Thursday, June 29, 2006
By Ted Rall
When George W. Bush crawled into bed with Islam Karimov in the wake of 9/11, the U.S. government knew exactly what kind of man he was. A few years earlier, after a half-dozen bombs destroyed government buildings in downtown Tashkent, the president and former Soviet boss of Uzbekistan appeared on state television, promising to "eliminate the scoundrels" behind the assassination attempt.
I write in my upcoming book Silk Road to Ruin : Is Central Asia the New Middle East?: "Within weeks Uzbekistan was in the throes of a brutal purge of its already beleaguered religious Muslims. That month a presidential decree authorized the punitive arrest of a suspect's father if his extremist sons could not be found. 'If my child chose such a path,' Karimov said, 'I myself would rip off his head.' Head-ripping was a recurring theme of Karimov's rhetoric. He added a promise to 'tear off the heads of two hundred people in order to protect Uzbekistan's freedom and stability.'
It is unknown whether Karimov personally supervises such reprisals; however, published reports claim that exactly that number of bodies of 'Muslim extremists'--often the victims are identified as radicals simply because they wear long beards--were strung up from Tashkent lampposts in May. Exceptionally violent and corrupt even by Central Asian standards, the government of Uzbekistan is proof that a ruler can remain in power despite the near-universal contempt of his subjects."
Karimov's police state is pervasive and brutal. Torture is endemic; the battered bodies of political prisoners are returned to their families showing clear proof that they have been boiled to death. Only one candidate, Abdulhasiz Dzhalalov, was allowed to run against the autocratic Karimov in the most recent presidential "election." Dzhalalov announced that he had voted for Karimov.
After 9/11, however, the U.S. ignored numerous reports of Uzbek atrocities--some authored by its own State Department--and began paying Karimov millions of dollars in exchange for hosting a permanent American military base on Uzbek soil. "The expanded relationship," writes The New York Times, "was both praised as realpolitik strategy and criticized as a shortsighted gesture of support for a dictator with a chilling human rights record."
Bush's pact with the devil came due on May 13, 2005, when thousands of protesters gathered in Bobur Square in the southern city of Andijon to complain about corruption, the shattered Uzbek economy and to demand the release of political prisoners. "We hoped the local government would come to hear our grievances," a man named Dolim told The Guardian. "People said even Karimov himself would come. We went because of unemployment, low salaries not paid, pensions not received."
Indeed, Karimov did go to Andijon--to personally supervise the massacre of the demonstrators.
Uzbek security forces firing automatic weapons killed an estimated one thousand people over the course of 90 minutes. "The dead were lying in front of me piled three-thick," said a survivor. "At one point, I passed out. When I regained consciousness, it was raining--on the ground, I could see water running with blood." He survived by hiding under corpses. "Dead people everywhere, and some alive, just moving. I felt sick, because of all the things splattered on my clothes. I went into the college and saw the armored personnel carriers moving over the bodies. They wanted to kill anyone who was wounded. Soldiers walked down the sidewalk, firing single shots at anyone moving."
The Bush Administration resisted international pressure to close its airbase at Karshi-Khanabad (K-2). "The Pentagon wants to avoid upsetting the Uzbekistan government," The Washington Post quoted White House officials two months after the Andijon massacre. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman urged the Uzbeks to investigate themselves: "The United States has repeatedly urged Uzbekistan to undertake a full and transparent inquiry into the Andijon incident."
Even this pro forma criticism proved too much for the testy tyrant, prompting him to evict the U.S. from K-2 earlier this year. But Andijon refuses to go away. On June 22 The New York Times released a detailed analysis of videotapes taken before and during the bloody crackdown. The images "show no sign that [Uzbek authorities] tried nonlethal methods or a gradual escalation of force to break up the crowd, like giving clear warnings or signals to disperse, using water cannons or tear gas, or having snipers eliminate [men who were armed]."
Despite the United States' loss of an airbase and a new mutual defense treaty between Tashkent and Moscow, however, the Bush Administration continues to ply the butcher of Andijon with cash and military aid.
