Sunday, September 30, 2012

IMF Must Take Off Its Mask In Zimbabwe

IMF must take off its mask

Sunday, 30 September 2012 00:00
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

As public consultations to gather input for the 2013 National Budget begin, Zimbabwe’s economy is once again under the spotlight. We can now expect all manner of crazy prescriptions from the usual suspects. One of these, the International Monetary Fund — which is actually part of the problem and not the solution — has taken the opportunity to issue a statement saying Zimbabwe’s economic growth rate will slow down to 5 percent this year from last year’s 9,4 percent.

The IMF, in its annual review of the economy last week, makes a few useful observations, but the entire document is then blighted by a disingenuous attempt to score cheap political points.

Quite amazingly, the IMF insinuates that the two salary increments awarded to civil servants since 2011 have drastically ballooned the Government’s employment costs by 22 percent, weighing down on the economy.

The IMF then accuses the Government of worsening the situation through “an increase in employee allowances and unbudgeted recruitment”.

In other words, the IMF is saying the Government must never have awarded civil servants any increment since dollarisation.

There is no doubt that the Bretton Woods institution is also sending a coded message to Cabinet to completely reject any proposition to award a civil service salary increment this year or in 2013.

The IMF cites “an uncertain political situation ahead of elections” as one of the risks and vulnerabilities associated with the Zimbabwean economy.

Reading the annual review, you are left convinced that beneath the IMF mask is the frowning face of the US political establishment.

In a less-than-convincing way, the IMF is hard-pressed to portray itself as an apolitical and dispassionate player in Zimbabwe’s economy.

This, of course, is deception of the worst kind.

Well, if the IMF mandarins and their handlers in Washington DC think they can continue fooling the people of Africa, then they are in for a rude surprise.

Western capitalism is on the decline anyway.

Africa is forging strong economic relations with China and India.

From all indications, the Western governments will realise, when it is too late, how unsustainable their political grandstanding has been.

Zimbabwe is under illegal US and EU sanctions and, as a direct consequence, the nation is not getting critically needed balance of payments support from so-called multi-lateral lenders like the IMF and the World Bank.

The IMF directors can go ahead and continue peddling all sorts of lame excuses for refusing to extend funding to Zimbabwe, but the truth remains that they are under strict instructions from US Congress to play hard ball with Harare.

This explains the IMF’s sickening obsession with containing “the growth of the civil service wage bill” while tellingly maintaining a deafening silence on the evil sanctions which have ruined the lives of millions of Zimbabweans.

The reason for this is simple: the IMF is part of the US financial arsenal which is viciously unleashed on countries that stubbornly refuse to be bullied.

Instead of preaching from an ivory tower about the need for Zimbabwe to “remove irregularly hired workers from the payroll”, the IMF must be telling the US Congress to scrap the illegally imposed sanctions.

Ha-Joon Chang, the leading Cambridge economist, has often poked fun at the IMF, noting that the institution has been so thoroughly discredited by its dismal track record in the 1980s and ’90s that it decided to change the name of its flagship programme from “economic structural adjustment programmes” to today’s “poverty reduction programmes”.

Different name, same poison. Nobody is fooled by such trickery.

The IMF’s latest utterances are worth interrogating because, as everyone in this country now knows, the Bretton Woods institution enjoys a hypnotic influence on Finance Minister Tendai Biti’s thinking.

Biti will never be found denouncing the IMF, no matter how nonsensical its prescriptions sound.

Hopefully, Minister Biti will stop kowtowing to the whims of the IMF and start listening to the people of Zimbabwe.

No serious economist or institution can tell Zimbabwe’s long-suffering civil servants to tighten their belts.

Just how does an under-paid worker tighten his belt without harming himself and his family?

Not so long ago, it is this nonsensical belt-tightening IMF prescription which damaged Zimbabwe’s economy.

The State was forced to cut spending on the social sectors of education, health and public amenities.

What was the result?

Zimbabwe’s economy suffered catastrophic damage whose ramifications are still being felt to this day.

In this part of the world, the IMF has much to atone for.

The hypocrisy of the IMF and the World Bank is that, while they instruct African, Latin American and Asian nations to “cut on spending”, they turn a blind eye to Western governments that are spending like there is no tomorrow.

To these high priests of capitalism, the social contract, as we know it, is only applicable to the rich industrialised countries of the West.

According to the IMF’s worldview, in Africa the social contract is not worth the paper it is written on.

Such insensitivity is callous, irresponsible and racist.

Why should an under-paid teacher in Harare be told to tighten her belt yet her counterpart in London is being praised for demanding higher pay?

Why the double standards?

So, as Minister Biti goes around the country, seeking people’s input for the 2013 national Budget, he is best advised to do so with an open mind.

Unlike the IMF which sees the people of Zimbabwe as nothing but numbers and statistics, Biti must be told that these are real human beings with real challenges and real aspirations.

Zimbabwe Sunday Mail Still Rules the Roost

The Sunday Mail still rules the roost

Sunday, 30 September 2012 00:00
Sunday Mail Reporter

The Sunday Mail has maintained pole position on the local newspaper market with the latest Zimbabwe All Media and Products Survey (Zamps) showing that about one million people read the publication each week.

The results of the third quarter survey presented by Zimbabwe Advertising Research Foundation (ZARF) show that the leading family newspaper is still the most important weekly by miles. It commands 26 percent of the market share, translating into 658 166 readers.

The survey also revealed that The Sunday Mail’s readership grew 2 percent between October and December last year. It also emerged that 80 percent (527 976) of the newspaper’s readers are high-density suburb residents while 20 percent (130 190) live in low-density areas.

The Sunday Mail also attracts all age groups from 15 to over 65 years. Its core market comprises males, representing a 36 percent of those between the ages of 20 and 29 years while the 30 to 40 years bracket represents 38 percent.

Female readers are mainly between the ages of 15 to 25 years, representing 23 percent.

According to the survey results released last week, the newspaper’s main competitor, The Standard, is way behind with a readership of 168 261, translating to 7 percent. Another Zimbabwe Newspapers publication, Sunday News, came in second after The Sunday Mail with 198 039 readers.

This translates to 8 percent.

Zimpapers’ Kwayedza performed remarkably, commanding a readership of 99 607 (4 percent).

Financial Gazette and Zimbabwe Independent have a readership of 92 215 and 72 833, respectively.

Another Zimpapers publication, Manica Post, and The Daily News on Sunday are read by 78 623 and 38 985 people respectively while The Patriot has a readership of 16 449.

The Masvingo Mirror was the least read weekly with a readership of 9 977 followed by The Voice whose readers numbered 7 393 and The Business Connect, which had a total of 2 413 readers.

The survey also shows that The Sunday Mail’s sister paper, The Herald, leads the daily category where it is read by 31 percent (799 950) of urban adults.

In second position is the Daily News with a readership of 571 581 followed by NewsDay with a readership of 558 678. Zimpapers’ H-Metro remained stable, attracting 21 percent of urban adults (542 211 readers). Chronicle is read by 13 percent, representing a total of 335 164 readers in the adult urbanites age group.

Egypt's Morsi Visits Turkey to Strengthen Emerging Alliance

Egypt's Morsi visits Turkey to strengthen emerging alliance

Ahram Online, Sunday 30 Sep 2012

President Morsi travels to Turkey on Sunday to strengthen emerging alliance between two moderate Islamist governments with focus likely to be on economy and Syria

Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi travelled to Turkey early Sunday for his first visit as president. He is scheduled to spend just 12 hours in the country before returning to Cairo.

Presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali stated on Saturday that Morsi would meet with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reinforce bilateral ties.

He is also set to attend the conference of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party.

Ali also stated that economic matters were of central importance and that “Egypt has a lot to learn from Turkey's significant economic progress in recent years.”

Accompanying Morsi are fifty Egyptian businessmen, including Hassan Malek, a leading businessman and Muslim Brotherhood figure; Ahmed El-Wakeel, head of the General Chambers of Commerce Federation, and Sherif El-Gabaly, chairman of Polyserve Fertilisers and Chemical Group, amongst others.

Syria will also be on the agenda following Morsi’s initiation in early September of the Islamic Quartet – which includes Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia – in an attempt to solve the ongoing crisis in the country.

