Archive for  May 2008

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Daily Times – Leading News Resource of Pakistan – Iraq’s Babylon bears scars of US-led invasion

Iraq’s Babylon bears scars of US-led invasion

By Hassan Jouini

The city, born on the banks of the Euphrates River 5,000 years ago, was full of priceless archaeological treasures. It was, however, transformed into a US military camp after the 2003 invasion

THE last outsiders to visit the ruins of the once-mighty city of Babylon in Iraq came in tanks and helicopters, leaving a blight on its historic and fragile landscape, archaeologists say.

The city, born on the banks of the Euphrates River 5,000 years ago and full of priceless archaeological treasures, was transformed into a US military camp after the 2003 invasion with a heliport built among the ruins.

The base was later passed to Polish army control and despite the soldiers’ departure in 2005, the damage left behind is evident. At a meeting in Berlin next month, Iraqi and other specialists will endeavour to assess the true level of damage. Iraqi archaeologist Hadi Mussa Qataa, who guided an AFP reporter through the fragile ruins, said helicopter take-offs and landings, along with the tremors from the heavy rumble of armoured vehicles had damaged the city’s historic monuments. Babylon is located in the famed Fertile Crescent between the Euphrates and its sister river, the Tigris, some 85 kilometres (55 miles) southeast of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. When US-led troops invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, all that was visible of the ancient city was a collection of mud-brick buildings and debris together with new restoration projects commissioned by the Iraqi strongman.

Saddam was keen to stamp his mark on the site, also home to the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and commissioned a huge range of restoration projects starting in the 1980s. Thousands of Sudanese workers were brought to the site to build monuments on top of the priceless ruins, using bricks bearing Saddam’s name, in an echo of the practice of the ancient Babylonian kings. “Restoration of the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar under the glorious reign of Saddam Hussein,” the tributes read.

Damage done to archaeological artefacts during the restoration work was made worse when US forces set up the 150-hectare (370-acre) base at the site in April 2003, the same month Saddam was overthrown. Military digging involving soil containing materials of archaeological significance, the construction of the heliport and the seepage of fuel into the soil, all sparked concerns over the condition of the site.

The US military do not deny that damage occurred at some archaeological sites between 2003-2004 but since then, troops have “moved facilities away from many other important archaeological sites,” a military spokesman told AFP by email. A report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) branded described he damage caused during the military occupation of the site as “very serious.”

Already the famous blue bricks that form the lions, bulls and dragons making up the decorations around the Gate of Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love, have been found to have been damaged. The original gate, on display at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, marked the entrance to the palace, temples and domestic dwellings of the city. These buildings were fashioned out of mud bricks which still bear Babylonian and Assyrian markings. At least 32,000 items were pillaged from the 12,000 archaeological locations across Iraq during widespread looting which following the invasion. The US military denies involvement in any of the thefts of historical artefacts.

After the Poles left the camp, Babylon was handed over to the Iraqi Antiquities Authority but excavation work and restoration projects have both ground to a halt. Today, a dirt track, several coils of barbed wire and a few sandbags are the only evidence to show that the ruins were used as a military base. Leading archaeologists fearing for the physical safety of Babylon’s remaining archaeological treasures, have launched efforts to protect the site from further damage and resume archaeological research.

They are pushing for Babylon to be included on a list of protected World Heritage sites. This would mean excavations could be relaunched and archaeologists from around the world would once more have a chance to probe Babylon’s rich history. afp

Newshoggers.com: Tense Over Iran’s Nuclear Program?

By Cernig

Michael Goldfarb’s playing with tense to try to ratchet up his reader’s tension over the Iranian nuclear program. He headlines his post at the Weekly Standard today “Iran Working on Nukes? No Way!” and then quotes some “senior official close to the Agency” as saying that “There are certain parts of their nuclear program where the military seems to have played a role.” From the past tense of the official’s statement to the present tense of fearmongering in one easy step.

Even there, we can see another bit of fearmongering behind Goldfarb’s. Those “senior officials” – from the US, French or UK delegations, most likely – are quite happy leaking to the media portions of a report meant to be embargoed until presented to the full IAEA Board of Governors on June 2nd…and even so are reduced to talking about events from 2003 to spin their message of fear and tension. The LA Times does the best job of unspinning what’s being presented to the media:

A report released Monday by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog organization presents the clearest indication yet that Iran was working on a nuclear weapon through 2003. But there is no evidence that the weapons program continued after 2004, it says, echoing a U.S. intelligence assessment in December.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said its investigation was based on questions raised by its inspections and on allegations from intelligence reports provided by the U.S. and other countries. The IAEA recently presented Iran with documents that depict a clandestine program including uranium enrichment, missile development and plans for fitting missiles with nuclear warheads.

