade for women in a puritanical kingdom that practices strict separation of the sexes, including banning women from driving.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, left, granted women the right to vote and said they should be able to join a consultative council.

Saudi women, who are legally subject to male chaperones for almost any public activity, hailed the royal decree as an important, if limited, step toward making them equal to their male counterparts. They said the uprisings sweeping the Arab world for the past nine months — along with sustained domestic pressure for women’s rights and a more representative form of government — prompted the change.

“There is the element of the Arab Spring, there is the element of the strength of Saudi social media, and there is the element of Saudi women themselves, who are not silent,” said Hatoon al-Fassi, a history professor and one of the women who organized a campaign demanding the right to vote this spring. “Plus, the fact that the issue of women has turned Saudi Arabia into an international joke is another thing that brought the decision now.”

Although political activists celebrated the change, they also cautioned how deep it would go and how fast, given that the king referred to the next election cycle, which would not be until 2015. Some women wondered aloud how they would be able to campaign for office when they were not even allowed to drive. And there is a long history of royal decrees stalling, as weak enactment collides with the bulwark of traditions ordained by the Wahhabi sect of Islam and its fierce resistance to change.

In his announcement, the king said that women would also be appointed to the Majlis Al-Shura, a consultative council that advises the monarchy on matters of public policy. But it is a toothless body that avoids matters of royal prerogative, like where the nation’s oil revenue goes.

“We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society,” the king said in an address to the Shura, noting during the five minutes he spent on the subject that senior religious scholars had endorsed the change.

Even under the new law, it was unclear how many women would take part in elections. In many aspects of life, men — whether fathers, husbands or brothers — prevent women from participating in legal activities. Public education for women took years to gain acceptance after it was introduced in 1960.

King Abdullah, the 87-year-old monarch who has a reputation for pushing reforms opposed by some of his half-brothers among the senior princes, said the monarchy was simply following Islamic guidelines, and that those who shunned such practices were “arrogant.”

Some analysts described the king’s choice as the path of least resistance. Many Saudis have been loudly demanding that all 150 members of the Shura be elected, not appointed. By suddenly putting women in the mix, activists feared, the government might use the excuse of integration to delay introducing a nationally elected council.

Political participation for women is also a less contentious issue than granting them the right to drive, an idea fiercely opposed by some of the most powerful clerics and princes. Even as the king made the political announcement, activists said that one prominent opponent of the ban, Najla al-Hariri, was being questioned Sunday for continuing her stealth campaign of driving.

Mrs. Hariri has been vociferous in demanding the right as a single mother who cannot afford one of the ubiquitous foreign chauffeurs to ferry her children to school. In recent weeks, a woman even drove down King Fahd Expressway, the main thoroughfare through downtown Riyadh, activists said.

Municipal elections in the kingdom are scheduled for Thursday, but the campaign is almost over and the king said that women would be able to nominate themselves and vote “as of the next session.” Introduced in 2005, the municipal councils have proved disappointing for those who had hoped they would create more political change.

Saudi Arabia remains an absolute monarchy. Fouad al-Farhan, once jailed briefly for his blog critical of the monarchy, led a slate of young Saudis from the cosmopolitan commercial capital of Jidda, determined to run in this year’s municipal elections to use whatever democratic openings they might afford for change. When the final list of candidates was posted weeks ago, his name had been unceremoniously removed — without anyone from the Jidda governorate run by Prince Khalid al-Faisal calling him to explain, Mr. Farhan said.

Despite the snail’s pace of change, women on Sunday were optimistic that the right to vote and run would give them leverage to change the measures, big and small, that hem them in.

“It is a good sign, and we have to take advantage of it,” said Maha al-Qahtani, one of the women who defied the ban on driving this year, said of the king’s announcement. “But we still need more rights.”

Women require the permission of a male sponsor, or “mahram,” to travel or undertake much of the commercial activity needed to run a business. They inhabit separate and often inferior spaces in restaurants, banks and health clubs, when they are allowed in at all.

Women were granted the right to their own national identification cards in 2001, the last major step that many hoped would lead to greater public freedom, but it failed to materialize. The Saudi judiciary, a conservative bastion, has yet to allow female lawyers, a new phenomenon, to argue in court. And a royal decree issued earlier this year that women should be allowed to work in public to sell lingerie has not been enacted — leaving Saudi women to buy their bras from male clerks, who mostly hail from South Asia.

Social media, heavily used in Saudi Arabia to start with, lit up with the announcement, with supporters endorsing it as “a great leap forward,” as one Twitter post put it. Some conservatives inveighed against it.

“Muslim scholars believe it is un-Islamic to allow women to participate in the Shura council,” wrote Mohammad al-Habdan, one such scholar.

In March, King Abdullah announced $130 billion in public spending over the next decade on measures like affordable housing, hoping for social peace after the first governments in the region were toppled. But uprisings have continued to challenge Arab governments.

Around the Persian Gulf, many citizens of the wealthy monarchies jealously track the rights and largess granted in neighboring states. On Saturday, 19 men and one woman were elected to a legislative body in the United Arab Emirates. Last summer, Qatar granted a notable 60 percent pay raise to all state employees.

Such regional and domestic pressures weighed on the Saudi monarchy to make some type of gesture. The one King Abdullah chose was less sweeping than many political activists had wanted, but one they hoped was a sign of more to come.

“It is not something that will change the life of most women,” said Fawaziah Bakr, an education professor in Riyadh, noting that she had just held a monthly dinner for professional women who were buzzing with excitement about the change.

“We are now looking for even more,” Mrs. Bakr said. “The Arab spring means that things are changing, that the political power has to listen to the people. The spring gave us a clear voice.”

Nada Bakri contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Qaddafi Graffiti

Graffiti Depicting Ousted Leader Moammar Qaddafi from The Daily Star.

Francois Mori, AP
Francois Mori, AP
Francois Mori, AP
Francois Mori, AP
Francois Mori, AP
Francois Mori, AP
Francois Mori, AP
Francois Mori, AP
Francois Mori, AP
Francois Mori, AP
Francois Mori, AP
Rodrigo Abd, AP
Hassan Ammar, AP
Hassan Ammar, AP
Sergey Pomarev, AP
Sergey Pomarev, AP
Francois Mori, AP
Bob Strong, Reuters

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Violence Engulfs Yemen's Peaceful Protests

Mortars Fall on Yemeni Capital as Battles Continue

By Laura Kasinof
The New York Times
September 20, 2011

SANA, Yemen — Street battles raged for a third day on Tuesday in Sana, Yemen’s capital. A dozen protesters were killed as the conflict between government security forces and soldiers loyal to an army commander who has defected threatened to derail hopes for a resolution of the nation’s months-long political stalemate.

Doctors at a field hospital at the site of an antigovernment sit-in said the protesters had been killed by live ammunition, mortar fire and heavy artillery.

That brought the death toll since fighting broke out in Sana on Sunday to nearly 60, making the past three days the most violent in the city since the beginning of the uprising against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in January.

Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi announced a ceasefire on Tuesday evening, said a government spokesman, Mohammed Albasha. But loud explosions echoed across Sana on Tuesday night, after the announcement, indicating that the accord was not holding.

The violence erupted on Sunday after antigovernment protesters marched outside the protected area of their sit-in. In response, security forces and armed government supporters fired at the thousands of demonstrators, using heavy caliber machine guns.

That, in turn, ignited fighting between government forces and troops loyal to Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, who defected and whose forces have been protecting the protesters for months. The forces loyal to the government are controlled by the president’s relatives.

