The Syria Army reports they have captured 120 French troops fighting in Homs alongside rebel terrorists.
By Zia Ur Rehman
|Turis, a Shia pashtun tribe, are being targeted because they inhabit a strategically important region in Upper Kurram|
|A victim of the February 17 Parachinar suicide bomb blast at a hospital in Peshawar|
On February 17, 43 people were killed in a suicide attack in a market outside a mosque in Parachinar, the headquarters of Kurram Agency. Taliban commander Fazal Saeed Haqqani – who had quit the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in June and formed his own Tehrik-e-Taliban Islami (TTI) – claimed responsibility for the attack. He said the Shia Turi tribe had been targeted because it was supporting the armed forces in the ongoing military operation in Kurram region.
Sajid Hussain Turi, a parliamentarian from the Kurram, condemned the attack. “Sunni and Shia families who had been displaced because of the violence in the region for years had only returned home two days ago,” he told reporters.
“The conflict is not tribal or sectarian per se, but instigated by the Taliban who want access to Afghanistan and are supported by local criminals”
Kurram, one of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies, borders Khost, Paktia and Nangarhar provinces of Afghanistan, and Khyber, Orakzai and North Waziristan agencies in Pakistan. Kurram is the only tribal agency with a significant Shia population, and violence in the agency has been fuelled by sectarian tensions. Around 40 percent of Kurram’s inhabitants are Shia. Upper Kurram is inhabited largely by the Turi tribe – the only Pashtun tribe which is wholly Shia – while central and lower Kurram are inhabited by Sunnis, mostly Bangash.
“Increasing sectarianism in Hangu, Kohat and DI Khan districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the Kurram and Orakzai agencies of FATA, is a result of the growing Taliban influence and the recent arrival of Punjabi Sunni militants,” said Mariam Abou Zahab, a Paris-based security expert who studies sectarianism in Pakistan.
|Troops patrol a road in Parachinar|
There are longstanding disputes over ownership of forests, hills, land and water resources between Sunni and Shia tribes in Kurram, and sporadic incidents of communal violence have taken place since the 1930s, particularly during Muharram or Nowruz. Sunnis have consistently demanded a ban on Nowruz celebrations which they consider unIslamic, said Abou Zahab. “Many argue that there was no Sunni-Shia problem historically, and tribal rivalries were given a sectarian colour in the heat of the moment. Clashes were often over petty disputes. For instance, the riots that erupted in Parachinar in 1973 were sparked by a row over the height of the minarets of the main Sunni mosque and Shia Imambargah.”
But the nature and dimensions of the sectarian conflict have changed since 2001. “Kurram has become strategically important once again because it shares a border with key Afghan provinces and has a relatively large Afghan refugee population,” Abu Zahab said. “The conflict is not tribal or sectarian per se, but instigated by the Taliban who want access to Afghanistan and are supported by local criminals. They use tribal and sectarian differences to fuel the conflict and keep the government out.”
“The Taliban want to capture the Khewas area of Upper Kurram where it is believed that the GPRS system of US drones doesn’t work properly”
The situation has worsened since 2006, with the emergence of new Taliban groups in South and North Waziristan, Orakzai and Khyber, said Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based security expert and author. More than 3,500 people have been killed, 50 villages burned and thousands of people displaced in sectarian clashes in Kurram between 2007 and 2011.
Shia tribes have blamed Pakistani and Afghan Taliban groups for the violence, and also accused Pakistani security agencies of supporting the Sunni militants. Sunnis have alleged Shia militants are armed and funded by Iran.
The TTP, the Orakzai Taliban and the Afridi Taliban have killed hundreds of people, both Shia and Sunni, in the last few years. In October 2007, Baitullah Mehsud – who was heading the TTP – sent a group of 400 Mehsud militants to Kurram. The militia was led by Qari Hussain, a notorious anti-Shia commander who burned down several villages and killed dozens of Shias. Two months later, he returned to South Waziristan and was replaced by Faqir Alam Mehsud and his men. “Reputed for his brutality, Faqir Alam Mehsud personally beheaded at least 100 Shias from Kurram, and several Sunnis accused of cooperating with the Shias,” according to a Taliban militant who had fought under his command.
Orakzai Taliban chief Mullah Noor Jamal (aka Mullah Toofan), Afridi militant groups including Tariq Afridi’s TTP Darra Adam Khel, Mangal Bagh’s Laskhar-e-Islam and Haji Mehboob’s Ansarul Islam, also sent hundreds of militants to Kurram to fights against Shias. The area has also been a sanctuary for militants from the Punjabi Sunni extremist groups banned in 2002.