Iran declared that it had answered all of the agency’s questions and insisted that the documents were fabricated, but the report scolds Tehran for stonewalling investigators on key issues. The agency said it believes Iran may have additional information, in particular on high-explosives tests and missile-related activities.

The agency also questioned the military’s role in manufacturing and procuring parts for the nuclear program, which Iran has declared is for peaceful energy production.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, said the report points to work on a nuclear weapon, but there are elements missing that one would expect to see in such a program.

However even the LAT misses a couple of important points that can only be gleaned from reading several different versions of reporting on the leaks from “officials close to the IAEA”.

– There has been no evidence found of redirection of nuclear material from civilian programs.

– The IAEA has not detected any actual use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies from 2003.

– Iran has replied to many of the questions the IAEA has about its past activities – in an 11 page answer – but that document was received too late to be assessed in time for this report.

– Iran is still behind on its centrifuge installation program and still behind on running those it has installed at anything like peak efficiency, multiplying the time it would take to enrich material to bomb grade by a factor of five or so.

– Iran still couldn’t use those centrifuges to make bomb-grade material without the IAEA’s knowledge as all the equipment and material involved are under strict IAEA monitoring and surveillance.

– Iran has offered – instead of ceasing enrichment – to make it’s enrichment facilities part of an international cartel. That would ensure that worried Western nations would have direct monitoring of activities at the Nanantz enrichment facility.

In other words, while the IAEA has legitimate concerns about Iran’s truculence in admitting it once had a nuclear weapons program and in revealing all aspects of that program, other data show that Iran is exactly where the last US intelligence NIE said it was – with no military program currently in operation and no material signs it still wishes to have one.

So the “bomb Iran” crowd are reduced to playing with tense to try to make Americans feel tense.

Israel Targets Iran Through Syrian Friendship – by Peter Hirschberg

Israel Targets Iran Through Syrian Friendship
by Peter Hirschberg

JERUSALEM – “Spin” was the chorus that predictably emanated from Israel’s parliament when the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced last week that Israel and Syria had initiated talks ultimately aimed at reaching a peace agreement. But to reduce the renewal of peace talks between Jerusalem and Damascus, after an eight-year hiatus, to mere “spin” is to underestimate how it currently serves the strategic interests of both countries.

That doesn’t mean Olmert didn’t benefit from the timing of the announcement, with headlines about talks with Syria nudging aside headlines about a police investigation into suspicions of corruption against the prime minister, regarding large sums of cash he received from a U.S. businessman. But the contacts with Syria began already a year ago, long before Olmert’s latest legal woes, and they have the strong backing of many in Israel’s defense establishment.

Security officials are convinced that the chances of doing a deal with Damascus are greater than the likelihood of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians. The Syrian track is less complicated. Israel knows what Syria wants: the return of the Golan Heights, the strategic mountain range that Israel captured during the 1967 war. Syria knows what Israel wants: an end to its strategic relationship with Iran, an end to its backing of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and normal relations.

There are other issues that will need to be settled, like the fate of some 20,000 Jewish settlers living on the Golan Heights, water arrangements, and the depth of demilitarized zones, especially on the Syrian side of the border. But these appear infinitely more soluble than the raft of differences between Israel and the Palestinians – the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the future of Jerusalem, borders, and the fate of over a quarter of a million Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

Progress on the Syrian track, some also argue, will force the Palestinians, fearful they might lose out, to adopt more conciliatory positions. It might even force Hamas, less sure of support from Damascus, to temper the rocket attacks from Gaza, reducing the likelihood of a major Israeli military operation in the coastal strip later this summer.

But the overriding consideration driving those who support talks with Syria is the desire to pry President Bashar Assad from the clutches of Iran and erode his support for Hezbollah and Hamas. Undermining ties between Damascus and Tehran, they argue, could retard Iran’s efforts to achieve nuclear capability.

It could undercut Iran’s influence in the region and also significantly lessen the combined missile and rocket threat posed to Israel by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Were Israel ever to attack Iran’s nuclear sites – Israel, like the U.S. and much of Europe, believes Tehran is bent on building nuclear weapons – defense officials would prefer to have Syria sitting on the sidelines rather than actively involved, along with Hezbollah and Hamas, in a concerted, retaliatory missile attack on the Jewish state.

Israeli officials pointed to the stony silence with which Iran greeted the renewal of talks as immediate vindication of the decision to re-engage Damascus. The London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted sources close to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying he was deeply disappointed at the news that Syria and Israel were renewing talks.

The Web site of the daily Ha’aretz newspaper quoted a senior Israeli official saying that Iran seemed to be in a state of “shock.” The renewal of talks, the official predicted, would have “an immediate impact on their status in the region.”

