Anti-Colonial Agitator

Monday, June 30, 2003

An Irish scientist has discovered a new strain of HIV that may provide vital clues in the hunt for a vaccine. University researcher Grace McCormack, a lecturer at the National University of Ireland, came upon the previously unknown virus type while researching blood samples from Malawi, dating back from the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. There are nine known strains of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS and infects 15,000 people a day worldwide. AIDS has killed 25 million people around the world and is forecast to kill 80 million by 2010. The only real hope of fighting the disease is a vaccine, but efforts to date have failed although dozens are being tested. The university publicized McCormack's findings after they were published in AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, the official journal of the International Retrovirology Association. The hope is that the discovery, the result of three years of research, could help with the prevention and control of the epidemic and even with the development of a vaccine to combat the deadly virus.

Lesbians are more likely to suffer from a common fertility problem that can also increase their risk of developing obesity, heart disease and diabetes than other women. Dr. Rina Agrawal, a fertility expert at the London Women’s Clinic and The Hallam Medical Center in Britain, said an ovarian problem caused by an imbalance of sex hormones is more than twice as common in lesbians as in heterosexual women. PCOS is the most common cause of ovarian dysfunction in women. It is characterized by abnormal follicles, cells in which the eggs mature in the ovaries, irregular periods, acne, obesity, a hormone imbalance and an increase in body and facial hair. In a study of 618 women treated at the London clinic, Agrawal discovered that 38% of the lesbian women had PCOS, compared to 14% of the heterosexual women. The cause of PCOS is unknown but an excess of androgens, or male hormones, has been linked with PCOS. Other research studies have linked hyperandrogenism to sexual orientation. Agrawal said that doctors should be aware that lesbians have a higher rate of PCOS because it has health implications beyond fertility such as obesity, non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes and cardiovascular disease which are much more common in women with PCOS.

Iraq's most senior Shia cleric has issued a religious ruling, or fatwa, opposing US plans to set up a council of Iraqis to draft a new constitution. Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for general elections in the country to choose representatives of the Iraqi people instead. The US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, plans to set up a new political council as the next step towards a future Iraqi government. Ayatollah Sistani is Iraq's highest religious authority and his fatwas are followed by many Shia Muslims, who are in the majority in Iraq. In his latest edict, Ayatollah Sistani says it is totally unacceptable for the occupation authorities in Iraq to appoint members of a political council to draft a new constitution. Ayatollah Sistani suggested that the Iraqi people should elect their own representatives to such a council and then the people should finally approve it in a referendum.

Britain has been forced to admit that one of the central allegations against Iraq in the disputed weapons dossier was based on information from an overseas intelligence service rather than a British primary source. In a blow to the British government's credibility, William Ehrman, the Foreign Office's director general of defence and intelligence, admitted that a claim that Iraq had tried to procure nuclear material from an African country had come from a foreign service. Downing Street attempted to underline the threat posed by Saddam Hussein by claiming in the dossier from September 2002 that Iraq had attempted to acquire nuclear material from Africa. Within months the documents on which the allegations were based were exposed by the IAEA as forgeries. Tony Blair has refused to withdraw the explosive claim, insisting that the joint intelligence committee (JIC) had judged it to have been correct at the time. But the remarks by Ehrman, who sits on the JIC, will intensify the pressure on Blair to disown the African claim in the dossier. Ehrman made his admission as the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, was being questioned by the former Tory minister John Stanley. He asked Straw to comment on recent reports in the US press that a retired US ambassador concluded in February 2002, after a visit to Niger, that the allegations were false. Straw said that he didn't know that the documents had been forged until the IAEA said so recently. The admission will also fuel speculation that Britain placed the allegations about Niger in the public domain at the behest of the CIA or possibly Mossad.

The BBC says it has film of a British soldier punching an Iraqi civilian during the war to topple Saddam Hussein. The scene shows a British soldier hitting an Iraqi man who was part of a crowd waiting for water in the southern Iraqi town of Az Zubayr. The footage is the latest incident in which British troops have been accused of mistreating Iraqis. Previously, two British soldiers were sent home after being accused of hitting a prisoner, and troops were questioned after the deaths of two other prisoners of war. Earlier, police arrested a British soldier who had returned from the Gulf after pictures developed in a photo lab appeared to show prisoners being abused.

A 51-year-old nurse who worked at North York General Hospital has died from SARS, the Canadian Ministry of Health has reported, bringing the SARS-related death toll to 39 in Canada. This was the first healthcare worker to succumb to the flu-like disease, according to Canadian health officials. There were 23 active probable SARS cases in and around the Toronto area on June 27, down from 24 the previous week and 44 cases on June 16, 2003. Some 13 patients are still hospitalized and in critical condition, but health officials said the number of infected people continues to decline. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has been confined to Toronto, the only place outside Asia where people have died of SARS. The virus, which causes symptoms including cough, fever and difficulty breathing, has infected nearly 8,500 people since it emerged late in 2002. SARS originated in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong and has claimed about 800 lives worldwide, including in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Pat Buchanan on the occupation of Iraq.

Portadown Orangemen have been banned from marching on the town's Garvaghy Road. A decision announced in Belfast by the north of Ireland Parades Commission confirmed that the Orangemen must stay away from the area following a church service at Drumcree. The Commission took the decision following objections from nationalist residents and amid fears that there could be violence. There was trouble in 2002 when some of the loyalist marchers clashed with British police and troops who blocked their route. The anti-Catholic Orangemen have been banned from the area for a number of years and the Drumcree Orangemen were again told they would not be allowed to march down the Garvaghy Road.

Kevin Toolis on the similarities between Iraq and the Six Counties.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Local Iraqi leaders have said that they could not identify the killers of six British soldiers and warned against any attempt to arrest suspects in Majjar, a southeastern town seething with resentment. Residents of this conservative Shi'ite Muslim town, about 240 miles from Baghdad, said British troops provoked the violence by conducting intrusive weapons searches in violation of a deal with local leaders. Majjar has been run by a group of local people with its own militia since the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in April 2003. Western reporters visiting the town were received politely but warned that anti-British sentiment was running high. Local Iraqis said that the violence began when the British soldiers treated people in a nearby village disrespectfully during weapons searches and had used dogs. Many Muslims find dogs inside a house offensive, believing that they violate the purity of the home.

Growth in Irish industrial production in the hi-tech and chemical industries is three times that of traditional industries, according to figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). Friends First economist Jim Power said this development leaves Ireland with a very heavy dependence on the mainly foreign-owned modern hi-tech sector, while the components of the more traditional industrial base are under considerable pressure. The volume of industrial production for the February to April (2003) period was up 8.8% on the previous three months, according to the CSO. Production for all Irish industries in April 2003, was 8.7% higher than in April 2002. However, the CSO-dubbed modern sector, comprising a number of hi-tech and chemical sectors, showed an annual increase in production for April, 2003, of 10.4%, against a 3.7% increase the traditional sectors. On a three-month basis, which according to Power gives a better idea of the trend, manufacturing output in the three-month period to the end of April was 8.8% higher than the preceding three-month period. In the first four months of 2003, manufacturing output was 4% higher than the corresponding period in 2002. Power said that in 2002, output growth in the modern sector was 11.8%, while output from the rest actually declined by 2.3%. In the first four months of 2003, output from the modern sector increased by 5.2%, while output from the traditional sector increased by just 0.6%. Power said manufacturing activity has slowed sharply from the heady days of the Celtic Tiger period, which saw output growth of 21.3% in 1998. Power said that, in terms of Gross Value Added, the modern sector accounts for 51% of the total, but accounts for less than one third of total industrial employment. He believes that all in all, the current data supports the view presented by recent retail sales data that the Irish economy is still growing.