The only known Shia militant group is the Mehdi Militia (sometimes called the Haideri Taliban), consisting mainly of Turi tribesmen. “The group has large public support among Shias in Kurram and is concentrated in the upper Kurram area of Parchinar and Ziayran,” according to a report published by Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). Their opponents say the group is supported by allies in Iran and Afghanistan.
Although Shia militants have also killed tribesmen from the rival Sunni tribes, security analysts believe the group was set up to defend the Shia population and cannot match the Taliban in manpower and logistics.
Shia tribal elders say they are being attacked because they stop the Taliban from entering Afghanistan. They allege elements linked with Pakistan’s military establishment support some Taliban groups because of the strategic importance of the region. The allegations cannot be verified.
Hamid Raza Bangash, an activist and author of Hangu and the Bangash Tribe, said the Thal-Parachinar road connecting Kurram with Peshawar, had remained closed for five years, and Shia tribesmen had no option but to use the road which goes through the Afghan provinces of Logar, Kabul and Nangarhar.
The region also became strategically important for Al Qaeda-linked groups like the TTP and the Haqqani Network after an increase in the number of drone strikes, analysts say. “At the behest of Al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network, the Taliban want to capture the Khewas area of Upper Kurram where it is believed that the GPRS system of US drones doesn’t work properly,” Bangash said.
Shia elders say foreign militants had also been seen operating in the area. Aslanov Zaur, an Al Qaeda-linked Azerbaijani, was killed in Jogi area of Kurram in clashes with Pakistani security forces in the second week of February.
Analysts see the defection of a key TTP leader to form his own TTI as a move orchestrated by the Haqqanis and their allies in Pakistan who are focused on solely carrying out attacks against the US forces in Afghanistan. “I repeatedly told the leadership council of the TTP that they should stop suicide attacks on mosques, markets and other civilian targets,” Fazal Saeed told AFP at time of his defection. He likened what the TTP does in Pakistan to “what US troops are doing in Afghanistan” and vowed to continue the fight against the Americans alone.
The Pakistani military has not targeted Fazal Saeed or the TTI during its operation in Kurram so far, Shia elders complain. After he claimed responsibility for the February 17 bombing in Parachinar, political authorities demolished three houses of Fazal Saeed and his relatives in Ochat village in Lower Kurram.
Tribal elders from both sides say that after years of clashes, beheadings, suicide attacks, killings, abductions, and military operations, the people only want peace.
The Ministry of Defense of Russia to repay Kyrgyzstan for use of military facilities deployment sites of the Russian Federation on the territory of the republic, the agency “Interfax” on Saturday, the press service of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Kirghizia.
According to authorities, from the Ministry of Defence (MoD RF) to the address of the Ministry of Defense of Kyrgyzstan received a letter that the Defense Ministry on March 1 has transferred the funds in the amount of $ 15 million 466 thousand 238 seats for the use of deployment of Russian military facilities in Kyrgyzstan 2008-2011.
Recall, last week in an interview with radio station “Ekho Moskvy” Kyrgyz President Atambaev said that the Russian military base at Kant may be closed due to arrears of rent.
|H.A.Turadzhonzoda: Why are we still so hated?|
After months of litigation between the family of theologians Turajonzoda and head of the Ulema Council Saidmukaramom Abdukodirzoda, the court ruled in favor of the Mufti. ”AP”, decided to ask Hoja Akbar Turajonzoda why he and his brother Eshonov Nuriddin refused to appeal the decision to a higher authority.Turajonzoda talked about the pressure, which is suffering in recent years, his family, and that he intends to leave the country if this continues …
- You said that you know how “fair judicial system” in the country, and yet filed suit. Why not?
- In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Yes, we know that this campaign is not personally organized Saidmukaram Abdukodirzoda. For the whole story are very powerful political forces, public organizations, ministries, departments. And we know that they will not leave a person who is so rude, but nevertheless, fulfilled their mission.Nevertheless, we wanted to court to prove to society that everything has been said about us, all the offensive words none of the members of the Ulema Council did not speak. We knew about it, because talking with eight Council members who participated in the meeting. They all confirmed that such expressions in our address was not, but in the text of the statement they appeared. Therefore, we believe that the text of a statement on behalf of the Ulema Council was prepared outside the body. And in court, we have shown that this treatment does not result from the discussion in the Council. We have on hand a copy of the minutes of the meeting, an official document, which was commissioned by the Court, there is no abusive language against us. And all the final documents are prepared on the basis of this protocol. For us it was surprising that the court in the presence of all these arguments did not satisfy our claim. This proves once again that our courts are independent of local authorities.
- Why do not you dare go to the end and appealed to a higher court?
