Category: Iraq


Pakistan denies army major’s arrest for CIA links

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110615/ap_on_re_mi_ea/cia_pakistan_arrests

By MUNIR AHMED and KIMBERLY DOZIER, Associated Press        Munir Ahmed And Kimberly Dozier, Associated Press–    40 mins ago

ISLAMABAD – The Pakistani army denied Wednesday that one of its majors was among a group of Pakistanis who Western officials say were arrested for feeding the CIA information before the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The New York Times, which first reported the arrests of five Pakistani informants Tuesday, said an army major was detained who copied license plates of cars visiting the al-Qaida chief’s compound in Pakistan in the weeks before the raid.

A Western official in Pakistan confirmed that five Pakistanis who fed information to the CIA before the May 2 operation were arrested by Pakistan’s top intelligence service.

But Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas denied an army major was arrested, saying the report was “false and totally baseless.” Neither the army nor Pakistan’s spy agency would confirm or deny the overall report about the detentions.

Noor Bibi

 

The group of detained Pakistanis included the owner of a safe house rented to the CIA to observe bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, an army town not far from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, a U.S. official said. The owner was detained along with a “handful” of other Pakistanis, said the official.

The Western officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters.

The fate of the purported CIA informants who were arrested was unclear, but American officials told the Times that CIA Director Leon Panetta raised the issue when he visited Islamabad last week to meet with Pakistani military and intelligence officers.

U.S.-Pakistani relations have been strained over the raid by Navy SEALs on Pakistani territory, which embarrassed Pakistan’s military, and other issues.

One of the issues that has caused tension between the two countries is U.S. drone missile strikes targeting militants in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghan border.

Three attacks on Wednesday targeted suspected militant compounds and a vehicles in south and north Waziristan tribal areas, killing at least 15 alleged insurgents, according to Pakistani intelligence officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Pakistani officials often denounce the strikes in public, even though many are believed to support them in private. That support has been strained in the wake of the bin Laden raid, especially since the strikes are unpopular with the Pakistani public.

Officials said the arrests of the suspected informants was just the latest evidence of the fractured relationship between the two nations.

The Times said that at a closed briefing last week, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Michael Morell, the deputy CIA director, to rate Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism operations, on a scale of 1 to 10.

“Three,” Morell replied, according to officials familiar with the exchange, the newspaper said.

American officials speaking to the Times cautioned that Morell’s comment was a snapshot of the current relationship and did not represent the Obama administration’s overall assessment.

“We have a strong relationship with our Pakistani counterparts and work through issues when they arise,” Marie Harf, a CIA spokeswoman, told the newspaper. “Director Panetta had productive meetings last week in Islamabad. It’s a crucial partnership, and we will continue to work together in the fight against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups who threaten our country and theirs.”

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said in an interview with the Times that the CIA and the Pakistani spy agency “are working out mutually acceptable terms for their cooperation in fighting the menace of terrorism. It is not appropriate for us to get into the details at this stage.”

___

Dozier reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

 

Pakistan government skipping chance to weaken army

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110511/ap_on_re_as/as_pakistan_bin_laden_political_fallout

By NAHAL TOOSI, Associated Press Nahal Toosi, Associated Press Wed May 11, 7:06 am ET

ISLAMABAD – The U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden gave Pakistan’s weak civilian government a rare chance to wrest some power away from an influential military establishment that suddenly faced unusual public criticism over its failure to detect the al-Qaida leader and prevent the foreign incursion.

Instead, the ruling party is defending the army and allowing it to investigate its own intelligence fiasco, undermining the notion that Pakistan’s elected leaders will ever be able to assert their full authority in a country prone to military coups. The civilians’ timidity doesn’t bode well for U.S. and Pakistani hopes that the nuclear-armed nation will evolve into a stable democracy.

“The civilian-military imbalance is the greatest threat to Pakistani democracy. It is also the issue the civilian politicians are least capable of tackling,” said Cyril Almeida, a prominent Pakistani commentator.

It’s not easy for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party to take on the army, even as the military brass reel from the humiliation of the U.S. raid.

The May 2 Navy SEALs operation in Abbottabad left bin Laden and at least four others dead, giving the U.S. a huge victory against al-Qaida. Pakistan’s military said it had no warning of the raid, disappointing many citizens, some of whom said the army and intelligence chiefs should resign.

The popular uproar was extraordinary in a country where many live in fear of the security forces.