Iraq's health care system is operating at less than half capacity and since the war, acute malnutrition rates among children under five have nearly doubled in some areas. The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) chief representative in Iraq, Carel de Rooy, said a survey in Baghdad found 7.7% of children under five suffered acute malnutrition, up from 4% before the war. This figure was likely mirrored in other urban areas. Acute malnutrition, which is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of young Iraqis during 10 years of economic sanctions imposed on the government of ousted president Saddam Hussein, means a child is wasting away. Iraq's health care system seriously deteriorated over the last decade of Saddam's rule and before the war, one in four children aged under five was chronically malnourished and one in eight children likely to die before their fifth birthday. Speaking on the sidelines of an Iraq health briefing by the U.S. Agency for International Development, de Rooy attributed many of the current health problems to a lethal mix of reduced water supplies and poor water quality. Richard Alderslade, a spokesman on health policy for the World Health Organization, said Iraq's health care system was extremely fragile and running at between 30-50% of its capacity. Prewar health care problems had been exacerbated by looting, sabotage, chronic insecurity, lack of resources, and confusion over who was in charge. In addition, there was a rise in some communicable diseases, and significant environmental threats from unexploded ordinance and substantial mental trauma among the Iraqis.

The U.N. terrorism committee has found no evidence to support the Bush administration's claims of a link between Iraq and al-Qaida, and the United States has provided the committee with no proof. The committee, charged with investigating al-Qaida and the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, circulated a draft report on progress made to shut down Osama bin Laden's network worldwide. Michael Chandler, the committee's chief investigator, and others revealed that the first they heard of any links was during Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the Security Council ahead of the Iraq War.

Richard Cohen gives his views on Sandra Day O'Connor.

Britain has come under further pressure over the operation of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant during a meeting of 15 European environment ministers in northern Germany. The discussions, under what is called the Oslo-Paris Convention (OSPAR), centered on marine pollution in the north Atlantic. The final communique of the meeting noted concerns expressed by a number of countries about discharges of radioactive waste Technetium-99 from Sellafield. It also noted that the view of these countries, including Ireland, was that these discharges should cease immediately. The environmental group, Greenpeace, has characterised the communique as significant because it says Britain put forward fierce opposition to any mention of Sellafield but was forced to accept the concerns. However, the British Government has dismissed Greenpeace's interpretation of the outcome. A spokesperson said Britain was happy to note the concerns of Ireland and Norway in relation to radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea from Sellafield because they were aware of them for a long time. Other countries putting pressure on Britain were Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands and Sweden. The OSPAR meeting comes just days after a UN court instructed Britain to consult Ireland before allowing any new nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield - something Minister for the Environment, Martin Cullen said was a positive development. Britian has announced a nine-month moratorium on discharges of T-99 into the Irish Sea, to see if research can find other ways of dealing with the waste.

Michael Kinsley on the affirmative action rulings by the Supreme Court.

An American who worked on a US-led reconstruction team in Iraq has accused Washington of failing to prepare for the post-conflict situation. Timothy Carney, a former US ambassador who until recently had been overseeing Iraq's industry ministry, said most of the focus was placed on the military campaign and very little on the security and political problems that could ensue. The US and Britain have come under fire since the end of the war, with aid workers accusing them of leaving the country in a state of anarchy. Carney said billions of dollars were needed to fund the reconstruction effort and he said neither the US military nor officials were prepared for the task at hand.

The Bloody Sunday murders would not have happened if the Parachute Regiment had not been deployed in Derry, a British soldier has said. Soldier INQ 989 told the Saville Inquiry in London that the responsibility for the killings of 13 civil rights marchers and the 13 casualties lay with those who ordered British paratroopers into the city on January 30, 1972. The former corporal in the Royal Anglian Regiment said he and his colleagues cheered as they heard news of the first casualties on the radio, but soon realized something was terribly wrong. The British soldier did not believe that any of the murdered were nail bombers, because the device would have exploded if it was dropped when its thrower was shot.

Brian Feeney explores failed British policies in the north of Ireland.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

President George W. Bush basks in high approval ratings, but when potential voters are pressed about giving him a second term, the numbers drop, a reflection of worries about the struggling economy and a general wait-and-see attitude so far ahead of the election. Bush's overall approval ratings have remained at 60% or higher in most polls since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But now that the electorate is turning to thinking about Bush's handling of the economy and wondering who the Democrats will nominate, the president's re-elect numbers are at 50% or lower in several polls. In a recent CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, 50% said they would vote for Bush and 38% backed the unknown Democratic candidate, with the rest undecided. Those numbers aren't very different from those garnered by Bush's father in June 1991, when the commander in chief was praised for the U.S. success in the Persian Gulf War and the Democrats were scrambling for a candidate. Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election. The current poll also found that 37% of Democrats approve of Bush's job performance, but only a third of those Democrats who approve would vote to re-elect him. Among independents, the re-elect numbers weren't as high as the approval ratings. Bush's re-elect numbers are even lower in the Ipsos-Cook Political Report tracking poll, which showed a drop for the president from April to June, a time when the nation's focus shifted from the U.S.-led war against Iraq to the economy, Medicare and tax cuts. In June, 42% of those polled said they would definitely vote to re-elect Bush, and 31% said they would definitely vote for someone else. Bush had a 19-point advantage over an unnamed opponent in the April survey by the Ipsos-Cook Political Report.

The curse of the Vikings?

European Union countries including Ireland are pressing for a reduction in radioactive discharges from the Sellafield nuclear plant at a conference in Germany. The demands for action are being put forward at the OSPAR Convention on the protection of the marine environment of the North East Atlantic, which is meeting in Bremen. It comes after an international tribunal which heard Ireland's case against the Cumbria plant ordered the British government to co-operate more fully with Ireland on nuclear safety issues. The UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague told London it must not carry out any further reprocessing at Sellafield without first consulting the Irish Government. The Tribunal has told the two countries to agree a mechanism for co-operation on issues of nuclear safety; they must both report back to the Tribunal on their progress. A full hearing of Ireland's case has been adjourned until later in 2003. The Irish Minister for the Environment, Martin Cullen, welcomed the tribunal ruling. But the Minister also said that the Irish Government would continue to make the case that the operations at Sellafield constitute an unacceptable risk.

Alastair Campbell, communications chief to British prime minister Tony Blair, has acknowledged that the British government had made an error during the drafting process of the so-called dodgy dossier on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But Campbell insisted that the error did not undermine the credibility of British intelligence and strongly denied accusations that he had spiced up an earlier document in order to make the threat from Iraq seem more imminent. Both dossiers have been highly controversial in the absence of any confirmed discoveries of battle-ready weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Campbell told MPs at the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee that during the process of drafting the later document, published in February 2003, there had been a failure to attribute research work by Californian student Ibrahim al-Marashi. The document was taken by the press and MPs to be the work of the British security services when parts of it had actually been taken from an article by al-Marashi on the internet. Campbell said the idea of the dossier came from the Communications and Information Center, a cross-government group that he chairs, which wanted to show the scale of the efforts by Iraqi officials to stop the work of weapons inspectors in Iraq. Campbell said he only became aware of the error when it was exposed by the BBC but insisted that the briefing paper was not vital to the case against Iraq as it was not presented to Tony Blair in the same way as the earlier dossier, published in September 2002. He said the September document had been the result of work by the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and denied claims that he had been involved in exaggerating the facts. The dossier included a claim that Iraq was capable of launching a chemical or biological attack within 45 minutes of an order. Campbell said it was not for him to decide whether the intelligence in the dossier was accurate.

The Israeli attorney general has launched a criminal investigation into a local neo-Nazi website that jokes about gas chambers, advocates shooting Palestinians and denies that the Holocaust happened. The website, published in Russian by a group calling itself the White Israeli Union is believed to be the work of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who claimed to be Jews when they entered Israel. Among other things, the site encourages readers to join an Israeli army combat unit to kill Arabs. Its pictures include one of a man in Israeli military uniform with his arm raised in the Hitler salute. About a million Russians and others from former Soviet states have emigrated to Israel over the past decade. It is an open secret that many have only distant ties to Judaism and some bought forged birth certificates with Jewish names to escape the collapsing Soviet Union. The Israeli government, desperate for new immigrants to counter the burgeoning Palestinian population, turned a blind eye. Among the White Israeli Union website's most controversial claims is that Hitler's Nuremberg laws were merely based on Jewish religious law in defining race. The attorney general's office said that the website was being investigated for racism, for incitement to violence and for Holocaust denial.