That type of unreserved optimism may be a little premature. The acknowledgment that indirect talks are under way does not mean an agreement is around the corner. The last time Israel and Syria met at the negotiating table was in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in 2000, but those talks broke down over Israel’s refusal to give Syria access to the Sea of Galilee, its main water source.

Syria insists Israel withdraw to the 1967 lines, which it says would give it control of the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. But while several Israeli prime ministers have quietly communicated a willingness to cede the Golan, they have not been ready to give Syria access to the waterline. When former prime minister Ehud Barak, who is now defense minister, conducted the talks eight years ago, he insisted the border be drawn a few hundred meters from the lake, leaving Israel in control of the waterline.

Those negotiations were direct, with Barak sitting across the table from Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Shara. The current talks, which are being held in Istanbul, are indirect, with Turkish officials scurrying between the Israeli and Syrian teams, located in different hotels. These initial talks are meant to lay the groundwork for full, direct negotiations further down the line.

Israeli officials believe Syria’s desperate desire to extricate itself from international isolation is behind its readiness to renew talks. U.S. President George Bush has included Syria in his “axis of evil,” and Assad has been further tainted by the investigation into Syria’s alleged involvement in the 2005 car bomb assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. This explains his insistence on U.S. involvement in the talks.

Opponents in Israel of renewed contact with Syria insist Assad does not view Israel as a peace partner, but rather as a convenient stepping stone to the White House. The Syrian leader, they say, cannot be trusted to sever ties with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, and is offering only the prospect of full talks, not a comprehensive peace agreement. In this light, ceding a mountain range to Syria that overlooks northern Israel would be perilous, they warn.

But supporters of talks with Syria counter that even if Assad’s ultimate goal is not a peace deal with Israel, or even getting back the Golan, but rather a renewal of relations with the U.S. and a cementing of Syrian interests in Lebanon, re-engaging Damascus serves Israel’s goal of shaking the Syria-Iran alliance.

Clearly, a peace agreement is still a distant prospect. With Olmert facing serious corruption charges, it is also doubtful he will be able to galvanize the type of public and political support that will be required to cobble together a deal with Syria and convince Israelis to buy it. For now, though, both Israel and Syria seem to have a mutual interest in renewing talks and in announcing that they have done so.

BlackCommentator.com – We Fought Apartheid; We See No Reason to Celebrate It in Israel Now!

[This was originally published by End the Occupation South Africa]

We, South Africans who faced the might of unjust and brutal apartheid machinery in South Africa and fought against it with all our strength, with the objective to live in a just, democratic society, refuse today to celebrate the existence of an Apartheid state in the Middle East. While Israel and its apologists around the world will, with pomp and ceremony, loudly proclaim the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel this month, we who have lived with and struggled against oppression and colonialism will, instead, remember 6 decades of catastrophe for the Palestinian people. 60 years ago, 750,000 Palestinians were brutally expelled from their homeland, suffering persecution, massacres, and torture. They and their descendants remain refugees. This is no reason to celebrate.

When we think of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, we also remember the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948.

When we think of South Africa’s Bantustan policy, we remember the bantustanisation of Palestine by the Israelis.

When we think of our heroes who languished on Robben Island and elsewhere, we remember the 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails.

When we think of the massive land theft perpetrated against the people of South Africa, we remember that the theft of Palestinian land continues with the building of illegal Israeli settlements and the Apartheid Wall.

When we think of the Group Areas Act and other such apartheid legislation, we remember that 93% of the land in Israel is reserved for Jewish use only.

When we think of Black people being systematically dispossessed in South Africa, we remember that Israel uses ethnic and racial dispossession to strike at the heart of Palestinian life.

When we think of how the SADF troops persecuted our people in the townships, we remember that attacks from tanks, fighter jets and helicopter gunships are the daily experience of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory.

When we think of the SADF attacks against our neighbouring states,
we remember that Israel deliberately destabilises the Middle East region and threatens international peace and security, including with its 100s of nuclear warheads.

We who have fought against Apartheid and vowed not to allow it to happen again can not allow Israel to continue perpetrating apartheid, colonialism and occupation against the indigenous people of Palestine.

We dare not allow Israel to continue violating international law with impunity.

We will not stand by while Israel continues to starve and bomb the people of Gaza.

We who fought all our lives for South Africa to be a state for all its people demand that millions of Palestinian refugees must be accorded the right to return to the homes from where they were expelled.

Apartheid was a gross violation of human rights. It was so in South Africa and it is so with regard to Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians!

