Saddam Hussein is dead.

God. I never thought I'd write those words.

CNN Breaking News: "Saddam Hussein is dead ... Iraqi TV stations report."

BBC news ticker: "Saddam Hussein executed by hanging, according to Iraqi media reports."

MSNBC Breaking News: "Reports: Saddam Hussein executed."

Saddam Hussein, deposed ruler of Iraq, was executed by hanging before dawn Saturday, Dec. 30 for crimes against humanity. He was handed from US to Iraqi custody Friday. US and Iraqi forces on high alert

December 30, 2006, 5:15 AM (GMT+02:00)

He said in an earlier letter he is willing to sacrifice himself for the Iraqi people and would die as a martyr. The Iraqi government was under considerable international pressure not to execute sentence. The former Iraqi ruler was condemned together with his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikrity and the former chairman of the Baath revolutionary courts Awad Ahmad al Bandar. The pleas came from the European Union, the Vatican and some UN agencies.

US and Iraqi forces are on high alert and some areas are under curfew.

Iraq’s Baath warned Thursday of grave consequences if their leader goes to the gallows. An internet message said the US would be held responsible. “The Baath and the resistance are determined to retaliate in all ways and places that hurt America and its interests.” Retaliation was also threatened against the Iraqi High Tribunal which upheld the death sentence. The largely Sunni-Arab Baathists who dominate the insurgency vowed to shut down national reconciliation negotiations.

UPDATE: CNN televises American Muslims dancing in the street at the news of Saddam's death. Kudos to CNN for showing this!

MSNBC: 'DEARBORN, Mich. - Dozens of Iraqi-Americans gathered late Friday at a Detroit-area mosque to celebrate reports that Saddam Hussein had been executed, cheering and crying as drivers honked horns in jubilation.

Dave Alwatan wore an Iraqi flag around his shoulders and flashed a peace sign to everyone he passed at the Karbalaa Islamic Educational Center in this suburb of Detroit, a city that has one of the nation's largest concentrations of people with roots in the Middle East.

"Peace," he said, grinning and laughing. "Now there will be peace for my family." ...'

More at this link: Saddam Hussein.

ITM: Saddam Won't See 2007

Mohammed at Iraq the Model:
Year 2007 will definitely be without Saddam walking on the ground….
It's very imminent now and might become a fact at any minute.
The situation in Baghdad is tense now and US and Iraqi forces are heavily deployed on the streets.

We're hearing and reading more confirmations that US military has already turned Saddam in to the Iraqi authorities and I don't think the government is willing, or able, to keep him in custody for too long.
Rumors are spreading fast through phones and text messages in Baghdad, mostly saying that curfew will be imposed in the city tomorrow. No word about that from state TV though.

Friends and relatives are calling me asking me whether he's been already executed, some are claiming he already has.
Meanwhile lots of updates are coming through news TV here; al-Arabiya reporter said the noose is already set in a yard in the IZ. Al-Hurra reported that preparations for the execution are underway and no delay is expected.

It's going to be a long night but it looks like the morning will bring the news Iraqis have long waited for….

See also: The Iraqi Holocaust


Morning Report: December 28, 2006

Jihadis are defeated in Somalia; a leading terrorist figure is killed; a Saudi activist yields to coercion; Americans rescue Iraqis and fight for Israel; and we take a look at the shape of the information war.

Islamist defeat in Somalia. BBC: 'Ethiopian and Somali government forces have reached the outskirts of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, after Islamist forces abandoned the city.' CNN: 'MOGADISHU, Somalia (Reuters) -- Triumphant Somali government forces marched into Mogadishu on Thursday after Islamist rivals abandoned the war-scarred city they held for six months before an Ethiopian-backed advance. The flight of the Islamists was a dramatic turnaround in the volatile Horn of Africa nation after they took Mogadishu in June and spread across the south imposing sharia rule. Terrified of yet more violence in a city that has become a byword for chaos, some Mogadishu residents greeted the arriving government troops, while others hid. "People are cheering as they wave flowers to the troops," said resident Abdikadar Abdulle, adding scores of government military vehicles had passed the Somalia National University west of the city center. ... "We have been defeated. I have removed my uniform. Most of my comrades have also changed into civilian clothes," one former SICC fighter told Reuters. "Most of our leaders have fled."'

TFR on islamist defeat in Somalia. The Fourth Rail: 'Nine days after the onset of open warfare between the al-Qaeda backed Islamic Courts and the Ethiopian backed Transitional Federal Government, the Islamic Courts have surrendered. "After having crucial and urgent meeting tonight in the capital, the leaders of executive and Shura councils of Islamic Courts Union and deputy leader of executive council of ICU, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and Sheik Abdirahman Janaqow resigned and issued a joint press statement over the current situation in Somalia particular in Mogadishu," reports SomaliNet. ... The Ethiopians are looking for a quick exit from Somalia, and have indicated they will leave soon. "Once we accomplish the mission – half is already over and the rest will not take long – we will leave," said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The Islamic Courts are signaling they will conduct an insurgency. ... The ICU may also be working to integrate its security forces and other elements of the organization into the new, TFG led government to destroy it from within.'

Lessons learned: The word is resolve. Froggy at Blackfive answers the question, "How deep to go?", and offers some reasons for the Ethiopian victory over islamist forces in Somalia: 'Off the top of my head, I would say that Ethiopia is not afflicted with a pernicious and defeatist media machine that is capable of manipulating public opinion, and even if it was, it doesn’t look like the Ethiopian president would give a damn in any case. The word that comes to mind is resolve. When a leader resolves to send men into battle, he is obligated to withstand the criticism of the media so that the troops who are withstanding hostile fire from the enemy are able to decisively defeat that enemy. This is the area where the President, Rumsfeld, and the Generals have been found wanting.' Steve at ThreatsWatch is of a similar mind: 'The absence of our engagement is a wholly arrogant and self-serving definition of peace and devoid of principle. Those who are guided by a fear of perceived American arrogance through her actions often arrive at the same result through their guidance toward inaction, comfortably removed from remaining conflict with clean and distant hands, eyes averted. Take from the Ethiopian advance the lesson of will.' Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at PJM makes the same point, and adds:
Moreover, Jibreel says that the ICU’s collapse has been hastened by its growing unpopularity. “The ICU was terrorizing villages and towns using technicals [pickups with heavy weponry mounted in the rear bed] that the population can’t stand up and fight against,” Jibreel tells Pajamas Media. “But they were not wanted by the people. They were alien. They were trying to use an alien ideology of fanatic Islam, and they had no clan backing.” One of the ICU’s major blunders was decreeing that women couldn’t leave the house without a mahram (male relative who would act as a guard). Professor Ali explains that because of the civil war that enveloped Somalia in the 1990s, more than half of the breadwinners in the country are women. This decree crippled their ability to earn a living. Nor was this the most draconian of the ICU’s rules: in one southern Somali town, the Islamic Courts threatened to behead citizens who failed to pray five times a day.

Sadr aide killed in raid. Hyscience: 'In a sign that the ROEs may be changing, a top deputy of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was killed Wednesday during a raid by U.S. and Iraqi troops in the southern holy city of Najaf. Sahib al-Amiri was shot and killed by a U.S. soldier during the early morning raid and is said to have provided explosives for use against Iraqi and U.S. forces.'

Hajj begins. AP via Jerusalem Post: 'Nearly 3 million Muslims from around the world, chanting "I am here, Lord" and raising their hands to heaven, marched through a desert valley outside Mecca on Thursday in the first day of the annual hajj pilgrimage. This year's hajj takes place amid increasing worries across the Islamic world - over the bloodshed in Iraq, violence in the Palestinian territories and a new war in Somalia. Amid the crises, tensions have increased between the two main sects of Islam, Sunnis and Shi'ites, who come together in the five days of hajj rituals centered around the holy city of Mecca, birthplace of Islam's Prophet Muhammad.'

Saudi writer buys freedom with silence. The Muslim Woman: 'Wajeha Al-Huwaider a Saudi-born writer and journalist is campaigning for women’s rights in the male chauvinistic society of Saudi Arabia. In August 2003, the Saudi Interior Ministry from writing in the Saudi press banned Al-Huwaider. Since then, she has published her articles on the reformist Arabic websites, and has gained international recognition. In November 2004, she was awarded the 2004 PEN/NOVIB Free Expression Award at The Hague for her work for freedom of expression and advancement of women’s rights. She staged a public protest on August 2006 on Saudi King Abdallah bin Abd Al-Aziz’s ascension to the throne. She came onto the streets with a sign saying ‘Give Women Their Rights.’ This was not acceptable to the authorities who however arrested her because of her self-expression. The authorities bartered her freedom with a pledge that would not only cease her but would also desist her from all her human rights activism. Security personnel threatened that if she broke her pledge, she would lose her job with Aramco. She was also not permitted to return to her home in Bahrain, and was forced to remain in Saudi Arabia. This ban was lifted on September 28.'