It was an outcome many had feared since General Ahmar announced his support for the protest movement in March. The two sides had been at a standoff ever since, with each controlling portions of Sana.

Before the outbreak of fighting on Sunday, members of Yemen’s governing party and the political opposition had seemed to be moving closer to an agreement on a transfer of power. A United Nations envoy, Jamal Benomar, and the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional bloc, arrived in Sana on Monday to oversee such an agreement. There had been anticipation that a political compromise would lead to a presidential election and the creation of a coalition government.

By Tuesday night, however, a senior member of the governing party said the negotiations had “stagnated as a result of the conflict.”

Yassin Saeed Noman, who is the leader of an opposition bloc known as the Joint Meetings Parties, appeared to reject the idea of negotiations altogether unless Mr. Saleh or his deputy, Mr. Hadi, first signed an initiative to transfer power. Mr. Saleh is in Saudi Arabia recuperating from injuries he sustained in a bombing at the presidential compound more than three months ago.

“They have to say that we accept the initiative,” Mr. Noman said, referring to the agreement to transfer power. “Then we can talk about the implementing mechanisms.”

“They don’t want to solve the problem peacefully,” he added. “They think they can overcome all others by using weapons. That’s why I think the international community should condemn what is happening.”

The comments represented a shift in position for Mr. Noman, who is seen as a moderate among the political opposition.

Major thoroughfares in Sana were relatively empty on Tuesday, and many stores were closed. Few women were seen on the streets, as the sound of explosions could be heard in the distance. Near an area known as the Kentucky roundabout, government forces fought with soldiers belonging to the First Armored Division, which is led by General Ahmar.

The division had taken over a strategic intersection just south of the protesters’ sit-in on Sunday night, but by Tuesday afternoon the area was clearly in the hands of government forces.

Soldiers sat on armored personnel carriers, while troops from the republican guards sat along the street with bazookas at their sides. Armed men in civilian clothes controlled intersections. Large pieces of buildings were missing, dislodged by artillery attacks.

Several mortar shells fell on the protest area on Tuesday, witnesses said.

In another development, a doctor in the central city of Taiz said a civilian had been killed overnight by shelling.

“They are not targeting any place,” the doctor, Abdul-Rahim al-Samie, said in a telephone interview. “They are not targeting armed people. They are shooting different houses. Different areas. It was really horrible.”

Taiz has been rocked for months by conflict between government forces and protesters. Shelling takes place almost nightly, residents said.

“We are expecting our lives to end any moment,” Dr. Samie said. “Some of the shells dropped very close to my house this morning.”

Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris, and Robert F. Worth from New York.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Battle for Surt

Hundreds of Civilians Flee the Struggle Over a Qaddafi Stronghold

By Kareem Fahim
The New York Times
September 19, 2011

SURT, Libya — During lulls between mortar and rocket barrages, hundreds of civilians fled this coastal city on Monday after five days of fierce clashes between fighters loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and former rebel fighters, which are settling into a stalemate and raising fears of another bloody siege in the still unresolved Libyan conflict.

Many of the fleeing residents said they were persuaded to leave by the anti-Qaddafi forces and told they would be able to return to their homes within days. They said that there was no water or electricity in the city and that food supplies were dwindling. Stray bullets had smashed their windows, they said, and rockets had landed on their houses.

One man fleeing with his family, who declined to give his name because his relatives were still in Surt, said the hospitals were out of oxygen, the nurses had fled and the city was full of snipers.

“We’ve been hiding in our house all this time,” he said.

Almost a month after the fall of Tripoli, the capital, the former rebels have found themselves unable to close out their war with Colonel Qaddafi’s loyalists and unify the country.

Last week, as attempts at negotiations with the holdouts faltered, the rebels tried to advance on Surt and Bani Walid, another Qaddafi stronghold southeast of Tripoli. The colonel’s loyalists repelled those advances with surprising ferocity and ease, raising questions about the resolve of the anti-Qaddafi fighters in the face of apparently committed foes.

Even so, the fighters under the banner of the new transitional government have recorded a few gains. In southern Libya on Monday, they said they had captured an airfield outside Sabha, another base of Colonel Qaddafi’s support. The rebels also captured a hospital and a convention center in the city, according to a spokesman for the local Sabha council based in Benghazi, The Associated Press reported.

The scene on the outskirts of Surt recalled an earlier period in the Libyan conflict, in March, when the rebels were held at bay by loyalist artillery fire outside the eastern city of Ajdabiya. NATO warplanes eventually bombed the government positions, allowing the rebels to advance.

The warplanes could be heard overhead on Monday, but they were of no help to the anti-Qaddafi fighters, who retreated several times as rockets fell near their positions in the west of the city. Although they have the city surrounded, the former rebels have been unable to advance into the city center, which they say is guarded by loyalist snipers and mortar teams who have found their positions with precision.

Surt, Colonel Qaddafi’s birthplace, has been tightly controlled by his troops since the February uprising.

The stream of cars that filed out of Surt on Monday morning suggested that talk of negotiations was over, as the anti-Qaddafi forces seemed to be preparing for another violent assault. Some of the refugees said that many of the town’s residents still supported Colonel Qaddafi, perhaps as much as a quarter of the population, including some who were volunteering to fight.

Many of the families who fled were Palestinian, from a neighborhood around the Gaza Mosque. They included Mohamed Dahlan, 72, who said he had left with his wife, their four children and just a bit of food. He said that the anti-Qaddafi fighters had gone door to door, checking for guns and telling residents to leave, with the promise that they could return soon.

They had treated his family well, he said, providing them with fuel for the journey. “We don’t fear them,” he said. “They fear God.”

Other families were much less content, including nine families who were unable to leave Surt. The families, all related, are originally from Tawergha, a town whose residents were accused of participating in the Qaddafi forces’ siege of neighboring Misurata in April and May.

On Monday, the families were at a mosque in Surt, within range of the shelling. One man in the group said they could not leave because they did not have cars, but his relatives suggested that there were other reasons, though they declined to elaborate. Several armed fighters from Misurata argued with the refugees, calling them traitors. It was not clear whether the families were being guarded or detained.

Programmed to Kill

The below report is truly horrifying. Americans have entered a new stage of inhumanity by creating automated machines that are programmed to kill "targets" otherwise known as human beings, with brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends and lovers. Technology is never the danger, it is the intent behind it that matters. The reporter declares that "technology will save lives". Tell that to the hundreds of people in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen who have been "targeted" by drones over the last few years. There is no way American forces could have killed so many people without drones, many of whom were civilians. The attacks would not have happened without drones because all of these attacks violate international law, as we are not at war with any of the countries where people are being killed. The attacks thus infringe upon state sovereignty. Drones in the air should be the same as boots on the ground, only we do not risk any American lives by sending drones. But there are no boots on the ground because we have no justification for declaring war against any of these countries. Any such war would be unjust. So how are we saving lives when we would not be able to pursue these attacks without drones? Indeed lives are being lost on account of drones. We are killing before guilt is established. Illegal pre-emptive war against an abstract threat that ignores international agreements and norms is now the American norm. But even in war all combatants should also be allowed the chance to surrender. What have we done?

A Future for Drones: Automated Killing

By Peter Finn
The Washington Post
Tuesday, September 20 2011

One afternoon last fall at Fort Benning, Ga., two model-size planes took off, climbed to 800 and 1,000 feet, and began criss-crossing the military base in search of an orange, green and blue tarp.

