December 24, 2011

The Week in Review

December 23, 2011 | From
U.S. troops leave Iraq behind, sectarian violence breaks out in Iraq, Pakistanis rally against America, another Catholic child abuse scandal breaks out, Chinese hackers break in to U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Latin America lashes out at the cause of the drug trade.

Middle East
Last U.S. troops depart Iraq: The last convoy of U.S. troops left Iraq on December 18, formally concluding nearly nine years of war. The column of armored vehicles crossed the border into Kuwait early Sunday morning. It is telling of the condition America is leaving the country in that U.S. forces had been paying off tribal sheikhs—$100,000 a month—to secure stretches of highway leading south into Kuwait in order to reduce the threat of roadside bombings and attacks on convoys as they departed. America leaves the fledgling Iraqi democracy with an unstable government under the heavy influence of neighboring Iran. Since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq has moved into Iran’s sphere of influence, and in just the few days since American forces left the country, a sectarian crisis has erupted, with the Shiites wasting no time in throwing their weight around. Iraq’s Sunnis rejected a call for all-party talks on Wednesday after vowing to try to unseat Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The Sunnis are furious over the Shiite-controlled authorities leveling terrorism charges against Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, putting an arrest warrant out for him, on the very day the Americans left. The Sunni deputy prime minister, the next-most-senior Sunni politician, is also being targeted by Maliki, who has asked the parliament to remove him from office. Hashemi claims the charges against him are a fabrication, and Washington appears to agree. The “Sunnis, outnumbered about two to one by Shiites,” reports Reuters, “see it as proof that Maliki, now freed of the trammels of U.S. occupation, is determined to tighten his personal grip on government and to marginalize the Sunnis” (December 21). Meanwhile, aseries of bombings killed at least 72 people in mainly Shiite areas of Baghdad on Thursday, seen as a response to Maliki’s efforts to sideline the two Sunni leaders. Watch for Iran—politically and otherwise—to further cement its hold on Iraq as it takes advantage of the power and security vacuum America has left behind.
Islamists extend lead in second round of Egyptian elections: Unsurprisingly, Egypt’s two largest Islamist parties came out on top in the country’s second round of multi-stage legislative elections, held December 14 and 15. The elections, covering nine provinces, gave the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party 36 percent of the vote, and the hard-line Salifist Al-Nour party 28 percent. A run-off election was held Wednesday and Thursday, with the two main Islamist parties competing for 59 seats in the lower house of parliament. Final second-round resultsshow the Muslim Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance has picked up 40 percent of the seats reserved for party lists, the Salifist Al-Nour party 24.4 percent, and the liberal parties combined just 29.3 percent of contested seats. Election procedures to vote in a full assembly will end in March. Meanwhile, violent clashes raged through the week as security forces clamped down on protesters demanding that the ruling military step down. The five days of protest rallies began Friday of last week, with a reported 10,000 women marching on Tuesday in protest of the treatment of female protesters by troops, after graphic images of abuse were circulated widely in the media. This public display of dissatisfaction with military rule is going to put added pressure on the military to hand over more power to a civilian government, sooner. Some political groups have been pressuring the military to hand over power in February rather than in June, when presidential elections are due to be held. The Islamist parties appear to be staying out of the protests—but they will be the ones who receive the benefit. A hastened move to civilian rule will only further empower the Islamists, who are winning hands-down at the polls.

