Daily Report

Report from Lebanon

The June 2 car bomb explosion in the Christian Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh that killed prominent anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir comes as an international team is investigating the February assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Anti-Syrian leaders were quick to make a link between the two killings. Syria denied involvement, but Hariri's son and political heir, Saad Hariri, said the same people were behind both assassinations. "And God knows what's coming," he added. (AP, June 4)

The explosion also comes amid Lebanese parliamentary elections that the opposition hopes to win, ending control of the legislature by pro-Syrian politicians. Saad Hariri has won the first round, but numerous obstacles remain before Bush can chalk Lebanon up as another victory for "freedom on the march"--most notably, what to do about the Syria-backed Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, which doubles as a political party and a powerful armed militia (and is on the State Department's list of "terrorist organizations"). Our correspondent in Beirut, Bilal El-Amine, sends these observations on the current juncture:

Violence surges on Mexican border

Turf wars among imprisoned drug gang leaders are responsible for a wave of violence in northern Mexico, the country's new attorney general Daniel Cabeza de Vaca said May 27. Ironically, Mexico's success in putting drug lords behind bars has prompted a bloody scramble for control of the international trade, with some leaders issuing commands from their prison cells. "Some of the leaders of the big, known cartels are operating behind bars, and that in large part creates the climate of conflict," he said.

The latest wave of killings has rocked Sinaloa state on Mexico's north Pacific coast, home to the cartel of drug baron Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who escaped from prison in 2001. "They are struggling to control cities like Culiacan using executions," Cabeza told reporters, referring to Sinaloa's capital. "We have the cartels that we all know. But these are breaking apart, forming subgroups."

GIs face charges in torture-death

As we have noted, all US soldiers accused of killings in Iraq have thus far been acquitted. This particularly grisly case will really put Pentagon justice to the test. But we again note that, in any case, higher-ranking officers--who the accused GIs say "had sanctioned their actions"--are getting off the hook...

Iraq: US using water as bargaining chip?

The Russia-based Iraqi Resistance Report website cites a story from the Iraqi newspaper Mafkarat al-Islam June 1 that US forces beseiging the central town of al-Ramadi are using restoration of water and other basic services as a bargaining chip to get the populace to turn over information on resistance fighters:

Amnesty: Gitmo a "Gulag"

Amnesty International is defending its description of Guantánamo prison as a "gulag," and urges the US to allow independent investigations of allegations of torture at its detention centers for terrorism suspects. A verbal feud between Amnesty and Washington has escalated since the group's new annual report compared Guantánamo Bay to the brutal Soviet system of forced labor camps where millions of prisoners died. President Bush dismissed the report as "absurd" the Amnesty report, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the description "reprehensible."

"The administration's response has been that our report is absurd, that our allegations have no basis, and our answer is very simple: if that is so, open up these detention centers, allow us and others to visit them," Amnesty International secretary general Irene Zubaida Khan told a news conference.

Iraq "resistance" blows up Sufis

Emulating recent jihadi tactics in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Iraqi resistance has targetted a gathering of Sufis for a suicide attack, as well as escalating attacks against Shi'ites.

A suicide bomber blew himself up at a gathering of Sufi Muslims north of Baghdad June 2, killing 10 and injuring at least 12. The attack took place at a house in the village of Saud, near the northern town of Balad as Sufis gathered for a religious ceremony, Interior Ministry officials said. Ahmed Hamid, a Sufi witness, told the AP: "I was among 50 people inside the tekiya [Sufi gathering place] practicing our rites when the building was hit by a big explosion. Then, there was chaos everywhere and human flesh scattered all over the place."

Turkmenbashi decides the people don't need doctors, books

President for life Saparmurat Niyazov, the self-styled Turkmenbashi, or "leader of all the Turkmen," has made good on a pledge to order all hospitals outside the Turkmen capital Ashbagat shut.

This comes on the heels of his decision to close the country's libraries. "No one goes to libraries and reads books anyway," explained Niyazov. Opera, ballet and circuses, among many other things, were already banned in Turkmenistan. (IWPR, Apr. 21) Required study, at work, in schools, and in mosques, is Ruhknama, the spiritual treatise penned in Turkmenbashi's own hand. Now, for all devotees of this Central Asian post-communist insect that preys upon the lives of his people, Rukhnama is available online in English.

Mexico: children of campesino ecologist murdered

A dozen men armed with assault rifles killed two children of a man who belongs to a peasant ecologist group in Mexico's Pacific coast state of Guerrero May 19, and soldiers arrested three members of the same group on weapons charges the following day. The shooting attack, which also wounded the boys' father, Alberto Peñaloza, and two older sons, occurred in the Sierra Petatlan, the scene of a decade-long struggle between loggers and campesinos. Peñaloza is a founder of the local Organization of Campesino Ecologists, which has blockaded logging trucks on the mountain roads.

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