Morning Report: December 25, 2006

Who goes there? Some high-ranking foreigners were detained in Iraq, and a neighboring government is going to have some explaining to do; meanwhile, islamists are losing ground - and nerve - in the Horn of Africa.

Iranian officials detained in Iraq. Reuters via Yedioth: 'The US Military is holding at least four Iranians in Iraq, including men the Bush administration calls senior military officials, who were seized in raids last week, the New York Times reported on Sunday. The raids were aimed at people suspected of conducting attacks on Iraqi security forces, the Times said, citing senior Iraqi and US officials in Baghdad and Washington. Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the US National Security Council, told the Times two Iranian diplomats were among those initially detained in the raids. They were turned over to Iraqi authorities and released, he said. The Times said Johndroe confirmed that a group of other Iranians, including the military officials, remained in custody while an investigation continued.' Tammy Bruce comments: 'Why would the Bush admin finally take action against Iranians in Iraq now? Because next month he will be telling us what his new plans for Iraq are, we have his State of the Union address, and he needs a good reason to explain why he's rejecting the ISG's suggestion that we negotiate with that pit of a nation.' (Ynet, Tammy Bruce)

Ethiopian forces escalate ware against Somali islamists. New York Times: 'Ethiopia has plunged into war with Somalia’s Islamist forces, pushing ground troops deep into Somali territory on Sunday and attacking the airport in the capital of Mogadishu today, in a major escalation that could turn Somalia’s internal crisis into a violent religious conflict that engulfs the entire Horn of Africa. Ethiopia’s Christian-led government has with tacit American support been helping a weak interim government in Somalia that is threatened by forces loyal to the Islamic clerics who control the capital and much of the country.' Debka: 'Ethiopian fighter jets bomb Mogadishu International Airport Monday. Two people were reported killed in the attack, the first on the headquarters of the Somali Islamic Courts militia, which has occupied the capital and much of the south since June. Sunday, Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi acknowledged that his army was providing air and artillery support for Somali government forces against the Islamist rebels. He said his country was acting in self-defense after the Islamists, fighting for rule based on the Koran, declared holy war on Ethiopia. The Islamist militia is boosted by hundreds of foreign Islamic radicals and believed in Washington to be led by wanted al Qaeda terrorists. Commanders of the Somali forces backed by Ethiopian troops finally claimed gains Monday. They reported the overnight capture of the border town of Belet Wayne after Ethiopian jets bombed Islamic positions. Heavy artillery and mortar fire continued around the beleaguered town of Baidoa, where the government is holed up.' Stratfor (subscription): 'Ethiopian jets bombed the airports in the Somalian capital, Mogadishu, and in Balidogle in southern Somalia on Dec. 25 as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declared war on the Supreme Islamic Courts Council. Ethiopian ground forces also began moving into Somalia, as aircraft struck other towns in Somalia, according to reports from Somalia. Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ambassador Solomon Abede said the Mogadishu airport was attacked because illegal flights were attempting to land there.' Tammy: 'Ethiopia, a largely Christian nation, has launched air strikes against the Islamist terrorists who have been terrorizing Somalia, and declared a jihad against Ethiopia. Keep in mind, Somalia is lost today because Bill Clinton did not have the courage in 1993 to stay and destroy the Islamist warlords, then funded by Osama bin Laden. It was that retreat, after the infamous 'Black Hawk Down' tragedy, when OBL labeled America a "paper tiger," and encouraged him to attack America on our home soil.' (various)

Sikh militants with RDX. Counterterrorism Blog: 'At least three suspected militants affiliated to International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF-Rode) were arrested from different locations on Dec. 24 in Jalandhar (Punjab) along with approx. 11 kg of RDX and other ammunitions. Punjab police sources opined that the explosives were to be used for carrying out disruptive activities during the forthcoming State Assembly election. The militants were identified by the investigating agencies. Jaswinder Singh was arrested from the Chhotti Baradari area with two kg of RDX and a hand grenade. Amolak Singh and Paramjit Singh Dhaddi were arrested with three kgs and six kgs of RDX hand grenades, detonators respectively from undisclosed locations. ...' Full article by Animesh Roul, with background information, at the link. (CTB)

James Brown dies. Jerusalem Post: 'James Brown, known as "the Godfather of Soul," died aged 73, his agent said on Monday morning. Brown was a seminal force in the evolution of gospel and rhythm and blues into soul and funk. He has also left his mark on numerous other musical genres, including rock, jazz, reggae, disco, dance and electronic music, and hip-hop music. Brown began his professional music career in 1953 and skyrocketed to fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s on the strength of his thrilling live performances and a string of smash hits. In spite of various personal problems and setbacks, he continued to score hits in every decade through the 1980s. In the 1960s and 1970s Brown was a presence in American political affairs, noted especially for his activism on behalf of African Americans and the poor.' (JPost)

Commentary. Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail has an analysis of the situation in Somalia, and things aren't looking good for the ICU:
The Ethiopian Air Force has struck deep into the heart of the Islamic Courts held territory. The Mogadishu airport, as well as the Baladogle airport, which is about 70 miles south of the capital, have been hit in air attacks.

Ethiopian and TFG [Transitional Federal Government of Somalia] forces have retaken the strategic border town of Beletweyn after intensive air and artillery strikes, and are now advancing southeast (yesterday we predicted the TFG/Ethiopian force would advance in this direction.) Residents report the ICU retreated without a fight. Beletweyn sits astride the lines of communications to the north and south, and is on the road to Mogadishu. A push southwest from Beletweyn will split ICU forces engaged against Ethiopian and Puntland forces in the Galguduud state. Heavy fighting has also been reported in Gelinsor and Bandiradley, south of the Puntland city of Galcayo.

Roggio also notes that: 'Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri has praised the success of the Islamic Courts over the course of the past year in several audio and video tapes. The defeat of the Islamic Courts would strike a blow to al-Qaeda, and deny it a base of operations astride the Bab El Mandeb, the strait between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, one of the world's seven vital oil choke points.'

Let's hope the good news keeps coming. And to those who celebrate, merry Christmas.