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June 27, 2006

don't need no education

The New York Times has an upbeat story about education in Iraq, claiming that between 2002 and 2005 primary school enrolment rose 7.4%, and middle/high school enrolment by 27%.

So, a cautious cheer. But the article claims that "direct attacks on schools have been relatively rare". I don't see how that can be true when the Ministry of Education reports 417 attacks on schools since November.

I'm sure I've also seen reports that, while school enrolment may be up, attendance is noticeably down, as frightened parents keep their children at home.

Planes and pipedreams: India in Central Asia

In a Eurasianet commentary, Stephen Blank asks what impact India's Central Asian expansion will have on its relations with Pakistan.

On the one hand, India is moving into Ayni air-base in Tajikistan, where they will station 12-14 MiG-29 planes. That'll let them threaten Pakistan from the rear, which won't do much to build up confidence.

On the other hand, they're getting involved in several energy projects which might bind South Asia closer together. Two potential pipelines from Iran and Turkmenistan will both pass through Afghanistan and Pakistan, and India is also keen on America's REMAP plan, which will build energy links between Central and South Asia, while excluding Russia and China. So in the future a war with Pakistan might require India to throw away its energy security, and hence a chunk of its economy.

Or at least, that's the argument. No doubt there is somewhere an academic literature on whether pipeline-building really does improve peace prospects; I'd be interested to track it down one day.

June 26, 2006

Read all about it

This is a post that's going to grow over time, as I find more things to add to it. It's a list of useful places to pick up news and analysis of Eurasian politics:

South Asia, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus, China and Russia.


Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is the bomb. So is EurasiaNet

YaleGlobal doesn't have much volume, but does have the ivy-league smarts.

Eurasia Daily Monitor: a firehose, but a good one.

Russian-language newspapers:Kavkazweb, Day.AZ (Azerbaijan), Yandex, Izvestia, Redtram (in English, French, Russian)

Others: Power and Interest News Report

Think Tanks

Institute for Public Policy (Kyrgyzstan)

SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute,

Central Asia general

Ferghana.ru naturally enough centers on the Ferghana Valley.

Central Asia - Caucasus Analyst - has been criticised in several places, and I don't know nearly enough to judge for myself.

News by country


New Eurasia has a list of news sites in the sidebar:


UzReport - business-oriented news from Uzbekistan.


China.org.cn is 'China's official gateway to news and information'. Then there is Xinhua, the state news agency.


Institute for the Analysis of Global Security Neo-con writings on energy geopolitics, from a US-centric perspective. Include several reports on the former Soviet Union.

June 24, 2006

Formica report

More details emerge about what American interrogators have been doing to jailed Iraqis. The New York Times has some details:

One prisoner was fed only bread and water for 17 days. Other detainees were locked up for as many as seven days in cells so small they could neither stand up nor lie down, while interrogators played loud music that disrupted their sleep.

What I find most depressing is what the report finds acceptable:

three detainees were held in cells four feet high , four feet deep, and 20 inches wide, except to go to the bathroom, to be washed or to be interrogated. He concluded that two days in such confinement "would be reasonable; five to seven days would not."

I've spent a few minutes looking unsuccessfully for the text of the report - I suspect it will be linked here in due course.

Yes, you should talk to terrrorists

How do you expect to manage negotiations if you won't talk to the people attacking you?

This is a perfect case of pride, thoughtlessness and ill-considered patriotism making peace harder to achieve.

The Senate's debate over the war in Iraq turned highly emotional this afternoon, as the lawmakers reacted to reports of the killing of two American soldiers by adopting two measures opposing amnesty for Iraqis who attack United States troops. By a vote of 79 to 19, the Senate voted to declare that it objects to any such amnesty. By 64 to 34, the lawmakers voted to commend the new Iraqi government for not granting amnesty.

Also, does nobody (*) think it might be worth encouraging the Iraqi government to make decisions on its own, without undermining it even further by making it look like an American puppet

  • OK, apparently Senator John W Warner does think this. Yay for him!

Uzbekistan Roundup

A second roundup for today, and probably the last one I'll be doing now. I feel as though I now have enough background knowledge to be able to start blathering about things as they happen, rather than always looking backwards.

Same pattern as usual for Uzbekistan: first the international angle, then the domestic.

International Politics

It's impressive how much of Uzkeb diplomacy is still being affected by the Andijon massacre and its aftermath. After May 2005, when the violent suppression of a protest in Andijon killed several hundred people, the West ostricised Uzbekistan, triggering a realignment which has changed the political map of Central Asia.

China, on the other hand, was unconcerned by the human rights aspect, and shortly afterwards welcomed Islam Karimov to Beijing and dreamt up a $600m oil deal. This made particular sense, because China was able to paint the Andijon massacre as a crackdown on radical Islam.