Fatah and Hamas agree to form central elections commission: Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas agreed Tuesday to form a central elections commission in preparation for presidential and parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The two groups failed to agree on the establishment of a new interim Palestinian government, however, and have postponed talks on this till the end of next month. The two sides have been holding discussions in Cairo on how to implement the Egyptian-brokered reconciliation agreement that was reached earlier this year. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal met on Wednesday to discuss ways of removing obstacles to that process. Meanwhile, Hamas is gaining confidence as its parent organization in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, comes closer to gaining parliamentary control through the current elections. An Islamist Egypt would be quick to actively ally with Hamas, allowing Hamas to “undermine Israel’s security blockade,” as Right Side News writes. “Cairo will also bestow diplomatic legitimacy to Hamas (as Turkey has begun to do), formally ending the Gaza regime’s isolation. Such a development would significantly weaken Fatah, which in the past saw Egypt as a prime secular nationalist ally and an insurance policy against Hamas during the Mubarak era” (December 21). The only thing now standing between Israel and a dangerous Hamas-Egypt alliance is the Egyptian military—which is rapidly losing its grip on power.
Pakistani jihadists rally against restoration of Pakistan-U.S. ties: Sources in Pakistan report that jihadist groups are trying to prevent a rapprochement between Pakistan the United States and the reopening ofnato supply routes into Afghanistan following the nato bombing raid late last month that killed several Pakistani soldiers, according to Courcy’s Intelligence Brief. A rally led by Jamaat-ud-Daawa was held on December 18 in Lahore, and the group promised a huge protest campaign if the natolines of supply are reopened. Jamaat-i-Islami held a rally in Peshawar, and the more moderate Minhjul Quran held a “public awareness” event in Rawalpindi. Meanwhile, Courcy’s Intelligence Brief reports, “The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, has been in full damage-limitation mode, attending an inter-faith dialogue in Islamabad on December 19, joining prayers for the dead soldiers, and meeting with Imran Khan, the charismatic former cricketer who heads Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, to ask his help in improving ties between Pakistan and the U.S. In another sign of the U.S.’s desperation to restore ties, the cia has suspended the firing of missiles from drones at suspected militant targets in Pakistani tribal areas” (December 21 and 28). The rapid decline of America’s power is on clear display as it desperately seeks Pakistan’s cooperation with the war in Afghanistan. Anti-U.S. sentiment runs high among the Pakistani populace as well as within the intelligence service and government. We can expect relations between America and Pakistan to remain strained, whatever short-term reconciliation may be achieved.
The Netherlands shocked by Catholic child abuse: Details from yet another shocking Catholic child abuse scandal emerged as a commission investigating abuse published its report December 16. Church officials knew about the rampant abuse suffered by thousands of children over 65 years but did nothing because they did not want to create a scandal. Between 10,000 and 20,000 children were abused in church institutions since 1945, the commission found. It found that one in 10 Dutch children suffer some kind of sexual abuse in general society. But that number doubled, to one in five, for children who spent part of their time in either an orphanage or boarding school—regardless of whether the institution was Catholic or not. Abuse victim Bert Smeets said the report did not investigate in enough detail. “What was happening was sexual abuse, violence, spiritual terror, and that should have been investigated,” he said. “It remains vague. All sorts of things happened, but nobody knows exactly what or by whom. This way they avoid responsibility.” An America group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, said this was “yet another example of the widespread and systematic nature of the problem of child sex crimes in the Catholic Church.” The report is just more evidence of the evil endemic to the Catholic Church, and how officials won’t confront it because the reputation of their church is too important to them.
Chinese hackers infiltrate U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Hackers in China infiltrated the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s computer systems, undetected for at least six months, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. “The break-in at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the boldest known infiltrations in what has become a regular confrontation between U.S. companies and Chinese hacks,” it wrote. The attack was thwarted in May 2010, but the hackers may have had access to the Chamber’s systems for up to a year before that. Chamber officials investigating the attack say hackers focused on Chamber employees that dealt with Asian policy. “What was unusual about it was that this was clearly somebody very sophisticated, who knew exactly who we are, and who targeted specific people and used sophisticated tools to try to gather intelligence,” said David Chavern, chief operating officer of the Chamber of Commerce. One of the Journal’s sources said the group behind the hack is suspected by U.S. officials of having ties to the Chinese government. The Chinese government claims the allegation is false. However, as an intelligence report to Congress published last month said, “Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage.” This provides another sobering example of how vulnerable the U.S. is to hacking.
Chinese gunboats on the Mekong: A new multilateral deal allows Chinese police to conduct joint patrols along the Mekong River with Lao, Myanmar and Thai security forces, significantly altering the region’s strategic dynamic and bolstering Beijing’s power, Asia Times reported on December 16. China’s moves to boost security were prompted by a spate of drug traffic-related killings in the region and recognition that an absence of central governance in the area has harmed trade flows there. In addition to the joint patrols, the four nations will share intelligence, establish a multinational headquarters and conduct joint security training under the direction of Chinese forces. “While China’s security officials have plied the Mekong River before … this marks the first time that Chinese security forces will carry out sustained operations in another country without a United Nations mandate,” the Times wrote, explaining that the unprecedented move highlights Beijing’s desire to protect its rapidly expanding trade links with Southeast Asian nations. “This is a significant step for China, which so far has been reluctant to play a larger role in regional security. … There is a growing perception in Beijing that it must take measures to protect its economic interests abroad. … As [China’s] regional trade networks expand, the necessity of making sure they remain open and undisturbed will make it increasingly necessary for China to take a more forward-looking security stance through greater participation in regional security issues,” Asia Timessaid. Smaller Asian nations will continue to rally behind Beijing, as China solidifies its position as the regional hegemon.