Turkish presidential advisor Ershad Hurmuzlu stated that Morsi’s visit was a significant turning point in establishing closer ties between the two countries.

He added that there was a widely held consensus in Turkey about Egypt’s pivotal role in the Arab and Islamic world.

Hurmuzlu also stated that increased cooperation between the two countries would help establish peace and security in the Middle East and the entire Mediterranean region.

The visit is seen as an attempt to strengthen the emerging alliance between two moderate Islamist governments. Morsi has frequently said he aims to learn from Turkey's experience.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Egypt in early September and pledged $2 billion in aid to the Egyptian government in an attempt to boost the flagging economy.

Egyptian Leftist Leader Hamdeen Sabbahi Eyes Parliament Majority

Egyptian leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi eyes parliament majority

Aswat Masreya, Sunday 30 Sep 2012
Al Ahram

Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi expresses optimism with the coming parliamentary elections as leftist groups unite

Popular Egyptian leftist politician and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi said on Saturday he is confident a coalition of leftist groups he is working to unite will be strong enough to defeat Islamists and win a parliament majority.

Sabbahi, in an unexpected outcome, came in third place in the first round of the presidential vote last May, behind well-known army commander and politician Ahmed Shafiq and current president Mohamed Morsi, who was the candidate of the state's most organised Muslim Brotherhood group.

Ten other candidates including two seen as front-runners trailed Sabbahi, who had later turned down an offer by Morsi to become his vice president.

The almost-always smiling, populist succeeded in attracting millions of supporters moved by his promises to promote social justice, a fairer distribution of wealth and the elimination of poverty.

With a parliamentary vote expected before the end of the year, Sabbahi is building on his gains from the presidential race and working to form a strong, organised bloc to run for parliament.

"We are seeking a national gathering of groups that share our goals of social justice but not necessarily our exact ideologies, and with that we will get a majority in parliament," Sabbahi said in an interview with Reuters on Saturday night.

Sabbahi said his front could include liberal groups and individuals who agree to his social justice program, but when asked if the front was also open to Islamists, the answer was an outright "no." "And certainly," he added, it "would not include the (Brotherhood's) Freedom and Justice Party and its allies."

Islamists won around 70 percent in the first parliament, formed earlier this year after the state's popular uprising, which ousted former president Hosni Mubarak last year. The parliament was dissolved last June after a court ruled the laws upon which the election was based were unconstitutional.

According to Sabbahi, Islamists are a minority in Egypt and their sweeping victory in politics over the past year and half after the anti-Mubarak revolt is due to their strong organisational and grassroots skills, which he said is working to emulate in his new liberal front.

"This front will end the contradiction that is happening in Egypt now with the organised minority acquiring the majority in parliament, and the presidency, while the divided majority hold a minority in parliament," Sabbahi said.

Mixed economic system

Sabbahi has recently founded the leftist Public Current movement but says he does not seek to revive old socialist economic policies like nationalization of private industries.

He has called for a system that combines public and private sector elements on the condition that it serves all the people and not just wealthy shareholders.

"For Egypt to achieve what it needs and deserves of an economic renaissance it needs a joint system between socialism and the free market economy," said the leftist, whose political career started when he was a student leader in the seventies.

Egypt's economy has suffered deeply after last year's populist uprising and the government is now in talks over a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Sabbahi is a staunch follower of Egypt's former socialist president Gamal Abdel Nasser, a popular pan-Arab-leader who had a powerful popularity base among Egyptians and Arabs in the 1950s and '60s but was hated by the West for his opposition to Israel, with which he fought two wars in 1956 and 1967.

"Without Nasser I would not have been sitting here with you as I am the son of a peasant and I was supposed to only be a peasant like my father except for Nasser, whose experience has formed a big middle-class sector which is important for the preservation of the state's economy and modesty."

Egypt's middle-class diminished during Mubarak's time, as his economic policies were focused on the ruling elite. Sabahy said he does not see a change in those policies under the newly elected Islamist president.

"We are preserving the same economic policies of Mubarak's regime but with a religious flavor. ... The two systems are capitalist," he said.

"Egypt needs work on its poorest sectors and that is what the new president has not worked on or said he would work on," Sabahy said, drawing a contrast between the early days of the Morsi and Nasser administrations.

Nasser also came to power after a revolution in 1952, led by the military against the monarchy.

"After 45 days of Nasser's rule, he raised the minimum wage and redistributed agricultural lands, policies that created the biggest middle-class group in Egypt's history and its lowest unemployment rate," Sabahy said.

Around 40 percent of Egyptians are currently either poor, uneducated or both - and millions are unemployed.

Evaluating Morsi

Other than a slight development in the state's security system, which suffered badly after the uprising, Sabahy sees no other progress since Morsi took office on June 30.

"There is a big gap between the Egyptian dreams in social justice and the way of thinking of this elected president, who is more loyal to his group and its economic pattern," he said.

"The millions of the Egyptians who took to the streets were Muslims and Christians seeking justice, dignity, modern education, work opportunities and fair wages and taxes. Such concepts are neither apparent in the work of this president and his government until now, nor present in his future program."

According to Sabbahi, "revolutionary measures" are needed in order for people to feel real change.

Sabbahi's history in the opposition dates back to the days of Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, a pro-Western capitalist, a position he also maintained in the Mubarak years. Mubarak was deposed on Feb. 11 of last year after ruling for 30 years.

He publicly attacked Sadat at a university conference, earning him later exclusion from any post as a university lecturer or in government.

And despite his strong participation in the 18-day-protests that ousted Mubarak, Sabahy's opposition status did not end but was extended under Islamist rule.

"I am against using religion in politics and hence I will remain an opponent to Islamists but a decent opponent who would criticise their policies and run against them in elections but not ban or fight their existence," he said.

Asked if he would be willing to run for the presidency again, he said: "Only if there were a national demand for that. My performance in the last elections is not an open-ended license for me to run unless it was needed and requested."

This article was published in Aswat Masreya

Egypt Not Mulling Arab Intervention in Syria

Egypt not mulling Arab intervention in Syria: Morsi spokesman

Ahram Online, Sunday 30 Sep 2012

Spokesman for presidency dismisses earlier reports that Egypt was considering Qatari proposal for Arab military intervention in Syria

Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali on Sunday denied media reports that Egypt had agreed to Arab military intervention in violence-wracked Syria.

Earlier on Sunday, Seif Abdel-Fattah, an aide to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, reportedly told the Turkish Anadoul news agency that Egypt was considering a Qatari proposal for Arab military intervention in Syria aimed at ending the 18-month-long conflict there.

Abdel-Fattah was also quoted as saying that Egyptian and Qatari officials were expected to discuss the proposal "soon," adding that non-Arab Turkey might also be involved in the initiative.

According to Anadoul, the presidential aide went on to say that Morsi, during his current visit to Turkey, was attempting to drum up support for the Qatari scheme with his Turkish interlocutors.

Yet Ali insisted that Arab intervention in Syria remained "out of the question." He added that Egypt’s rejection of military involvement in Syria remained unchanged, stressing that statements made by anyone other than the president or his official spokesman did not reflect Egypt's official policy.

On Sunday, Morsi visited Turkey for the first time in his capacity as Egypt's president, where he delivered an address at the annual meeting of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party.

Egypt TV Presenter in Incitement Trial Arrested

Egypt TV Presenter in Incitement Trial Arrested


Police arrest Egyptian TV station owner on trial after calling for death of president

The Associated Press

The owner of a TV station on trial for incitement after calling for the killing of Egypt's Islamist president Mohammed Morsi was arrested on Sunday in connection with a series of allegations, including theft of electrical power and issuing a bounced check, police said.

Tawfiq Okasha was not at his Cairo home when police went to arrest him, but he later surrendered at a police station in the eastern suburb of Nasr City, they added.

Also Sunday, Justice Ministry officials said an investigating judge referred the last prime minister of Egypt's deposed authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak to trial on corruption charges arising from the decade he served as civil aviation minister. Besides Ahmed Shafiq, the chairman of national carrier EgyptAir and nine other ministry officials were also referred to trial.

Shafiq left Egypt shortly after his narrow defeat by Morsi in a presidential runoff in June. He has already been referred to trial on separate corruption charges dating back to the 1990s when he chaired a housing association for air force officers. Mubarak's two sons, onetime heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa, were charged in the same case together with four retired generals.