The automated, unpiloted planes worked on their own, with no human guidance, no hand on any control.

After 20 minutes, one of the aircraft, carrying a computer that processed images from an onboard camera, zeroed in on the tarp and contacted the second plane, which flew nearby and used its own sensors to examine the colorful object. Then one of the aircraft signaled to an unmanned car on the ground so it could take a final, close-up look.

Target confirmed.

This successful exercise in autonomous robotics could presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial “Terminators,” minus beefcake and time travel.

The Fort Benning tarp “is a rather simple target, but think of it as a surrogate,” said Charles E. Pippin, a scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, which developed the software to run the demonstration. “You can imagine real-time scenarios where you have 10 of these things up in the air and something is happening on the ground and you don’t have time for a human to say, ‘I need you to do these tasks.’ It needs to happen faster than that.”

The demonstration laid the groundwork for scientific advances that would allow drones to search for a human target and then make an identification based on facial-recognition or other software. Once a match was made, a drone could launch a missile to kill the target.

Military systems with some degree of autonomy — such as robotic, weaponized sentries — have been deployed in the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea and other potential battle areas. Researchers are uncertain how soon machines capable of collaborating and adapting intelligently in battlefield conditions will come online. It could take one or two decades, or longer. The U.S. military is funding numerous research projects on autonomy to develop machines that will perform some dull or dangerous tasks and to maintain its advantage over potential adversaries who are also working on such systems.

The killing of terrorism suspects and insurgents by armed drones, controlled by pilots sitting in bases thousands of miles away in the western United States, has prompted criticism that the technology makes war too antiseptic. Questions also have been raised about the legality of drone strikes when employed in places such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, which are not at war with the United States. This debate will only intensify as technological advances enable what experts call lethal autonomy.

The prospect of machines able to perceive, reason and act in unscripted environments presents a challenge to the current understanding of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions require belligerents to use discrimination and proportionality, standards that would demand that machines distinguish among enemy combatants, surrendering troops and civilians.

“The deployment of such systems would reflect a paradigm shift and a major qualitative change in the conduct of hostilities,” Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said at a conference in Italy this month. “It would also raise a range of fundamental legal, ethical and societal issues, which need to be considered before such systems are developed or deployed.”

Drones flying over Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen can already move automatically from point to point, and it is unclear what surveillance or other tasks, if any, they perform while in autonomous mode. Even when directly linked to human operators, these machines are producing so much data that processors are sifting the material to suggest targets, or at least objects of interest. That trend toward greater autonomy will only increase as the U.S. military shifts from one pilot remotely flying a drone to one pilot remotely managing several drones at once.

But humans still make the decision to fire, and in the case of CIA strikes in Pakistan, that call rests with the director of the agency. In future operations, if drones are deployed against a sophisticated enemy, there may be much less time for deliberation and a greater need for machines that can function on their own.

The U.S. military has begun to grapple with the implications of emerging technologies.

“Authorizing a machine to make lethal combat decisions is contingent upon political and military leaders resolving legal and ethical questions,” according to an Air Force treatise called Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047. “These include the appropriateness of machines having this ability, under what circumstances it should be employed, where responsibility for mistakes lies and what limitations should be placed upon the autonomy of such systems.”

In the future, micro-drones will reconnoiter tunnels and buildings, robotic mules will haul equipment and mobile systems will retrieve the wounded while under fire. Technology will save lives. But the trajectory of military research has led to calls for an arms-control regime to forestall any possibility that autonomous systems could target humans.

In Berlin last year, a group of robotic engineers, philosophers and human rights activists formed the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) and said such technologies might tempt policymakers to think war can be less bloody.

Some experts also worry that hostile states or terrorist organizations could hack robotic systems and redirect them. Malfunctions also are a problem: In South Africa in 2007, a semiautonomous cannon fatally shot nine friendly soldiers.

The ICRAC would like to see an international treaty, such as the one banning antipersonnel mines, that would outlaw some autonomous lethal machines. Such an agreement could still allow automated antimissile systems.

“The question is whether systems are capable of discrimination,” said Peter Asaro, a founder of the ICRAC and a professor at the New School in New York who teaches a course on digital war. “The good technology is far off, but technology that doesn’t work well is already out there. The worry is that these systems are going to be pushed out too soon, and they make a lot of mistakes, and those mistakes are going to be atrocities.”

Research into autonomy, some of it classified, is racing ahead at universities and research centers in the United States, and that effort is beginning to be replicated in other countries, particularly China.

“Lethal autonomy is inevitable,” said Ronald C. Arkin, the author of “Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots,” a study that was funded by the Army Research Office.

Arkin believes it is possible to build ethical military drones and robots, capable of using deadly force while programmed to adhere to international humanitarian law and the rules of engagement. He said software can be created that would lead machines to return fire with proportionality, minimize collateral damage, recognize surrender, and, in the case of uncertainty, maneuver to reassess or wait for a human assessment.

In other words, rules as understood by humans can be converted into algorithms followed by machines for all kinds of actions on the battlefield.

“How a war-fighting unit may think — we are trying to make our systems behave like that,” said Lora G. Weiss, chief scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Others, however, remain skeptical that humans can be taken out of the loop.

“Autonomy is really the Achilles’ heel of robotics,” said Johann Borenstein, head of the Mobile Robotics Lab at the University of Michigan. “There is a lot of work being done, and still we haven’t gotten to a point where the smallest amount of autonomy is being used in the military field. All robots in the military are remote-controlled. How does that sit with the fact that autonomy has been worked on at universities and companies for well over 20 years?”

Borenstein said human skills will remain critical in battle far into the future.

“The foremost of all skills is common sense,” he said. “Robots don’t have common sense and won’t have common sense in the next 50 years, or however long one might want to guess.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

Turkey Looks to the East

Turkey Predicts Alliance With Egypt as Regional Anchors

By Anthony Shadid
The New York Times
September 18, 2011

ANKARA, Turkey — A newly assertive Turkey offered on Sunday a vision of a starkly realigned Middle East, where the country’s former allies in Syria and Israel fall into deeper isolation, and a burgeoning alliance with Egypt underpins a new order in a region roiled by revolt and revolution.

The portrait was described by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey in an hourlong interview before he was to leave for the United Nations, where a contentious debate was expected this week over a Palestinian bid for recognition as a state. Viewed by many as the architect of a foreign policy that has made Turkey one of the most relevant players in the Muslim world, Mr. Davutoglu pointed to that issue and others to describe a region in the midst of a transformation. Turkey, he said, was “right at the center of everything.”

He declared that Israel was solely responsible for the near collapse in relations with Turkey, once an ally, and he accused Syria’s president of lying to him after Turkish officials offered the government there a “last chance” to salvage power by halting its brutal crackdown on dissent.

Strikingly, he predicted a partnership between Turkey and Egypt, two of the region’s militarily strongest and most populous and influential countries, which he said could create a new axis of power at a time when American influence in the Middle East seems to be diminishing.

“This is what we want,” Mr. Davutoglu said.

“This will not be an axis against any other country — not Israel, not Iran, not any other country, but this will be an axis of democracy, real democracy,” he added. “That will be an axis of democracy of the two biggest nations in our region, from the north to the south, from the Black Sea down to the Nile Valley in Sudan.”

His comments came after a tour last week by Turkish leaders — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mr. Davutoglu among them — of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the three Arab countries that have undergone revolutions this year. His criticism of old allies and embrace of new ones underscored the confidence of Turkey these days, as it tries to position itself on the winning side in a region unrecognizable from a year ago.

