Religious violence in India also has economic undertones
The violence was prompted by the Aug. 23 murder in Orissa of Laxmanananda Saraswati, who had been associated with a Hindu radical group opposed to fellow Hindus' converting to Christianity. Although a letter left at the scene claimed that Maoist rebels carried out the attack, many Hindus blame Christians instead.
Non-Christians have long resented the conversions - the most recent Indian census, in 2001, states that 2.3 percent of the population is Christian - but tensions have increased as India's economy has taken off.
Christian missionaries in India have focused on indigenous and lower-caste groups, including untouchables, or Dalits. Despite laws dating almost to Indian independence in 1947, Dalits are often discriminated against or worse. They are sometimes denied basic amenities, such as clean water; relegated to hazardous jobs; and beaten, raped or killed because of their social status.
Conversion to Islam or Christianity does not erase caste identity completely, but Christianity and other non-Hindu religions offer a possible escape by providing schooling for anyone who wants to attend, including Dalits. Christian education often includes classes in English, which are crucial for anyone who wants to join India's service businesses, including hotels, or to break into even the lowest levels of the information technology industry fueling much of the country's growth.
"Across India today, the disenfranchised and repressed peoples, the tribes and the low castes are exiting the caste system" that is entrenched in the Hindu religion, said Joseph D'souza, the president of the All Indian Christian Council and an advocate for Dalit rights.
They are converting not only to Christianity, he said, but to Buddhism, Islam and Marxist atheism.
"People are in revolt" after 60 years of their rights being trampled, he said, adding, "It has nothing to do with any particular religion."
But the conversions occur as many in India's rural areas, including Kandhamal, see themselves as left behind economically. The area's 650,000 people subsist mainly by growing and selling rice, turmeric, ginger and forest products.
Strongest storms linked to global warming
A new study finds that the strongest of hurricanes and typhoons have become even stronger over the past two and a half decades, adding grist to the contentious debate over whether global warming has already made storms more destructive.
"I think we do see a climate signal here," said James Elsner, a professor of geography at Florida State University who is the lead author of the paper, published Thursday in the journal Nature.
The study, which also found that more typical, less powerful tropical storms had not become stronger over the 26-year period studied, is consistent with other researchers' hurricane models, Elsner said.
With oceans expected to continue warming, "one would expect more 4s and 5s," he said of Category 4 and Category 5 hurricanes, those with maximum sustained winds of at least 131 miles, or 210 kilometers, per hour.
About 90 tropical cyclone storms form each year around the world. In the Atlantic, the stronger ones, with winds of at least 74 miles per hour, are hurricanes; the equivalents in the Pacific and Indian oceans are typhoons. Ten named storms have formed in the Atlantic this hurricane season, which continues to the end of November.
Heat from the warming oceans will provide more energy to spin up hurricanes and typhoons, but the changing climate could also heighten conditions like wind shear - winds blowing at different speeds and different directions at different altitudes - which tend to tear a storm apart.
Because of these environmental factors, most storms fall far short of their maximum possible intensity. But Elsner, along with Thomas Jagger, a postdoctoral researcher at Florida State, and James Kossin, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, reasoned that warmer waters increased the possible intensity and that storms that develop in ideal conditions might have become stronger.
By examining satellite data from 1981 through 2006, a period in which sea surface temperature rose to 83.3 degrees Fahrenheit (28.5 degrees Celsius) from 82.8 degrees (28.2), they concluded that the highest wind speeds of the strongest storms averaged 156 mph in 2006, up from 140 mph in 1981. The increases in cyclone intensity were greatest in the Atlantic and Indian oceans.
However, Thomas Knutson of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University said the data involved too short a period to draw long-term conclusions. "One is left with a very suggestive result and a very interesting result," Knutson said, "but it's not a definitive smoking gun for a greenhouse warming signal on hurricanes."
TNK-BP chief will leave Russian oil venture in deal to end dispute
PARIS: BP agreed Thursday to replace the American head of its Russian joint venture and surrender some control on the board to resolve a bitter dispute with its billionaire Russian partners and hold on to its most important source of new oil reserves.
Under the terms of the deal, the companies said that the chief executive, Robert Dudley, would step down by the end of the year, to be replaced by "a Russian-speaking candidate with extensive Russian business experience" who would be nominated by BP. The new chief executive will be charged with improving "transparency, financial returns and the market value of the company's share."
BP had been locked in a struggle with its four Russian partners, all billionaires, over control of the venture, in which BP and the billionaires' consortium each holds 50 percent. The Russian investors' side of the venture is called AAR, and consists of Viktor Vekselberg, Mikhail Fridman, German Khan and Leonid Blavatnik.
U.S. defends Georgia's right to join NATO
TBILISI, Georgia: Vice President Dick Cheney flew here Thursday to deliver a forceful American pledge to rebuild Georgia and its economy, to preserve its sovereignty and its territory and to bring it into the NATO alliance in defiance of Russia.
Cheney spent only four and a half hours in Georgia, but the visit included a strong rebuke to Russia and a highly symbolic visit to American troops unloading humanitarian supplies at the airport here within sight of an airplane factory that Russian bombs had damaged during fighting last month.
Cheney reiterated previous administration statements that Russia had risked its international standing, though with some of the strongest language yet.
"Russia's actions," he said, "have cast grave doubt on Russia's intentions and on its reliability as an international partner - not just in Georgia but across this region and indeed throughout the international system."
Defying international warnings, Russia last week recognized the independence of the breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and now it appears to be consolidating Russian control with its own aid and reconstruction efforts in the regions. A long-term resolution is farther away than ever.
"Given Cheney's reputation in Moscow - given his rhetorical history - sending him to Georgia risks escalating the situation," Clifford Kupchan of the Eurasia Group, a consultancy in Washington, said of the vice president's visit. "We're in a stage of mutual overreaction."
Significantly, the new American assistance does not include any aid for rebuilding Georgia's battered armed forces, which fared badly against a much larger Russian force that entered the country after the Georgians tried to seize control of South Ossetia on the night of Aug. 7.
The Pentagon has begun considering pleas for help to train and re-equip the Georgian Army with more-sophisticated weapons. But a senior administration official traveling with Cheney said that Georgia first needed to revive its economy and provide for tens of thousands of people displaced by the fighting, perhaps permanently.
"Over time, I'm sure, people will look at what happened with the military here and what its needs are," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But I think the focus for the moment is on the humanitarian and long-term economic needs."
Georgia's economy, until recently among the fastest growing in the world, suffered badly during the fighting, which severed the main roads and railways. A drop in foreign investment, the official said, had also produced a shortfall in the country's budget, something an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to provide $750 million in financing is intended to help.