Shafiq, who lives in the United Arab Emirates, was defiant in a comment he posted on his Twitter account after news of his new trial broke in Cairo.

"I will continue my political work and I will stand up to persecution and the use of law to commit character assassination against me," he wrote. "I traveled after the election to avoid expected persecution. Time has shown that it did happen," wrote Shafiq, who like Mubarak is a career air force officer. He was named prime minister in Mubarak's final days in office.

Authorities last month ordered the closure of Okasha's TV station — Al-Faraeen," or "The Pharoahs" — which he used to launch scathing attacks on Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamentalist Islamist group from which the president hails. Okasha has emerged as one of the most popular TV personalities of post-Mubarak Egypt by railing against the uprising that toppled Mubarak's 29-year rule in February 2011.

For months, he appeared on Al-Faraeen every night to mock the country's "enemies" — everyone from leftists and Islamists to Freemasons and Zionists — with rants full of abuse and earthy humor. In the weeks before a court ordered his station closed, he presented himself as Egypt's champion against a takeover by the Brotherhood, starting an open clash with the group and the new president.

It was not immediately clear why authorities decided to move against Okasha now since most Egyptians, particularly celebrities like him, get away with a fine when faced with similar charges. Okasha, according to the police officials, was also arrested over allegations of forgery and disturbing authorities.

No details were immediately available on the particulars of the charges.

The police and Justice Ministry officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Okasha is not the only media personality facing criminal charges related to attacks on Morsi or his Brotherhood.

The editor of the el-Dustour newspaper, which vilifies Morsi daily, is on trial for "spreading lies" and fabricating news. A Christian man is also serving a two-year prison sentence for insulting Morsi.

There are widespread worries among Egyptians that Morsi and the Brotherhood have amassed too much power, holding executive and legislative authorities as well as dominating the process of writing the next constitution.

But Okasha does not get much sympathy because many of the nation's key political players see him as a divisive figure. Many secular politicians and activists who distrust the Brotherhood shun him, seeing him as a remnant of Mubarak's authoritarian regime.

Some see the crackdown on Okasha and Shafiq as a move by Morsi to eliminate a powerful potential rival in Shafiq, and a vocal critic in Okasha. Like in the days of Mubarak, Morsi's presidential palace maintains that the president has nothing to do with legal procedures against critics like Okasha or the el-Dustour editor.

Veteran politician Ayman Nour was jailed on forgery charges soon after he finished a distant second in a 2005 presidential election, the only vote where Mubarak allowed someone besides himself to appear on the ballot. Shortly afterward, the politician who finished third lost the leadership of his party in a power struggle suspected to have been engineered by Mubarak's security agents.

Condemn Iran or Else: Targeting the Anti-Imperialist Left

September 26, 2012

How RAHA / Havaar Feign Left and Charge Right

Condem Iran or Else: Targeting the Anti-Imperialist Left


It’s late September 2012, and tensions between Iran and the Western powers have seldom been more intense. The Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are desperately trying to outdo each other in militaristic rhetoric against the Islamic Republic. The latest in a long series of U.S., European and U.N. sanctions are threatening Iran’s ability to sell oil – by far its major revenue-generating export – in the world market. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is leading a threatening 30-nation naval exercise in the Persian Gulf. Canada, without any apparent provocation, has expelled all Iranian diplomats and closed its embassy in Tehran. Responding to a multi-million dollar public relations campaign, the U.S. State Department is removing the “terrorist” designation from the anti-Iranian political/military organization Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, or MKO. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is threatening to attack Iran, with or without Washington’s permission.

And yet, this is the exact moment when organizations claiming to oppose war and sanctions against Iran are demanding that the antiwar movement expel from its ranks very forces working hardest to defend Iran from attack.

The Raha/Havaar Attack on AIFC

On Sept. 18, the New York-based Raha Iranian Feminist Collective and its companion group Havaar: Iranian Initiative Against War, Sanctions and State Repression, issued an “Open Letter to the Anti-War Movement” demanding that the movement exclude a solidarity organization called the American Iranian Friendship Committee from all protests, campaigns and coalitions. (1) While Raha/Havaar only accuses AIFC of specific transgressions, the letter – and previous public statements – make it clear that the real target is the entire anti-imperialist left.

As someone who has supported the Iranian Revolution since the 1970s, who has focused on Iran solidarity work for the past six years and who identifies with the anti-imperialist left, I would like to respond.

The Raha/Havaar letter charges AIFC, as an organization, with engaging in “a campaign of hostility and intimidation … against Iranian activists in the U.S. who oppose war, sanctions and state repression in Iran.”

Painting a picture of a rising tide of violence, the letter accuses AIFC of taking “the lead in a series of physical and verbal attacks on Iranian activists and their allies” and calls on the antiwar movement to “stop condoning, excusing or dismissing these attacks by continuing to include AIFC in your coalitions, demonstrations, forums and other organizing events.”

The letter concludes by declaring that “AIFC has consistently demonstrated an inability to follow basic rules of civility and engagement and should have no place in our movement.”

In “our” movement. Really. Very territorial words, for such new organizations.

This is the first time in my 45 years of antiwar activism that I’ve ever heard of any organization demanding another group be banished from the entire antiwar movement. It’s a bit stunning – and more than a bit ironic, coming as it does from an organization founded to oppose what it says is state repression of dissent in Iran.

The letter’s charges are actually only directed against one person, AIFC’s founder, Iranian-born Ardeshir Ommani. It cites four instances of his allegedly intimidating political opponents, including twice engaging in actual physical attacks.

I’ve know Ardeshir for many years. He and his wife, Ellie Ommani, were high school teachers in Brooklyn for decades and have been well known in the peace and justice movement for 50 years. I also know that Ardheshir can at times be overbearing.

Ardeshir also is 73 years old. And suffers from asthma, back pain and hearing problems which make him tend to raise his voice louder than he otherwise might.

I don’t want to belittle accusations of violent behavior, but honestly, if I were a member of an organization of young women and men (Raha is open to all genders), I think I’d hesitate to appeal to the entire antiwar movement to protect me from one elderly man who yells. It’s just possible that there’s more to this attack than grievances against a single individual.

It’s also interesting that, although all the incidents took place more than six months ago, Raha/Havaar waited to raise them until one week before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to speak before the U.N. General Assembly.

But the first point is that Raha and Havaar are lying in their accusations. I know, because I was at two of the four incidents the letter describes and have spoken to people who witnessed one of the others.

The charges

Here are the charges and what actually happened:

* At the March 2012 conference of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), there was a heated floor debate over a Raha/Havaar resolution calling on the antiwar movement to oppose “repression” in Iran. UNAC, the largest and most active antiwar coalition in the U.S., has taken the position that its proper role is to oppose war and sanctions and not to get involved in Iran’s internal politics or problems. Ardeshir was standing in line, waiting to speak. The Raha/Havaar letter alleges that he harassed and “poked” a young women who was prepared to speak in support of the resolution. At the time of this alleged attack, I was standing one person behind Ardeshir and had an unobstructed view of him and the woman. They were both arguing and Ardeshir was getting loud. I asked him to lower his voice, which he did. That was it. There was no poking. (The Raha/Haavar resolution was overwhelmingly defeated.)

* The letter states that, at a Raha panel discussion at the same conference, Ardeshir “had to be asked repeatedly by conference security to stop calling members of Raha ‘C.I.A. agents’ and ‘State Department propagandists’ and even to allow us to speak at all. Unable to engage in any respectful dialogue with the ideas Raha members and their allies were advocating, he simply stormed out of the panel.” I was present at that workshop. After the panelists spoke, Ardeshir raised his hand, was called on and started to disagree with the speakers. Raha supporters immediately called on him to be quiet. He got loud and the supporters got louder. Ardeshir then accused the Raha supporters of using a double standard for free speech and left the room. That was it.

* At a June 2010 U.S. Social Forum workshop hosted by Raha and a similar group called Where Is My Vote, the letter alleges that Ardeshir was “disruptive, insulting young women organizers and questioning their legitimacy in speaking at the conference at all.” I wasn’t there, but can believe he may have been insulting and questioned the group’s right to speak at that conference, just as Raha and Havaar are insulting AIFC and demanding that that group be banned from the antiwar movement. Rude? Sure. Disruptive? No.