The same is true with Russia. Gazprom and Lukoil are moving deeper into Uzbekistan, and a November 2005 mutual defence pact between the two countries.

Through the SCO - an international grouping without Western involvement, and which is therefore much less hobbled by concerns about human rights - Uzbekistan has been deepening its relationship with China, and to a lesser extent with Russia.

As for other Central Asian states: relations with Tajikistan re bad - the two states have a long list of minor disputes such as Uzbekistan laying land-mines on the border, and allegations that each state is protecting terrorists and insurgents targetting the other. But there is no reason why Uzbekistan and Tajikistan couldn't become much closer, if some practical reason emerged for them to be nice to each other.

Domestic politics

Democracy? Ha! Uzbekistan is being criticised by everyone: Germany, Human Rights Watch, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights - plus Craig Murray and the rest of the usual suspects.

Amnesty has taken up the case of an ethnic Uighur detained in Uzbekistan, and may be at risk of extradition to China. This comes via China Activist Weekly, which I just discovered a couple of minutes ago. It's dedicated to encouraging activism targetted at China - very worthy, and certainly deserving of promotion.

In a similar vein, an official is jailed as a US spy, an Irish NGO gives $19,000 to an Uzbek NGO allegedly linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir, and another activist is jailed without charge

Islam is pretty central to the political and cultural development of Uzbekistan. New Eurasia has been posting about it.

The rise of fear about political Islam, both internationally and within Central Asia, has made the Uzbek government see Islam in a very negative light. Previously uncontroversial elements like social work conducted by religious communities are now reinterpreted as fundamentalist threats to state authority. The fear and loathing is nothing compared to during Soviet times, when religion was forced underground.

However, as Nick points out, the Uzbek government crackdown on extreme Islam tends to also catch those involved in more moderate - and politically harmless - forms of the religion. More on this some time in the future, no doubt!

Kyrgyzstan roundup

Another day, another country. Kyrgyzstan feels particularly fascinating today, for some reason.

Since the March 2005 'tulip revolution', Kyrgyzstan has been trying to force the US out of Manas air base, which is crucial as a refuelling stop near to Afghanistan. The public line of the Kyrgyz side is that this is all about money - they don't mind the US, but they want to raise the rent 100 times over. The annual rent is currently some $2m; paying 100 times that would be quite incredible. But the politics comes back from the fact that 20-odd miles away, in Kant, there is a Russian air base, for which no rent is being charged.

Every now and again there's another border incident with Uzbekistan. So far it doesn't amount to much, but it can't help when the president warns that anybody armed and illegally crossing the border will be shot.

In the south, near the Ferghana valley, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and similar Islamist groups remain a threat. Add to this the proliferation of small arms and the drug-trafficking route from Afghanistan through Osh to Russia or Europe, and you see a problem emerging.

On the Chinese front, you can see the usual story of Chinese economic expansion into Central Asia. President Bakiev visited China on June 9-10, and he and the Chinese signed an agreement on a railway and a cement factory.

What about domestic politics? The powers that be are president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Prime Minister Felix Kulov. This 'tandem' has been running Kyrgyzstan since May 2005, and according to a recent poll the Kyrgyz are mostly happy about it. 54% overall, and 72% in the South, believe "the country is headed in the right direction"

There's a surprisingly active political scene, with protests popping up all over the place - and in some cases seemingly influencing the government. As IWPR says,

Demonstrations are so commonplace in Kyrgyzstan that a gathering of 700 people in the centre of the southern city of Jalalabad might seem nothing out of the ordinary

On April 29 and May 27 major protests called for reform and for action against corruption and crime - but see these posts questioning whether the protests were as big as claimed, pointing out that some groups didn't take part, and that the aims of the demonstration were very unclear. Now here is a case where protesters broke into Bakiev's presidential compound.

Meanwhile members of the Uzbek minority aren't happy. And the "Unity" party has launched a campaign in favour of the Russian language.

As those protests suggest, government corruption and inefficiency are hot (or at least lukewarm) issues. Former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev is facing corruption charges, and Bakiev is cancelling vacation for officials until the end of the year. Prime Minister Felix Kulov is proposing a change to the constitution, which would reduce the pwoers of the president and let parliament appoint the prime minister.

Despite NewEurasia commentary, I don't understand the story with media reform in Kyrgyzstan. What would this media law reform mean, for example? See more here

June 22, 2006

International organisations in the former Soviet Union

Enough of going through country by country. Time to prod the regional organisations. For once these seem to be acting as more than talking shops, and the tectonic plates of regional politics are moving in time with the rise and fall of the three major groupings.

These three are the declinging CIS, the grouping of post-Soviet states which is inexorably declining to a talking-shop, as Russia tries to take advantage of smaller states without having the financial or military power to back up its arrogance.

