Sunday, August 13, 2006

Political news of the week take 19

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 18. 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Shia Embrace Partitioning of Iraq:
They have a new constitution, a new government and a new military. But faced with incessant sectarian bloodshed, Iraqis for the first time have begun openly discussing whether the only way to stop the violence is to remake the country they have just built.

Leaders of Iraq's powerful Shiite Muslim political bloc have begun aggressively promoting a radical plan to partition the country as a way of separating the warring sects. Some Iraqis are even talking about dividing the capital, with the Tigris River as a kind of Berlin Wall.

Shiites have long advocated some sort of autonomy in the south on par with the Kurds' 15-year-old enclave in the north, with its own defense forces and control over oil exploration. And the new constitution does allow provinces to team up into federal regions. But the latest effort, promulgated by Cabinet ministers, clerics and columnists, marks the first time they've advocated regional partition as a way of stemming violence.


Sunni leaders see nothing but greed in the new push -- the Shiites, they say, are taking advantage of the escalating violence to make an oil grab.

Iraq's oil is concentrated in the north and south, with much of the Sunni west and northwest desolate desert tundra, devoid of oil and gas.

"Controlling these areas will create a grand fortune that they can exploit," said Adnan Dulaymi, a leading Sunni Arab politician. "Their motive is that they are thirsty for control and power."

Still, even nationalists who favor a united Iraq acknowledge that sectarian warfare has gotten so out of hand that even the possibility of splitting the capital along the Tigris, which roughly divides the city between a mostly Shiite east and a mostly Sunni west, is being openly discussed.

Pullout Is Sticking Point in Cease-Fire Plan:
All of southern Lebanon was under virtual lockdown after Israeli aircraft dropped fliers warning that all non-humanitarian vehicles venturing out on roads south of the Litani River would risk being shot.

"Every vehicle, whatever its nature, which travels south of the Litani (River) will be bombed on suspicion of transporting rockets and arms for the terrorists," said the leaflets, which were signed by "the state of Israel." Aid vehicles were officially allowed to enter the security zone, but were all but stranded north of the Litani River after Israeli jets took out a secondary bridge north of Tyre that had been used to carry in aid shipments from Beirut.

"For the time being, Tyre is cut off," said Robin Lodge, spokesman for the U.N.'s World Food Program. "Food and fresh water are a problem. The supplies seem to be limited, and they're running out."

U.N. Security Council Adopts Resolution to End Fighting Between Israel and Hezbollah (Aug. 11):
The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Friday that calls for an end to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, and authorizes the deployment of 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers to help Lebanese troops take control of south Lebanon as Israel withdraws.


Using particularly strong language in remarks before the vote, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said hundreds of millions of people around the world shared his frustration that the council had taken so long to act. That inaction has "badly shaken the world's faith in its authority and integrity," he said.

"I would be remiss if I did not tell you how profoundly disappointed I am that the council did not reach this point much, much earlier," he said.


At the heart of the resolution are two elements: It seeks an immediate halt to the fighting that began July 12 when Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli troops along the Blue Line, the U.N.-demarcated border separating Israel; and it spells out a series of steps that would lead to a permanent cease-fire and long-term solution.

That would be done by creating a new buffer zone in south Lebanon "free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and UNIFIL" -- the acronym of the U.N. force deployed in the region since 1978. The force now has 2,000 troops; the resolution would expand it to a maximum of 15,000.

Israel expands campaign as U.N. passes deal:
With an expansion of its ground campaign under way, Israel bombed targets in southern Lebanon Saturday hours after the U.N. Security Council approved a proposal aimed at ending the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.


Israeli troops began moving Friday toward the Litani River, which runs about 15 miles (25 kilometers) north of the Israel-Lebanon border, Israel Defense Forces confirmed Saturday. The IDF said this was the farthest troops have advanced since the conflict erupted July 12.


Resolution 1701 calls for increasing the number of U.N. troops in the area from 2,000 to 15,000. They would be joined by 15,000 Lebanese troops and charged with ensuring Hezbollah could not operate anywhere between the Israel-Lebanon border and the Litani River.

The measure also calls for the unconditional release of two Israeli soldiers captured July 12 by Hezbollah. The action precipitated the conflict.

It also calls for a "full cessation of hostilities" and says that once a cease-fire has been achieved the Lebanese government will deploy its forces into southern Lebanon as Israel withdraws its soldiers from the area.

It was unclear exactly when a cease-fire would take effect. The Lebanese Cabinet was to meet Saturday to discuss the resolution and was expected to approve it.

The cessation of hostilities includes an end to Israeli "offensive operations." That, according to a senior U.S. State Department official, would mean Israel could continue to respond to Hezbollah attacks.

Lebanese U.N. Ambassador Nouhad Mahmoud said any cessation of hostilities should be unqualified, noting, "The Lebanese are not comfortable with the Israeli distinctions of what is defensive and what is offensive."

Israel, Hezbollah step up attacks as cease-fire deadline nears:
Israel and Hezbollah pounded targets with heavy missile barrages Sunday, looking to inflict maximum damage in the final hours before a cease-fire resolution was to go into effect.

Israel reported that 250 rockets hit its territory, including the port city of Haifa. At least one person was killed in the rocket attacks.