- First, I am convinced that the decision of the city and the Supreme Court will be identical. One could go further, but it will take too much time. If truth be told, I myself am tired. Because of this litigation I’ve missed two major international conferences. In addition, each year in January-February, I make Haji Umrah, and had to miss it. All my plans were disrupted. Plus, I openly say that a lot of influential people came to us and asked not to pursue a judicial proceeding.
- Who are these people?
- I can not name them, because some of them, like, are our well-wishers.
- It is said that on 18 November, you and your brothers, along with the Mufti Saidmukaramom Abdukodirzoda on one of the measures argued to hold the ceremony Oshuro. Mufti in a conversation indirectly confirmed that the conversation was. Maybe she was the cause of the dispute?
- Mufti not indirectly, but in his final statement to the court said a lot about this meeting. Indeed, around this time, we gathered at our friend’s Akai Hotham. There were about 30. There, my brother said that it would be nice if every Muslim to know when starting a new year of Islamic calendar. He said that we know when the Christian begins a year, we know, when carried out Nowruz, but do not know the time of onset of the new year according to the Muslim calendar. By the way, he begins with the month of “Muharram”. My brother started to think about the events of this month and said that this month also there was another accident – the murder of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad – Imam Hussain, that he did not claim to power. I think that the Mufti was not like that. While all of what we have said, based on hanafistkom madhhab. My brother just said that in the struggle for power, people sometimes forget about justice. These words did not like the Mufti, and he said that we should not talk like that. My brother also said that every year we tell and we will talk about it, but it does not mean that we do a funeral rite.
Recently watched a videotaped interview Imam-Khatib Isfara mosque. In the course of this persecution, he says that in 1992 this family, that is ours, started the war and now once again provoke her. But is this a provocation, if we say that Imam Hussein was killed out of fear that he might lay claim to power? It’s the story.
- Going back to the application, you can specifically say who was behind him, the mufti, state agencies or other forces that want to discredit you in the public eye?
- I have no direct evidence. It is difficult to say who gave the command. I can name names, but then I can hold accountable for libel. But since everything was done promptly, all state agencies responded to the decision of the Ulema Council, although the law state agencies are not required to do so, certain conclusions suggest themselves. I did seven years in government, I know all these details. But I have no evidence. A lot of information, I know who said what, what was the meeting, but it’s all the information. I have their sources can not be called, so I can not answer this question. In the 92 th year we were accused of Wahhabism, now very much like to blame the commitment of Shi’ism. Although, strangely enough, in Islam, is difficult to imagine that the Wahhabi became Shia.
- And it is true that on December 2 in your mosque during a Friday sermon attended by Iranian TV journalists who were filming the video hosting this ceremony?
- And in the past, Iranian TV people attended Friday prayers at these. But if they were present that day, I can not confirm. I myself have come to this event with a delay.
- In 2011, exit your family site, set fire to the factory, have banned the publication of your book. Then your family have accused the Shiite ritual of holding Oshuro and banned your function as a mosque Friday. Are these events together? Why do you and your family are under such “scrutiny”?
- This is not an exhaustive list. I would also add that they make against us: in the past, every year for our cotton-plant was bought around 14-15 thousand tons of cotton. Two years ago, farmers have forbidden us to sell cotton, and last year we were able to buy only 2 thousand 300 tons, and that of private traders, who have two or three acres. This year our murids (followers. – Ed.) From Kabadiyana even summoned to the National Security Committee and told us not to sell cotton. In addition, all our relatives and our murids who live in different areas were invited to the appropriate authorities, and took a receipt for that they did not invite us to their religious activities. It is in the Khatlon region, and Rudaki, Vahdat in Dushanbe. Wherever such a serious disposition.
By the way, why do, why so much trouble and pressure? I was also concerned about this issue. We do not know what we offended. Although a period of 5-6 years, I’ve said many times that do not consider myself an opponent of the current government, I’m not going to ever run for president. But why do we continue to hate? Why are we such an attitude? The answer to this question is unknown to me. And I would like through your newspaper to ask the authorities: What do you humiliate us so, why do you deprive us freely and normally live in your country? After all, this is my country. I just want to be a free citizen of Tajikistan. I’ve been publicly expressing their thoughts, but I guarantee by the Constitution. I’m not saying anything illegal. Yes, I want in my house 24 hours a day was light, I wish we had gas, I want to make the most of our citizens to work here in Tajikistan. If I want it and do something for this proposal, it does not mean that I am an enemy power. Why did they take it so painful? I am not an enemy of Tajikistan, Tajik, and I’m proud of it. I am not an opponent of the government. I, like any other citizen want good for their country, want development.
- The activities of the mosque after your application has been limited by the Ulema Council for three months. Soon the term expires. You are preparing documents for the resumption of its activities as a mosque?