Then there are the rising powers filling the gap filled by the collapse of CIS. These are the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with China as the driving force, the five Central Asian states as members, and Russia, inside the club but apparently quite weak within it. It seems fairly likely that Iran - currently an observer - will be granted membership in due course.

Then there is GUAM - the name a simple acronym for the four member-states Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. It may be smaller, but it has backing from America and to some extent from the EU, and the members are both converging in their political systems and moving ever-further out of Russia's sphere of influence.

So what we have is the Western sphere of influence expanding to include the Caucasus, the Chinese sphere of influence extending to cover everything East of the Caspian, and Russia scrabbling to keep its claws in wherever it can.

More details of all three groups is below the cut

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

The SCO has been going for 10 years, but its rise to significance has been much more recent. Right now it feels unstoppable.

Although they haven't repeated last years request for the US to abandon its military bases in Central Asia, the threat remains, and if they did it would be taken serously.

The potential involvement of Iran in the SCO is fascinating. A deal to include Iran, which currently has only observer status, would mean great power for China over oil supplies, a route to the West, and near-encirclement of South Asia.

Here is a short analysis of the history of the organization. From there, it seems the SCO's big selling point is being an international organisation without human rights written in at every step. When the IMU got going in 1999-2000, the SCO got into the anti-terrorism game. Then when the West started to shun Uzbekistan after the Andijon massacre, the SCO stepped into the void and once again built up its status.

Russia is still part of the SCO, but is hardly the driving force

On paper, it is hard to point to exactly what came out of June's SCO summit - but it looks as though there was a great deal of discussion there, and probably some significant back-room deals.


The CIS is dying, and being killed mostly by the arrogance and thoughtlessness of the Russian diplomatic elite. Accustomed to situations where they wield total power over the 'near abroad', they seem not to realise that it they make unreasonable demands on CIS states, they will merely shift their attention away.

Georgia recently threatened to leave the CIS. Russian politicians threatened everything they could think of in retalliation, including total trade sanctions, but its quite possible that Geogia will follow through with its plan. In that case, it is possible that they would be followed by some of the other pro-Western CIS states.


As with the SCO, GUAM was a minor player until it was lifted up by other political events. In this case it was the 'colour revolutions', the coups bringing a new generation of extremely pro-western leaders into power in Georgia and the Ukraine. Then Russia went for a policy of incomprehensible petty vindictiveness against Georgia, all but pushing it out of its sphere of influence.

In recent weeks, there has even been talk of GUAM peacekeeping forces, quite likely as an excuse to kick Russian soldiers out of Georgia.

Kazakh roundup

First roundup since Tuesday, but at least I'm gradually making my way through the region. Today, the news from Kazakhstan, international, domestic, and fluffy.

International politics

Kazakhstan continues to cooperate with China in abusing the human rights of Uighur dissidents. They're also still snuggling up with Russia. RFE/RL interprets this as part of a wider change in policy: before they were balancing Russia against the US, now they're turning against America and concentrating more on Russia and China.

The Iranian nuclear crisis is something Kazakhstan is trying to keep out of, but being inevitably drawn into. So it's taken a middle of the road approach, defending peaceful nuclear power, opposing the bomb, and pointing out the hypocrisy of the international comunity.

Also, Nazarbaev has been talking to just about everyone: Turkey, Tajikistan, the EU, even Dick Cheney.

This whirl is mainly about oil (who'da thunk it?). After years of 'will they? won't they?' speculation, Kazakhstan has finally joined the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. The US and Turkey obviously like that, but the US also wants Kazakh oil exported southwards to India and Pakistans.

Domestic politics

Freedom House doesn't like the state of democracy in Kazakhstan. Neither does anyone else, but I'm reluctantly coming round to the Registan viewpoint, that talking about it just pushes Kazakhstan (or other central asian states) closer to China and Russia. On the other hand elections are planned for October - how free they are remains to be seen.

I've no idea how big an issue media freedom? is within Kazakhstan, but outside pundits have been talking about it a great deal recently.

I suspect it's mainly connected to the falling-out between president Nazarbaev and his daughter, Darigha Nazarbaeva, who controls much of the country's media and is also launching her own political party

Nazarbaev is retalliating by nationalising Dariga's media group. The justification is 'information security', which sounds like a cross between trendy American military thinking and a post-Soviet bureaucratic mentality. RFE/RL has some more on this.

On the other hand, somebody is currently spending a year in jail because he accused Dariga Nazarbaeva's husband of involvement in killing an opposition politician.

More civil rights issues: a politician jailed for 5 years. The leader of the same party, For a Just Kazakhstan, has been barred from travelling to Astana, where he would have met Dick Cheney. So lets chalk this human rights abuse up to loathing of America.

