Morning Report: May 8, 2005

Iraqi assembly approves six Ja'afari appointments; human rights nominee al-Shibli steps down. Debka reports: 'Iraq’s general assembly approves 6 appointments to Jaafari government including 4 Sunni Muslims. Of 155 deputies present, 112 confirmed Sunni Saadoun al Dulaimi as defense minister, Sunni Hashim Rahman al-Shibli – human rights; Sunni Osama al-Nujaifi – industry: Sunni Mutlak al-Jiburi –Dep. PM. Shiite Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum named oil minister.' However, Shibli declined the post, citing his opposition to the current government's ethnic quota system. AP via MSNBC reports: '“Concentrating on sectarian identities leads to divisions in the society and state, and for that reason I respectfully decline the post,” Hashim Abdul-Rahman al-Shibli told reporters at a news briefing.' (Debka, MSNBC)

Kuwait denies women the right to vote. Kuwait's parliament has denied women political rights in Kuwait, according to this Feminist Majority Foundation newswire. 'In a blow to women's rights, the Kuwaiti parliament has failed to pass legislation that would have given women the right to vote and run for office in municipal elections. According the New York Times, Islamist and conservative lawmakers created a block that eliminates any chance that women will be able to participate in elections for another four years. Kuwait’s constitution gives men and women equal rights, but the current election law only allows men over the age of 21 who are not in the police or military the right to vote or run for office making only 15 percent of the population eligible to vote. If women were granted the right to vote, that could make the percentage of eligible voters rise to 39 percent, reports the .Associated Press, which could substantially change Kuwait’s political map.' (FMF)

Microsoft renews support for gay rights. Reversing an earlier decision to back down on its promised support for a narrowly defeated Washington State gay rights bill, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said his company would support gay rights legislation in the future. According to the AP report at MSNBC, 'Ballmer made the announcement in an e-mail to employees two weeks after gay rights activists accused the company of withdrawing its support for an anti-discrimination bill in its home state after an evangelical pastor [the Rev. Ken Hutcherson of Redmond, Washington - aa] threatened to launch a national boycott. The bill died by a single vote in the state Senate in late April.' An article at Gay.com (via PlanetOut) elaborates: '"After looking at the question from all sides, I've concluded that diversity in the workplace is such an important issue for our business that it should be included in our legislative agenda," Ballmer wrote. "Microsoft will continue to join other leading companies in supporting federal legislation that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, adding sexual orientation to the existing law that already covers race, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability," he wrote. "Obviously, the Washington state legislative session has concluded for this year, but if legislation similar to HB 1515 is introduced in future sessions, we will support it."'

Raid on Zarqawi compound kills six terrorists. Fox News reports that 'Coalition forces killed six terrorists in raids targeting the terror network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi near the Syrian border on Sunday, the U.S. military said. Weapons caches were found during the operations in Qaim city, and 54 terrorists were detained, the military said in a statement. It also said that Ghassan Muhammad Amin Husayn al-Rawi, a militant in al-Zarqawi's group who was captured on April 26, had provided intelligence that had helped lead to Sunday's raids.' (Fox)

Debka: Al-Libbi arrest in Pakistan points to new phase of war against al-Qaeda. According to a Debka report, the recent arrest of a senior al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan indicates a shift in focus from the person of Osama bin Laden to the next generation of terrorists: 'The high profile arrest Monday, May 3, of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, 40, the man responsible for al Qaeda’s operational planning and execution in Pakistan, was followed three days later by the capture of 18 members of his network. He was taken after a gun battle in the Mardan Division of Pakistan's North Western Frontier Province which borders Afghanistan. DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources sayal-Libbi, a Libyan national aged 40, moved to Mardan recently from his Waziristan hideout when a Pakistani Army military operation made it unsafe. The new Mardan hideout was raided by officers of the ISI-Inter-Service Intelligence. They were acting on a tip from none other than the head of US Central Command, who paid a surprise visit to Pakistan on the morning of May 3 and conveyed the information to president Pervez Musharraf. Several hours later, al-Libbi was bagged. The raid, which yielded the arrest of four other foreigners whose nationalities have not been disclosed, turned into a chase when two of the suspects fled on a motorbike. One, clad in a Burqa, was later identified as al-Libbi, The chase involving three vehicles ended when security officials overpowered the man driving the bike. They also fired at the second fugitive, but he ran towards a half-built house, jumped into an adjoining house and locked himself in a room. When efforts to break open the door failed, police lobbed a teargas canister inside the room through smashed windowpanes. "From the smoke-filled room emerged a young man, hands up and head slightly bowed. He was unarmed and later identified as al Qaeda's chief operational commander in Pakistan, Abu Faraj Al Libbi," a police official said. ...' Morning Report regrets that no photographs of the burqa-clad terrorist are available. The Debka analysis goes on to report that: 'DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources also reveal that, since entering its second term, the Bush administration has quietly initiated a new phase in the war on terror, adjusted to counter perceived threats from the new and deadly al Qaeda breed spawned since 9/11. Very little is known about the new structure, its central command, and whereabouts. “No longer is the US global effort focused on the hunt to track down Osama bin Laden; instead, the search is on for his links,” say the sources. In any event, most of the earlier al Qaeda cells have either been caught or exposed and are no longer able to operate effectively. They have been replaced with a fast-growing network which takes its inspiration from Osama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Running it to ground, US and Pakistani intelligence agencies both believe, will uncover its links to the two leaders. Debriefings of the latest crop of al Qaeda detainees begin to lift the veil on the new structure’s organization and reveal it as tight and tough with very few weak points. But no clue to the top men’s whereabouts has been elicited.' Read the full analysis at the link. (Debka)

Belmont Club on Oil-for-Food: If no criminality, why the death threats? Examining the troubling words of Paul Volcker, Wretchard wonders why, if the UN Oil-for-Food scandal was merely an instance of "negligence" (as Volcker's reports so far have concluded), the lives of witnesses would be threatened by too deep an investigation - as Volcker himself also alleges. 'The two reports so far issued by Paul Volcker have dealt with the formal remit of the Oil For Food Program; the procedures under which bids were let; the dubious relationship between Kojo Annan and Cotecna and the possible but isolated malfeasance of Benon Sevan. By his own account, Vocker found ineptitude but not criminality. While he cannot exonerate the Secretary General, nothing in the Volcker reports so far can put a smoking gun in Kofi Annan's hands. So far, it has been a story of incompetence without a crime or a criminal mastermind; of people who resemble conspirators without being members of a conspiracy. Volcker's implicaton that the "lives of certain witnesses are at stake", though he would not name who specifically "was threatening witnesses" clearly indicates that despite his first two reports, something criminal, indeed murderous lies within the Oil for Food universe. Something that could get people killed. Having excluded the possibility of a criminal conspiracy in his first two reports, Volcker now wants to prevent former investigator Robert Parton from divulging certain undisclosed details to the US Congress because he fears that the "lives of certain witnesses are at stake". That which was denied is now invoked.' (Belmont Club)