* The final charge: That at a February 2012 anti-war rally in New York City, “Ommani attempted to physically knock an Iranian woman off of the speakers’ platform.” What actually happened? The rally and a march were part of a national day of actions held under the slogan “No War, No Sanctions, No Assassinations, No Interference!” With signs and banners, Havaar and Raha were promoting their own slogans denouncing the Iranian government. At the end of the rally, according to Kazem Azim of the group Solidarity Iran, who was standing by the speakers’ mic at the time, “Eight or nine people approached the chair the speakers were using to stand on. One of them grabbed the mic, got up on the chair and started denouncing the Iranian government.” A video posted on YouTube shows the speaker almost losing her balance, then quickly looking behind her at a white-hatted Ardeshir. Check out the video yourself. (2) It’s hard to be sure, but it looks like someone may have jostled the chair. However, the speaker clearly has not been “knocked,” quickly regains her footing and is allowed to finish her remarks, even though she was not a scheduled speaker and had in fact seized the mic. Conclusion: you shouldn’t jostle a chair if someone is standing on it, and it’s also not polite to seize mics at other peoples rallies.

Lying, as a calculated tactic

Now I’d like to relate my own incident, also from the UNAC conference. After Raha’s panel presentations, I made a comment from the floor in which I said that, although I disagreed with the speakers’ analysis of Iran’s internal situation, and even though it’s true that wealthy Americans like George Soros are trying to influence Iran’s Green Movement, I did not believe that Iran’s dissident movement was a creation of the U.S. State Department or the CIA. A young Iranian man sitting not four feet from me immediately shouted to the audience that I had just accused the Green Movement of being a creation of the U.S. State Department and the CIA. He could not have misunderstood me, and I immediately and pointedly corrected him. He was deliberately lying about what I had just said. (Side point: I’m a member of UNAC’s Coordinating Committee. Even though Raha was not a member of UNAC, I had argued, successfully, that they should be allowed to sponsor a workshop at the conference. I also organized a workshop on Iran, and argued that we should debate our differences in public. I attended Raha’s workshop. They did not attend mine.)

My conclusion from all these incidents is that Raha and Havaar have consciously decided to lie, as a deliberate political tactic, accusing their political opponents of threats and physical violence where there are none, or taking a minor incident and falsely exaggerating it to make it seem like a vicious attack. In the case of AIFC, they have seized on some uncivil behavior by one single person and have deliberately lied about the details in order to cast the entire AIFC as a physically thuggish group beyond the pale of the antiwar movement – and to project AIFC as leading “a series of physical and verbal attacks on Iranian activists and their allies” by like-minded organizations.

The real target: the anti-imperialist left

But, as stated above, AIFC is not the real target of these attacks, as the Raha/Havaar letter explains:

“They [AIFC] are not alone but work with the Workers World Party and the International Action Center to give left cover to the Iranian government and to infuse the anti-war movement with pro-Islamic Republic politics.”

OK, now we’re getting down to the real issues.

There are those in the anti-war movement who oppose U.S. wars, but not necessarily the objectives of those wars. The most obvious example were those organizations that, in the build-up to the first Persian Gulf war in 1991, promoted the slogan “Let the sanctions work.” They did work. They severely weakened Iraq’s ability to defend itself from aggression and resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis, a third of them children.

Later, some of these same groups supported the U.S./NATO “humanitarian intervention” in the former Yugoslavia, in which more bombs were dropped on that small country than by the Allies on all of Europe in World War II. More recently, there was the frantic demand that “somebody” do “something” about the mounting violence in Libya. Somebody did do something: the U.S. bombed the Libyan government out of existence. In all these instances, it was the so-called “moderates” who gave a left cover to Washington.

The anti-imperialist wing of the anti-war movement, represented by organizations like the IAC, WWP, ANSWER, UNAC, AIFC, the Defenders and many others, oppose any U.S. wars, sanctions, blockades, threats, sabotage or covert intervention in the internal affairs of formerly colonized or oppressed countries. The character of the targeted country’s government isn’t what’s decisive – the deciding factor is opposing imperialism, while respecting the right of oppressed peoples to choose their own roads to liberation. That’s what it means to respect the right of oppressed peoples to self-determination.

Who are Raha and Havaar?

The Raha Iranian Feminist Collective, which includes both men and women, was founded in New York City just after the 2009 Iranian presidential election. According to its Mission Statement, “We seek to support the aspirations of the democratic movements in Iran while also opposing U.S. economic and military intervention. (3)

Havaar, a more recent formation, describes itself as a “grassroots group” that stands “in solidarity with the Iranian people’s struggle against war and sanctions and against state repression.” (4)

In fact, supporting opponents of the Iranian government is Raha/Havaar’s main activity. While they pay lip service to opposing war and sanctions, their focus is almost exclusively on trying to convince the U.S. antiwar movement to support Iran’s Green Movement. That was the focus of their workshops at the 2012 national conferences of UNAC in Stamford, Conn.; the Left Forum in New York City; and the People’s Summit during the NATO conference in Chicago, as well as their intervention in various antiwar marches and rallies.

For a description of Havaar’s real agenda, check out a 2012 talk by one of their representatives posted on the cable and Internet program “Struggle” ( In the video, a young woman identified only as a “speaker at a Havaar event, unnamed for security reasons” is explicit about the group’s purpose:

“… many of the groups that tend to dominate the kind of consistently anti-imperialistic wing of the antiwar movement, the people who show up, no matter what, are either silent about the repressive actions by states targeted by the U.S. or they openly support those states. … In fact, Havaar actually formed because anti-war rallies were too often turned into spaces of support for the Islamic Republic … so we didn’t want to participate in that kind of betrayal, so we decided to try and create a space for an ethical anti-war movement. The first time we tried to do this, to bring science to an anti-war rally in New York, last February, we were meant with physical and verbal attempts to silence our message.”

The speaker’s conclusion? “Do not have pro-Iranian government activists in your antiwar coalitions.”

The New York rally the speaker refers to is the one at which the Raha/Havaar letter accuses Ardeshir Ommani of a physical attack. Here’s a different version of Havaar’s role at that protest, by Sara Founders of the International Action Center, a leading member of the coalition sponsoring the protest:

“Raha and Havaar flooded the Iran demonstration against war and sanctions with more than 100 of their Green signs against repression in Iran. They tried to dominate with their chants attacking Iran. They were so opposed to any message that was strictly antiwar and no U.S. intervention that they put their signs into every media camera and blocked interviews. They waved an ugly caricature of a ‘mullah’ behind me as I spoke.

“On the march, they tried to put their banner and signs in front of the lead banner. I explained, as one of the coordinators of the coalition, that the lead banner with the slogans “No War, No Sanctions, No Assassinations, No Intervention” had been collectively decided by the coalition as the front banner. So please respect this democratic process. They waved their signs right in my face and the young woman I was speaking to turned to the others and claimed I was threatening her and abusing her. I responded that I was three times her age, had not even raised my voice and she should show some respect both to me and to the coalition.”

So here’s an organization that tries to take over a protest organized by a coalition they are not part of, tries to position their banner, with opposing slogans, at the head of the march, seizes the speakers’ mic to deliver an opposing message – and then complains that it is being excluded from the protest, even though it clearly is not.

Meanwhile, it calls on the antiwar movement to expel from its ranks organizations that don’t agree with their line on criticizing governments targeted by U.S. imperialism.

This is “democracy,” Raha/Havaar-style.

Feigning Left, Charging Right

As this piece is being written, Havaar is calling for a protest on Sept. 25 to demand “No to war against Iran! No to sanctions against Iran! No to state repression by the Iranian government!” Its online announcement says this will be a “Demonstration Against Ahmadinejad, Netanyahu, Obama & Their Threats to Iranian People.” (5)

So will the protest be at the United Nations, where all three leaders will be speaking?

No. It will be outside the hotel where President Ahmadinejad is expected to stay while in New York. Really.

Following this line of equating Iran, Israel and the U.S., the Raha/Havaar letter attacking AIFC concludes by stating, “In our view, the Iranian state, the Israeli state, and the U.S. state each are guilty of repressing popular democratic movements. Standing in solidarity with others engaged in similar struggles, we will organize against the vicious and autocratic measures of these governments until we are free – from the U.S. to Iran to Palestine and beyond.”

