Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fawwaz Traboulsi: Breaking with the 'National Consensus: Towards Lebanese-Palestinian Reconciliation

[MFL: As always Fawwaz Traboulsi shocks me with his vision and how accurate he always is]

Published on ZMag on October 15, 2007

[Translator's Introduction: The article below by Fawwaz Traboulsi first appeared in Arabic in the Beirut daily as-Safir of September 13, 2007.

For several decades, there was an official dogma regarding Palestinian refugees in Arab countries. According to this dogma, proclaimed by both Palestinian and non-Palestinian leaders, all that the Palestinian refugees wanted was to return to their homeland. True, that yearning was real enough, but understated or willfully ignored was the elementary fact that, before returning to Palestine or to whatever part of it that would be restored, Palestinians wanted their human and civil rights to be acknowledged and respected. Invoking this dogma thus became a way to prevent the implantation of Palestinian refugees and to justify various forms of discrimination they endured in their host countries. Officially, Palestinians were welcomed as fellow Arabs and their rights recognized by the governments of Arab countries where they sought refuge; notwithstanding official recognition, however, Palestinian rights were routinely trampled in practice. In the name of solidarity with the Palestinian cause, invoking this dogma was thus used to serve the interests of local elites totally unrelated to Palestinian welfare.

This official dogma regarding Palestinian refugees continues to this day, though with diminished force, overshadowed by the many conflicts other than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have engulfed the Middle East in recent years. But the discrimination against Palestinians remains, now justified and enforced by other class and state interests.

In the case of Lebanon in particular, this official dogma has been combined with an elaborate fiction since the 1975-1990 civil war, and sometimes the fiction has become more important than the dogma and eclipsed it altogether. This Lebanese fiction has been to make the Palestinians into an alien presence that is supposedly threatening the very well-being of Lebanon and its citizens -- a fiction cooked up for fraudulent reasons, as Traboulsi carefully explains. What's more, in so doing, Traboulsi places himself squarely at odds with both of the two main camps in the current Lebanese standoff. Both government and opposition politicians routinely talk about the Palestinian presence as a burden Lebanon cannot shoulder or shoulder alone. If there is something on which the two camps agree, it is a refusal to a permanent settling of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Thus, in an otherwise inane speech to the UN General Assembly on September 28 and without fear of antagonizing either of the two camps back in Beirut, President Lahoud of Lebanon could declare with total confidence that a permanent settling of Palestinian refugees "will dangerously alter the delicate balance of Lebanon's existence as a nation based on diversity and coexistence among a large number of its sects" -- a statement thoroughly debunked by Traboulsi's article.

In years past, Palestinian refugees were ostracized in the name of that dogma that said all they want is to return to Palestine; today, they are further victimized under the pretense that they endanger "Lebanon's existence as a nation."

In the article below, Traboulsi is addressing Lebanese and Arab audiences familiar with events of recent decades, often evoked in passing without further elaboration. A few points to identify these events and place them in their historical context:

(1) Traboulsi refers to the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990 not as a single war, but as a period of "many wars," which in fact it was. It involved Lebanese parties, armed organizations of the PLO, the Syrian army, and the Israeli army, with frequent infusions of weapons and money from parties further afield. Erstwhile allies often turned on each other during that period, and with increased frequency after the Israeli invasion of 1982.

(2) Traboulsi mentions several individuals and groups that were involved in the 1975-1990 wars; these or their successors all continue to play prominent roles in one of the two contending camps of the current Lebanese standoff. The Lebanese Front is a precursor of the Lebanese Forces, a right-wing organization now headed by Samir Geagea; Geagea is one of the three main leaders of the current pro-government coalition, along with Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt. Traboulsi mentions another chieftain of the Lebanese Forces, Elias Hobeika, who led the Lebanese militias involved in the 1982 massacre of Sabra-Shatila, before dissociating himself from the Israeli army and then throwing his lot with the Syrian regime; Hobeika was assassinated in 2002, a few days before testifying in a Brussels court against his former ally Ariel Sharon in a lawsuit brought against the latter by survivors of the massacre. Traboulsi also mentions the "war of the mountain," the "war of liberation," and the "war to unite all guns," commonly referring to different episodes of the 1975-1990 period.

(3) The Taif Accord was an agreement between Lebanese factions of the 1975-1990 wars, convened in the city of Taif, Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of the League of Arab States. The agreement was negotiated in October-November 1989, based on which a cease-fire was enforced by Syrian troops and gradually took effect in the course of 1990. Once the cease-fire was in place, Syrian troops were to withdraw after a cooling-off period, but they did not do so, in violation of the agreement. That Syria was given a free hand in Lebanon throughout most of the 1990's, despite Israel's objections, was in exchange for Syrian participation in Desert Storm, the 1991 US-led campaign to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

(4) The "battle of Nahr al-Barid" is the devastating three-month battle of this past summer, which pitted the Lebanese army against the jihadi group Fateh al-Islam which had ensconced itself in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Barid in northern Lebanon. It resulted in the total destruction of the camp and the forced displacement of its 30,000 to 40,000 refugee inhabitants.

-- Assaf Kfoury]

After the battle of Nahr al-Barid, much has been said and repeated about a Lebanese "national consensus" regarding the Palestinians in Lebanon, a presumed rejection by all Lebanese of a final settling of Palestinians on Lebanese soil. Many commentators continue to voice their alarm about the "conspiracy" to permanently settle the Palestinians.

The writer of this article, a Lebanese citizen, wishes to openly declare that he will have no part of such a consensus -- and more, that it is time to expose it for the fraud that it is.

This presumed danger of a final settling of Palestinians is another tale in the politics of lies and self-deception that has prevailed since the Taif Accord. In a complex and diverse country such as Lebanon, this accord sought to develop a consensus based on a deception. It sought to achieve national unity by inventing a presumed enemy of all Lebanese, short of finding a real common enemy, or by fabricating a phony scare that would frighten everyone.

There is a history to this tale and the purpose it has served. At the time of the Taif conference, a party had to be found to bear the blame for the disastrous consequences of the many wars fought during the 1975-1990 period. These wars came to an end of sorts, but without an honest reckoning and accounting of the responsibilities that had led to them. And worse, they came to an end by elevating to the seats of power the very warlords that had fought each other mercilessly. The only party left out of this equation were the Palestinians. The other parties at the Taif conference had thus found the perfect scapegoat that would unite them all -- the Palestinian side -- which they thus turned into all of the following: the cause and object of that murky "conspiracy" that had to be feared, the reason that there had been internal wars, and the constant danger to fend off against, then and in the future.

The parties of the Lebanese Front have used the specter of a final settling of Palestinians to justify their blood-soaked history during the 1975-1990 period. They have never tired of declaring that they were fighting "against foreigners". In their account of that period, their history was one of resistance against the "conspiracy" of permanently settling Palestinians on Lebanese soil, conveniently ignoring who instigated the internal wars and who profited from them. Thus, not only have these parties concealed their responsibility for putting the country to the torch, they have also managed to confound the beginnings and ends of the 1975-1990 wars and everything that happened in between.

Twenty-five years ago, in September 1982, was the massacre of Sabra-Shatila. On this occasion, let us not forget that the massacre was planned with the intent to eliminate the "superfluous people" for which there is no room in a settlement of the Middle East crisis. That slaughter of Palestinian civilians took place in a drive to frighten them to leave Lebanon, after the eviction of the PLO and its armed factions in the summer months of 1982. The refusal of a final settling of Palestinians was a euphemism, pure and simple, for their forced migration out of Lebanon under the threat of death.

On the pretense that the many mini-wars in the years 1975-1990 were against the "conspiracy" aiming at a final settling of Palestinians, the conspiracy mongers have wanted us to forget that most of these wars, even after the withdrawal of the PLO and its organizations in 1982, were between Lebanese parties. What was the relationship between this "conspiracy" and what was then called the "war of the mountain" in 1983, which resulted in driving out most of the Christian inhabitants in the Shuf region? Further back, what was the relationship between the refusal of a final settling and the forcible migration of the Muslims out of the Nabaa district in 1976? And what was the connection between this "conspiracy" and General Aoun's decision to ignite the so-called "war of liberation" and the "war to unite all guns"? And what was its connection with the internecine war between the Geagea and Hobeika factions of the Lebanese Forces, or between the Amal movement and Hizbullah?

During the years of Syrian hegemony, from the early 1990's and until 2005, the bogey of a permanent implantation of Palestinians played an important role in rallying a number of politicians, particularly Christians among them, to the side of the Syrian regime. The declared reason was that only the latter would be able to keep the Palestinians in check and disarm their organizations. Thus, incitement against the implantation of Palestinians became another means to justify the presence of Syrian troops on Lebanese territory, although it was in clear violation of the Taif Accord.

What's more, all this talk about the refusal of a permanent settling of Palestinians is a perfect example of the kind of vile repudiation which Palestinians have had to endure, in this case the crass refusal to acknowledge their many and varied contributions to Lebanese life -- from the construction worker to the successful banker, and the many others in all professions from teaching to contracting. If this is what the refusal of a permanent settling means, it is a dark stain on Lebanon's much-trumpeted hospitality, which allows rich Saudi citizens to buy plots of land of one million square meters at the heart of the Lebanese mountains while denying a Palestinian refugee the right to own a dwelling not exceeding a few dozens of square meters!

