Cheney’s Mission in the Middle East

Vice President Cheney has returned to the Middle East to meet with leaders in Egypt and Saudia Arabia, according to AFX. This is a continuation of the Middle East trip that the Veep cut short in case he was needed as the tiebreaking vote on the Senate budget and ANWR.

UPI reports that Cheney is hoping to convince Arab countries to sent troops to Iraq as the U.S. downsizes its forces. (h/t to Steve and Qusan).Juan Cole has scoured the Arab-language dailies to get to the bottom of Cheney’s mission. According to Dr. Cole, Baghdad’s Al-Azzam reports that Cheney is hoping to ensure that both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are willing to send troops to Iraq if necessary. Dar al-Hayat states that the Vice President is seeking a free trade deal with Egypt.

I posted last month about the newly-elected Egyptian leaders’ willingness to work with the U.S. and Britain on matters in Iraq, but as long as Cheney deals with Hosni Mubarak (a “sphinx to his people“), the U.S. will shy away from any collaborative efforts with the Muslim Brotherhood-associated opposition.

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On the heels of the election of as President of Chile, Ellen Johnson-Sirleif was inaugurated President of Liberia, becoming Africa’s first elected female leader. Would it ever happen in America? Munir at Diplomatic Times Review would like to know, adding that Pakistan and Bangladesh are the only Muslim countries to have elected female leaders. Secretary Rice and First Lady Bush attended the ceremony.###

World leaders met on Monday and are prepared to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council regarding the country’s nuclear projects. Consequentially, Arab nations are hoping that Israel will be forced to sign off on the Non-Proliferation Treaty, according to Lebanon’s Daily Star.Director of the UN Nuclear watchdog IAEA Mohammed ElBaradei explains to Christopher Dickey in next week’s Newsweek that he’s tired of the Iran situation, but “not yet ready” to make a decision. According to Der Spiegel, the U.S. can expect continued threats from Iran no matter Washington’s toughter stance, “now that the country has removed the seals on its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.”
Daanspeak has quite the roundup here.

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NewsHog:
Part One, The Back Story deals with the known truths and speculations about Iran’s nuclear program.
Part Two, Nuclear Iran
Part Three: Exploring the Military Option (forthcoming)
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TVNewswer reports that CNN has been added to the list of banned networks in Iran after a report in which a recent speech by President Amadinejad was mistakenly translated to state that Iran was pursuing “nuclear weapons,” when Amadinejad had actually said “nuclear energy.”###

CNN has apologized across all of its international networks, and the translator has been fired.###

Al-Jazeera, which is already banned in four Arab nations including Saudi Arabia and Iraq, is also banned in Iran.

Details of U.S. Airstrikes Unclear; al-Zawahiri Probably Alive

I sincerely hope that the still unconfirmed worldwide reports of Ayman al-Zawahri’s demise following Friday’s airstrikes near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border are true. But just in case, I’ve decided to go out on a limb with this exclusive, unconfirmed report.

I can find no more reason to believe that al-Zawahiri has been killed than I could find to believe Dr. al-Zawahri when he stated “you have been defeated” in a video message to President Bush last week.

Shah Zaman lost his three children in the attack (AP)While there is more than enough irrational exhuberance in the blogosphere regarding this mirage, let us focus for a moment on Friday’s reporting on the story by The New York Times.

Mohammed Khan originally filed this report for the New York Times on Friday:

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan. 13 — American planes crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal region and fired on residential compounds in a Pakistani village early this morning killing 18 people…. The planes targeted residential buildings in the Berkandi area of Damadola…. Witnesses from the village said that 14 of the dead belonged to one family.

Later in the day, the following account was published for the January 14, with Douglas Jehr added to Khan’s byline in a filing from Washington:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 — An American airstrike carried out on a village in the Bajaur tribal region of northwest early Friday was aimed at Ayman al-Zawahiri

Thanks for the timely update, alas, we WERE trying to kill a terrorist and not just some family gathering on the holy day. As the Reuters wire explains:

Major Chris Karns, a spokesman at US Central Command in Florida, the command responsible for the region, said there had been no official report of an attack in Pakistan.

Wonder if he’d be comfortable confirming that, whatever is was that occured was officially an attempt to kill, say, al-Qaeda’s #2?

(An earlier Reuters filing may have been most accurate in quoting the deputy chief minister of the northwest Pakistani province: “It shows a failure of foreign policy”).

FURTHERMORE, since the Pentagon would never miss its target (remember, Rumsfeld wasn’t even aware of the war plans), immediately the blame is placed on… you guessed it: “a Predator drone aircraft operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

courtesy NYTAs noted above, Khan leads with airstrikes from American planes killing 18 in a residential compound. Jehr’s update from Washington obscures the mention of deaths, attributing the report to Pakistani officials after leading with “American and Pakistani officials” saying that the strikes were aimed at Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Khan’s piece features quotes from a tribal parliamentarian from a nearby village, who claimed to have “a feeling that something nasty was going to happen” after seeing the drone hover over the area for three days.

If in fact it was a drone, “those are operational details that we don’t track,” according to Pentagon public affairs officer Maj. Todd Vichon who then proceeded to implicate the CIA, according to Khan’s original piece.