- Yes, it’s March 13 deadline should end. But we do not prepare. The government temporarily suspended the activities of our mosque, as the cathedral, and they should tell us – whether we mosque then continue to work as a cathedral or not. The mosque is closed only by court order or decision of the founders. We do not want to close it. And the government should tell us, or you are working or have to close it through the courts.
- By the way, recently in Vahdat district allowed several mosques five times to become a Friday. This is due to your history?
- Around the mosque was opened in our small, but there may be collected for 200-300 people. The mosque is effective when there is a good and respected imam-Khatib. If the imam is not very competent, he can not attract people by his preaching, it is useless. Although, in our area opened 10 mosques, but they have opened a temporary, they are not recorded as Friday.
- I remember 3-4 years ago, your brother Eshoni Nuriddin said that if the pressure on him to continue, he leaves the country.
- Unless of course all this will continue and will become impossible to live at home, it is certainly possible.
- And you, too?
- Why not, if you really do not give to live, if you continue to humiliate. You know, now, no official can not openly communicate with us, are afraid. For official communication with us is equal to the crime. Colleagues, businessmen are afraid to greet me. I have friends among the business people who respect me, that I once helped. They still respect me and help, but is open to greet me afraid.
- The state media repeatedly published material about you and your family, where you almost did not call an agent of Russian special services. What do you think?
- Here is the strange thing. Russia in 1992, supported the Popular Front, not us. We were in the opposition, and Russia and Uzbekistan have openly supported and armed by the Popular Front. And why do these people do not believe Russian agents? Why now I’m getting an agent of influence of Russia and Uzbekistan, although they gave me no tanks, and to them. Secondly, my family has suffered greatly in the 90s. We lived 5 years in exile, more than 60 of my relatives died, my father was badly wounded, my son, as a result of the bombing became disabled. All our belongings were looted and burned to the ground. This is a great loss. So we do not want a repeat of the situation in Tajikistan, and that history does not repeat itself, we must be friends with Russia. But, unfortunately, now have bad relations with Tajikistan, the two countries, which then had an impact on the situation in our country, and it scares me.
In every healthy society intelligentsia should prompt the authorities to what is correct, it should not specify should not go to the events, it should go on ahead. I think it is the mission of an intelligent person. A patriot is someone who thinks about the best interests of their nation, to the best interests of the state. The government is not the state, even the president is not the state. Rulers come and go, but the state remains the nation remains. Therefore, the interests of the state and nation must be paramount. But an intelligent person should always be aware of this and carry out its mission.
- Recently, your name is often mentioned with the Party of Islamic Revival of Tajikistan. You are not a member of the IRP. Why this relationship?
- You know, that government agencies exaggerate all these fairy tales and fables. Apparently, they consider the IRP his opponent, but I have an opponent for them. So join us. But I am not a member of this party, I do not participate in the adoption of any decision. Yes, we have a normal relationship, but are the same as with the Social Democrats and Communists.
- At the beginning of litigation, the mayor said Vahdat, which will facilitate your meeting with the President. But the meeting apparently did not take place …
- Here there was a misunderstanding. We met with the mayor until 9 December, and he asked me to try to really meet with the president. I called to him Matlubkhon Davlatov, he was still head of the Office of the President and asked him to bring to the president, so he took me in connection with these circumstances. Davlatov said that he would convey my request to the president, the mayor had heard this conversation. The next day, December 9 at the mosque, he suddenly announced that soon the President will meet with me. Although no one has promised me nothing. I too was surprised, I thought that he knows something. Then he asked the mayor said, did you yourself did not agree? In short, do not understand each other.
- Well, if you will be meeting with the president, what would you say to him?
- Of course, like any mortal man, for a start I would have told him about their family problems. For example, I would like to ask him what you can see our mistakes, or what you accuse us of why we do not trust you? In addition, I have to say to him, and in matters of our country’s future. I would suggest to him a vision of political and economic reforms of the country. I have a specific proposal. I always have a specific proposal, but they do not like, they see them as dangerous.
Prepared Mekhrangez Tursunzoda, Asia-Plus
The largest mosque in Central Asia based in Almaty. This was stated by the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, who visited the mosque, “Hazrat Sultan”, which is being built next to the Palace of Peace and Harmony in the Kazakh capital.
According to KAZINFORM, during a visit to this temple under construction a Muslim last Wednesday President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that “it is the largest mosque in Central Asia. It is not built at the expense of the state, and donations of people. Its construction will be completed in the next year, because the external decorations to complete the warm days, cold weather make it impossible. We will open the facility after construction. “
As project director told reporters Shefik Iskenderuly, the total area of the mosque is 13 acres, closed – 18 thousand square meters. meters. During the year, this project worked from 1000 to 1500, the mosque being built in the classical Islamic style with traditional Kazakh ornaments and decorations, it consists of 3 floors.