From Silk Road to Ruin: "RAND Corporation pundit Olga Oliker summarized the Bush Administration's position: 'Cutting all ties between the two nations would be a mistake,' Oliker wrote, because 'the country remains a way station for illegal and dangerous trafficking in drugs, weapons and fighters. This has made the Uzbek government a valuable partner in combating those problems.' True, the weapons and the insurgents who carry them drew much of their strength from Karimov's campaign of anti-Muslim repression. But let's not forget the United States' primary policy motivation: Uzbekistan has some of the world's largest reserves of natural gas."
"Internal developments in Uzbekistan are really worrisome," says Royal Institute of International Affairs analyst Yury Federov. "The ruling regime keeps itself in power through repression, and many people in Uzbekistan believe that repression in the final end cannot save the current regime from the crash, which may lead, in turn, to a general destabilization of the situation in the country and in the neighboring region."
It's 1981 all over again. And again, we're arming and funding Saddam.
The ruling, a strong rebuke to the administration and its aggressive anti-terror policies, was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who said the proposed trials were illegal under U.S. law and international Geneva conventions.
The case focused on Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as a bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden. Hamdan, 36, has spent four years in the U.S. prison in Cuba. He faces a single count of conspiring against U.S. citizens from 1996 to November 2001.
The ruling raises major questions about the legal status of about 450 men still being held at Guantanamo and exactly how, when and where the administration might pursue the charges against them.
It also seems likely to further fuel international criticism of the administration, including by many U.S. allies, for its handling of the terror war detainees at Guantanamo in Cuba, Abu Ghraib in Iraq and elsewhere.
"We call on Israel to exercise utmost restraint in the current crisis," the G8 foreign ministers said in a joint statement. "The detention of elected members of the Palestinian government and legislature raises particular concerns."
Speaking after the group's ministerial meeting in Moscow, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said diplomatic efforts were continuing to secure the release of the Israeli soldier captured on Sunday.
"There is a full-scale diplomatic effort," she told a news conference. "Responsible Palestinians are also engaged in efforts to get this soldier released - and that is a very important point to make - as well as some regional actors that are engaged."
She was apparently referring to Egypt, which is said to have been in contact with the Palestinian hostage-takers through a delegation sent to Gaza on Sunday. "With restraint, perhaps we can get back to a place where there can be hope for a peaceful resolution," Ms Rice added.
"We confirmed our support for the Quartet ... and called on the parties to take all the necessary steps to calm the situation," Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said after the meeting, referring to the group of Middle East peace mediators - Russia, the US, the United Nations, and the European Union.
China also said it was "deeply concerned" about the latest Israeli-Palestinian crisis. "We urge Israel to exercise restraint and halt military action, and call on Palestine to release the hostage as early as possible," Jiang Yu, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, told journalists.
In Rome, Pope Benedict said he was "apprehensively following" the latest developments. Addressing a crowd in St Peter's Square, he said: "I pray every person kidnapped be quickly returned to their loved ones ... I call on Israeli and Palestinian leaders so that, with the generous contribution of the international community, they responsibly seek the negotiated settlement of the conflict which alone can assure the peace sought by their people."
The 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference condemned Israel's "criminal" seizure of Palestinian ministers and said diplomacy was needed to release the Israeli soldier.
"These Israeli measures do not only constitute a flagrant violation of international law and signed agreements but are also a brutal crime and aggression against democracy and the representatives of the Palestinian people," the Saudi-based organisation said.
B'Tselem severely condemns the abduction and execution of Eliahu Asheri, 18, a resident of the Itamar settlement, whose body was found last night in Ramallah.Source.
Abduction and execution violates law and morality. The willful killing of civilians is a war crime under international humanitarian law, and is unjustified whatever the circumstances. International humanitarian law requires that the parties taking part in the hostilities distinguish between combatants and civilians, and refrain from attacking civilians.
Certain Palestinian organizations justify attacks on settlers because the settlements are part of Israel military control of the area. This argument is baseless. The vast majority of settlers do not serve any military role, and the illegality of the settlements does not deny the residents their status as civilians. As civilians, the settlers are not a legitimate target of attack, much less of abduction and execution.