In this view, the Iranian, Israeli and U.S. governments are all equally reprehensible – in effect equating the treatment of political dissidents in Iran with the sufferings of the entire Palestinian people and the reactionary, racist, repressive role of the U.S. ruling 1 percent both at home and abroad.

Raha/Havaar and the CPD: A new manifestation of an old pro-imperialist line

One reason Raha and Havaar are angry at AIFC is that, earlier this year, that group issued a report documenting that some Raha/Havaar members have received grants from organizations that promote a pro-Israeli agenda. In their letter, the two groups accuse AIFC of exposing their families in Iran to state repression, or making it dangerous for them to travel there themselves. This seems a little disingenuous, since all of the information is readily available on the Internet. Besides, if you claim to support the Palestinian people and yet take money from pro-Israeli groups, sooner or later somebody is going to point that out.

More revealing are the relationships Raha/Havaar promote in public.

At the 2012 UNAC conference, Raha shared its workshop panel with a representative from the pro-free market Campaign for Peace and Democracy. The CPD, which pays a mentoring role for the two groups, was founded in 1982 as the Campaign for Peace and Democracy/East and West, with the goal of promoting anti-socialist movements in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. In the case of Cuba, the CPD went to bat for about 75 Cuban “dissidents” imprisoned in 2003, some of whom had openly accepted money from the U.S. for counterrevolutionary activities. (6)

The CPD takes the same approach toward Iran, stating that “We too would like to see a regime change in Tehran, but one brought about by the Iranian people themselves, not by Washington.” (7)

But, like Cuba, Iran isn’t targeted by the U.S. because of any issue of democracy or human rights. It’s because, like Cuba, Iran refuses to bow down to the Empire, a dangerous position to take anywhere, but especially in the oil-rich Middle East.

What’s interesting is how the CPD’s attacks on foreign governments coincide with virtually indistinguishable attacks by the U.S government. The group’s demonization of Saddam Hussein mimicked the U.S. government’s and mainstream media’s barrage of “getting rid of the evil dictator” as a way to sway public opinion to support the bombing of Iraq.

The CPD states that “we encourage democracy and social justice by promoting solidarity with activists and progressive movements throughout the world,” (8) but their history shows that they support some “democracy” movements but not others. At the same time the U.S. was covertly pursuing the downfall of socialist governments in Eastern Europe, the CPD focused on supporting the so-called “color revolutions” as vigorously as Ronald Reagan and the neocons.

Now it’s Iran that’s the focus of CPD’s selective indignation, just as Iran is now the focus of the U.S. State Department. While the CPD expressed outrage at the 2009 Iranian elections, it was silent about the U.S.-backed coup carried out at the same time in Honduras, ushering in a massive and murderous repression against the Honduran people. Again, the CPD was working in tandem with U.S. foreign policy. Instead of exposing the distortions and deceptions that comprise Washington’s campaigns for war, the CPD works to legitimize them from within the antiwar movement.

Aligning with and promoting Raha/Havaar isn’t the first time the CPD has tried to promote its politics in the antiwar arena. In 2010, it introduced a resolution at the founding conference of UNAC, held in Albany, New York. The CPD resolution, which condemned the Ahmadinejad government along with war and sanctions, was defeated by a 2-1 margin, after the conference attendees accepted the argument that it wasn’t the role of the U.S. movement to take sides on internal matters in Iran.
Instead, the conference unanimously passed a resolution against war and sanctions initiated by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality and co-sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the International Action Center. That resolution purposely did not address internal issues in Iran.

The CPD’s position, soundly defeated in 2010, now reappears as the political agenda of Raha and Havaar.

What is the Reality in Iran Today?

Raha and Havaar describe the Iranian government as thoroughly reactionary, brutal and illegitimate. In their view, no one except the clerics have gained anything from the Iranian Revolution. To them, Iran is just one great, big, miserable concentration camp in which 75 million Iranians spend every day yearning for the collapse of their government.

This is also a lie. If it weren’t, the Iranian people, who waged three revolutions against their governments in the 20th century, would have already overthrown this one.

But let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that groups like Raha and Havaar are right – that Iran’s government is thoroughly backward, repressive, corrupt, whatever. I don’t agree, but let’s say for a minute that it is. Here are a few hard facts that don’t fit into that bleak picture.

What Raha/Havaar leave out: The Revolution materially benefited workers and the poor

Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, poverty has been reduced to one-eighth of what it was under the Shah. (9)

Under the Shah, about a third of university students were women. By 2010, the figure was 65 percent. (10)

One of the Revolution’s first priorities was to extend electricity to the countryside, where the most of the population lived. In 1977, only 16.2 percent of rural households had access to electricity. By 2004, the figure was 98.3 percent. (11) This meant a real revolution in the lives of the rural poor, especially women. Can you imagine what it must have meant for a rural family to be able to get a refrigerator? Not to have to buy fresh food every day, to be able to cook a meal and store the leftovers? To have electric lights, a radio, a television set and other modern appliances? Aren’t these important achievements? Especially for women? Or don’t the lives of poor and working-class women matter?

Another priority of the new government was the extension of health care to the countryside and inner cities. In fact, universal access to health care is guaranteed by the Iranian Constitution. Iran today is dotted with local clinics where trained medical personnel treat minor injuries and illnesses and can refer more serious cases to regional hospitals. These “health houses” are dramatically extending the lives of the working poor. (12) That’s not an important advance?

The government offers free schooling up through the university level. And even though there are not enough places in the universities to accommodate everyone, the majority of students are now women.

Women now work in virtually every profession in Iran. They are truck drivers, athletes, factory workers, retail clerks, scientists, movie directors and business owners. Yes, the law says women have to cover their hair, arms and legs. But, unlike in Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally, they can leave the house without a male escort, drive, vote and run for office.

And Iran, routinely accused of virulent anti-Semitism, has the largest Jewish population in the region outside of Israel. Tehran has 11 functioning synagogues, several kosher meat shops, a Jewish hospital and a government-funded Jewish community center. Like Christians and Zoroastrians, Iranian Jews are guaranteed representation in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament.

Isn’t any of this worth mentioning?

Sure it is – unless your goal is to present a completely distorted view of Iran. In other words, to lie.

The Class Character of Iran’s Green Movement

Organizations like Raha and Havaar play into the Western-promoted view that there are just two sides in Iran: the people, and a repressive government. Period.

What we’re not told is that the major division in Iranian society today is class. While the major industries like gas and oil are, by law, owned by the government, there is a substantial private sector with its own economic and political agenda. It is this sector, along with the more privileged professionals, technicians and university students, that is the social basis for the anti-government movement. Even the Western media admits that it was mainly the middle and upper classes that supported Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main presidential challenger in 2009, as well as the protests that followed that election, while it’s the poor and the working class that provide the political support for President Ahmadinejad. (13)

As I stated at the UNAC conference, I don’t believe Iran’s Green Movement is a creation of the CIA or other Western agencies, although it’s no secret that some Iranian dissidents do get funding from the U.S. (14) Rather, it’s the result of contradictions left unresolved since the 1979 Revolution, particularly the question of which class will most benefit from that revolution: the more Western-oriented middle and upper classes, or the workers and poor.

Odd, isn’t it, that these kind of issues so rarely make it into any debate about Iran? And are never raised by groups like Raha or Havaar, whose members also come from the highly educated middle class.

Without a doubt, many of those who took to the streets in Tehran and other cities after the 2009 election were motivated by a sincere belief that the election was unfair, and also wanted a loosening of what they saw as social and political restrictions. And some of these suffered unjustly for taking part in the protests, prompting Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to order the closing of Kahrizak Prison, where some of those arrested in the protests were being held by. (15)

But there also are other forces opposing the Iranian government.

Not All “Democrats” are Democratic

There are the royalists, who want to bring back a Shah. You see their supporters at anti-Iranian protests in the U.S., waving the old Shah-era Iranian flag with the lion and sword.

There are the armed groups that carry out attacks on government forces, such as the PKK in the Northwest, Jundallah in the Southeast and the MKO, which until recently operated with U.S. protection from bases in Iraq. Even though some of these violent organizations have been exposed as receiving substantial financial and military support from the U.S., (16) they all claim to be promoting “democracy and social justice.”