Let's not overlook that the refusal of a permanent settling also presumes that Palestinians have to be taught lessons in patriotism and how to remain loyal to the idea of an eventual return to Palestine, which in turn presumes that Lebanese can be more concerned than Palestinians in defending the latter's right to return. On this phony presumption, it has been necessary for example to prevent construction material from entering Palestinian refugee camps, so as not to let camp dwellers be seduced by the idea of a permanent stay and aspire to remain in Lebanon! Everyone knows that foreign visitors, who have countries to return to, all aspire and are allowed to remain in Lebanon, so why shouldn't we allow those without a country to aspire to the same? Under repeated policies of encirclement and neglect over the years, the Palestinian camps have become infested with shadowy armed groups, which Lebanese and Syrian security agencies have, by turns, promoted and used to do their dirty work, and then incited to fight each other. And here is Lebanon belatedly awakening to the reality that these groups have the military means to take hostage an entire camp (Nahr al Barid) on the very watch of the proponents of the refusal of a final settling.

Last but not least, the tale of the refusal of a final settling of Palestinians comes in the wake of another issue that is rarely discussed honestly. The proponents of this tale maintain that Lebanon, because of its confessional makeup, cannot sustain the integration of Palestinian refugees who are Muslim in their majority. Because of Lebanon's confessional makeup, they claim, this will create an imbalance between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon. The first flaw in this kind of logic is to equate the right of legal residency in Lebanon with the granting of Lebanese citizenship. Palestinians can be legal residents, with the same rights and duties of all non-citizen residents in Lebanon, without precluding their right to return to whatever part of their homeland that will come under the control of a Palestinian authority according to UN resolutions. But let's pursue this idea to the end: In a country where the confessional power-sharing formula is not based on percentages of the different religious sects in the first place, even if we were to equate the permanent settling of the refugees with the granting of Lebanese citizenship -- which is certainly not maintained by anyone -- what will be the effect of adding another 250,000 Palestinians to the number of Muslims in a country of 4 million where Christians represent no more than one-third of its inhabitants?

Treated with fraudulent remedies, the wounds in Lebanese-Palestinian relations have never ceased to fester and bleed. And here is another new wound caused by the events of Nahr al-Barid, once again treated with fraudulent remedies, as government officials have rushed to promise the rebuilding of the destroyed camp without drawing the necessary lessons for rebuilding relations between the two peoples.

Towards rebuilding harmony between the two peoples, we need to understand that Lebanon can no longer be a base for Palestinian armed organizations. Armed resistance from Lebanon is no longer an option for Palestinians, nor can the country provide the means to sustain such a resistance and serve its purpose. We also need to realize that the issue of Palestinian weapons in Lebanon is the result of fear -- fear caused by a history of massacres, further compounded by the growing racism peddled by politicians -- not to discount the fact that parties and governments have also used it, and continue to use this issue to serve external agendas unrelated to Palestinian interests.

If we want to avoid a repeat of the Nahr al Barid episode, with another terrorist organization abducting an entire Palestinian camp, we need an agreement that will stipulate the removal of all military weapons from Palestinian camps in exchange for the recognition and safeguarding of the Palestinians' civil and political rights. No need to spell out the details of such an agreement here, but the time has come to undertake the necessary steps towards its realization. And the first step on the long road to Lebanese-Palestinian reconciliation is to free ourselves of the fraud called the "conspiracy" to permanently settle the Palestinian refugees!

Fawwaz Traboulsi has taught at the Lebanese American University, Beirut-Lebanon. He has written on history, Arab politics, social movements and popular culture and translated works by Karl Marx, John Reed, Antonio Gramsci, Isaac Deutscher, John Berger, Etel Adnan, Sa`di Yusuf and Edward Said. His most recent book in English is A History of Modern Lebanon (Pluto Press, 2007). The translator, Assaf Kfoury, is Professor of Computer Science at Boston University.

Friday, December 28, 2007

What A Great Future President We Will Have!!

I have been thinking about this stupid presidential chair which is really wasting valuable time of mine, yours, and everyone else’s. The issue of course doesn’t stop at the Presidential chair, rather the situation has been escalating since debating whether the government is legitimate or not. In fact, the government and opposition reached a no return when the pro-opposition ministers resigned (although some of them remained attending their posts and representing Lebanon despite the fact they resigned). The presidential chair is nothing but a tip of an iceberg. If the President is elected as a reconciliatory move, would this mean that the opposition will close their tents at Down Town and return home? If that happens, what about the government, would the government mean it has been legitimate in the opposition’s eyes, and if that is the case, why did the opposition waste one year of our lives?

The Presidential chair in essence is agreed on, which is Michel Suleiman, head of the Lebanese Army. Now, the government and the opposition are just yelling at each other for technicality reasons.

The president historically was mighty powerful. He was stronger than the parliamentary cabinet that elected him. He had the power to suspend it. He was the sole supreme leader of the army. He was everything. The president, in pre-Ta’ef accord, was powerful as a result of agreement between the Sunni leaders and the Christian ones. In 1943, the Sunnis agreed to give the Christians such authority (not to forget on Parliamentary level 60-40) in return the Christians would demand that the French mandate is terminated.

In 1958, when Fouad Shehab was elected as a reconciliatory president (dubbed as The Third Force), he had constitutional authority to do what he wanted. This pushed both camps (Junblatt Sr./Salam & Jemayel/Shamoun) to push for eliminating the Shehabi regime in order to push further their own platforms.

The emulation of 1958 circumstances in 2007 is a hopeless case. The army has to remain on Nasrallah’s good side in order for it to grow stronger, not to forget the corrupted side of it (clientalism, outdated mechanisms,…etc). The current presidential position lacks any authority to do anything. The president in post-Taef is allowed simply to propose ideas. The government decides whether to implement the idea or not. The Parliamentary cabinet is the most powerful institution within the legality mechanism. It gives legitimacy to the President and the government.

The issue is not there still. What can a president do between two coalitions that have crippled the nation for more than a year. Aoun and Harriri Jr. seem more powerful than the future elected president. The president might develop schizo syndromes to keep both sides satisfied. In fact, such a president, amidst two giants, is nothing. He is just a pebble, and the battle between both coalitions remains active. So, again, what is the fuss over the president? We have been without a president for weeks and weeks. Who needs a president again? (other than the greedy politicians!!!!) We all know that the presidential chair is not the way out from this deadlock because all the current political parties are greedy for power at the Proletariat’s expense.


Lebanon's new president needs a reform agenda

(MFL: might be interesting to ponder about these reform points)

Reform plans written by Fady Abboud , taken from here

President Elias Hrawi's term in office lasted nine years. Likewise, President Emile Lahoud's rule stretched over nine years. Electing a replacement for the latter president has so far required nine attempts (and one more since this article was written). In Britain, however, 999 is the number for Emergency services. It seems that Lebanon now needs to dial 999. An emergency situation has developed over the past months, but there is nowhere for our officials to turn for help.

Although many Lebanese demonstrated for freedom, sovereignty, independence and national unity, the political class is letting them down because of the lack of seriousness with which national issues, such as the presidential election, are treated. Consequently, this brings to question the political class' commitment to reform, economic growth and even democracy.

If the 11th or 12th election attempts are lucky, we need to start thinking and acting seriously about launching the long-awaited reform process. For this, the Lebanese deserve officials who possess practical and analytical skills and who are able to inspire confidence. Reform is not a theoretical exercise. It requires a set of skills based on real-life experiences.

The new president (fingers crossed) deserves a team that is able to promote and execute a reform agenda based, among others, on the following:

1. To pass Freedom of Information Act legislation, granting all citizens the right to obtain any public information relating to government institutions, including the publication of all such information on the Internet for easy access and as a step toward e-government.

2. To pass legislation concerning public tenders to assure fairness and transparency, especially concerning standards and the opening of bids, and disallowing any form of cronyism concerning the award of contracts.

3. Revoking bank secrecy on all public employees and all those who benefit from public funds, including their family members and associated companies.

4. To create a National Competitiveness Council (NCC), which is empowered to re-write all bureaucratic procedures and Executive Decrees. The NCC will act as a "Bureaucratic Inertia Buster," forcing change to streamline procedures and modernize the bureaucracy, and cooperating with relevant experts from business, academia and civil society.

5. Exposing electricity production and distribution to competitive market forces during three months, and allow the free import of natural gas and fuel products and forbid monopolistic behavior.

6. Provide universal health care to all Lebanese citizens through the private sector and consolidate all the budgets of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), Health Ministry, cooperatives and others under one regulatory authority, to provide health-care services to citizens who need it through buying insurance coverage from the private sector.

7. Increase the minimum wage to LL500,000, discontinue family allowances from the NSSF, liberalize end-of-service indemnities under the Central Bank's supervision, and transform the NSSF into a regulatory body.