Russian plane lands after hijacking attempt. Fox News: 'PRAGUE, Czech Republic — A Russian Aeroflot airliner made an unscheduled landing at Prague's Ruzyne international airport on Thursday after an apparent hijacking attempt, police said. A passenger aboard was detained by police. The Airbus A320 flying from Moscow to Geneva, landed in Prague shortly before 11 a.m., airport spokeswoman Pavlina Hajkova said.'

Anbar outlook improving. CENTCOM:
RAMADI, Iraq— “In one of Iraq’s most turbulent areas, we’re seeing signs that the situation is changing,” says Navy Commander James Lee. He just finished a six-month tour with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as their representative on the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) for Al Anbar Province that includes the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. “At one point the local tribal leaders and the population at large fought against us. But as they observed our continuing efforts to improve their communities, they’ve taken noticeable steps switching their alliance from sympathizing with the insurgents to helping us get the security situation under control,” Lee explained.

“We’re working on schools, water and sewage treatment plants, hospitals and primary healthcare centers, electrical generation and distribution networks, waterway maintenance, roadways, police and fire stations and the local residents appreciate our efforts. Those times I would get discouraged about the ongoing challenges, it just took a stop in one of the many villages we were assessing for projects to get re-energized about our mission. The thankful smiles of their youngsters did it for me every time.”

Lee joined the PRT just as it was getting organized and he was one of the first on the ground at their new office in Ramadi. He worked directly with Al Anbar Governor Ma’Moun Sami Rashied, a fellow engineer. “He’s a courageous man, having survived over 20 assassination attempts on his life. I believe in my heart he’s a patriot of Iraq and there’s no question he loves the Al Anbar Province and its people. The sacrifices he and his family have made (including the kidnapping of his son who was eventually returned unharmed) is something to be admired.”

Ma'Moun is a believer in renewable resources and in Iraq's agricultural economy - particularly the succulent dates in Anbar Province. Read the full article at the link.

US Army rescues kidnapped Iraqis. MNF-Iraq: 'CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq – U.S. forces rescued two Iraqis who were held captive by insurgents in the Euphrates River-city of Hit, Iraq, Wednesday. Soldiers from the Friedburg, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division rescued the kidnapping victims after pursuing insurgents who were fleeing in three vehicles containing the captives. In their escape, the insurgents fled on foot, abandoning their vehicles and victims. The soldiers found the victims under a palm tree, handcuffed near the abandoned vehicles. No one was killed or injured during the incident. ...'

Israel: American olim think army. Jerusalem Post: 'Yonatan Cooper always knew that he would immigrate to Israel, but it was the death of his close friend, Michael Levine, in the recent war in Lebanon that prompted the 24-year-old to pack his bags and join 220 olim on a Nefesh B'Nefesh/The Jewish Agency flight Wednesday. ... On the flight to Israel, Cooper was joined by 21 other olim who plan to join the IDF within the coming months, and one oleh, Eliyahu Joselit, who has already served two- and-a-half years. Joselit, who joined the IDF as a volunteer in the Nahal Haredi unit, was allowed to keep renewing his time with the IDF. He had served more than two years when he was suddenly told that it was "deeply, deeply against the rules" for him to continue to volunteer and that he must make aliya in order to continue serving in the IDF.'

Commentary. Richard Fernandez at The Belmont Club has an in-depth article on "The Blogosphere at War." It is impossible to do justice to Wretchard's analysis in a summary, so I'll just note that it examines the blogosphere's structure in terms of collection, analysis, and dissemination ("finders, thinkers, and linkers"), provides real-world examples including the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 and the "Captain Jamil Hussein" debacle, and highlights the critical step of reaching the "legitimizer" - that established, entrenched organization or entity that lends authority to a fact or narrative. Go read the article as soon as you get the chance.

In Somalia, the military defeat of the islamist forces is nothing short of stunning. I think it's a given that they will try to conduct an insurgency and make life unpleasant for Somalis; there's no reason not to expect that. But as a military force, they're finished.

I'd like to return for a moment to the PJM article on the islamist defeat in Somalia. Gartenstein-Ross enumerates several key factors. The first, of course, is the will to win, and the absence of a defeatist leftist media follows close behind. As today's posts and earlier ones indicate, this is pretty well understood throughout the pro-victory blogosphere.

But Gartenstein-Ross names several other, more specific factors, which may be equally important, and which I think bear out the analysis of West Point's Militant Ideology Atlas.

Dahir Jibreel, the transitional government’s permanent secretary in charge of international cooperation, is in constant contact with transitional government leaders who are conducting the military campaign. He says two other factors were critical in Ethiopia’s military success. One is that the ICU committed a strategic blunder by spreading its forces too thin. ...

Moreover, Jibreel says that the ICU’s collapse has been hastened by its growing unpopularity. “The ICU was terrorizing villages and towns using technicals [pickups with heavy weponry mounted in the rear bed] that the population can’t stand up and fight against,” Jibreel tells Pajamas Media. “But they were not wanted by the people. They were alien. They were trying to use an alien ideology of fanatic Islam, and they had no clan backing.”

Combating Terrorism Center:
Jihadi propaganda—which is designed to reclaim this lost credibility—can be countered with the following messages:

— Jihadis want a totalitarian system of government in which no one is allowed to think for themselves. Not even the Saudi government is strict enough. Anyone who does not share their understanding of Islam will be declared an apostate and executed. If you want to know what a Jihadi state will look like, contemplate the Taliban—the only state in recent memory that Jihadis consider to have been legitimately Islamic. ...

One of the ICU’s major blunders was decreeing that women couldn’t leave the house without a mahram (male relative who would act as a guard). Professor Ali explains that because of the civil war that enveloped Somalia in the 1990s, more than half of the breadwinners in the country are women. This decree crippled their ability to earn a living.

Jihadis are routinely condemned for the following reasons:
— Declaring other Muslims apostates
— Attacking other Muslims
— Attacking women, children, and the elderly
— Attacking the sources of a nation's wealth, such as tourism and the oil industry
— Creating political and social chaos

Nor was this the most draconian of the ICU’s rules: in one southern Somali town, the Islamic Courts threatened to behead citizens who failed to pray five times a day.

— The Jihadi message is so weak and unappealing that they have to use violence to persuade people. They claim to be saving Islam, but they are giving it a bad reputation. They are hurting their own people and national resources.

So it appears that the insights of West Point's playbook are supported by the recent events in Somalia.

The information war follows some of the same principles as the ground war. Those of us who are intent on defeating the jihadis and fascists can optimize our efforts by being aware of what works and what doesn't. Few people become convinced of an idea by being lectured or shouted at; on the other hand, most reasonable, intelligent people tend to trust conclusions they've arrived at on their own when presented with the relevant facts. That approach - plus persistence and the will to win - will help us in advancing the cause of freedom.


Three Iranians Seek Conversion to Judaism

Three Iranians interested in converting to Judaism recently left their native country, but have been unable to find any entity to assist them.

The three Shi'ite Muslims left Iran and approached the Israeli embassy and Jewish communities in Azerbaijan, but were rejected. It is impossible to convert to Judaism in Iran, as they would be considered heretics, a crime punishable by death. They are now waiting in a makeshift city in Turkey for a United Nations hearing on their application for refugee status.

The three left Iran two months ago and immediately approached the Israeli embassy in Baku. According to N., they were given a chilly reception. N. points out that embassy officials did not invite them into the building, but talked to them on the street.

"We told them we want visas to Israel in order to convert," N. recounts. "They told us that if we are not Jewish, our parents aren't Jewish and we have no family members in Israel, we cannot get visas."

The three also did not receive warm welcomes in Baku synagogues. At one place of worship, they were laughed at, at another, locked out. ...

Morning Report: December 27, 2006

New perspectives on Somalia, Ford remembered, and an inside look at Lebanon.

Ethiopian troops close in on Mogadishu. Monsters and Critics: 'Fighters loyal to the Islamic Courts Union load up on trucks to head to the front on Tuesday, 26 December, 2006 a day after the Ethiopian air-force bombed the runway. Somalia's Islamist militia reportedly pulls back from front line positions after assaults from the soldiers loyal to the internationally recognized transitional government which are backed by troops from Ethiopia.' Debka has a more detailed analysis:
Many of the foreign elements fighting on the side of the Islamic Courts militia were sent to Somalia by Christian-ruled Eritrea to harass its rival Christian power, Ethiopia. The Eritreans are joined by fighters from pro-Western Muslim nations of the Middle East to help a jihadist militia with strong links to al Qaeda to displace the pro-Western, internationally recognized Somali government.