But the civilian government itself is deeply unpopular. It is generally regarded as less competent than — and at least as corrupt as — the military. Its failure to address the pressing problems in Pakistan — a struggling economy, chronic power shortages, deteriorating security — has disillusioned many Pakistanis who were thrilled to see it take power three years ago after nearly a decade of military rule.

At this point, the government’s sole focus appears to be surviving for a full five-year term. That would be a historic achievement for a democratically elected government in the nation’s 63 years of existence, but one which apparently has left the current administration too nervous to challenge the generals.

The wariness showed in the changing messages that have emanated from Islamabad since the raid on bin Laden’s compound north of the capital. At first, the country’s civilian leaders declared bin Laden’s killing a great victory. But within days, the Foreign Ministry had issued a statement that slammed the U.S. for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty and warned against any future raids. The army issued a similar warning.

At the same time, the military appeared to launch a subtle campaign to shift the blame to the civilians.

Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a People’s Party member who has tangled with the party leadership and is believed to be close to the military, publicly called on President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to resign. That raised many eyebrows considering Gilani and Zardari have essentially no control over security issues, and have ceded to the army much of the country’s foreign policy as well.

On Monday, Gilani addressed Pakistan’s parliament in a speech that appeared heavily influenced by the military and the army-run spy network. Although he said bin Laden’s death was “indeed justice done,” he also heaped praise on his nation’s armed forces and its Inter-Services Intelligence agency. He said “all the intelligence agencies of the world” failed in allowing bin Laden to hide in a garrison town Pakistan.

Instead of appointing an independent, or at least civilian-led, panel to probe the debacle, he said the military would handle the investigation.

That drew criticism from some Pakistanis, who noted that the military does not have much of a history of holding its leadership accountable for mistakes.

For instance, in 1999, then-army chief Pervez Musharraf masterminded an operation at Kargil, a Pakistani push into the Indian-held part of Kashmir. The offensive nearly brought the nuclear-armed neighbors to war, but Musharraf kept his job, and later that year ousted the civilian government.

“The history of heads rolling and the history of people being held to account is not a very bright one in Pakistan,” said Ayaz Amir, an opposition lawmaker.

Some were hoping Gilani would push for a rethink of Pakistan’s entire security policy, which many critics say is too focused on archrival India instead of the threat from Islamist insurgents threatening the Pakistani state. Pakistan’s army has fought three wars with India, including one in 1971 that saw Pakistan’s eastern flank break off and become Bangladesh.

“Gilani did not take this opportunity to launch a kind of transformation or sort of commission that this country desperately requires,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani columnist. “So I think Pakistanis, in general, continue to be confused and continue to want real answers instead of rhetoric.”

In many ways, the most frustrating thing for many Pakistanis is watching the one institution that seemed all-powerful in their downtrodden, struggling country, be so spectacularly hoodwinked by the United States. But it’s also tough to watch the men and women they elect flounder.

“The common man is really pissed off. They’ve lost faith,” said Khawaja Asif, an opposition lawmaker. “You can’t imagine how sad they are feeling.”

___

Nahal Toosi can be reached at http://twitter.com/nahaltoosi. Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

Iraq expects reprisals for bin Laden killing

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110502/wl_nm/us_binladen_iraq

By Waleed Ibrahim and Suadad al-Salhy Waleed Ibrahim And Suadad Al-salhy 45 mins ago

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s army and police went on high alert on Monday for possible revenge attacks in one of al Qaeda’s major battlegrounds after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in a raid on his Pakistan hideout.

Oil infrastructure, power stations and bridges could be targets of militant attacks, security sources said, to prove bin Laden’s death has not disrupted operations in Iraq, still an important arena for the Islamist group eight years after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Former President George W. Bush referred to Iraq as part of the U.S. “war on terror” although no link was found between Saddam’s regime and the September 11 attacks. It became a battlefield for al Qaeda after the invasion.

Iraqi and U.S. forces have scored big victories against al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate but the Sunni Islamist insurgency remains lethal and carries out dozens of attacks each month.

“We have issued orders to intensify security measures in the street,” said Major-General Hassan al-Baidhani of the Baghdad operations command. “We 100 percent expect attacks.”

The Iraqi government welcomed the news of bin Laden’s death.

“The Iraqi government is feeling greatly relieved over the killing of Osama bin Laden, who was the planner and director behind the killing of many Iraqis and destroying the country,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

“VIOLENT REACTION” POSSIBLE

The U.S. military still has about 47,000 troops in Iraq.

“We recognize that the death of bin Laden may result in a violent reaction from al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist organisations that loosely affiliate with the al Qaeda network,” U.S. military spokesman Colonel Barry Johnson said. He would not comment on any changes in operations as a result of the death.