Unlike an anxious Israel, a skeptical Iran and a United States whose regional policy has been criticized as seeming muddled and even contradictory at times, Turkey has recovered from early missteps to offer itself as a model for democratic transition and economic growth at a time when the Middle East and northern Africa have been seized by radical change. The remarkably warm reception of Turkey in the Arab world — a region Turks once viewed with disdain — is a development almost as seismic as the Arab revolts and revolutions themselves.

Mr. Davutoglu credited a “psychological affinity” between Turkey and much of the Arab world, which was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for four centuries from Istanbul.

The foreign minister, 52, remains more scholar than politician, though he has a diplomat’s knack for bridging divides. Cerebral and soft-spoken, he offered a speech this summer to Libyan rebels in Benghazi — in Arabic. Soon after the revolution in Tunisia, he hailed the people there as the “sons of Ibn Khaldoun,” one of the Arab world’s greatest philosophers, born in Tunis in the 14th century. “We’re not here to teach you,” he said. “You know what to do. Ibn Khaldoun’s grandsons deserve the best political system.”

That sense of cultural affinity has facilitated Turkey’s entry into the region, as has the successful model of Mr. Davutoglu’s Justice and Development Party, whose deeply pious leaders have won three consecutive elections, presided over a booming economy and inaugurated reform that has made Turkey a more liberal, modern and confident place. Mr. Erdogan’s defense of Palestinian rights and criticism of Israel — relations between Turkey and Israel collapsed after Israeli troops killed nine people on board a Turkish flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza in 2010 — has bolstered his popularity.

Last week, Mr. Erdogan was afforded a rapturous welcome in Egypt, where thoroughfares were adorned with his billboard-size portraits. (“Lend us Erdogan for a month!” wrote a columnist in Al Wafd, an Egyptian newspaper.)

Mr. Davutolglu, who accompanied him there, said Egypt would become the focus of Turkish efforts, as an older American-backed order, buttressed by Israel, Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, prerevolutionary Egypt, begins to crumble. On the vote over a Palestinian state, the United States, in particular, finds itself almost completely isolated.

He also predicted that Turkey’s $1.5 billion investment in Egypt would grow to $5 billion within two years and that total trade would increase to $5 billion, from $3.5 billion now, by the end of 2012, then $10 billion by 2015. As if to underscore the importance Turkey saw in economic cooperation, 280 businessmen accompanied the Turkish delegation, and Mr. Davutoglu said they signed about $1 billion in contracts in a single day.

“For democracy, we need a strong economy,” he said.

Other countries — Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel — would undoubtedly look upon an Egyptian-Turkish axis with alarm. Just a year ago, Egypt’s own president, Hosni Mubarak, viewed Turkey, and Mr. Erdogan in particular, with skepticism and suspicion. But in the view of Mr. Davutoglu, such an alliance was a force for stability.

“For the regional balance of power, we want to have a strong, very strong Egypt,” said Mr. Davutoglu, who has visited the Egyptian capital five times since Mr. Mubarak was overthrown in February. “Some people may think Egypt and Turkey are competing. No. This is our strategic decision. We want a strong Egypt now.”

The phrase “zero problems” is a famous dictum written by Mr. Davutoglu, who served as Mr. Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser before becoming foreign minister. By it, he meant that Turkey would strive to end conflicts with its neighbors. Successes have been few. Problems remain with Armenia, and Turkey was unable to resolve the conflict in Cyprus, still divided into Greek and Turkish zones. Turkey’s agreement to host a radar installation as part of a NATO missile defense system has rankled neighboring Iran.

Most spectacularly, its relations with Israel collapsed after the Israeli government refused a series of Turkish demands that followed the attack on the boat: an apology, compensation for the victims and a lifting of Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip.

“Nobody can blame Turkey or any other country in the region for its isolation,” he said of Israel. “It was Israel and the government’s decision to isolate themselves. And they will be isolated even more if they continue this policy of rejecting any proposal.”

Caught by surprise by the Arab revolts — as pretty much everyone was — Turkey staggered. At least $15 billion in investments were lost in the civil war in Libya, and Turkish diplomats initially opposed NATO’s intervention. For years, Turkey cultivated ties with Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, seeing Syria as its fulcrum for integrating the region’s economies. Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Assad counted themselves as friends.

Syria’s failure to — as Mr. Davutoglu put it — heed Turkey’s advice has wrecked relations, and Turkey is now hosting Syrian opposition conferences and groups.

Last month, in meetings that lasted more than six hours, Mr. Davutoglu said Mr. Assad agreed on a Turkish road map — announcing a specific date for parliamentary elections by year’s end, repealing a constitutional provision that enshrined power in the ruling Baath Party, drafting a constitution by the newly elected Parliament and then holding another election once the constitution decided between a presidential or a parliamentary system. Despite face-to-face assurances, Mr. Assad did not follow through.

“For us, that was the last chance,” Mr. Davutoglu said.

Asked if he felt betrayed, he replied, “Yes, of course.”

Mr. Davutoglu accused Mr. Assad of “not fulfilling promises and not telling the truth.”

“This is the illusion of autocratic regimes,” he said. “They think that in a few days they will control the situation. Not today, but tomorrow, next week, next month. They don’t see. And this is a vicious circle.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Exploiting the Unrest in Yemen

U.S. Increases Yemen Drone Strikes

By Karen DeYoung
The Washington Post
Saturday, September 17 2011

The Obama administration has significantly increased the frequency of drone strikes and other air attacks against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen in recent months amid rising concern about political collapse there.

Some of the the strikes, carried out by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have been focused in the southern part of the country, where insurgent forces have for the first time conquered and held territory as the Yemeni government continues to struggle against escalating opposition to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule.

Unlike in Pakistan, where the CIA has presidential authorization to launch drone strikes at will, each U.S. attack in Yemen — and those being conducted in nearby Somalia, most recently on Thursday near the southern port city of Kismayo — requires White House approval, senior administration officials said.

The officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter on the record, said intended targets must be drawn from an approved list of key members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula deemed by U.S. intelligence officials to be involved in planning attacks against the West. White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan last week put their number at “a couple of dozen, maybe.”

Although several unconfirmed strikes each week have been reported by local media in Yemen and Somalia, the administration has made no public acknowledgment of the escalated campaign, and officials who discussed the increase declined to provide numbers.

The heightened air activity coincides with the administration’s determination this year that AQAP, as the Yemen-based group is known, poses a more significant threat to the United States than the core al-Qaeda group based in Pakistan. The administration has also concluded that AQAP has recruited at least a portion of the main insurgent group in Somalia, al-Shabab, to its anti-Western cause.

From its initial months in office, the Obama administration has debated whether to extend the air attacks that have proved so effective in Pakistan to the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. Military and intelligence officials have long argued in favor of attacks against al-Shabab camps in Somalia, which have been under overhead surveillance for years. Other officials have questioned the legal and moral justification for intervening in what, until recently, has been a largely domestic conflict.

The administration has said its legal authority to conduct such strikes, whether with fixed-wing planes, cruise missiles or drones, derives from the 2001 congressional resolution authorizing attacks against al-Qaeda and protection of the U.S. homeland, as well as the international law of self-defense.

“The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al-Qaeda as being restricted solely to ‘hot’ battlefields like Afghanistan,” Brennan said in remarks prepared for delivery Friday night at Harvard Law School. “We reserve the right to take unilateral action if or when other governments are unwilling or unable to take the necessary actions themselves.”

