1) US Expects Troops in Iraq for Years (AP)
2) U.S. Sees Al-Qaeda Everywhere (IPS)
3) Elections Could Worsen Ethnic Divide (IPS)
4) Haiti: Perpetrators of serious past abuses re-emerge (Amnesty International)
WASHINGTON (Feb. 20) - American officials say U.S. forces will be needed in Iraq long after a sovereign government is restored this summer, but they have yet to work out the terms of a continued presence.
Senior Pentagon officials said Thursday they were confident that the Iraqis, once given political control, would agree U.S. troops should stay. But some outside the government question whether that would hold true once an elected Iraqi government took over.
Anthony Cordesman, a close observer of the Iraq situation as a strategist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that if political control was turned over on July 1 to an Iraqi body that is not elected, it likely would align itself with U.S. objectives and therefore welcome a continued U.S. military presence. But once elections were held, the U.S. role would be in doubt, he said.
If the new Iraqi government decided it wanted American forces to leave, ''We would certainly be obligated to leave, under international law,'' Cordesman said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's chief spokesman, Larry Di Rita, told reporters at the Pentagon that there is a ''fairly confident belief'' that most Iraqis accept the U.S. view that American troops will be needed over the long haul to ensure a stable transition to democracy.
The basis for a continued U.S. military presence under the authority of a transitional Iraqi government is ''being developed,'' Di Rita said without elaborating.
''I think there's a fairly comfortable understanding that the coalition has a lot to offer with respect to continued security in Iraq,'' Di Rita said, and ''that people in Iraq understand that (and) want the coalition to continue to be involved in security in some way.''
Di Rita did not define the roles that U.S. troops would play once the occupation ended. Other officials have said troops will be needed to guide the development of Iraqi internal security forces as well as build an Iraqi army that is capable of defending against external threats.
U.S. troops also will be engaged in combat as long as the insurgency remains active.
The legal basis for U.S. troops operating in any foreign country is normally
spelled out in a legal arrangement called a status of forces agreement,
which defines legal protections for U.S. troops accused of crimes in that
Without it, U.S. troops in Iraq would be subject to local Iraqi law, once the U.S. occupation authority is ended and a government is restored.
''That would be untenable,'' Cordesman said.
At this point it is unclear whether American authorities can work out such a complex legal agreement by June 30, when some form of transitional Iraqi government is due to take control.
Cordesman said U.S. officials at one time had hoped to have such an agreement worked out by this month, but that proved impossible because ''there is no clear government to work with.''
The U.S. plan is to gradually move responsibility for security into the hands of the Iraqis, thereby reducing the U.S. military's role. But senior officials say that process will take many months, if not years.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Bush administration has a plan to accelerate the building of viable Iraqi security forces, which now number over 200,000 and include police, border guards, a civil defense corps and guards for certain key facilities.
''We're going to focus on Iraqi security forces like we've never really focused on them before, and you'll see some of that come out in the next week or so as we try to ensure we have unity of effort on the equipping and training and mentoring of Iraqi security forces,'' he said.
Even while the Bush administration works toward its goal of restoring Iraqi sovereignty by July 1, U.S. troops are dying at a rate of more than one a day. They are opposed by an insurgency that U.S. commanders say is aimed at preventing a stable Iraqi government from taking root.
Myers said he could not estimate with confidence how long U.S. troops will be needed in Iraq.
''I really do believe it's unknowable,'' he said. ''If I gave a good professional estimate, then that would be a standard that people would point to and, knowing that we can't know it perfectly, we'd get hammered.''
For planning purposes, the Army is assuming it will have to keep roughly 100,000 troops in Iraq for at least another two years, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, told Congress recently.
02/20/04 05:32 EST
In an apparent attempt to downplay the internal Iraqi dynamics sparking ongoing attacks, the Bush administration has been blaming al-Qaeda for much of the violence.
STOCKHOLM, Feb 17 (IPS) - In an apparent attempt to downplay the internal Iraqi dynamics sparking ongoing attacks, the Bush administration has been blaming al-Qaeda for much of the violence.
Key in this effort has been the portrayal of the ultra-orthodox Kurdish group Ansar al Islam and its alleged leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The Bush administration and some of its allies accuse Ansar, long at odds with the secular, western-oriented Kurdish groups allied with the coalition, of close links with al-Qaeda. Zarqawi is seen as the man behind most terror plots that are publicised. But 'facts' keep changing.
