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Go to Iraq or face dismissal, US diplomats told


The US administration has asked its diplomats to serve in Iraq or face disciplinary action, including dismissal from service.

In a cable sent to the US diplomatic corps on Friday, Harry Thomas, director-general of the US Foreign Service, informed American diplomats that if chosen to serve in Iraq, they would not have the option to say no. This Monday, about 250 diplomats will receive notices that they had been chosen as ‘prime candidates’ to fill 40 to 50 vacancies that would open next year at the embassy.

Those finally selected for a one-year posting will start getting posting orders from Nov 12. They will have 10 days to accept or reject the position. Some will be ordered to go to Iraq and face dismissal if they refuse.

“We have all taken oaths to serve our country. We have all signed (up for) worldwide availability,” said Mr Thomas while talking to reporters in Washington.

“If someone decides ... they do not want to go, we will then consider appropriate action,” he said. “We have many options, including dismissal from the Foreign Service.”

The US administration is forced to take this step because not enough officers are willing to work at the US Embassy in Baghdad or with the State Department’s provincial reconstruction teams.

This is the first such large-scale call-up since the Vietnam war.

Only those with compelling reasons, such as medical problems, will be exempted.

Iraq is the most dangerous posting for US diplomats. The Green Zone, which also houses the US Embassy, faces almost daily attacks, often deadly. The scandal involving a private firm that protects State Department officials has further weakened security arrangements.

Guards of the Blackwater USA are accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians, which has increased public hostility against American nationals in Iraq and also brought new restrictions on the guards.

Incentives, such as generous financial benefits and promotions, encouraged some diplomats to come forward. So far about 1,200 out of a total of 11,500 Foreign Service officers have served in Iraq since 2003. But many ignored the incentives.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams, set up to oversee development works in the far-flung areas, are particularly in trouble. US military officials who run the teams complain that other government agencies such as the departments of State, Commerce and Agriculture, are not moving quickly or forcefully enough to take the positions marked for them.

Diplomats who are forced into service in Iraq will receive the same extra hardship pay, vacation time and choice of future assignments as those who have volunteered since early this year when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered Baghdad positions to be filled before all others around the world.

Currently about 200 Foreign Service officers work in Iraq, enough to meet the current staffing requirements, but about 50 more will be needed by the summer of 2008.

Forced postings are rare but not unheard of in the US State Department. In 1969, an entire class of entry-level diplomats was sent to Vietnam, and on a smaller scale, diplomats were required to work at various embassies in West Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

Saturday, 27 October 2007 14:31

Iranian Guard 'ready to defend revolution'

Iranian Guard 'ready to defend revolution'
(CNN) -- The leader of Iran's Revolutionary Guard vowed Friday that the military group was ready to defend the Iranian revolution after the U.S. imposed sanctions against it amid simmering tensions over Tehran's refusal to halt its nuclear program.

Iran's Interior Minister Pour-Mohammadi said that any action against Iran would meet a "crushing response."

Washington accuses the Revolutionary Guard, its elite Quds Force and a number of Iranian banks and companies of supporting nuclear proliferation and terror-related activities.

But General Mohammad Ali Jafari told Iranian state news agency IRNA: "They have applied all their efforts to reduce the efficiency of this revolutionary body. Now as always, the corps is ready to defend the ideals of the revolution more than ever before."

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman also said sanctions were "doomed to fail," calling them "worthless and ineffective" and criticizing the U.S. for pursuing confrontational policies.

Meanwhile, speaking Thursday in Kuwait, Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pour- Mohammadi warned that any military attack on Iran would be met with a "crushing response."

"We will defend our security and our country in the strongest way," said Pour-Mohammadi, quoted by the IRNA Web site.

"The U.S. is well aware that it might be easy to start such an action against Iran but ending that would not be then in the hands of U.S. officials. Such action will definitely end up in U.S. collapse."

The measures, announced Thursday by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are the first time the U.S. has attempted to punish another country's military through sanctions.

"The Iranian regime's abilities to pursue nuclear and ballistic missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions depends on its access to international, commercial, and financial systems," said Paulson.

The U.S. also clamped down on the activities of three top Iranian financial institutions -- Bank Melli, Bank Mellat, and Bank Saderat -- all of which had supposedly "facilitated Iran's proliferation activities or its support for terrorism."
Saturday, 27 October 2007 14:29

Nearly 4.5 Million Iraqis displaced

Nearly 4.5 Million Iraqis displaced
Geneva – Shawwal 15, 1428/ October 26, 2007 – At least 1,000 Iraqis are fleeing their homes each day because of violence and insecurity - a figure that could increase with threats of cross-border attacks into northern Iraq, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday. Nearly 4.5 million Iraqis have fled the country or have been displaced inside Iraq, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The estimates - 2.2 million refugees in neighboring countries, mostly Jordan and Syria, and about 2.3 million internally displaced - are slightly higher than figures released last month by the agency and suggest that a recent decline in major insurgent attacks across Iraq has not slowed the flow of people seeking safer havens.
``Displacement (within the country) has been ongoing at a rate of 1,000 to 2,000 a day,'' UNHCR spokeswoman Astrid van Genderen Stort told The Associated Press.
More than 800,000 Iraqis have sought shelter in the northern Kurdish region, which has been mostly spared widespread violence since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But concerns are growing about a possible new refugee crisis. Turkey has massed military forces along its border with Iraq, threatening a cross-border offensive against hideouts used by Kurdish rebels seeking autonomy in southeast Turkey. Iran, meanwhile, has shelled border zones in Iraq used by Kurdish. "UNHCR is worried about ongoing instability that could lead to further displacement,'' the UNHCR statement said.