Culture, environment, and similar fluffiness

I'm very disappointed to have missed Waldemr Januszczak touring the Kazakh modern art scene. Also, I'd love to know more about New Age religions there: it's wonderful to image the Hare Krishnas being a threat to national security on the Central Asian steppes.

Something slow-burning but major: the desertification of Kazakhstan. In the end, it comes down to Soviet farming policies and irrigation projects

Finally, some 'grand overambitious project' news: Kazakhstan has just launched a satellite into space. I don't know much about satellites, but apparently this is a TV/communications satellite. Does that mean we might see the emergence of more Central Asian regional satellite broadcasts?

June 20, 2006

Georgia roundup

Another roundup of news over the past month or two, this time devoted to Georgia, and marginally more successful than my attempts with Azerbaijan.

Here's what's going on: disputes with Russia, threatening to leave the CIS, police behaviour, the ubiquitous oil, and the ramping-up of competition for local elections at the end of the year.

Let's start with the international stuff. Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili has been talking to Vladimir Putin: nobody seems to think it will make much of a difference, but Russia doesn't want trouble during the G8 summit in July. Georgia's relations with Russia have been declining steadily over the past decade, as under first Eduard Shevardnadze and now Mikhail Saakashvili Georgia strongly aligned itself with Europe rather than Russia. The hostility is now fuelled by a Russian ban on wine exports from Georgia, and in the longer term by Russian support for separatists in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The dispute with Russia has led to Georgia threatening to leave the CIS. Since the CIS is now completely overshadowed by GUAM in the West and by the SCO in Central Asia, leaving it might not mean much - apart from the likelihood that Russia would retalliate with serious trade sanctions, destroying a large amount of Georgia's export earnings. On the other hand, Russia has overplayed its cards by threatening much of this whether or not Georgia leaves the CIS, so in Tbilisi it probably appears that Georgia doesn't have much more to lose. Saakashvili will be meeting Bush on July 5, where no doubt America will offer some degree of public or private support to Georgia in its battles against Russia.

Georgia is also trying to look out for itself; it massively increased arms spending last year, increasing it by 143% to $146m. This apparently puts the country in a suitable position to host a conference on the eradication of small arms

So much for the grand strutting on the world stage. Internally, it's the usual oil, violence, and a half-hearted stab at democracy. Now the pipeline is complete, worry about what happens to the temporary workers on it who are now unemployed

Meanwhile, for some reason Georgia is trying to privatize its energy industry. Western companies are unlikely to trust Georgia enough to invest there, but Russian companies won't be put off by entanglement in yet another post-Soviet nightmare system. So Saakashvili is implementing a policy likely to give Russia control over one of his country's key indusries?

Local Elections are coming November, including election of the mayor of Tbilisi, a potentially significant figure. Saakashvili is behind the current mayor, Gigi Ugulava. Likely opposition candidates are Koba Dvitashvili (Conservative) and Salome Zourabichvili (Georgia's Way, a new party)

Police behaviour is being questioned very strongly; in January a Georgian was beaten to death by police, in an incident which gained wide public attention and led to calls for the Interior Minister to resign Prisoner abuse is an issue since the death of seven prisoners in a Tbilisi jail in March.

Finally, Murdoch is making his way into the Georgian market. Is it a total sign of my ignorance that I think this could be a good thing? The more forms of free press the better, as far as I'm concerned.


In which I try to find interesting news from Azerbaijan, and fail.

So, I tried to look back at what's been happening in Azerbaijan the past 6 weeks, but most of the news just boils down to oil and security. There were some pieces on democratisation and its opposite, but apart from some minor elections they tended to be fluffy and lacking content. As for culture, the best I've come across is the silliness of even Azeri muslims protesting about the Da Vinci Code film

Obviously next time I need to look harder for interesting news, but for now its energy and killing...

The oil bit

The opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is still causing repercussions - the Eurasia Daily Monitor muses on the implications. Also a splurge of shorter and content-lighter pieces of news - talk of an Azeri-Israeli deal, and the importance of Kazakhstan's willingness to make use of the pipeline.

Here is an interesting figure:

Oil and gas accounted for less than 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s industrial output a decade and a half ago. Today, it represents more than 60 percent, as well as more than half of Azerbaijan’s budget revenue – figures that are both rising.

Now, how much is that down to oil prices, how much to a growing energy industry, and how much to the post-Soviet collapse of the rest of the country's economy?

The security bit

Over the border in Iran, a militant group is formed to defend the rights of Azeris. This comes out of the protests over an anti- Azeri cartoon being printed in an Iranian state newspaper A few Azeri opposition figures are stoking trouble by praising the rebels, but the government is wisely keeping its mouth shut. Iran already claims that foreign instigators are behind the protests; if it retalliates against Azerbaijan, it has a decent chance of undermining their government. Trouble with Iran is part of the reason why Azerbaijan's government is more secular than its population.