8. Privatize public schools through a transparent bidding process in which only reputable private educational institutions, which have a long track record of academic excellence could participate.

9. Transform the national economy into a truly competitive and open economy, encompassing all sectors, to prohibit monopolies, respect consumer rights, and maintain the competitiveness of productive sectors, through:

a. Creating an Anti-Monopolies Commission

b. Creating specialized courts to deal efficiently and speedily with consumer-rights issues and prohibit monopolies

10. Introduce legislation to offer incentives to those who create jobs in Lebanon, which would encourage investment as well as balanced regional and sectoral development, and create "intelligent" Industrial Parks with services all over Lebanon.

11. Giving back to Parliament the exclusive right to impose taxation, and not allowing the introduction of fees under the guise of taxes, thereby assuring that fees are paid against services not to generate revenue for the government.

12. Creating special police forces (Traffic Task Force), trained in the West, to control traffic and introduce electronic surveillance on all Lebanese roads; and create a similar police force (Environmental Task Force) to monitor and control environmental violations.

No economy could survive and be sustainable without certain underpinnings, such as values, ethics, quality education, productivity, quality-of-life issues, etc. Societies do not move forward without a vision, as well as functioning institutions (legislative, legal, bureaucratic, educational, economic, etc.) to implement that vision.

An "enlightened" president, in cooperation with Parliament and government, should play an activist role in the reform process. This is where the Lebanese have to put their hopes. The three vital constitutional institutions have to lead us forward as a society, away from sectarianism, racism, nepotism and corruption, and toward modernity, civic responsibility, tolerance and liberal democracy.

Fady Abboud is president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association.

The Whole World Loves Lebanon

So far, we had every corner of the world speaking about Lebanon and what they “hope” and “wish”. Even the Pope of Rome himself intervened in the Presidential Elections, and nothing so far.

Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah said this year that the Seniora government would have collapsed if it weren’t for the international community supporting the government. Hezbollah’s main channel, al-Manar, still refers to the government as illegitimate. Hezbollah’s strength comes from Iran’s funding and their humiliating victory over the Israelis (specially in expelling the Israeli from the South in 2000 and the severe damage over the Israeli Ground Forces in Southern Lebanon during the July War). The fact Hezbollah emerged more powerful than ever after the July war made them unstoppable. Iran’s gigantic funding of Hezbollah’s welfare nods and services over the Shiites (largest Sect in Lebanon) assured the Opposition that Hezbollah are in Lebanon to stay. Iran remains funding Hezbollah, and Nasrallah’s moderate views regarding co-existence has echoed vast throughout Lebanon (unlike Tfayli’s reign of terror). Bottom line is, Iran plays a drastic role in financing Hezbollah and allows them to provide services to the people of the South, education, hospitals, schools, corporations (Jihad el Maamari and al-Manar), and others.

Syria is one of the accused in assassinating Rafiq el Harriri in Lebanon. They remain meddling when they can, and they issue contradictory statements such as Bashar el Assad’s several speeches last year: “We will not intervene in Lebanon, but the government shall crumble down.” In fact, the mere historical event of Assad celebrating the end of July War and the humiliation of the Israeli Army in Southern Lebanon as his own victory showed how much he considers his role in Lebanon to be active. Syria of course remains the liasson also between Hezbollah and Iran. As a matter of fact, Syria preaches its war with Israel via Lebanon (while secretly undergoing meetings in Washington and attempting to look a nation of peace) as its own. Assad was receiving congratulations in the House of Parliament in Damascus as the man who defeated Olmert, even though not one bullet came from Syria towards Israel, rather whenever during the July War a missile struck Syrian borders, Assad directly jumped saying: “it was on Lebanese ground and I dare them to hit Syria”.

Well, in less than a month of the July War breaking out, Israeli planes hovered above the Syria’s presidential palace (literally above Assad’s head). This year, the region was charged with adrenaline rush when Syria accused Israel of raiding targets on its sovereign land, and Israeli planes breaching Syria towards Syria’s Northern Borders (which also pushed Turkey to complain as well). I find it amusing that none of that fuss occurs when that happened two days ago when 10 Israeli planes flew from Southern Lebanese borders till Hermel (Northern Lebanon). Syria still has plenty of cards to play, and it uses Lebanon to embarrass Egypt and Jordan that they too should be fighting Israel (but not sure if through Lebanese grounds or not). Moreover, as escalations occur in the region, the Syrian people are repressed more whereby opposition is accused of being Zionist agents (something we witnessed in Lebanon). Syria of courses claims they want a stable Lebanon but a government of their own taste, and currently they are annoyed by the current anti-Syrian government (to the extreme) an with the fact that the government are trying to shoot down el Baathi regime through the International Tribunal and International Community.

Then we have our brethren neighbors: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Each claim they support democracy in Lebanon and condemn any action to shoot down the Seniora government. None of them acknowledge democracy in their own countries. Saudi Arabia’s corrupt regime oppressed the people (and emphasis on the women’s side) and corruption brought recruits to freakish terrorist organizations such as al-Qa’eda and its cancerous networks. Moubarak and King Abdullah II are more corrupt as ever, with Egypt and Jordan ranking respectively as second and third in the US administration’s financing and funding, while sustaining Moubarak as President has pushed the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist activists to become the majority in Egypt. Now, our “democratic” Moubarak is preparing his son to take over. Moubarak speaks of democracy while he imprisoned his presidential rival. He has the vulgarity to speak about democracy. Of course, he didn’t take any drastic measures to stop Israel from bombing Lebanon last year, in fact, he oppressed any solidarity campaign in Egypt that was launched in solidarity to Lebanon. He didn’t condemn how Rice was celebrating the “New Middle East”, and of course he didn’t attack his financers how they were sending more arms to Israel. He even refused to expel the Israeli ambassador. His logic was: “we will send them donations and ambulances.” What a help…

Probably the most interesting of course is the United States, where you would have George Bush telling the Government to proceed with the 50% plus one logic, whereby exploding the entire nation into fire. The government have been so far meticulous regarding that issue and preferred to avoid the riots. Of course, Bush supports dictatorship leaders such as Moubarak and Abdullah II. Of course, to hell with the people, as long as his foreign policy is working perfectly. More to the point, Bush claims he wants Lebanon to be free from Syrian hegemony while he gave Israel the green light to take its time in Lebanon during the July war, and sending laser guided missiles to the IDF to “accurately” hit Hezbollah… instead they killed 1300 civilian and mutilated 5000 others. Bush was perfectly silent about the cluster bombs and Israel’s use of banned weaponry. Moreover, the US still hope to push the government to agree in selling a diplomatic / economical package of canceling Lebanon’s debt in return of giving the Palestinians the Lebanese nationality.

If all of these countries love us so much, as far as the Vatican agreeing on Michel Suleiman, why don’t they really help the country by doing the simplest issue: cancelling all the debts located on our country and get Israel to repay for damages done over here (and not only July War, but all the previous wars on Lebanese civilians).


The assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Pakistan: The assassination of Benazir Bhutto
By Alan Woods
Thursday, 27 December 2007
Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a suicide bomb attack.

(MFL notes: I totally agree with the Defense of Marxism, the capitalists will never stop the revolutionary storm in Pakistan)


The leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) had just addressed a rally of PPP supporters in the town of Rawalpindi when the attack took place. First reports talked of at least 100 killed in the attack, but more recent news put the figure at 15.

This murderous onslaught on the PPP came in the middle of an election campaign where, after years of military dictatorship, the masses were striving for a change. There was a wave of support for the PPP, which was sure to win National and provincial assembly elections that were due to be held on 8 January 2008.

The campaign was gathering strength, and the PPP Marxist wing was getting enthusiastic support for its revolutionary socialist message in places as far apart as Karachi and the tribal areas of Waziristan in the far north. These elections would have reflected a big shift to the left in Pakistan. This prospect was causing alarm in the ruling clique. That is what was behind today's atrocity.

This was a crime against the workers and peasants of Pakistan, a bloody provocation intended to cancel the elections that the PPP was sure to win and to provide the excuse for a new clampdown and the possible reintroduction of martial law and dictatorship. It is a counterrevolutionary act that must be condemned without reservation.

Who was responsible? The identity of the murderers is not yet known. But when I asked the comrades in Karachi, the reply was immediate: "it was the mullahs". The dark forces of counterrevolution in countries like Pakistan habitually dress up in the garb of Islamic fundamentalism. There are even rumours in circulation that Benazir was shot from a mosque, although the western media insist that the murder was the result of a suicide bomber.

Whatever the technical details of the assassination, and whoever was the direct agent of this criminal act, the threads of the conspiracy undoubtedly reach high up. The so-called Islamic fundamentalists and jihadis are only the puppets and hired assassins of reactionary forces that ere entrenched in the Pakistani ruling class and the state apparatus, lavishly funded by the Pakistan Intelligence Services (ISI), drug barons with connections with the Taliban, and the Saudi regime, always anxious to support and finance any counterrevolutionary activity in the world.