Volcano erupts, earthquake rocks in Indonesia

Jakarta – Shawwal 14, 1428/ October 25, 2007– A volcano erupted in central Indonesia today, shooting plumes of white smoke and sand nearly 5,000 feet into the air, an official said. There were no immediate reports of injuries following the blast at Mount Soputan, located on Sulawesi island, said Sandy Manengke, a local monitoring official, noting that residents living near the crater had been evacuated beforehand. Meanwhile, a strong earthquake has hit the Indian Ocean off Indonesia's Sumatra Island but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. Authorities briefly issued a tsunami warning, but the feared wave never came and the tsunami alert was lifted.

Volcanic ash covered villages along the slopes of the 5,800-foot Mount Soputan. People living as far as 12 miles from the crater said they felt the heat after the eruption. Some were wearing face masks to protect themselves against the heavy smoke and dust.

Indonesia has more active volcanoes than any other nation because of its location on the Pacific ''Ring of Fire'' -- a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia. Mount Soputan is 1,350 miles northeast of the capital, Jakarta.

The US Geological Survey said the quake that hit the Indian Ocean had a preliminary magnitude of 7.1 and struck 135 km west of the city of Bengkulu, jolting people from their sleep and sending them fleeing by car and foot early today. The quake's epicenter was 30 km beneath the ocean floor. Local radio reported residents in Bengkulu fleeing their homes with their families and belongings after the quake hit at about 0400 local time. An official from the Honolulu-based US Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) said that his agency had told the Indonesian government of a possible small and localised tsunami but did not yet know if the quake had triggered a tsunami. Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, with a population of 235 million people, is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the "Ring of Fire. Last month a magnitude 8.4 earthquake hit the same region killing 23 people and destroying thousands of building.


Mumbai Muslims demand justice for 1992-93 riots

Mumbai, Oct 25: Over 10,000 Muslims representing 35 organisations came together Thursday to demand full implementation of the recommendations of an inquiry report on the communal violence here in 1992-93 following the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

The Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission, appointed by the Maharashtra government, had conducted a statutory inquiry into the communal carnage that engulfed the country's commercial capital in December 1992-January 1993, following the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya on Dec 6, 1992.

Abu Asim Azmi, a Rajya Sabha MP and the Maharashtra unit president of the Samajwadi Party, along with over 40 senior Muslim clerics addressed the Justice Rally in the Azad Maidan, south Mumbai.

Azmi said their quest for justice would not end till "the Commission report is 100 percent implemented".

Giving a deadline of Dec 5 to the Democratic Front government in the state, he warned that from Dec 6, the 15th anniversary of the Babri Masjid razing, Muslims would court arrest at all police stations in Mumbai.

Azmi pointed out that the long-winded trial in the March 12, 1993 bomb explosions here - after the mosque demolition and the subsequent carnage - had already been completed and the judgement too had been pronounced.

"However, the state government has not yet initiated action against those persons indicted by the Commission who continue to roam free," Azmi said.

He demanded immediate arrest and legal proceedings against 31 police officials including former Mumbai police commissioner R.D. Tyagi, former Shiv Sena MP from Mumbai North-West constituency Madhukar Sarpotdar and others.

Azmi exhorted Muslims to "throw out" the state government if their demands were not met by Dec 5.

Meanwhile, the Bombay High Court, responding to the government's appeal, last Tuesday set up four special courts to conduct fast trial of the cases pertaining to the communal violence.

An announcement to this effect was also made by Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh in Aurangabad Thursday.

The judges appointed by the high court are: P.N. Deshmukh, M.L. Tahiliani, Sanjeev Kumar Sharma and R.C. Bapat.

The police had made elaborate security arrangements for the rally which took place even as the state cabinet was away for two days in Aurangabad.

Over 1,000 uniformed personnel drawn from the local police, the Rapid Action Force, the Riots Police and others stood guard along with surveillance through closed circuit TV cameras - an unprecedented measure for a rally.

The organizations which took part included the Ulema Council, Jamiat-ul-Ulema, Jamat-e-Islami, Ulema Associations, Majlis-e-Shoura, and Mumbai Aman Committee. (IANS)

Thursday, 25 October 2007 09:53

U.S. self-inflicted wounds in Iraq

U.S. self-inflicted wounds in Iraq

The ever-growing loss of life in the Iraq war is hard for many Americans to accept with equanimity. But what is also unacceptable in that war is the siphoning of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayers' funds in outright fraud or administrative incompetence. That's outrageous and must not continue.

The latest evidence of such fiscal abuse and unaccountability surfaced this week in two separate reports ripping apart the State Department's oversight of a $1.2 billion contract for training Iraqi police. The program, run by a private American company, DynCorp, was so badly managed that a government audit could not figure out how the money was spent. And the State Department's own review found that it would take up to five years to sort out missing invoices and demand repayment from DynCorp for unjustified expenses.

Such expenses include the purchase of a $1.8 million X-ray scanner that was never used, and $4 million for 20 luxury trailers and an Olympic-sized swimming pool for company representatives - funds that were intended to build an Iraqi police compound. That's just the start. DynCorp, the State Department's largest contractor, claims no intentional fraud was involved. But then what borders on criminality is the department's own ineptness.

Training Iraqi police to take up security tasks now shouldered by U.S. troops is a key part of our strategy in Iraq. The waste and possible fraud uncovered by these reports undermine that goal. They are self-inflicted wounds.

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