Irate Iraqis shot dead six British soldiers and wounded eight others in clashes around the southern Shi'ite town of Majjar, with animosity fueled by arms searches of residents' homes, according to local Iraqi witnesses. Witnesses and residents said four Iraqis were killed and 14 wounded in the clashes in Majjar, 18 miles south of the city of Amarah. Residents and witnesses said recent clashes followed days of resentment over efforts to disarm Iraqis, and the shooting erupted after the British forces fired plastic bullets to try to control thousands of protesters. The witnesses said the Iraqis, believing the British were firing live bullets, fired AK-47 assault rifles, killing the soldiers. Residents and witnesses said anger had been simmering as the British used sniffer dogs and aggressively searched local homes. Muslims take offense over dogs in their homes, believing the animals to be impure.

The Irish and Welsh have Y-chromosomes that are indistinguishable from those of the Basques, who are the earliest indigenous inhabitants of Europe. This means that the Irish and the Welsh, like their Basque cousins, are drawn from the original Paleolithic inhabitants of Europe.

The UN Tribunal in The Hague hearing Ireland's case against Sellafield has given an order regarding provisional measures to preserve Ireland's rights in relation to the Irish Sea. The order was given pending a final decision in a case that will conclude in a number of months. The case is based on the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Tribunal agreed with Ireland's submission that the co-operation given by Britain under an earlier order issued in 2001 was not sufficiently timely or effective. Britain must now agree a mechanism for co-operation with Ireland on issues of nuclear safety, and both parties must report on progress made in implementing the original 2001 order and the new decision. The first of these progress reports must be submitted to the Tribunal by September 12, 2003.

The Ifo institute, one of Germany's six leading economic research institutes, does not expect the German economy to grow at all in 2003. Ifo joins fellow economic institutes IfW and HWWA in cutting their 2003 growth forecast to zero. Ifo president Hans-Werner Sinn said that the institute expects the average number of jobless in Germany to rise to 4.45 million in 2003 and to increase to 4.6 million in 2004. The German economy contracted by 0.2% in the first quarter of 2003. The eurozone's largest economy is also facing a growing threat of deflation; producer prices declined by 0.3% in May from April - the largest drop in 10 months - according to figures recently published. German economists estimate that the annual rate of inflation in Germany was just 0.9% in June, less than half the eurozone average.

Monday, June 23, 2003

The stupidity of politicians.

The discovery of traces of radioactive waste in supermarket salmon justifies Ireland's legal bid to close down Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant. Tests conducted by Southampton University researchers found traces of radioactive waste in Scottish farmed salmon sold in supermakets. They found low levels of Technetium-99 (Tc-99) in fresh and smoked salmon bought from Sainsbury`s, Tesco, Asda, Safeway, Waitrose, and Marks & Spencer. Environmental campaign group Greenpeace, which commissioned the study, says the contamination was caused by discharges from the Sellafield nuclear plant into the Irish Sea. The news came as the British faced fierce criticism at a ministerial summit in Germany over its failure to tackle nuclear pollution in the north-east Atlantic Ocean. Irish TD (Member of Parliament) Eoin Ryan urged Irish health minister Micheal Martin to urgently raise the matter at the OSPAR marine pollution meeting. He pointed out that the plant was the main source of artificial radioactivity in Dublin Bay and along the East Coast. Ireland is currently taking the British to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea amid concerns that radioactive discharge from the Cumbrian site is polluting the Irish Sea. The case is the second of two international legal actions undertaken by Ireland against the British in relation to the plant. Oral proceedings in the first case took place in October 2002 under the OSPAR Convention and a decision has not yet been delivered.

Armagh City Council has elected a Sinn Fein mayor for the first time in its thirty year history. Councillor Pat O Rawe got the post with the casting vote of the out-going SDLP mayor Anna Brolly.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Facing daily assaults from a well-armed resistance, U.S. troops in volatile central Iraq say they are growing frustrated and disillusioned with their role as postwar peacekeepers. Soldiers have complained that they have been insufficiently equipped for peacekeeping and too thinly deployed in areas where they are under attack from fighters evidently loyal to deposed president Saddam Hussein. Others questioned whether the armed opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq may be deeper and more organized than military commanders have acknowledged. A soldier from the 804th Medical Brigade was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade struck a military ambulance carrying a soldier wounded in another incident. The attack, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, produced the third U.S. fatality from hostile fire in four days. Two other soldiers were wounded in the ambush. Most armed assaults on U.S. military personnel have occurred in an arc of towns and cities to the north and west of Baghdad, where support for Hussein was deepest. U.S. forces also have mounted a massive counterinsurgency drive in the region. Areas south of the city, where no such counterattack has been launched, had been quiet until now. The weapons used against the Americans also have been increasing in power. In Samarra, a city about 70 miles north of Baghdad, U.S. troops killed an Iraqi and captured another after they fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a tank. Recently, three mortar shells rained on a U.S.-run civil administration office in the city, killing an Iraqi bystander. Some soldiers are vexed by what they see as a contradictory reception from Iraqis. Sometimes the public appears welcoming, sometimes actively hostile. The problem recalls other military U.S. deployments, including in Afghanistan, where it can be difficult to distinguish friends from enemies. Peacekeeping duty in Iraq has made soldiers particularly vulnerable. Troops at police stations and on guard duty at banks, electrical installations and fuel stations are frequent targets of sniping. Soldiers have been fired on when delivering propane gas. Bystanders throw stones at them when they are constructing soccer fields or fixing schools. Some soldiers complain they are playing roles for which they are ill-prepared. In Baqubah, the domain of the 4th Infantry's 2nd Brigade, combat engineers who specialize in weapons demolition and building bridges have been given a new mission: to drive around in their M113 armored personnel carriers to fight crime. After President Bush declared on May 1 that major combat in Iraq was finished, many soldiers assumed they would be returning to the United States in a matter of weeks. But withdrawal plans have been placed on hold.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela said the United States posed a danger to the world for sidelining the United Nations to make war on Iraq. The Nobel peace laureate, in Ireland to open the Special Olympics, strongly criticized President Bush for circumventing the United Nations in order to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by force. Mandela received an honorary doctorate in law from the National University of Ireland before returning to Dublin where he will join a star-studded cast to open the 11th Special Olympics for athletes with learning disabilities. Mandela, who said South Africans strongly identified with Ireland's struggle to end British colonial rule, told an audience of 1,100 that he appreciated Irish support for South Africa's struggle to end apartheid racial separation. Now 84, and walking with difficulty with the aid of a cane, Mandela spent 27 years in prison, much of that on Robben Island near Cape Town, in solitary confinement. Mandela said there were strong parallels between the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the north of Ireland peace process, which culminated in a 1998 peace deal for power sharing between British colonists (who tended to be Protestants) and the indigenous Irish (who tended to be Roman Catholics).

Michael D Higgins, a member of the Irish Labor Party, has criticized the Israeli government for preventing a 21-year-old Palestinian athlete from travelling to Ireland for the Special Olympics. The handball player, who has Down Syndrome, was refused permission to attend the games because of an Israeli policy blocking residents of the Palestinian territories from travelling abroad. Higgins said Israel's attitude to the disabled athlete was offensive.

Sacked British environment minister Michael Meacher has joined the growing chorus of skepticism over Saddam Hussein's weapons program, saying that the US president, George Bush, invaded Iraq because the US wanted a political and military platform in the Middle East. Meacher, who left the British government after six years service in Tony Blair's recent cabinet reshuffle, said that even if WMD existed, it could not threaten Europe or America. Instead, he claims the war was over a need for oil and to support Israel.

The not-so-mighty Anglo-Saxons.

According to a British journalist, intelligence sources were briefing journalists in a widespread fashion about their concerns over the British government's presentation of the case for war against Iraq. Andrew Gilligan, a defense correspondent for the BBC, was giving evidence to the British House of Commons foreign affairs committee, which is investigating the case made by the government for war in Iraq. The journalist's evidence came just before it emerged that MPs had again written to Tony Blair's director of communications, Alastair Campbell, again asking him to appear before the committee. The BBC correspondent had reported that a senior British official had told him that a dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program had been spiced up at the request of Downing Street. The source said he believed a claim in the dossier - that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons which could be deployed 45 minutes after an order to do so - was unreliable. And Gilligan said his source told him that Tony Blair's director of communications, Alistair Campbell, was responsible for transforming the way the British intelligence services' information had been presented in the dossier. The document in which the 45 minutes claim was made was drawn up by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), made up of civil servants and the intelligence services, and presented to Downing Street. Gilligan said the 45 minutes claim was important because it went to the heart of the government's case that there was an immediate threat from Iraq.