The war in Afghanistan is having a ruinous effect on Pakistan. The Pakistan ruling class had ambitions of dominating the country after the expulsion of the Russians. The Pakistan army and ISI have been meddling there for decades. They are still mixed up with the Taliban and the drug barons (which is the same thing). Huge fortunes are made from the drugs trade that is poisoning Pakistan and destabilizing its economy, society and politics.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is just another expression of the sheer rottenness, degeneration and corruption that is gnawing at the vitals of Pakistan. The misery of the masses, the poverty, the injustices, cry out for a solution. The landlords and capitalists have no solution to this. The workers and peasants looked to the PPP for a way out.

Some so-called "lefts" will say: But Benazir's programme could not have provided the way out. The Marxists in the PPP are fighting for the programme of socialism - for the original programme of the PPP. But the masses can only learn which programme and policies are correct through their own experience.

The January elections would have give the masses an opportunity to advance at least one step in the right direction, by inflicting a decisive defeat on the forces of reaction and dictatorship. Then they would have had the possibility of learning about programmes and policies, not in theory but in practice.

Now it seems most likely that they will be denied this opportunity. The purpose of this criminal provocation is quite clear: to cancel the elections. I have not yet seen the response of the Pakistan authorities, but it would be unthinkable that the elections could now take place on 8 January. They will be at least postponed for some time.

What effect will this have upon the masses? I have just spoken on the phone to the comrades of The Struggle in Karachi, where they have been battling the reactionary thugs of the MQM in a fierce election campaign. They tell me that there is a general feeling of shock among the masses. "People are weeping and women are wailing in their houses: I can hear them now," the comrade said.

But the shock is already turning into anger: "There is rioting in the streets of Karachi and other cities. People are blocking the roads and burning tires." That is a warning to the ruling class that the patience of the masses is now exhausted. The movement of the masses cannot be halted by the assassination of one leaser - or by a thousand.

The masses always adhere to their traditional mass organizations. The PPP developed in the heat of the revolutionary movement of 1968-9, when the workers and peasants came close to taking power.

The dictator Zia murdered Benazir's father. That did not prevent the resurrection of the PPP in the 1980s. The forces of state terrorism murdered Benazir's brother, Murtazar. Then they exiled Benazir and installed a new dictatorship. That did not prevent the PPP from experiencing a new resurrection when 2-3 million people came onto the streets to welcome her back.

The masses will recover from the momentary shock and grief. These emotions will be replaced in time by anger and the desire for revenge. But what is needed is not individual revenge, but collective revenge. What is needed is to prepare the masses for a new revolutionary offensive that will tackle the problems of Pakistan by the roots.

The ruling clique may delay the date of the elections, but sooner or later they will have to be called. The reactionaries calculate that the removal of Benazir will weaken the PPP. That is a serious miscalculation! The PPP cannot be reduced to a single individual. If that were true. It would have disappeared after the judicial murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The PPP is not one individual, It is the organized expression of the will of the masses to change society. It is the three million who came on the streets to greet Benazir's return. It is the tens of millions more who were preparing to vote for a change in the January elections. These millions are now mourning. But they will not mourn forever. They will find effective ways of struggle to make their voice heard.

The masses must protest the murder of the PPP leader through a national protest movement: mass rallies, strikes, protest demonstrations, culminating in a general strike. They must raise the banner of democracy. Against dictatorship! No more martial law! Call new elections immediately!

The PPP leadership must not capitulate to any pressure to delay the elections. Call the national and provisional elections! Let the people's voice be heard! Above all, the PPP must return its original programme and principles.

In the PPP's founding programme is inscribed the aim of the socialist transformation of society. It includes the nationalization of the land, banks and industries under workers control, the replacement of the standing army by a workers and peasants militia. These ideas are as correct and relevant today as when they were first written!

There is nothing easier than to take the life of a man or a woman. We humans are frail creatures and easily killed. But you cannot murder an idea whose time has come!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Fawwaz Traboulsi: For an Arab-Kurdish Federation in Iraq

taken from here

[Translator's Introduction: The article below by Fawwaz Traboulsi first appeared in Arabic in the Beirut weekly Mulhaq al-Nahar al-Thaqafi (the Literary Supplement of the daily al-Nahar) of November 6, 2005. The article has not previously been translated into English, and it is offered here for its continuing relevance to Iraqi political developments.

The article was originally written as, part of a series of pieces by different commentators on "the consequences of Iraqi federalism on the Arab world," just a few weeks after the October 15 referendum approving a new Iraqi constitution -- or, more precisely, an incomplete version of it.

The struggle for Iraq's constitution is still very much ongoing, as I explain in a separate article , and Traboulsi's article is no less germane today than it was at the time of the October 2005 referendum. If anything, positions of the different Iraqi parties have become more polarized and entrenched over the last two years. Two of the most contentious issues yet to be decided in the constitutional document are the nature of Iraq's federalism and the disposition of the country's natural resources. Traboulsi addresses both issues.

One of Traboulsi's warning calls to Iraqis is about the sectarian character of the draft constitution. Traboulsi's criticism draws additional force as he writes from the vantage point of a historian of the modern Middle East, who has also been a direct witness to the ravages repeatedly brought about by a sectarian-based system of government (so-called confessionalism) for nearly a century in nearby Lebanon.

-- Assaf Kfoury]

Before we discuss the potential effects of establishing an Iraqi federation on the rest of the Arab world, we ought to give an examination of federalism in Iraq, in and of itself, its due. We ought to do this even though a detailed assessment of the proposed draft for an Iraqi constitution cannot be guaranteed as final yet, especially since the draft remains a working document that has been repeatedly adjusted and modified. If we are to examine the idea of federalism in Iraq and potential problems in putting it into practice, a good place to start from is the draft itself where a specific form of an Iraqi federation is proposed to the Iraqi people.

Any discussion of federalism in Iraq must take note of two important characteristics of the current situation. The first characteristic is that the American occupation accomplished more than just regime change. Not only did the occupation put an end to the Baath regime led by Saddam Hussein, it completely demolished the Iraqi state, eliminating the former state infrastructure and somehow aiming to rebuild it entirely from scratch: the legislative and judicial institutions, the army, the ministries, the civil service and all public administrations. And not only did it demolish the former state and its institutions which it directly targeted, it inevitably had a profound dislocating effect on the whole of Iraqi society. What concerns us here most are the changes and reversals which Iraq's three main communities have experienced in their mutual relations as a result. At the moment, Iraqis are facing a crucial turning point in their collective history: On the one hand, a majority of Iraqis reject a return to a centralized authoritarian government, whose remnants are no longer in a position to unite Iraqi society in any case, coercively or not. On the other hand, we are now witnessing an intense movement among the constituent parts of Iraqi society, whose outcome is yet to be determined -- in the form of new elements of domination or control or balance or leadership. The most salient features of this ongoing movement are:

· The two communities that suffered most from discrimination and deprivation under the Baath regime, namely the Shiites and the Kurds, are now exercising a new assertiveness, but in different ways that are often at cross-purposes. As most often reflected in pronouncements by Shiite leaders, the Shiite community is striving to impose the principle of majority rule on a political system still-in-the-making. By contrast, as indicated by its leaders' stated positions, the Kurdish community is trying to maximize the benefits of its self-autonomy and simultaneously preserve its position in the central government, against the background of a Kurdish public opinion strongly favoring secession -- an issue I shall return to shortly.

· The Sunni community is struggling to find a new place in the emerging order. It is doing so after long years during which Saddam Hussein monopolized power in its name and at the expense of its own majority. This search for a new place manifests itself in different ways. Some Sunni groups that espouse various nationalist ideologies are engaged in an armed insurgency with the declared aim of re-establishing a centralized Iraqi state, of one form or another, in which they will regain their privileges. Other Sunni groups, which have shunned the violence of the armed insurgency but also used it as a bargaining chip, are vying for a better position within the emerging political system. And lest we forget -- and how can we forget!! -- this armed insurgency has intermittently tolerated or abetted the kind of violence embraced by al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia that indiscriminately targets civilians and openly proclaims that Shiites are apostates deserving death.

· Last but not least, the various social movements and forces, including the labor movement and the women's movement, are all struggling to find a position and a role to play in the political system still-in-the-making. They are doing so in the face of a political system that is increasingly giving precedence to communal rights over individual rights, and increasingly sacrificing socio-economic interests to appease religious-regional demands.

In making the preceding points, we cannot stress enough the importance of the current juncture in Iraq's history -- this is a time when Iraq's state institutions are being rebuilt, its entire society remodeled, and the very basis of its existence as a single entity reconsidered.

So, how is it that we hope for Iraq to change from a centralized state to a federation? There is no point in saying that states in their historical development tend to go from loose federations or confederations to centralized states. In the case of Iraq, it may well be that the reverse will take place, and that this reverse may turn out to be the best way to re-unite its society by rebuilding its state and public institutions differently. Re-uniting Iraqi society is not the same thing as re-establishing a unitary centralized state; rather, if Iraqi society is to re-unite voluntarily, it will likely be the product of a form of government that devolves authority, permits all components of society to exercise their rights for self-rule, and distributes equitably national resources and public services.