In an interview, Georgia's prime minister, Lado Gurgenidze, said that the war had cost $1 billion, including direct damage to infrastructure and property. At the same time, he said, the country's economy remained "remarkably resilient," thanks to the support from abroad.
"The free world will not let the Georgia economy fall and will not let it founder," he said.
With Angola vote, the world hopes for stability
JOHANNESBURG: More than eight million people have registered to vote in Angola, a country with as much oil and diamonds as it has poverty, which was to hold its first elections in 16 years Friday.
The last election, in 1992, degenerated into yet another decade of the armed conflicts that have uprooted millions of Angolans. In contrast, the vote Friday, coming after six years of peace, was expected to go fairly smoothly.
Luisa Morgantini, who leads the European Union's mission of 120 election observers, offered a generally positive assessment.
"There is room for many political parties to run for election," she said. "They can make their own propaganda freely and their own campaigns."
Researchers and economists are also giving the government some credit for bringing down inflation in one of the world's fastest-growing economies and rebuilding roads and removing land mines so that more than three million people displaced by war could go home. In recent years, China has provided billions of dollars in concessionary, oil-backed loans that have fueled a construction boom in schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and other infrastructure."
They want to be treated as a stable, high-growth, emerging economy, not as a nasty, oil-rich place that steals large sums of money and represses its people," said Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Some critics of the government worry that it is now getting too much credit.Human Rights Watch issued a report last month saying intimidation of opposition parties and journalists and sporadic assaults by MPLA supporters in rural areas against Unita members, among other factors, threatened prospects for a free and fair vote.
And Fernando Macedo, president of the Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy, an Angolan civic group, said he worried that Western countries cared more whether Angola was stable enough to keep oil flowing than whether it became a real democracy, which he said required more than an uneventful day of voting.
Text: Palin's speech
The following is [an excerpt from] the text provided by the Republican National Committee of Gov. Sarah Palin's speech as prepared for delivery at the Republican National Convention:
With Russia wanting to control a vital pipeline in the Caucasus, and to divide and intimidate our European allies by using energy as a weapon, we cannot leave ourselves at the mercy of foreign suppliers.
To confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of world energy supplies ... or that terrorists might strike again at the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia ... or that Venezuela might shut off its oil deliveries ... we Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas.
And take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska: we've got lots of both.
For wind turbine advocates, a rooftop is the place to be
SAN FRANCISCO: With the California blackouts of 2001 still a painful memory, Chris Beaudoin wants to generate some of his own electricity. He marveled the other day at how close he was to that goal, gazing at two new wind turbines atop his garage roof. They will soon be hooked to the power grid.
"I don't care about how much it costs," said Beaudoin, a flight attendant with United Airlines. That would be $5,000 a turbine, an expense Beaudoin is unlikely to recoup in electricity savings anytime soon.
No matter. After shoring up the roof and installing the two 300-pound, or 135-kilogram, steel-poled turbines in January, Beaudoin found himself at the leading edge of a trend in renewable energy.
Fascination with wind turbines small enough to mount on a roof is spreading from coast to coast. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York proposed dotting the city with them last month. Small turbines have already appeared at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, atop an office building at Logan International Airport in Boston, and even on a utility pole in the small New Hampshire town of Hampton.
Yet these tiny turbines generate so little electricity that some energy experts are not sure the economics will ever make sense. By contrast, the turbines being installed at wind farms are getting ever larger and more powerful, lowering the unit cost of electricity to the point that they are becoming competitive with electricity generated from natural gas.
The spread of the big turbines and a general fascination with all things green are helping to spur interest in rooftop microturbines, creating a movement somewhere on the border between a hobby and an environmental fashion statement.
Some people have long stuck relatively modest turbines on towers in the countryside. Those are capable of generating enough electricity on a windy day to provide a fair portion of a home's needs and can eventually pay for themselves. The new rooftop turbines are much smaller, however, and few statistics are available yet on their performance.
Beaudoin hopes to get 30 percent of his electricity from the turbines on a windy day, but whether that will happen remains to be seen.
Jay Leno, the host of the television program "The Tonight Show," recently installed a prototype wind turbine (as well as solar panels) atop a garage in Burbank, California, where he works on his car collection. He senses public interest in small-scale wind power that does not have much to do with dollars-and-cents analysis.
"People seem fascinated by the turbines," Leno said. "You go, 'Look! It's spinning!"'
Perched high above a building, wind turbines serve as a far more visible clean-energy credential than solar panels, which are often hard to see. At least a dozen small manufacturers have sprouted up to supply the market, though rooftop turbines still account for only 1 percent or so of the 10,000 small wind turbines that are sold each year in the United States, according to Ron Stimmel, an advocate of small wind systems at the American Wind Energy Association.
That number seems poised to grow, given the recent interest.
"We're prebleeding-edge early," said Todd Pelman, founder of Blue Green Pacific, the maker of Beaudoin's turbine. The technology, he conceded, is not yet "something that would be bought at Home Depot."
Pelman has sunk $200,000 of his own money into the start-up, which has just three turbines in operation - Beaudoin's pair and one above Pelman's own bedroom in a Victorian house in San Francisco.
In accordance with urban sensibilities, many of the new designs are stylish. The six turbines peeping over the edge of a building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, installed this summer, look as if they are covered with dainty white parasols, a design touch that doubles as a bird shield. Philippe Starck, the French designer, has plans to introduce an elegant plastic turbine in Europe this autumn.
Bloomberg's proposal calls for wind turbines on the city's skyscrapers and bridges, though it is unclear how big they will be and just where they will go.
"It's the Wild West out there in small wind these days," said David Rabkin, director of innovation, strategic partnerships and sustainability at the Museum of Science in Boston. Aided by a $300,000 state grant, the museum plans to put a total of nine turbines, of five types, on its roof by next April as an educational project.
Harvard also plans to put some atop its Holyoke Center office complex and on a parking garage. Harvard views the experimental installations as "outward symbols of our commitment to renewable energy and sustainability here on campus," said Jim Gray, associate vice president for Harvard real estate services.
As oil prices fall, OPEC faces production dilemma
NEW YORK: The decline in oil prices in recent weeks has been a welcome relief for consumers and a rare piece of positive news in an otherwise bleak economic landscape. But for oil producers, increasingly accustomed to rising revenues, falling prices are fast turning into a cause for concern - if not quite panic.
Oil prices have fallen by a third in the past seven weeks and are headed for a drop below the symbolic $100 threshold for the first time since March. Though not a full-blown collapse, the speed of the decline is prompting some soul-searching within the OPEC oil cartel.
Venezuela and Iran, the leading price hawks within the group, said they did not want oil to fall below $100 a barrel, a price Iran's oil minister recently said was a "minimum" level. Both countries signaled that members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries needed to reduce their output to prevent prices from dropping further.
