Year 2007-8
Latest September 9th 2008

DEC 31 2006: Significant comments on Terrorism, Insurgency and Military and Political counter-moves

in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Middle East will now be consolidated in this diary
which follows on from Between Iraq and a Hard Place .  However there is a separate Afghanistan file.

I appreciate Hilary Benn's wish (2007) to dump the phrase War on Terror, and Sir Richard Mottram's opinion
expressed again in Feb 2008 that it is misleading and unhelpful, but we have effectively one on our hands.
It was a big mistake to use the term at the start but now it is a fact, though I am all for being
more discriminating in detailed analysis and separating the elements.
SEE APRIL 12-19 2007 and Tony Blair's comments April 24 2007.

To better appreciate the contradictions in the G W Bush approach to US foreign policy
which led to the present painful situation I suggest reading
If you don't want to be the World's Policeman, don't sack those locally doing the job
before you have trained and installed replacements.

Very late in the day, the lessons appear to have been learned and applied.
See November 28th 2007 below.

Other lessons, if Bush ever learned them, have been forgotten.
See September 9th 2008.

DECEMBER 31 2006 - New Year's Eve
Allied forces are braced to receive the reaction from the hanging of Saddam in Baghdad, the purging of death squads in Basra, They expect Taliban attacks in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda attacks anywere to coincide with the Haj and the New Year.

First, here's the pessimistic scenario. The paragraph in bold has been emphsised by me. I cannot disagree with that bit.

Don't think al-Qaeda is on the back foot, it will be on the march in 2007

By Ahmed Rashid , Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:23am GMT 31/12/2006

Every dismissive assumption made about al-Qaeda before September 11 was wrong. So is the assumption that it is in any way receding today: it is still the most dangerous international security threat to both the Western and Islamic worlds.

Osama bin Laden has not been driven underground or lost touch with his followers. Al-Qaeda is using the internet extensively to communicate with its supporters and to further its aim of creating new bases from which to organise terrorist attacks.

Suggestions that it may have morphed into some kind of "ideological" or "inspirational" organisation that merely encourages copycat groups of young Muslims to emulate its greatest "achievements", are contradicted by its leadership's steady stream of instructions to followers.

The group's second-in-command, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, put out 15 major speeches last year on audio or videotape. He dealt in detail with how al-Qaeda should prepare to take power in Iraq after the US has left, fight in Somalia and mount new attacks in Europe. This is not someone who has lost touch with his base.

In 2007, al-Qaeda will continue to develop its original aims of trying to defeat the West, carry out regime change in the Muslim world and increase its armies of supporters worldwide, to hasten the advent of its dream of a worldwide caliphate – Muslim state – ruled by al-Qaeda.

It has become a major threat to both Afghanistan and Pakistan once again, but also has a powerful presence in Iraq, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Sudan – not to mention its cells on the European mainland.

Its main task is to train, organise and motivate armies of terrorists and fighters to capture and hold territory. In Iraq it started from scratch after the 2003 US-led invasion and now attracts volunteers from around the world to become suicide bombers. Iraq has become both a training ground and a recruitment poster.

In Afghanistan the Taliban and al-Qaeda had to flee to Pakistan after September 11, 2001. Now the Taliban are back, able to mobilise 8,000 soldiers, in a resurgence overseen by fewer than 100 hardcore Arab al-Qaeda militants, according to US and British intelligence.

This core has rebuilt a global network, capable of training British and French Muslims and of sending trainees to hone their skills in Iraq.

The Taliban are turning Pakistan's border provinces into logistic and training hubs for al-Qaeda.

Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf long ago gave up chasing down bin Laden, while his intelligence services allow the Taliban to raise money, buy arms and recruit fighters. The bomb attack by British Muslims on the London Underground in July 2005 and the airports alarm this year had their origins in Pakistan.

MI5's director general, Eliza Manningham-Buller, says that of the 1,600 militants and 200 networks it is monitoring, a "substantial" number have connections to Pakistan.