  • Ronnie Kasrils, Minister of Intelligence / End Occupation Campaign
  • Blade Nzimande, General Secretary, South African Communist Party
  • Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary, Congress of South African Trade Unions
  • Ahmed Kathrada, former Robben Island prisoner
  • Eddie Makue, General Secretary, South African Council of Churches
  • Makoma Lekalakala, Social Movements Indaba
  • Dale McKinley, Anti-Privatisation Forum
  • Lybon Mabasa, President, Socialist Party of Azania
  • Costa Gazi, Pan Africanist Congress of Azania
  • Jeremy Cronin, South African Communist Party
  • Mosibudi Mangena, President, Azanian Peoples Organisation / Minister of Science and Technology
  • Pallo Jordan, Minister of Arts and Culture
  • Sydney Mufamadi, Minister of Provincial and Local Government
  • Mosioua Terror Lekota, Minister of Safety and Security
  • Alec Erwin, Minister of Public Enterprises
  • Essop Pahad, Minister in the Presidency
  • Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Education
  • Roy Padayache, Deputy Minister of Communications
  • Derek Hanekom, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology
  • Rob Davies, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry
  • Lorretta Jacobus, Deputy Minister of Correctional Services
  • Sam Ramsamy, International Olympic Committee
  • Enver Motala, Educationist
  • Yasmin Sooka, Executive Director, Foundation for Human Rights / Former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • Pregs Govender, Feminist Activist and Author: Love and Courage, A Story of Insubordination
  • Adam Habib, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Johannesburg
  • Frene Ginwala, African National Congress
  • Salim Vally, Palestine Solidarity Committee
  • Na’eem Jeenah, Palestine Solidarity Committee
  • Brian Ashley, Amandla Publications
  • Mercia Andrews, Palestine Solidarity Group
  • Andile Mngxitama, land rights activist
  • Ben Turok, Minister of Parliament
  • Patrick Bond, Centre for Civil Society, University of Kwazulu- Natal
  • Farid Esack, Professor of Contemporary Islam, Harvard University
  • Dennis Goldberg, former political prisoner
  • Elinor Sisulu, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
  • Andre Zaaiman
  • Virginia Setshedi, Coalition Against Water Privatisation
  • Max Ozinsky, Not in my Name
  • Revd Basil Manning, Minister, United Congregational Church of Southern Africa
  • Firoz Osman, Media Review Network
  • Zapiro, cartoonist
  • Mphutlane wa Bofelo, General Secretary, Muslim Youth Movement
  • Steven Friedman, academic
  • Ighsaan Hendricks, President, Muslim Judicial Council
  • Iqbal Jassat, Media Review Network
  • Stiaan van der Merwe, Palestine Solidarity Committee
  • Naaziem Adam, Palestine Solidarity Alliance
  • Asha Moodley, Board member of Agenda feminist journal
  • Suraya Bibi Khan, Palestine Solidarity Alliance
  • Nazir Osman, Palestine Solidarity Alliance
  • Allan Horwitz, Jewish Voices
  • Jackie Dugard, legal and human rights activist
  • Professor Alan
  • Beata Lipman
  • Caroline O’Reilly, researcher
  • Jane Lipman
  • Shereen Mills, Human rights lawyer, Centre for Applied Legal Studies
  • Noor Nieftagodien, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Bobby Peek, groundwork, Friends of the Earth
  • Arnold Tsunga, Chair, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
  • Mcebisi Skwatsha, Provincial Secretary, ANC Western Cape
  • Owen Manda, Centre for Sociological Research, University of Johannesburg
  • Claire Cerruti, Keep Left
  • Cassiem Khan
  • Duduzile Masango, Ecumenical Accompanier Programme, Palestine/Israel.
  • Lubna Nadvi, University of Kwazulu Natal
  • Syed Aftab Haider, Ahlul Bait Foundation of South Africa
  • Rassool Snyman, Palestine Support Committee
  • Suleman Dangor, University of Kwazulu Natal
  • Zaithoon Maziya, African Muslim Network
  • Asif Essop – Anti-Racism Education Forum
  • Patrick Mkhize, Steel Mining and Commercial Workers Union
  • Zeib Jeeva, Treasurer, International Development and Relief Foundation
  • Sheila Barsel, Not In My Name
  • NB: Organisational affiliations above are for identification purposes only and do not necessarily reflect organisational endorsement.

    Organisational endorsements:

    • Al Quds Foundation
    • Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) and its 28 affiliates
    • Anti-Racism Education Forum
    • Azanian Peoples Organisation (Azapo)
    • Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)
    • Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
    • End Occupation Campaign
    • groundWork, Friends of the Earth
    • Media Review Network (MRN)
    • Muslim Judicial Council (MJC)
    • Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa (MYM)
    • Not In My Name
    • Palestine Solidarity Alliance
    • Palestine Solidarity Committee
    • Palestine Solidarity Group
    • Palestine Support Committee
    • Social Movements Indaba (SMI)
    • Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA)
    • South African Communist Party (SACP)
    • South African Council of Churches (SACC)
    • Workers Organisation for Sociliast Action (WOSA)