According to U.S. Administration pronouncements, Zarqawi was first a "close associate of bin Laden". His relationship to bin Laden became "uncertain" before he was back to being a "close associate" of bin Laden.
An official U.S. statement declaring Ansar a terrorist group claimed that Zarqawi was a "senior al Qaeda operative", but later he was only "suspected" of being some kind of affiliate. Until two weeks ago he was considered the leader of Ansar al Islam. Now he is thought to be heading a Jordanian extremist group called al Tawhid, and only linked to al-Qaeda and other groups.
The 'facts' vary with the political imperatives of the moment. The Bush administration badly needs to deflect attention from Saddam's much-alleged, but never found weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Last winter Zarqawi was supposedly working with explosives and deadly toxins at a terror camp in north-east Iraq. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell warned the United Nations Security Council of the dangers he posed in a presentation in February last year.
Powell claimed Zarqawi and Ansar al Islam were Saddam Hussein's link to al- Qaeda. The "evidence" behind Powell's assertions proved as empty as that on WMDs.
Powell provided a satellite picture of the alleged terror camp. A number of journalists went immediately to the place but found only a radio station and living areas.
Powell said Ansar had cyanide gas, VX nerve gas and the toxin ricin. The U.S. claimed at first to have found "evidence of chemical weapons production" after it attacked Ansar camps along with Kurdish forces in March 2003 last year. The claim later proved unfounded.
In October last year former Powell aide Greg Thielmann revealed that Powell had misinformed Americans during his testimony.
The United States doubled the bounty on Zarqawi last week to ten million dollars, calling him the mastermind behind a blueprint for terror in Iraq. The U.S. decision came after coalition forces claimed to have found a letter Zarqawi is said to have written to bin Laden. "We believe the report and document are credible," said Gen. Mark Kimmitt from the U.S. forces.
Zarqawi tells bin Laden in the alleged letter that al-Qaeda would be welcome in Iraq. But several questions have been raised about the letter. Foremost, if al- Qaeda was already present in Iraq as alleged so often before, why would Zarqawi need to invite it. The Washington Post notes that there has been no independent verification of the document's authenticity.
U.S. forces blamed al-Qaeda and Ansar for the suicide bombings that killed more than 100 people including several Kurdish leaders in the northern Iraqi town Arbil Feb. 1. Two days later Jaish Ansar al Sunna, a resistance group based in the Sunni triangle that had warned people aiding the occupation, claimed responsibility for the Arbil blasts.
Coalition forces then said Jaish was related to al-Qaeda and Ansar, another attempt to blur distinctions among groups resisting U.S. occupation of Iraq..
In blaming al-Qaeda and Ansar, the United States and its allies have sought effectively to legitimise the presentation Powell made to the Security Council a year ago. If public perceptions of the Ansar threat were to grow, the invasion of Iraq would be seen as more legitimate.
U.S. officials have again pointed to al-Qaeda and foreign terrorists as the leading suspects behind recent attacks. On Tuesday last week a bomber killed 53 at a police recruitment centre in Iskandariyah south of Baghdad. The next day another bomber claimed 47 at an army recruitment centre in Baghdad. On Saturday a rebel assault routed security forces in Fallujah, killing at least twenty.
But it is widely acknowledged that there are few foreigners among the thousands arrested by coalition forces.
The Iraqi police have corrected their initial statement that "foreigners" were behind the assault in Fallujah Saturday. The Associated Press noted that "U..S. and Iraqi officials have made conflicting reports on who carried out the attack." U.S. officials insist the attack was carried out by non-Iraqis.
Foreigners had been blamed in the car bombing that killed Shia leader Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim and many of his followers in August last year. Nothing ever came of that allegation.
With only four months to go before scheduled elections in Afghanistan, a growing number of observers are concerned that balloting might aggravate rising ethnic tensions between the northern and southern parts of the country.
WASHINGTON, Feb 18 (IPS) - With only four months to go before scheduled elections in Afghanistan, a growing number of observers are concerned that balloting might aggravate rising ethnic tensions between the northern and southern parts of the country.
Some experts are calling for the elections to be put off until next year. A delay would enable both international donors and the government of President Hamid Karzai to make greater progress in disarming the warlords who still run most of the country and in extending security to rural areas, they argue.