But the most carefully nurtured al-Qaeda cells are in Europe. Al-Qaeda knows that one blast in Paris or London is worth 10 in Riyadh or Delhi. The aim is to recruit estranged Muslim youth, the product of three decades of failed integrationist policies by European governments.

If any single individual is responsible for the continuing expansion of al-Qaeda, it is President Bush. America's failed policies in the Middle East and Afghanistan, its failure to rebuild either Iraq or Afghanistan after invading them, and its support for Israel's roles in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories, have created unprecedented anger in the Muslim world.

In Somalia America is compounding its disastrous support for the warlords by backing Ethiopia in driving out of Mogadishu the Islamists who took over.

Today, the danger of a civilisational war – between Shia and Sunni within the Islamic world, and between the West and the Islamic world – grows ever closer.

Ahmed Rashid is the author of Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (Yale University Press, £16.95)

* * * *

It is worth mentionning that despite these violent flare-ups normal day-to-day 
life in Basra is pretty tolerable for the locals, and getting better
(especially when compared to Bagdad). And we are still remarkably popular
in most areas. People will smile, wave, and return greetings; this morning
I was offered a kebab by a street vendor despite having no money to pay for

And here is The Sunday Telegraph Leader on New Year's Eve

With Saddam's death comes a ray of hope

 12:01am GMT 31/12/2006

The sight of Saddam Hussein en route to his execution yesterday, revealed in footage released by the Iraqi government, will have disturbed many who watched it. It is difficult to witness a 69-year-old man stumbling at dawn towards the hangman's noose, in the full awareness of his own imminent death, without an instinctive awakening of human sympathy.

That human sympathy, however, was precisely the quality that was lacking in Saddam Hussein, the cruellest of dictators during the three decades in which he commanded Iraq. Where he glimpsed vulnerability, he responded with brutality. Surveillance of Iraqi citizens was all-pervasive, and torture and state murder were rife.

Saddam's most notorious acts of bloodshed, such as the Halabja massacre of 1988, in which he dropped chemical weapons on an Iraqi Kurdish village, killing 5,000 civilians and maiming 10,000 more, were merely the most flagrant manifestations of a ruthless code that systematically terrorised and polluted everyday life in Iraq. His Ba'ath party may have been predominantly Sunni, but he was the fierce enemy of any Sunni who valued freedom of speech and political expression.

Since the fall of Saddam, however, the ordinary citizens of Iraq have been forced to endure a different and more extrovert style of hell at the hands of insurgents. Once, Saddam's henchmen delivered death to opponents in hidden torture cells. Now it is doled out by suicide bombers and car bombs in crowded market places and police recruiting offices.

Only the most grossly naive of onlookers could imagine that the execution of Saddam Hussein in itself will bring peace to Iraq: the massive car bomb that exploded yesterday in the Shia city of Kufa, killing 30 people, has already dashed any such expectations. The conflagration of sectarian violence is presently raging beyond the control of both the Iraqi government and the Coalition troops.

What the demise of Saddam may do in the long term, however, is to sow a necessary seed of separation between those Sunni insurgents who have remained loyal to the notion of Saddam's Ba'athist regime, and those who are religious extremists seeking an Islamic caliphate in Iraq.

Yesterday's execution has definitively robbed the former group of a symbolic figurehead and any hope of a recognisable Ba'athist revival: if such insurgents could be coaxed down a political path in the future, the Iraqi government would be freed to concentrate its efforts upon containing foreign jihadists and religious fanatics.

That may seem a distant prospect, as Sunni and Shia gunmen and bombers continue to write their grim political dialogue in the blood of their fellow Iraqi citizens. But the death of a dictator, coinciding with the birth of a new year, may yet open up a tiny chink of hope.

JANUARY 4th 2007
The phone-video of Saddam's hanging has not exactly helped matters. Impossible to know the percentage of conspiracy to cock-up, though the motives of those making the greatest fuss about it are equally obscure. The current leaders of Iraq are only in their posts because they have been talked into it by others and serve in spite of their probable personal preference to retire and abandon the whole mess. But they are there and need the support of all.