Meanwhile the other Iran business, that nuclear kerfuffle, is getting Azerbaijan a little more international attention

Other things potter along: another planned summit on Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh has a knock-on effect on Azerbaijan's foreign relations. Since 1992, US law has prohibited direct aid to Azerbaijan from the American government, on the grounds of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Bush has been waiving this since 2002, and both he and Aliyev want to see it permanently removed.

June 16, 2006

Ramadi besieged

Dahr Jamail claimed that a major Coalition assault on Ramadi is beginning:

the US military has been assaulting the city for months with tactics like cutting water, electricity and medical aid, imposing curfews, and attacking by means of snipers and random air strikes. This time, Iraqis there are right to fear the worst - an all out attack on the city, similar to what was done to nearby Fallujah.

It looks as though he's right. Granted, there has been almost no mention of this in the British press. The US military have given the kind of semi-denial which all but confirms something is happening. According to a Pentagon spokesman discussions of large-scle offensive "may be somewhere off the mark" - but when George Bush himself has spoken of an offensive in Ramadi, "off the mark" likely means little more that that there will be more focus on putting Iraqi rather than American troops in the front line. The Americans, with 1500 troops recently brought from Kuwait to Anbar, will simply be "helping them do that with our own military forces and our forces that operate as embedded trainers and in other ways".

However it is spun, the offensive has already dramatically affected Ramadi for the worse. By one rport some 300,000 Ramadi residents have fled their homes this past week. And we're seeing use of the same tactics which were widely condemned when they were used in Fallujah, Tal Afar and elsewhere.

The city is now virtually cut off, with Al-Jazeera reporting that the roads are blocked, and ."a giant wall of sand has been piled up around the perimiter"

As we have documented in previous campaigns water and electricity supplies have been cut off, possibly as part of an illegal US tactic of denying essential amenities to besieged cities. One report talks of "outages in the water, electricity and phone networks". Dahr Jamail has been told that "Ramadi has been deprived of water, electricity, telephones and all services for about two months now", and former governer of Anbar province has said that:

"The situation is catastrophic. No services, no electricity, no water"

So, all in all it seems we're going back through the same mistakes and crimes seen in a half-dozen previous cases.

June 14, 2006

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting "all but closed down" Shanghai. Huh? This is a city of 10 million people - surely it's crazy to interrupt all that for five days?

China in Africa

Yesterday I found (surprise!) that Chinese foreign policy was a bit much to cover in 500 words. So today I'll retreat to the only slightly more ridiculous idea of covering China's role in Africa. As always now, this is a 'getting my head round things' post, not one actually worth reading.

Ideological involvement

In the Communist past, China's involvement in Africa was concerned with spreading revolution. When Chinese leader Zhou en-lai toured Africa in 1963-4, he was widely (mis-)quoted as saying that "Africa is ripe for revolution", causing Western and African opinion to imagine Chinese influence in the continent as far larger than it was.

In fact, China did little more than lend half-hearted support to some political and militant movements - dabbling in the Congo, for example, and supporting the Sawaba movement in Niger. In the 70s, it involved support for the Angolan anti-colonial military group the FNLA.


Now, money matters more than politics. In 2005, Chinese-African trade leapt by 40% or more.

Previously, this wasn't the case. Even at its high-point in 1977, China-Africa trade was worth only $817m, compared to well over $30 billion in 2005.

As I mentioned yesterday, this is in large part about oil. Not entirely, though: China also needs gold and platinum from Zimbabwe, nickel, cobalt and copper from South Africa, and many other minerals..

Chinese exports to Africa were only slightly lower than its imports. Much of this export trade comes in the form of massive government-linked construction projects, as well as extensive military sales. This is the kind of trade China has been doing for decades, grand projects like the Tanzam railway

Politics, just politics

Economic interests are now driving Chinese political activity in Africa. China has blocked UN action on the Darfur genocide in Sudan, because as the buyer of 50% of the country's massive oil production it does not want to jeopardise relations with that government. In Zimbabwe China has provided military aid and even designed Robert Mugabe's latest mansion, its eye on keeping access to the country's minerals.

China has flattered African leaders with a string of high-profile official visits, including for example one to Gabon by Hu Jintao, and a tour of 6 African countries by China's foreign minister in January this year. It has even been willing to make economic concessions, such as debt cancellation.

World Affairs

Africa doesn't have enough political clout to matter much in terms of other international political issues. Still, China has succeeded in stopping some African states from recognising Taiwan as an independent state, and as necessary it has wooed African votes in international fora.