The Israel Defense Forces, meanwhile, launched what appeared to be one of the heaviest bombardments on southern Lebanon in the 33-day-old conflict, and struck targets in Beirut's southern suburbs.


"It's time to do all we can to destroy as much as we can of the infrastructure in the next 12 or 13 hours, and then we'll see what is next," former prime minister Ehud Barak told CNN.

Plane plot involved 'explosive cocktail,' official says:
Terrorists were in the "final stages" of a plot to simultaneously blow up as many as 10 jets leaving Britain for the U.S., sending the planes and thousands of passengers into the Atlantic Ocean, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday.

British and Pakistani authorities teamed up to thwart the attacks, and 24 men were arrested in overnight raids in Britain, authorities said.

An undercover British agent infiltrated the group, giving the authorities intelligence on the alleged plan, several U.S. government officials said.

The men had not bought plane tickets, the officials said, but they were in the process of perusing the Internet to find flights to various cities that had similar departure times.


A senior congressional source said it is believed the plotters planned to mix a British sports drink with a gel-like substance to make a potent explosive that could be ignited with an MP3 player or cell phone.

The sports drink could be combined with a peroxide-based paste to form a potent "explosive cocktail," if properly done, said a U.S. counterterrorism official.

U.S.: 'Do your attacks now' message triggered arrests:
Suspects in an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights received a message within the last three days in which they were advised, "Do your attacks now," according to U.S. sources.

The message, which was intercepted and decoded, was part of the reason authorities in Britain decided that an attack was imminent, possibly just a few days to a week away, according to an unclassified security memo sent to law enforcement agencies Friday by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Police also noticed increased Internet communication, and two men under surveillance had dropped out of sight, the memo said.

A British official said Friday that the "go ahead" message originated with an operative in Pakistan.

Source: U.S., U.K. at odds over timing of arrests:
NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.

A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.

In contrast to previous reports, the official suggested an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some did not even have passports.

The London Plot - An editorial in the New York Times:
On Wednesday, when the administration already knew that British agents were rounding up suspects in what they believed was a plot to blow up planes en route to the United States, Vice President Dick Cheney had a telephone interview with reporters to discuss the defeat of Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut in a Democratic primary. Mr. Cheney went off on a rather rambling disquisition, but its main point was clear: In rejecting Mr. Lieberman, who supported the war in Iraq, the Democrats were encouraging “the Al Qaeda types.” Within the Democratic ranks, the vice president added, “there’s a significant body of opinion that wants to go back — I guess the way I would describe it is sort of the pre-9/11 mind-set, in terms of how we deal with the world we live in.”

The man who beat Mr. Lieberman, Ned Lamont, lives in Greenwich, a suburb full of commuters who work in New York high-rise buildings. They are completely aware of the way international terrorism can come crashing down on an ordinary family, leaving the survivors stunned and bereft. A dozen of their neighbors died at the World Trade Center. They will never be able to go back to a “pre-9/11 mind-set.”

No lotion, long lines in U.S. airports
Airline passengers around the country stood in line for hours and airport trash bins bulged with everything from mouthwash and shaving cream to maple syrup and fine wine Thursday in a security crackdown prompted by the discovery of a terror plot in Britain.

U.S. authorities banned the carrying of liquids onto flights after the arrest of 24 people in an alleged plot to blow up U.S.-bound planes using explosives disguised as drinks and other common products.

The restrictions forced people to unpack their carry-on bags on the floor in the middle of terminals to remove the prohibited items. Some travelers tried to squeeze makeup, sunscreen and other toiletries into their checked baggage, where liquids were permissible.

But people without checked bags or those who had already given their luggage to their airline had to throw out the banned items.


The ban on liquids and gels covered such things as shampoo, toothpaste, contact lens solution, perfume and water bottles. The only exceptions were for baby formula and medications, which had to be presented for inspection at security checkpoints. Liquids were allowed in checked bags because those suitcases are screened for explosives and are stowed in the cargo hold beyond passengers' reach.

Airline screeners fail government bomb tests: 21 airports nationwide don’t detect bomb-making materials (dated March 17, 2006):
Imagine an explosion strong enough to blow a car's trunk apart, caused by a bomb inside a passenger plane. Government sources tell NBC News that federal investigators recently were able to carry materials needed to make a similar homemade bomb through security screening at 21 airports.

In all 21 airports tested, no machine, no swab, no screener anywhere stopped the bomb materials from getting through. Even when investigators deliberately triggered extra screening of bags, no one discovered the materials.


Investigators for the Government Accountability Office conducted the tests between October and January, at the request of Congress. The goal was to determine how vulnerable U.S. airlines are to a suicide bomber using cheap, readily available materials.

Investigators found recipes for homemade bombs from easily available public sources and bought the necessary chemicals and other materials over the counter. For security reasons, NBC News will not reveal any of the ingredients or the airports tested. The report itself is classified. But Lee Hamilton, the vice chairman of the 9/11 commission, says the fact that so many airports failed this test is a hugely important story that the American traveler is entitled to know.


NBC News asked a bomb technician to gather the same materials and assemble an explosive device to determine its power. The materials for the bomb that exploded a car's trunk fit in the palm of one hand. NBC News showed the results to Leo West, a former FBI bomb expert.

"Potentially, an explosion of that type could lead to the destruction of the aircraft," said West.

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