The second important characteristic of the current situation in Iraq, insofar as the issue of federalism is concerned, is the growing current among Kurds for an outright secession, something I already alluded to before. An overwhelming majority of the Kurds once more expressed this sentiment in a poll conducted on the margin of the most recent parliamentary elections. Did the secessionist sentiment among Kurds predate the American invasion? And were the Kurds able to express this sentiment openly only after this invasion? Or was this secessionist sentiment the product of specific events and history? A number of factors have in fact contributed to this Kurdish shift, over many years, from a demand for self-rule in Kurdistan within a democratic Iraq to a call for outright secession.

Most of the available evidence indicates that the Kurdish population's shift towards secession started during the latter period of the Baath regime, and most significantly, since the so-called Anfal campaign of 1988-89. During that campaign, the Kurdish regions were subjected to wholesale massacres, ethnic cleansing, destruction of hundreds of villages, forced Arabization, and forced migration of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of their inhabitants. In other words, the movement favoring Kurdish secession grew in reaction to the extreme national-chauvinist and tyrannical policies pursued by the central government in dealing with the Kurdish question.

It is worth adding that the Kurdish movement towards secession was further nurtured during the years of self-rule in the 1990's and later, when the Kurdish regions in northern Iraq were outside Baghdad's control and largely isolated from the southern Arab-majority regions that remained under Baath rule.

Of course, the existence of a dominant separatist current among Kurds today does not mean, a priori, that it may not recede as a result of future circumstances, nor does it mean that Kurdish secession is bound to happen regardless of circumstances. Several internal and external factors militate against an outright secession. In particular, most of the Kurdish leaders and parties continue to search for a solution within the boundaries of a single Iraqi entity, while outright secession under current conditions would undermine the Kurdish regions' economic interests and external relations.

As I am talking about secession, I should point out that I fully support the Kurdish people's right to national self-determination, including its right to secede completely and form a separate state. But my support of this right is not neutral, and I find no contradiction in being partial to another alternative: As an Arab citizen, I am also in favor of Iraq's Kurds ultimately choosing to remain within the Arab world, as an affirmation that this Arab world can be open to ethnic, regional and religious communities -- in all their diversities and multiplicities -- in a context of coexistence and cooperation that are enriching to all.

Based on the preceding, I understand the proposal for a federal Iraq to be for a system of government that will grant the Kurdish minority all its legitimate rights: to exercise self-rule, use its own language, preserve and develop its cultural heritage, and receive its fair share of the national wealth and budget -- in the context of a united Iraq, as an alternative to the option of an outright secession.

That said, this vision of an Arab-Kurdish federation in Iraq is problematic and fraught with difficulties. While it provides an answer to part of the problem, it raises other problems. Any federal system, whether in Iraq or anywhere else, is erected on the presumed existence of two or more autonomous or semi-autonomous regions. In Iraq's present situation, there exists only one autonomous region in the Kurdish north, consisting of three provinces, where self-rule is already exercised through the creation of a regional government, a regional parliament, a regional administration and regional armed forces. In the face of this one autonomous region are: (1) a central government reflecting a twisted power-sharing formula* between a (Kurdish) ethnic community and (Arab) religious communities, and (2) a collection of 15 provinces in the rest of the country with an overwhelming Arab majority.

The question is: This proposed Iraqi federation is to be realized between whom and whom? An answer of sorts is in the draft constitution, which stipulates that any province (or group of provinces) can move to become a separate federal region, i.e. one of the units of the projected federation, provided the move to separate is approved by a majority of that region's eligible voters in a plebiscite. In the envisioned federal system according to the draft constitution, power and representation will be divided between four different levels: (1) the capital Baghdad and surrounding metropolitan area, with its own special executive and administrative organization; (2) the regions, each consisting of one or more provinces that elect to form a self-ruling federal unit; (3) the provinces, jointly administered by the federal and provincial authorities; and (4) what the draft calls "the local administrations," responsible for the affairs of religious minorities (Christians, Yazedis, Mandi Sabeans) and small ethnic minorities (Turkmen, Armenians). It does not take much imagination to foresee a situation of confusion and conflict when this projected system will be put to the test of practice, notably because the population of Baghdad and the surrounding area, representing more than one-fifth of Iraq's total, is a mix of all ethnic and religious communities.

The only plausible explanation for the adoption of this problematic system is that the commission responsible for the draft constitution refused to consider a single defining criterion for a federation, namely, an ethnic division between Arabs and Kurds. This is unfortunate, because the only meaningful and effective federation, one capable of embracing all the religious and sectarian diversities of Iraqi society, is an Arab-Kurdish federation consisting of two autonomous regions: one including all the provinces with a Kurdish majority, and one including all the provinces with an Arab majority. In this way, power and representation would be divided between two rather than four levels -- with the first of these two levels already mentioned in the draft constitution: (1) a national assembly of all the delegates elected by the entire Iraqi population, with one delegate for every 100,000 voters, and this assembly in turn elects a head of state and a council of ministers; (2) the regional institutions in each of the two autonomous regions. (To my knowledge, during the discussions on the draft constitution, there was a similar proposal that was not followed up, of a federation between two regions, one called Kurdistan and one called Mesopotamia.)

Such a federal solution leads us directly to the question of Iraq's identity. Is it an Arab country? Is it part of the Arab world?

There is no question that the American view of Iraq has been to divide Iraqi society into one ethnic community (the Kurds) and two Islamic sects (Sunnis and Shiites). The effect has been to diminish the role of Iraq's Arab population as its single ethnic majority. This has been the view underlying US policy since the 1990-91 Gulf War: the determination of the no-fly zones after 1991, the parceling out and distribution of food supplies during the UN food-for-oil program, the representation of the Iraqi regime as a Sunni regime, etc. This has been the view from our opponent's side -- the side of the imperial power and the interests it serves.

But from our side -- the side of those who support Iraq's liberation -- the crucial question is: What do we want? Do we adopt our opponent's view or do we confront it with an alternative view? An alternative view that expresses the Iraqi people's free will?

My sense is that much of the debate about Iraq's Arab identity is taking place in a context of symbols and images that ignore the facts. Some have criticized one of the clauses in the draft constitution that states that Iraq's "Arab citizens are a part of the Arab nation;" without any mention that Iraq is an Arab country or part of the Arab world, they read the draft as stripping Iraq the country of its Arab identity. There is some validity in this criticism, but there is a far more important omission in the draft constitution: It does not deal with Iraq's Arab inhabitants as one ethnicity and only identifies them according to their sectarian identities. Indeed, what is the gain in trying to amend the draft constitution to include some sort of clause proclaiming that Iraq is part of the Arab world -- just to please the Secretary General of the Arab League -- if the draft does not also recognize Iraq's Arabs as a single ethnic community and strips them of any constitutional role as such in the Iraqi political system?

One final remark is in order regarding the distribution of revenues from the oil and gas sector. This is a particularly sensitive issue in an Iraqi federal system, which must be considered against the current and past record inasmuch as it has all too often been an element of discord and division. First, we should give the draft constitution its due for explicitly stating that oil and gas resources are a common property of the entire Iraqi people, and that their revenues will be distributed proportionally to population size in every region. The draft constitution also allocates a special share to parts of the country that were deprived of the revenues under the former Baath regime. So far, this is in relation to ownership and distribution of revenues only. As for the administration of oil and gas production, the draft calls for it to be joint between federal and regional authorities, but limited to currently exploited fields. The draft leaves unspecified the administration of fields that are discovered in the future, allowing the possibility that these will be placed under sole control of the regional authorities. This is an unfortunate ambiguity, a portent of potentially divisive conflicts, especially since Iraq's oil reserves are estimated to far exceed its current production level.

An example of these potentially divisive problems is the current struggle over the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. The Kurdish claim to Kirkuk, the conflict regarding its ethnic makeup, and the debate on whether or not it should be part of the Kurdish autonomous region, become all the more critical precisely because of the city's importance in the oil industry. Unilateral insistence by any side on controlling Kirkuk undermines Iraqi federalism and, moreover, will embolden those who want to establish a separate region in southern Iraq to demand similar ownership rights on the southern oil fields. Regardless of the final status and geographical location of Kirkuk, inside or outside the autonomous Kurdish region, it is important that its oil wealth remains under federal control and administration, representing its joint ownership by the entire Iraqi people.


* Translator's note: The power-sharing formula is "skewed" in that it is not a partnership between only ethnic communities, or between only religious communities, but between one ethnic community and two religious communities, with the latter two limited to Arabs. Kurds are religiously diverse, just like the Arabs. There are significant numbers of both Sunnis and Shiites (and other religious denominations) not only among Arabs, but also among Kurds and other smaller ethnic communities of Iraq (notably, Turkmen).

Fawwaz Traboulsi has taught at the Lebanese American University, Beirut-Lebanon. He has written on history, Arab politics, social movements and popular culture and translated works by Karl Marx, John Reed, Antonio Gramsci, Isaac Deutscher, John Berger, Etel Adnan, Sa`di Yusuf and Edward Said. His most recent book in English is A History of Modern Lebanon (Pluto Press, 2007). The translator, Assaf Kfoury, is Professor of Computer Science at Boston University.

