The Bush administration is reportedly preparing to build a military base near Iraq’s border with Iran. According to The Wall Street Journal, the base will be located four miles from the Iranian border and in place for at least two years. A U.S. commander says the base will be used to stem the flow of advanced Iranian weaponry allegedly being supplied to Iraqi insurgents. The Pentagon plans to build checkpoints, x-ray machines and censors at the only formal crossing between Iraq and Iran. The development is the latest indicating the administration is stepping up its confrontation with Iran. President Bush has threatened to confront Iran while anonymous administration and right-wing think tank sources have reported that plans have been drawn for massive air strikes.
The news comes as the Bush administration’s top two officials in Iraq are set to give Congress their long-awaited progress report on the Iraq War. The expected outcome is more of the same. The New York Times reports General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will ask for at least six more months to decide on whether to begin withdrawing U.S. troops.
A new poll shows a majority of Americans don’t expect Petraeus to give an accurate assessment. Fifty-three percent told a Washington Post/ABC News survey they believe Petraeus will try to sugar-coat the situation on the ground. Sixty percent say the U.S. should set a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq regardless of what is happening there.
While Petraeus is expected to report progress in Iraq, a new poll shows a majority of Iraqis believe the so-called troop surge has failed. Residents around Baghdad say President Bush’s increase of at least 24,000 troops has worsened conditions on the ground. The number of Iraqis now calling for an immediate withdrawal has increased over when the surge began.
Meanwhile, there are new indications General Petraeus sees a long-term U.S. occupation in Iraq. The Washington Post reports Petraeus recently rejected plans that would withdraw three-quarters of U.S. troops — by the year 2010. Petreaus is said to have clashed with his superior, Admiral William Fallon, over the possibility. The 2010 date is said to be the main source of debate between the two top military leaders on Iraq.
Osama bin Laden has released a new video statement for the first time in three years. On the tape, bin Laden urges all Americans to convert to Islam and says the U.S. is still vulnerable to attack.
Osama bin Laden: “People of America: I shall be speaking to you on important topics which concern you, so lend me your ears. Despite America being the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and up-to-date military arsenal, as well, and despite its spending on this war and its army, more than the entire world spends on its armies, and being the major state influencing the policies of the world, as if it has a monopoly on the unjust right of veto, despite all of this, 19 young men were able, by the grace of Allah, the Most High, to change the direction of its compass.”
The undated video was released ahead of tomorrow’s sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Speaking from the APEC summit in Australia, President Bush said bin Laden’s mention of Iraq reinforces the need for U.S. troops to stay there.
President Bush: “I found it interesting that on the tape Iraq was mentioned, which is a reminder that Iraq is a part of this war against extremists. If al-Qaeda bothers to mention Iraq, it’s because they want to achieve their objectives in Iraq, which is to drive us out and to develop a safe haven. And the reason they want a safe haven is to launch attacks against America or any other ally.”
The Syrian government has accused Israel of an intentional and hostile act over last week’s alleged flight of Israeli warplanes across Syria’s border. The Syrian army has said its air defenses fired after an Israeli plane entered Syria airspace and dropped munitions. Israel has remained silent on the alleged incident.
Retired Israeli diplomat Alon Liel: “It is very clear that Israel broke an international law and penetrated this airspace of a sovereign country. It’s an enemy country, but we are not in a state of war. And we did something illegal, and there is a lot of political mileage that Syria can do on this incident.”
Turkey, meanwhile, is also demanding Israel explain two fuel tanks found inside Turkish territory. Israel is suspected of sending the planes to gather intelligence on Syrian installations near the Turkish border.
In Chile, thousands of people marched through Santiago on Sunday to begin marking the 34th anniversary of the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected President Salvador Allende. Scores carried pictures of loved ones killed or disappeared after the coup that brought the late dictator Augusto Pinochet to power. The march was mostly peaceful until a handful of students clashed with police.
In Pakistan, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been arrested and deported within hours of returning from seven years in exile. Sharif had said he planned to challenge President General Pervez Musharraf, who ousted him in a 1999 coup. As he left for Islambad, Sharif rejected Musharraf’s warnings he would face arrest.
Nawaz Sharif: “Well, as Mr. Musharraf says that he will take me straight to the prison, but I don’t worry about that. I’m not scared. Mr. Musharraf is in the habit of doing these things, because he didn’t…”
Reporter: “But you expect — so you expect to be arrested? Is that what…”
Sharif: “This is what he says, was because he doesn’t believe in law, he doesn’t believe in the constitution, he doesn’t believe in morality.”
After landing, Sharif was detained and immediately put on a plane to Saudi Arabia. His arrival comes weeks after Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled he had the right to return.
In other Pakistan news, U.S. officials are now quietly conceding a January 2006 CIA attack near the Afghan border failed to hit any al-Qaeda targets and killed only local villagers. More than a dozen people were killed and two homes were destroyed in the attack from a CIA drone.
In Germany, lawmakers are considering a proposal that increase spying on German Muslims. The plans were floated after last week’s arrest of three men for allegedly plotting to carry out massive bomb attacks on U.S. targets there. A leading member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party has called for a new law authorizing online surveillance of all converts to Islam.
Back in the United States, The Washington Post is reporting President Bush is expected to name a replacement for outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales by next week. Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson is reportedly the frontrunner for the job. Olson represented Bush in the legal dispute over the 2000 elections.
In domestic spying news, The New York Times is reporting the FBI telephone surveillance program was far more extensive than previously known. New internal records show the FBI issued secret national security letters demanding that telecom companies provide telephone records not just of terror suspects, but of people they came into contact with. The policy was stopped earlier this year.