The African response

Africa's reaction to Chinese interest has not been passive. These comments by Thabo Mbeki of South Africa are typical: pleasure at the opportunity for selling raw materials, combined with a concern over the nature of the trade. In the long run, Africa stands to lose out if its position is selling raw materials to China, and importing finished products which harm the development of industries within Africa.

Extraordinary Rendition

Nothing here that you couldn't better read elsewhere; summary for my own amusement under the cut

A few days ago, just about every newspaper covered a report on extraordinary rendition from the Council of Europe. This is one of those odd institutions I've never properly understood, but if it's left to them to keep an eye out for human rights abuses then so be it.

In November 2005, Human Rights Watch and Dana Priest of the Washington Post claimed that the CIA was using secret detention centres in Poland and Romania. Putting prisoners outside standard judicial processes means abandoning most of the checks which could correct mistakes. The jargon term "erroneous renditions is now being used to cover these cock-ups where the CIA seizes, transports and imprisons an innocent person.

The British angle

As far as I can see, the report hardly turns up any evidence of naughtiness by the British government.

In their submission about rendition to the Council of Europe the British government wash their hands of involvement in rendition, but do so in a way that leaves them plenty of wiggle-room. This says that since 1998 the US had four times requested permission to 'render a detainee through UK territory or airspace', and had twice been allowed. It says that the UK 'expects' the US to request permission for rendition - but makes no claim to be monitoring this. As Amnesty argues, "governments should have systems in place to ensure that planes passing through their territory are not being used for criminal purposes",

Amnesty goes much further than Marty in identifying British involvement. In a new report they accuse Britain of being a "partner in crime" - in particular, of being complicit in the rendition of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, two Iraqis resident in the UK. According to Amnesty, the British government passed the travel plans of these men to the American government, allowing them to be seized in Gambia.

The legal situation

The legal elements of extraordinary rendition don't bother me so much. Even if Britain didn't have any legal obligation to prevent the USA using British airspace for rendition, they would certainly have a moral obligation. You can rely on Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the rest to dig out the legal requirements, and handle the to-and-fro on whether the '[Chicago Convention(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_convention)' gives non-commercial aircraft the right to avoid the law.

So I'll sidestep the whole legal issue with one line from the Council of Europe report: "Hardly any country in Europe has any legal provisions to ensure an effective oversight over the activities of foreign agencies on their territory”

The other British argument is that "this has always happened". The argument only works because it disarms a certain clique of left-wing cynics, who believe (not always incorrectly) that the CIA has been involved in every case of international torture since the dawn of time. This analysis goes a short way towards demolishing that idea.

...and again, I've bitten off far too big a topic to get the hang of in one post. I'll leave it at this 500 words, and might or might not return to it one day.

June 13, 2006

China, oil, Tibet and Xinjiang

This began with me wanting to have a look at China's foreign policy, but that's far too huge a topic to take in one bite. All that you get under the cut is a bit about Xinjiang, Tibet, and oil politics. If you want the rest (or something better-informed), go watch the BBC documentary on China that's showing right now.

Territorial Integrity

China is very concerned that it should not be torn apart as a country, in the manner of the Balkans or the Soviet Union. Sinkiang (Xinjiang) and Tibet could potentially rebel, and Taiwan is still seen by the Chinese government as part of Chinese territory.

The threat posed is not just the loss of these regions, but also the possibility that other parts of China could be inspired to rebellion by events there. Inner Mongolia is one particular threat: unlikely to rebel as things stand now, but it might follow in the footsteps of any rebellion in Xinjiang.

That said, both Xinjiang and Tibet are particularly valuable to China. Xinjiang, in addition to its historical role as a buffer zone, is now China's main site for nuclear tests, and also for some military exercises. More crucially, Xinjiang contains some of China's most promising oilfields, in the Turpan, Junggar and Tarim oil basins, the last of which may contain as much as 147 billion barrels.

Tibet, meanwhile, is the source of much of the water for China and the rest of Eurasia, and possession of Tibet would give China a military advantage in any conflict with India.

Chinese policy, domestic and foreign, is therefore focussed on retaining control of these regions. Internally, it has involved repression of regional feelings, reducing the ability of Islam and Buddhism to catalyse rebellion, and moving other ethnic groups into these regions to water down anti-Chinese sentiment.

Externally, China has tried to isolate potentially rebellious ethnic groups from potential supporters. In the case of Tibet, this is largely confined to cutting the region off from external contact. With Xinjiang, it has involved a slightly more active policy in Central Asia, trying to dampen the Islamic fervour in the Ferghana valley


By now China's thirst for oil is proverbial: once something turns up on the West Wing, you know it's jumped the shark.