The Gunmen of Kabul

taken from Corpwatch

In September, on a tree-lined street in the most expensive neighborhood in Kabul, dozens of men rolled out of armored vehicles in front of a little-known U.S. security company. Backed up by Blackwater guards, Afghan authorities and Americans from the FBI and the U.S. State Department quickly headed for the offices of United States Protection and Investigations (USPI). Once inside, they arrested four of the Texas-based company’s management team and confiscated 15 computers. The two Americans arrested were later released, while the Afghan managers remain in custody.

The September raid was one of the first attempts by President Karzai’s government to crack down on private security contractors in Afghanistan. Afghan police say they plan to shut down about 14 contractors, and so far, have closed 10 Afghan and foreign firms.

What made the USPI raid unusual was the U.S. government’s role. The State Department and FBI spearheaded the operation and accused the company of defrauding the United States, according to USPI guards in Kabul and Afghan officials who did not want to be named because the investigation is classified.

Ironically, the United States used private security guards from Blackwater -- the same company under scrutiny for the September death of 17 Iraqi civilians -- to carry out the USPI raid. It was Blackwater’s actions and virtual impunity that had spurred the Afghan and Iraqi governments to rein in Western security contractors in the first place.

That impunity is of particular concern to Ali Shah Paktiawal, head of criminal investigations with the Kabul police. A crusader against private security companies, he charges that many contractors are corrupt and are operating without an Afghan government license. Some, he said, are using their guns and power to commit murder and other crimes including drug dealing and bank robbery, and to extort money on a daily basis, he said.

“We’re going to make sure these companies clean up because they’re doing more harm than good in our country right now,” Paktiawal said from his busy Kabul office.

One foreign private security contractor, who would only speak off the record, counters that the police crackdown is really a witch-hunt to extort money from Western companies. An Afghan journalist who is researching the issue and cannot publicly comment, points to the fact that many of the companies, such as Afghan-owned Khawar, are back in business. If the right people in the government are bribed, he said, the contractors have no problems re-opening.

According to a high-level contractor who worked for the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the crackdown may be targeting legitimate companies along with rogue and unlicensed operations. Some businesses may have been shut down after high-powered government officials issued false charges arising out of vendettas.

Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert and head of New York University’s Center for International Cooperation, said experienced international officials working in Kabul told him that the latest crackdown on security companies is an effort by one criminal group to eliminate its competitors. Apparently, he said, foreign contracts are being offered to “favored Afghan families.”

The foreign contractors say they want to be regulated without being gouged. Doug Brooks, founder and president of the U.S.-based International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), a trade group that represents private security contractors, confirms that stance. These companies are happy to register their weapons and obtain licenses from the Afghan government, he says, because it raises their standards and builds efficiency.

“They can handle high [license] fees as long as there’s fairness and transparency. But they can’t pay bribes because it’s against U.S. laws,” Brooks said.

Who are the security companies?

In the last six years, public security in Afghanistan has been on a downward spiral. According to the Afghan government and NATO figures, suicide bombings and other violence have killed hundreds of civilians in 2007, with many more injured or driven into internal exile. Western diplomats, NGOs and investors argue that the Afghan military is not ready to protect those involved in the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. Without private security contractors, the insurgency -- including the Taliban, al Qaeda and other opposition groups -- would win the war for control of the country.

The private forces filling this security gap are funded by some of the nearly $20 billion in U.S. aid money that was allocated for Afghan “reconstruction.” To date, there is little security or reconstruction to show for the money spent. An undisclosed amount of the funds for projects assigned to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other donor nations appears to have simply gone to security contractors, according to aid project contracts that detail security costs. For almost every project, security is the highest expense.

There has also been little progress in efforts to control the expense of or to monitor the private security industry. Two years ago, the Afghan government hired a Canadian consulting company to help formulate legislation to regulate the companies, but the effort has not generated effective laws. This December the U.S. Congress passed a bi-partisan bill requiring contractors to provide more information on how they are spending aid money. The legislation creates the post of a special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) to monitor American assistance to Afghanistan. President Bush has yet to sign it.

Legislation or no, dependence on private security is a basic fact of life in Afghanistan. There are about 10,000 private security guards -- Afghan and foreign -- in Kabul alone right now, according to figures provided by the Afghan Ministry of Interior. Afghan officials say only 59 companies are registered and licensed, but perhaps 25 more operate illegally. These numbers are estimates, since part of the problem is that no system is in place that accurately counts the companies or publicly verifies their legal status.

Many of the private security companies, including USPI, have hired Afghan guards who fought in previous wars and were supposed to be disarmed. According to the joint United Nations and Afghan disarmament group, there are still 2,000 private militias in the country employing some 120,000 men, many of whom work for private security contractors. The largest companies are either U.S. or British, and include DynCorp, USPI, Armour Group, Saladin and Global Risk Strategy.

USPI in Afghanistan

USPI has risen quickly into the top ranks of Afghanistan’s private security contractors. It was founded in 1987 by a husband and wife team: Barbara Spier was a restaurant inspector and her husband Del was a private investigator specializing in insurance fraud in Dallas, Texas. They started with small contracts around the world, but when the Taliban were ousted and the new Western-backed government seized power in 2002, USPI planted itself in Afghanistan and collaborated with former Mujahideen commander Din Mohammed Jorat.

Jorat, a notorious warlord accused of killing the aviation minister in 2002, was head of security in the Ministry of Interior and headed a militia that became part of the Afghan police. His officers were paid a low salary, $70 a month, but offered the opportunity to boost it by working as guards for USPI. They remained Afghan government employees and received a $3 to $5 per diem for USPI’s on-the-job training. By claiming to train, rather than actually employing the moonlighting police, the U.S. contractor was able to provide the cheapest security option for its clients in Afghanistan. The scheme effectively turned a large sector of the Afghan police into a private quasi-militia.

In a matter of months, USPI became USAID’s second biggest security contractor in Afghanistan (after Virginia-based Dyncorp). USAID awarded the company $36 million for four and a half years to protect infrastructure projects, such as a road-building project awarded to Louis Berger, a New Jersey engineering company. USPI also made money from contracts with other foreign companies and NGOs to protect their offices and staff in Kabul and the provinces. At its peak, the company employed some 4,000 Afghans.

By September 2007, according to one USPI Afghan guard in Kabul, the company’s guards no longer worked for the government, and had become direct employees of USPI, which pays their salaries. Jorat, who is no longer head of security at the interior ministry, had opened his own security company, Khawar, and no longer collaborates with USPI, according to the guard.

Meanwhile opposition to the government is growing and the insurgency is targeting foreigners inside the country as well as Afghans who work for the government or foreign military and aid projects.

As both the opposition and USPI operations grew, the company began to assume a lower public profile. Until two years ago, when security in Afghanistan plummeted, USPI signs were omnipresent at booths staffed by their Afghan employees who guarded big Kabul houses filled with expatriate staff. Now the signs are gone but the guards remain.

By mid-December the security situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated so drastically that the Taliban were able to kill 15 USPI Afghan guards on the highway in western Afghanistan where they were protecting Louis Berger engineers.

The rising number of attacks has raised questions about the training, dedication and competence of private security operatives. A high-level security contractor who worked for the U.S. embassy in Kabul said that members of the small team of foreign advisers are paid up to $200,000 a year to work with the Afghan employees, but that most of the local officers received little training and were infamous for collaborating with local warlords and participating in the extortion and harassment of Afghans.

“[They] made deals with the devil and their guys could do anything they want: shakedowns, drug dealing. [They were] thugs who liked mafia-type operation,” said the U.S. embassy security contractor. He said USAID was not happy with USPI, but it had spent too much money mobilizing the company to let it go.

“People got killed because of the incompetence of their guys,” he added. “Taliban would attack road crews and USPI guys would run and throw away their weapons, and it happened on numerous occasions.” The consequence was that civilian construction workers ended up dead and kidnapped, and engineering contractors stopped construction simply because USPI could not protect them.

September Raid

By the time of the September raid on USPI offices, the company’s operations were raising red flags. USPI has a notorious history in Afghanistan of operating with a cowboy mentality and collaborating with shady local strongmen. In 2005, a U.S. supervisor for USPI allegedly shot dead his Afghan interpreter and was flown out of the country the next day, according to Afghan officials.

Despite these issues, USPI continued to get contracts because it underbid its competitors for projects and remained the cheapest option, the American contractor said.

Paktiawal, the policeman in charge of criminal investigations in Kabul, was present during the USPI raid and told CorpWatch that the FBI and USAID are both investigating the company. Until the investigation is complete, he said he could not release more details about the charges.

USPI could not be reached for comment, but in October, the Associated Press reported:

“USPI faces accusations of overcharging USAID by billing for employees and vehicles that did not exist, said a U.S. security official with close ties to the company who wasn’t authorized to release the information. The overbilling could run into the millions of dollars … Blackwater held U.S. and Canadian citizens at gunpoint during the raid, said the U.S. official. Blackwater ... helps provide security for the U.S. Embassy.”