B'Tselem calls on Palestinian organizations to refrain from attacking civilians, including settlers.
B'Tselem today sent an urgent request to Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz to instruct Israeli forces to refrain from bombing or deliberately damaging in any way facilities that supply indispensable services to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.Source.
B'Tselem added that Israel has the right to all legal measures to free the abducted soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit. However, Israel must refrain from using measures which contravene International Humanitarian Law, which categorically prohibits all sides to a conflict from attacking "objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population".
Israel 's military operation in the Gaza Strip today included Air Force bombing of Palestinian civilian infrastructure. Among the facilities hit was the central electricity relay station south of Gaza City , which caused a widespread blackout. Damage to electricity facilities is liable to severely impair the provision of indispensable services, such as water supply and health care.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Israel's Prime Minister has warned of "extreme action" to free a soldier captured by Palestinian militants.
Soon afterwards, witnesses reported an air strike on a militant training camp in Gaza, after planes bombed a power station and three bridges overnight.
Tanks also moved into the southern Gaza Strip, in the first big incursion since the Israeli withdrawal last year.
There are no reports of clashes but the incursion brought condemnation from the main Palestinian factions.
Note : The points below have been added to Djebs original post by _H_
Israel's Prime Minister had warned of "extreme action" to free a soldier captured by Palestinian militants. Soon afterwards, witnesses reported an air strike on a militant training camp in Gaza.
The incursion began when Israeli Planes bombed the three bridges linking the north and south of the strip, and then hitting Gaza's main electricity transformer.The immediate effects of the power cut were noted 600 miles away in rafuh by Doss Abu-Harb who stated.
We have no electricity, so now I can't watch what is happening on television. I am listening to the radio which is on batteries, I don't know how long they will last. The situation last night was so terrible. I heard alot of shelling. I hear more shelling and guns this morning. I think Israel is planning a huge attack, so everybody will stay inside. I have my small nephews in our home. If I am frightened in front of them I think they will die of fear.....We are living, but we feel as if we are dead.
The Israeli ground forces soon took up positions on farmland outside the disused airport inside the Gaza border. Meanwhile Gaza residents like Lama Hourani were already concerned for the long term effects of this action
It is frightening, it is ugly. On all levels, it is not good. They bombed the main power station which gives power to 40-50% of Gaza.... All water needs to be pumped, so if we don't have power, we don't have water....
Source for quotes
Cpl Shalit was captured when Palestinian militants tunnelled under the Gaza border and attacked an Israeli army position at Kerem Shalom, killing two soldiers.
Hamas political leaders have denied they know of Cpl Shalit's whereabouts and have urged his captors not to mistreat him. Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said the incursion was unjustified and the crisis could be solved through "contacts with Arab and international parties".
Mahmoud Abbas, leader of rival Palestinian faction Fatah and president of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the Israeli incursion as "collective punishment".
Is he correct ? well according to the Geneva convention it seems that he is .....
"It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population "
The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949,
State-run Syrian television said two Israeli planes flew near Syria's Mediterranean coast early Wednesday, and "national air defenses opened fire in the direction of the planes, and they dispersed.''
The announcement did not mention a claim by Israeli military officials that the fighter jets buzzed the summer residence of President Bashar Assad in the coastal city of Latakia.
The officials said on condition of anonymity that Assad was targeted because of the "direct link'' between Syria and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group holding Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, in the Gaza Strip. Syria hosts Khaled Meshaal, Hamas' exiled supreme leader.
"The overflight by two Israeli planes near the Syrian shores is an aggressive act and a provocation,'' the television news said, quoting an Information Ministry official it did not identify.
Rival Palestinian political factions Fatah and Hamas have reached agreement on a common political strategy to try to end a damaging power struggle.To agree to the prisoner's proposal, however, is to agree to the 1967 border and international law on the matter. To agree to a border and to international law is to recognise the State of Israel. Will it be possible for the extreme right in Hamas to recognise this?