Africa/Latin America
Deadly floods hit Tanzanian city: Business activities have come to a standstill and at least 20 people have died as torrential downpours hit the Tanzanian city Dar es Salaam. The Tanzania Meteorological Agency has warned that the downpours are set to continue and advised those living in the city’s valleys to move to higher ground. These are the heaviest rains to hit Tanzania since its independence in 1961. Weather-related disasters around the globe are continuously being labeled as the worst ever. This worsening weather trend is a warning from God that we need to turn away from materialism, false religion and sin, and turn to Him and the only way of life that will bring true abundance.
Mercosur embargos the Falkland Islands: The South American trading block Mercosur agreed December 21 not to allow ships flying the Falkland Islands’ flag to dock at their ports. The union, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, was joined in the embargo by Venezuela. Paraguay, being a land-locked nation, should find fulfilling the embargo easy. The British Foreign Office has protested the decision. “Neither we nor the Falklands will bend to those who seek to bully or blackmail the islands,” said a spokesman. Diplomats privately said that the ban was a political stunt with no real effect seeing as all vessels that would be affected by the ban are entitled to fly under British colors. It is, however, the latest in a series of provocations over the islands—islands which Britain lacks the military and the will to hold.
Latin American leaders lash out at U.S. drug consumption: For years, the Western Hemisphere has been plagued by violent Latin American cartels that move dangerous drugs northward into the United States in return for cash profits and military-style weapons. Now Latin American leaders are lashing out at Washington for not doing enough to curb American drug consumption. “Our region is seriously threatened by organized crime, but there is very little responsibility taken by the drug-consuming countries,” Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said during a meeting of Latin American leaders this month in Caracas, Venezuela. Colom further stated that the entire hemisphere was paying the price for drug consumption in the U.S. At another regional summit, held this week, Latin American leaders from 11 nations convened in Mexico City and issued a formal statement accusing the U.S. of being the number one consumer of illicit drugs in the world and calling on Washington to revise its current drug policies. “It seems that Latin America ends up with all the deaths and guns, and others end up with the drugs and the money,” stated Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Referring to the almost $700 million of aid that the U.S. has invested in Mexico to fight drug traffickers, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said: “All the money, regardless of by how much it’s multiplied, and all the blood, no matter how much is spilled,” would not curtail the drug trade “as long as the north continues consuming.” On this issue, President Ortega is right. America is hooked. Its ravenous appetite for deadly drugs—cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and others—is fueling what the United Nations estimates is a $142 billion-a-year business.
UK refuses to fund IMF euro bailout: Britain refused to fund a €200 billion International Monetary Fund (imf) bailout for the eurozone December 19, taking a further step away from the EU. The 17 eurozone nations have agreed to contribute €150 billion, Agence France-Presse reports, but are short of their €200 billion target after Britain refused to join in. Britain had been asked to loan €30 billion. The refusal shows how far Britain has slid toward Euroskepticism within a few years. In 2010, theLabor government committed Britain to contribute to eurozone bailouts until 2013. This time, during a conference call held Monday, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne made it clear that Britain “will not contribute to anything that is only available to eurozone countries.” afpreports that a British government source added: “Nor will we participate in an increase in imf resources that only comes from EU countries without the participation of other G-20 countries outside the EU.” The Telegraph’s international business editor, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writes that “Euro rage is reaching new heights” over Britain’s refusal. It is obvious that Britain and Europe are heading in two different directions.
British military must rely on allies: Harsh economic conditions mean that British defense forces will have to rely on allies, Gen. Sir David Richards, British chief of the Defense Staff, said in a lecture December 14. “I am clear that the single biggest strategic risk facing the UK today is economic rather than military,” he said. Britain “may have to prioritize more ruthlessly now that we have fewer ships, men and planes. The UK will require other carefully chosen alliances over the coming decade through which to influence the strategic landscape and help determine the outcome of fast-moving crises, all at minimum cost.” The economic reality “will require us to accept that some capabilities will be kept at a lower readiness or, (horror of horrors!) provided by others,” he said. General Richards praised the Anglo-French alliance. He also talked about the intervention in Libya, where ground forces were provided by “our Arab partners,” as a model of this type of cooperation. Bible prophecy shows that reliance on foreign allies is a crucial weakness for Britain.
Mayor calls for budget cuts to offset losses from Occupy protests: Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa called this week for more budget cuts to offset the cost of the damage done by Occupy Los Angeles protesters. According to city agencies, repairs to City Hall’s lawn where the Occupy group set up camp on October 1 will require an estimated $400,000, and the cost of the police action to clear out the encampment on November 30 will be more than $700,000. Additional expenses are attributed to hauling away debris from the camp and cleaning up graffiti that defaced City Hall. Some analysts believe the disparate streams of the Occupy protests could be channeled into one collective force of activism, transforming the movement into a liberal counterpart to the conservative Tea Party movement. If events in Los Angeles are an indication, such a massive protest movement could end up being a major sap on America’s already ailing economy. 

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