Other OPEC members, like Algeria or Kuwait, fear that high energy costs could jeopardize their exports as the global economy slows down and consumers reduce their consumption. Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, has not said what would be a fair price, although King Abdullah has said that $100 was too high.
For OPEC's dignitaries, meeting in Vienna next week, managing the current slowdown is tricky. Cutting production to stem the price drop could spark a backlash and paint the oil cartel as greedy and short-sighted. Leaving production unchanged may precipitate the decline in prices at a time when oil demand is slowing.
23 killed in mine accident in China, state news agency reports
BEIJING: A gas explosion at a mine killed 24 people and injured six Thursday in northeast China, state media said.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the accident occurred in a coal mine in Fuxin, a city in Liaoning province.
Forty-one miners were working in the mine at the time and 14 managed to return to the surface on their own, Xinhua said.
Rescuers were searching for three others who were trapped in the mine, the report said, citing local authorities.
Taliban bring the war home to France
PARIS: One Taliban fighter is clad in the bulletproof vest of a dead French soldier. Another proudly shows off a French walkie-talkie. Yet another wears a camouflaged French Army helmet.
A glossy six-page photo spread published Thursday and featuring a group of insurgents who say they killed 10 French soldiers in Afghanistan on Aug. 18 has reinforced uneasiness about France's military presence there.
Published in the weekly magazine Paris Match, the spread reflected the Taliban's media strategy of undercutting support for the war in Europe and raised concern about journalists' giving insurgents a platform. Above all, it fed a broader debate about a war that is seen as increasingly protracted and deadly - and that is unpopular in several European NATO countries with troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
On Thursday, Defense Minister Hervé Morin criticized the Paris Match photo spread .
"Should we be doing the Taliban's promotion for them?" he said on France Inter radio.
"The Taliban are waging a war of communication with this kind of operation," he said. "They have understood that public opinion is probably the Achilles' heel of the international community that is present in Afghanistan."
The 10 deaths were France's worst military loss in 25 years. Since the ambush President Nicolas Sarkozy has repeatedly ruled out withdrawal of French troops, and he did so again Thursday.
"Our soldiers are fighting over there to protect us from terrorism at home," Sarkozy said during a visit to Syria. "If we let Afghanistan down, we would destabilize Pakistan, which doesn't need that."
But at home in France his words were drowned out by the emotional reaction of family members of the dead soldiers to the magazine report.
"It's a shock to see our children's killers parading their uniforms, their weapons," Joel Lepahun, the father of one of the soldiers told the radio station RTL.
The images, showing nine Taliban fighters in the barren mountains north-east of Kabul, look largely posed, with individual fighters showing off their French trophies. One photograph shows the black digital wrist watch of a dead soldier, which the Taliban gave to the photographer to take back to the soldier's parents.
In the report, the leader of the group, a man identified as Commander Farouki, vows to kill all French soldiers who do not leave Afghanistan.
Chantal Buil, the mother of another dead soldier, wrote a letter to Sarkozy, pleading with him to withdraw from Afghanistan.
"Stop following the example of President Bush," the letter read, according to the magazine le Nouvel Observateur. "Let's stay French. Let's get our soldiers out of the quagmire."
That feeling appears to be shared by a majority in the nation. A survey released by the CSA polling institute Aug. 22 indicated that 55 percent of respondents wanted France to leave Afghanistan, while 36 percent said it should stay.
Côtes du Rhône: The modern side to the French wine industry
NEW YORK: Côtes du Rhône - it is such a familiar wine, almost a synonym for a not-too-fancy French red. Yet few wines can match Côtes du Rhône in exemplifying the myriad changes that have transformed the French wine industry in the last 20 years.
In popular wine mythology, the French wine industry is static, unyielding to modernity. Depending on your point of view, that is either good or bad. In reality, the French have evolved quickly. They have recognized that the insular ways of the past no longer function in a globalized economy.
The Côtes du Rhône typifies what has happened in many French wine regions. Once its wines were the none-too-good tipples of bars and cafés, light and fruity if you were lucky, more likely tart and harsh. That sort of wine still exists in France, though a lot less of it than in generations past. Rarely do you find it in the United States. Once you could sell a lot of bad wine here if it was cheap enough. But now, there is too much competition among the good stuff.
The current generation of French winemakers understands this. Unlike their forbears, many have traveled widely, worked around the world and studied enology and viticulture at universities. How they use what they have learned accounts for much that has changed in Côtes du Rhône today.
In a tasting of 25 Côtes du Rhônes, the wine panel found a surprising number of plush, polished wines. Some were sleek and modern, so much so that they showed little trace of identity. They were fruity and well-made but not distinctive. Others were similarly well made yet displayed characteristic Rhône touches of earthiness and minerality. These tended to be our favorites. A few were clunky and overoaked; these we rejected.
French bank offers new shares at 61% discount
PARIS: The French bank Natixis said Thursday that it would sell new shares at a 61 percent discount to raise €3.7 billion of new capital to cover write-downs linked to the global financial crisis.
The bank said it was offering new shares for €2.25, compared with Wednesday's closing price of €5.84. In the sale, 13 new shares will be issued for each 10 existing shares in its effort to raise the equivalent of $5.3 billion.
Scientists catch cells in the act of remembering
Scientists have for the first time recorded individual brain cells in the act of summoning a spontaneous memory, revealing not only where a remembered experience is registered but how the brain is able to re-create it.
The recordings, taken from the brains of epilepsy patients being prepared for surgery, demonstrate that these spontaneous memories reside in some of the very same neurons that fired most furiously when the recalled event was first experienced. Researchers had long theorized that this was the case but until now had only indirect evidence.
The new study, experts said, has all but closed the case: Remembering, for the brain, is a lot like doing.
The experiment, being reported Friday in the journal Science, moved beyond most earlier memory research in that it focused not on recognition of objects or recall of specific words or symbols but on free recall - whatever popped into people's heads when, in this case, they were asked to recall a series of short film clips they had just seen. Such memory often deteriorates quickly in people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, and it is critical to so-called episodic memory: the rich catalog of vignettes that together form our remembered past.
"This is what I would call a foundational finding," said Michael Kahana, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. "I cannot think of any recent study that's comparable. It's an important step in helping us fill in the detail of what exactly is happening when the brain performs this mental time travel" when summoning past experiences.
In the study, a team of American and Israeli researchers threaded tiny electrodes into the brains of 13 people with severe epilepsy. The electrodes allow the doctors to pinpoint the location of the mini-storms of brain activity that cause epileptic seizures.
The patients watches a series 5- to 10-second film clips, some from popular TV shows like "Seinfeld," others depicting animals or landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower. The researchers recorded the firing activity of about 100 neurons during the viewing of repeated series of videos; the cells were concentrated in and around the hippocampus, a sliver of tissue deep in the brain that is known to be critical to forming new memories.
