Morning Report: January 19, 2007

It's baaack. Morning Report returns with news of Iranian overreach and inflation, the latest on Kareem, a report from a Hezbollah stronghold ... and some interesting statements from an Iraqi official.

Iran "overplaying its hand", says Gates. Debka: 'Iran is overplaying its hand in the belief that the US is weakened by setbacks in Iraq, says defense secretary Robert Gates. He spoke at US 5th Fleet HQ in Bahrain Thursday, Jan. 18, where he is supervising US military and naval preparations to stress the US presence in the Persian Gulf and American opposition to Iran’s nuclear plans. He added: "I think our difficulties have given the Iranians a tactical opportunity in the short term, but the United States is a very powerful country." Gates is also visiting Gulf capitals to underline the US commitment to defend its allies. Washington has been applying pressure on Iran for harboring networks attacking US troops in Iraq. Thursday, Gates met with US and coalition naval commanders in Bahrain to plan operations in the Persian Gulf including the arrival next month of another US aircraft carrier, the USS Stennis has taken aboard 80 fighter-bombers, and 600 more Patriot anti-missiles meant as a warning to Iran. The secretary flew to Qatar for a private meeting with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Later, he visited an air base that hosts a high-tech war room which is the nerve center of all US and coalition air operations through the Middle East and Central Asia. Reporters traveling with the secretary of defense were prohibited from identifying the base or the country in which it is located.'

TSOM: Runaway inflation is ruining Iran. The Spirit of Man: 'This post, in Persian, is basically about a chat I had with a friend of mine who lives in a northern Iranian town. He was telling me really awful stuff about how bad inflation is. One really funny but truly upsetting thing he told me was that eggs are getting expensive and also being hard to find in the market since poultries can't afford feeding their hens and chickens. And he also told me that 2 lbs of tomato cost around 6.5 US Dollars (5000 tomans). To give you a better picture of the conditions on the ground, I should say that a high ranking government clerk may receive a salary of up to 350 USD a month. It means nothing, especially if the individual is responsible for his/her family and has to pay rent and debts and also feeds his dependents. Iran, a rich country in natural resources, that can't even feed its own people yet it wants to take on the world and wipe that state or this nation off the map. ...' See post for Persian text.

FFE: Update on Kareem in English. Freedom for Egyptians:
“The pronouncement of a sentence on Egyptian blogger Abdel kareem Nabil Soliman Amer was adjourned to Thursday, January 25, 2007. He was accompanied in today’s court session by lawyers Ahmed Seif Al Islam from Hisham Mubarak Center, Rowda Ahmed from the Arab Network and Mohamed Baymoumy from the Legal Support Association. The session was adjourned upon a request from the lawyers for further case study and pleading preparations.

The session was attended by the three lawyers and two persons me (Jar El Kamar) and Mahmoud Al Banhawy. The latter took pictures with his cell phone for Karim. More pictures can be seen here. Karim seemed to be in a terrible situation. The accompanying state security officer to Karim prevented us from talking to him. He was hastily led to custody following the court session. The lawyers got a photocopy from the case file for study. Articles from some sites like Al Hewar Al Motamaden were attached to the file as evidence to Karim’s internet writings. Charges included religion disdain, insulting the president, attempts to flare up sectarian unrest and turmoil and disrupting public security.

The case file also included confessions for Karim during the first interrogation process. Confession records contained that he is no longer a Muslim except in the national identity card and that Karim calls for the deletion of any information in the identity cards that indicates religion. ... Please bear in mind that Karim is subject to a prison sentence up to nine years to expiate his crime of expressing his opinion peacefully or through a medium (internet), provided that this medium so far has no censor or limits. Sentencing Karim will be the first legal internet case in Egypt and that will set a precedence to violate internet freedoms.

Full post at the link. Arabic text at Jar al-Kamar. Kareem's homepage is here. Many thanks to FFE for making this available to us.

MJT: "Missile war may be replacing terrorist war." Michael Totten visits Haret Hreik, the Hezbollah "capital" in Lebanon. 'Haret Hreik is vertically packed with civilians, including the liberal cleric [ Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini] who was my guide and who is completely innocent of this war. Tens of thousands of people live in the area. Some of their homes were destroyed. Those whose homes weren’t destroyed now fear theirs could be next. Haret Hreik also is packed with the infrastructure of a warmongering militia that unilaterally instigated the conflict on purpose. That’s why it was hit harder than any other urbanized section of Lebanon.' And while touring, Michael takes a trip down memory lane and pays a visit to Security Square: 'My old nemesis Hussein Naboulsi worked there, in that Security Square office that now is a crater ...' Read the rest at the link.

