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Iran To Attend Egypt Summit On Iraq

Iran agreed on Sunday to attend the regional conference on Iraq security this week in Egypt, announced by Ali Larijani in Baghdad. Larijani, a former general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is the head of Iran's National Security Council and his brother is a top radical cleric and a member of the powerful Guardian Council.

Larijani met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki while in Baghdad, who encouraged the Iranians to attend the regional summit. But, in a statement later released, al-Maliki also warned Iran of the consequences of terrorist attacks in Iraq. al-Maliki said, "Terrorist operations targeting Iraq will affect all countries in the world that are supposed to be supporting the Iraqi government in its war against terrorism." Iran has been supplying explosives, weapons, ammunition, funding and training to both Shi'a and Sunni groups involved in attacks in Iraq.

Iran's Larijani also rejected claims by the EU's Javier Solana that Ayatollah Khameini is prepared to talk directly to the United States about its nuclear program. When asked about such a disposition by Khameini, Solana offered, "I say without any hesitation, yes." But Larijani dismissed the claim saying, "I saw his comments in news reports. If he has said so this would be surprising since such an issue was not discussed in the meeting and his impression is wrong."

Top al-Qaeda Commander Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi Captured

Top al-Qaeda terrorist Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was captured in fall of 2006 and his custody has been transfered from the CIA to the Defense Department and is being held at Guantanamo Bay, the US revealed over the weekend. Iraqi-born al-Hadi was a former major in the Iraqi Army and was a member of al-Qaeda's ten-member Global Shura Council up until the attacks of September 11, 2001. He was making his way back to Iraq to organize attacks - potentially attacks outside Iraq - when he was captured. He has been interrogated under CIA custody until his transfer the Defense Department.

He was also one of the key figures in the 2003 assassination attempts against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that killed many but missed Musharraf. In the 1990's, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi ran numerous al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi now joins at least 15 high-value al-Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, Abu Zubaydah and Hambali.

Bombing Targets Pak Interior Minister In NWFP

In Charsadda, north of Peshewar, a suicide bomber attacked a political rally in an attempt to assassinate Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao. 28 were reported killed and Sherpao was among the over 50 injured. his survival was described as 'miraculous.' The interior ministry, which controls the Pakistani police, is still loyal to President Pervez Musharraf

Authorities are running DNA tests and examining the severed head and torso of the bomber as Pakistan works to identify the bomber. A Pakistani investigator said that the attacker's "fair complexion suggested that he hailed from Pakistan's border areas or Afghanistan." One report went so far as to speculate that he may have been an Afghan Tajik. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Also, the bodies of two men were found near Jandola bordering South Waziristan, shot dead for being 'US spies' according to a note found with the bodies. The note said that "they were spying for Americans. They were involved in fake currency business and were enemies of 160 million Pakistani people." The Taliban has executed many similarly accused in the past and attached notes to their bodies as warnings to the public.

Raids Follow Karbala Bombing That Killed 70

car bomb in Karbala in a crowded market near the Shi'a al-Abbas shrine killed over 70 Saturday. Iraqis pelted police in the area, accusing them of not protecting them, which is a desired result for al-Qaeda in their sectarian bombings.

US and Iraqi forces launched overnight raids in Anbar and Salaheddin provinces, netting 72 suspected terrorists, nitric acid and bomb-making equipment. The raids were in part a response to threatened suicide attacks on a bridge in Samarra. Al-Qaeda had also distributed leaflets warning Iraqi police to quit their jobs or be killed and threatened to attack any oil company that wanted to explore oil fields in the area.

US Sanctions Syria, Int'l Firms on Illicit Arms Trade

The US State Department has imposed sanctions on the Syrian Army, Syrian Navy, and Hizballah as well as Chinese, Iranian, Mexican, and Malaysian companies based on "credible evidence" they had been involved in illicit weapons transfers. A Pakistani man named Arif Durrani was also on the list. All are accused of "selling to or buying from Iran or Syria missile technology or material to make weapons of mass destruction."

The sanctions are considered "largely symbolic because many of the targets are already subject to U.S. sanctions for previous similar transactions." But it is the first time the Syrian Army, Syrian Navy, and Hizballah have been listed specifically for sanctions.

Following a visit from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that he would "gladly" meet with US Secretary of State Rice, though she has refused to meet with Syrian officials. "Of course I'll meet her, if she wants to meet me," he said. Earlier this month, Muallem met with various members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of both parties, who defied the Executive Branch's in-place foreign policy.