JANUARY 6th 2007
Here is an extract from today's Independent. Allawi's ideas appear reasonable, but security must be enforced before such arrangements, which entail participation and discussion by significant representatives of regions, tribes and interests, are possible. That still leaves Bush with the hard choice of the next move. The Baker report and all commentators agree the current US deployment is not achieving. Even if he accepts the Baker recommendations to withdraw as soon as possible it is going to be difficult to argue against a preliminary significant 'surge' policy to reverse the growing anarchy before anything else.

For the first time, a real blueprint for peace in Iraq

By Ali Allawi, former Iraqi Defence Minister

Published: 05 January 2007

The full article, of which this is just the end, can be read at

The Solution

It requires genuine vision and statesmanship to pull the Middle East from its death spiral. The elements of a possible solution are there if the will exists to postulate an alternative to the politics of fear, bigotry and hatred.

The first step must be the recognition that the solution to the Iraq crisis must be generated first internally, and then, importantly, at the regional level. The two are linked and the successful resolution of one would lead to the other.

No foreign power, no matter how benevolent, should be allowed to dictate the terms of a possible historic and stable settlement in the Middle East. No other region of the world would tolerate such a wanton interference in its affairs.

That is not to say that due consideration should not be given to the legitimate interests of the great powers in the area, but the future of the area should not be held hostage to their designs and exclusive interests.

Secondly, the basis of a settlement must take into account the fact that the forces that have been unleashed by the invasion of Iraq must be acknowledged and accommodated. These forces, in turn, must accept limits to their demands and claims. That would apply, in particular, to the Shias and the Kurds, the two communities who have been seen to have gained from the invasion of Iraq.

Thirdly, the Sunni Arab community must become convinced that its loss of undivided power will not lead to marginalisation and discrimination. A mechanism must be found to allow the Sunni Arabs to monitor and regulate and, if need be, correct, any signs of discrimination that may emerge in the new Iraqi state.

Fourthly, the existing states surrounding Iraq feel deeply threatened by the changes there. That needs to be recognised and treated in any lasting deal for Iraq and the area.

A way has to be found for introducing Iran and Turkey into a new security structure for the Middle East that would take into account their legitimate concerns, fears and interests. It is far better that these countries are seen to be part of a stable order for the area rather than as outsiders who need to be confronted and challenged.

The Iraqi government that has arisen as a result of the admittedly flawed political process must be accepted as a sovereign and responsible government. No settlement can possibly succeed if its starting point is the illegitimacy of the Iraqi government or one that considers it expendable.

A Brighter Future

The end state of this process would be three interlinked outcomes. The first would be a decentralised Iraqi state with new regional governing authorities with wide powers and resources.

Devolution of power must be fair, well planned, and executed with equitable revenue-distribution. Federal institutions would have to act as adjudicators between regions. Security must be decentralised until such time as confidence between the communities is re-established.

The second essential outcome would be a treaty that would establish a confederation or constellation of states of the Middle East, initially including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The main aim of the confederation would be to establish a number of conventions and supra-regional bodies that would have the effect of acting as guarantors of civil, minority and community rights.

The existence of such institutions can go a long way towards removing the anxiety disadvantaged groups feel when confronted with the radical changes sweeping the area. The gradual build up of such supra-national institutions in the proposed confederation may also expand to cover an increased degree of economic integration and harmonisation.

That may include a regional development body which would help establish and fund common energy and infrastructure policies. Lastly, an indispensable end outcome is a regional security pact that would group the countries of the Arab Middle East with Iran and Turkey, at first in some form of anti-terrorism pact, but later a broader framework for discussing and resolving major security issues that impinge on the area as a whole.

That would also provide the forum for combating the spread of virulent ideologies and sectarian hatreds and provide the basis for peacefully containing and resolving the alarm that some countries feel from the apparent expansion of Iranian influence in the area.

The Importance of the US

It was the US that launched this phase of the interminable Middle East crisis, by invading Iraq and assuming direct authority over it. Whatever project it had for Iraq has vanished, a victim of inappropriate or incoherent policies, and the violent upending of Iraq's power structures.

Nevertheless, the US is still the most powerful actor in the Iraq crisis, and its decisions can sway the direction and the manner in which events could unfold.