Iraqi security sources said they had received intelligence that al Qaeda would carry out reprisal attacks and that markets, religious shrines and infrastructure could be hit.

“We are expecting that they will attack vital targets like oil institutions, electricity stations and bridges in Baghdad, Basra and the middle Euphrates areas,” a senior anti-terrorism officer said. Oilfields, pipelines and terminals are critical to Iraq’s plans to become a major world producer and to rebuild after decades of dictatorship, war and economic sanctions.

U.S. military officials say counter-terrorism operations have severely degraded al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate and damaged its communications with al Qaeda figures abroad. Leaders Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi were killed in April 2010.

But military commanders still point to al Qaeda for many of the scores of attacks each month, including a bloody siege in late March in Saddam’s hometown, Tikrit, where 58 people were killed, and an attack on a Baghdad cathedral last October.

John Drake, a risk consultant with U.K.-based security firm AKE, said bin Laden’s death would not reduce attacks in Iraq.

“While it still receives foreign funding and foreign recruits, a lot of the planning and execution of attacks is by Iraqi nationals operating independently, but still drawing inspiration from the global al Qaeda movement,” he said.

War-weary Iraqis appeared to welcome the news.

“In my life, I have never seen a criminal like this person (bin Laden), who took the religion of Islam to serve his own purpose,” said Ibrahim Ali Hamdi, 68, a farmer who lost a son to al Qaeda in 2006.

Follow Yahoo! News on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Afghan Taliban declare start to spring offensive

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110430/wl_nm/us_afghanistan_taliban

By Jonathon Burch and Rob Taylor Jonathon Burch And Rob Taylor 2 hrs 18 mins ago

KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban declared the start of a spring offensive across Afghanistan on Saturday, warning they would target foreign troops as well as Afghan security forces and top government officials in a wave of attacks including suicide bombings.

In a statement, the hardline Islamists warned Afghan civilians to stay away from public gatherings, military bases and convoys, as well as Afghan government centers and buildings, as these would be the focus of attacks starting on May 1.

The Taliban statement comes just a day after senior military officials and Western diplomats warned they expected a surge in attacks over the next week, beginning on Sunday.

“The Leadership Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to declare the launching of the spring military operations named as “Badar” to be waged against the invading Americans and their foreign allies and internal supports,” the Taliban said in an emailed statement.

“Operations will focus on attacks against military centers, places of gatherings, airbases, ammunition and logistical military convoys of the foreign invaders in all parts of the country,” the Taliban said.

Senior military officials told Reuters on Friday that recent intelligence reporting indicated the campaign of increased violence would last about a week and would be mounted by the Taliban, supported by the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and other insurgents.

Brigadier General Josef Blotz, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said coalition bases were bolstering security in anticipation of attacks.

“We do know for quite some time already that the insurgency plans an attempt to come out with a surge of violence in certain areas of this country in the next days,” Blotz told Reuters.

The United Nations said it was relocating some of its staff in Afghanistan after receiving “credible threats” of increased attacks in a “number of locations around the country.”

The United Nations has been the target of several insurgent attacks over the past two years. Earlier this month, seven international staff were killed after protesters overran a U.N. compound in northern Mazar-i-Sharif.

The Taliban denied involvement in that attack, but officials said insurgents had been involved in stirring up an already angry crowd.

“As a precautionary measure the United Nations is shifting its staff from some of its regional operational centers into safe locations for a short period. Staff are not leaving their regions and will continue working from these locations,” said Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan.

CIVILIAN WARNING

The Taliban said the targets of the attacks would be foreign forces, high-ranking officials of President Hamid Karzai’s government, members of the cabinet and lawmakers, as well as the heads of foreign and local companies working for ISAF.

“All Afghan people should bear in mind to keep away from gatherings, convoys and centers of the enemy so that they will not become harmed during attacks of Mujahideen against the enemy,” the Taliban said.

Senior military commanders have long anticipated a spike in violence with the arrival of the spring and summer “fighting season,” although the usual winter lull was not seen as U.S-led forces pressed their attacks against insurgents, particularly in the Taliban’s southern heartland.

While Washington and ISAF commanders have trumpeted successes against a growing insurgency since 30,000 extra U.S. troops were sent to Afghanistan last year, the insurgency has shown little sign of abating.

Violence across Afghanistan hit record levels in 2010, with civilian and military casualties the worst since U.S-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001.

The Pentagon said in a report on Friday that an overall increase in violence was due in part to increased targeting of insurgent safe havens and unseasonably mild weather.