Some military experts see this sectarian mishmash as a dress rehearsal for the big show should the very powers supporting the Islamist Courts in Somali decide to intervene in Iraq to restore Sunni Arabs to power and cleanse Baghdad of Shiite rule and Iranian influence. In five days, Ethiopian-backed government forces secured Burhakaba, 160 km west of Mogadishu, the strategically important towns on the Ethiopian border of Beledweyne and Bandiradley, and Dinsoor in central Somalia. They are also in control of Baidoa, to which the government was driven by the Islamist advance on Mogadishu.

The full-scale Ethiopian push this week was preceded by a small vanguard of special forces which have been operating in Somalia for the past six months. Present there now is an Ethiopian armored division of 15,000 men with 120 tanks, mobile cannons and air force jets. From Monday, air strikes were carried out against Islamic bases across Somalia. The United Islamic Courts Militia’s fighters are reported to be in disordered retreat to the capital.

The article explains Eritrea's role in the conflict:
The Horn’s two predominantly Christian nations, Ethiopia with a population of 73 million and tiny Eritrea with 4.5 million - who are half-and-half Christian and Muslim, are at daggers drawn. Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrean president Isaias Afworky are third cousins and sworn enemies.
Their enmity has led them into four major confrontations in four years.

Afworky never accepted Eritrea’s defeat in 2004 at the end of its long war with Ethiopia. He ignited the Somali conflict as part of a grand plan to overcome his military inferiority by guile and subversion. The Eritrean ruler is well regarded by Ethiopia’s largest ethnic tribe, the Oromo, which form 40% of the population. To stir up the Oromo’s secessionist aspirations, the Eritreans established the Oromo Liberation Front-OLF, which Afworky eggs on to fight the Addis Ababa government from a base in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.

Then, five months ago, Afworky persuaded a large group of high-ranking Ethiopian military commanders, members of the Oromo tribe, to defect to Eritrea. He took their advice on ways to topple his third cousin in Addis Ababa ...

Afworky's Oromo sympathizers in Ethiopia, as well as the Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF), would under this scheme launch a coup against Addis Ababa while "the Ethiopian army is fully engaged in Somalia". Read the full article at the link.

President Bush pays tribute to Gerald Ford. The White House:
THE PRESIDENT: My fellow Americans, all of us are saddened by the news that former President Gerald R. Ford passed away last night. I spoke with Betty Ford. On behalf of all Americans Laura and I extend to Mrs. Ford and all President Ford's family our prayers and our condolences.

President Ford was a great man who devoted the best years of his life in serving the United States. He was a true gentleman who reflected the best in America's character. Before the world knew his name, he served with distinction in the United States Navy and in the United States Congress.

As a congressman from Michigan, and then as Vice President, he commanded the respect and earned the good will of all who had the privilege of knowing him. On August 9, 1974, he stepped into the presidency without ever having sought the office. He assumed power in a period of great division and turmoil. For a nation that needed healing and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we needed him most.

During his time in office, the American people came to know President Ford as a man of complete integrity who led our country with common sense and kind instincts.

Americans will always admire Gerald Ford's unflinching performance of duty and the honorable conduct of his administration, and the great rectitude of the man himself.

We mourn the loss of such a leader, and our 38th President will always have a special place in our nation's memory.

President Ford lived 93 years, and his life was a blessing to America. And now this fine man will be taken to his rest by a family that will love him always, and by a nation that will be grateful to him forever.

May god bless Gerald Ford.

Michael Totten: Hezbollah's putsch. Returned from Lebanon, Michael J. Totten takes us to Hezbollah's recent demonstration in Beirut. Hezbollah was keen on looking both strong and legitimate, so its own green-and-yellow flag was kept out of sight in favor of the Lebanese cedar flag. The turnout for the rally was big, but
when you see photos of large masses of Hezbollah protesters, keep in mind that the anti-Syrian rally on March 14 of last year filled the same space you see above in addition to filling the much larger Martyr’s Square area to the east of downtown. Hezbollah likes to claim their rally was larger. But it is not physically possible for it to have been larger. They filled the space allotted to them, but they had much less space to fill.

The Aounists, who had switched sides since last summer, were also there. Go to the post for the whole thing, and lots of photos.

Army engineers bring joy to Iraq orphanage. CENTCOM: 'AN NASIRIYAH — Orphanages recently received numerous packages of stuffed animals delivered to promote goodwill between Iraqi and U.S. children and help the rebuilding effort in Iraq. “The children were extremely happy and did not believe that the stuffed animals were given especially for them,” said Edmay Mayers, a program analyst with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. An Iraqi associate told Mayers the headmistress of the orphanage welcomed the team that delivered the toys and appreciated what the Americans were doing for the Iraqis. On her first tour to Iraq, Mayers visited one of the elementary schools and saw a beautiful interaction between the Americans and the children. “The children of Iraq have stolen my heart,” Mayers said. “They are precious, young and innocent, and if only a child remembers that an American, British, South African or Australian person gave them something that made them feel special as a child, then we have done our part to help these little ones.” For her, the children need these toys as much if not more than the school supplies.'

IED chief bites the dust. MNF-Iraq: '8th Iraqi Army Division Forces, with coalition advisors, killed a suspected improvised explosive device facilitator and cell leader during operations Dec. 27 in Abu Sukhayr, near An Najaf. The person was implicated in an October 2006 IED attack on a police chief in An Najaf. The suspect allegedly provided recently several IEDs to his cell for an attack that he allegedly directed be carried out against Iraqi and Coalition Forces in the An Najaf area. During operations, Iraqi forces and coalition advisors entered the individual's house to search for and detain him. Upon entrance, a man was observed moving up a set of stairs leading to the roof of the house. He ignored repeated verbal warnings to stop. Iraqi Soldiers and coalition advisors followed the man up the stairs and onto the roof. First on the roof was an Iraqi Soldier, followed by a Coalition Forces Soldier.'

Commentary. Today's items on Somalia and Lebanon highlight why it's important to understand the present conflict on more than a superficial level. I'll keep looking for more information on the Horn of Africa conflict(s) and post it as soon as I can.


Rough Men Ready to Do Violence

News from the front lines, the terrorists' head games, and some thoughts about homeland insecurity.

MNF-Iraq: 9/11 hero finds his calling.
“I was getting ready to get out of the Army,” said Bramhall. “On 9/11, I went downtown to be out-processed, but found myself at the World Trade Center doing search and rescue.”

“I just walked out of the Madison Square Garden Train Station, and these Secret Service agents grabbed me and asked if I would help pull security since I was in uniform,” he said. “I didn’t think, I just did what I was asked to do.”

Bramhall, fighting through the chaos from the citizens of NYC, followed his orders and made his way to the towers to help secure the area. As he was pulling security, Bramhall was asked to help with one of the biggest missions of his life – go into the towers to help people evacuate them before they fell. ...

He was able to save a life at the World Trade Center site, but that wasn't enough.
After his service at the World Trade Center site was complete, Bramhall still decided to leave the military. He then went to work for the Rescue 1 Fire Station in NYC, hoping to continue to serve the people of New York. But after some time of reflection, Bramhall decided the best way he could serve the people of New York and his country was to go back into the Army.

Now a member of the 5-73 Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Bramhall says he’s right where he needs to be – serving his country in Iraq.

“This is one of the reasons I am here in Iraq,” he said. “I’m here in support of those people in the towers who didn’t make it out of there. I’m doing this for them. I’m also doing this for another person who worked with me at the towers.”

Go read the whole thing at the link.

Michael Yon: The terrorists' smoke and mirrors. 'This war has a thousand faces. A couple weeks ago in Singapore, an opportunity arose to speak with a clutch of field-grade officers, most of whom were foreign veterans of the worldwide war. These officers were from countries such as Singapore, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia and the United States. A common theme among our foreign allies is a concern that we Americans seem to think we are standing alone against a world teaming with enemies. Our military leaders of course know that we are not alone and that enemies do not lurk in every cave or under every rock. They know, too, that we have more allies than enemies, and even more who fit into neither category.'

CENTCOM: Dead terrorists.
BAQUBAH, Iraq - Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army, partnered with coalition forces from the 1-12 Combined Arms Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, continued targeting terrorist cells Saturday to eliminate enemy activity and bring peace to the people of the Tahrir area of Baqubah.

Throughout the operations, the IA and CF were engaged repeatedly by several small arms fire and mortar attacks.

The forces, targeting the enemy, killed 11 terrorists, wounded one and detained approximately 20 suspects.

Countercolumn: What's wrong with this picture? Jason takes a look at the NYT's story on that raid on an Iraqi police station and notices something odd:
Here's the lede graf from the New York Times:

Hundreds of British and Iraqi soldiers assaulted a police station in the southern city of Basra today, killing seven gunmen, rescuing 127 prisoners from what the British said was almost certain execution and ultimately reducing the facility to rubble.

Sounds like great news, right? ...

But if you were just scanning headlines, you wouldn't know a damn thing:

British Troops Raid Iraqi Police Station, Killing 7

You also wouldn't know the rather relevant detail that the perps, in this case, weren't Al Qaeda or Ba'athist diehards, nor were they Mahdi militia types - they were elements of a corrupt and brutish police organization.