These experts fear that the challenges created in preparing the country of some 28 million people for an election will divert attention and scarce resources from more important tasks, particularly in the security realm.
But Karzai himself, apparently backed by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, appears determined to forge ahead, at least with presidential elections that he and Washington believe would give the central government greater legitimacy, both internationally and inside Afghanistan.
''If you hold no election at all'', warned U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in a Wednesday press briefing at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) here, in which he participated via telephone from Kabul, ''the crisis of legitimacy could be severe''.
''The current state of mind is to hold elections come hell or high water'', Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin told IPS on Wednesday. ''The U.N. people (who are helping to organise the elections) are working around the clock to come up with a way that they can do that''.
Under the December 2001 Bonn Accord, both presidential and parliamentary elections are supposed to take place no later than mid-2004, and Karzai seems committed to this schedule.
But most elections experts, including many in the United Nations, have said that while a presidential election might still be doable, the kinds of preparations necessary for parliamentary elections -- such as setting out final electoral boundaries, organising political parties, and even preparing ballots for dozens of candidates in different parts of the country -- are probably impossible to achieve by Jun. 21, the date for which both elections have tentatively been set.
Khalilzad himself appeared to anticipate this Thursday. ''If every effort is made to hold parliamentary elections, and a majority is satisfied that they could not be held, and the U.N. supports that (view), then the legitimacy issue will be satisfied''.
But going ahead with only presidential elections could exacerbate tensions between the southern-based Pashtuns, who make up Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, and the collection of non-Pashtun minorities, including Tajiks, Uzbeks and the Hazara that ousted the Pashtun-dominated Taliban with the help of the United States in November 2001, says Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and Afghanistan specialist who also spoke at the USIP briefing.
Because the minority groups are themselves deeply divided, Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun who is seen as having failed so far to reach out to the northern groups, is certain to sweep the election and might thus govern unchecked by a sitting parliament, where minorities could exercise some influence.
''The Americans have underestimated the ethnic polarisation that resulted from the loya jirga'', Rashid said, referring to the council of notables that met in late December to ratify a new constitution.
''Is he going to be elected by the whole country of only one ethnic group''? asked Rashid. ''I find it very dangerous''.
Barnett agrees, at least in part. To him, the success of any elections at this point in Afghanistan's evolution depends most of all on whether the results reflect a consensus among key elites with sufficient confidence in the process to go along.
''It is easier to get consensus around a presidential candidate if you had parliamentary elections at the same time because the losers in the presidential election would feel they at least have representation in the parliament," he said.
"Presidential elections will be seen as a kind of all-or-nothing thing in a system where the level of trust in existing institutions is practically non-existent.''
At the same time, Rubin says Karzai's concerns about the impact of a delay on the perceptions of his legitimacy are real.
After the mujahadin defeated the Soviet-backed government almost 15 years ago, an agreement among the victorious groups to rotate power broke down when one president refused to leave office, setting off a new round of chaos and civil war that created the conditions that brought the Taliban to power.
''If elections are postponed without very convincing reasons, it will degrade Karzai's legitimacy'', said Rubin. ''And if the delay goes beyond September, elections will have to wait until next year because of the winter weather".
"They would need to hold another loya jirga to approve the delay, which may be worth trying.''
The key is likely to come late next month when Karzai's government meets with its foreign donors in Berlin. According to Rashid, European donors, who have pledged much of the aid for Afghanistan's reconstruction and elections, are highly sceptical about holding elections in June.
They are also resentful, Rashid said, of Washington's domination of the process, and see the push to hold elections as a U.S. agenda tied in part to Bush's desire to be able to point to success in Afghanistan in his own re-election campaign in November.
''The perception that it (the agenda) is being set in Washington is very widespread," he noted.
The best ''way out'', argued Rashid, is for the donors in Berlin to call for elections to be delayed until the spring of 2005, while taking responsibility for failing to follow through on their own previous promises of money and troops for reconstruction and security, which are necessary to ensure a successful process.
''That lets Karzai off the hook'', he said, and would help reduce the current polarisation between the Pashtuns and the other groups.
Delaying elections would also permit the government and its international supporters to focus far more on particularly urgent projects, which include disarming militias, tackling the growing drug trade, and deploying more troops to more towns and cities in the countryside -- all three of which are essential for ensuring successful elections.