In each individual, the researchers identified single cells that became highly active during some videos and quiet during others. About half the recorded cells hummed with activity in response to at least one film clip, and responded weakly to another.
After distracting the patients for a few minutes, the researchers then asked the subjects to think about the clips for a minute and report "what comes to mind." The patients remembered almost all of the clips. And, sure enough, when they recalled a specific one - say, a clip of Homer Simpson - the same cells that had been active during the Homer clip reignited. In fact, the cells became active a second or two before people were conscious of the memory.
In effect, the scientists could identify the specific memory before the patients could.
"There were all these distractions, these people were on a noisy ward, there's a whole lot happening all around them, but still you see this absolutely robust response in the individual neurons," said the senior author, Dr. Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Tel Aviv. His co-authors were Hagar Gelbard-Sagiv, Michal Harel and Rafael Malach of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel; and Roy Mukamel, of UCLA.
The single neurons firing most furiously during the film clips are not acting on their own; they are part of a circuit responding to the videos, perhaps a million other cells that are not being recorded, Fried said in a phone interview. "But it's an astounding to see this in a single trial; the phenomenon is strong, and we were listening in the right place," he added.
Single-cell recordings cannot capture the entire array of circuitry involved in memory, which may be widely distributed beyond the hippocampus area, experts said. And as time passes, memories are consolidated, submerged, perhaps retooled, and entirely reshaped when retrieved much later.
"But the exciting thing about this study," Kahana said, "is that is gives us direct biological evidence of what before was almost entirely theoretical."
Syria sends peace proposals to Israel
BEIRUT: President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said Thursday that his country had made specific proposals to Turkish mediators for peace with Israel.
But he said that the latest round of indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel had been postponed because of internal Israeli politics and that the outcome would depend on who became the next prime minister of Israel in elections there.
Assad spoke at a news conference in Damascus with the leaders of France, Turkey and Qatar in a televised appearance seemingly designed to underscore Syrian efforts to emerge from American-led efforts to isolate the country diplomatically. Sarkozy arrived in Syria on Wednesday, in the first visit there by a Western head of state in five years.
Assad's reference to the postponement of talks with Israel followed an announcement by the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, that he would resign once his party chooses a new leader in party elections this month.
"We are now waiting for the Israeli elections to define the future of this stage," Assad said. "We want support of all countries."
U.S. IN SOMALIA
Republic of Blowback
Ken Menkhaus, a professor of political science at Davidson College and author of "Somalia: State Collapse and the Threat of Terrorism," has just returned from a research visit to the region. Karin von Hippel, co-director of the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, previously worked for the United Nations in Somalia.
Back in the 1980s, frustrated aid workers joked that Somalia was the "graveyard of foreign aid," a place where hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted on projects that occasionally left villagers worse off than before.
In the early 1990s, an ambitious UN peace enforcement operation set out to end a famine and promote reconciliation in war-torn Somalia, only to be drawn into the very war it was meant to stop, producing a debacle that put a quick end to hopes of a more robust UN peace enforcement capacity in the post-Cold-War era.
Thus began the schooling of the international community on the law of unintended consequences in Somalia, a country where what foreigners want and what they get rarely coincide. The latest example is U.S. counter-terrorism efforts.
American diplomatic, intelligence and military activity designed to reduce Islamic radicalism and the threat of terrorism in Somalia have instead helped to catalyze a much more powerful, popular, shockingly violent and stridently anti-American jihadist movement.
This alarming blowback in a remote but important corner of the world can be traced to four specific policies. As is often the case, each policy met the "it seemed like a good idea at the time" criterion for the government agencies that conceived and executed them.
The first occurred in 2006, when the United States promoted the formation of a counterterrorism alliance composed of Somali militia leaders, who were to apprehend several high-value Al Qaeda foreigners believed to be in Mogadishu. The alliance was decisively defeated by local Islamists who correctly understood it to be a U.S. front.
By June 2006, Mogadishu - a lawless city that had been divided into warlord fiefdoms for 16 years - was united under the administration of the victorious Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The ICU quickly spread its authority across most of southern Somalia, earning broad popular support by providing law and order.
Promoting the expansion of Islamist rule over southern Somalia was not the intended policy objective of the United States, but that is what it bought by meddling with and supporting unpopular Somali warlords.
Much more serious blowback soon followed when the United States threw its support behind an Ethiopian military offensive against the ICU in December 2006.
Ethiopia and the U.S. government were right to worry that the ICU was increasingly coming under the control of hard-liners. But the proposed cure - a prolonged Ethiopian military occupation of Mogadishu and other parts of southern Somalia - has provided the perfect breeding ground for armed insurgency and radicalization.
Jihadist fighters known as the shabaab have been able to conflate their extremist Islamist agenda with legitimate nationalist sentiments against the Ethiopian occupation of the country, giving the once fringe jihadist movement much wider support among Somalis of all political persuasions.
The displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians and suffering caused by counterinsurgency operations conducted by Ethiopian forces and their client, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), have radicalized rather than pacified the local population.
The third instance of blowback has resulted from the U.S. counterterrorism operations inside Somalia conducted in tandem with the Ethiopian occupation. These activities include Tomahawk missile attacks, AC-130 gunship attacks, "snatch-and-grab" operations targeting alleged terrorists, renditions of Somali suspects from Kenya for interrogation and Predator drone strikes.
All this has had the unwanted effect of reinforcing the widespread belief among Somalis that the United States is masterminding the Ethiopian occupation.
This perception is inaccurate - the Ethiopian government does not take orders from anyone - but the result is that the United States is held directly accountable by Somalis for the catastrophic levels of displacement, destruction, and abuse produced by a combination of heavy-handed Ethiopian counterinsurgency tactics and uncontrolled, predatory TFG security forces. The latter, it is worth noting, receive direct Western funding. Not surprisingly, anti-Americanism is now virulent in Somalia. This is hardly a victory in the battle for hearts and minds.
Finally, recent U.S. policies intended to marginalize the most radical elements of the armed opposition in Somalia, the shabaab, have inadvertently accelerated a process of decentralized political violence that has rocked Somalia.
U.S. designation of shabaab as a terrorist group in March 2008, and a subsequent U.S. air strike that killed shabaab leader Aden Hashi Ayro, have prompted the group to expand its campaign of political violence from a focus on Ethiopian and TFG forces to the targeting of any and all Somalis linked to the West.
The result has been a bloodbath of assassinations against local aid workers and civic leaders, who ironically have also been targeted by the Western-backed TFG as "terrorist sympathizers." Since the beginning of the year, 20 local and international aid workers have been killed in Somalia - over a third of all humanitarian fatalities suffered worldwide - while at least a dozen have been kidnapped and are still being held captive.