Which is surprising to me, given that back in '03 and '04, all we were hearing about was how much better the British were at this stuff than the Americans.

Remarks. You know, it occurs to me that the reason so many left-liberals go out of their way to demean and infantilize the military and its people, is that they are afraid of them. They're afraid of the things our fighting men and women represent - courage, sacrifice, discipline, strength, idealism. They quail at the very thought that a young American would willingly pick up a loaded weapon and walk into a gunfight, with the intention of finishing the gunfight in a manner not to the enemy's advantage.

And so, the moonbats must wring their hands and bleat their phony concerns about the safety of our troops and "getting the troops out of harm's way" while rigorously screening out the idea that those troops might, themselves, have something worthwhile to say about the matter.

Let me ask you this: When did it become the case that it is the civilians' job to protect the military?

In the back of their minds, even the peaceniks understand this. The fact that they are in debt to "rough men ready to do violence" threatens their already weak sense of selfhood, so they must compensate by either demonizing or trivializing the warriors who go out and risk their lives to kill evil men.

Morning Report: December 26, 2006

Abu Naji. British and Iraqi troops raid a suspect police station. In Africa, islamist militias continue their retreat.

UK troops raid Iraqi police station. Details on this are still sketchy, but I'll post what I can find. Here's The Telegraph:
The UK is to explain why it demolished a notorious Iraqi police station in a bid to avert elements of the local council ending co-operation with British forces.

The Foreign Office said there would be discussions over yesterday's dramatic raid after the head of the city's council reportedly condemned it as illegal and provocative.

Officials said there had been no formal announcement of a halt to co-operation in the southern city despite threats of one - and suggested the move had been popular with local people.

More than 1,000 troops, accompanied by Iraqis, swooped on the Jameat station in the early hours amid rumours that dozens of prisoners were about to be executed.

The operation, one of the biggest led by the UK since the 2003 invasion, was part of a drive to stamp out renegade Shiite militia elements believed to have infiltrated police operating from the compound.

There had been fears of repercussions against captives after seven high-ranking members of the Serious Crime Unit were arrested by British forces on suspicion of corruption and leading a death squad last week.

A total of 127 prisoners - some thought to have been tortured - were removed from the premises and taken to other secure locations while hundreds of seized files and computers were examined for evidence.

International Herald Tribune gives more details: 'A military action against a police station in the southern city of Basra found prisoners being held in conditions that a British military spokesman, Major Charlie Burbridge, described as "appalling." More than 100 men were crowded into a single cell, about 9 meters by 12 meters, or 30 feet by 40 feet, he said, with two open toilets, two sinks and just a few blankets spread over the concrete floor. A significant number showed signs of torture. Some had crushed hands and feet, Burbridge said, while others had cigarette and electrical burns and a significant number had gunshot wounds to their legs and knees. Hundreds of British and Iraqi soldiers assaulted the police station on Monday, killing seven gunmen, rescuing 127 prisoners from what the British said was almost certain execution and ultimately reducing the facility to rubble.' More info as it becomes available. (Telegraph, IHT)

Ethiopian troops on the move, ICU thugs on the run. More good news for the good guys. Jerusalem Post: 'Islamic fighters retreated from the main front line in Somalia early Tuesday after a week of artillery and mortar duels and attacks by government and Ethiopian troops, witnesses said. Troops loyal to the Council of Islamic Courts withdrew more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the southeast from Daynuney, a town just south of Baidoa, the government headquarters. The retreat along the western front follows the bombing by Ethiopian jets of the country's two main international airports. The Islamic forces also abandoned their main stronghold in Bur Haqaba and were forming convoys headed toward the capital Mogadishu, residents in villages along the road told The Associated Press by telephone.' And:
Islamic fighters were in a tactical retreat Tuesday, a senior Islamic leader said, as government and Ethiopian troops advanced on three fronts in a decisive turn around in the battle for control of Somalia.

Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, leader of the Council of Islamic Courts' executive body, told reporters in Mogadishu that his movement would not engage in any peace process as long as Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia.

"We have asked our troops to withdraw from some areas," he said. "The war is entering a new phase. We will fight Ethiopia for a long, long time and we expect the war to go everyplace."

Ahmed declined to explain is comments in greater detail, but some Islamic leaders have threatened a guerrilla war to include suicide bombings in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

Islamic troops withdrew more than 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the southeast from Daynuney, a town just south of Baidoa, the government headquarters. The retreat along the western front follows the bombing by Ethiopian jets of the country's two main international airports.

Advancing government and Ethiopian troops captured Bur Haqaba, one of the Islamists' main bases after it was abandoned early Tuesday.

"We woke up from our sleep this morning and the town was empty of troops, not a single Islamic fighter," Ibrahim Mohamed Aden, a resident of Bur Haqaba said.

Islamic fighters were also reportedly retreating on two other fronts. ...

Full article at the link. Yedioth: 'Ethiopian troops are advancing on the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and could seize it within 24-48 hours, Somalia's envoy to Ethiopia said on Tuesday. "Ethiopian forces are on their way to Mogadishu. They are about 70 km (40 miles) away and it is possible they could capture it in the next 24 to 48 hours," Abdikarin Farah told reporters in the Ethiopian capital.' The analysis at The Fourth Rail concludes: 'The Islamic Courts appears to be surprised by the quick advance and ferocity of attacks by the Ethiopian and TFG forces, as the hasty withdrawal from important towns, and abandoned critical weapons systems. To prevent a successful insurgency, the Ethiopian and TFG forces must press the attack, remove as many senior and mid-level ICU leaders as possible from the battlefield, seize as much territory as possible, and quickly restore order to the areas wrested from ICU. Dr. Abdiweli Ali, an adviser to the Transitional Federal Government, indicated to us that this is in the works.' Go get 'em. (various)

Shock unplugged. Boston Herald (h/t Malkin): 'Hachette Filipachi Media last week may have pulled the plug on its controversial photo magazine Shock after just eight issues. But a former Green Beret who now uses Massachusetts as his base is vowing to keep up the fight against the French media giant who he says illegally published one of his Iraq War photos without his permission.
“Even with Shock out of circulation, the battle with HFM has only just begun,’’ said Michael Yon, in an exclusive e-mail interview with the Herald as he prepared to go back to Iraq for more war reporting for his popular Web blog(www.michaelyon.blogspot.com).' Michael Yon's current site is here. Here's Michael Yon on Shock Magazine. (various)

Commentary. I don't have any comments on the situation in Basra, except that if we're getting closer to the rule of justice and law and away from vigilanteism, then that's a good thing. Here's Amir Taheri, from a couple of days ago, on southern Iraq:
One does not need to look hard to spot a few members of the Mahdi Army, the militia supposed to be led by Muqtada Al-Sadr, a junior mullah now in cahoots with Iran. However, although the Sadr family of theologians enjoys a reputation built over more than four centuries it is clear that young Muqtada and his associates do not run the show in Basra.

The strongest Shiite group in the city is a loose coalition known as the Fadhilah (Virtue) Party that, while developing the usual themes of Shiism, is Arab nationalist and anti-Iranian. The second most influential Shiite party in the city is the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), another loose coalition led by Abdul-Aziz Hakim, a junior mullah, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents. While SCIRI was close to Iran for almost a quarter of a century it has taken care to emphasize its independence since the fall of Saddam in 2003.

Iran's influence in the form of Mafia-like networks of military and business interests may look pervasive. But this does not hide the fact that most Iraqis Shiites do not like Iran and are suspicious of its allegedly hegemonic ambitions. If they still maintain an appearance of close fraternal ties with Iran, it is to have an insurance policy against the day the Americans and their allies run away. Iran's money, important in the early post-Saddam days, is no longer needed. Most Iraqi Shiite groups have developed their own networks of making money through semi-legal, and at times openly illegal, business activities that include exports of refined petroleum products to Iran.

The lesson here is that: 'To tribal sheikhs who have re-emerged as key players in southern Iraq's checkered politics, the success or failure of Basra's return to life largely depends on whether or not the Multinational Force, which in their case means the British contingent of 7,100 soldiers, will leave before the local security forces are in a position to assume control. The sheikhs call the British "Abu-Naji" which could be roughly translated into "The Father of salvation". It is no longer in purely military terms that the British presence is still needed. Early last month a British contingent, backed by Danish Special Forces, organized a spectacular raid on a cluster of terrorist hideouts along the river in Basra, killing and capturing a number of insurgents and seizing arms caches. Such operations, however, are rare, as the "Abu Naji" has been preparing to hand over the province's security to the Iraqis and let Iraqi units do whatever fighting may still be required.' From the recent news, it doesn't look like the British are planning on leaving any time soon.