In other areas of the world, the US has used its immense influence and power to cement regional security and economic associations. There is no reason why the regional associations being mooted in conjunction with a decentralised Iraqi state, could not play an equally important part in resolving the Iraqi crisis and dispersing the dangerous clouds threatening the region.

The Iraqi proposals

1 Iraq government calls for regional security conference including Iraq's neighbours to produce an agreement/treaty on non-intervention and combating terrorism. Signatory states will be responsible to set of markers for commitments.

Purpose: To reduce/eliminate neighbouring countries' support for insurgents, terrorists and militias.

2 Iraq government calls for preparatory conference on a Middle-Eastern Confederation of States that will examine proposals on economic, trade and investment union. Proposals will be presented for a convention on civil, human and minority rights in the Near East, with a supreme court/tribunal with enforcement powers.

Purpose: To increase regional economic integration and provide minorities in signatory countries with supra-national protection.

3 Iraq government calls for an international conference on Iraq that would include Iraq, its regional neighbours, Egypt, the UAE, the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China that would aim to produce a treaty guaranteeing:

a. Iraq's frontiers.
b. The broad principles of Iraq's constitutional arrangements.
c. Establishing international force to replace the multi-national force over 12 to 18 months. Appointing international co-ordinator to oversee treaty implementation.

Purpose: To arrange for the gradual and orderly withdrawal of American troops, ensure that Iraq develops along constitutional lines, confirm Iraq and its neighbours' common frontiers.

4 Iraq government will introduce changes to government by creating two statuary bodies with autonomous financing and independent boards:

a. A reconstruction and development council run by Iraqi professionals and technocrats with World Bank/UN support.
b. A security council which will oversee professional ministries of defence, interior, intelligence and national security.

Purpose: To remove the reconstruction and development programme from incompetent hands and transfer them to an apolitical, professional and independent body. Also to remove the oversight, command and control over the security ministries from politicised party control to an independent, professional and accountable body.

5 The entire peace plan, its preamble and its details must be put before the Iraqi parliament for its approval.

Ali A Allawi was Minister of Trade and Minister of Defence in the Iraqi Governing Council Cabinet (2003-2004). He was in the Transitional National Assembly, and Minister of Finance, Transitional National Government of Iraq (2005-2006). His book, 'The Occupation of Iraq  -  Winning the War, Losing the Peace' will be published in March

JANUARY 06 2007
The Iraqi Prime Minister has announced his government will be taking on an active strategy to take on the militias and criminals, with US support fully available but to be called on only if necessary. He is briefing his forces accordingly. At the same time he has made it clear that the execution of Saddam Hussein was an internal domestic affair, a matter of Iraqi law and justice and the proper application of these. I have to say I agree with him entirely. Over the past few days I have heard more crap talked by media commentators and western politicians than I have heard for many years. I was originally in favour of giving Saddam the option of imprisonment and working publicly for peace and reconciliation, but having heard the bollocks coming out of John Prescott (a man I was previously quite respectful of, but who didn't have the sense to keep his mouth shut on this matter) and many others it is obvious that if any government is to have authority in Iraq it must first have the authority to ignore blathering British twits. Saddam alive would have been nothing but trouble with the Jim Naughties of the BBC endlessly prodding to get useless opinions out of people with no brains. Blair was wise to leave it till later. Good God, Gordon's waded in now. Of course the videoed scene was bad, but running that operation in Baghdad is a nightmare at the moment. Undermining the Iraqi government for domestic political ends is not called for.

While it was always obvious that Bush+Rumsfeld would screw up, and I am not a fan of the US Republicans, the Democrats will make a big mistake if they do not support his sending more troops if that is part of an improved deployment and withdrawal plan. I don't reckon Pelosi is an interesting politician of substance either.  As I have said from time to time, the people of Iraq, and the coalition forces, have suffered far more because of the pathetic efforts of the anti-war protestors in the west, from 2003 till now, who could never do anything more than make an inevitable operation a thousand times worse than it needed to be. It would be a pity of the Democrats, who have supported their President when they could not control his bad handling of operations, were now to thwart his attempts to just once get it right, and combine acceptance of the irrefutable evidence in the Baker report with a calculated deployment to make the recommended withdrawal possible. Of course it would be infinitely easier to succeed if it did not have to be done while daily answering the damn-fool questions of the anglo-saxon media but that's the price we have to pay for a free press in a semi-educated population, often run by ignorant people.