On the ground floor there is a wedding hall, dining room, bath room with walk in closets. On the second floor men’s prayer room for 4 thousand people, a large entrance hall with cloakroom. On the third floor – women’s prayer hall at a thousand people, the Imam’s office, and additional classrooms, Naib imam. The mosque has four minarets and biggest dome in Kazakhstan width of 28 meters and a height of 52 meters.
“We completed 90% of the work, now it’s up to artists who produce paintings, calligraphy and complete artistic and decorative work. This will be done by artists from Kazakhstan, Turkey and Italy “, – said S. Iskenderuly.
According to him, building materials were delivered from 11 countries, but, nevertheless, was used as products of domestic manufacturers. The necessary equipment is delivered from France, Italy, Japan, etc. Developer is the company “Sembol Insaat”.
Meanwhile, the start of construction of the largest mosque in Central Asia and the former Soviet Union and Tajikistan said. Mosque, a stone in the construction of which was founded two years ago, the project is designed for 115 thousand parishioners.
The project cost is estimated at U.S. $ 100 million, 70% financed by the State of Qatar, 30% – of Tajikistan.Construction work is carried out Tajik construction company “Somone sohtmon”, which will attract the construction of about one thousand local builders. The mosque will be built on the four minarets of 65 meters in height, the dome, speaking 47 meters, large and small halls for prayer.
If construction is scheduled to move at a rate of Tajikistan will become the owner of the largest mosque in the CIS for a couple of years later than Kazakhstan, which plans to complete construction in the next 2012.
A local court on Saturday rejected a plea by the widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, killed in the 2002 Gujarat riots, for making public the SIT report on the riots.
Metropolitan magistrate M.M. Bhatt, while rejecting the plea, said the Special Investigation Team (SIT) is yet to submit material related to the report.
As per the Supreme Court order after SIT submits its full report on the complaint of Zakia Jafri, conclusion was to be drawn by the metropolitan court.
Now that the investigation team has not yet submitted the full report, no conclusion can be drawn at this stage. Hence no action is required on the report now, the court said.
The court had earlier directed the SIT to submit its full report by March 15.
The court, in a September 2011 order, had directed the SIT to file its final report before the magistrate court and had said that if the magistrate decides to close the case he has to provide the full SIT report to the complainant and hear her, before closing it.
Last month, the SIT had submitted its final report in a sealed cover on a complaint by Ms. Jafri demanding that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and other top politicians, police officers and bureaucrats should be made accused for the 2002 riots cases.
Earlier, SIT consul R.S. Jamaur had opposed Ms. Jafri’s plea saying that they have not submitted a complete report in the court yet.
He had argued that the court would first go through the report and decide as to what to do with it.
However, during arguments in previous hearing of the case on February 29, Ms. JAfri’s lawyers had argued that the SIT has no locus standi to oppose the opening of the report in the court.
They had contended that the report once submitted in the court becomes a public document and anybody can access it.
Hence, they being a complainant cannot be denied access to it.
Her lawyers had also stated in the last hearing that since this is a final report submitted by the SIT after completing the investigations, it is only the court which can decide on the issues related to the report.
In his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, US Pacific Commander Admiral Robert Willard defined LeT as a “very dangerous” security threat to the entire South Asian region.
The Indian government, however, has rejected the claim that US Special Forces were based in India, although they did not deny the admiral’s other claim that the two countries were working together to contain LeT.
“We have currently special forces assist teams — Pacific assist teams is the term — laid down in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, as well as India,” Admiral Willard told the House committee.
But U.S. commander says forces are stationed for counter-terrorism cooperation
The Ministry of External Affairs and the Defence Ministry on Friday denied a top Pentagon general’s statement that crack U.S. military troops were based in India besides Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives to counter threats from organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Coming up with the denials after U.S. Pacific Command (Pacom) chief Admiral Willard made the claim in a prepared statement at a U.S. Congressional hearing, the MEA said India interacted with the American Special Forces only during joint exercises here and abroad while the Defence Ministry asserted that U.S. special forces teams have never been stationed in India in the past, nor are such teams stationed in the country presently.
“We have currently special forces assist teams — Pacific assist teams is the term — laid down in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, as well as India,” Admiral Willard told lawmakers at a Congressional hearing in response to a question on co-operation with India on counter-terrorism issues.
Both Ministries dismissed his claim as “factually incorrect so far as the reference to India is concerned.”