Jehr’s subsequent Washington filing provides a pedestal for this nonsense in the form of an asinine, most likely imagined statement phantom anonymous sources:

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment, but the attack was described by other American and Pakistani officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the operation.

The classified nature of WHAT operation?!?!? (Paging Mr. Calame….)
The cowboys cretins have the whole world so scared that, yeah, Al Jazeera is running the Times / ABC / CNN (apparently nobody wants credit for seeding this) story and NDTV.com of India even goes so far as to front with “Airstrike kills Ayman al-Zawahiri: Report

Jawa scours the Pakistani press for details, but comes up well short of anything AQ-related.

Still hesitating on cracking that bottle of bubbly? Never fear, as Andrew reports at the Counterterrorism Blog:

A reliable source with high-level U.S. contacts tells me that U.S. “really believes” we might have whacked him.

Our gullible subservience to an ignorant quasi-dictatorship may be even worse than revealed in Wednesday’s humiliating “death-to-democracy” Pew poll.

First, it’s conceivable to find innocent citizens guilty with no pretense… and now, everybody’s rushing to report a fallen enemy without so much as an eyewitness’ rumor to back up the story???

I’d prefer “innocent until proven guilty.” And I’m definitely sticking with “alive until proven otherwise.”

UPDATE (AP):

Two Pakistani officials told The Associated Press on Saturday that the CIA had acted on incorrect information, and al-Zawahri was not in the village of Damadola when it came under attack.

Reaction: Capt. Ed — “…[T]he US would prefer to capture targets like Zawahiri alive anyway…. The forensic results should be announced by tomorrow on the bodies retrieved immediately after the attack. Hopefully they will prove to have been AQ leadership, especially Zawahiri or even Osama himself. If not, then the CIA has some explaining to do….”

With all due respect, the CIA has yet to even comment on the attacks and appear to be a victim of Pentagon swiftboating.

I also can’t help but note that in factual reporting of Al-Qaeda’s so-called #2 (i.e. the man in last week’s video), the madman/physician’s name is spelled/pronounced “ZaWAhri,” however, the fictional character often cited by the Bush Administration is universally referred to as “ZawaHIri.”

We really are being toyed with. Just Admit It (Nothing’s Shocking).

Why is the U.S. After a Filmmaker for British TV?

Ali Fadhil (l) with Mustafa Kamil
[updated 25jan06]

Shortly after midnight last Saturday, U.S. troops used explosives to enter Dr. Fadhil’s Baghdad home. The soldiers began shooting haphazardly around the house where Fadhil, his wife and young children were sleeping.

Fadhil, an Iraqi physician, described the raid in Wednesday’s Guardian:

My three-year-old daughter Sarah woke to this nightmare. She pushed herself on to me and shouted “Daddy, Americans! They will take you! No, no, not like this daddy …”

U.S. Army officials later claimed that they had mistakenly entered the wrong house, but it was in fact the third time Dr. Fadhil’s home had been invaded by U.S. troops, as he explained to CBC radio Wednesday night [listen].

But it was no mistake. Today U.S. Brig. Gen. Donald Alston characterized the raid of Fadhil’s home as “appropriate,” according to CNN.

Dr. Fadhil is employed by Guardian Films for Channel 4’s “Dispatches” television documentary program in the UK. He recently won the 2005 Foreign Press Association young journalist of the year award for his reporting in Iraq.

A blue-eyed captain came to me holding my Handycam camcorder and questioned me aggressively: “Can you explain to me why you have this footage?”

I explained. “These are for a film we are making for Channel 4 Dispatches. There is nothing sinister about it.”

According to Fadhil’s account, he was then hooded and taken for questioning.

Dr. Ali Fadhil is best known for his fifteen documentary on the aftermath of 2004’s Fallujah battle, “The Fall and Fallout” [watch]. His current project was an investigation of British and American construction projects in Iraq and most likely exposed rampant corruption.

The director of the film, Callum Macrae, told the Guardian:

The timing and nature of this raid is extremely disturbing. It is only a few days since we first approached the US authorities and told them Ali was doing this investigation, and asked them then to grant him an interview about our findings.

We need a convincing assurance from the American authorities that this terrifying experience was not harassment and a crude attempt to discourage Ali’s investigation.

It seems there are absolutely no assurances for any journalist who is not embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq. Fadhil’s recordings were seized five days ago and have not been returned, and to this point it seems only the Guardian has had the nerve to expose these unacceptable and unnecessary military actions. These actions, followed by general acceptance, is yet another indicator that the U.S. truly has no intention of making Iraq a better, safer, and freer country any time soon, if ever.

UPDATE: Sheldon Rampton, of the essential Center for Media and Democracy blog, along with Professor Juan Cole, exposes the widespread disappearance of Iraqi bloggers / journalists. So far, Dr. Fadhil’s journalistic history has not been clarified in the press, however, as Mahablog suggested earlier this week, it is quite possible that this Fadhil is the same Dr. Fadhil who once authored the blogs Iraq the model and Free Iraqi.

UPDATE: Fadhil was interviewed January 25 by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now.