However, Hamas negotiators have denied earlier reports that the deal meant the militants would implicitly recognise Israel - a major policy shift.
The full text of the accord has not yet been released. A Hamas minister said it did not have "one word" on the issue.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
At least seven armed groups have been holding indirect dialogue with President Jalal Talabani, and the government Sunday unveiled a reconciliation plan aimed at bringing rebels into the political process in a bid to end the daily cycle of violence in Iraq.
"According to sources close to the presidency, dialogues between the intermediaries of these groups and President Jalal Talabani are continuing," said lawmaker Mahmud Othman.
"The armed groups have put a condition that there must be a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces and also their resistance to foreign forces must be legitimately recognised."
The United States confirmed Monday that it was considering a plan to sharply reduce its 130,000 strong force in Iraq by the end of 2007, but said it was just one option among many and was not "engraved in stone."
A Shiite lawmaker with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa party told The New York Times that Sunni-led insurgents have approached the government with offers to start negotiations on the basis of the reconciliation plan.
"The Sunni mediators told me there's a kind of positive approach by these armed groups in response to this initiative," Hassan al-Suneid said.
"I think the initiative will open up a new atmosphere for these dialogues and upgrade them."
At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, according to statistics from the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry and other agencies — a toll 20,000 higher than previously acknowledged by the Bush administration.
Many more Iraqis are believed to have been killed but not counted because of serious lapses in recording deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government, and continued spotty reporting nationwide since.
The toll, which is mostly of civilians but probably also includes some security forces and insurgents, is daunting: Proportionately, it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed nationwide in the last three years. In the same period, at least 2,520 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq.
Iraqi officials involved in compiling the statistics say violent deaths in some regions have been grossly undercounted, notably in the troubled province of Al Anbar in the west. Health workers there are unable to compile the data because of violence, security crackdowns, electrical shortages and failing telephone networks.
The Health Ministry acknowledged the undercount. In addition, the ministry said its figures exclude the three northern provinces of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan because Kurdish officials do not provide death toll figures to the government in Baghdad.
In the three years since Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, the Bush administration has rarely offered civilian death tolls. Last year, President Bush said he believed that "30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis."
Nongovernmental organizations have made estimates by tallying media accounts; The Times attempted to reach a comprehensive figure by obtaining statistics from the Baghdad morgue and the Health Ministry and checking those numbers against a sampling of local health departments for possible undercounts.
The Health Ministry gathers numbers from hospitals in the capital and the outlying provinces. If a victim of violence dies at a hospital or arrives dead, medical officials issue a death certificate. Relatives claim the body directly from the hospital and arrange for a speedy burial in keeping with Muslim beliefs.
If the morgue receives a body — usually those deemed suspicious deaths — officials there issue the death certificate. Health Ministry officials said that because death certificates are issued and counted separately, the two data sets are not overlapping.
The Baghdad morgue received 30,204 bodies from 2003 through mid-2006, while the Health Ministry said it had documented 18,933 deaths from "military clashes" and "terrorist attacks" from April 5, 2004, to June 1, 2006. Together, the toll reaches 49,137.
However, samples obtained from local health departments in other provinces show an undercount that brings the total well beyond 50,000. The figure also does not include deaths outside Baghdad in the first year of the invasion.
Three years of fighting have taken their toll on the country. Gauging how many people died in the first year after the invasion, which included the initial invasion and aerial bombardment of Baghdad, and weeks of near-anarchy afterward, has proved difficult.
According to a 2003 Times survey of Baghdad hospitals, at least 1,700 civilians died in the capital just in the five weeks after the war began. An analysis by Iraqi Body Count, a nongovernmental group that tracks civilian deaths by tallying media reports, estimated that 5,630 to 10,000 Iraqi civilians were killed nationwide from March 19 through April 2003.
Health Ministry figures for May in each of the last three years show war-related deaths more than tripling nationwide, from 334 in May 2004 to 1,154 last month. And as the violence has continued to escalate, it also has become increasingly centralized. At least 2,532 people were killed nationwide last month. Of those, 2,155 — 85% — died in Baghdad.