The statement is likely to make hackles rise in all the five national capitals. Here, the Communist Party of India demanded to know why the presence of U.S. special forces in India had been kept under wraps and Parliament not taken into confidence. In a statement, the party said it was shocking to hear that the U.S. assist teams are stationed in India, along with those from other countries, to fight against terrorism.
The Ministry of External Affairs said both countries occasionally conduct short duration special forces exercises in India and the U.S. while the Defence Ministry asserted that neither has the U.S. sought nor had India approved stationing of U.S. special forces in “any capacity” in India.
That left the question open whether a component of Pentagon’s special forces, who conduct operations of hazardous nature such as snatches, sabotage behind enemy lines or liquidation, were secretly stationed in the embassy or one of the consulates – as they do in neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan – to track, kill or assist in killing militants. Officials when asked were not willing to hazard a guess on that.
Testimonies before the U.S. Congressional panels, as is the case with depositions before Standing Committees of Parliament here, are sacrosanct and an official may lie at the peril of his job and liberty. Admiral Willard heads the Pacom whose area of “responsibility” begins from the eastern edge of Asia and end on India’s western borders.
Therefore the Admiral would be in the know of all interactions with the Indian military and is unlikely to mix up short term presence of his troops for joint exercises with deployments. He said the special forces were deployed here to help in the maritime domain — that is, to counter threats such as sneak attacks from the sea. He went on to add that other U.S. government agencies were also operating in India.
While claiming deployment of special forces teams, he said the Pacom also hosted counter terrorist specialists for training exercises and exchanges throughout the U.S. The idea was to make the countries in the sub-region self-sufficient in tackling the challenges of terrorism, piracy, trafficking in narcotics and persons, disputed borders and insurgent movements. Pakistan lies in the domain of the U.S. military’s Central Command.
REPORTING FROM MOSCOW — A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman warned Friday against attempts to supply weapons to Syrian opposition forces, arguing that because Al Qaeda was a “confirmed presence amid the illegal armed groups,” arming the opposition could clash with international law.
Some members of the “Friends of Syria” group that met last week in Tunisia argued for arming the Syrian rebels. Saudi Arabia said it was an “excellent idea.”
With Al Qaeda in the mix, “how do such statements correspond with … international law?” Alexander Lukashevich said, adding that Russia will take the matter to United Nations counter-terrorism bodies.
The government of Syrian President Bashar Assad blames “terrorists” for much of the violence in the country, a charge rejected by the opposition, as well as many experts and foreign governments. But Al Qaeda has publicly sided with the Syrian opposition, and U.S. intelligence officials believe that some of its members have infiltrated Syrian opposition groups, which may not be aware that they’re there.
Russian officials have repeatedly defended their stand against a U.N. Security Council resolution backing an Arab League plan that called on Assad to step down. Their veto was condemned by human rights groups and Western nations that said it allowed bloodshed to continue.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended the step again Friday, accusing the West of “being hostage to the artificial scheme based on the wrong approaches of what is going on in Syria.”
In an interview with the daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Lavrov also praised the recent Syrian vote on a new constitution, saying it showed “a majority of the Syrian population supported the reforms carried out by the authorities.”
His words echoed those of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the front-runner in the coming presidential election, who said that as far as he knew, Assad was prepared to negotiate with the opposition. Putin argued that the Security Council resolution that Russia vetoed was problematic.
Assad would have had to take his troops out of the cities, Putin said in a Thursday meeting with foreign newspaper editors. “What is that but a demand for Assad to crawl into a wooden mackintosh and not hear the music playing in his home because he is being buried? He will never agree to that.”
By ANNE GEARAN, AP National Security Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama delivered his most explicit threat yet that the United States will attack Iran if that’s what it takes to prevent it from developing a nuclear bomb. At the same time, he warned Israelis they would only make a bad situation worse if they moved pre-emptively against Iranian nuclear facilities.
The double-barreled warning, in an interview published Friday, came before Obama’s high-stakes meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and a speech Sunday to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israeli lobby. Obama said an Israeli strike would stir sympathy for the Islamic republic in a region where it has few allies. But he made clearer than before that Iran could face attack from the United States.
“I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say,” Obama told The Atlantic magazine. “I don’t bluff.”
He said Iran and Israel both understand that “a military component” is among a mix of many options for dealing with Iran, along with sanctions and diplomacy, making plain a threat to attack that had previously been more subtly implied.
The warning reveals how the threat that Iran could pose to Israel has eclipsed every other issue in the close but often contentious U.S. relationship with Israel, and raised the political stakes for Obama. Iran’s disputed nuclear ambitions dwarf the unfinished business of peace with the Palestinians and Obama’s sometimes testy relationship with Netanyahu.