Any upsurge in global activity will see the Irish economy growing significantly, Bank of Ireland chief economist Dan McLaughlin has predicted. Global growth would be US led and signs of this were already apparent with renewed interest in equity markets. Because the Irish economy had weathered the downturn well, it was in a good position to grow quickly in response to any upsurge. McLaughlin believes the Irish Central Bank has been too pessimistic about unemployment. The Central Bank has forecast a rise to 5.6% for the year, but half way through 2003 the rate is only 4.6%. Layoffs in Ireland are down 12% over 2002 and, according to the Bank of Ireland recruitment index, manufacturing jobs are rising. Ireland is no longer a low wage economy which would be a problem if Ireland was producing T-shirts but as producers of high value added products and with a corporation tax level of 12.5%, the Irish economy has much further to run.

A radical British politician close to Saddam Hussein's old government has refused to accept an apology from an American newspaper which retracted a claim he had received $10 million to promote Iraq in the West. The Christian Science Monitor said that documents from Baghdad, on which its report about radical George Galloway were based, were almost certainly forgeries. But Galloway, one of Britain's most outspoken campaigners against the Iraq war and past Western sanctions on Baghdad, said he would press on with a libel case against the Monitor. Galloway was suspended from the ruling Labor Party in May for calling British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Bush wolves, among other colorful criticisms, in interviews during the war. The Scottish legislator, attacked in Britain's right-wing press as a traitor and mocked as the MP for Baghdad Central for his trips to Iraq and meetings with Saddam and other senior Iraqis, called on Blair to launch an investigation into who was behind this attempt to politically assassinate him. Although Galloway declined to point a specific finger, he is thought to believe Western intelligence services were behind the documents which turned up in the chaos of post-war Iraq. The Monitor quoted a U.S.-based expert on Iraqi government documents as saying the Arabic text of the papers it had was inconsistent with known examples of Baghdad bureaucratic writing and replete with problematic language. Also, the two oldest documents, supposedly from 1992 and 1993, were actually written within the past few months, according to a chemical analysis of their ink. Its reporter Philip Smucker obtained the documents from an Iraqi general, who said his men found them in a home once used by Saddam's son Qusay.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus and messiahs are from Uranus!

A top British scientist has accused the British government of weasel words in its dossiers about Saddam Hussein's weapons capability. Dr Thomas David Inch, who used to work at Britain's biological and chemical weapons establishment at Porton Down, told MPs that he could not understand why weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq. Giving evidence to the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee' inquiry into Britain's decision to go to war with Iraq, Inch questioned the quality of the intelligence used in a dossier that claimed Saddam Hussein could launch a strike in 45 minutes. He said it would be very difficult to move chemical and biological weapons or to conceal their manufacture without leaving traces. The British Foreign Office's former political director Dame Pauline Neville-Jones also gave evidence saying that it was extraordinary that weapons of mass destruction had not been found in Iraq. Neville-Jones said that though she thought Blair had sincerely believed the claim that Saddam could launch a chemical or biological strike within 45 minutes, she questioned the reliability of the intelligence behind it. The London inquiry comes ahead of a similar probe by Congress in Washington into whether the Bush administration misread or inflated threats posed by Iraq before going to war. Since the war was declared over, there have been no significant finds in the search for Saddam Hussein's WMD and recently there has been a resurgence of military clashes involving US forces.

A Democratic senator who is seeking his party's nomination to run for the White House has accused the US president, George Bush, of waging war against Iraq on the basis of questionable intelligence. John Kerry, who fought in Vietnam and backed the Iraq war, said Bush's case had rested on at least two pieces of intelligence which now appear to be wrong - that Iraq sought nuclear material from Africa, and that Saddam Hussein had aerial weapons capable of a biological attack on the US. But Kerry said it was too early to conclude whether or not war with Iraq was justified. There needs to be a congressional investigation into US intelligence on Iraq, he said. Kerry, who has criticized the president's diplomatic efforts, said Bush had also alienated US allies in the build-up to war.

The Bloomsday of Ulster Unionism.

The SARS virus is mutating, the World Health Organization has warned. The comments came despite earlier claims by scientists that the disease appeared to be stable. Several scientists at a WHO-sponsored conference on SARS research in Singapore presented fresh evidence that the corona virus which causes SARS could evolve into something more dangerous. Previously researchers had said that although the corona virus must have mutated to jump from animals to humans, it did not appear to be mutating rapidly and on the contrary appeared stable. Marie-Paule Kieny, head of the WHO's Initiative for Vaccine Research programme, said research must now focus on the transforming virus and how it could mask itself from current models of detection. She called on governments to invest heavily in finding a vaccine to prevent the virus from striking again in a mutated form. About 500 scientists and doctors attended the conference, held a day after another WHO conference in neighboring Malaysia where countries shared lessons they learned battling the deadly illness.

The commander of the British army unit which murdered 13 unarmed civilians in Derry on Bloody Sunday 31 years ago has refused to apologise to the family of one of the victims. A lawyer for the family of Bernard McGuigan asked Colonel Ted Loden if he was prepared to apologise to McGuigan's relatives, but the British soldier refused, saying he would await the outcome of the inquiry. McGuigan, a 41-year-old father of six, was shot in the head while holding up a white handkerchief on January 30, 1972, the day the British army murdered 13 Catholic civil rights marchers in Derry.

Police in Belfast are investigating whether a pipe-bomb attack on a house in the south of the city may have been motivated by racism. Bomb disposal experts defused the device, which was thrown at a house occupied by two South African women in a predominantly British loyalist area.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

The British government would be making a grave mistake if it were to abolish the Parades Commission in the Six Counties. As they prepared to meet members of the commission, an SDLP delegation headed by party leader Mark Durkan condemned proposals that the commission should be replaced by two separate bodies. The recommendation in the Quigley Report was condemned by Durkan who said it would be a travesty if, just as progress was being made, the British government were to act on the report and scrap the Parades Commission. The Parades Commission was established in 1998 to adjudicate on whether controversial marches by the Protestant Orange Order, Apprentice Boys and Royal Black Preceptory should be restricted. Unionist politicians have wanted its replacement, hardening their demands as Orangemen were barred from marching down the nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown since 1998. The Quigley Report recommended the replacement of the commission with two bodies. One of the groups would act as a mediator between rival sides. The other body would make the decision on parades. The SDLP leader said it was clear nobody wanted the Quigley Report including residents, the marching orders and the police.

A Belfast woman who wants the dismissal of two soldiers who murdered her son has declined a meeting with the north of Ireland Secretary. Scots Guards Mark Wright and James Fisher were convicted of the 1992 murder of 18-year-old Peter McBride. He was shot after being stopped and searched by the British soldiers while they were on patrol near his home in the New Lodge area of north Belfast. The pair were sentenced to life for murder in 1995, but three years later were released from prison and allowed to rejoin their regiments. McBride's mother, Jean, says the murderers should have been expelled from the British Army and has challenged the decision in the courts. Recently, the Court of Appeal in Belfast agreed with McBride and ruled that the Army was wrong to retain the murdering soldiers. The ruling came just hours before John Spellar, the former Armed Forces Minister, was appointed by Tony Blair to the north of Ireland ministerial team in his reshuffle. Recently, McBride asked for a meeting with Spellar after he was given his new portfolio by Secretary of State Paul Murphy because his appointment was putting her family through further suffering. Spellar has confirmed that he was involved in making the Army decision but refused to meet McBride. He said the secretary of state and the minister responsible for victims would meet her instead. However, McBride said in a statement that she did not request and did not want to meet any other minister. At their trial, Wright and Fisher said they believed Peter McBride was carrying a bomb. But the judge found they were lying as they had already stopped and searched him.

