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NightWatch 20100127

NightWatch

For the Night of 27 January 2010

North Korea: Update. North Korea said it is firing artillery off its west coast as part of an annual military drill and will continue to do so, The Associated Press reported 27 January. The General Staff of the North Korean army stated that artillery units staged an annual live shell firing drill off the west coast. The statement said such drills will continue in the same waters in the future.

News services reported additional gunnery practice from North Korea today.

Malaysia: Update. The BBC reported that several severed pigs' heads have been found in mosque compounds in Kuala Lumpur, apparently in retaliation for Muslim attacks on Christian churches and Sikh temples. Muslims consider pig unclean and its presence defiles a mosque.

Religious tensions have increased after a court ruled last month that a Roman Catholic newspaper could use the word Allah in its Malay-language edition to describe the Christian God.

Afghanistan: Former Taliban minister in Afghanistan Arsala Rahmani said both the government and Taliban leadership are open to serious talks, although talks he has mediated have not occurred since summer 2009, Reuters reported.

The Taliban and other anti-government opposition are not the only ones demanding a withdrawal of foreign troops, Rahmani sai. He called for a timetable for withdrawal and specific goals justifying the foreign troop presence. He also noted that Pakistan seems to be moving toward facilitating talks between the current Afghan government and rebel groups. He said top Afghan leaders must be taken off criminal lists or they cannot participate in negotiations.

Similarly, Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal said that he believes the Taliban are ready to start negotiating, and that the talks could begin immediately if they receive international backing, The Financial Times reported. Zakhilwal said a number of Taliban militants have approached the Afghan government regarding talks, and that jobs or other incentives could convince the second level of Taliban leadership to defect. He also said that Pakistan would need to play a strong role in bringing about defections.

A Taliban spokesman denied that any talks had taken place. Two analytical items in US newspapers also suggested the time is nearing for talks.

Comment: The NightWatch position for the past two years is that power sharing is occurring at many levels already and is inevitable at the national level. Continuing evaluation of Taliban fighting shows they have not transformed their Pashtun-based operation into a broad movement that has the support of all Pashtuns, not to mention other ethnic groups

The Taliban have peaked and are in the strongest position to negotiate that they are likely to have for several years. Omar and his acolytes know they cannot win and that the Coalition also cannot. Once 30,000 more combat forces arrive in Afghanistan, that equation will alter in favor of the Coalition and the government, possibly for a half generation, depending on the death toll.

Sri Lanka: The Elections Commission declared incumbent President Rajapaksa the victor with 57.8% of votes cast, to 40% for his main rival, retired General Fonseka. Fonseka has challenged the outcome as rigged, but Rajapaksa's margin of victory suggests he just lost … unless Sri Lanka's elections prove to be as rigged as Iran's. The NightWatch prediction was more hopeful than accurate.

Iran: On the 65th remembrance of the Holocaust, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei chose to make his strongest statement of hostility to Israel. During a meeting with the visiting President of Mauritania, Khamenei said the day will come when Israel will be destroyed and that it depends on the Islamic countries and leaders.

Khamenei's statement is, arguably, incitement to genocide, which ranks his anti-Semitism alongside that of Hitler, the Nazi leadership; Stalin and his communist thugs. It also makes him potentially subject him to prosecution for crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court.

Most Muslims would not read the Quran as calling for the extermination of the Jews or the Jewish state. The good news is that no other Islamic state leaders have called for the destruction of Israel, at least not in public.

Iraq-Iran: Update. An Iraqi television channel reported broadcast today that "official sources in the Maysan Governorate (of Iraq) have confirmed the Iranian withdrawal from the Al-Fakkah oil field" and that "there is no sign of the Iranian forces, which leveled the sand barrier and dismantled the shelters it had erected before finally withdrawing to the international border with Iraq.

Governor Mohammad Shayaa al-Sudani said visits by Iran's foreign minister and meetings with Iraqi officials led to the withdrawal of Iranian forces, adding that Iraq agreed with Iran to activate the joint committees on the demarcation of borders.

This dispute flared but did not expand. That may be expected to be the pattern in future disputes between the two Shiite states. Those who expected that Arab ethnic identity would be more important than shared religious beliefs in the al Maliki governments relations with the Persians appear to be wrong.

Iraq: For the record. Ahmed Abu Risha, the leader of the Sunni Awakening councils in al Anbar Governate, said he was concerned about Iran's increased influence since Shia took power in Iraq. Abu Risha called for increased involvement by Sunni Arab countries, Reuters reported 27 January. He said Iraq should have handled the seizure by Iranian soldiers at an oil well in December with troops and tanks, rather than with condemnation.

Abu Risha also said that an Iraqi law that replaced a debaathification rule meant to keep Saddam loyalists from power was being misused to prevent competitors from running in the March parliamentary election. He said a law is needed that "closes the pages of the past." He also rejected a request from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to join his State of Law coalition.

The Awakening Councils were crucial to the stabilization of Iraq. One would hope that someone has maintained contact with Abu Risha to explore the nature of his concerns. Iraq is heading slowly in the direction of violent internal instability between sects and ethnic groups. This could lead to a second round of civil war. None of the fundamental issues that divide the sects and the populations have been settled in the present power sharing arrangement.

Saudi Arabia-Yemen: Today Prince Khaled bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's deputy defense minister, set the record straight on the al Huthi ceasefire and voluntary withdrawal. Prince Khaled said his forces achieved a "clear victory over the enemy….They did not withdraw. They have been forced out."

Prince Khalid bin Sultan said on Wednesday his forces had encountered resistance and taken 1,500 prisoners. He admitted 109 Saudi soldiers died since the operations began three months ago.

Only isolated Huthi snipers remained in the mountainous area inside Saudi territory seized last year, he said.

Prince Khaled called for the withdrawal of al Huthi snipers, the return of six missing soldiers and Yemeni troops to be stationed at the border. The 1,500 Yemeni rebels currently held by the Saudis will be released once hostilities cease, said the Prince

"We must remember history when it comes to Abdul-Malik al-Houthi and his people," the Prince said in his address to the troops. "They have gone to war with the Yemeni government on five occasions. They have also signed five agreements with the Yemeni Authorities. However they broke those agreements after a year or two."

Comment: Khaled's version of events seems to square more closely with the limited facts that have leaked from Yemen. If his version is accurate, the Iranians, who are the main backers of the al Huthi who follow a sect of Shii Islam, sustained a significant setback in building proxies on the Red Sea coast.

The Saleh government in Yemen with Saudi and US assistance is ensuring that neither fundamentalist Islamist groups nor the Iranians gain control of the southern end of the Red Sea, one of the most important waterways in the world.

Guinea: Guinea has sworn in a civilian prime minister as the leader of a transitional government that is now in office. Jean-Marie Dore, said he wanted to lead the transition administration towards "free, transparent and credible elections" and would seek an overhaul of the military, which took power in a coup after the death of the president on 24 December 2008.

"Democratic elections are …the required path for our country to attain stability," Dore said at an inauguration ceremony on 26 January. He called on General Sekouba Konate, the president of the transition government, to "reorganize and restructure the military with the support of the international community.

Earlier this month, Captain Camara, who staged the coup after the death of President Conte in 2008, agreed to stay in Burkina Faso and not return to Guinea. Camara is recovering from an assassination attempt - a bullet in the head -- by a former aide. Konate, the defense minister, assumed control of the country after the attempt on Camara's life.

Apparently none of the power brokers in Guinea, including the military, wanted Camara back. Guinea has righted itself and is heading back to democracy after a year interlude. Elections are expected in the next six months. This is a study in democracy.

End of NightWatch for 27 January.

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