The White House dispute with Israel is about the risks versus the benefits of a military strike in the near term, not whether one is ever appropriate. The issue is infused with domestic politics in both the United States and Israel, and Obama is at pains to show American Jewish voters that he is not being harder on Israel than on Iran.
“Every single commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept,” he said in the magazine interview. “Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they’ve had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?”
Obama then suggested an election-year answer to his own question, accusing Republicans of trying to fan the doubts and slam a wedge “between Barack Obama and a Jewish-American vote that has historically been very supportive of his candidacy.”
He firmly rejected the notion that the United States might settle for a strategy of letting the Iranians build a nuclear weapon but deterring them from using one.
“You’re talking about the most volatile region in the world,” he said. “It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe. “
Israel has been publicly debating whether to launch air strikes on Iran’s known nuclear facilities in the next several months, before Israel judges that Iran’s program would be too far along to stop. The Obama administration argues that the time for a strike is farther away, and that there is still time to persuade Iran’s leaders to back down. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Israel wants U.S. backing for any military action against Iran, but has signaled it would go it alone if need be. Israeli officials have said they have made no decision yet, but the Obama-Netanyahu meeting comes amid a growing sense in Israel and in Washington that a strike is likely.
Israeli officials appear unmoved by the U.S. arguments, and Obama is unlikely to talk Netanyahu out of launching a strike if the Israeli leader decides not to wait. Both governments maneuvered Friday to set the terms for their discussion.
Netanyahu warned the world Friday not to fall into the “trap” of renewed nuclear talks. Speaking in Canada, the hawkish Israeli leader said he not would set down “red lines” for Israeli or U.S. action on Iran — a reference to reports in Israel that the country intended to press the United States to set such demands.
Until now, Obama has said a nuclear Iran is unacceptable but has not spelled out just what the U.S. would do or when. White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday that Obama does not intend to tip his hand to Iran about what lines it cannot cross because doing so would not be in U.S. interests.
Three delegations of senior U.S. national security officials made the case against an Israeli strike in visits to that country over the past month. They argued that launching a strike before the last possible moment, and without international support, would do more harm than good.
It could actually make Israel less safe by angering neighbors that don’t like either Israel or Iran but would be forced to side with Iran in the event it is attacked, the U.S. has argued. In that sense, an attack coming from Israel could be even more polarizing in the region than one launched by the United States.
An Israeli strike would also be unlikely to eradicate the Iranian nuclear program, and would at best set it back a few years, the U.S. argument goes. In the end, the Iranian program could grow back stronger.
“At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally (Syria) is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?” Obama asked in the interview.
Israel takes little comfort in the U.S. assessment, reiterated Tuesday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, that Tehran has not decided whether to build a nuclear bomb.
Israel has refused to guarantee any notice to the U.S. ahead of time, a U.S. intelligence source told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because much of the planning for Iran is classified. A preemptive Israeli strike would probably be similar to Israel’s 1981 strike on an Iraqi weapons site that Israeli officials cite as a success.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose a “grave threat to the peace and security of the world,” Netanyahu said, and other nations cannot stand by and allow it to happen. In the past he has likened the growing Iranian nuclear threat to the risk that Nazi Germany represented before the Holocaust.
“As for Israel, like any sovereign country, we reserve the right to defend ourselves against a country, against a country that calls and works for our destruction,” Netanyahu said Friday.
The meeting and Obama’s address to the lobby will also revisit what the U.S. sees as lackluster Israeli efforts toward peace with the Palestinians. It’s a sore subject, despite Obama’s strong defense of Israeli actions before the United Nations and in other venues. Before his AIPAC speech last year, Obama outlined U.S. terms for resuming Palestinian peace talks that infuriated Netanyahu and many Israel supporters in the United States.
Netanyahu speaks to the group’s annual conference Monday evening.
The group’s influence and the importance of Jewish voters in American politics have made its glossy Washington conference a must-do for both American and Israeli politicians. Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will also address the group this year
Associated Press writer Amy Teibel contributed to this report from Ottawa.
[UPDATE] WTI crude now over $110 a barrel.
Among the many factors responsible for the jump in WTI to just shy of $109 over the past hour, and Brent to new records in various currencies, is the following news reported so far only by IranianPressTV: “An explosion has hit oil pipelines in the flashpoint Saudi Arabian city of Awamiyah in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province.”
And some more from Arabian Digest:
Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Revolution hits the oil sector: pipeline under fire
For the first time in decades, the Eastern Saudi Arabian volatile situation has reached the vital oil sector. A pipeline between Awamiya and Safwa has been reportedly targeted, and is under fire. Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority, mostly residing in the oil rich east, has been protesting for years against State sponsored discrimination. They are treated as second class citizens, denied public sector jobs, and vital development for their oil rich areas. Saudi Arabia’s powerful Wahhabi religious establishment considers Shiites heretics, and constantly incites against them.