JANUARY 07 2007  This report is worth keeping for history

Saddam's co-defendants await executions

By LAUREN FRAYER and SHAFIKA MATTAR, Associated Press Writers, 07 01 2007

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Two of Saddam Hussein's co-defendants were taken from their cells and told they were going to be hanged on the same day the former dictator was executed, their lawyer said Sunday.

But the two condemned men still await death as Iraqi officials decide how to avoid the kind of outcry that followed Saddam's hanging on Dec. 30.

Also on Sunday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of five more American troops and at least 14 Iraqis died in bombings and shootings.

Saddam's half brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim and the former head ofIraq's Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, were sentenced to hang. They were convicted along with Saddam of involvement in the killings of nearly 150 Shiites in the town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt there against Saddam.

Their executions were postponed, however, until after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha which ended five days ago.

Authorities also decided to give Saddam his own "special day," National Security adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said at the time of his execution.

One of Saddam's lawyers who met the deposed leader in his final days told The Associated Press over the weekend that Saddam expected to be put to death and considered it "the most beautiful end" he could have.

Now Iraqi officials must decide how to carry out a second round of executions in the face of worldwide criticism over their handling of Saddam's death. In the final moments of his life, Saddam was taunted by some of those present in the execution chamber as he stood with a noose around his neck.

British Prime MinisterTony Blair criticized the way in which Saddam was executed, his office said Sunday.

"He believes that the manner of the execution was completely wrong, but that should not lead us to forget the crimes that Saddam Hussein committed, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis," a spokeswoman for Blair's office said on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Blair's likely successor, Treasury chief Gordon Brown, said Saturday that the taunting of Saddam during his execution and the release of an illicitly recorded cell phone video was "deplorable" and "completely unacceptable."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered an inquiry into the emergence of the unofficial video, on which Saddam is heard exchanging insults with his executioners and shown dying on the gallows.

In Amman, Jordan's Parliament also denounced the execution and asked God to bless Saddam's soul. The speaker of the lower house said Saddam's execution ignored the feelings of Muslims and Arabs because it came just before the start of the religious festival of Eid al-Adha.

While waiting for their own postponed executions, Ibrahim and al-Bandar have been mourning Saddam, their lawyer Issam Ghazawi told the AP. He said he met with the men individually on Wednesday in Baghdad, where they are in U.S. custody.

The lawyer said U.S. officials had told the pair their deaths were imminent on the day of Saddam's execution.

Ghazawi said Ibrahim told him the Americans took him and al-Bandar from their cells on the day of Saddam's hanging and brought them to an office inside the prison at about 1 a.m. They asked them to collect their belongings because they intended to execute them at dawn — the same time Saddam was put to death.

Ghazawi said the two men were also told to write out their wills. They were returned to their cells nine hours later.

The lawyer said he has had no contact with the men since Wednesday, and had no information on when they would be hanged.

Jaafar al-Mousawi, the chief prosecutor in the Dujail case, said Sunday that the time for al-Bandar and Ibrahim's executions "will be determined by the government." Sami al-Askari, an adviser to al-Maliki, declined to give reasons for the delay and said only that "no date has been made yet" for their hangings.

Al-Bandar told Ghazawi that he "wished to have been executed with President Saddam," the lawyer said. Ibrahim "was in the worst condition. He kept crying over the death of his brother and said it was a great loss for the family and the Arab world," Ghazawi said.

Ghazawi, who served on Saddam's defense team during the last two years and says he has power of attorney for Ibrahim and al-Bandar, urged that their death sentences be overturned. The  United  Nations has also pleaded for a stay of execution for the two.