Iraqi Army patrol thwarts ambush. CENTCOM: 'BAGHDAD - An Iraqi Army patrol thwarted an ambush by a group of armed insurgents in western Baghdad Jan. 17. While conducting a routine patrol in Baghdad's Fahhama neighborhood, an element of the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army was ambushed by a group of insurgents armed with pistols and AK-47s. The patrol immediately returned fire on the men attacking them. Two insurgents were killed and four others wounded in the fire fight. After treating their wounds, the four wounded insurgents were taken into custody.'

Iraqi Police captures leader of Al-Qaeda In Iraq cell. MNF-Iraq: 'BAGHDAD – Iraqi Police Forces captured the suspected leader of several Al Qaeda in Iraq terror cells during operations with Coalition advisers Jan. 18 in Samarra. The suspect was detained on suspicion of directing several improvised explosive device and small arms attacks against Iraqi security and Coalition forces. The insurgent and his followers are reportedly involved in the continuing, indiscriminate violence against civilians, and resulting economic and security instability, in the area. Iraqi Police confiscated numerous assault rifles, ammunition and IED components during the operation. Iraqi forces also detained one additional person for questioning. The increasing capability and determination of Iraqi Security Forces to provide for their own security was demonstrated by this successful operation to capture insurgents responsible for attacks, violence and criminal activity in the area. There was minimal damage done to the objective. There were no Iraqi civilian, Iraqi forces or Coalition forces casualties.'

Commentary. Does the Iranian regime have the best interests of Iraq - and America - at heart? I think the answer is obvious, and I've been assuming that it's equally obvious to President Bush and his team. But if Eli Lake at the New York Sun (via Regime Change Iran) is right, then maybe I've been wrong.

Lake recalls the case of Larry Franklin, sentenced a year ago for discussing classified information with two former lobbyists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Why'd he do it? Well, he had information which contradicted the cheerful beliefs about Iran prevalent in some quarters. 'He provided Aipac's Iran specialists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, with his own list of specific instances of how Iran was sending teams from its Quds Force to sow terror, kill American soldiers, and pose a threat to Israeli operatives in northern Iraq. He hoped his list could find its way to the National Security Council, through the two lobbyists, to counter the intelligence from other channels suggesting that Iran had an interest in stabilizing Iraq.'

Why was Franklin so desperate to blow the whistle on the slick gangsters in Tehran? 'One reason was that in 2002, the Bush administration, as part of its efforts to coordinate the Iraqi opposition, was resigned to working with Iran's proxies, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa party.'

Which brings us to this news item at ThreatsWatch: 'Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has pledged to Iran that Iraq will ensure the release of five Iranians the US is holding. The Iraqi Kurd has criticized the US raid on an Iranian office in Irbil and the detention of 5 Iranians linked to the IRGC’s Qods Force since the event happened late last week.' Tehran's ambassador provides comic relief by complaining that "[the Americans] want to destabilize relations between Iraq and Iran."

Debka has this on the incident: 'Leading Iraqi Shiite politician Abdel Aziz al-Hakim accuses US forces of violating Iraqi sovereignty by arresting Iranian nationals. The SCIRI leader’s comment to the BBC referred to two recent raids. In one, US troops last year attacked Hakim’s residential compound in Baghdad and detained two Iranian officials. They were later released. Last week, five more were taken into custody in the Iranian liaison office in the northern town of Irbil. US officials allege they are Revolutionary Guards agents who are training and arming Iraqi insurgents. ...'

So you'll notice it didn't take long for SCIRI's name to pop up in connection with this story. ThreatsWatch concludes: 'While Zebari states that the United States clearly and openly seeks to “destabilize relations between Iraq and Iran” the evidence shows that Iran has been fueling both sides of the rising sectarian violence - arming, funding and coordinating with both al-Qaeda in Iraq and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Iraqi politicians who defend Iran and seek to have members of their Qods Force released under the guise of diplomatic status should be looked at with much scrutiny.'