Security forces have killed two protesters in Awamiya, Eastern Saudi Arabia. They are launching a series of arrests and raids on houses, schools and mosques.
This is Awamiya this evening, protesters have blocked the Police road after arrests in the town.
And now back to your regularly scheduled deflation.
And another update this time a video showing Awamiya, Eastern Saudi Arabia, where the oil fields can be seen from minute three onward.
Another update from Arab Digest:
A new photo of the pipeline under fire, from our Qatif correspondent:
Below is a map of oil fields in Saudi Arabia:
The Eastern region is where most of the oil fields are based. The events, if they continue, might force Saudi Arabia to lower its production expectations this year, thus affecting world supplies, and possible the world economy.
A quick review of the proximal refinery courtesy of Saudi Aramco
Ras Tanura Refinery
The most complex Saudi Aramco refinery is on the Arabian Gulf at Ras Tanura with a crude distillation capacity of 550,000 barrels per day (BPD). Ras Tanura Refinery also has a 305,000 BPD NGL processing facility, a 960,000 BPD crude stabilization facility, 145/158 MW (summer/winter) of combined steam and gas turbine electrical power generation plants, a combined 150 lb and 600 lb steam capacity of 6,217 Mlb/hr, and 75 crude oil and products storage tanks with a combined capacity of 5.8 million barrels.
Ras Tanura Refinery’s major refining facilities include a 325,000 BPD Crude Distillation Unit, a 225,000 BPD Gas Condensate Distillation Unit, 50,000 BPD hydrocracker and a total of 107,000 BPD capacity of catalytic reforming. Ras Tanura Refinery is the only Saudi Aramco refinery that contains a Visbreaker (60,000 BPD). This refinery also produces 17,000 BPD of asphalt, more than any other refinery in the Kingdom. Crude is normally transferred to Ras Tanura through a pipeline and can also be supplied by ship. Most of Ras Tanura’s production is for domestic use and transferred to the Dhahran bulk plant, while some products are exported.
India remains undeterred by US and EU pressure to stop importing Iranian oil, indicating clearly that it would continue to be driven by its own domestic interests in the matter.
By Rahul Bedi in New Delhi
12:57PM GMT 01 Mar 2012
Reacting to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments that the US was engaging in “very intense and very blunt” conversations with India and others like China and Turkey to stop importing oil from Iran in order to pressure Tehran over its covert nuclear programme, officials in New Delhi yesterday said they would not be “coerced” by any country.
And reinforcing its stand defying Western sanctions, India recently used Chabahar port in southeastern Iran for the first time ever to transport 100,000 metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan as part of its humanitarian aid to the war-torn country.
India helped build Chabahar a decade ago to provide it access to Afghanistan and Central Asia- banned by neighbouring nuclear rival Pakistan- and is involved in constructing a 560-mile long rail line from the Zabul iron ore mines in southern Afghanistan to the Iranian port.
Along with Iran and Afghanistan it also has an agreement to accord Indian goods, headed for Central Asia and Afghanistan preferential treatment and tariff reductions at Chabahar, an arrangement it plans to exploit imminently.
A defiant India was also dispatching a large trade delegation to Iran later this month to explore business opportunities created by Western sanctions.
According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Delhi the Islamic republic offered massive potential for export of Indian products and commodities annually worth over $10 billion.
“The potential of trade and economic relations between India and Iran can touch $30 billion by 2015 from the current level of $13.7 billion” Association secretary general D S Rawat said.
Importing around 12 per cent of its oil and gas requirements from Iran for an estimated $12 billion, India maintains it will abide only by UN sanctions in this regard and not implement those imposed by individual nations or groupings.
Over the past few weeks it has also been examining ways to step up trade with Iran amid trouble in settling its oil bills as sanctions were closing down banking routes.
An Iranian Central Bank delegation is presently in Delhi to determine options for India to pay for crude imports and is negotiating to offset a proportion of this against acquiring oil refining machinery, heaving engineering goods and pharmaceuticals all of which the Islamic Republic badly needed.
Till recently Indian companies were routing route payments through Turkey’s Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS after EU pressure forced German-based Europaisch-Iranische Handelsbank AG to stop handling the payments last year, but it remains uncertain how long this arrangement would continue.
Last month India’s finance minister Pranab Mukherjee rejected pressure from the Obama administration to join the US-EU led sanctions against Tehran.
Speaking to reporters in Chicago he declared that it was “not possible” for India, the world’s fourth largest hydrocarbons consumer to reduce its oil and gas imports from Iran as it desperately needed them to sustain economic growth.