After the raid, one of USPI’s uniformed guards, armed with a knife and an AK-47, patrolled in front of foreign offices in a quiet neighborhood in Kabul. He did not want to be named, but confirmed that there were issues of fraud involved at USPI and that none of the lower-ranking guards were aware of management’s dealings.

“We were discouraged from asking anything and so we keep our mouths shut and heads down,” he said.

The guard said he supports a big family with the $150 a month that he receives, and was afraid that if the firm were shut down, he would lose his job.

More Crackdowns

Paktiawal says that the Afghan police are only after the corrupt companies and that the recent law enforcement efforts will impose accountability and control over contractors. He cited USPI as an example of one corrupt foreign company that the crackdown is restraining.

But USPI is hardly alone. A senior security contractor working in Kabul told CorpWatch that the Pentagon is investigating criminal misconduct in regard to $6 billion worth of equipment and service contracts to many companies in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said that 72 FBI investigators are probing mostly Pentagon and State Department security contracts in Afghanistan, but the details are highly classified.

Other companies the government has raided include: the British firm Olympic Security Group for operating without a license; the joint Afghan-British contractor, Witan Risk Management; and Afghan companies Watan and Caps, Khawar and Mellat International Security. It is not clear whether these companies remain closed or have re-opened for business.

Meanwhile, the Afghan people face a variety of men with guns on their streets and blame most of the violence on the private security contractors.

Susanne Schmeidl, co-author of a recent report on private security companies in Angola and Afghanistan for Swisspeace, writes that the expatriate guards are often confused with foreign troops by the local populations. “While there is a positive argument to be made that private security company employment keeps former strongmen and their militia off the streets,” she told a news conference in Kabul, “the dilemma as to what will happen to these militia when the contract ends needs to be addressed.”

Monday, December 24, 2007

Hell No to Holland to host the International Tribunal

The Dutch should be the last to allowed to host the International Tribunal as they proved unqualified during their stay during the Yugoslav wars as part of UNPROFOR.

The Dutch's mediocre performance to protect a safe haven called Srebrenica in Bosnia led for a Bosnian Serb general (also supported by Belgrade) General Mladic to enter the enclave and butcher civilians with such brutality to the extent it was last witnessed in Europe during World War II. 7000 civilians were killed, women were raped, and Holland was not held accountable. The Bosniac faction raised lawsuits on Holland for not protecting the civilians (link). Mr. Ban should no better than to allow the Netherlands to host the Harriri International Tribunal which might trigger a new civil war in Lebanon.

How can the Lebanese government approve of this hilarious scenario?

Now the Iraqis have Turkey also

With all the semi-ethnic wars, terrorist explosions and al-Qa'eda, US brutality occupation, a pethatic muppet government, now the Iraqis have Turkey to worry about:

(article taken from the Daily Star Dec. 24, 2007)

Turkey stages third round of attacks on PKK positions in Iraqi Kurdish villages (AFP)

ANKARA: Turkey's military said it attacked Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq Saturday for the third time in less than a week, bombing and shelling positions and warning that more attacks will follow. "Turkish aircraft attacked between 1:35 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. major positions of the terrorist organization [Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK]," after which the Turkish artillery shelled the area for 15 minutes, the military said in a statement on its Web site.

It added that it would carry out more operations despite harsh winter conditions in the mountainous region.

Turkish television channel NTV said the raids were in the Al-Amadiyya area of northern Iraq.

"It will become well understood how effective the operations against the terrorist operations are," the military's statement said, adding that the PKK "no longer has a chance of success" against the Turkish Army.

Actions over recent weeks had left "hundreds of terrorists" dead, it said.

In northern Iraq, Jabbar Yawar, spokesman for the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga security force, said Turkish warplanes had hit isolated Kurdish villages.

"In the afternoon Turkish warplanes entered northern Iraqi airspace in Al-Amadiyya. Later at around 4:00 p.m. they bombed Iraqi Kurdish villages. We do not know the extent of the damage. But these areas are largely deserted and are along the border with Turkey," Yawar told AFP.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and many other countries, has waged a bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.

Turkey has been stepping up pressure since its Parliament approved in October cross-border raids on PKK bases, with Ankara saying the Iraqi government and its US backers were not doing enough to halt PKK attacks.

Asked for a reaction, US State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said in Washington: "The US does view the PKK as a terrorist group and is against any acts of violence against Turkey or Iraq. It will continue to work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq on how they can work together to deal with the PKK."

The new raids followed attacks on December 16 on the Qandil mountains near the border with Iran where Ankara says 3,500 PKK rebels are holed up, using the area as a springboard for attacks in Turkey.

On Tuesday, Turkish troops penetrated into northern Iraq from the southeast Turkish province of Hakkari, the army said. Iraqi officials said about 500 Turkish troops took part in the ground operation.

Ankara has accused Iraqi Kurds, who run an autonomous administration in the north of the country, of tolerating and even supporting the PKK.

Turkey, which has the second-largest army in the NATO military alliance after the US with 515,000 troops, has moved around 100,000 soldiers up to its 380-kilometer border with Iraq.

The United States fears that Turkey could launch a major cross-border operation and destabilize the relatively peaceful northern part of Iraq.

After a flurry of diplomatic activity, Iraq has promised to rein in the PKK and, in November, US President George W. Bush said Washington would provide Ankara with information on rebel movements from its satellites.

The US administration said Wednesday that it had been informed about the December 16 raids in advance.

Turkish Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit said earlier that the United States approved the December 16 air raids by providing "intelligence" and opening Iraqi airspace.

Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq's Kurdish region, refused to meet visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Baghdad Tuesday in protest of US support for Turkey's strikes, a top Kurdish official said.

Ankara has denied that civilians were hit on December 16, blaming reports of villages being bombed and hospitals and schools destroyed on PKK sympathizers among Iraqi officials seeking to mislead the international community.

The UN refugee agency has said some 1,800 people fled their homes in Suleimaniyya and Irbil provinces in northern Iraq following the attacks. - AFP

Thank You Lebanese Politicians

Not that it would have mattered if they did elect a president, but at least one less obstacle to worry about, and less "fairy tales" to hear on TV.

This is taken from Annahar's cartoon section:

Written in Arabic: Present to the Lebanese (upper right)
Vote Ballot (Written on the box)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Israel's July War aggression is still active

"Cluster bomb kills father of three" By Agence France Presse (AFP) (link)

TYRE: A Lebanese father of three was killed by a cluster bomb dropped by Israeli forces during last year's war in Lebanon, police said on Thursday. Mohammad Hamzeh, 33, was killed in the village of Zebqine near the Southern port city of Tyre when a cluster bomb exploded as he was gathering wood to heat his home, police said. The munitions dropped by Israel during its devastating war against Lebanon last year included at least a million cluster bomblets, according to the United Nations. Unexploded ordnance has killed at least 36 people and wounded 227 since the conflict ended in August 2006, according to UN figures. - AFP"

Another Israeli crime to be added to the record of bloodshed of the Zionists and their allies. Of course, they will complain that they are the victims as always and we are anti-semites... bla bla bla


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Beirut – Overcrowded with Immigrants

No matter where you go to Beirut, you will see everywhere crowded since morning. Practically a gigantic portion of the immigrants returned to visit for two reasons. The first reason is the coincidence of Christmas and al-Adhha holidays (Christian the first, Muslim and Durzi the second) whereby a lot of Lebanese students/immigrants returned. The second reason, a lot of people’s vacations were canceled in the past, practically for a whole year. The assassination of Jubran Tuieni in 2005 scared people to visit Lebanon; the same impact occurred on the summer of 2006 (July War with Israel), the assassination of Minister Pierre Gemayel + the Opposition launching their open demonstration which started with over 1.5 million participant (people were terrified we were at the dawn of a new civil war on Christmas/Adhha of 2006), the war with Fatah Islam (Summer of 2007) which was accompanied with random terrorist bombings and assassination of Walid Eido and later Antoine Ghanem, and now people came to visit despite the assassination of General Francois Hajj and the political void.

The working/student class in exile needed to return and see their families and friends. In fact, a lot of collage friends agreed to meet up for the holidays whether from the US, Canada, Europe, or the Arabian Gulf. I, myself, saw people in 2 hours at a single night 51 people whom graduated with me and never saw for the past 5 years. Jemayzi, Hamra, and Monot are packed with cars whereby you can get stuck in traffic jam for one hour in the tiny street of Jemayzi. The Taxi Cabs have tripled (in most cases) their fees (1$ usually) for riders, and the immigrants came to spend their money in the richest nightlife through out the Middle East: Beirut.

A 14th of Marcher would stand up and yell: “this is what we are talking about, security and stability to bring money.” And again as always, the free market advocates are wrong, because partly why everyone left because the Lebanese Market doesn’t offer work jobs. The only thing that would benefit the Lebanese economy if non-Lebanese tourists came and invested in Lebanon, or at least purchased commodities from tiny stores. The only establishments that made good money were of course the Air Travel agencies, nightclubs and pubs, and super chain stores that would require families buying food to welcome their visitors.