"Their execution should be commuted under such circumstances because of the psychological pain they endured as they waited to hang," Ghazawi said.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Saddiq, a Tunisian member of Saddam's defense team, said that during a Dec. 26 meeting with Saddam when he was still in U.S. custody, the former president appeared reconciled to his death.

"He constantly said the strongest, most likely hypothesis — and the one that he expected — was that he was going to be executed," Saddiq told the AP in Tunis. "He didn't stop saying, 'Don't panic. I'm ready for this moment and, after all, it would be the most beautiful end I could have.'"

Saddiq also said Saddam gave his lawyers a poem "of tenderness, of love" that he wrote to his wife, who lives in Qatar.

At one point, Saddam told his lawyers: "'I am still capable of love, of being sentimental and attentive. That's my right. It's there perhaps the other face of Saddam Hussein that you don't know,'" Saddiq said.

In other developments, the U.S. military said three airmen were killed in Baghdad Sunday by a car bomb, a soldier was killed by small arms fire in Baghdad a day earlier, and another soldier died in combat in western Anbar province on Friday. A British soldier also died in a traffic accident.

At least 14 Iraqis died Sunday in bombings and shootings, including three Sunni Muslim shopkeepers gunned down in a busy marketplace and a Shiite cleric and his son killed en route to a mosque, police said. Twenty-three bodies turned up in hospitals and morgues around the country, officials said.

A new battle for Iraq's capital was under way with Iraqi forces mired in gunfights with insurgents and U.S. helicopters hovering over an area where some 30 people died in fighting the previous night.

The fighting is part of a military operation announced Saturday by the prime minister and intended to quell sectarian violence.

Iraq's parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the government's highest-ranking Sunni official, said Sunday he objected to the new plan for "legal reasons," and said parliament must vote on it.


Associated Press Writer Bouazza Ben Bouazza contributed to this story from Tunis, Tunisia.


U.S. general urges balance in Baghdad

By Claudia Parsons  Jan 07 2007

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi government plans to bring in troop reinforcements to take part in a major security plan for Baghdad but a U.S. general said on Sunday the key to success would be a balanced approach rather than sheer force.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced a major security plan for Baghdad on Saturday, vowing to crush illegal armed groups "regardless of sect or politics" -- suggesting he may be ready to tackle militias loyal to his fellow Shi'ites, as demanded by Washington and the once dominant Sunni minority.

Sectarian violence is killing hundreds of people a week, mostly in Baghdad, and securing the capital is seen as crucial to stopping Iraq's descent into full-scale civil war.
Maliki's announcement comes as President Bush reshuffles his commanders and diplomats in Iraq and prepares to unveil a new strategy next week that officials say may include a proposal to add 20,000 U.S. troops in Baghdad.

But, as the deaths of five more Americans were announced in Iraq, the new Democratic Congress warned it make give any such suggestion a tough ride compared to Bush's Republican allies.

Nancy Pelosi, new speaker of the House of Representatives, said the previous, Republican-controlled Congress had given Bush a "blank cheque." She and the Democratic Senate majority leader wrote to Bush last week urging him to begin a withdrawal from Iraq.

Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the new commander of U.S. combat troops in Iraq, said a previous U.S. operation launched in August to secure Baghdad had flaws.

"We were able to clear the areas. We were not able to hold the areas," he told reporters. "You have to go after both Shia and Sunni neighborhoods and 'Together Forward' was focused mostly on Sunni neighborhoods and we've got to do both."

"We have to have a balanced approach about going after both Shia and Sunni extremists," he said.

Odierno said U.S. commanders had also "overestimated the availability of Iraqi security forces" in the earlier operation and said U.S. troops would also remain in neighborhoods to ensure Iraqi forces did not pursue their own sectarian agendas.


Sami al-Askari, an adviser to Maliki, said two brigades from northern Iraq, comprising mostly Kurdish soldiers, and one from the mainly Shi'ite south, would be sent to Baghdad to help implement the plan. Iraqi brigades number around 1,200 soldiers.

The plan foresees Iraqi forces taking responsibility for inner Baghdad while U.S. forces will be in charge of the surrounding areas, Askari said. Odierno said that he hoped U.S. troops could be mainly on the outskirts by summer.