Castro's Condition

Tell me if this doesn't sound like the definition of "dead":
A Spanish surgeon who had traveled to Cuba to examine Fidel Castro said Tuesday that the ailing Cuban president does not have cancer, does not need additional surgery, and is recovering from his illness.


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.


TNR vs. Mary Cheney's Baby

Glen Wishard at Little Green Colloquium lets loose with both barrels on The New Republic:
Dear TNR:

I did not know that Mary Cheney was going to have a baby. Still less did I know that this baby presented a personal problem for me – a conundrum, no less. In a time of war and momentous ideological struggle, thank you for taking a moment to warn me of this fresh unforeseen threat. Forgive me if my reaction seems ungrateful.

Mary Cheney’s baby is none of your damn business. Who the hell do you people think you are, the Gay Standards & Practices Committee? Why don’t you keep your sheet-sniffing ferret noses out of other peoples’ laundry?

However many things I have failed to decry in this life, and however profound my baby-induced existential crisis is, I must decline your offer to have Andrew Sullivan dissect me for nine bucks and some change. In fact, if Andrew is looking for something to do, why don’t you tell him to get his own head and ass wired back together into some kind of functional apparatus? If he did he might start making occasional sense again.

Feel free to contact me if you have anything to say that isn’t utterly moronic.

* stands on chair and cheers loudly *

Glen adds: 'It’s not the fact that the New Republic has decided to pester a baby that makes me mad, per se. It’s the fact that so many responsible liberals, for whom TNR once served as a flag ship, still insist on retreating into frivolities like this one.' Go read the rest of this magnificent post.

I wanted to write to TNR too when I saw that article. The thing is, it's not substantially different from every other sneering piece from the left-of-center press. These are the guys that will go and dig up some quote from some fringe-right-wing group and say "Look! See what a hard time those lesbian Republicans have!"

It's because the liberal Left needs Archie Bunker. They can't deal with a rational, moderate, center-to-right mainstream; so they drag up the boogeymen they know they can defeat. And they have to convince their liberal audience, and themselves, that those Archie Bunkers are the threat to America that only they - the liberal establishment - can defeat. What a transparent farce. What an insult.

As I observed earlier, most of the news coverage of the Cheney pregnancy has been gratuitously nasty. The only unequivocally positive statement I could find came from - you guessed it - President Bush. I quoted the media on the couple of issues - specifically the lesbian couple's legal standing in their home state of Virginia and Bush's previous comments on same-sex parenting - that were legitimate and directly relevant to the story.

As my regular readers know, and as you'll know from reading my previous post, I do not shy away from speaking up on gay domestic issues, and I don't hesitate to criticize social conservatives when I think it's appropriate. But I also understand that the conservative world is far richer and deeper than the liberal media's caricature would allow us to believe. And I don't need the intellectual pipsqueaks at The New Republic telling me what I'm supposed to think about this.

Because, with all due respect to the late Carroll O'Connor, Archie Bunker is dead.

Morning Report: December 24, 2006

Over the edge. The action in New York may not look like much, but it was enough to yank somebody's chain pretty good. Plus: light on a suspected mole, and a bad day for the Taliban.

UN votes in favor of Iran sanctions. Stratfor (subscription): '1705 GMT - The United Nations on Dec. 23 voted to sanction Iran for its refusal to halt nuclear fuel enrichment activities. The full text of the sanctions has not yet been released.' According to Debka, Mr. Ahmadinejad is not pleased: 'Ahmadinejad says “issuers” of UN sanctions resolution against Iran “will soon regret their useless act”. He called the sanctions resolution the Security Council carried unanimously Saturday, Dec. 23, against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment “trash paper”. Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator said Iran will begin installing 3,000 centrifuges at a uranium enrichment plan at Natanz from Sunday and drive it with full speed. Shortly before the vote, the US and Russian presidents conferred by telephone to overcome last-minute snags.' Debka's analysts are unimpressed:
The price of a unanimous vote was an emasculated sanctions motion which leaves US and Israel minus a policy or defense for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The final version contains little that should inconvenience Tehran, and no word on the clandestine military nuclear activities systematically concealed from UN inspectors.

While banning imports and exports of dangerous materials and technology relating to nuclear enrichment, reprocessing, ballistic missile programs and heavy water reactors - such as the one in Arak - the resolution omits to block the far larger reactor the Russians are building at Bushehr, even though it will be able to produce plutonium for making a weapon. Moscow has also got away with forcing Western members to drop the proposed travel ban and financial freeze against 11 individuals and 12 organizations from Iran which associated with nuclear programs, to prevent them from buying dangerous materials.

Victor Comras at Counterterrorism Blog thinks it's not enough, but better than nothing:
Sanctions can be very useful tools when carefully crafted, used wisely, and in conjunction with other measures and policies designed to achieve clear objectives. I believe that substantive economic and trade sanctions could be used effectively to dissuade Iran from continuing to pursue its nuclear weapons program. Iran’s economy is very fragile, and the current economic situation has already created growing internal opposition to the policies of Iran’s erratic President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But the measures so far adopted are not designed to disrupt or distress Iran’s economy or normal trade and business activities. Nor do they penalize Iran’s leaders. Rather, they are directed only at hampering (they certainly won’t stop) Iran’s access to nuclear material and technology. They are unlikely to foster increased domestic pressure on the Ahmadinejad government to change course.

The sanctions are very narrowly targeted. They direct all countries to freeze the assets of 10 Iranian entities and 12 individuals associated with Iran’s centrifuge programs, its heavy water reactor at Arak and its pilot uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. The 12 individuals include a vice president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and officials associated with the Arak and Natanz plants. The measures also impose a limited ban on materials and technology that could contribute to “enrichment-related, reprocessing or heavy water related activities, or to the development of nuclear weapons delivery systems.” One should note, however, that these same items supposedly have already long been restricted under various international agreements such as the Nuclear Supplier Group, the Wassenaar agreement and the NPT itself.

Full post at the link. More analysis as it becomes available. (various)

Key Taliban figure killed. Washington Times: 'A U.S. air strike near the Pakistan border killed the Taliban's southern military commander, an associate of Osama bin Laden and heir to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, U.S. and Afghan officials said yesterday. Akhtar Mohammed Osmani's vehicle was hit by a U.S. air strike Tuesday as he traveled in a deserted area in the southern province of Helmand, the spokesman said. Two of his associates also were killed. U.S. and Afghan officials said the strike was a major victory. Ahmed Rashid, a leading author on the Taliban, said Osmani's death could disrupt planning for a Taliban offensive early next year, designed to extend the recent surge of violence across Afghanistan. Osmani played an instrumental role in some of the Taliban's most notorious excesses -- including the demolition of the ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan and the trial of Christian aid workers in 2001, Mr. Rashid said. He also was one of three top associates of Mullah Omar, and among the first supporters of bin Laden within the militant Islamic militia's top ranks, Mr. Rashid said.' BBC: 'Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani's vehicle was reportedly hit in an air strike in Helmand province in south Afghanistan. The US said Mullah Osmani was the chief Taleban military commander in southern Afghanistan - scene of heavy clashes between the Taleban and US-led forces. A Taleban spokesman is said to have dismissed reports of his death. But Afghanistan's interior ministry confirmed the killing, calling it "a big achievement."' (Washington Times, BBC)

British spy debacle: An end to denial? As reported at DiL earlier, a highly-placed British corporal named Daniel James has been accused of spying for "the enemy", believed to be a reference to Iran. Michael Ledeen writes at his new weblog (care to guess what it's called?):
Con Coughlin is one of the best British journalists on the military/intelligence/national security beat, and he is privy to the thinking of top policy people and field commanders. In today’s “Telegraph” he picks up on a theme I raised yesterday: that both Washington and London are grudgingly coming to accept the fact that Iran is waging war against us in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Coughlin carefully spells out the implications of the accusation against a top British military aide in Afghanistan. Corporal Daniel James–the personal interpreter for the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan–is charged with giving the Iranians information that “prejudic(es) the safety of the (British) state.” No matter how this case is ultimately resolved, Coughlin writes, the fact that Iran is interested in recruiting such people confirms the mullahs’ desire to ensure the failure of our mission.

Ledeen differs from Coughlin only in the assessment of where the culture of denial is rooted: 'Coughlin explains it in a purely military context. He says that NATO troops have enough to do, fighting Taliban units in southern Afghanistan, and are just not prepared to extend their field of operations to the north and west. But, as he says, that would necessarily change if, as appears to be case, our leaders can no longer ignore the evidence. I think the self-blinding of the West took place at a higher, and more political, level. I blame the intelligence community and the diplomats.' Read the full article at the link. Richard at Hyscience has some thoughts. (Michael Ledeen, Hyscience)

Commentary. Regardless of the immediate, direct impact of UN sanctions against the IRI, this is a big victory for a couple of reasons. One, nobody will be able to say that "America is isolating itself in the world" when the US has successfully negotiated a unanimous vote by the UNSC against Iran. Two, and perhaps more important, this will help to push Tehran's psychotic thug-in-chief over the edge - as we've already seen.