I would like to pin-point that that those who traveled to outside Lebanon are not just immigrants, they are the working class in exile, away from their homes. It was the political situation imposed by the local Lebanese sect leaders (currently distributed between 14th of March and the Opposition), Syria, Iran, Israel, and other key players. I can also blame the free market system followed by the late Rafiq Harriri which made the poor poorer and the rich richer which drove people to seek economical exodus towards the gulf. Of course, the Israeli racial aggression on Lebanon last year also accelerated this exodus, and finally, the fear that a civil war may break out anytime soon motivated more people to travel. As people say: “This is a beautiful country, but it is a doomed nation.” As Iran is more threatened to be hit by the US and Israel, more people worry that this might bring war and devastation to Lebanon as well.

Instead of celebrating the minor inflow of the working class who traveled abroad, the pro-government supporters should ask why these immigrants traveled in the first place, and how many more are on their way to leave permanently Lebanon. The majority of the immigrants prefer to remain in Lebanon, but now they have no choice as this abandoned country has nothing to offer them.

If anything, the gigantic influx of immigrants has effected the ones at home. Night life is becoming more and more difficult to enjoy (specially for those who are still trapped here), commodities are a bit more expensive, and transportation expenses are on the rise. The money multiplier is not enough supported by the immigrants money to boast Lebanon’s economy, and in any case, it is short since the immigrants mostly are visiting for a week or two, rather a month or three. I would really consider any political faction to consider this gigantic turn-out of immigrants as a political victory for their coalition, because these same coalitions are responsible for the existence of immigrants, despite their will, to live away from their families.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lebanon's Cycle Continues...

The obsession between the government and opposition to appear victors in this race has led this country into a stagnant stalemate without any chance of progress. There wasn’t any local, regional, or international initiative to allow both bourgeoisie camp leaders to reach a mutual face save deal, and hence the country is trapped in a time frame while the Proletariat suffer.

Last year, when Pierre Gemayel was assassinated, the emotions of the duality reactionary camps were exploding to the extent riots broke up with Christians belonging to the Pro-Opposition and Pro-Government almost beating each other. One week later, on December 1st, the opposition launched the largest protest in the history of Lebanon, and the government remained standing. By late January of 2007, tension was high, the country almost entered a civil war. Two separate events broke out in January that almost dragged the country to immense bloodshed. The first was when the opposition decided to perform civil disobedience and swore to remain active till the government resigns, and the second would be the Arab University incident whereby one unknown sniper shot students whereby riots broke out (which caused Hassan Nasrallah to issue a direct fatwa telling the Shiites to remain home while Saad Harriri begged his audience the same).

We can consider January 2007 the verge of a civil war which the sect leaders clearly didn’t want to enter, nor their sponsors. The media played a massive role in igniting the masses into sect mobilization against each other (Shiite – Christian versus Durzi – Christian – Sunni coalitions). Yet, the leaders didn’t want a civil war, which I would definitely consider a good thing. However, this deadlock between the government and the opposition didn’t change anything, instead it made things worse for the people.

While the media remained charging the different groups against each other, the leaders remained failing to achieve what they promised their sect herds. A large faction of the people, just as anticipated, has lost hope with the future of their country. This means more and more people see their future outside Lebanon. The government and the opposition has disgusted people more and more just as collisions remain standing. Actually everything that happens, the government and the opposition try to take credit for. When the war with terror broke out at Nahr el Bared, the opposition and government remained accusing each other to the extent each called the other bluntly: “of funding Fatah Islam”.

The cycle became so monotonous that even the political assassinations seized to do any impacts because again people are simply fed up. The crowd for Pierre Gemayel, George Hawwi, and Samir Qassir for example were much larger than Antoine Ghanem, Walid Eido, and General Francois Hajj. The mobilizations in the earlier assassinations were more powerful than this year. This year though, towards the middle of it, witnessed media blackout in different location. Whenever riots broke out between the two camps, media didn’t emphasize on them as they used to in December/January. Now of course, we always have the exceptional comical figures like We’am Wahhab threatening the government with annihilation whenever he wants.

Hence, we reach the political void we all anticipated, the deadlock without a way out. The opposition insisted on having head of the army Imad Suleiman as head of the nation state, only to be rejected by the government since they insisted that anyone is welcomed to be a president as long as he/she are part of the 14th of March coalition. When the Syrian installed president Lahoud declined, and Michel Suleiman refused to comply with the president’s orders of imposing Martial Law in a case of emergency, the next day suddenly the government wanted him as a president. Actually, the opposition switched logic that “since you want a military figure, why don’t you choose Aoun (!)”. Hence, the cycle never stops. When the opposition and the government agreed in general on Michel Suleiman, suddenly Aoun adds more rules, such as he has to decide on key positions on the government. In fact, Aoun still holds the optimism of attaining the presidential chair. Last week, everyone thought that Aoun was abandoned by his allies, when they started to put a mechanism of “flexing” the constitution to elect General Suleiman with the Aounieh not attending (despite the fact that Aoun’s close ally Michel el Murr was there), suddenly people started praying that let it any president be a president, just end this fiasco. Suddenly, Aoun bombs the political arena that the Opposition appointed Aoun to spearhead the negotiations with the government. This makes the talks between Saad Harriri and Nabih Berri as a waste of time, and the people have to wait more for positive results without having a choice in the matter.

The Nahr el Bared Fiasco for example witnessed the Future Movement rushing to the streets with their flags in order to cheer for the army because they dominated Nahr el Bared (despite Hassan Nasrallah saying: Nahr el Bared Khat Ahhmar). When Francois Hajj was assassinated, 14th of March and the Opposition competed whose martyr it is. When the Matn elections occurred, both camps attempted to emerge victorious while in fact both lost drastically: 14th of March’s most powerful candidate lost, but he lost in the face of a coalition that swept Matn two years earlier. And now the presidential void…

The only people who would probably envy Lebanon’s position are our fellow Egyptian comrades who wrote to me: “You mean to tell me, comrade, that in Lebanon, there is no President? Wow, I wish we can switch situations if that is the case!” The face save deals are not appearing because none of the camps want to appear declining to the other what they promised to their followers as “all the way victory.” Hence, 14th of March cant step down because they convinced their people that they will block permanently Iran and Syria from touching Lebanon’s sovereignty, while the opposition convinced its followers that they will stand victorious against Condi’s puppet government. Hence if someone approaches to be a victor in their negotiations, the other will blow out everything. Even though Michel Suleiman did appear as the reconciliation president, he once even visited Hassan Nasrallah, then Samir Jaajaa in the same day: two leaders of two opposing sect parties.

As for General Michel Suleiman, several people I know started speculating that he will be the president following President Shehab’s logic of “the third force” (or non-alignment policy). His name started to appear in the July War when the army sent down 15,000 reservists to the South in the middle of the war with Israel and for the first time since Israel’s Litani operation in the 1970s, took perfect “control” symbolically of the South. Eventually, he remained neutral from all political fiascos. When the Down Town demonstration series broke out, he kept the army neutral. When the Civil Disobediance fiasco broke out, again he emerged as the neutral one. With Nahr el Bared exploding to new dimensions, he became the primary candidate. From one side, he simply obeyed what Elias el Murr (a 14th of Marcher) commanded him through the Ministry of Defense (mainly sending the army to Nahr el Bared to save Prime Minister Seniora’s face, plus disregarding ex-President Lahoud’s final orders). While on the other, he always advocated a resistance policy to Israel and made sure it was part of the Lebanese Army policy, which puts him on a positive side with Hezbullah.

In anyways, the economical situation has gotten worse. The prices of Gas, cheese, and basically a lot of day to day consumption commodities are higher. Taxes on the phone and electricity aren’t helping the middle and lower class either. With every assassination or political instability hitting Lebanon, the economic situation would shrink in size more and more. The only foreign investors interested in Lebanon these days are those foreign politicians and international institutions who want to see this camp or that one gaining an upper hand (or sustain their local allies in the face of the others). The gulf, the US, Iran, the World Bank, France, and others have different financial interests to see Lebanon exploding into raging fire. In any case, this leaves the Proletariat dangling in the open air. The rise of gas for example would decrease the purchasing power of the middle and lower class, which again would cause the overall market system to shrink in size. With the assassination of Francois Hajj prior to the seasons’ greetings, another blow came to the sector of tourism. In any case, the ones who remain visiting Lebanon are the already immigrants who don’t care about the situation and want to catch up with relatives/friends, foreign students, and business men (whenever that requires a visit). The bogus parliamentary meetings to decide when we will have a president also shuts down businesses and hurts those who are still struggling to continue with businesses. The on-going demonstrations in Down Town do not help also as clearly their job to oust a president, but of course they proceed to do a statement to wound the people instead the government.

One thing for sure, once a president is agreed on, several people expect re-alignment between the major political parties. Politicians get greedy, and the poor get poorer.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Back Again

Due to different personal and work pressures, I couldnt blog till now. I will blog again as I used to, starting with the pending issues.

Thank you all who supported me, you can consider Meiroun as the one who revived me into blogging again.