The very Somalis - civic leaders, moderate clerics and businesspeople - who stand as the best hope for a peaceful solution in the country are being killed off or driven out. And aid agencies are now unable to respond adequately to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world because of threats to their staff.
More blowback may be on the horizon. The listing of the shabaab as a terrorist group could attract foreign recruits and funding for the shabaab, who publicly expressed delight at being placed on the U.S. list. For a group that not long ago was little more than a small band of gunmen with vague Islamist credentials, this constitutes a major promotion. A number of international jihadist Web sites now include Somalia on their list of battleground states.
No one can claim to have a simple solution to Somalia's wicked problems of warlordism, state collapse, radicalization and humanitarian disaster.
But by any reasonable yardstick, U.S. counter-terrorism policies in Somalia have fallen far short of their objectives.
They have been part of a deadly combination of ill-conceived interventions by a number of external actors that have produced a situation in which all concerned parties - the United States, our ally Ethiopia, international aid agencies and the Somali people - are far less secure than they were a few years ago.
That alone should prompt a complete overhaul of U.S. foreign policy in the Horn of Africa and make Somalia a higher priority for the next administration in Washington.
The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood
By Helene Cooper
354 pages. $25. Simon & Schuster.
Caroline Elkins is an associate professor of history at Harvard and the author of "Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya," which won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2006.
The skeletal remains of Africa's numerous civil wars litter the continent, from the easternmost reaches of Somalia to the western shores of Liberia. It is there, overlooking the picturesque beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, that unknown numbers of human remains - victims of Samuel Doe's reign of terror - haunt the earth. One building that serves as their communal headstone, itself a virtual skeleton, is physical testimony to the civil war that racked Liberia for years. This macabre marker is the house at Sugar Beach.
In her masterly memoir, Helene Cooper brings us back to the halcyon years when Sugar Beach, her family's home, embodied the elite privilege and disco-age chic to which Liberia's upper class aspired. The Coopers' mansion, 22 rooms in all, rose in solitude out of the plum trees and vines that thicketed Liberia's undeveloped coastline. Inside was a living homage to the 1970s, complete with velvet couches in a sunken living room, marble floors and a special nook for storing the plastic Christmas tree. Outside, where a carpet of grass stretched to the thunderous Atlantic, multiple servants made their home, and the latest-model American cars - from a Lincoln Continental to a two-tone green Pontiac Grand Prix - awaited their next 18-kilometer, or 11-mile, journey into downtown Monrovia. Fate, so it seemed, handed Helene Cooper a "one-in-a-million lottery ticket" when she was born into "what passed for the landed gentry upper class of Africa's first independent country." Both sides of Cooper's family traced their roots to Liberia's founding fathers - freed slaves from the United States who fought disease and the recalcitrant local population to forge a new nation. Their bravery and ingenuity were legendary, and their descendants soon formed Liberia's upper caste.
At its heart, "The House at Sugar Beach" is a coming-of-age story told with unremitting honesty. With her pedigree and her freedom from internalized racism, Cooper is liberated to enjoy a social universe that is a fluid mix of all things American and African. "None of that American post-Civil War/civil rights movement baggage to bog me down with any inferiority complex about whether I was as good as white people," she declares triumphantly. "No European garbage to have me wondering whether some British colonial master was somehow better than me. Who needs to struggle for equality? Let everybody else try to be equal to me."
The young Helene Cooper oozes the awkward confidence of a privileged adolescent, and it is through her bespectacled eyes that we see the carefree decadence of Liberia in the years just before it descended into chaos. They are also the lenses through which we are introduced to Cooper's distinctly female world. Atop the matriarchy is her maternal grandmother, the unforgettable Mama Grand. Cooper's side-splitting portrayal of this hard-nosed, self-made landowner is nothing short of brilliant. With her gold-capped tooth glistening, Mama Grand is equally capable of dressing down a Lebanese merchant who "thought he was going to cheat me out of my rent" and berating the entire American government on camera for "60 Minutes." The women are the backbone of Liberia in its heyday, but they show their true strength when the country collapses.
A subtle, nostalgic ache for a childhood foreshortened is the watermark imprinted on every page of Cooper's story. The idyll at Sugar Beach, with its Michael Jackson LPs and Nancy Drew mysteries, was shattered when a ragtag group of soldiers - part of the rebel force that brought down the Tolbert government in 1980, and with it over 150 years of old-guard, one-party rule - arrived on the scene. The stench of their inebriation, of their lust for violence, overpowered the tranquility that still lingered in the bucolic air of Cooper's sheltered world.
Her mother would try in vain to exorcise the odor - and the memories - the rebel intruders inscribed on her body and mind after they gang-raped her. Mommee sacrificed herself to protect the innocence of Helene and her other daughters, Marlene and Eunice, locking them in an upstairs room before the soldiers forced her down into the basement.
Cooper soon went into exile, joining thousands of other members of the Liberian elite who managed to escape the rebels' murderous pillaging. Mommee and Marlene were also among them. Eunice was not. The daughter of a poor upcountry mother, she had been taken into the household at Sugar Beach when Helene was a lonely 8-year-old in need of companionship. She quickly became "Mrs. Cooper's daughter" and was treated as one of Mommee's own. Yet over the years there were subtle reminders of Eunice's different status. And when it was time to flee, painful choices were made. Eunice was not a blood relation, and so she was left behind. While Cooper's memoir is mesmerizing in its portrayal of a Liberia rarely witnessed, its description of the psychological devastation - and coping mechanisms - brought on by profound loss is equally captivating.
The second half of the book tells the story of Helene's reinvention. Her aristocratic Liberian pedigree meant nothing in the hallways of her new school. She became the suspicious immigrant, spending lunchtime hiding in bathroom stalls and the recesses of the library rather than face the scrutiny and ridicule of her American classmates.
Cooper's perseverance and immense talent with language eventually catapulted her into a career as a journalist. Her success at The Wall Street Journal and later The New York Times is nearly as noteworthy as her ability to compartmentalize - or, some might say, dissociate. This mental sleight of hand is what affords her the psychological space to create a new life and cultivate her writer's craft. It would be a mistake to see her ruminations over race and class in America as the hypocritical ranting of a once-privileged African. They are, instead, a reflection of her internalized journey, part of the process of becoming whole.
The walls holding back the guilt of her early entitlement, the destruction of her childhood, the murder of family and friends, and the abandonment of her foster sister would finally come crushing down under the literal weight of an American tank in Iraq. When the tank destroyed the Humvee in which she was riding, Cooper narrowly escaped death. But once she was extricated from the wreck, her mind traveled to a different war. "At that moment," she writes, "as I lay in the sand in the desert, my chemsuit soaked with what turned out to be oil, not blood, I thought of Liberia."