The Taliban did not say how long their stepped-up campaign would last, but said it had been codenamed “Badar” after a decisive Muslim 7th century battle victory in western Arabia that Muslims attribute to divine intervention.

In the statement, the Taliban repeated their frequent claim that fighting in Afghanistan would not end until foreign troops had left the country. They also called on Afghan government officials and security forces to switch sides to the insurgency.

Military commanders interviewed by Reuters this week were not sure why May 1 had been chosen by the Taliban to launch their renewed offensive.

The anticipated Taliban campaign would not change the coalition’s counterinsurgency strategy put in place last year by U.S. General David Petraeus, the commander of the 150,000 U.S. and ISAF troops in Afghanistan, they said.

Under a program agreed at a NATO summit last year, ISAF said it will begin handing security responsibility to Afghan forces in several areas from July. The program will end with the withdrawal of all foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.

(Additional reporting by Abdul Saboor; Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Paul Tait)

NATO: Bomb kills 10 in Afghanistan

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110416/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan

By SOLOMON MOORE, Associated Press Solomon Moore, Associated Press 2 hrs 38 mins ago

KABUL, Afghanistan — Like hundreds of thousands of Afghan men, he volunteered in the national army, ran drills in the mud, carried an automatic rifle, and worked alongside coalition mentors struggling against a hardcore insurgency.

But he was not one of them.

On Saturday, he walked into a meeting of NATO trainers and Afghan troops at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in the eastern province of Laghman and detonated a vest of explosives hidden underneath his uniform, killing 10.

Five NATO troopers, four Afghan soldiers and an interpreter were killed in the deadliest sleeper agent assault since November, when an Afghan border policeman shot six U.S. soldiers to death at a base in the eastern province of Faryab.

Four Afghan soldiers and three interpreters were wounded in Saturday’s attack.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing and said the soldier was a sleeper agent who joined the army a month ago_a contention confirmed by an Afghan army official.

“Today, when there was a meeting going on between Afghan and foreign soldiers, he used the opportunity to carry out the attack,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email to reporters.

Attacks by insurgents donning security uniforms are a relatively rare, but recurrent problem as NATO and Afghan forces work more closely together. Afghanistan’s security forces are also ramping up recruitment of Afghan soldiers and policemen so they can take the lead in securing their nation by the end of 2014 — adding more than 70,000 police and soldiers last year in an effort to reach a goal of 305,000 troopers by the end of this year.

Afghan security forces are supposed to be vetted by past employers or even village elders, but in a country where unemployment is about 35 percent, the literacy rate is about 28 percent, and computerized record-keeping is a novelty, background checks are often rudimentary.

The explosion took place at 7:30 a.m., as many people on the base were beginning the morning shift and as NATO and Afghan service members conducted what military officials call a “key leader engagement” meeting according to a NATO spokesman.

Following the explosion, Blackhawk helicopters swooped down to carry the dead and wounded to hospitals.

The bodies of four Afghan soldiers brought to a hospital in Jalalabad were too badly damaged to determine their military rank, said Baz Mohammad Sherzad, the health director in nearby Nangarhar province.

NATO declined to provide further identifying information about its soldiers killed in the blast pending notification of their next of kin.

In the wake of such attacks, often it’s not clear whether the shooter was an Afghan trooper who turned on his Western counterparts spontaneously or an insurgent who donned a uniform to infiltrate the base and attack from inside.

On Friday, a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman blew himself up inside the Kandahar police headquarters complex, killing the top law enforcement officer in the restive southern province. The funeral of Police Chief Khan Mohammad Mujahid, one of Afghanistan’s most prominent law enforcement officials, was attended Saturday by at least 1,500 people including Kandahar Gov. Tooryalai Wesa, Afghan Interior Minister Gen. Bismillah Khan Mohammad, Afghan chief justice Abdul Salam Azimi, and the Afghan president’s half brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai.

Earlier this month, a man wearing an Afghan border police uniform shot dead two American military personnel tasked with helping train members of the country’s security forces in Faryab province.

In February, an Afghan soldier shot and killed three German soldiers and wounded six others in the northern province of Baghlan.

Until Saturday, the worse case of a sleeper agent attack was in November, when an Afghan border policeman shot to death six American soldiers before he himself was shot to death in the eastern province of Nangahar. The policeman had been in the force for three years and had accompanied American troopers for about three months when he opened fire on them.

The Taliban took responsibility for that attack.