Ahmadinejad was dealt a setback in the recent elections and he's not in a good mood. Those elections, BTW, showed support for Ahmadinejad's rivals, the "moderate conservatives"; and as SKF puts it, 'If Rafsanjani is a Moderate Conservative I don't know what to call the rest of them.' But as even the BBC has to admit, 'Ahmadinejad's supporters were said to be in a minority' for Tehran's city council, and 'supporters have also failed to main significant gains on the Assembly of Experts, which can dismiss the supreme leader.'

It's going to be getting harder for AJ to keep calling Bush the "world's most hated" leader.


Morning Report: December 22, 2006

Abizaid requests another carrier in Gulf. Debka: 'US Middle East Commander Gen. John Abizaid puts in request for another carrier in Gulf region as warning to Syria and Iran. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that this request, revealed by a senior Pentagon official, is the first time in four years that an American general has asked for a special force as a deterrent for Syria and Iran. Our Washington sources interpret the publication of Gen. Abizaid’s request during the visit to Iraq of the new defense secretary Robert Gates’ and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace as indicating that the Bush administration is heading for a major operation against the two key threats to Iraq’s stability: the Sunni insurgents supported by Syria and the Shiite militias, which receive arms, intelligence and funding from Tehran. In its latest quarterly report, the defense department accused Iran and Syria of undermining the Iraqi government by providing both active and passive support to anti-government and anti-coalition forces. The application to deploy a third carrier in the Gulf in late March 2007 is a pointer to the projected timeline of this operation. It will confront Tehran and Damascus with the option of direct intervention to rescue their Iraqi allies, or standing aside. President George W. Bush is officially reported to have not yet decided on the coming steps in Iraq. However the central command’s application for another carrier suggests that the decision is more or less final. The carrier Eisenhower and its strike group are already in the Gulf region accompanied by guided missile destroyers and the nuclear assault submarine USS Newport, as is the USS Boxer Strike Group.' (Debka)

Indonesian Supreme Court overturns Ba'asyir conviction. Counterterrorism Blog: 'Late on Thursday, the Indonesian Supreme Court overturned the two-year conviction for militant cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir. In doing so, the court was saying that the conviction of Ba'asyir was invalid--and his involvement in the 2002 Bali bombing is not proven. The court also ordered the government to "rehabilitate" Ba'asyir's name, though at least one government spokesman on Thursday was insisting that they still viewed Ba'asyir as a terrorist. Few had anticipated the Supreme Court verdict, though in a sense it is not a surprise. During two separate trials, the Indonesian government prosecutors had put together incredibly weak cases against Ba'asyir. Part of this was blamed on incompetence. ... Regardless of where the fault lies, an emboldened Ba'asyir is certain to ratchet up his already fiery rhetoric. Yesterday was definitely two steps backward for Indonesia's counter-terrorist effort.' Full post at the link. (CTB)

Michael Totten is back. Michael J. Totten: 'I’m back from a three-week under-the-radar trip to Beirut and South Lebanon. I wanted to write about events there while they were happening. But I went to Hezbollah’s southern “capital” of Bint Jbail, and also to their blasted-apart command and control center in the dahiyeh, the suburb south of Beirut. I’m on their “list,” so to speak, and it was both easier and safer to work without announcing my presence and giving them the chance to run interference. ...' Go read the rest - and wish Michael a speedy recovery from that flu. (MJT)

Islamists waging "full-scale war" on Ethiopian troops in Somalia. News24: 'Fighting between Ethiopia-backed government troops and Islamist forces raged for a third day on Friday in southern Somalia, with the Islamists vowing to wage "full-scale war". Islamic commander Hassan Bullow said: "Our Mujahideen are ready to defend themselves from the invading enemies. This war is a religious obligation and we are here to fight for our religion against the enemies until we die." Ethiopia was supporting Somalia's weak government against the Islamist forces, which controlled the capital, Mogadishu, and much of the war-ravaged Horn of Africa nation.'


Zawahiri's Christmas Video

Please permit me the pleasure of sharing this wonderful video. It's funny, it's sad, it's profound, it will bring tears to your eyes. Absolutely some of the best satire I've ever seen.

Merry Christmas from Ayman al-Zawahiri.

From ScrappleFace, of course. Hat tip: Winds of Change.

Poland: No to King Jesus

Tammy Bruce is disappointed that a measure to name Jesus the King of Poland won't pass. I would say, "But what about the Polish Jews?", but I guess there aren't enough of those left to cause a problem, are there?

Tammy Bruce:
Jesus Named Honorary King ... In Poland. If certain lawmakers get their way. At least Jesus is welcomed somewhere. But you'll never guess who opposes the honor--the Catholic Church in Poland. Go figure.

ABC News:
WARSAW, Poland Dec 20, 2006 (AP)— Lawmakers have drawn up a resolution naming Jesus Christ as the honorary king of Poland, but have failed to win support from the country's powerful Roman Catholic church.

Lawmakers for the ruling Law and Justice party and League of Polish Families as well as the opposition Peasants Party back the resolution, said Szymon Ruman, spokesman for parliamentary speaker Marek Jurek.

Wikipedia - League of Polish Families:
The LPR is strongly against homosexuality, in both its rhetoric and policy objectives. Its youth organization, the All-Polish Youth, has on numerous occasions counter-protested against demonstrations organized by members of homosexual advocacy groups.

As mayor of Warsaw, PiS (The ruling Polish political party) leader Lech Kaczyński refused authorisation for the Equality Parade for gay rights on June 11, 2005 in Warsaw. The Parade took place despite the ban, and eggs, stones and bottles were thrown at the marchers by young people (nearly all men) from the All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska) youth organisation (a youth group associated with the League of Polish Families), with at least two people injured and hospitalized. The organization claims its members merely tried to prevent an illegal march, and that the violence should be condemned.

Now as far as the issue itself - whether Jesus of Nazareth should be named King of Poland - you might argue that the pedigree of the League of Polish Families is neither here nor there. Well, let's go back to Tammy's post.
At least Jesus is welcomed somewhere.

To the best of my knowledge, Jesus has never been officially named an honorary King - or even President - in the United States. So does that mean that he is "unwelcome" here? Or does it mean that we have a nation and a government that recognize separation of church and state?

Much to Tammy's dismay, it seems the Catholic Church itself is not enthusiastic about the idea: 'On Wednesday several bishops criticized it, and said parliament should stay out of religious affairs.' Well, what a novel concept.

Here's the bigger point that I want to get to. A lot of former liberals have become turned-off by the extreme anti-religious zealotry of organizations like the ACLU; they feel that a climate of "political correctness" has unfairly targeted traditional religion - particularly Christianity. They may believe that high-profile liberal activists exaggerate the threat of fundamentalist Christian extremism while ignoring the very real threat of Islamist extremism.

And to a large extent they are right. But this is not sufficient reason (in fact, there is no sufficient reason) to go to the opposite, and equally wrong, extreme by advocating a Christian theocracy. To the great credit of the Catholic Church, it would appear from the bishops' remarks that the Church understands this.


Lavender Alert

Our latest roundup of lesbian and gay news features an advance in New Jersey, a setback in Ireland, a misstep in Britain, and good news for America's Second Family.

New Jersey to grant civil unions. Washington Blade: 'Over the strong objections of gay activists and conservative religious groups, both houses of the New Jersey Legislature were expected to pass a civil unions bill late this week by lopsided margins. The bill represents the legislature’s response to an Oct. 25 decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court declaring that same-sex couples must be given the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex spouses under the state’s constitution. The court left it up to the legislature to decide whether to call it marriage, civil unions or some other name. “I absolutely support a full marriage bill,” said New Jersey Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo (D-Newark), a gay rights supporter who introduced the civil unions measure. “But at this time we just don’t have the votes to pass it.”' Edge New York: 'Ordered by New Jersey’s highest court to offer marriage or its equivalent to gay couples, the Legislature voted Thursday to make New Jersey the third state to allow civil unions. Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine said he would sign the measure, which would extend to same-sex couples all the rights and privileges available under state law to married people. The bill passed the Assembly 56-19 and the Senate 23-12. "Love counts,’’ Democratic Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, a chief sponsor of the bill, said as the debate opened. "The gender of whom one loves should not matter to the state.’’ ... Massachusetts is the only state to allow gay marriage. Vermont and Connecticut have civil unions, and California has domestic partnerships that work similarly. Since 2004 New Jersey has had a more limited version of domestic partnerships. Among the benefits gay couples would get under New Jersey’s civil unions bill are adoption rights, hospital visitation rights and inheritance rights. Officials could begin granting civil unions 60 days after the governor signs the legislation; Corzine did not say when he would do so.' Gay Orbit: 'Another win for everyone, compliments of New Jersey!'