Though the spread of SARS has been stopped for now, health experts said it was doubtful the disease could ever be completely wiped out, and the chief of the World Health Organization said there is no guarantee it will not reappear. Global experts said that increased awareness of the dangers of new diseases should be directed toward advancing tests on drugs to more quickly curb the next outbreak of SARS or a future unknown killer. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director general of the World Health Organization, and some 1,000 medical researchers, government officials and health experts are already thinking of the next big epidemic as they meet in Kuala Lumpur to share lessons from the SARS crisis. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is believed to have originated in civet cats and other game animals sold at food markets in southern China, where the first case of what was later identified as SARS was reported in November 2002. The disease has killed about 800 people and sickened more than 8,400 worldwide. China has been worst hit, with more than 5,300 probable cases and at least 346 deaths. At a panel discussion at the conference, experts agreed there was a lack of research into SARS, but indications so far are that eliminating the virus wouldn't be possible. Dr. Hume Field, an Australian veterinary expert, said research indicated the coronavirus believed to cause SARS had existed in animals for hundreds of years, and recent behavioral changes was the likely trigger for the jump to humans.

Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government has banned a private publication for running articles judged blasphemous in this deeply conservative Islamic country. Mir Hussein Mehdavi, chief editor of the Aftaab publication, has also been arrested by a governmental judiciary body for publishing the articles. Abdul Hamid Mubariz, deputy information and culture minister, said the contents of the articles raised doubts about Islam's holy book, the Koran. He said the Information and Culture Ministry had summoned Mehdavi and the attorney's office was expected to interrogate him. The supreme court has the right to put him on trial and decide on his punishment. Mehdavi, who is in his mid-thirties, is said to be a follower of a branch of communism. He is also known for his outspoken criticism of some government officials. Issues involving Islam and its interpretation are highly sensitive in Afghanistan, where the hardline Taliban regime imposed strict sharia religious laws until it was ousted by a U.S.-led military campaign in late 2001.

A biological, chemical or nuclear terrorist attack on a western city is only a matter of time, according to the head of the British security service, MI5. The warning came just one day after police in the former Soviet republic of Georgia said a taxi driver was detained after police found nerve gas and radioactive materials, that could make a dirty bomb, in his cab. Tedo Mokeliya was detained after police in the capital, Tblisi, discovered two containers holding cesium-137 and strontium in his taxi. Cesium and strontium, which have medical and industrial applications, are considered likely ingredients for a so-called dirty bomb, in which conventional explosives are combined with radioactive material. Police also found a dark brown liquid, later determined to be nerve gas concentrate. Thefts of the materials became common after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and, according to some estimates, the whereabouts of dozens of such containers remain unknown. But the director-general of MI5 said intelligence suggested that renegade scientists had given terrorist groups the information they needed to create such weapons and that they would become more sophisticated.

Two Iraqi protesters were killed by American troops, and a US soldier died in a shooting at a petrol station in Baghdad. The troops opened fire on former members of Saddam's military forces demonstrating for back pay outside a former presidential compound that now serves as US headquarters in Iraq. Captain John Morgan said trouble started when the demonstrators threw stones at a convoy of military police vehicles moving toward the gateway of the compound. A soldier fired in response, he said. Demonstrations outside the Republican Palace have been frequent since coalition forces captured the Iraqi capital, usually over the issue of unpaid government or military wages. Later, gunmen approached a squad of troops at a filling station and shot at the soldiers from close range, killing one and wounding another, before fleeing to a waiting getaway car. About 50 US soldiers have died in Iraq since major combat operations were declared over, either by hostile fire or in accidents. Military forces have been searching for suspected Saddam loyalists and Iraqis hiding outlawed weapons. Troops pulled Baghdad residents from their beds before dawn in a house–to–house search.

The new police chief of Khost, the Afghan town once synonymous with al-Qaida, always knew he had a tough job on his hands. But Abdul Saboor wrongly assumed that no one would try to kill him on his first day at work. Shortly before reviewing his force in May 2003 he found six rocket-propelled grenades pointing at the podium where he was about to sit. Two days later, while he was touring a nearby district, someone planted a mine under his car. It blew the vehicle five meters into the air. Astonishingly, he was unhurt. The attacks on Saboor, a personal friend of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, were almost certainly the work of Taliban sympathizers. The Taliban were supposed to have disappeared from Afghanistan at the end of 2001, but now they have begun a comeback with a series of primitive but deadly attacks on officials and the government's military allies. Recently a suicide bomber blew up an explosives-filled taxi next to a bus full of German peacekeepers in Kabul, killing four of them. It was the deadliest attack on the international forces in Afghanistan so far. Khost, a seven-hour drive from Kabul in east Afghanistan, is one of the Taliban's main areas. Its new mosque was built with Arab money; Arab, Pakistani and Chechen volunteers used to hold dinners in the governor's mansion. Since the war many Taliban have found sanctuary in Pakistan, and slip back across the border to fire rockets at the military HQ at Sara Bagh just outside Khost, which houses 2,000 Italian and American soldiers. To make matters worse ordinary Afghans are becoming resentful of the 11,500 soldiers - mostly American - still in their country, hunting for Taliban and al-Qaida suspects. This resentment has been inflamed by a recent tragedy in which soldiers accidentally shot several Afghan civilians driving past in a mini-van, and a nine-year-old boy, Raz Mohammad, who had been sitting under a mulberry tree.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern has told the Dáil (Irish Parliament) that he hopes to have Justice Barron's report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings by September 2003. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny asked if Ahern would consider re-opening the Garda inquiry into the 1974 bombings following the report's publication. Ahern said he would be prepared to do anything to get to the truth. He described as extraordinary the decision to close down the Garda investigation after a year, and to adjourn the inquests after death certificates were issued. Socialist TD Joe Higgins asked if the then Coalition Government had not pursued the issue for political reasons, because they were afraid of what would be found in terms of collusion across the Border. But the Taoiseach said he did not believe there was any malice involved, that was just the way they were operating at the time. Ahern also said that he had floated the idea of a South African style Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate all such events, but had not received any support.

The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, has told Washington's hawks that Britain would not back interference in Iran, but also urged the Iranian government to let weapons inspectors investigate suspicions that it is developing nuclear weapons. Straw said that the British government's approach to Iran was different from that of the US administration. Straw's comments come after the US president, George Bush, praised recent anti-government demonstrations in Iran's capital Tehran.

Iraq needs a transitional administration soon if it is to avoid a descent into chaos, according to a prominent Iraqi. Adnan Pachachi, a highly regarded former Iraqi foreign minister who is expected to play a big role in a transitional Iraqi administration, criticized the heavy-handed US sweeps that have cost more than 100 Iraqi lives. Pachachi, 80, may be the only prominent opponent of Saddam Hussein who all sides are prepared to work with. He said the Americans were coming round to the idea of an Iraqi transitional administration with real authority but with the US and Britain as occupying powers. Given the embarrassing failure of the US authorities in Baghdad to restore living conditions even to the low level enjoyed by Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, the option of giving some power to Iraqis is one that clearly has its attractions for the US. Pachachi wants an interim administration to be set up within three weeks to prepare the way for elections and to draw up a constitution. The US wants to wait for four or five weeks. He believes that the transitional period would last for about two years before a freely elected government could be in place.

Former British cabinet ministers Robin Cook and Clare Short said they were both told by MI6 in the run-up to the war with Iraq that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction did not pose any immediate threat. Cook and Short, who both resigned over the conflict, said they had been briefed by MI6, also known as the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), in the days before the war. Short, giving evidence to the opening session of the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the use of intelligence in the war, said she had been told by MI6 that while the work of weapons scientists was being kept hidden by the Iraqis, the risk of use was less. Cook said his resignation speech, when he said Iraq probably had no weapons of mass destruction in terms of a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic target, had reflected almost word for word a briefing he received from MI6. Cook said he had no regular access to intelligence material after he left the British Foreign Office in 2001 to become Leader of the Commons, but he, along with other Cabinet ministers, was briefed individually by SIS before the war. Short said that, as International Development Secretary, she did have access to intelligence and had seen all the material on Iraq but only after she had made a fuss. She said that Downing Street had tried to prevent her seeing the material and she was given access only after she took up the issue with Tony Blair. She said MI6 believed that Iraqi scientists were still working on chemical and biological weapons programs but the British public was led to believe that Saddam had weapons ready to use.