Attack in Ethiopia: 74 Killed, 7 Chinese Hostages Taken

The Ogaden National Liberation Front claimed responsibility for a pre-dawn attack on an Ethiopian oil field near the Somali border. The attack killed 65 Ethiopians and 9 Chinese oil workers, and seven Chinese workers were kidnapped as Ethiopian troops search for them. China has "strongly condemned" the attack.

The ONLF denied kidnapping the Chinese workers, choosing instead to characterize it as a sort of 'protective custody. ' A statement from the group said, "They have been removed from the battlefield for their own safety and are being treated well."

Eritrea on Monday denied releasing kidnapped Ethiopians recently, as charged by Ethiopia. Eritrea has claimed that the kidnapping was carried out by Ethiopians, even though the five Europeans also kidnapped last month "were freed in [the Eritrean capital] Asmara 12 days later, but their Ethiopian guides were held until Sunday."

Hamas Attacks Israel, Ends Truce

Hamas' Izzadeen al-Qassam Brigades' Abu Obaida said, "The truce no longer exists." He declared its truce with Israel over after Hamas terrorists launched a barrage of rockets and mortars into Israel's Negev desert from all along the Gaza border. Over "40 rockets and 70 mortar shells" were fired according to Stratfor reporting. Surely not a coincidence, he Attack occurred on Israel's 59th Independence Day.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the barrage is believed to have been a cover for a larger operation designed to abduct yet another Israeli soldier. Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement vaguely referencing this, saying that the IDF had thwarted "another terrorist attack by means of a large-scale operation."

The Palestinian Authority president, Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, tried to reassure Israel and the international community that Hamas' truce violation will not be repeated, but Abbas has no control over Hamas and little influence over its leadership.

Musharraf Caves to Red Mosque Demands

The head of the Pakistani Muslim League, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, "paid a surprise visit to Lal Masjid and met its in-charge Maulana Abdul Aziz and deputy in-charge Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi." He announced to them that the Pakistani government is prepared to accpeted their demands in full, including the implementation of Sharia Law in Pakistan. He added to the press that all issues with the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) have been resolved.

President Musharraf has accused the mosque recently of sheltering suicide bombers. The mosque also announced recently that its 3,000 female 'students' barricaded inside were prepared to martyr themselves to fight the Musharraf government and see Sharia Law installed in Pakistan.

This makes curious that PML president Shujaat then "denied the presence of activists of banned outfits and illegal arms in the mosque," a somewhat nuanced statement that can be seen as the Musharraf government's total capitulation once again in the face of pro-Taliban Islamist demands. The PML is Musharraf's political base and currently holds a majority in the Pakistani parliament.

Madrassa Confrontation In Pakistan Worsens

The head of Islamabad's radical pro-Taliban Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, announced a call to Jihad against the Musharraf government and issued a stern warning. Maulana Abdul Aziz said, "We have no intention to wage a war against the government leading to a bloodbath. However, if it launches a crackdown on Jamia Hafsa or Lal Masjid, of course our movement would automatically turn into a militant movement."

The Pakistani government has created an all-female commando team ostensibly for the purposes of storming the all-female madrassa that Aziz heads. Jamia Hafsa is believed to have currently 3,000 armed females awaiting confrontation.

Concurrently in Islamabad, protests surrounding Musharraf's sacking of Pakistan's Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry continue. Tuesday, Pakistani police had to put themselves between a group protesting against Musharraf and a group protesting in support of him.

Franchising al-Qaeda, More Beheadings

As can be seen through the recent absorption of Algeria's GSPC and Somalia's ICU, the al-Qaeda movement is in an active push to expand its operations by franchising more local terrorists around the globe. The Financial Times article correctly summarizes that this effort "could see radical groups use al-Qaeda expertise to switch their attention from local targets to western interests in their countries and abroad."

This is the al-Qaeda whose Taliban allies used a boy appearing no more than 12 years old to behead a 'spy' in a video tape aired partially on the Dubai-based al-Arabiya television network. The boy's father said that his son acted as "a loyal member of the Taliban."

Al-Qaeda's Philippine franchise, Abu Sayyef, beheaded seven kidnapped workers and sent their heads to Philippine army bases. Philippine officials have ordered increased operations against Abu Sayyef and Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiah, al-Qaeda's primary South Asia affiliate which also operates in the Philippines.