“That does not mean we can use military force whenever we want, wherever we want,” Brennan said. “International legal principles, including respect for a state’s sovereignty and the laws of war, impose important constraints on our ability to act unilaterally — and on the way in which we can use force — in foreign territories.”

In Somalia, the administration backs a tenuous government whose control does not extend beyond the capital, Mogadishu.

In Yemen, Saleh has been a close counterterrorism ally, and Brennan said last week that Yemen’s political turmoil, which began in March as part of the upheaval known as the Arab Spring, has not affected that cooperation. U.S. officials have emphasized that violence between loyalist troops and those backing breakaway army officers and tribal leaders has not involved U.S.-trained Yemeni special operations forces. This week, government forces reportedly made gains fighting against entrenched insurgent fighters in the southern port town of Zinjibar.

In the Yemeni capital Sanaa, thousands of anti-government protesters have been camping out in what is known as Change Square for several months, demanding an end to Saleh’s rule. The camp has remained quiet for weeks, but Reuters, citing doctors, reported Saturday that soldiers opened fire near the camp overnight and wounded eight protesters. The troops shot in the air to stop demonstrators from trying to expand the area of protest.

As the political conflict drags on, concern has increased over insurgent expansion and future cooperation with whatever government emerges in Yemen.

For months, the administration has called on Saleh to sign an agreement put forward this summer by Persian Gulf states to transfer power to an interim government and hold early elections. His intransigence seems to have increased since June, when Saleh departed for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia after being severely injured in an attack on his presidential palace. He has repeatedly insisted he intends to return to Yemen and retake control of his government, currently being run by Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Last week, the ruling General People’s Congress sent a delegation to Riyadh and secured Saleh’s agreement to allow Hadi to negotiate with the opposition and implement a political transition. While the opposition called the deal a trick, the Obama administration has tried to push Hadi and the government to take the initiative and negotiate a deal with opponents.

In a statement released late Thursday, the State Department called on the Yemeni government to sign and implement the agreement “within one week.”

Until May, the first and only known drone strike in Yemen was launched by the CIA in 2002. As part of its stepped-up military cooperation with Yemen, the Obama administration has used manned aircraft to strike at targets indicated by U.S. and Yemeni military intelligence forces on the ground. In May, JSOC first used a drone to kill two AQAP operatives as part of its new escalation in Yemen.

This summer, the CIA was also tasked with expanding its Yemen operations, and the agency is building its own drone base in the region. It is not clear whether the unilateral strike authority the CIA has in Pakistan will be extended to Yemen.

Administration officials have described the expanded drone campaign as utilizing a “mix of assets,” and a senior military official said he knew of no plans or discussions “to change the nature of operations.”

“The new base doesn’t connote that [the CIA] will be in the lead,” the official said. “It offers better teamwork and collaboration between the agencies.”

Staff writer Greg Jaffe contributed to this report.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Long Struggle in Bahrain

Bahrain Boils Under the Lid of Repression

By Anthony Shadid
The New York Times
September 15, 2011

MANAMA, Bahrain — The battle began soon after sundown. And for the next six hours, in air heavy with heat and tear gas, phalanxes of police officers in helmets battled scores of youths in ski masks, as customers at a Costa Coffee not far away sat like spectators.

No one won in the clashes, which erupt almost every night in this Persian Gulf state. Five months after the start of a ferocious crackdown against a popular uprising — so sweeping it smacks of apartheidlike repression of Bahrain’s religious majority — many fear that no one can win.

“This is all cutting so deep,” said Abdulnabi Alekry, an activist whose car was stopped at one of the checkpoints of trash bins, wood and bricks the youth had fashioned during the clash in August. “The fabric here was never that strong, and now it is torn.”

In the revolts that have roiled the Middle East this year, toppling or endangering a half-dozen leaders, Bahrain, an island kingdom once best known for its pearls and banks, has emerged as the cornerstone of a counterrevolution to stanch demands for democracy. While the turmoil elsewhere has proved unpredictable — the ascent of Islamists in Egypt, the threat of civil war in Syria and the prospect of anarchy in Yemen — Bahrain suggests that the alternative, a failed uprising cauterized by searing repression, may prove no less dangerous.

The crackdown here has won a tactical and perhaps ephemeral victory through torture, arrests, job dismissals and the blunt tool of already institutionalized discrimination against the island’s Shiite Muslim majority. In its wake, sectarian tension has exploded, economic woes have deepened, American willingness to look the other way has cast Washington as hypocritical and a society that prides itself on its cosmopolitanism is colliding with its most primordial instincts. Taken together, the repression and warnings of radicalization may underline an emerging dictum of the Arab uprisings: violence begets violence.

“The situation is a tinderbox, and anything could ignite it at any moment,” said Ali Salman, the general secretary of Al Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest legal opposition group. “If we can’t succeed in bringing democracy to this country, then our country is headed toward violence. Is it in a year or two years? I don’t know. But that’s the reality.”

For decades, Bahrain’s relative openness and entrenched inequality have made it one of the Arab world’s most restive countries, as a Shiite majority numbering as much as 70 percent of the population seeks more rights from a Sunni monarchy that conquered the island in the 18th century. But February was a new chapter in the struggle, when the reverberations of Egypt and Tunisia reached Bahrain and, after bloody clashes, protesters seized a landmark known as Pearl Square, where they stayed for weeks.

The toll of the ensuing repression was grim: in a country of about 525,000 citizens, human rights groups say 34 people were killed, more than 1,400 people were arrested, as many as 3,600 people were fired from their jobs and four people died in custody after torture in what Human Rights Watch called “a systematic and comprehensive crackdown to punish and intimidate government critics and to end dissent root and branch.”

Activists trade stories of colleagues forced to eat feces in prison and high-ranking Shiite bureaucrats compelled to crawl in their offices like infants. Human rights groups say 43 Shiite mosques and religious structures were destroyed or damaged by a government that contended that it faced an Iranian-inspired plot, without offering any evidence that Tehran played a role. Backed by the armed intervention of Saudi Arabia, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa declared martial law in March, and though it was repealed June 1, the reverberations of the repression still echo across the island.

“They told me, ‘There are two ways we can deal with you — as a human or as an animal,’ ” Matar Matar, 45, recalled being told after he was arrested by men in civilian clothes in May and jailed for three months.

It mattered little, Mr. Matar said, that he was a popular former lawmaker, or a father of two. Beaten twice, he spent half the time in solitary confinement in a windowless room. He often heard the screams of others.

From the time of Mr. Matar’s arrest to his release on Aug. 7, the ferocity of the crackdown eased, though it remains pronounced. Despite government promises to return people to work, no one has given Mohammed al-Hamad his job back at the Bahrain Islamic Bank, where he worked for four years until he was fired March 31 for “bad behavior.”

“Any Shiite in Bahrain knows he’s targeted,” Mr. Hamad said. Just last month, 18 professors were fired from Bahrain University. Predictably, all were Shiite. “It was meant to frighten us, scare us and intimidate us,” said Abdulla Alderazi, secretary general of the Bahrain Human Rights Society and one of the 18. “But we can’t be intimidated anymore. That’s it. Enough is enough.”