The mother of a teenager murdered by two Scots Guards has criticized the appointment of John Spellar, the new north of Ireland minister who, as an army board member, voted to allow them to continue in their regiment. Jean McBride, whose 18-year-old son Peter was shot in the back by the soldiers 11 years ago, said she was astonished at the appointment. Spellar was given the job as part of Tony Blair’s recent cabinet reshuffle. His appointment came just hours after a Belfast court challenged the British Army’s decision to allow Scots Guards Mark Wright and James Fisher to continue their army careers. Spellar, who was a member of the board that voted unanimously to retain Wright and Fisher, will keep his position despite the fact that the Ministry of Defence may now have to re-investigate the decision. Fisher, from Ayr, and Wright, from Arbroath, were convicted in 1995 of shooting McBride twice in the back near his home in the nationalist New Lodge area of north Belfast. While they were chasing the teenager the officer in charge was heard to order "don’t shoot". The pair told the court they opened fire because they believed that McBride was carrying a bomb. But witnesses say the teenager had already been searched. In July 1998 Mo Mowlam, who was then secretary of state for the north of Ireland, promised the family that Fisher and Wright would not be among the first wave of prisoners released under the Good Friday agreement. However, just two months later the two soldiers were released without warning. A number of prominent British politicians campaigned for their reinstatement, including William Hague, the former Tory leader, Lord Tebbit, the Conservative peer, and Lord Merlyn Rees, former Labor secretary of state for the north of Ireland. In November 1998 a British Army review board ruled that Wright and Fisher could continue as soldiers because of "exceptional circumstances". The McBride family’s pleas for the men to be dismissed were backed by Bertie Ahern, the taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), and two appeal court judges.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Approximately ten thousand people in southern Iraq protested against the imposition of a British governor in Basra city. The demonstrators have demanded the right to choose the city's governor and an administrative council. Basra, Iraq's second biggest city, is suffering from chronic shortages of water and electricity and looting continues. Thousands demonstrated in Basra demanding that the British army allow Iraqis to run their own city. British officers promised to give an answer soon to demands that Basra people be allowed to set up an administrative council and a consultative council.

A recent poll showed that a majority of people around the world view U.S. President George W. Bush unfavorably and think the United States was wrong to invade Iraq. The poll, which surveyed more than 11,000 people in 11 countries, showed 57% of those asked had a very unfavorable or fairly unfavorable attitude towards the American president. Some 56% felt the United States was wrong to attack Iraq, including 81% of Russian respondents and 63% of those polled in France. In Jordan and Indonesia, well over half of those asked felt the United States posed a greater danger to world peace and stability than al Qaeda. In five of the 11 countries polled, a majority of respondents believed the United States was more dangerous than Iran while in eight of the 11, respondents said the United States was more dangerous than Syria. The survey, conducted in May and June, covered Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, France, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

In the mid-1980s, 89% of Iraqi women could read and write; a decade later, only 45% could do so. Over the same period, fewer girls went to school and fewer women held seats in parliament. Trends such as these, tracked by United Nations agencies, reflect how decades of wars and deprivation have hurt Iraqi women, driving families to pull daughters out of school and put them to work. Now, as their homeland spins shakily into an unknown future, Iraqi women worry that conservative Islamic religious fervor will set them back further. Since U.S. troops ousted Saddam Hussein, the Shia Muslim majority he repressed for decades has organized quickly into a powerful political force led by an Iranian-backed cleric, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr Al-Hakim. Al-Hakim portrays himself as moderate, but has called for Islamic rule in Iraq. More militant clerics have issued fatwas, or orders, that women be veiled, that schools and workplaces be segregated by sex, and that their strict version of Islamic law be enforced, complete with death-by-stoning for women who have sex out of wedlock. While these are seen as minority views among Iraqis, accustomed to the secular system of the past, they hold sway among millions of angry young Shia determined to take the power long denied them. U.S. officials have also encountered problems in recruiting women to be part of a new Iraqi government. So cowed are women by the religious and political limits set on them over the years that they are bewildered by the idea of seizing power. The post-Hussein lawlessness in Iraq has also contributed to these problems as the longer the anarchy continues, the more likely that hardline Islamic beliefs will take hold as people search for order and discipline.

A former Australian intelligence analyst who resigned in protest over the war in Iraq will give evidence at a parliamentary inquiry in Britain. Andrew Wilkie has promised to expose the Australian Government's exaggerated claims of weapons of mass destruction, and its concoction of links between Saddam Hussein and international terrorists. Prime Minister John Howard has denied manipulating intelligence information, and has so far resisted calls for an official investigation. Andrew Wilkie said Australia (like Britain and the United States) went to war on the basis that Iraq had a large weapons of mass destruction program. Wilkie said the claim was obviously false, and he is expected to tell the foreign affairs select committee why in London. The former analyst resigned from an Australian intelligence agency before the invasion of Iraq began. Australia was the third military force in the Gulf, despatching its biggest combat deployment since the Vietnam War. Howard has dismissed demands for a parliamentary investigation into the way intelligence was gathered and used before the campaign started. Opposition Senators in the upper house, however, believe they will soon have the numbers to force an inquiry.

Friday, June 13, 2003

UN officials in Baghdad say they are very concerned that religious extremists are intimidating women and girls into wearing the veil. In particular, some radical clerics have demanded that women - even Christians - wear the veil. The UN officials have also expressed alarm at a reported rise in rape. Since the end of the conflict in Iraq, radical factions in Iraq's Sunni and Shia Muslim communities have been asserting themselves in the ensuing period of instability. One Iraqi UN staff member recently received a handwritten letter at home saying she would be killed unless she started covering her hair. The spokesman for the UN Children's Fund, Geoffrey Keele, said that in some areas there had also been pressure on schoolgirls to start putting on the veil. UN officials also say Iraqi women can no longer drive or walk in the streets at night as freely as they did in pre-war Iraq. No statistics are available, but Iraqis say there has also been a significant increase in rape.

Sectarianism in modern Scotland.

An inquest into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings is to be formally reopened 29 years after the loyalist attacks which killed 33 people. The Dublin City Coroner, Dr Brian Farrell, said that inquests into how 26 people died in Dublin city center on May 17th, 1974 would resume by way of mention at the coroner's court. Full inquests won't begin until publication of Justice Barron's independent investigation of the bombings, which is due in September 2003. Part of the remit of the Barron inquiry is to try to establish whether the British security services assisted the UVF loyalists in the attack. Inquests were heard into the deaths of six of the Monaghan victims but, at the request of the Gardaí (the Irish police), the Dublin inquest was immediately adjourned after it began in 1974. The Justice for the Forgotten group, which has spearheaded the campaign to establish the truth behind the bombings, welcomed the announcement.

The Royal Irish Regiment: the private army of Ulster Unionism.

British and American intelligence information concerning Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction was worthless, according to a former UN weapons inspector. Steve Allinson, a British chemical engineer who now lives in New Zealand, says he is not surprised the occupation forces had so far failed to find any illegal arms. He claims in the three months he worked in Iraq before the war, inspection teams were often sent to sites named by US and British intelligence where no evidence of weapons was found. Allinson was a team leader among the 30-member UN chemical inspection group that scoured about 160 Iraqi sites in three months and was taken out of Iraq after it became clear the US-led coalition would invade.

Israel has pledged a war against Hamas but an opinion poll showed a majority of Israelis oppose the stepped-up attacks on leaders of the militant Islamic group. With his peace road map threatened by Israeli-Palestinian violence that has killed 38 people in two days, President Bush planned to send a veteran U.S. diplomat to Israel to try to stem the bloodshed. A poll in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily found 67% of Israelis wanted the assassination policy to stop, at least temporarily, to give new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas a chance to grow stronger. Yedioth Ahronoth commentator Sever Plotzker described as unprecedented the widespread opposition to the assassinations amid a dizzying cycle of violence. In its war against the Palestinians, Israel launched a helicopter missile strike in the Gaza Strip that killed seven people, including senior militant Yasser Taha, his wife and one-year-old daughter.