Israel Rejects Prisoner Swap

Israel has rejected Hamas' demands of the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit, the IDF corporal captured and held captive by Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees after a Palestinian tunnel raid into Israel in June 2006. Prime Minister Olmert was quoted as saying that the list of prisoners was "disappointing and creates expectations that we have no chance of meeting.'

In turn, it is being reported that Egypt is asking Hamas to lower its demands by 50, reducing the reported number from 650 to 600. Among the fifty are likely the most notorious captured Palestinian terrorist leaders, such as Marwan al-Barghouti. Curiously, the unnamed Egyptian source said, "Nothing is final yet. The deal is still in its first stages." Observers may note that a deal has been 'in its first stages' since the close of the Israeli-Hizballah war in Lebanon over the summer of 2006.

Nitric Acid VBIED Attack Fails

A truck carrying nitric acid and explosives attempted to crash into a joint US/Iraqi security station yesterday. The truck overturned before reaching the base.

The use of nitric acid, a corrosive substance that can cause severe burns, signals an escalation in the improvised chemical weapons arsenal that has been deployed in Iraq. Past attempts to use degraded artillery shells filled with Sarin, and more recently tanker trucks filled with chlorine, did not result in extensive, long-lasting effects.

Iraq's Shadow Intel Service

Shiite members of the Iraqi government have staffed and funded a 1,200-member strong "shadow" intelligence service meant to counter the Sunni-dominated Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS).

With agents operating nation-wide, the service – built by Minister for State and National Security Sherwan Waili – is reportedly providing information on al-Qaida and former regime elements that is not being supplied by the INIS.

There are questions of legality that have to be addressed and the general fear is that the shadow INIS will exacerbate sectarian strife. At least one US official suggested that Waili’s group was formed because of Shiite (and by extension Iranian) inability to co-opt the INIS, though supporters of the shadow service counter that it is merely an alternative to Sunni bias.

Bombing Unites Iraqi Parliament

With an al-Qaeda-aligned group claiming responsibility for the bombing in the Iraiqi parliament's cafeteria last week, rather than divide Sunni and Shi'a ministers, the attack has instead served to unite ministers of parliament. This echoes a trend in Anbar province among Sunni tribes who have begun to ally with the Iraqi government and Coalition forces in efforts to defeat al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq. "They have realized that those people are not working for Iraq's interests. They realized that their operations might destroy Iraq altogether," said Alaa Makki, a Sunni MP.

While Sunni and Shi'a MP's expressed solidarity following the attacks, that unity did not transcend to the most radical Shi'a bloc headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, believed to be in Iran since the beginning of the US 'surge' into Baghdad. Saleh Hassan Issa al-Igaili, an MP from the Sadr group, said that the Sadr bloc will quit the Iraqi government over "the group's demand for a timetabled exit of US-led foreign troops." But the timing is curious, as both the al-Qaeda bombers and Sadr's Iranian benefactors seek chaos in Iraq for their own purposes. Iraqi parliamentary unity after the al-Qaeda bombing is a disturbing development to both.

The growing Sunni tribal tide against al-Qaeda is led by Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi, head of the Anbar Salvation Front. The New York Sun's Eli Lake said of al-Rishawi, "This guy, Sheikh Al-Rishawi - who's lost a lot of family members to al-Qaeda - is incredibly enthusiastic about hitting them in every way. Which means not just militarily, but going to the media and saying 'I'm a real Iraqi, and these guys are invaders and foreigners.'" And al-Rishawi's popularity, power and respect among the Sunni Iraqis of Anbar is paying dividends, as he has been setting up Emergency Response Units throughout Anbar. The ERU's are "teams of 750 men whose goal is to stabilize Anbar's trouble spots and provide intelligence to American troops."

Iran Seeks 2 New Nuclear Plants, Rejects Pelosi Visit

Even as UN Security Council sanctions mount, Iran announced that it is seeking bids for the construction of two additional new nuclear plants. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the plants are to have 1,000 to 1,600 MW capabilities and would supply electricity.

Curiously, however, rather than construct them at separate electricity distribution points, the two planned nuclear plants are intended to be built in Bushehr, where Iran's only other plant with the potential to produce power is being completed by Russia.

Also, the head of the Iranian majlis' (parliament) National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, shunned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after her announcement of interest in traveling to Iran for talks. He said that US practices of capturing Iranian 'diplomats' in Iraq have "spoiled the situation required in the run-up to any kind of talks." Iran did, however, receive a Syrian defense delegation from the Syrian National Defense College. The delegation will be in Tehran for one week.