___

Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2011/0411/Road-map-to-Libya-peace-comes-as-both-sides-show-signs-of-fatigue

Johannesburg, South Africa

Libyan rebels are studying a truce proposal from the African Union, a day after Libya’s embattled President Muammar Qaddafi signaled that he would be willing to explore a cease-fire to allow humanitarian organizations access to civilians caught in the crossfire.

The AU’s proposed “road map” to peace comes at a time when both Mr. Qaddafi’s forces and the rebels have shown signs of fatigue, with battlefield gains by one quickly erased by the other. A long-term settlement is still far off, as rebels say the only way they’ll agree to open discussions with the regime is if Qaddafi’s forces retreat and if Qaddafi himself steps down. Yet even if the cease-fire proves to be temporary, the AU’s efforts may help to quiet criticism of the AU as ineffective in times of conflict.

“This has significance beyond Libya,” says Steven Friedman, a senior political observer and head of the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg. “Five years ago, some of the responses we are seeing today would not have been possible. We are now at the stage where the AU is willing to step in and intervene in a conflict.”

IN PICTURES: Libya conflict

Presidential panel

A panel of five African presidents, including South African President Jacob Zuma, flew to Tripoli on Sunday to propose the cease-fire on humanitarian grounds, urging both sides to explore dialogue that would lead to a peaceful settlement.

The AU presidents also urged NATO to stop its air campaign against Qaddafi’s forces, a campaign that was itself backed by the United Nations Security Council in the interests of protecting civilians against Qaddafi’s use of heavy weapons in urban areas.

By organizing talks in Libya, the AU is taking back responsibility for resolving conflicts that many African leaders see as having been taken away from them when the UN Security Council approved a “no fly zone” in the spirit of protecting civilians.

In addition to its work in Libya, the AU has also been active in trying to broker peace talks in Ivory Coast, albeit with much less success so far. The AU has sent several high-level delegations to persuade incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and President-elect Alassane Ouattara to support a cease-fire and explore the possibility of a power-sharing government. Both men claim to have won the Nov. 28, 2010, runoff elections, although Mr. Ouattara’s claim has the benefit of broad support from the international community as well as the Ivory Coast’s own independent electoral commission.

‘Libyans must decide’

In Tripoli on Monday, the AU commissioner for peace and security, Ramtane Lamamra, told reporters that “it’s not up to any outside force, even the African Union itself, to decide on the behalf of the Libyan people on who the leader of the country should be.”

President Zuman of South Africa portrayed Qaddafi’s acceptance of the proposed “road map” to peace as a victory for the AU, and urged NATO to curb its aerial attacks.

“[Qaddafi’s] delegation has accepted the road map as presented by us,” Zuma said after meeting Qaddafi. “We have to give cease-fire a chance.”

But analysts caution against a plan that Qaddafi could see as bolstering his long-term prospects.

“If the deal is simply intended to allow humanitarian relief to have access, I don’t think anyone will have a problem with that,” adds Mr. Friedman. “The fear is that this will be an attempt to prop him [Qaddafi] up and keep him in power.”

IN PICTURES: Libya conflict

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110407/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya_anchorwoman

By DIAA HADID and HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, Associated Press Diaa Hadid And Hadeel Al-shalchi, Associated Press Thu Apr 7, 7:54 am ET

TRIPOLI, Libya – Hala Misrati once wrote romance tales about lost love. Now she’s the ferocious face of Libya’s regime, a star talk-show host on state TV lashing out daily against Moammar Gadhafi’s enemies.

She railed against a Libyan woman who claimed to Western journalists she had been raped by Gadhafi militiamen, calling her a “liar” and suggesting she was a “whore.” On live TV, Misrati grilled an arrested journalist for an hour with all the doggedness of a secret police interrogator.

“Say the things that you said in your recordings!” she barked at the journalist, Rana al-Aqbani, apparently referring to taped recordings of al-Aqbani’s phone calls, as she tried to make her acknowledge that she sought Gadhafi’s ouster. Al-Aqbani, a Tripoli-based journalist, has since disappeared.

With her attack-dog demeanor, Misrati stands out even in the field of presenters of state-run news channels throughout Arab countries, whose autopilot response has been to denounce protesters in the anti-government uprisings around the Middle East.

“She’s clearly a very strong mouthpiece for the pro-Gadhafi forces,” said Dina Eltahawy, a researcher for Amnesty International, which has issued an urgent alert to try find al-Aqbani.

Misrati appears daily on her hour-long call-in show, “Libya on This Day” on the state-run satellite channel, Al-Jamahiriya 2.