Mary Cheney to be a mom. It wasn't easy to find positive news coverage of this, but here's some from Pink News - UK:
US Vice-President Dick Cheney has been applauded by gay campaigners for his attitude towards his lesbian daughter’s pregnancy.

Mr Cheney’s office released a statement last week describing him and his wife as “looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild” amid reports that their daughter Mary is having a baby with her partner of 15 years Heather Poe.

The US Administration has ignored criticism from Christian groups over the pregnancy.

Citing an official of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the article noted that the couple "will not be given equal parenting rights in their home state of Virginia, where gay couples are not allowed to adopt."

Ireland won't recognize lesbian marriage. 247Gay.com: 'A lesbian couple living in Ireland have lost a landmark court case to have their marriage recognized there. Reuters UK reports that Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, who married in Canada in 2003, took legal action after Irish Revenue Commissioners refused to recognize them as a couple for tax purposes. According to Reuters, the couple argued that not recognizing their marriage breached their rights under the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. Justice Elizabeth Dunne rejected that argument on Thursday, saying in a written statement that she hoped lawmakers would address "the undoubted hardship caused to people in relationships of cohabitation sooner rather than later," reports the Associated Press.'

Wrong way to go. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..." But subjects of the Crown still don't enjoy the protection of those words, as we see in this article from the Advocate:
A British politician has been found guilty of a public-order offense over a quip that likened gay people to pedophiles.

Peter Willows has served on the city council of Brighton and Hove, a district of East Sussex in the south of England, for 12 years. The area is city renowned for its large and vocal gay community. He made the comment at a mayoral inauguration reception in May.

The 75-year-old was asked by the editor of the gay magazine Gscene whether he thought fellow council member Paul Elgood, who is gay, was a pedophile, Brighton Magistrates' Court was told.

"Willows replied to that with, 'I know you are not, Paul -- it's the other gays'."

The lawyer for the prosecution argued that Willows' words "equated gay people with pedophiles."

Willows, a war veteran, former welder and member of the Conservative party, was ordered to pay 250 pounds and received a conditional discharge.

Willows' excuse is as pathetic as his comments were disgusting. He should pay for them politically. But criminalizing speech simply because it is "offensive" threatens the very foundation of a free society.

Remarks. Richard at Hyscience asks "What in the hell is going on with the New Jersey courts and Legislature, and what's in the water that causes them to lose all reason, moral values, and common sense?" - and then anxiously awaits debate from "folks of a different persuasion and view".

Errrrm, no. If your basic premise is that the New Jersey courts and legislature - and presumably anyone who agrees with them - have lost "all reason, moral values, and common sense", then why on Earth should I waste my time talking to you?

Moving on to more important matters. I want to talk about the "hate speech" thing. The Peter Willows case is much like the case of Holocaust denial in France - as the Freeper put it succinctly, "As nutty as it is to deny it, this shouldn't be a crime." I've made this point before in the case of the high school students in South Windsor, Connecticut, who wore T-shirts to protest Connecticut's civil unions legislation. (I hasten to clarify that the Connecticut students were not the subject of criminal prosecution; so it was a matter of "free speech" in principle but not, strictly speaking, a First Amendment violation.)

My basic point is that (1) criminalizing any speech simply on the basis of its "offensiveness" is wrong; (2) these laws are the first step down a "slippery slope" that could place ever-broader restrictions on free speech and debate; (3) by fostering the perception that certain minorities enjoy a "protected" or "privileged" status, the laws end up hurting the very people they're supposed to help. The best remedy for free speech is more free speech.

And now ... FINALLY! A positive story among the many snarky stories about Mary Cheney's pregnancy:
Vice President Dick Cheney's pregnant lesbian daughter Mary will make a "fine mom," President George W. Bush said, sidestepping his past comment that a child ideally would be raised by a mother and father.

Mary Cheney, 37, and her longtime partner, Heather Poe, are expecting their first child, which would be the sixth grandchild for the vice president. Cheney was hired last year as an executive for America Online.

"I think Mary is going to be a loving soul to her child. And I'm happy for her," Bush said in an interview with People magazine.

The Washington Post reported that the baby was due in late spring.

Congratulations to Mary Cheney and Heather Poe.

Morning Report: December 15, 2006

In the news. Yemen's role in terror, Rice's words on the Middle East, a step forward in the Garden State, and a new face at the UN. Plus, civil war looms in Gaza, but Brussels can sleep soundly tonight. But TRWSNBN doesn't make today's news.

Yemen: AQ HQ. Armies of Liberation cites Jed Babbin quoting a Pentagon briefing: 'Another part of the briefings focused on al-Qaeda, and its own coalition of allied groups that is spread throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa. The briefing talked in terms of "leadership nodes," "operational cells" and "support nodes", dotting them all over a densely-packed map that ran from Waziristan to Mogadishu to Algiers. It bears translation from Pentagonese. Al-Qaeda has evolved greatly from its early days of personalization in Usama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and a few others. Our military leaders now characterize it as a "franchise" that shares communications, some funding and sometimes coordinates actions. Some terrorism experts now say that al-Qaeda is less than that, a loosely-knit network of terrorist groups that coordinate only in giving credit to bin Laden for propaganda purposes. It's impossible to define it with precision, but the map showed al-Qaeda leaders headquartered in nine places including Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Waziristan (eastern Pakistan), two places in Iraq (Baghdad and northeastern Iraq), northern Uzbekistan and (and here the map is a bit imprecise) two places in Somalia. Al-Qaeda's objective, we must remember, is the same as that of Iran, but in a much different form.' [Edited. There are many ways to spell the name of the terrorist group, but "al-Queda" isn't one of them. -aa] Jane adds: 'Yemen is a central node in that the insurgency in northeastern Iraq has significant support from within Yemen, the links between Yemeni and Saudi al-Qaeda are broad, and many of the Jihaddists in Somalia arrived via Yemen.' Be sure to stay on top of Yemen-related events with Armies of Liberation. (Armies of Liberation)

Rice: No engagement of Iran, Syria on Iraq. Reuters: 'U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has rejected a bipartisan panel's recommendation that the Bush administration engage Syria and Iran in efforts to stabilize Iraq, The Washington Post reported on Friday. The "compensation" required for any such deal might be too high, Rice told the paper in an interview. Rice said she did not want to trade away Lebanese sovereignty to Syria or allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon as a price for peace in Iraq, the Post reported. She also argued that neither Syria nor Iran should need incentives to help achieve stability in Iraq, the Post reported. "If they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they will do it anyway," Rice said.' Morning Report dares to hope that the old Condi may be making a comeback. (Reuters)

New Jersey approves civil unions. New York Blade: 'New Jersey legislators passed a "civil unions" bill yesterday that grants same-sex couples all the rights and privileges of heterosexual marriage but does not confer the name "marriage" upon those unions. Legislators and gay rights activists alike agreed that this was just the first step in the march toward marriage. "Mark my words, marriage equality will be the law of the land within the next two years," said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s LGBT rights organization.' (New York Blade)

Palestinian civil war watch. Debka: 'Casualties from gunfights in Ramallah and Gaza between rival Palestinian Hamas and Fatah factions after Hamas vows to even score for attempt on life of Hamas PM Ismail. Mahmoud Abbas’ loyalists fired on Haniya's convoy as it entered Gaza, killing a bodyguard, injuring five including his son. Hamas accused Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan of orchestrating the attack.' AP: Hamas militants, angry that Israel was preventing Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from returning to Gaza, burst into the Rafah border terminal Thursday, sparking a gunbattle with guards before taking control of the crossing. Two Hamas militants were wounded. Travelers at the terminal dived for cover and a top Hamas official furiously tried to persuade the militants to disperse. Following the gunbattle, European monitors said the border would not be reopened Thursday, apparently leaving Haniyeh stranded in Egypt.' Sandmonkey can scarcely contain his anguish. (various)

Ban Ki-Moon on United Nations agenda. AP via Mercury News: 'South Korea's Ban Ki-moon laid out an ambitious agenda as the next U.N. secretary-general, promising to become personally engaged in efforts to bring peace to the Mideast and Darfur and to clean up the world body. The 62-year-old career diplomat, who was sworn in Thursday to a five-year term that begins Jan. 1, also said he plans "concerted action" to achieve U.N. development goals that include cutting extreme poverty by half and universal education by 2015. ... In his sharpest comments, Ban said Iran's call for Israel's destruction and its dismissal of the Nazi Holocaust were "unacceptable" - and he called on all countries to respect "both in rhetoric and practice" that it is not acceptable to call for the elimination of any state or people. Ban also expressed concern about the regional and global implications of Tehran's nuclear program and urged the Iranian government to engage in negotiations with the six parties that offered a package of incentives if it suspends uranium enrichment. As South Korea's foreign minister, Ban was deeply involved in the six-nation effort to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. He said he will be watching the talks, which resume Monday in Beijing, and thinking about initiatives he can take as secretary-general. Ban also said he planned to become "directly engaged" in efforts to bring peace to Sudan's Darfur region, adding his first trip may be to an African Union summit in late January.' (AP)

Flanders flounders. There has not, we reapeat, NOT been a coup in Belgium. Fox News sets the record straight: 'BRUSSELS, Belgium — Suddenly and shockingly, Belgium came to an end. State television broke into regular programming late Wednesday with an urgent bulletin: The Dutch-speaking half of the country had declared independence and the king and queen had fled. Grainy pictures from the military airport showed dark silhouettes of a royal entourage boarding a plane. Only after a half hour did the station flash the message: "This is fiction." It was too late. Many Belgians had already fallen for the hoax. ... The RTBF's phony newscast reported that the "Flemish parliament has unilaterally declared the independence of Flanders" and that King Albert and Queen Paola had left on the first air force plane available.' (Fox)

Commentary. No one can say what is going on behind the scenes; we may be sure that strings are being pulled, arms are being twisted, and favors are being called in. Sometimes I despair of ever making any sense of the cryptic signals the world's leaders send from one day to the next: What did Condi mean by this? Did Olmert really mean to say that? What was Blair getting at when he said ... ? And so on.