Iran Wants Detainees Released As More Iranian Arms Found

While Iranian FM Manouchehr Mottaki said Sunday he was optimistic that 5 Iranians held by US forces in Iraq may be released. But his remarks follow a Saturday report that the 'Irbil 5' will not be freed, said to be decided last Tuesday in a meeting of President Bush's foreign policy team.

Mottaki said, "We have recently received some indications over releasing them.” But their release would be a surprising move, considering that all indications to ThreatsWatch in interviews and conversations with Defense and State Department officials have suggested otherwise. All have steadfastly maintained that the five Iranians in question are Quds Force operators and not 'diplomats.' They have all also held consistently that the five detained in the January raid in Irbil, Iraq did not have diplomatic status at the time of their capture.

Meanwhile, Major General William Caldwell presented evidence of Iran training Iraq fighters as well as more Iranian weapons seized at a Baghdad house following a citizen tip. Caldwell said, “We know that they are being in fact manufactured and smuggled into this country, and we know that training does go on in Iran for people to learn how to assemble them and how to employ them. We know that training has gone on as recently as this past month from detainees’ debriefs.”

Anti-Putin Protests Put Down

Following mass arrests at a protest in Moscow, Russian police turned violent at a second anti-Putin rally in St Petersburg the following day. The UK Independent reports that police attacked protesters "when the crowd began to disperse and make their way to a nearby metro station. It was at that point, according to protesters, that the police launched an unprovoked attack, beating people about the legs and the body with batons."

The Financial Times reported from Moscow that about 2,000 protesters attended the Moscow demonstration while about 700 were on hand in St. Petersburg. Security forces "hugely outnumbered demonstrators in both cities and detained hundreds of protesters," including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, now an opposition leader.

The protests came on the heels of calls by exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky from London for the use of force to overthrow Putin in Moscow because he has abandoned democracy since taking power. Russia had then called for Britain to terminate his political refugee status. In response, Berezovsky has 'clarified' his remarks on the use of 'force' to mean peaceful popular mass protests, as were seen in Ukraine's Orange Revolution. He said Sunday, "This is what happened in Ukraine, this is what happened in Georgia. This is typical of my understanding of a forceful overthrow of the authorities. This is when there is forceful pressure on the authorities from the street and the square in order to change the regime."

Islamabad's Red Mosque Sets Up Sharia Court

In Islamabad, the leader of Lal Masjlis (The Red Mosque) made good on his 7-day ultimatum to the Musharraf government and set up a sharia law court on Friday. Ten judges were selected and appointed to the Sharia court. The demonstration included the burning of thousands of DVD movies doused in gasoline.

Maulana Aziz addressed a crowd of about 3,000 outside Lal Majlis saying, "The government has been saying that an operation against us is the last option, I want to tell the government that suicide attacks are our last option." After asking the crowd if they were prepared to die, the angry response was "Yes! Yes! Allahu Akbar!"

Pakistani Minister of Information Tariq Azim warned, “They have misjudged the government’s resolve. We want to avoid the use of force against them. We want to resolve all issues through peaceful means.” He also accused Maulana Aziz of using female seminarians as a human shield.

Key indicators to watch for in the Pakistani tinderbox are whether local shop owners are dragged before the mosque's Sharia judges, if and how the Pakistani government cracks down on the Islamabad mosque, and whether the action of setting up Sharia courts is replicated elsewhere in Pakistan beyond the tribal areas.

Iraq Sunni Insurgent Group Hammers al-Qaeda

Said to be angry over al-Qaeda's indiscriminate killing of civilians, "especially rich ones," the Islamic Army of Iraq released a statement that hammered al-Qaeda in Iraq. The statement can be read as a warning of a split between the two.

Reuters reported that the IAI, "believed to be the largest group of former Baathists and military officers fighting Iraqi and U.S. forces, said it had dealt with al Qaeda militants with "patience and wisdom" to keep a united "resistance front. But this was not fruitful.""

The statement continued, "Killing Sunnis has become a legitimate target for them, especially rich ones. Either they pay them what they want or they kill them. They would kill any critic or whoever tries to show them their mistakes. Assaulting people's homes became permitted and calling people infidels also became popular."

The group demanded that bin Laden take more responsibility for al-Qaeda in Iraq and added, "We also call ... on every Qaeda member in the Land of Mesopotamia to review themselves and their positions ... and for those who committed wrongful acts to repent quickly."

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