Well I think we are getting closer to a more realistic estimate of the number of Iraqi civilian deaths, although (as the article acknowledges) the number could yet turn out to be much higher. It is clearly difficult for mere numbers to portray the level of grief and suffering created by these deaths or to help us to realise that each one of those civilians had a family whom continue to suffer. The article attempts to use an equivalent example to help us to understand "Proportionately, it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed. "
However an equally graphic understanding could be found by looking again at the tragedy of 9/11 and noting that it would take a minimum of 16 such terrorist attacks against the United States to begin to compare(in scale) with the horrors that have been brought to the innocent people of Iraq.
The rival Hamas and Fatah movements agreed on a plan implicitly recognizing Israel, a top Palestinian official said Tuesday after weeks of acrimonious negotiations aiming to lift crippling international aid sanctions.
Moderate President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah has been trying to coax his Hamas rivals into endorsing the document, which calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, in effect recognizing the Jewish state. He has endorsed the plan as a way to end sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian government and pave the way to reopening peace talks with Israel.
"We have an agreement over the document," said Ibrahim Abu Najah, coordinator of the "national dialogue" over the proposal.
The plan also calls on militants to limit attacks to areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War and calls for formation of a coalition Palestinian government.
Salah Zeidan, another negotiator, said preparations were being made for a formal signing ceremony.
"All political groups are prepared for a mutual cease-fire with Israel," he said.
The document was formulated by senior Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
However, the deal was overshadowed by a crisis over the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and opposition to the deal voiced by Islamic Jihad, a small militant group that has carried out numerous attacks against Israel.
Sounds like a conspiracy theory? Maybe not.
Citing Iranian sources and Iraqi sources close to ex PM Alawi, the paper states that Jordanian intelligence may have gotten help from Iran in pinpointing Zarqawi's location.
A few weeks ago the Iranian FM met with King Abdullah in Amman to allegedly negotiate the deal. Then a few days later the Iranian FM was in Bagdad meeting with Iraki PM AL Maliki and allegedly US Ambassador Khalilzad.
Coincidence or not the US position softened around that time when for the first time Secretary of State Rice announced a possible ouverture to Iran. People close to Reza Pahlavi, the Shah's son, also believe that Zarqawi was indeed handed by Iran as part of a package.
Very speculative but is it accurate. Well quite possibly when you consider how Iran would have felt when Zarqawi declared war on the Shiites. Finding their brothers on the receiving end of Zarqawis brand of terror would be motive enough to pass forward such information.
Monday, June 26, 2006
When the dust had settled barely 24 hours later, a rather more modest version of events had emerged. The seven young black men arrested in Miami and Atlanta had never been in touch with al Qaeda, and had no explosives.
Their "plan" to destroy the tallest building in the US was little more than wishful thinking, expressed by one of them to an FBI informant posing as a member of Osama bin Laden's group.Even the FBI admitted as much. Deputy director John Pistole described the plan on Friday as "aspirational rather than operational" and admitted that none of the five US citizens and two Haitian immigrants arrested had ever featured on a terrorist watch list.
In essence, the entire case rests on conversations between Narseal Batiste, the apparent ringleader, with the informant, who posed as a member of al Qaeda but in fact belonged to the South Florida Terrorist Task Force.At a meeting "on or about December 16", according to the indictment made public as the men made their first court appearance in Miami, Batiste asked his contact to supply equipment including uniforms, machineguns, explosives, cars and US$50,000 in cash for an "Islamic Army" that would carry out a mission "just as good or greater than 9/11".
In fact, the conspiracy seems to have extended little further than those words. By last month, it had all but fizzled out amid internal squabbling.Even their religious leanings are in dispute. Neighbours say they were part of a group, Seas of David, that mixes Christian and Islamic elements.
That did not deter the US Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales, from summoning a press conference in which he denounced an attempt to "wage war against America". But the threat, even he admitted, was not immediate - and those who posed it were in fact merely a few semi-unemployed men, most of them petty criminals, from Liberty City, a poor, black Miami district.If the case has any significance in the "war on terror", it is not as a present danger, but as a harbinger of possible future risks.