For the first time in more than 20 years, she soon returned to her former homeland. There, in the ravaged streets, in the overgrown jungles of yesteryear's plantations, she confronted the ghosts of the dead - and encountered the living survivors. With much suffering and loss, Eunice had miraculously endured the hell of the Doe era, as well as the civil wars and deep poverty that accompanied the ascent of Charles Taylor to Liberia's presidency. Eventually, the two sisters were reunited and returned to the house at Sugar Beach. In the defiled shadow of onetime grandeur, Cooper embraced the enormity of her past, and finally came of age.
GEORGE BUSH IN AFRICA
The legacy that will endure
Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development from 2001 to 2005 and special coordinator for international disaster assistance for Sudan, is a professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
When President Bush traveled to sub-Saharan Africa in February he was greeted by tumultuous crowds of admirers. That mystified many of his critics, who thought that the animosity toward his administration abroad is universal.But polling data from the Pew Foundation shows something different: Approval ratings for the United States exceed 80 percent in many African countries, some with large Muslim populations. In Darfur, many families name newborn sons George Bush.
What is it that the Bush administration has done differently in Africa than it has done elsewhere?
Certainly one factor is that Africa is not the Middle East or Central Asia, where America is fighting two unpopular wars and where polls show America at an all-time low in public esteem.
In Sudan, the United States played a central role as peacemaker in ending a 20-year civil war between the Arab north and African south, which killed 2 million people.
Bush's enduring legacy in Africa rests on humanitarian and economic - not political - foundations. More than anything else it has been the revolution in the U.S. government's development assistance that is responsible for Bush's popularity.
The Bush administration doubled foreign aid worldwide over the past eight years - the largest increase since the Truman administration - and used it to encourage poor countries to undertake political and economic reform.
Total U.S. government development aid to Africa alone has quadrupled from $1.3 billion in 2001 to more than $5 billion in 2008 and is scheduled to go to $8.7 billion in 2010, principally for education (primary school enrollment in Africa is up 36 percent since 1999), health care, civil society and protecting fragile environments.Africa has received $3.5 billion in additional funds from Bush's Millennium Challenge Corporation initiative, which rewards poor countries that encourage economic growth, govern well and provide social services for their people.
The president's HIV/AIDS program, principally focused on providing Africans with anti-retroviral drugs to treat the disease (1.7 million people are on the therapy), has been such a success that it has been extended to 2015 at a cost of $48 billion. His five-year, $1.2 billion effort to combat malaria has provided 4 million insecticide-treated bed nets and 7 million drug therapies to vulnerable people.
The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, approved in 2000 and re-authorized in expanded form in 2004, provides trade benefits with the United States for 40 African countries that have implemented reforms to encourage economic growth.Since 2001, U.S. exports to Africa have more than doubled, to $14 billion a year, while African exports to the United States have more than tripled, to $67 billion, of which $3.4 billion has been in goods other than oil.USAID has provided more than $500 million in developing trade capacity for poor countries to access international markets, which is the only way Africa will escape the poverty that has for too long oppressed the continent.
While Bush's critics have given him little credit for his African initiatives, they will be among his most enduring legacy in a region of the world long neglected by policymakers from both parties. Africans will long remember what Bush's critics have ignored.
Big risks for rising number of child brides
LONDON: The number of girls in poor countries who marry before the age of 18 will double to 100 million in the next decade, putting many at risk from AIDS, a report said on Thursday.
A global food crisis is making matters worse by pushing more families in the developing world to send young daughters into marriage to deal with poverty, the survey from humanitarian group World Vision found.
Child brides suffer because they often end their education early and are more likely to be injured or to die during childbirth because their bodies are not fully developed.
"Complications during childbearing and delivery are most common in this age set, significantly raising the risk of death, premature delivery, infant mortality and low birthweight," the report said.
An estimated 3,500 girls marry each day before their 15th birthday and another 21,000 do so before they are 18 -- figures the humanitarian group said would balloon in coming years.
While the practice occurs worldwide and in wealthy nations too, it is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and parts of Central America, the report said.
The highest child marriage rates were in Bangladesh where nearly 53 percent of girls married before the age of 15, followed by Niger at almost 38 percent, Chad at about 35 percent, and Ethiopia and India at about 31 percent.
"It is most prevalent in communities and households where the starkest poverty mixes with cultural traditions and lack of education to limit a girl's perceived value and potential," it said.
Another issue is that many young brides are forced to have sex before their bodies are ready, and few have access to reliable contraception and reproductive health advice.
"Forced sex causes skin and tissue damage that makes a female more susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted infections from her husband," the report reads.
Raising awareness is key to stopping child marriage and using school and community workshops can help at risk families.
Working with tribal leaders, faith healers and other community members is also important as is ensuring families have the means to put food on the table and earn a living so they do not have to marry off young daughters, it added.
Pakistan likely to avoid default
HONG KONG: Pakistan will probably avoid the sovereign debt default that markets increasingly expect, even though the country faces more downgrades to its credit rating as it grapples with dwindling reserves and a sliding currency.
The stability of Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, is so important a geopolitical factor that institutions like the International Monetary Fund will eventually help it meet obligations to creditors, analysts said.
"Is this going to get into a default scenario? No," said Dilip Shahani, Asia-Pacific research head at HSBC. "Negotiations with the likes of IMF will help stabilize the situation."
Investors are not so sure. Credit default swaps, contracts investors use to insure debt, have been widening in Pakistan since the departure last month of President Pervez Musharraf.
The five-year credit default swaps have jumped 200 basis points to 900 to 1,000 basis points since Musharraf quit on Aug. 18. (A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.) That means it now costs at least $900,000 to insure $10 million worth of debt against default, compared with around $700,000 at the end of the Musharraf era.
It is now cheaper to insure five-year bonds of Argentina, which has been in default since a 2001 economic crisis. Five-year credit default swaps in Argentina are at 780 to 800 basis points.
The credit default swap numbers for Pakistan implies a "a significant risk of sovereign default" as the maturity in February of Pakistan's $500 million bond approaches, said Mushtaq Khan, a Citigroup economist. He, too, said that he did not think a default would occur.
Investors do have reason to be concerned, however. Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 military coup, resigned to avoid impeachment, ending months of speculation and sometimes violent protests against his rule. But that kicked off a new phase of uncertainty, especially after the second-largest party in the governing coalition withdrew support from the five-month-old civilian government.
The political chaos has raised questions about whether government will be able to tackle the many economic problems in the country.
Yang-Myung Hong, a sovereign rating analyst at Lehman Brothers, said: "It seems the government is not getting its act together, making it difficult to actively address the decline in the forex reserves."