Askari said the government was determined to crack down on militia infiltration of the armed forces.

"It takes time because it's not an easy task ... (but) without it the people will not trust the security forces."

Home to more than one Iraqi in four and with a rich mix of communities, Baghdad has seen heavy bloodshed and tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in fear of attacks.

Police found 17 death squad victims around Baghdad on Sunday. An interior ministry source reported attacks in several Sunni neighborhoods on Sunday, though it was not immediately clear who was responsible or whether there were any casualties.

Washington has identified the Mehdi Army militia of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as the biggest threat to security.

Sadr, whose supporters played a key role in Maliki's appointment as a compromise prime minister in April, denies supporting violence. Maliki has repeatedly rejected criticism that he has not confronted the Mehdi Army before now, saying the Shi'ite armed groups can be tamed through political dialogue.

Odierno said U.S. forces would leave dealing with Sadr to Iraqi authorities. "I'm not sure we take him down," he said.

"There are some extreme elements (of the Mehdi Army) ... and we will go after them. I will allow the government to decide whether (Sadr) is part of it or not. He is currently working within the political system."

Several hundred people demonstrated on Sunday in the Mehdi Army stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, angry at what they said was a U.S. raid there on Saturday night. The U.S. military said it had no information on reports of such a raid.

Odierno said he believed 80 percent of militia fighters could be integrated into the regular security forces, while a hard core of 20 percent needed to be captured or killed.

US 'targets al-Qaeda' in Somalia
US air strikes in Somalia are aimed at al-Qaeda leaders in the region, and based on "credible intelligence", a Pentagon spokesman has said.

In its first official comment on the air strikes, the Pentagon said a raid was carried out on Sunday but declined to say if it had hit its target.

The US has long said al-Qaeda suspects linked to the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa took refuge in Somalia.

At least 19 people were killed in US air raids, local Somali elders say.

Fresh air raids were reported near the town of Afmadow on Monday and Tuesday, but it is not clear if these were carried out by the US, or by Ethiopian forces which back the transitional Somali government.

The air strikes are taking place days after the Union of Islamic Courts, which had taken control of much of central and southern Somalia during the past six months, was routed by soldiers from Ethiopia and Somalia's government.

Latest reports from Mogadishu say unknown assailants have fired rocket propelled grenades at a building housing Ethiopian troops and Somali government forces.

Two explosions were heard, followed by a brief but heavy exchange of automatic gunfire.

'No safe haven'

The US air strikes were carried out by an Air Force AC-130, a heavily armed gunship that has detection equipment and can work under the cover of darkness.

The US has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
Somali interim president
Abdullahi Yusuf
White House spokesman Tony Snow said the US action was a reminder that there was no safe haven for Islamic militants.

"This administration continues to go after al-Qaeda," he said.

"We are interested in going after those who have perpetrated acts of violence against Americans, including bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania."

Somalia's interim President, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, said the US had the right to bomb those who had attacked its embassies.

But Italy - the former colonial power in central and southern Somalia - condemned the US strikes.

Italian Foreign minister Massimo d'Alema said Rome opposed "unilateral initiatives that could spark new tensions".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed "concern" that the air strikes could lead to an escalation of hostilities

JANUARY 11th 2006
2:15 am GMT I have just listened to George W. Bush's speech to Americans on his new plans for the war on terror, sectarian war and insurgents in Iraq. It was an excellent speech and one of the sort he needed to give before the war and immediately after the toppling of Saddam, instead of the appalling stuff we had from him at the time.
Why it has taken the terrible events of the past years to teach the Republican administration this lesson is no mystery. Their approach to politics, philosophy and economics had been a combination of insufferable arrogance and mind-boggling ignorance.for a very long time.

Below we can see the cautious, defensive comments of the UK Tory and Liberal spokesmen, either able to say frankly that George Bush had no alternative but to do what was necessary to boost the Iraqi government in immediate measures to get control of the terrible situation in Baghdad. A situation that has arisen because of the combination of an ill equipped US president, a young an inexperienced British PM, and a load of institutions stuffed with liberal lawyers who believe themselves the guardians of truth and civilisation but still have about as much idea of the people we are up against as a new born baby.