In her 30s, with long dark hair, heavy makeup and often decked out in gaudy outfits, she often gives long monologues crusading against Libya’s rebels, the NATO-led alliance bombing Gadhafi troops from the air and anyone perceived of sympathizing with them or fueling the campaign against Gadhafi. That includes Western media and, particularly, the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera, which she refers to as “the pig channel” in a rhyming play on words — the Arabic word for pig is “khanzeera.”

Libya’s crisis has made her a star — beloved by Gadhafi supporters and viewed with a mix of loathing and bemused fascination by the opposition.

Miriam al-Amani, a 23-year-old student in Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital in eastern Libya, called Misrati “a clown.”

She said Misrati was not well known before, but her new incarnation since the uprising made her famous. “Now she’s well known. Everyone in Libya knows who she is,” al-Amani said with a laugh. “She lies so badly that nobody believes what she says,” added al-Amani, who studies medicine at Benghazi’s Garyounis University.

In contrast, an upper-class woman having tea with friends at a five-star hotel in the capital Tripoli was full of praise for Misrati.

“Libya runs through her veins,” said the woman, a Gadhafi supporter. “She is bold. She has been able to show the truth in Benghazi and tell us what it’s really like over there, no one else was brave enough to tell it how it is.” The woman spoke on condition of anonymity because her husband holds a job in the state.

In one show, Misrati blasted Libya’s U.N. ambassador, Mohamed Shalgham, who turned against Gadhafi, calling him “ignorant” and “an idiot” and saying “he is good for nothing but barking like a dog.”

In another, she said the prominent Qatar-based Muslim cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi was “the devil” after he criticized Misrati. “Al-Qaradawi is too stupid to judge me or (Libya’s) press,” she coolly said.

Her fiercest diatribe came against Iman al-Obeidi, a Libyan woman who last month burst into a Tripoli hotel where Western journalists are staying and told them she had been gang-raped by troops before security officials dragged her out.

“Iman, in the end, is a liar,” Misrati said in a 10-minute rant, accusing al-Obeidi of pulling a media stunt. She dismissed her claims, saying no Arab woman would bring shame on her family by publicly admitting to rape. She told viewers that it was rebels who were raping women in the eastern territories they control. Misrati urged al-Obeidi to come clean with the truth because her claims were fueling the “bombardment” of Libya.

“Even sometimes a whore has nationalism toward her homeland, when she knows her homeland is in danger!” Misrati sneered. “Even a whore!”

Misrati has since vowed to “uncover” al-Obeidi’s real life.

She aired footage of a later attempt to interview al-Obeidi. Misrati’s film crew taunts the woman, who is seen curled up on the ground and refuses to be interviewed. It ends suddenly with Misrati screaming at al-Obeidi, “You and your kind have frittered away this country!”

Days later, Misrati conducted an interrogation on live television of al-Aqbani, a Syrian-Libyan journalist who the rights group Amnesty International said was snatched from her Tripoli home along with her brother by plainclothes gunmen on March 28.

Misrati accused her of helping prompt the international air campaign with her reports. As the defiant al-Aqbani tried to explain herself, Misrati interjected, “Sometimes a person lives in a fantasy … But when you take fantasy outside (your head), without realizing, you pass on rumors and mistakes, and we pay the price of those mistakes under shelling.”

Misrati later reassured her viewers that al-Aqbani wont be put to death. “She and her friends are not the head of the snake. Maybe the tail.”

Eltahawy of Amnesty International said the whereabouts of al-Aqbani and her brother remains unknown.

Opponents relish in posting YouTube videos of her bloopers. In one famous misstep, she insisted that Muslims could not accept the U.N.’s move to “adopt” the resolution authorizing airstrikes over Libya, because Islam bans adoption — of children.

Misrati’s launch as a fierce defender of Gadhafi’s regime is all the more striking considering her past. In 2009, she was pulled off air during a live interview and interrogated by security officers, according to a report on the incident by the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli released on the WikiLeaks site.

Misrati was interviewing Mustafa Zaidi, a senior member of the Revolutionary committees, a quasi-pro-Gadhafi paramilitary group. Although Misrati “downplayed” the incident, she “criticized the strictures placed on journalists in Libya by reactionary regime figures,” according to the embassy report.

She began on TV only three years ago, according to her Internet resume.

Before that, she was an aspiring writer. She published a collection of short stories in 2007, “The Moon Has Another Face.” A review by an Internet magazine Middle-East-Online praises the collection for Misrati’s “humane honesty” and describes the woman who “is angry like a child about the lies of others.”