Currency reserves have shrunk to $9.38 billion from a record high of $16.5 billion 10 months ago. The current account deficit is at 8.4 percent of gross domestic product and the rupee is at a record low, having lost over 20 percent against the dollar this year.
Analysts estimate that foreign exchange reserves can pay for less than three months of imports, having sunk by around $800 million a month.
Import costs have risen in the past year as the price of oil and most commodities hit record highs, driving up inflation to nearly 25 percent. Economic growth is forecast to be the slowest in six years.
A stock market that rallied for six years has slumped 41 percent off a lifetime high in April, and 34 percent this year, making it the worst performing market in Asia after China and Vietnam.
But a debt default will probably not be added to this list of woes.
The stability of Pakistan is a vital factor in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, where the death toll is rising among foreign forces. The party of Benazir Bhutto, the slain former prime minister, enjoys the support of the United States and other Western nations.
Still, the scramble for funds is keeping markets on edge. Last month, an International Monetary Fund official said that Pakistan does not need to turn to the IMF for money in the next 10 months if the government cuts spending and gets other sources of funding to offset falling reserves.
Islamabad is in talks with Saudi Arabia to defer an estimated $5.9 billion worth of oil payments and is also in discussions with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank for more than $1 billion in loans.
The central bank governor, Shamshad Akhtar, said the World Bank was seeking to speed up close to $1 billion in investments as he sought to calm jittery markets.
"If the facilities like the Saudi oil payment deferral don't come through, then Pakistan could start to face pressure in meeting its external obligations," said Lehman's Hong.
The bond maturing in February 2009, a thinly traded security, was quoted at 93.50 to 97.50 cents to a dollar on Thursday. The more active benchmark, the 2017 bond, has dropped by five points to 63 cents to a dollar in the past week.
Even if it does not default on the 2009 bond, Pakistan could see its sovereign credit rating lowered a notch if it does not improve on its macroeconomic performance. That would make future borrowing more costly.
Pakistan raid may signal more U.S. attacks
WASHINGTON: U.S. commandos attacked an al Qaeda target in Pakistan this week in an operation that could signal more intense American efforts to thwart militant attacks in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
The Bush administration has not officially acknowledged any involvement in the Wednesday attack on the South Waziristan village of Angor Adda that killed up to 20 people, including women and children, according to Pakistani officials.
Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the raid by special operations forces targeted suspected operatives in an effort to disrupt militant safe havens in Pakistan that pose an escalating threat to U.S., NATO and Afghan forces just across the border.
The safe havens also represent a leading security threat to the United States and U.S. allies, including European states, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials.
In a separate incident on Thursday, a missile attack by a suspected U.S. drone killed four Islamist militants and wounded five other in nearby North Waziristan, Pakistani security officials and witnesses said.
U.S. officials said activities in safe haven areas, including recruiting and training, have become bolder over the past year while political turmoil in Pakistan led to diminished pressure on militants from the Pakistani military.
"The question for debate has been: 'Can you allow that to go unhampered?,'" said one military official.
The raid spawned a furious response from the Pakistan government, which has publicly opposed any action by U.S. troops on its soil. Foreign Minister Shah Memood Qureshi said it was a shameful violation of the rules of engagement.
But U.S. officials declined to comment on the record about either the commando raid or the missile strike, which occurred as Pakistan prepared to elect a new president on Saturday.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the United States stood ready to pursue its enemies in close cooperation with allies and partners.
"We are going to pursue terrorists wherever they operate, plan their operations, try to seek safe harbour," he said.
By hitting militants in Pakistan, officials and analysts said the United States hopes to inhibit their activities by subjecting them to an atmosphere of constant threat.
"You get a change in behaviour because they have to move constantly, there's no security. The sanctuary aspects of Pakistan are very sharply reduced," said Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
As President George W. Bush prepares to leave office in four months, both of his would-be successors -- Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama -- have stressed the need for Pakistan to focus on security.
U.S. officials say Pakistan has not done enough to combat militants despite a recent increase in Pakistani military operations that have drawn violent reprisals.
Wednesday's raid has been described publicly as the first known incursion into Pakistan by U.S.-led troops since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
But Pentagon officials said privately the presence of U.S. troops in Pakistan marked a return to tactics used by the American military soon after the Afghanistan invasion.
U.S. concerns about attacks from militant bases in Pakistan prompted top U.S. military officials to meet with Pakistan's military chief last week on a carrier in the Indian Ocean.
Some analysts warned U.S. military action in Pakistan could erode the credibility of the Pakistani government in the tribal regions and inadvertently help militants destabilize the nuclear-armed country.
"It would be a serious mistake to risk the destabilization of Pakistan to try and avert failure across the border in Afghanistan," said Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations.
"If you think the No. 1 threat to U.S. interests at the moment is al Qaeda's acquisition of a nuclear weapon, far and away the likeliest scenario for that to happen is some sort of collapse of the Pakistani government into chaos."
The United States and other allies are increasingly concerned about Pakistan's stability. On Wednesday, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
Pakistani policemen kidnapped
KOHAT, Pakistan: Militants in Pakistan have kidnapped 26 police recruits on their way to college, police said on Thursday, while security forces killed 36 Islamist insurgents in clashes elsewhere in the northwest.
Separately, the British High Commission closed its visa application centre in the capital, Islamabad, because of a threat, a mission spokeswoman said.
The police recruits were travelling on three buses to a training college in the town of Hangu in North West Frontier Province when gunmen abducted them on Wednesday in the Orakzai tribal region. The militants freed the drivers.
After U.S. raid, Pakistan says it will defend territorial integrity
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is determined to defend its territorial integrity, the country's foreign minister said Thursday, as anger mounted over a raid by U.S.-led troops on a remote border village.
Twenty people, including women and children, were killed, officials said, and a new civilian government, more sensitive to public anger than the previous government, summoned the U.S. ambassador to lodge an angry protest.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the foreign minister, said the raid was a shameful violation of rules of engagement as agreed to by U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
"We will not compromise on any violation of our sovereignty," Qureshi told the National Assembly.
"We have a resolve and we have national consensus in Pakistan to defend our territorial integrity," he said. Both houses of Parliament later adopted resolutions condemning the attack.
Pakistan anxious as Zardari poised for presidency
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani legislators are set to elect as president the late Benazir Bhutto's controversial widower Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday, making a choice many Pakistanis see leading to a fresh phase of political instability.
His wife's assassination last December and the victory of her grieving party in a February election has catapulted Zardari to the top in Pakistan's switch to civilian-led democracy after nine years under former army chief and president, Pervez Musharraf.
The presidential vote is a three-way contest, but Zardari's party and its allies have a clear majority among lawmakers in the two-chamber parliament and four provincial legislatures that make up the electoral college.