Despite countless scare stories in the media, colour-coded alerts from the Department of Homeland Security and grim official warnings of al Qaeda sleeper cells waiting to do their worst, the US has not suffered a single terrorist attack since September 11, 2001.
Nor have the authorities unearthed much of a threat. The Justice Department claims 401 people have been charged with "terrorism-related offences" since the 2001 attacks, and 212 have been convicted. In fact only a tiny number were real terrorists. The tendency - duly followed last week by Gonzales - has been to hype. The precedent was famously set by his predecessor, John Ashcroft, who called a press conference during a visit to Moscow in 2002 to announce the arrest of Jose Padilla, the "dirty bomber" said to be preparing to attack Washington with a radioactive device.
Padilla languished incommunicado in a Navy brig without charge for over three years. He has been transferred to a civilian prison, and faces trial in Miami this year on different, much vaguer, terrorist charges.
An alleged sleeper cell was unearthed in Detroit, but those convictions were quashed in 2004 when it emerged that prosecutors had manipulated evidence.
In December 2005, the trial of Sami al-Arian, accused of links with Islamic Jihad terrorists, ended in embarrassment when the Florida university professor was acquitted.
The biggest successes have had little to do with US law enforcement. Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an American Airlines plane with a shoe bomb in December 2001, was stopped by alert flight attendants, while Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, the Virginia student serving a 30-year sentence for threatening to kill President Bush, was caught by police in Saudi Arabia.
Also worth reading : FBI Exploits Mentally Ill in “Homegrown” Terrorism Effort
Fellow party memeber Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) was a bit more level-headed when he called Representative Blowhard's words "premature" and went on to paraphrase Jefferson's words on the matter: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
Sunday, June 25, 2006
A meeting between President Abbas and Palestinian PM Ismail Hanieh ended late last night at the Presidential Headquarters in the city of Gaza. The spokesperson for the Presidency Nabil Abu Rdeineh described the meeting as extremely positive and that the course of the meeting is moving in sound directions. He was referring to the meeting held on Friday which was held away from the media... Abu Rdeineh affirmed that a Palestinian consensus has been reached on the military escalation and the firing of Palestinian rockets on the Israeli towns to embarrass Israel and not give it any justification to continue the military escalation in the Palestinian lands.
...On the issue of resistance, Zeidan [Politburo member of the DFLP] affirmed that it has been agreed to focus Palestinian resistance within the 1967 borders along with affirmation that they won't give up resistance in any plot inside the land of Palestine.
Perhaps they are finally following the advice of the late Eqbal Ahmed?
The US and British leaders may be getting domestic flak for their perceived mistakes in Iraq, but some observers in the Arab world see them as being quite successful - in carrying out a well-calculated plan to divide the country.
The debate dates back to July 13, 2003, when the Iraqi Governing Council was formed under Paul Bremer, the US administrator. Sectarianism and ethnic extremism were strengthened in that council and various laws have since encouraged an aggressive sectarianism leading to a fierce militia war.
Anis Mansour, an Egyptian editor and author, believes the US is following the historical British policy of divide and rule. He says: "What we are seeing now is just the beginning of a scheme to split the country up into regions.
"It is not true that the US has failed. It did what it wanted to do and this will last for a long time. "It will stay the same whether a Democratic or a Republican president is to follow [George] Bush."
US and other foreign soldiers continue to be killed in Iraq, while Iranian-backed militias take revenge on Iraqi officers who participated in the Iran-Iraq war. Drive-by shootings are a daily occurrence, and mainly Sunni fighters are maintaining the battle against US-led forces as well as the Iraqi army and security forces backed and trained by the US.
The new government of Nuri al-Maliki is unlikely to succeed in curbing the violence.
More than three years since the US-led invasion, the foreign forces and the new Iraqi forces are both incapable of maintaining law and order. Meanwhile, ordinary Iraqis are losing their sense of co-existence, in itself a dangerous characteristic of post-war Iraq.
