Monday, May 22, 2006

Middle East descends into further chaos

Blair meets Iraq's new President as the Middle East
descends further into chaos

Gaza inches closer to civil war after gunfire between Hamas and Fatah troops saw the death of at least one individual who CNN reported as being a Jordanian national [CNN]. Two Palestinian policemen were shot in the legs during the exchange of fire near the parliament building and police headquarters, officials said. A Hamas gunman was also wounded. The BBC reported up to 6 injured as well as one dead. It is the latest in a series of incidents indicating a power struggle in the war torn region. On Saturday a bomb was found which it believed had been placed to target Rashid Abu Shbak, a commander loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [BBC]. Hamas, the militant Islamic group that won Palestinian parliamentary elections earlier this year, put its own security force on the streets last week, despite Mr Abbas' insistence that all Palestinian security report to him. Meanwhile Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, speaking on CNN continued to condemn the ‘terrorist organisation’

The US led coalition launched air strikes in Afghanistan on Sunday into Monday. There are conflicting stories as to who was killed but there are strong indications that many civilians were killed in the attacks on Taliban strongholds in the Kandahar province, the third in a week. The coalition insisted that up to 80 Taliban had been killed in the raids [CNN] but a local governor claimed that 16 civilians were killed and 16 injured in the attacks. This was the latest in an upsurge of violence in the country. On Saturday Taliban fighters ambushed an Afghan army convoy setting off a gun battle that resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and 15 insurgents. Clashes elsewhere killed 15 others, including two French soldiers and a U.S. soldier [Washington Post]. Six American soldiers were wounded just days after a 24-hour surge of violence across Afghanistan killed about 120 people. The fighting was some of the heaviest since the crushing of the Taliban by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.

In Iraq, Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, made a surprise visit to Baghdad two days after the inauguration of the new Iraqi government [BBC]. “This is a new beginning,” the Prime Minister said, adding that it was important that “Iraq and the Iraqi people write the new chapter of Iraqi history for themselves” [BBC]. George Bush, speaking in Chicago [Reuters] described the forming of a new Iraqi government as a “watershed” moment in history. He claimed that Zarqawi was on the run and that the new government would see further stability throughout the country. But aside of all the rhetoric, the violence continued. Four police were killed in a bomb attack on their patrol vehicle 50km (31 miles) south of Baghdad. At least three died in a bomb attack on a Baghdad market. Two were killed in a car bomb attack on a police patrol in the city's Zafaraniyah district and a mobile phone company employee was shot dead in Baqouba. AFP news agency reported four more deaths in separate attacks in the Baquaba and AP reported that gunmen had killed a police colonel and wounded another officer in Samarra. Channel 4 News reported at least 27 dead in Monday’s violence. Monday’s programme also highlighted a rise in ethnic cleansing initiated, it was claimed, by Iraq’s new armed forces as well as terror organizations and largely ignored by the Iraqi authorities. Richard Holbrook, a former US Ambassador to the UN, was pessimistic and described the situation in Iraq as a civil war and “the toughest situation we’ve seen in my life time… and Afghanistan isn’t going too well either”. He said of George W Bush’s ‘War on Terror’, “It’s not a war on terror, it’s a war on al-Qaeda and its supporters and we need to face up to the situation that we’re fighting an ideologue” he said. A war of ideology is also about to be fought in the cinema box offices throughout the west as two controversial films get set for release. Both film deal with the events of 9/11 which triggered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. World Trade Centre, by Oliver Stone [imdb / trailer], follows the story of two police officers caught up in the day’s events. But as the Washington Post reported, there is no conspiracy or sense of controversy on Stone’s latest epic. Here the director who has made films about the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam war, traces the steps of Sgt. John McLoughlin (played by Nicolas Cage) and rookie officer Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), were the last two men pulled alive from the wreckage. Paul Greengrass’s film Flight 93 has also stirred emotions with its first showing at Cannes where it has received a mixed response [CBS]. Posted by Picasa

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