Horacio Boneo, a former U.N. elections expert and senior USIP fellow, agreed that premature elections, particularly those carried out before substantial disarmament -- as in Angola and Liberia -- are particularly risky.
On the other hand, he said, ''I can't think of a single case where delaying actions caused any major problems''. He cited, in particular, the example of Mozambique, where elections were delayed for one year so that disarmament could be substantially advanced.
News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International
AI INDEX: AMR 36/006/2004 16 February 2004
Haiti: Perpetrators of serious past abuses re-emerge
The emergence of former paramilitary leaders convicted of past human rights violations as leaders of the armed opposition force is fuelling a conflict that has already taken too many lives, said Amnesty International as the crisis in Haiti continues to deepen.
"At the best of times, the spectre of past violations continues to haunt Haiti," Amnesty International said today. "At this crucial stage, when the rule of law is so fragile, the last thing that the country needs is for those who committed abuses in the past to take up leadership positions in the armed opposition."
On 14 February Louis Jodel Chamblain, a notorious former paramilitary leader, reportedly gave an interview to a Haitian radio station to say that he had joined the armed movement seeking to overthrow President Jean Bertrand Aristide. He was accompanied by a former police commissioner.
In September 1995 Chamblain was among seven senior military and paramilitary leaders convicted in absentiaand sentenced to forced labour for life for involvement in the September 1993 extrajudicial execution of Antoine Izméry, a well-known pro-democracy activist. Chamblain had gone into exile to avoid prosecution.
Chamblain has reportedly joined forces with the leaders of the armed opposition based in Gonaïves.
Another of the leaders, Jean Pierre Baptiste, alias "Jean Tatoune", is also a former paramilitary leader who was sentenced to forced labour for life for participation in the 1994 Raboteau massacre. He was among the prisoners who escaped from Gonaïves prison during the August 2002 jailbreak of Amiot 'Cubain' Métayer, deceased leader of the formerly pro-government group which violently took over control of Gonaïves on 5 February. Gang members under Jean Tatoune's direction have been accused of numerous abuses against government officials and supporters, as well as other Gonaïves residents, over past months.
"The Haitian authorities must do everything in their power to arrest these individuals, who have both already been convicted of serious violations," Amnesty International said. "For their part, political opposition parties must condemn the emergence of these notorious figures at the head of the armed movement to oust Aristide, and must do everything in their power to demonstrate their own commitment to human rights and the rule of law."
Louis Jodel Chamblain and Jean Tatoune both belonged to the paramilitary organisation FRAPH, formed by military authorities who were the de facto leaders of the country following the 1991 coup against then-President Jean Bertrand Aristide. FRAPH members were responsible for numerous human rights violations before the 1994 restoration of democratic governance.
The group was at first known as the Front révolutionnaire pourl'avancement et le progrès haïtiens, Revolutionary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress. The acronym FRAPH phonetically resembles the French and Creole words for 'to beat' or 'to thrash.'
Antoine Izméry was gunned down in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Port-au-Prince on 11 September 1993, while attending mass. The mass was being held to commemorate the fifth anniversary of a massacre committed during an attack on Aristide, then a parish priest, on 11 September 1988 at the St. Jean Bosco Church in La Saline, a shanty town on the outskirts of the capital.
After the 5 February attack in Gonaïves, unrest spread to nearly a dozen towns in the center and north of Haiti. Concerns are increasing about the humanitarian situation in the towns under control of anti-government forces and other areas cut off by the conflict. The first demonstration of the political opposition since the violence began took place in Port-au-Prince on 15 February; demonstrators were confronted by rock-throwing government supporters, and police used tear gas and fired their guns into the air to disperse both groups.
View all documents on Haiti at http://amnesty-news.c.tep1.com/maabW1eaa4qKcbb0imub/
(02/14/2004) Atty. Juvy Magsino and Leima Fortu were killed on February 13 by suspected elements of the 204th Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army in Naujan, Mindoro Oriental. Magsino was vice mayor of Naujan and a respected human rights lawyer while Fortu was the acting Secretary-General of KARAPATAN-Mindoro Oriental. The human rights organization KARAPATAN has denounced the killing and issued an urgent action alert. To date the human rights watchdog had documented 13 human rights workers and 41 Bayan Muna members and officers killed in cold-blood under the Macapagal-Arroyo regime.