Then there are the wealthy, ideological and disproportionately influential elements in the “pro-democracy” movement that promote a neocon agenda of privatization of the government-owned sections of the economy, particularly the oil and gas industries; deregulation of business and industry; and drastically scaling back social services for the poor. In the U.S. political context, that’s the Tea Party movement – complete with anti-government diatribes. (17)

And there’s the matter of the tens of millions of dollars spent by first the Bush/Cheney and now Obama administrations to support Iranian “dissidents,” most of whom choose to live in the United States. (14)

With its unqualified slogans, Raha and Havaar in effect are asking the U.S. antiwar movement to declare its unconditional support for all these forces, without distinction.

In Conclusion

Are there real problems in Iran? Sure. Abortion is against the law – just like it is in 40 other countries, including Ireland and Brazil. (And it’s under pretty severe attack right now in Virginia.) The judiciary can be arbitrary. Abuses have taken place, as has been acknowledged by both Iran’s Supreme Leader and its president.

But by every honest measure, Iran is probably the most democratic country in the Middle East or South Asian regions. (I know, that’s supposed to be Israel, but that’s like saying saying apartheid South Africa was a great place for white people.)

Unlike in many Middle Eastern countries that are strong allies of the U.S., there are local and national elections, the majority of the people actually vote, including women, the political pendulum does swing right and left, there are real struggles between different government factions that are covered in the news media, and the average Iranian is quick to offer his or her opinion about political matters.

Are there restrictions on civil liberties? Even examples of state repression? Yes, there are, although the Green Movement also has a history of making wildly false charges. (18)

But it’s important to remember that this is a situation in which the U.S., other Western powers and Israel are objectively at war against Iran: increasingly onerous sanctions; assassinations of scientists; industrial sabotage, including the infamous Stuxnet computer virus; and – according to crack investigative reporter Seymour Hersh – actual boots-on-the ground U.S. Special Ops training of violent, military, anti-government organizations such as the Jundallah. And now there’s the political rehabilitation of the MKO, a murderous, cult-like organization that for the last 30 years even the U.S State Department has classified as terrorist.

Under these conditions, it would be impossible for any country to allow a full range of civil liberties. But to portray Iran and its government in totally negative terms, completely ignoring the many achievements Iran has made over the last 30 years in the areas of poverty reduction, education, health care and the status of women, especially those from the “lower” classes, is more than simply dishonest.

Promoting such a view – at precisely the same time that Western powers and Israel are engaged in a coordinated political, economic, diplomatic and covert military offensive against Iran – means consciously or unconsciously lining up with the forces of reaction and imperialism.

This is not the time to try and undermine the government of Iran, which, like it or not, is the only force standing between the Iranian people and imperialist domination.

And it’s no time to try and undermine the anti-imperialist left.

Phil Wilayto, a former organizer in the Vietnam-era GI Movement, is a lifelong activist in the labor, anti-racist and anti-war movements, based in Richmond, Virginia. He is the Editor of The Virginia Defender; Board Member of the Campaign Against Sanctions & Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII); and Member of the Coordinating Committee of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC). Among his written works are “In Defense of Iran: Notes from a U.S. Peace Delegation’s Journey through the Islamic Republic;” “An Open Letter to the Antiwar Movement: How should we react to events in Iran?” (June 2009); and “Two petitions, two approaches toward defending Iran,” a response to CPD attacks on Iran. He accepts no financial compensation from any government or foundation for his political work. He making his living as a self-employed, blue-collar worker. He can be reached at:



(2) “No War On Iran NYC Protest Feb/4/12” –





(7) “Iran: Neither U.S. Aggression nor the Theocratic Repression”


(9) “Revolution and Redistribution in Iran: Poverty and Inequality 25 Years Later” by Djavad Salehi-Isfani, Department of Economics, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va. –


(11) “Revolution and Redistribution in Iran: Poverty and Inequality 25 Years Later” by Djavad Salehi-Isfani, Department of Economics, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va. Http://


(13) 2009 poll by Terror Free Tomorrow, a U.S. nonprofit that incudes on its Advisory Board U.S. Sen. John McCain, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader William Frist, former U.S. Sen. Charles Robb and former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean.

(14) “U.S. Grants support to Iranian dissidents” – USA Today, 6/28/19 –


(16) “Who supports Jundallah?” PBS Frontline, 10/22/09 –

(17) – -

(18) ”An Open Letter to the Ant-War Movement: How should we respond to the events in Iran?” By Phil Wilayto – June 2009 –

US Imperialists Admit That 2,000 of Its Troops Have Been Killed in Afghanistan

30 September 2012
Last updated at 09:57 ET

US military death toll in Afghanistan reaches 2,000

Nato troops will withdraw by the end of 2014, but a number will remain to train Afghan security forces

A checkpoint shooting in eastern Afghanistan has taken the US military's death toll in the war past 2,000.

A US soldier and contractor were killed while three Afghan soldiers died and four were injured.

Initial reports from ISAF said the soldier was believed to have been killed by a member of the Afghan security services but it later said the circumstances were unclear.

The new deaths occurred on Saturday in Wardak province.

The American death toll goes back to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

'Checkpoint row'

Sunday's incident took place at a checkpoint near an Afghan National Army base in the district of Sayedabad, according to Afghan officials.

Shahidullah Shahid, a provincial government spokesman, earlier told the Associated Press news agency that an Afghan soldier had turned his gun on Americans and started shooting.

"Initial reports indicate that a misunderstanding happened between Afghan army soldiers and American soldiers," he said.

But Isaf later said an American soldier and an American contractor, along with three Afghan soldiers, were killed in an exchange of fire in Wardak province in confusing circumstances that may have involved insurgent activity.

Military officials from both sides have launched a joint investigation.

Two thousand dead

The figure of 2,000 deaths was given by US officials on Sunday. During the war in Iraq, 4,409 American soldiers were killed.

As of 27 September, the Pentagon's official military death toll for Afghanistan had stood at 1,996.

The count includes both soldiers killed in action and soldiers who died of their injuries in hospital. The figure also covers 339 non-combat deaths.

A report by the Brookings Institution estimates that 40.2% of US deaths were caused by improvised explosive devices and 30.3% by gun attacks.

Officially, at least 17,644 US soldiers have been wounded in action in Afghanistan.

The independent organisation iCasualties estimates a higher US death toll, recording 2,125 to date.

This same source reports 1,066 deaths of non-US members of the coalition in Afghanistan. Since the war began, 433 British soldiers have been killed.

It is more difficult to establish the Afghan toll in the war but most estimates calculate a minimum of 20,000 civilian deaths, AP notes.

Some 10,000 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed. No reliable figures exist for deaths among the Taliban and other insurgents.

Nato combat troops are set to withdraw by the end of 2014, but a central plank of the strategy is that foreign soldiers will serve alongside and train Afghans for many years to come.

Correspondents say that may not be realistic given the ever increasing number of Afghans who turn their weapons on their foreign allies.

Wave of Bomb Attacks Kills 26 in Iraq

September 30, 2012

Wave of Bomb Attacks Kills 26 in Iraq

by VOA News

Iraqi officials say a wave of bombings struck Shi'ite neighborhoods, security forces and other targets across the country Sunday, killing at least 26 people and wounding scores of others. At least eight cities and towns were hit.

The deadliest attack occurred in Taji, a former al-Qaida stronghold just north of the capital, Baghdad. Three car bombs went off within minutes of each other there, killing at least eight people and wounded more than 24 others, including several policemen.

A suicide bomber in the southern city of Kut killed at least three police officers and wounded several others. And in Balad Ruz, northeast of the capital, a car bomb killed two policemen. Other areas hit with attacks included Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood, where multiple car bombs killed at least four people.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday's deadly explosions, but car bombs have been routinely used by al-Qaida's local affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq. The group says it has begun a new offensive against mainly Shi'ite targets in Iraq.

Three weeks ago, a similar wave of bombings killed more than 90 people during a 24-hour period that coincided with an Iraqi court sentencing the country's fugitive Sunni vice president to death for murder.