Her lengthy blog — untouched since December — is a mix of personal reflections, essays about the Internet (with a law degree, she is a self-professed expert on cyber law) and short stories on lost love.

“I watched the movement of the clouds, with the sun hiding ominously behind them, annihilating the heavy rain,” one of her stories begins, before tumbling into a tale of a woman disappointed in marriage.

The title of a series of entries on her blog even holds a bit of philosophy about how changeable life can be — like her surprising leap from writer to regime celebrity.

“Between today and tomorrow is chaos,” it reads.

________

Hadid reported from Cairo. AP correspondent Ben Hubbard in Benghazi contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110407/ap_on_bi_ge/ml_libya

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press 50 mins ago

AJDABIYA, Libya – Rebel fighters claimed NATO airstrikes blasted their forces Thursday in another apparent mistake that sharply escalated anger about coordination with the military alliance in efforts to cripple Libyan forces. At least two rebels were killed and more than a dozen injured, a doctor said.

The attack — near the front lines outside the eastern oil port of Brega — would be the second accidental NATO strike against rebel forces in less than a week and brought cries of outrage from fighters struggling against Moammar Gadhafi’s larger and more experienced military.

“Down, down with NATO,” shouted one fighter as dozens of rebel vehicles raced eastward from the front toward the rebel-held city of Ajbadiya.

Later, hundreds of cars poured out of Ajbadiya toward the de facto rebel capital Benghazi amid fears that pro-Gadhafi forces could use the disarray among rebel units to advance.

In Brussels, a NATO official said the alliance will look into the latest rebel claims but he had no immediate information. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under standing regulations. NATO also dismissed Libyan claims that British warplanes struck the country’s largest oil field, saying the attacks were carried out by government forces.

NATO last week took control over the international airstrikes that began March 19 as a U.S.-led mission. The airstrikes thwarted Gadhafi’s efforts to crush the rebellion in the North African nation he has ruled for more than four decades, but the rebels remain outnumbered and outgunned and have had difficulty pushing into government-held territory even with air support.

A rebel commander, Ayman Abdul-Karim, said he saw airstrikes hit tanks and a rebel convoy, which included a passenger bus carrying fighters toward Brega. He and other rebels described dozens killed or wounded, but a precise casualty toll was not immediately known.

A doctor at Ajbadiya Hospital, Hakim al-Abeidi, said at least two people were killed and 16 injured, some with serious burns. Other rebel leaders said other casualties were left in the field in the chaos to flee the area.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

The small medical facility was overwhelmed. One rebel sat in a hallway, wrapping gauze around his injured leg.

On Saturday, a NATO airstrike killed 13 rebel fighters in eastern Libya. An opposition spokesman described it as an “unfortunate accident” in the shifting battles and pledged support for the international air campaign to weaken Gadhafi’s military power.

But rebel discontent with NATO appears to be growing. Opposition commanders have complained in recent days that the airstrikes were coming too slowly and lacking the precision to give the rebels a clear edge. NATO officials say that the pro-Gadhafi troops have blended into civilian areas in efforts to frustrate the alliances bombing runs.

The rebel commander Adbul-Karim said the tops of rebel vehicles were marked with yellow under advice by NATO to identify the opposition forces. But rebels use tanks and other vehicles commandeered from the Libyan army — potentially making their convoys appear similar to pro-government units from the air.

The attack occurred about 18 miles (30 kilometers) from Brega, where rebel forces have struggled to break through government lines, he said.

Rebels also have turned to the oil fields under their control as a source of money for weapons and supplies. The Liberian-flagged tanker Equator, which can transport up to 1 million barrels of oil, left the eastern port of Tobruk en route to Singapore on Wednesday, oil and shipping officials said.

But sustained attacks on the main rebel-held oil fields have crippled production. Libya claimed British jets waged the bombings. NATO, however, dismissed the accusations and blamed Gadhafi’s forces.

“We are aware that pro-Gadhafi forces have attacked this area in recent days,” said Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, who commands the allied operation. “To try and blame it on NATO shows how desperate this regime is.”

Two explosions were heard Thursday in Libya’s capital Tripoli, but the cause of the blasts was not immediately known.

In London, officials said an international group overseeing political initiatives on Libya is scheduled to hold its first meeting next Wednesday in Qatar, one of the few Arab nations contributing aircraft to the NATO mission. The so-called “contact group” includes European nations, the United States, allies from the Middle East and international organizations.