Even amid the crackdown, officials insist that Bahrain remains a democratic country adhering to, in the words of Abdulla al-Buainain, a judge, the “rule of law.” (E-mails to the government information office and a public relations firm hired by Bahrain went unanswered.) But the frustration of Mr. Alderazi is evident across the kingdom. The most despised government figure for Shiites, Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the king’s 75-year-old uncle and the world’s longest-serving prime minister with four decades in office, has become the center of an attempt at a personality cult; his portraits adorn intersections. “Glory of the nation,” one describes him.

Checkpoints remain around Pearl Square. Its emblematic statue was torn down.

Most dangerous, though, is the exacerbation of sectarian hatred in a country that has never really reconciled the narratives of the Khalifa family’s long-ago conquest. No one claims that Sunnis and Shiites ever lived in harmony here. But the country stands as a singular example of the way venerable distinctions of ethnicity, sect and history can be manipulated in the Arab world, often cynically, in the pursuit of power.

Programs on state-owned television like “The Observer” and “The Last Word” baited activists as traitors and encouraged citizens to inform on one another. Vociferous battles were waged over social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter; boycott lists circulated by e-mail urging Sunnis to avoid Shiite-owned businesses. (Costa Coffee is Shiite-owned and the Starbucks franchises are Sunni-owned, residents said.)

“People are busy fighting each other, getting frightened by each other, forgetting about reform and letting the government and the system have everything,” said Munira Fakhro, a 69-year-old secular Sunni activist. “It’s an old game but it’s still working.”

As the status quo endures — some believe that the king may introduce reforms this month, while others remain skeptical — anger among many Shiites toward American policy has deepened. Though some appreciated President Obama’s criticism of the crackdown in May, many lament what they see as a double standard. In contrast to the treatment of Syria and Libya, they point out, no administration official is calling for sanctions against Bahrain, a country where the United States has its largest regional naval base, for the Fifth Fleet.

“Democracy isn’t only for those countries the United States has a problem with,” said Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Bahrain was never the stereotypical Persian Gulf confection where skyscrapers make no sense in the expansive desert. By the standards of the gulf region, education came early, and civil society flourished. But since the crackdown, the economy posted an anemic growth rate of 1 percent in the quarter ending in June after shrinking in the previous quarter. International meetings were canceled. So was the Formula One race this year, an event in which many in Bahrain took pride. Crédit Agricole, a French bank, is moving its regional headquarters to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, this year.

The metaphor often used by those who lament the splintered society is fabric, as in torn, tattered and frayed.

“You know how it is,” said a 25-year-old protester named Hassan, who was arrested for demonstrating in June and whose last name is being withheld for his safety. “When you cut off hope, you leave no alternative.”

“Show me your beautiful face,” Hassan quoted a police officer as telling him before punching it three times. He said others joined in, beating him “as if eating cake.” He keeps a picture of one of those officers on his cellphone, as a reminder.

“There’s no other choice but violence,” he said. “We can’t back down.”

The War Crime that Keeps Killing

Israel’s Cluster Bombs Continue to Kill and Maim in Lebanon

By Dalila Mahdawi
The Electronic Intifada / Inter Press Service
14 September 2011

KFAR JOZ, south Lebanon - Even in the summer heat, the hills of south Lebanon are an impressive sight — a patchwork of green, brown and red fields interrupted only by sleepy villages, rock formations and dirt tracks.

Most residents here have traditionally depended on agriculture to provide for their families. But instead of sowing crops or herding their flocks through the grassy terrain, for the last five years locals have viewed the surrounding hills with caution. Lurking in these fields are hundreds of thousands of cluster munitions, silently waiting to claim their next victim.

“Every day we find cluster bombs in between the houses and in the fields,” said Ali Shuaib, community liaison manager at the Mines Advisory Group, a British organization clearing landmines and other remnants of war in Lebanon. “There are tens of villages like this all over the south.”

Although Lebanon has been plagued by landmines since its 1975-1990 civil war and subsequent Israeli occupation, it faced unprecedented contamination levels from cluster munitions after Israel launched a 34-day war in July 2006. According to Human Rights Watch, Israel’s use of the weapons was the most extensive anywhere in the world since the 1991 Gulf War.

Indiscriminate weapons

In the last 72 hours of fighting, at a time when the United Nations Security Council had adopted Resolution 1701 calling for an immediate halt to hostilities, Israel dropped more than four million cluster bombs over south Lebanon. Of those, at least 40 percent failed to explode upon impact, according to the UN, becoming de facto landmines across Lebanon’s agricultural heartland.

These are the most indiscriminate weapons of modern warfare; 95 percent of all victims of cluster munitions are civilians, according to the organization Handicap International. Since the cessation of hostilities five years ago, 408 Lebanese civilians have been killed or injured by cluster munitions, 115 of them under 18 years old. Unless properly disposed of, the weapons keep killing and maiming for decades.

Cluster munitions continue to wreak havoc on the Lebanese economy, too. With an estimated 36 percent of contaminated land being used for agricultural purposes, the already deprived south Lebanon has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in income, said Pierre Bou Maroun, chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces’ Regional Mine Action Center in Nabatieh, which oversees all demining operations in the country. In 2007 alone, Lebanon lost an estimated $126.8 million in agricultural revenue because of cluster munitions.

Israel’s use of the weapon in Lebanon helped galvanize efforts towards an international ban in May 2007, when 107 countries voted for the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions. The convention prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of all forms of cluster munitions. It also requires countries to clear contaminated areas within 10 years, destroy supplies within eight years and provide assistance to victims.

Lebanon was among the first countries to sign the convention in December 2008 and although it only entered into force in May this year, officials have been keen to take an international leadership role on its implementation. This week Beirut hosts the second international meeting of states parties to the convention. Delegates from more than 110 governments, UN and other international organizations will attend the week-long conference along with survivors of cluster munitions to discuss how to further advance the convention’s obligations.

The meeting “is a golden opportunity for Lebanon,” said Haboubba Aoun, one of Lebanon’s representative members of the Cluster Munition Coalition and International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and a member of Lebanon’s National Committees on Risk Education and Victim Assistance. “We hope the people of the world will take a closer look at the cluster bomb problem in Lebanon and decide to continue supporting clearance activities and victim assistance activities.”

Clearance teams have made formidable progress in Lebanon despite almost continuous funding concerns. “We have 2,259 well-known minefields,” in addition to thousands of other contaminated areas, said Bou Maroun. Some 1,578 minefields have been now been cleared and returned to residents, but 22 million square meters of contaminated land remains. This figure does not include heavily contaminated areas along the so-called Blue Line border area between Lebanon and Israel, whose clearance has been left to the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL.

Israeli maps “papers for the trash”

“Our vision is a Lebanon free from cluster bombs, land mines and explosive remnants of war,” Bou Maroun said. With sufficient funding and support, he said Lebanon could be cleared of cluster munitions by 2016.

Following international pressure, Israel provided the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with maps showing the areas it targeted with cluster munitions. But, Bou Maroun said, as these maps do not show the coordinates of those targets, they are merely “papers for the trash.”

Mine clearance is painstakingly slow and dangerous work. Deminers sent to the field must abide by strict regulations and are flanked by ambulances and medics. “It’s a calculated risk,” said Daniel Redelinghuys, MAG’s Technical Operations Manager. Two MAG deminers have lost their lives and 18 have been injured in the five years since hostilities ceased, he added. The LAF and other clearance organizations have also experienced considerable losses.

Yet the possibility of an accident doesn’t deter Hussein Tabaja, a mine clearance site supervisor with MAG. “You’re working for your country,” he said with a shrug. “When you see the faces of people after you have cleared their land, you see how many people you have helped, who can go back and use their fields again, it makes you happy. Sometimes during the holidays I actually miss coming to work.”