The British Army was wrong to retain the two soldiers who murdered Belfast teenager Peter McBride, the Court of Appeal in Belfast has ruled. Scots Guards Mark Wright and James Fisher were convicted of the 18-year-old's murder in 1995 and served six years of a life sentence. McBride was shot after being stopped and searched by the British soldiers while they were on patrol near his home in the New Lodge area of north Belfast on 4 September, 1992. The pair were allowed to rejoin their regiment in 1998, a move challenged in the courts by the McBride family. The judges stopped short of ordering the British Army to dismiss the two soldiers. Instead, they made a legal declaration that the reasons adopted by the Army Board were not so exceptional as to permit the retention of the two soldiers. SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the British government must now accept that the two soldiers have no place in the British Army.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

The families of those murdered on Bloody Sunday have accused the British Ministry of Defence of withholding documents from the Saville Inquiry. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry is examining the events of 30 January 1972 when 13 civilians were butchered by British army soldiers during a civil rights march in Derry. A 14th person died later. The families made the accusation after the MoD produced another document to the tribunal. A spokesman for the families said it was scandalous that three years after the inquiry began hearing evidence, the MoD was still finding documents. The inquiry, which usually sits at the Guildhall in Derry, is currently hearing evidence from military witnesses and others in London. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry was established in 1998 by Prime Minister Tony Blair after a campaign by families of those murdered and injured. The new inquiry was necessary because the previous Widgery Inquiry did not reveal the truth of what happened on Bloody Sunday.

The CIA has rejected blame for the use of a faulty intelligence report by President Bush as he built his case for war against Iraq. A spokesman, Bill Harlow, voiced confidence that the documents supplied to congressional oversight committees would show the spy agency did not withhold information about Iraq's purported attempt to buy uranium in Niger. The Central Intelligence Agency had shared hundreds of pages of material with the panels looking into charges that the administration and the intelligence community oversold the weapons threat to foster public support for ousting Saddam Hussein. The latest challenge to the CIA involved a claim in Bush's State of the Union address that Saddam had been trying to buy uranium from Africa. The uranium tale had been disputed by a CIA-directed mission to Niger in 2002. The CIA has been accused of not passing on the results of this mission to the White House. Any such CIA failure to share fully what it knew would have helped keep the uranium story alive until the eve of the invasion of Iraq. The supposed uranium quest in Africa first surfaced in a now widely contested Sept. 24, 2002, report on Iraq released by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The claim was quickly embraced by the Bush administration, though many mid-level intelligence officials knew it was bogus.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble is facing a vote of no confidence in him as Member of Parliament for the Upper Bann constituency. Party members in the constituency are seeking an extra-ordinary meeting of the party's local association to vote on the matter. The move comes as Trimble prepares to face down critics in the party's ruling council. Skeptics within the Upper Bann Ulster Unionist Association say they have 25 signatures, which they claim is enough under party rules to require the meeting to be held. Meanwhile, members of the Ulster Unionist Association in Lagan Valley have presented a 70-strong petition seeking a vote of no confidence in their MP Jeffrey Donaldson. The motions follow the latest wrangle between the two MPs which is due to take center stage at a meeting of the party's ruling council.

The sluggish US economy is showing a few signs of life, with the post-Iraqi war bounce being less than dramatic, according to the Federal Reserve. Perhaps the brightest news in in its Beige Book survey of current economic conditions is that none of the 12 Fed districts said conditions were getting worse. Four of the 12 banks said conditions were improving while six said they saw no improvement while two said the economy was mixed. "The unwinding of war-related concerns appears to have provided some lift to business and consumer confidence, but most reports suggested that the effect has not been dramatic," the Beige Book concluded.

A former senior official at the Iraqi Information Ministry during Saddam Hussein's rule says Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were all destroyed years ago. Amir al-Helou, previously editor-in-chief of the Baathist government weekly Alif Baa magazine, has resurfaced since the U.S.-led war as a contributor to Iraq's mostly widely read newspaper, the London-based daily Azzaman. No such weapons have been found since the United States and Britain attacked Iraq on March 20 2003 to oust Saddam and destroy his alleged arsenal of chemical and biological poisons. The failure to find the arms the two powers cited as the main justification for the war, has fuelled controversy over whether they misled the world over the threat posed by Iraq.

Brian Feeney on why the Royal Irish Regiment must be disbanded.

Apparently, the British population is a mixture of Celts and Germans with the people of Wales having the most Celtic DNA. The people with the highest level of Germanic ancestry are the Central English.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

In October 2002, the CIA warned that Saddam Hussein was close to making a nuclear bomb in a report called "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs." British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Sept. 24 2002 dossier on Iraq's weapons programs said it would take one to two years. Washington and London also accused Iraq of making chemical and biological arms, but the idea that Iraq was attempting to create an atomic bomb was the clincher -- the doomsday scenario. Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, and other members of Congress had voted in favor of the use of force in Iraq largely because of the administration's warnings about Saddam's nuclear program. In the run-up to the war, the Bush administration repeatedly criticized the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for finding no evidence that Baghdad had revived its nuclear weapons program, evidence the United States insisted was there. The war to disarm Iraq is over but the proof that Baghdad had revived its nuclear arms program (like Saddam himself) is still missing. And the allies' failure to find clear proof that Iraq had any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has become a source of embarrassment for both Blair and Bush. Some lawmakers in the United States and Britain have expressed worries that their governments misrepresented the evidence about Iraq's nuclear capabilities and want Bush to explain his pre-war claims that Iraq was seeking nuclear arms. During nearly four months of inspections in Iraq, IAEA inspectors said privately that what they found in Iraq was very different from the looming "mushroom cloud" Bush had said Saddam was capable of unleashing on the world. In order to build a conventional nuclear bomb, one would need a dedicated team of scientists and technicians working in pristine laboratory conditions with full access to the requisite equipment and raw materials -- something the IAEA did not find.

Hundreds of Israeli settlers fanned out across a hillside to block the army from tearing down trailer homes at Amonah, stalling Ariel Sharon's pledge to dismantle dozens of illegal Jewish outposts in the West Bank. The soldiers were sent in after the army command failed to persuade settlers to voluntarily tear down outposts as part of Sharon's commitment at the summit with President George Bush and the Palestinian prime minister. But it was apparent at Amonah that the troops were half-hearted and the settlers forewarned. Loudspeakers in the neighboring established settlement of Ofrah called on residents to climb the hills in defense of Amonah, which is home to dozens of settlers. A few hours earlier the military bulldozed two uninhabited shacks on another hillside, at Neve Erez. Soldiers pulled down a disused water tower on a neighboring hill at Amonah. But the military showed an unusual restraint, that would have come as a surprise to many Palestinians, when confronted by large numbers of teenagers, mothers with babies in their arms and a few dozen well-armed men. One American settler was overheard to say that if the army had been serious about tearing down the outpost it would have sent ten times as many soldiers, and not reservists but real riot police. The Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, dismissed the dismantling of a few outposts as largely irrelevant so long as Israel says it intends to hold on to established settlements that are home to about 200,000 Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas, who is better known as Abu Mazen, was fighting to stave off a barrage of accusations that he made too many concessions at the summit in Aqaba to kick-start the US-led road map to a Palestinian state.

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications, is to refuse to give evidence to the British House of Commons foreign affairs committee, which meets in public, about his role in the publication of intelligence briefings before the Iraq war. Tony Blair will also reportedly snub the committee. Campbell's decision will give fresh weight to the calls for a full independent inquiry into the issue. The select committee wants to examine whether Downing Street sought to harden the intelligence service report published in September 2002. It believes that Campbell's evidence could be vital to its decision on whether Downing Street interfered excessively in changing the tone and certainty of the evidence of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, published under the name of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Campbell's decision not to appear before the committee became known as the intelligence and security committee is about to increase the pressure on No 10 in its annual report. It is likely to criticise the way Downing Street used intelligence material in the report it published in February 2003. It is expected to call for clearer criteria for the publication of security service material by the political classes. The committee is expected to criticise the way in which Downing Street assembled its own intelligence-based dossier, drawing on published information, including material plagiarised from the internet.

U.S.-backed Iraqi political leader Ahmad Chalabi has defended information his group gave Washington on weapons of mass destruction amid growing questions about intelligence used to justify the war on Iraq. Chalabi said he was aware of media reports suggesting his Iraqi National Congress gave false information on Baghdad's alleged illegal biological, chemical and nuclear weapons program, but remained convinced they would yet be found. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have brushed aside their failure to find solid evidence of Iraq's alleged weapons and said time would prove them correct. Critics have accused Washington and London of using flawed or manipulated intelligence as grounds for the invasion. A Defense Intelligence Agency report from Sept. 2002 said the agency did not have enough reliable information on Iraq's alleged chemical arsenal. Educated in Britain and America, Chalabi was convicted in Jordan 11 years ago of embezzling $30 million of bank money and sentenced to 22 years in prison after he fled the country.