___

Associated Press writer Hadeel al-Shalchi in Tripoli, Libya, and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_gates_iraq

By ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writer Robert Burns, Ap National Security Writer Thu Apr 7, 6:33 am ET

BAGHDAD – The Obama administration would keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the agreed final withdrawal date of Dec. 31, 2011, if the Iraqi government wanted them, but the Iraqis need to decide “pretty quickly” in order for the Pentagon to accommodate the extension, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday during what he said probably is his final visit to this war-torn country.

Whether to negotiate an extended U.S. military presence is up to the Iraqis, he said, adding that he thought an extension might make sense.

“We are willing to have a presence beyond (2011), but we’ve got a lot of commitments,” he said, not only in Afghanistan and Libya but also in Japan, where he said 19 U.S. Navy ships and about 18,000 U.S. military personnel are assisting in earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor relief efforts.

“So if folks here are going to want us to have a presence, we’re going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning,” he added. “I think there is interest in having a continuing presence. The politics are such that we’ll just have to wait and see because the initiative ultimately has to come from the Iraqis.”

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top American commander in Iraq, said the country is lacking important security capabilities. Those include the defense of its air space and the wherewithal to supply and maintain its own forces, he said.

Asked in an interview whether all Iraqi government officials are aware of these gaps, he replied, “Some more than others.”

He said the government’s inability thus far to appoint a defense minister and an interior minister has hampered its ability to make informed decisions about whether to ask the Americans to stay longer.

Speaking to a group of reporters traveling with Gates, Austin gave the strong impression that he thinks Iraq needs a U.S. military presence beyond December, but he said he had not yet been asked to provide a recommendation to Washington.

He said Iraq faced the possibility of a “more violent environment” next year, given the absence of U.S. military force and the failure to resolve key political problems, like the Kurd-Arab tensions in Kirkuk and elsewhere in the north.

The U.S. now has about 47,000 troops in Iraq, and they will begin leaving in large numbers in late summer or early fall. The U.S. led an invasion in March 2003 that toppled the government of President Saddam Hussein a month later, but an insurgency soon set in and the U.S. got mired in a conflict that has lasted far longer — and cost far more American and Iraqi lives — than Washington had anticipated.

Gates also said civil unrest in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, with majority Shiite Muslims pushing for an end to rule by the minority Sunnis, has created tensions in Iraq, whose Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is concerned about Bahrain’s crackdown on Shiites.

Gates said he expected to discuss this subject with al-Maliki in private meetings later Thursday.

Meghan O’Sullivan, a top Iraq adviser to President George W. Bush from 2005-07, said in an email exchange that al-Maliki faces enormous domestic political pressures on several fronts, including a small but vocal number of Iraqis demanding better government, and a security situation that is improved but still tense.

Together, these pressures make it unlikely that al-Maliki feels he can publicly invite the U.S. military to stay beyond this year.

“Understandably, the Obama administration was hoping for this sort of invitation, and likely feels struck, given that it is not forthcoming,” O’Sullivan said. “They can’t be seen wanting to keep more troops in Iraq than the Iraqis do.” O’Sullivan is now a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School.

Under blue skies and a bright sun at a U.S. base just outside the Iraqi capital, Gates told a group of soldiers that he worries that a potential shutdown of the U.S. federal government will delay issuance of their paychecks. He assured them that they eventually would get full pay, but there could be a delay if Democrats and Republicans in Washington are unable to reach a budget deal this week.

“When I start to think of the inconvenience that it’s going to cause these kids (soldiers) and a lot of their families, even a half paycheck delayed can be a problem for them,” Gates told reporters after fielding several questions from the assembled soldiers. The first question posed to him was by a soldier asking about the ramifications for military members and their families of the budget crisis back home.

Gates assured them, “You will be paid,” then added that it might take a while, depending on the length of the political impasse in Washington.

In a brief exchange with reporters during a photo session with Gates earlier Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, James Jeffrey, said U.S. ground forces are “the glue” that is holding the country together. He said this leaves a mixed picture of the situation in Iraq because making arrangements to keep U.S. troops here beyond December is going to be difficult.

In his troop talk, Gates raised the matter of his impending retirement, recalling for soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, that his first visit to Iraq was in September 2006, three months before he replaced Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary. He recalled that on a visit to Baghdad in December 2006 he conducted a press conference while a gun battle was echoing in the distance.

In all, he estimated he has made 14 visits to Iraq.

“`This will probably be my last one,” he said.

Gates previously has said he intends to retire this year, but he has not been more specific about the timing. It is widely anticipated that he is planning to quit this summer.

%d bloggers like this: