Monday, August 27, 2007

'Osama travels with large family'

by Chidanand Rajghatta from The Times of India

By Nassir Al-Bahri’s count, Osama had eight sons and six daughters when he left the man he calls ‘Sheikh’ six years ago. The three eldest sons are in Saudi Arabia, he says, but the others are in hiding with their father ... turf battles between CIA and the military, troubles in liaising with Pakistan, lack of specialist operatives on the ground, and the administration’s decision to do something more showy than mere cave searches in Afghanistan, led Washington into a quagmire in Iraq. The intensity faded and Osama was free to breathe. Bahri describes Osama as a calm person, very soft-spoken, much given to reciting verses from the Koran and from poetry, nearly all of it jehadi. The only thing that seems to really rile him up is mention of America. "I think from the very beginning of his childhood he hated America," he says. "I don’t know why. He won’t even drink a Pepsi." The Newsweek account reveals how despite being cut off from bin Laden for several years, Al Bahri remains an Al Qaeda supporter.

The money trail to militants

by Declan Walsh from The Mail & Guardian

Many militant donations are disguised as zakat, the annual Muslim charity tax, and channelled through a shadowy nexus of radical mosques, madaris (madrasas) and charities. In Pakistan zakat -- one of the five pillars of Islam -- is levied by the state. But in oil-rich Gulf States Muslims also send zakat abroad -- an estimated £50-million a year from Saudi Arabia. That money has helped fund an explosion of mosques and madaris in Pakistan; some also ends up in the coffers of militant groups. "There's a lot of people in the Gulf, particularly the rich merchant class, who feel a religious obligation to fund charities. They don't think too hard about where it goes," said Robert Baer, an ex-CIA agent and Middle East expert. The Saudi money is the most visible in North West Frontier Province. In Peshawar the number of madaris has increased from 13 in 1980 to more than 150 today, according to one study. One of the most recent is the £500 000 Jamia Asaria, a sprawling complex amid the green maize fields on the city outskirts.

US in ‘back to future’ mode

by David Ignatius from The Washington Post

The Bush Administration. beyond the daily temperature readings about the progress of the US troop surge in Baghdad, is making a subtle but important shift in its strategy for the Middle East – establishing containment of Iranian power in the region as a top American priority. A simple shorthand for this approach might be “back to the future,” for it is strikingly reminiscent of American strategy during the 1980s after the Iranian revolution. The cornerstone is a political-military alliance with the dominant Sunni Arab powers – especially Saudi Arabia ... “The message to Iran is, we’re still powerful, we protect our friends, we’re not going away,” explains a senior State Department official ... In “back to the future” mode, the name being mentioned these days is Ayad Allawi, a former Baathist who was interim prime minister and has strong support among Sunnis, even though he’s a secular Shi’ite. Allawi has bundles of money now to help buy political support, but it comes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, rather than the US The administration will continue to “turn up the heat” on Iran, says the State Department official.

Hoekstra: Iraq goal no longer should be democracy

by Kathy Barks Hoffman from Associated Press

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said he supported the goal of establishing a democracy when the Iraq war first started. But after visiting Iraq, he no longer thinks that is going to happen anytime soon, if it happens at all. "I've met with ... some of the Sunni tribal chiefs. ... They're not looking for a county commission to tell them what to do," he said. "They have a thousand years of experience of tribal culture that says, 'This is how we deliver services, keep security and stability in our neck of the woods. We're not necessarily looking for an overlay of this.'" ... Hoekstra said it's clear other Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are not going to step up and support Iraq's efforts to move toward democracy because it would cause internal problems in their own countries.

US helps Saudis train oil security force

from AFP

Saudi authorities have recruited around 5,000 members of the Facilities Security Force and plan to raise the number to 8,000-10,000 over the next two years as an interim target, the Nicosia-based Middle East Economic Survey said. The plan to set up a 35,000-strong force to guard oil and other vital installations was announced in July by Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz as the oil powerhouse continues to battle suspected Al-Qaeda militants ... The decision to recruit from outside the ranks of the existing armed forces and security services has necessarily slowed the process. Saudi Arabia already maintains a 75,000-strong army, an air force of 18,000, a navy of 15,500 and an air defence force of 16,000, according to MEES. These formal armed forces are on top of the 75,000-man National Guard, a tribal force loyal to the Al Saud ruling family.

Springtime in the desert

by Dana Moss from The Guardian

The very steps the kingdom needs to take to integrate women into economic life and create an environment tempting for foreign businesses are often the ones resisted most strenuously. Making the situation even trickier for King Abdullah and progressive princes is the overlap between those opposing reforms and the strict Wahhabi clergy who provide the House of Saud with the religious sanction necessary for its rule. Characteristic of such hostility from the religious elite is the reaction of the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, to the mixing of men and women - conventional practice in international business terms. In 2004, after witnessing mingling during the Jeddah Economic Forum, he issued a furious reprimand: "I am pained by such shameful behaviour ... allowing women to mix with men is the root of every evil and catastrophe."