But oil really is as important for China as all that. You can see it not just in the Central Asia policy, the deals with Russia, the grand talk of pipelines. It's even bringing the country into Africa,which now provides 25% of its energy imports. Foreign policy is bent to accommodate this need. Last year, for example, China bought some 50% of Sudan's oil production, twisting its policy towards the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. China may offer arms deals in return for oil supplies: Zimbabwe, for example, exports much oil to China, and in 2004 benefitted from a $200m deal to buy Chinese weaponry.

And, for now, that's it. As always, there is the threat of more to come, next time I get my head in gear.

June 6, 2006

Things fall apart, including the drains

Slight break from the usual "OMG Iraq is falling into civil war", to look at the humanitarian and government services side of things. Y'know: health, education, roads - they're all falling apart as well. Going through the reports would take all day, so I'm chickening out and mainly going on summaries and news reports. Bad Dan!

[the below slides into lj-style grumbling every few sentences, and as usual never got fully finished. I put it here as penance, not out of any hope that it'll be read. Go read Juan or Helena if you want something informative and well-written]

Overall, services aren't doing so well. The money isn't there, or has been diverted into security


In April, the BBC reported that Basra's hospitals are 'in crisis', with one doctor claiming that mortality had risen 30% since 2003

Missan (not somewhere I've heard much about at all) has a problem with tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases. Solution: more money, better sewers. In Baghdad, skin diseases; it's so tempting to ignore this as trivia, but I'm sure skin diseases can be pretty nasty things.

The IRIN has a summary of healthcare in Iraq which is over a year old, but has the interesting (WHO) figure that "$20 million per month is all that is needed to keep the health system functioning"

Basra tends to have problems with communicable diseases over the summer, which are exacerbated by poor water and electricity supplies.

Oh, and for the sake of buzzword compliance, Iraq has it all: AIDS, bird flu, radiation.

More serious is the child malnutrition problem - doubtless Colin could give sensible context on how this compares to the situation under sanctions in the 90s, but I can't. Meh!

Oooh, and drugs. Don't forget about the drugs!


This shocked me. As of a year ago, "An extimated 60 percent of Iraq's population is now illiterate" [IRIN]


I think I've lost the obsessive geekiness needed to get excited about water in Iraq. Too bored to start dredging the web for reports about it, and I think I'd just get lost halfway through the figures and stop. So again, I'll stick to IRIN wsaying that before the war, Iraq's water purification plants pumped out 3 million cubic metres of water every day. In May 2004 they were working at 65% of that level, and now....who knows?

I've resorted to searching through US Water News in the hope of finding thrilling things about Iraq. No luck yet; the best is a fact-light article from August, which basically comes down to "if you screw up the water supply, people get angry", and runs through a couple of cases where that's happened in Iraq.

Unsorted links

Last week, I planned to force myself into writing daily updates here, and it just isn't working. It's a pity, because I'm sure I'd be a lot happier if I forced myself to do something every day. When I'm in a foul mood I tend to gnash my teeth at politics, and I need a bit more coherence to write about anything else. It does help to know that nobody's reading, though!

Anyway, today has been a crappy day and so I'm taking the coward's way out: a collection of interesting links, with no theme beyond the usual focus on Iraq and the former Soviet bloc.

In the Atlantic, Fred Kaplan has a subscription-only article about Enduring Bases in Iraq - nice to see that meme gradually picking up steam, and moving into the mainstream.

Chernobyl means 'wormwood' in Ukranian. That gave an apocalyptic flavour to the disaster, because Revelations says:

"And there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."

Much talk of Russia using energy sales for political ends; so what's new? Ditto for Uzbekistan closing down NGOs

New Eurasia is doing cross-regional commentaries on HIV and on Islam as a political force

And that's it. Now I'm going to post this, crack open a can of beer, and mope!

June 5, 2006


Back last week, I started writing a post about Basra. I forgot about it, and so now I'm returning to a half-congealed mess and trying to squeeze it into shape without covering myself in filth.

To recap: last week Nuri Al-Maliki declared a state of emergency over Basra, scheduled to last for the next month. One of many Iraqi politicians spectacularly worried about the situation in the city, he bragged that he was going to crush insurgents with an 'iron fist'. It would be unfairly snarky to point at the 90 people killed or injured by a car bomb on Saturday, wouldn't it?

It's very easy to overlook the lower-level nastiness that's been going on in Basra since 2003. But however much violence there was, it didn't reach the current level, with 140 recorded deaths in May, and doubtless many more that went unreported. The spark came early that month, when a British helicopter crashed, and was soon surrounded by an angry crowd which became a riot. Paul Wood tries to explain away the riot like this:

Basra is like that, changing in the blink of an eye from hostility to warmth and back again. It is almost as if the city can't make up its mind whether it wants the British soldiers to stay or not.

Implausible as that may sound, I think he has a point. Things are bad in Basra - but they aren't uniformly bad, this isn't the first time they've been bad, and Maliki's stance is motivated partly by PR, partly by national politics, and partly by concern about losing control of Basra's oil infrastructure.