A top United Nations inspector will travel to the north of Ireland to probe allegations that the British Army operated a shoot-to-kill policy towards IRA men. Civil rights group Relatives for Justice have launched a major campaign to force the British government into answering questions about its policy in two controversial killings more than a decade ago. Campaigners also want the UN's Special Rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Pakistan-based Dr Asma Fahangir, to investigate claims loyalists who murdered a pensioner were plotting with the British security forces. Contact has been made with Fahangir's office and Relatives for Justice representatives are due to fly to Geneva to meet her in the autumn. Ultimately the families want to have British government officials ordered to appear before a high-powered UN Human Rights Committee to answer tough questions. Senior SDLP and Sinn Fein political representatives in the Mid Ulster area have backed the families campaign.

The Irish Government is taking legal action to close the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant. Irish ministers are concerned that radioactive discharge from the Cumbrian plant is polluting the Irish Sea. The government will start legal action under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) at an international tribunal in The Hague. Environment minister Martin Cullen said he regretted such a step was necessary, but said action was essential to protect the Irish Republic's interests. He said there were several worrying issues, including pollution from the discharge of radioactive waste from the Mox plant into the Irish Sea. Cullen also expressed concern at the inadequacy of the environmental assessment undertaken by Britain in relation to the facility and the failure to properly assess the risk of terrorist attack on the site. International movements of radioactive materials associated with the site were also a cause for concern. Britain is expected to argue that the court does not have jurisdiction over Sellafield.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has called on the Irish and British Governments to implement the Good Friday Agreement regardless of the internal divisions within the Ulster Unionist Party. The UUP is divided between a weak pro-Agreement wing and a strong anti-Agreement wing calling for the scrapping of the 1998 peace deal. Speaking in Omagh, Co Tyrone, Adams said: "The internal politics of unionism cannot disguise the deep crisis in the political process. Neither should it distract from the failure of the two governments to fully implement the Good Friday Agreement. Many of the issues which have to be dealt with are issues of rights and entitlements."

United Nations inspectors were urged to visit the north of Ireland in a new bid to prove allegations that the British Army operated a shoot-to-kill policy during two ambushes on local Irishmen. Civil rights group Relatives for Justice also claimed loyalists who murdered a pensioner in another attack in the Co Tyrone area were conspiring with the British security forces. Inquests into all three cases involving killings going back more than a decade have been blocked because Defense and police chiefs refuse to provide material to the families' lawyers. Campaigners want the UN's Special Rapporteur on Summary and Arbitrary Executions to travel on a fact-finding mission about the shootings in Co Tyrone. The first of the cases involves Tony Doris, Lawrence McNally and Peter Ryan, who were shot dead by the SAS as they drove through the village of Coagh in a stolen car on June 3, 1991. Relatives for Justice has also posed questions about the SAS killings of Kevin Barry O'Donnell, Peter Clancy, Sean O'Farrell and Daniel Vincent at Clonoe near Coalisland on February 16, 1992. The third case involves the murder of Roseanne Mallon, 76, by loyalists in her home near Dungannon, Co Tyrone on May 8, 1994. The Ulster Volunteer Force claimed it had been trying to kill nephews of the dead woman. Relatives for Justice claim a covert British Army unit had been observing the Mallon house using sophisticated surveillance cameras at the time of the shooting but had decided not to intervene.

Britain's influential spy watchdog criticized the British government for releasing a dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons concealment program without checking its contents with intelligence services. The document was one of three published by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to justify preparations for war on Iraq. The Intelligence and Security Committee said Blair's February document, which set out the role of Iraq's security services in hiding banned weapons from U.N. inspectors, had not been cleared with the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6. Pre-empting the report, Blair's office said his communications chief Alastair Campbell had apologised to MI6 chief Richard Dearlove and promised to take more care in future when publishing intelligence material. The committee is also opening an investigation into claims that the British government pressured intelligence chiefs to spice up an earlier dossier which set out the evidence of Saddam Hussein's alleged biological and chemical weapons arsenal. The issue has dogged Blair as pressure mounts for him to show evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that he said justified war. Weeks after Saddam was toppled by U.S. and British forces, none have yet been found. A U.S. Senate committee will also investigate the validity of intelligence information about the threat Iraq posed.

Monday, June 09, 2003

U.S. military units assigned to track down Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have run out of places to look and are getting time off or being assigned to other duties, even as pressure mounts on President Bush to explain why no banned arms have been found. After nearly three months of fruitless searches, weapons hunters say they are now waiting for a large team of Pentagon intelligence experts to take over the effort, relying more on leads from interviews and documents. Recently, many teams of weapons hunters have been taken off assignment completely. Rather than visit suspected weapons sites, they are brushing up on target practice and catching up on letters home. The slowdown comes after checks of more than 230 sites, drawn from a master intelligence list compiled before the war, turned up none of the chemical or biological weapons the Bush administration said it went after Saddam Hussein to destroy. Without evidence of weapons, the CIA and other intelligence agencies have begun reviewing the accuracy of information they supplied to the administration before the March invasion of Iraq. Government inquiries are being set up in Washington, London and other coalition countries to examine how possibly flawed intelligence might have influenced the decision for war.

Lawyers for peace campaigners CND are arguing that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has made the legality of the war questionable. The group is pressing for a judicial review into the attorney general's advice to the British government that attacking Iraq was legal. Before the war, Lord Goldsmith said that despite the absence of a second United Nations resolution, an attack was covered by existing international law. His reasoning was based on the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq which were said to be a clear threat to Britain. The issue has plunged into renewed controversy amid claims that Iraq's WMD threat had been sexed up by Downing Street with undue prominence given to a dubious claim an attack could be launched in 45 minutes. CND wants the evidence the attorney general based his judgments on to be examined.

A woman intends to make a legal challenge over the failure of the British authorities to protect the rights of children at a Catholic primary school in north Belfast. The woman, who is seeking a judicial review, suffered threats to her own and her family's safety when loyalists staged violent protests near Holy Cross Primary School in Ardoyne. It is understood she has had to move from her home. Her application for a judicial review intends to challenge the failure of the British authorities to protect the rights of the children and their parents. The woman's lawyer told the High Court that the violent protestors threw an explosive device, as well as bricks, bottles, balloons filled with urine, excrement and hot tea at the children and their parents. They had to run a gauntlet of loyalists screaming abuse. Her lawyer said the police operation between June and November 2001 was inadequate and instead of marshalling and restricting the movements of violent protestors, police instead marshalled and restricted the movement of children.

GAA bosses have called on the British government to apologise for the 1920 Bloody Sunday massacre at Croke Park in Ireland. Thirteen spectators and one player were killed when British Black and Tans burst onto the pitch and started firing into the crowd on November 21 1920 – half a century before British paratroopers opened fire on civil rights marchers in Derry. An article published in the History Ireland magazine has revealed that the official record of a British military inquiry into the Dublin killing has been released. The secret inquiry blamed unknown civilians for firing the first shots, as a warning of the raid or to create a panic in the crowded grounds. It admitted, however, that all the fatal shots were fired by the police from the canal bridge, claiming that officers had shot at people "trying to evade arrest". Out of 30 statements given to the inquiry only three were provided by spectators. GAA public relations manager Danny Lynch has called on the British government to apologise to the families of those killed and injured during the attack. One of the British soldiers who took part in the Bloody Sunday operation later recalled that they had tossed a coin over whether troops would go on a killing spree in Croke Park or loot O’Connell Street. During the attack dozens of people were killed or injured as the crowd stampeded in a desperate attempt to escape.The dead included Tipperary goalkeeper Michael Hogan – the Hogan Stand was later named in his honor – as well as Jeannie Boyle, who had gone to the match with her fiancee and was due to be married five days later. Fourteen-year-old John Scott, was so badly mutilated that survivors thought he had been bayoneted to death. The youngest victims were aged 10 and 11.