I've been kind of holding my breath since November (actually longer than that) because it has appeared that the Bush Administration has turned its back on the Bush Doctrine. And that may be the case. Or maybe there are other cards being played in a back room somewhere where we can't see them, and eventually, mysteriously, the pieces will fall into place.

So I don't know whether Rice's strong words on Iran and Syria mean anything or not, and I don't know whether the new guy at the UN will change things or not. But you know, tomorrow is another day.


Morning Report: December 14, 2006

Thursday roundup. An Iraqi analysis of The Report That Shall Not Be Named, a threat is uncovered in northern Iraq, and things heat up in Gaza.

ITM on ISG. Omar at Iraq the Model responds to a certain report:
The strange thing is that although the report is highly publicized and the recommendations touch on many critical topics few of ordinary Iraqis here seem interested in discussing it and the interest can be seen almost only among politicians.

It's actually not that strange; many people see this report and other political movements as an effort among politicians to make deals that can only by coincidence be in the interest of the people.
Anyway, that's not the way I feel—the report addresses both Iraq's and America's problems and needs and it did open a new dimension to the debate or at least, refreshed the debate.

Of course I'm not going to discuss or comment on every single one of the 79 recommendations but I'd like to share my general impressions about the document and will make that brief.

The External Approach; I basically do not think this can work especially when it comes to dealing with the main regional players; Syria and Iran and particularly Iran. I simply can't see a chance for the US to find common grounds with the current regime in Iran whose main goal is to extend its "Islamic revolution" throughout the middle east.

And I have no doubt that Iran, with the mullahs in power, is not willing to accept a compromise that offers the US even a marginal level of benefit. The goals and visions of the two countries are so at odds that they can't agree on anything, let alone work together.

Syria represents a rather different issue but still, what applies to Iran applies to Syria as well; the history of the middle east-one full of blood from coups-taught us not to trust clerics nor dictators. ...

All I want to say is that the political offensive described in the ISG report must evolve into an intensive political assault if it's to become a valid strategy. ...

What I want to say is; if the external approach is really important to success then it has to go side by side with the internal one, and that I doubt would happen in the way it's presented in the report.

On the other hand and contrary to the external approach I think the Internal Approach has outlined several very thoughtful and astute recommendations for policy adjustments particularly in areas such as increasing the numbers of embedded US military advisers, the judicial system, fighting corruption, the oil sector (the meters and the way to deal with local tribes for example), putting police commandos and border guards under the defense ministry…These are good ideas that when implemented will make a difference.

Read the full analysis at the link. (ITM)

Iraqi Police discover rockets aimed at Coalition Forces base. MNF-Iraq: 'Iraqi Police discovered three rockets emplaced by insurgents and aimed at Forward Operating Base Warrior Wednesday while on patrol in Kirkuk. The rockets were set on fabricated launchers and equipped with improvised timing devices. Iraqi police patrolling a southwest neighborhood of the city identified a suspicious vehicle in the area. When IP approached, the vehicle abruptly sped away,
and the police then discovered the rockets at the location. The Provincial Joint Communication Center notified a Coalition Forces’ explosive ordnance disposal team which moved to the scene. The EOD team disarmed the rockets and conducted a controlled detonation at the site. Analysis by the team determined that the intended target appeared to be the U.S. base on the western edge of the city. However, the improvised set up and relative inaccuracy of the rockets also posed a credible hazard to the citizens in the neighborhood.' (MNFI)

Breaking: Blasts on Egypt-Gaza border. MSNBC: 'RAFAH, Gaza Strip - Two loud explosions rocked the Gaza-Egypt border after nightfall Thursday, and security officials said militants had blown a hole in the border fence. There were no immediate details on who carried out the explosion. But it came shortly after Hamas militants seized control of the Rafah border crossing. Israel had closed the border to prevent Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from returning with millions of dollars for his Hamas government.' Jerusalem Post (also from AP): 'Hamas gunmen angry that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was prevented from returning to Gaza, burst into the Rafah border terminal Thursday, sparking a gunbattle with guards before taking control of the crossing. The Hamas members waiting outside the terminal grew impatient for Haniyeh's return and broke into the compound, shooting in the air. The Palestinian Presidential Guard, responsible for security at the terminal, began firing at them, according to an Associated Press journalist at the terminal.' Debka:
Hundreds of Hamas Ezz e-Din al-Qassam militiamen firing guns seize control of the Egyptian-Gaza Rafah crossing. Hamas sends a missile barrage flying against Sderot. European inspectors and Fatah Presidential Guard 17 troops fled the heavy Hamas fire, after shutting the crossing at Israel’s demand against the returning Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya Thursday evening. The gunmen are now tearing down the border hangars, destroying the monitoring equipment and blowing up the border fence as hundreds stream to the border to welcome the Hamas leader. Israel refuses to allow him to access the Gaza Strip carrying suitcases packed with an estimated $30-35 million dollars out of the quarter of a million Iran donated to Hamas’ war effort during his visit to Tehran. Israel also accuses Haniya of bringing with him a group of militiamen who signed military accords inviting Iranian trainers to the Gaza Strip. Iranian officers may also be in his party.

More details on this as it develops. (various)

Commentary. Here's a piece in the Standard that dovetails with Ghazal Omid's message in this blog. S. Enders Wimbush at the Standard critiques the current format of Radio Farda:
Originally intended by Congress to operate as Radio Free Iran, the station was abruptly morphed into Radio Farda ("Tomorrow" in Persian) in 2002. It now broadcasts chiefly music and American popular culture aimed at Iran's kids. Mostly gone is the "ideas" menu--history, culture, religion, economics, law, human rights, labor, business, critical thinking--employed to great effect during the Cold War by its parent organization, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, whose intended listeners were critical elites and the populations that supported them.

To become an effective instrument in the war of ideas, Radio Farda should be completely overhauled, not just tinkered with.

In a nutshell, Enders' "Six Strategies" are: Question the regime's legitimacy (specifically, its claim to "Islamic legitimacy"); highlight the leadership's disunity; highlight threats to Iran's culture; describe Iran's isolation, economic decline, and growing lack of competitiveness; build critical/pragmatic thinking; and empower alternative power centers with new ideas.

Regular readers of this site will recall Ghazal Omid's words last April:
VOA and Radio Farda, use entertainment and pop music and culture to gain the wrong kind of popularity among the youth; it may sell an album but will not sell a nation. ...

VOA, Radio Farda and many other Iranian radio and television stations generously subsidized by the United States teach the wrong way to fight the Iranian regime. For instance, in an article in Time magazine about the youth resistance in Iran, the writer asked dissident Iranian youth how they were fighting the government of Iran. They said they demonstrated their opposition by drinking home made whisky on the streets, listening to pop music, dancing the night away, speeding 120 km per hour in the busy streets and smoking marijuana.

Also cited at Dreams Into Lightning / Morning Report recently, Azarmehr recounted his experiences at the VOA Persian studios:
When I left [former VOA Farsi Service head Bill] Royce's office, I heard him say behind my back, "What is that right wing Fascist doing here in the studio?". What an unfair comment, from an elderly man who should know better and choose his words more carefully.

Azarmehr had previously criticized VOA's programming on his weblog.

As the Standard article says, 'President Bush has incessantly asserted that fighting the war of ideas is his top priority, but he seems not to understand that public diplomacy, which aims to make people like America, is not the solution. It's time he got serious about the war of ideas and unleashed Radio Farda.' The Government should review its approach to Iranian programming, and focus on a message of liberty, not libertinism. Radio Farda must become an effective weapon against the mullahs' tyranny.