Who does what?

There are several different fights going on in Basra, but they all revolve around the Badr Corps, the Mahdi Army, and smaller Shiite militia groups. They're fighting each other, they're fighting the British, and they're using force to impose their moral standards on the population.

The Mahdi Army has a particularly long history of attacks on the Coalition - in Basra, the height of this came in May 2004.

I've no idea who was responsibe for the incident in 2005, when three female university students were apparently killed as punishment for not wearing the hijab. No wonder Basra is becoming ever more socially conservative!

The British and American governments blame the situation in part on Iran, which they claim is training militants and supplying them with weapons

Then there's the provincial government; I get the impression of a lot of drama going on there, which doesn't really make it to British newspapers. Every now and again I hear that the governor or the council has resigned, or that it has stopped talking to the British. And then I don't hear anything else about it, and I'm left feeling totally ignorant.

And what about the British? You always hear about their softly-softly approach, but what about last September, when they drove a tank into a jail in a misguided attempt to bust out a couple of spies.

the economy

The other occasional argument is that the politics don't matter - to understand Basra we just need to look at the economic base.

Back in 2004, food shortages caused anti-British riots. There isn't currently anything quite as serious, but the economic situation is non-dramatically bad. The healthcare system is in collapse, for example.

June 1, 2006

Iraq's refugee crisis

Here's a spectacular piece of ostrich-like behaviour from the US. An American spokesman in Baghdad says:

We're not seeing internally displaced persons at the rate which causes us alarm

Huh? Is this real?

As I wrote a while back, the Samarra bombing at the end of February sparked a refugee crisis which should be alarming everybody. There's no doubt it is happening, and it is ludicrous for the US to explain it away, like they do, as people moving for "personal reasons"

Quible about the numbers if you like; none of the available figures are totally accurate. The IOM estimate has recently risen to 97,900 from a previous 68,000 68,000, bringing it in line with the 100,000 suggested by the Government of Iraq. But, as the IOM explains, these numbers are more likely to be under- than over-estimates:

Discrepancy between di􀆡erent sources of figures are largely due to the fact that population movements are very di􀆥cult to track, as the movements are fluid and changing daily and many of those displaced are in hiding and do not want to publicize the fact that they are displaced. Moreover, as the MoDM figures show, the actual number of displaced persons may be much higher than the quoted figures, particularly given the large extended families and gracious hospitality of many Iraqis under the current di􀆥cult circumstances.

Why are people moving

The US claim that Iraqis are migrating mainly for 'personal reasons' is belied by the facts. According to the IOM:

the majority is being threatened due to their religious orientation, and threats include direct threats to their lives, abductions, assassinations, and an increase in generalized violence and decrease in security.

Not all of those fleeing have received personal threats - in a context of increasing communal violence, many have simply decided that they will be safer among people of their own religion and ethnicity.

In addition to those fleeing communal violence, a great IDPs were forced from their homes by US military actions. According to a report/A92F031851DBD979C1257176005F400D?OpenDocument&count=10000) from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre,

Military operations have caused the most devastation and displacement in western Iraq, in predominantly Sunni areas, where multinational Iraqi forces say the insurgent strongholds are concentrated. During 2005 and early 2006, multinational and Iraqi forces launched regular military offensives in several cities and towns in Anbar province, including Husbaya, Hit, Rawa, Haditha, Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Qa’im. Most of these cities and towns already hosted displaced populations from previous military operations (IRIN, 24 February 2005; UNAMI, 27 February 2005). During the same period, people were displaced because of military operations launched in other parts of the country including in Tal Afar, Karabala, Samarra, Mosul and Kirkuk as well as in areas of Salah al din, Ninewa, Babil and Diyala (UNAMI, 31 August 2005 and 18 May 2005 and 27 February 2005; IRIN, 28 June 2005 and 31 May 2005; ICSC, 13 May 2005; NCCI, 17 May 2006).

And it's only fair to point out that the 100,000 recent refugees are easily outnumbered by the million who were displaced under Saddam, and have not yet returned to their homes. This number includes Marsh Arabs whose homeland was drained, Kurds forced out of Kirkuk through the 'Arabisation' campaign, and many thousands displaced by the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

The majority of these people are moving in with friends or relatives elsewhere in Iraq, with less than 3% living in refugee camps. This has reduced the demands made on aid bodies, but has also made the problem less visible: fields full of emergency tents would at least alert the world to the existence of the problem. But, even when IDPs are able to live with relatives, they will still have trouble finding employment, and will be at a disadvantage in their access to food, water, and other amenities.

I've not yet seen any brilliant suggestions of what we can do to solve this problem, beyond removing te causes - that is, war and sectarian violence. Not likely to happen soon, unfortunately.