Iraq's bloodshed peaked in 2006-2007 when sectarian fighting killed thousands of people.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

South Sudan to Re-start Oil Production As Soon As Possible

Oil company: South Sudan to re-start oil production as soon as possible

By Associated Press, Published: September 28

JUBA, South Sudan — The oil company Dar Petroleum said Friday it will begin oil production in South Sudan as soon as possible following a security deal signed with Sudan, though getting back to full production remains several months away.

Dar Petroleum President Sun Xiansheng promised investors and South Sudan’s government that the company will eventually return production to an average of 180,000 barrels per day.

South Sudan in January shut down its oil production after accusing Sudan of stealing its crude.

When South Sudan peacefully broke away from Sudan last year, it inherited the majority of the region’s oil. But South Sudan’s oil must be pumped through pipes owned by Sudan, which said it had taken the south’s oil in lieu of unpaid fees for the use of its export and processing facilities. When tensions increased, the south shut down its industry, costing both sides millions in lost revenue.

The two sides signed agreements Thursday after four days of talks between both countries’ presidents. Those agreements paved the way for a resumption of southern oil production.

Last month, South Sudan Oil Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau said it could take between four and six months before the Upper Nile fields reach full production again. Dar Petroleum’s general manager of exploration and production, Chen Huanlong, said that estimate is correct.

Huanlong said the company will need to “warm up the pipes” for one month. After that, Huanlong said they would “approach the production plateau” in three months. But Huanlong said this would happen only if the government contracts and orders were prepared as soon as possible.

Representatives of the Dar Petroleum consortium were jubilant on Friday, and said their meeting was in part a celebration following the eight-month shutdown.

Several speakers exhorted the gathered workers into chants for the consortium and for South Sudan. Baidzawi Chemat — Dar Petroleum’s general manager of finance and services — said he “felt euphoria” when the deal was signed in Ethiopia.

“Dar Petroleum contributes 80 to 90 percent of government revenue. We are the national builders. We will change the nation,” he said.

According to Baidzawi, if Dar Petroleum can deliver on its promised production target, it will mean around 65 million barrels each year worth around $5 billion for South Sudan.

Dar operates oil facilities in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State, which account for around 80 percent of the country’s oil production. Dar Petroleum is comprised of the Malaysian company Petronas, which owns 40 percent, and the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, which owns 41 percent. The remaining shares are held by South Sudan’s Nilepet and the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation.

The Thursday agreement will allow South Sudan to export its oil through the Sudanese pipelines. South Sudan will pay $9.10 per barrel for oil produced in Upper Nile state and $11.00 for oil produced in Unity State.

The oil fields in the state are in a remote region, and Xiansheng says restarting production will not be easy.

“We don’t have spare parts, we don’t have diesel, our cars have broken down,” he said.

South Sudan has not yet given an official order to resume oil production, but officials from the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining said the order is expected soon. The Ministry’s director general of petroleum, Mohamed Lino, said the ministry began preparing for the resumption of production one month ago.

Sudan Tells United Nations Its Debts Must Be Canceled

Sudan tells United Nations its debts must be canceled

1:41 PM CDT, September 29, 2012

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Sudan told the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday that its debts must be canceled and its economy supported as it struggles to recover from losing three-quarters of its critical oil revenue to South Sudan when it seceded a year ago.

The International Monetary Fund this week urged Sudan to meet donors to discuss debt relief and some IMF board members called for "exceptional efforts" from the IMF and the global community to help Sudan reduce its debt of about $40 billion.

"Sudan requires assistance to go through this very sensitive stage towards better horizons. For that we believe that debts must be canceled and its economy supported," Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti said.

South Sudan seceded in July 2011. Leaders from both states finally reached a border security deal on Wednesday to restart badly needed oil exports, but failed to solve the other key conflicts left over from when they split.

The pair failed to settle the fate of at least five disputed oil-producing regions along the border. Tensions over the unmarked 1,200-mile (1930-km) common border spilled over into fighting in April, when South Sudan's army briefly occupied the Heglig oilfield, vital to Sudan's economy.

They were also unable to reach a solution for the border region of Abyei, which has symbolic significance to both and is rich in grazing lands. Plans for a referendum have failed over the question of who should participate.

"We have been determined to tackle the reasons for war and strife despite the strong economic and political pressures being brought to bear against my country and unfair sanctions imposed by the United States," Karti said.

Washington still maintains its 1997 embargo on the country over Sudan's role in hosting prominent Islamist militants. The sanctions restrict U.S. trade and investment with Sudan and block the assets of the Sudanese government.

The United States and other powers criticize Sudan for human rights violations and a harsh crackdown on rebels. Western powers also shun Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir who was indicted by the International Criminal Court over war crimes in Darfur, the site of a nearly decade-old insurgency.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Sandra Maler)

In Libya, Security Was Lax Before Attack That Killed U.S. Ambassador, Officials Say

In Libya, security was lax before attack that killed U.S. ambassador, officials say

By Ernesto LondoƱo and Abigail Hauslohner, Saturday, September 29, 2:12 PM
Washington Post

On the eve of his death, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was ebullient as he returned for the first time in his new role to Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city that embraced him as a savior during last year’s civil war. He moved around the coastal town in an armored vehicle and held a marathon of meetings, his handful of bodyguards trailing discreetly behind.

But as Stevens met with Benghazi civic leaders, U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.

A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.

The two U.S. compounds where Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a sustained, brutal attack the night of Sept. 11, proved to be strikingly vulnerable targets in an era of barricaded embassies and multibillion-dollar security contracts for U.S. diplomatic facilities in conflict zones, according to interviews with U.S. and Libyan officials and eyewitnesses in recent days.

Cautioned to be low-key

Days before the ambassador arrived from the embassy in Tripoli, a Libyan security official had warned an American diplomat that foreigners should keep a low profile in Benghazi because of growing threats. Other Westerners had fled the city, and the British had closed their consulate.

Despite the security inadequacies and the warning, Stevens traveled to Benghazi to meet openly with local leaders. Eager to establish a robust diplomatic presence in the cradle of the rebellion against Moammar Gaddafi, the ousted autocratic leader, U.S. officials appear to have overlooked the stark signs that militancy was on the rise.

This account of Stevens’s last days and the attack, which includes new details about security at the compound and the ambassador’s movements, was assembled from more than a dozen interviews with American officials, prominent Libyans and others familiar with the case. Most agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity.

The attack marked the first violent death of a serving ambassador in a generation and has become a thorn in President Obama’s reelection bid. It also raised the prospect that a country Washington assumed would become a staunch ally as it recovered from its short civil war could turn into a haven for fundamentalists.

U.S. officials investigating the assault say their preliminary assessment indicates that members of Ansar al-Sharia, a fundamentalist group with deep roots in Benghazi, carried out the attack with the help of a few militants linked to al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Africa. Intelligence officers and a team of FBI agents in Libya are continuing the investigation.

When bullets and rocket-propelled grenades started raining on the main U.S. compound Sept. 11, the small guard force was quickly overrun, and the building was set ablaze. That visual, along with the now-iconic image of a dying Stevens being dragged by Libyans toward safety, could have hardly been further from the message the veteran ambassador had traveled to Benghazi to spread: America is here to stay.

“The revolution started there,” said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing the ongoing probes into the attacks. “We wanted to make sure the U.S. was seen as interested in the views of the east. There was no greater advocate of that than Chris.”

‘Like his home’

Stevens was enthralled to be back in Benghazi, a city where he had served the year before as a special envoy to the rebels, said a close Libyan friend who was by his side Sept. 10.

“He had connections, contacts all over the eastern part of the country,” said the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he fears that his close affiliation with Americans poses a risk. “Benghazi was like his home. He wore jeans. He used to run outside the compound. He felt very safe going to markets, to the square, meeting friends for coffee.”

The main purpose of Stevens’s visit was opening an education and cultural facility that would be called “the American space.” The initiative was a cornerstone of his goal of deepening Washington’s relationship with Libya, an oil-rich nation emerging from four decades of Gaddafi’s rule.

Once a nuclear threat and avowed nemesis of the West, Libya appeared poised to become a close ally in a region seething with anti-American sentiment. After all, NATO airstrikes had helped save Benghazi, the capital of the rebels in the civil war, and turn the tide against Gaddafi’s forces. Stevens was transfixed by the possibilities.