While there is growing international support for a universal ban, there remains staunch opposition from the world’s biggest producers, traders or users of cluster munitions, such as Israel, China and the US, who have not signed the convention. As recently as late August, Handicap International censured Israel for laying fresh landmines along the border of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

And for many, any international ban will come too late. “I wish I could change my leg and get a new one,” said 12-year-old Mohammad Abd al-Aal, who has been left with a prosthetic leg after stepping on a cluster bomblet while herding his family’s goats.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Interview with President Ahmadinejad

Transcript of the Ahmadinejad Interview

By Lally Weymouth
The Washington Post
September 13 2011

People in the United States are wondering if you will grant a pardon to the two American hikers just before your trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

I am helping to arrange for the release in a couple of days so they will be able to return home. This is of course going to be a unilateral humanitarian gesture.

So you are arranging for their release? ... Will they be released within the next few days?

I hope so. ... I hope it will happen in a couple of days. We have made a tremendous effort to do it. We have done a lot to do it. It is a unilateral pardon of course on behalf of the Iranian nation and on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

When will you announce this publicly?

When they are released, it will be announced.

How important is Syria to Iran? What is your view of the situation in Syria?

To us, our relations are important. Everybody in the world is important to us, wherever people are living.

Syria has been a key ally of Iran, not just another nation. I understand that you have tried to help President [Bashar al-] Assad. Do you believe his regime will survive?

To us, Lebanon, Turkey, and Syria are important. Afghanistan, Pakistan, countries in the Persian Gulf region. Syria is at the forefront of the resistance.

I know that recently you have been calling on President Assad to reform and listen to his people.

Yes, he himself declared that he will introduce some reforms. I think everyone in the world needs to see reforms — in Europe, America, Asia, everywhere.

The question we are looking at in the U.S. is, can President [Bashar al-Assad] last, or is he finished? What is your assessment?

We don’t think we should talk about the situation like this. That depends on the decision of the people and the government of Syria. We think it is very important for others not to interfere. Neither Westerners nor other forces, either NATO or other military alliances.

The people of Syria seem to be calling for him to leave.

Yes, some people are against him. They should also be respected. But we will find out the real views of the nation when there are real elections and I hope that will happen in an understanding and friendly atmosphere.

You think there should be elections in Syria?

Free elections must be [held] everywhere in the world, even in the United States.

It has been reported that Iran has sent advisers and Al Quds forces to aid President Assad.

We have a relationship with Syria, an old relationship. We also have good relations with the people of Syria, with all segments of the population. This is the situation as well in Iraq and other countries.

How do you see Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal? Do you think Iranian influence will increase in Iraq?

If America has withdrawn from anywhere, the situation will certainly improve and get better. We are not seeking to increase our influence. We have a special, friendly relationship with Iraq. We belong to the same culture, and our people are friends. Every year, millions of people from Iran and Iraq travel to each other’s countries and we also have marriages between Iraqis and Iranians. Many Iranians were born in Iraq and many Iraqis were born in Iran. This is a kind of special, cordial, amicable ties. The Iraqi parliament and political groups have very good relations with Iran; we are friends. Many religious clerics in Iran finish their studies in Iraq and many Iraqi clerics study here. Neither Iraq nor Iran is seeking to influence each other’s country. I have a very cordial relationship with the Iraqi president as well as with the prime minister.

Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki and President [Jalal] Talibani?

Yes, all Iraqi statesmen and political figures. I think the government of the United States shouldn’t be worried about post-withdrawal Iraq.

Many people in the United States feel that former President George W. Bush delivered Iraq to Iran by invading and overthrowing Saddam Hussein. It is commonly believed that Iranian influence has increased throughout this region, especially in Iraq. Is this a correct perception?

Do you really think that the people of the United States hate George Bush for that?

No, I don’t think they hate him, I just think it is a common perception that Saddam Hussein was not friendly to your country and that by removing his government and bringing a Shiite government to power, it made Iraq more open to Iranian influence. Is this an accurate analysis?

Do you really think that President Bush intended to establish a Shiite government in Iraq?


So it happened, unlike his intentions. Is this government an elected government or not?


It is an elected government. So the relations and the desires of Iraqi people were totally in contradiction with the desires and wishes of President Bush. Can we again reach the same conclusion that Bush delivered Iraq to Iran? President Bush followed certain goals and he was not able to achieve them. And the nation of Iraq has overcome the desire and intentions of Mr. Bush. Of course, we are happy with the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

You said you were happy with his downfall?

Yes, of course, we are happy about it because he was enemy of all countries in the region. He obeyed the policies and instructions of the United States. He attacked Iran; he attacked and occupied Kuwait. I would think that if Bush had left Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the situation would have been much better today, and the Iraqi people also thank America for that. And we would also have considered it as a positive policy. But then Bush announced that they decided to stay in Iraq, so everything and our comments about the military invasion of Iraq changed. Nobody in Iraq would believe that he had any friendly intentions.

Can we shift to another topic — your nuclear program. People in Washington ask why does Iran have so much enriched uranium but no reactors except at Bushehr, which has a guaranteed fuel supply from Russia. And of course the Tehran Research Reactor, which requires a very small amount of enriched uranium. Some experts in Washington say that you have no possible use for this enriched uranium other than a weapons program. What is your response to these people?

The government of Iran has no problem with the American nation — there are just a limited number of political leaders [who are problematic]. Still I do not understand if we should increase [enriched] uranium or limit it. If we do it in a limited quantity, they say [we] are going to use it for building a bomb. If we increase the quality of enriched uranium, they say, why are they doing this? The Bushehr reactor alone needs 30 tons of uranium every year. We are now at a level of three tons of enriched uranium, so we have to increase [the output]. We must produce 30 tons only for one year. The Tehran reactor also needs enriched uranium, fuel. We need at least five more similar reactors for Tehran.

Five more reactors?

Yes, we need five more similar reactors in Iran. Because more than 800,000 patients are using those medical isotopes so we need such reactors in order to meet our requirements. That’s why we need to build another 32 nuclear power stations for generating 20,000 megawatts of electricity. We have only launched one of them. The other projects are under study and consideration.

As you know, Iran has never satisfied the International Atomic Energy Agency on their questions about weaponization, as you see in their September report. The IAEA is concerned about information that Iran is developing a nuclear warhead for ballistic missiles. What is your answer to this?

These are the claims always made by the United States, and these are the claims given to the IAEA. No member country has the right to make such claims against another member. The IAEA itself asked six basic questions and we provided answers to them and we have received their endorsement. The American administration has certain claims but the IAEA should not behave in a way so that everybody may think it represents the government of the United States. They should maintain their independence. Otherwise, the agency will lose its credibility. In the context of the law, we will continue our cooperation with the IAEA. And in many cases, we have gone beyond our commitments.

You said that Iran would start building a third enrichment plant like Natanz and Fordow. Have you started building that plant?

Natanz and Fordow are not the places for building nuclear power stations. They are the places where we produce fuels.

You said you would build a third enrichment plant this year.

No, I didn’t say that. Uranium enrichment takes place where we produce the fuel. Power stations use those fuels for power generation so these things are separate.

The Fordow enrichment facility is built under a mountain. I assume this is so that it cannot be attacked by any foreigners. Some say you will be enriching uranium there up to 90 percent. Is there any truth to this or do you just want to protect your enriched uranium supply against an attack by Israel and the United States?