Those with some idea of what we faced at the start advised the US to speak extremely softly can carry a very, very big stick to control and establish a secure post-war Iraq . They did the reverse. But that is no reason to rejoice in their troubles. It is true that matters may initially worsen in the South as a result, but the trotting out of maxims about 'reinforcing failure' is ridiculous. Baghdad has to be brought under control and the Iraqi government needs help. In the US, wittering Democrats claim that Bush's move will delay the moment when the Iraqi government takes control of Baghdad.  That is unlikely. If US troops were to withdraw that would not help, and those that are there can do with extra support. As a total critic of Bush from day 1, my opinion is this is his first good move. Unfortunately it may be too late. I would be in favour of engaging Syria and Iraq if they were up for it, but it seems they are not, as yet.  What has to be decided now is exactly HOW to deal with the militias in their strongholds. Going in fighting street by street does not seem to me to be the right approach. They have to be made  to accept a proper integration. It will take time.

Beckett welcomes US troop plans
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has welcomed US plans to send more than 20,000 troops to Iraq, but said the UK has no plans to do the same.

She said UK troops were successfully quelling violence in British-controlled Basra, and there was no intention "at the present time" to send more.

But she said reports that 3,000 troops would leave by May were "speculation".

Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell has warned the extra US troops might worsen the situation in the south.

And he called for a phased withdrawal, referring to what he said was an old military saying that "you should not reinforce failure".

On Wednesday, US President George Bush announced extra US troops to fight alongside Iraqi unit to end violence in Baghdad, and Anbar province - where he said al-Qaeda terrorists were planning to take control.

'A difficult situation'

But he said the US commitment to Iraq was "not open-ended", and that he expected the government in Baghdad to fulfil its own promises.

Asked for her reaction, Mrs Beckett said it showed both President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki were "determined to try to come to grips with what is unquestionably a difficult situation in, particularly in Baghdad.

We are dealing with the security situation in Basra, it's not our intention at the present time to send more troops
Margaret Beckett

"We welcome that and we hope that the joint effort to resolve this very difficult security situation which is undermining efforts to put other things right in Iraq will indeed succeed."

But she said UK forces were already engaged in a similar operation in the southern city of Basra.

"We are dealing with the security situation in Basra, it's not our intention at the present time to send more troops," she said.

Hague sceptical

She said she was "not aware" of any suggestions British troops might be redeployed to help secure Baghdad.

And she said a Daily Telegraph report that there were plans to send nearly 3,000 British troops home by the end of May was "speculation".

"We are under way with the process of handover as the security situation improves. We will make our judgements and our decisions depending on the progress of those events...The Telegraph may speculate about timing and so on, but it does depend on how things go in Basra."

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said he was not convinced about the US plan, saying previous attempts to secure Baghdad that way had failed.

He told the BBC the long-term presence of US troops in Iraq fuelled the insurgency, and he would have preferred more emphasis on training up and equipping Iraqi forces to take on more security.

Terrorist 'displacement'

"I hope, like Margaret Beckett, that this is successful. But I'm very sceptical about it and I would have liked to have seen from President Bush a package more closely modelled on the Baker/Hamilton report," he said.

For the Lib Dems Sir Menzies said the plans were a "last ditch...go-it-alone" effort, as President Bush had apparently rejected suggestions he should engage with Iran and Syria to help stabilise Iraq.

Sir Menzies said strategy in Iraq had been a failure , and asked about the Telegraph report, said: "We will believe that when we see it. But if that's part of a phased withdrawal then that's obviously something that has to be welcomed."

On Wednesday he warned Mr Blair there could be "displacement of terrorist activity from Baghdad to Basra", when the extra US troops arrive.

In the US senior Democrats, whose party recently took control of both houses of Congress, have criticised the plan.

From 1530 GMT Mrs Beckett and Defence Secretary Des Brown will be grilled on Iraq by MPs on the Defence and Foreign Affairs committees.