“He lost friends during the revolution, as did almost every Libyan, and he respected their losses,” Hannah Draper, a Foreign Service officer stationed in Tripoli wrote in a tribute to Stevens posted on her blog. “He supported the revolution, but his real passion was rebuilding a free Libya.”

Two weeks before his death, Stevens had taken an important step toward normalizing relations with Libya by opening a full-services consular section in Tripoli, enabling Libyans to apply for visas.

“Since returning to Libya as ambassador in May, there’s one question I’ve heard almost every day from Libyans: ‘When are you going to start issuing visas again?’ ” Stevens told attendants at the Aug. 26 groundbreaking of the consular section. “Now, at last, you have your answer: Tomorrow.”

Insecurity has beset Libya since the country’s civil war ended in October 2011 with Gaddafi’s dramatic execution. Militias have been reluctant to disband or surrender weapons. After the U.S. Embassy formally reopened in Tripoli last fall, the U.S. military’s Africa command dispatched a team to help build its security infrastructure. The troops, however, were never assigned to bolster security at the site in Benghazi, said Eric Elliott, a spokesman for the Africa command. Elliott and the State Department could not say why.

During the summer, the military team became smaller as the State Department assumed responsibility for security at the embassy at the end of July. Those who remained turned their attention to building a relationship with Libya’s burgeoning armed forces, Elliott said.

Inexpensive contractors

The Benghazi compound was an anomaly for U.S. diplomatic posts. It was not a formal consulate and certainly not an embassy. It was a liaison office established before Gaddafi’s ouster. It was staffed by the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, a State Department office that dispatches government officials to hardship posts for short tours. Instead of signing a costly security contract similar to those the government has for facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, the State Department this summer awarded a contract to Blue Mountain, a small British security firm, to provide local guards at the Benghazi compound. The year-long contract, which took effect in March, was worth $387,413, a minuscule sum for war-zone contracting. Blue Mountain and the State Department declined to comment for this article.

Security in eastern Libya deteriorated sharply in recent months. A string of attacks, some linked to fundamentalist groups, made clear that Westerners were no longer safe. The International Committee of the Red Cross suspended operations and evacuated staff in the east after an attack June 12 on its compound in the port city of Misrata. In Benghazi, convoys transporting the U.N. country chief and the British ambassador were attacked in April and June, respectively. The British government shut down its consulate soon afterward.

The U.S. outpost had a close call of its own June 6, when a small roadside bomb detonated outside the walls, causing no injuries or significant damage. But the Americans stayed put.

Geoff Porter, a risk and security analyst who specializes in North Africa, said the sudden and stark shift from “predictable violence to terrorism” in the east over the summer was unmistakable.

“The U.S. intelligence apparatus must have had a sense the environment was shifting,” he said.

But if Stevens was deeply worried about deteriorating security, as CNN has reported he wrote in an entry in his journal, he kept quiet, said the Libyan friend who was with him the day before the attack.

“We didn’t talk about attacks,” the friend said. “He would have never come on the anniversary of September 11th if he had had any concerns.”

Three days before the attack, a U.S. official in Benghazi met with security leaders to ask them about the threat level, a senior Libyan official in the east said on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The American did not disclose the ambassador’s visit.

“They told him, ‘Look, if there’s going to be any foreign presence [in the city], it better be discreet,’ ” the Libyan official said.

Attack timeline

The assault on the compound was launched from three directions around 9 p.m., the Libyan official said. Guards and members of militias friendly to the United States who responded to try to repel the attackers were shot in the legs, the official said, suggesting the gunmen had been instructed not to shoot to kill. Sean Smith, 34, an information management officer, died during that phase of the attack and Stevens, 52, was trapped and mortally injured.

A group of Americans managed to escape to a second compound about a mile away, according to the Libyan official and others with knowledge of the attack. The site was used by U.S. diplomatic and intelligence personnel, according to people briefed on the attack.

Soon after the evacuated Americans arrived there, the second location came under attack, according to the Libyan official and a Libyan fighter who assisted in the evacuation. The fighter — a member of the militia known as the February 17th Brigade, which was friendly toward the Americans — received a call from a counterpart in Tripoli. He said the Americans at the second compound needed help and told him to get in touch with a man named Paul. When the militia leader got the American on the phone, Paul told him not to send his men.

“Listen, my men have orders to shoot on sight, and the situation in the safe house is under control,” Peter told the militia leader, according to the account by the Libyan official.

In a lengthy firefight at the second compound, two former Navy SEALs who had been deployed to Benghazi as security contractors were killed. Hours later, the Americans who survived managed to get to the airport and flee the city.

This week, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli evacuated nonessential embassy staff, citing security risks. The Benghazi compound was an empty, burned-out husk.

Youssef Arish, whose family owns property next door to the facility and who remembers Stevens fondly, said most Libyans were bereft by the attack.

“It’s only a few people, and they don’t just hate America,” he said. “They hate the [Libyan] government; they consider them non-Muslims. They’re just a few people, but they’re going to hurt the relations between Libya and other” nations.

Hauslohner reported from Benghazi and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Plan Underway to Infiltrate Western-backed Forces in Somalia

Last Updated: Sep 28, 2012 - 2:55:47 AM

'Planned infiltration' of Somalia security forces by Al Shabaab: sources

27 Sep 27, 2012 - 11:45:11 AM
MOGADISHU, Somalia Sep. 27, 2012 (Garowe Online)

Confidential sources say that members of Al Shabaab group have prepared a “planned infiltration” of Somali security forces in Mogadishu, in consort with Islamist elements associated with recently elected Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Garowe Online reports.

The sources speak of a multifaceted strategy involving a number of factors, including external interference. Since withdrawing from Mogadishu in Aug. 2011, Al Shabaab fighters have lost other key towns in the face of a military offensive by TFG forces aided by AMISOM peacekeepers and troops from neighboring countries.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud
“Islamist elements associated with President Hassan [Sheikh Mohamud] are pursuing a policy of negotiating with Al Shabaab group, as Al Shabaab has been severely weakened in recent months and is in a desperate position,” said the sources.

The sources described a group known as ‘Damul Jadid’ (“new blood” in Arabic) as a breakaway faction of Al Islah Islamist group. Al-Islah is the Somali branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 2006, when Ethiopian troops backed by the West intervened in south-central Somalia and captured Mogadishu, Damul Jadid broke away from the moderate Al-Islah group and joined the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) insurgency against TFG forces aided by Ethiopian troops.

Officials close to President Hassan have told Somali journalists that the new president is “not a member” of Islamist groups, but indicated that the president “has friends” among Islamist community.

The sources in Mogadishu say 'Damul Jadid' elements, who helped to fund President Hassan’s election campaign with contributions from Qatar, are pursuing negotiations with Al Shabaab insurgents. Previously, Qatar government officials issued public remarks indicating political support for talks between the Somali government and Al Shabaab.

Many countries, including the U.S. and Ethiopia, oppose negotiations with Al Shabaab group, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda and responsible for relentless bombings, assassinations, and other terrorist attacks in Somalia.

However, the sources say there are efforts to incorporate Al Shabaab’s rank and file into the Somali security forces based in Mogadishu.

Last week, Hizbul Islam armed group announced it has withdrawn its allegiance from Al Shabaab, less than two weeks after President Hassan's election. READ: Hizbul Islam withdraws allegiance, says ‘Al Shabaab is weakened’

The sources raised concerns about the series of seemingly inter-connected developments in Mogadishu. The plan is for Al Shabaab fighters to “re-brand” themselves as Hizbul Islam members, according to our sources.

“Hizbul Islam would enter into negotiations with the Somali government with the ultimate outcome of a peace deal that would pave the way for Al Shabaab fighters to join and indeed infiltrate the national security forces, which have been trained over recent years with considerable Western funding and technical assistance, through the AMISOM mission in Mogadishu,” said one well-informed source.

Al Shabaab is blacklisted as an international terrorist group in Western countries and its members and affiliates are prosecuted.

It is not clear how advanced this strategy is or what role other external powers such as the U.S. government will play in this critical matter, but Al Shabaab extremist group has repeatedly rejected any negotiations with the Somali government.

“Even if there were negotiations, to what extent can the Somali government and the people trust Al Shabaab agents, and secondly, what impact will the incorporation of Al Shabaab fighters have on the psyche and rebuilding of the national forces?” asked one source.