According to the Iraqi minister of expatriates and displaced people, sectarian violence has caused 14,000 Iraqi families to move. Sunni families who lived in Shia majority areas have gone to Sunni majority neighbourhoods and vice versa. The ongoing creation of ethnic and sectarian cantons worries Iraqi nationalists who fear a break up of their country.
The US is seen as the main instigator of sectarian sentiments, creating the right environment for the division of Iraq into sectarian and ethnic states unable to function without US protection.
Hasan Nasr Allah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, says: "The US has driven the situation in Iraq to a state where they offer themselves to Shia as a guarantee [of protection] against Sunni, and offer themselves to Sunni as a guarantee against Shia.
"They present themselves to Arabs as a guarantee against Kurds, and present themselves to Kurds as a guarantee against Arabs."Their plot is doing just fine. Look at the situation in Iraq nowadays: What could possibly happen that is more appropriate for separatists to say that they have to split from Iraq to protect their community?"
Certain Iraqi politicians are also signalling that they favour a split. Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader who became president of Iraqi Kurdistan last year, cancelled his visit to China last May after Beijing refused to treat him as a head of state.Barzani's move was seen as a renewed attempt to confirm the will of Kurdish politicians to secede from Iraq and form their long-desired independent Kurdish state.
Maintaining the integrity of Iraq was the main issue that delayed approval of the new Iraqi constitution last year.Iraqi nationalists were alarmed by an article in the constitution that allowed any governorate, alone or with other governorates, to form a ''region".
The constitution gives regions the right to form local security forces and freedom in managing the natural resources. Kurds were the first to use that right when they announced their Kurdistan region and elected their government and president earlier this year.
Some Iraqi politicians say such entities will not be large enough to survive without foreign support.
Haroun Muhammad, a London-based Iraqi political activist, says: "In addition to the seeds of separation in the new Iraqi constitution, separatists are getting foreign support, like Kuwait which has been backing both Kurdish and Shia leaders to separate from Iraq.
"It cannot be a coincidence that Ammar al-Hakim, the son of the senior Shia leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, makes periodic visits to Kuwait." The senior al-Hakim had demanded on several occasions that Iraqi Shia be given a federal state in southern Iraq, his last call being made on August 11, 2005, in Najaf as he was delivering a speech to a Shia gathering.
Muhammad says: "The reason for that is that Kuwait fears another future invasion from big Iraq. It is to their benefit to break it up into smaller parts unable to move troops south." Saddam Hussein was not the first Iraqi leader to claim Kuwait, but he was the only one who sent troops across the border.
Abd al-Karim Qasim, the then Iraqi president, claimed Kuwait as a historical part of Iraq and moved troops to the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border, but British and Arab diplomatic efforts ended that crisis peacefully.
Barzani and the al-Hakim clan share the view that separate federal states for Shia and Kurds would protect them from the "suppression of the central government".Iraqi and Shia political parties believe if Iraq were a federated state, Shia and Kurds would have avoided much of the suppression they suffered at the hands of Baghdad's central government in the past.
Khalid al-Atiya, a Shia member of parliament and leading member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), said in a recent interview that his sect's leaders would not give up its demands to establish a Shia federal state in central and southern Iraq.
"Shia insist on federalism because history has learned the lesson. They have suffered enough from dictatorship and central government."The central government will always be a reason to enrage sectarian violence. Federalism is the only way to secure Shia's rights," al-Atiya said.
Dhafir al-Ani, a Sunni member of parliament and spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, told Aljazeera.net: "I regret to say that it is unlikely we will be able to prevent the partition of Iraq. I think it is going to be the way they want."
Experts agreed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, saying Friday the major military offensive against the Taliban will not fix Afghanistan's larger crises — a lack of reconstruction and jobs, a booming drug trade, and a weak government.
"You won't win unless you can convince people that progress is being made," said Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department analyst now a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
"One of the things we recognize is that we have failed to improve on the development side, especially in the south. In the areas with the greatest need, we have not gotten the reconstruction that was necessary."