Our facilities like this must be constructed in a safe place. This is because of safety reasons and it is for protecting people. The Natanz facility is also underground. Of course nuclear facilities must be protected against aerial raids. But we do not need to have highly enriched uranium, uranium grade of 90 percent. Our nuclear facilities are being monitored by the IAEA, both in Natanz and in Fordow. The IAEA inspectors are there and they have also fixed their cameras in the facilities. So does it make any difference [to have them underground]?

Iran continues to enrich uranium both at 3.5 percent and 20 percent. Would you consider stopping enrichment in return for a freeze on sanctions?

For power stations, we need uranium of 3.5 percent, and we are producing that fuel. For the Tehran reactor, we need uranium grade of 20 percent, and we are producing that. We have no other requirements. Of course at the beginning we had no interest to produce uranium grade 20 percent. But the West refrained from giving us that uranium, so we had to start producing uranium grade 20 percent.

I understand that you were in favor of the deal you had reached with the United States in 2009, according to which the U.S. would sell you 20-percent-enriched uranium in exchange for Iran exporting low-enriched uranium. But you were attacked by your critics and came under assault and people here could not reach a consensus and the deal fell apart.

In Iran, people are free to express their views. Every day some people criticize the policies of the government. This doesn’t mean that the government is going to abandon their policies. We felt that they wouldn’t give us the fuel required here for our reactor. There were some political leaders who gave interviews in the United States and Europe and they said they want to keep Iran from having access to such fuel. So we realized that they wouldn’t give us that fuel so we had to do it ourselves. Even if they gave us now uranium grade 20 percent, we would not continue with the production of this fuel.

So if the United States sold you the enriched uranium, would you stop enriching yourselves?

Yes. We don’t want to produce uranium of 20 percent. Because they did not give us that uranium, we had to make our own investments. If they start to give us that uranium today, we will stop production.

You reached a deal in Geneva in 2009, and you came back here and the deal fell apart here, and now people in Washington don’t believe a deal is possible.

If they give us uranium grade 20 percent, we would stop production. Those negotiations took place in Vienna. Apparently they know everything. I repeat: If you give us uranium grade 20 percent now, we will stop production. Because uranium grade 20 percent can only be used for such reactors, nothing else.

Could you get an agreement here? The understanding in Washington is that there is so much disagreement among the leadership here that you couldn’t come to a consensus.

Those who said that, the politicians, they are not experts. Because 3.5 percent is not that much different from uranium at 90 percent. The important thing is about the technology of enriching uranium. If you enrich uranium to 3.5 percent, you can certainly go ahead and produce 90 percent. It doesn’t mean that that 20 percent is closer to 90 percent. There is no difference between 3.5 and 90 percent. Our nuclear facilities are being monitored by cameras of the IAEA. Every gram of material is being controlled and sealed.

I understand that 20 percent is much closer to 90 percent than 3.5 percent and that’s why U.S. experts are worried.

We are cooperating fully with the agency but IAEA is not an independent agency.

Did your recent offer of full supervision of your nuclear program for five years in exchange for lifting sanctions include signing the additional protocol?

We do not care about the sanctions. We cooperate because we believe that all nations must have access to peaceful nuclear energy. Our cooperation is aimed at defending the rights of the nation. Otherwise these sanctions will turn into a positive energy in our country. Those who imposed the sanctions on us are now facing economic recessions. They have actually deprived themselves of our resources. In the period of free trade, what do sanctions mean? Actually they have created problems for themselves because we have a large economy. Countries who have established economic cooperation with Iran have benefited from such a relationship. But those who have not cooperated with Iran have faced losses.

In the United States and the West, nobody believes that you are producing so much enriched uranium without a facility to make fuel rods without having a weapons program. No one believes it is for peaceful energy.

I said we have already produced three tons but for Bushehr you need 30 tons. If we want to have a nuclear weapon, we are not afraid of others; we will publicly announce it. Why should we be afraid of others? When we say we are not going to build nuclear weapons, we mean it. Because we consider it an evil thing and we do not need those items.

You are building enrichment facilities here.

Power stations are for generating electricity, not for an atomic bomb.

Arak is not for generating electricity, is it?

Missiles are used for launching satellites.

And they can also be used for launching nuclear warheads.

For example, with a knife you can cut food — you can also kill people with it. Can we say that knives should not be made or bought? Can you say anything about the history of friendship between Iran and the United States? Can you name a period the two countries were friends? Never. The U.S. supported a dictatorship for a long period. They supported the former shah against the Iranian nation. After the collapse of the former regime, they continued to act against us. They were always against us.

Do you see some way for the United States and Iran to collaborate over the Taliban or Afghanistan? Do you see an area of the world where our two countries could work together?

Yes, we can cooperate in many areas. We can have cooperation for Afghan stability and security. We can cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking and fight against terrorism. There are many areas in which we can cooperate, but the United States has maintained the same style of policies against us.

Why do you insist on constantly denouncing Israel and make such provocative statements if you want to work with the West?

If somebody condemns aggression, occupation — is that bad? And the Zionist regime is always doing the same thing. They destroy people’s homes and raze them to the ground. They have created a few major wars. They continue to assassinate and terrorize people; they continue their policy of coercion against other nations, including Iran. I think an important question that must be answered is, why do all U.S. administrations always support the Zionist regime? The United States is 10,000 kilometers away from Palestine, and other nations in the region are against the Zionists, but the United States and its allies in Europe continue to support the Zionist regime. Why? What is the relationship between these two countries? The United States has a population of 300 million and the whole population is going to be sacrificed for the interests of a few hundred Zionists. A dreadful party, a feared party, the party that was behind the First World War and the Second World War. Whenever there is a conflict or war — this party is behind it. The same party that made a grim picture of the United States in the world. Are the 300 million in the United States Zionists? Have you ever had a referendum in the United States that the people support the Zionist regime? Never. I think you should have a referendum in the United States to see if the people want to use their resources and taxes for a number of killers. We are against killing and massacres. We are against occupation. How do you feel about the upcoming debate at the U.N. over the creation of the Palestinian state?

Do you favor the creation of the Palestinian state?

I hope that will happen very soon and that can be the beginning point. That should be the beginning of the liberation of the entire Palestinian land. The Palestinian nation existed before the Palestinians had unwanted guests pour into Palestine with guns.

I know you have talked about the Arab Spring as the “Islamic Awakening.” Do you believe this move for democratic reform will come to Iran?

Do you believe this is the Arab Spring? Who is using this terminology?

That is what they call it in the media.

Their people are going through very painful conditions. People shouldn’t tolerate the mistakes committed by the leaders. The owners of this and capitalists have plundered their resources and now their economies are facing problems.

There are rumors that there are internal fights in Iran. Some of your aides have even been fired and one was even arrested. Some people don’t like your very close aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. What is your relationship with the other powers that govern Iran?

I cannot expect everyone to like all of my colleagues. It is not possible. People are free to like him or not. There are political competitions in all countries and you can see those in all governments, all over the world, including in the U.S.

Reportedly you and the Supreme Leader disagreed over your firing of the intelligence minister last April. Was this significant?

Can you find two people who see the world the same? Can you find it in Europe?

When are opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi going to be released from house arrest?

I have no knowledge about it. We have the judiciary and the judiciary is independent from the government. We do not appoint the judges for the court. There is the law and everybody is equal before the law. I do not follow such news. I think I do have a lot of work to do.