Desperate for stability in a nuclear-armed Muslim state whose cooperation is key to victory over al Qaeda and the success of the West's mission in Afghanistan, the United States is counting on Zardari to keep Pakistan committed to the war on terrorism.
"I will work to defeat the domestic Taliban insurgency and to ensure that Pakistan territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on our neighbours or on NATO forces in Afghanistan," Zardari said in an article in the Washington Post on Thursday.
The United States doesn't trust his chief rival Nawaz Sharif, fearing he could pander to Islamists.
U.S. troops may quit Baghdad "by July"
LONDON: U.S. combat troops could be pulled out of Baghdad within 10 months because of declining violence in the Iraqi capital, General David Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, said in an interview published on Thursday.
Petraeus's comments to the Financial Times newspaper came as the United States and Iraq seek to finalise a security pact that will govern the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.
There are about 145,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Petraeus was referring in his interview to the roughly 16,000 stationed in Baghdad, the paper said.
Asked whether it was feasible that U.S. combat forces could leave Baghdad by July, Petraeus said: "Conditions permitting, yeah.
"The number of attacks in Baghdad lately has been ... I think it's probably less than five (a day) on average, and that's a city of seven million people," he added.
Handshake defuses a standoff in Baghdad
BAGHDAD: Ali Abdul Jabbar, an Awakening commander in the Adhamiya neighborhood, sat tautly in a battered green armchair at his headquarters early Wednesday afternoon, waiting for the Iraqi Army to come and try to arrest him.
His men — armed with Kalashnikov rifles, ammunition pouches hanging from their chests — guarded the door, prepared to defend him if the army arrived. Other members of the Awakening Council, one of the Sunni-dominated citizen patrols backed by American forces here, lounged around the room, drinking Pepsis and observing a one-day strike called in protest of Jabbar's rumored status as a wanted man.
But a few hours later, the atmosphere appeared to have calmed. Jabbar and an Iraqi Army captain stood in front of the neighborhood's Abu Hanifa mosque, shaking hands and exchanging mutual expressions of support and friendship. The strike was called off. And the warrant was forgotten, if it had ever existed; the captain told Jabbar it had never been issued.
The escalating events of the morning, and the abrupt turnaround by midafternoon, offered a vivid illustration of the mounting tensions between the Awakening Councils and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's government, which is mainly Shiite. American and Iraqi officials have said that the Iraqi government will take full control of the Awakening patrols in and around Baghdad on Oct. 1.
Negotiating this transfer of responsibility has been laced with complexities, American military officials say privately, and some senior Iraqi government officials have expressed deep concerns about embracing the Awakening Councils and their members, who include former insurgents. The Awakening members say the government is going after senior leaders of the movement, some of whom have fled.
The Awakening members are currently paid by the American military to operate checkpoints, guard buildings and, in some cases, to refrain from bombing military convoys and shooting at American and Iraqi soldiers.
Earlier in the day, Jabbar, 31, who is known in the neighborhood as Abu Sajad, said angrily that the government was trying to undermine the councils and to make them fail.
"We think we are fighting not against just Al Qaeda; now we are also fighting against the Iraqi Army," said Jabbar, who is in charge of a section of Adhamiya, a Sunni stronghold in the capital.
As other Awakening members have in recent days, he expressed fears that the Iraqi government would disband the local patrols once it took control.
"I think they will dissolve them," he said, adding that the government opposed the councils because it saw them as usurping the role of the Iraqi Army in fighting insurgents.
"Al Qaeda controlled Adhamiya before we were here," Jabbar said, referring to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a mostly homegrown insurgent group that American intelligence says is led by foreigners. "If Al Qaeda cells feel weakness in some places, they will return. They will not ask our permission. They will take revenge on us."
Jabbar said he had heard that the Iraqi Army issued an arrest warrant for him in connection with a kidnapping and killing. The warrant, he said, was based on false accusations made by the family of a militia leader in a Shiite group, the Mahdi Army, whom he had helped to capture and turn over to Iraqi security forces.
Jabbar said that he had asked the American forces for help, but that he had been told that this was "an internal affair."
The strike, which left many checkpoints in the neighborhood unguarded in the morning, was "just a small message for the Iraqi Army and the government of Iraq to make them know that people in Adhamiya support the Awakening Councils," he said. The Adhamiya council halted the strike shortly after noon.
Jabbar seemed to alternate between pride in his accomplishments and indignation at the injustice of his plight. At one point during the interview, he sent his men off to retrieve a photograph of him standing with General David Petraeus, commander of American forces in Iraq.
About 1 p.m., Jabbar's cellphone rang, and he answered it and spoke in staccato Arabic, his voice at times rising in protest. The caller, he said afterward, was an interpreter for the American military, who questioned him about whether he had planted a bomb on a street in the neighborhood. He explained to the interpreter that someone else had placed the explosive, he said.
A little later, another call came; this one, Jabbar said, was from an Iraqi Army officer, who told him that the army would not arrest him, but that the officer would come to talk to him. Then they would tour Adhamiya together, to show that there were no hard feelings on either side, Jabbar said.
The site will sell fixed-price goods that purportedly have some positive effect on people and the planet. The goal is to help consumers align their social values with their shopping decisions, Robert Chatwani, the WorldofGood.com general manager, said.
Shoppers will be able to search for products by certain social or environmental categories, revealing, for example, a photo of the man who produced the fair-trade coffee that interests you, details of its origins and whether some of the proceeds support a charitable cause.
After 50 years of uninterrupted growth, Spain's overbuilt and relatively expensive resorts seem ill-placed to cope with a downturn, at a time of increasing competition from cheaper, less crowded destinations like Croatia and Turkey.
"In 48 years, I have never seen losses like this; tourism bosses I'm talking to have never suffered so much," said Domenec Biosca, president of Spain's Association of Tourism Directors and Experts.
He said that in many parts of the country, tourism is already in deep recession, as both Spaniards and foreigners travel less distance, stay less time and spend less money.
Spain's biggest hotel group, Sol Melia , reported profits fell 41 percent in the first half of the year, while those at business hotel group NH dropped 20 percent.
HBOS, the biggest mortgage lender in Britain, said house prices fell 1.8 percent last month alone, as the global credit crunch had made it much harder for people to get mortgages.
More than £25,000 has been wiped off the value of the average home in the last year as a decade-long boom turned into a bust that helped bring the economy to a standstill in the second quarter of 2008.
Construction and retail companies have been among the hardest hit and consumer confidence has been battered as two-thirds of British households own their homes -- and economists say it could get a lot worse.
"Very negative housing market sentiment heightens the risk that house prices will continue to fall sharply for some time to come," said Howard Archer, economist at Global Insight.
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