September 19, 2007

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 37

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“We use the same methods that we used during Saddam. Instead of Baathists and generals, it is now Shia militias and their cronies who are doing the business.”

— A veteran smuggler in Iraq on the booming underground oil trade (see “Petroleum Politics,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
Taliban weapons traced to Iran and China
Experts fear ‘another Darfur’ in Ethiopia
Swiss citizenship hurdles called racist

*Environment & Health*
The chemical legacy today

*Petroleum Politics*
Smuggler’s paradise for Iraqi oil runners

*Afghanistan*
Canada Ponders a Quagmire


TOP STORIES

* Taliban Weapons Traced to Iran and China

A weapons cache found in Afghanistan’s Herat province was traced back to Iran and China, prompting U.S. and British concerns over weapons sales to the Taliban.

Deputy U.S. Secretary of State John Negroponte said weapons sold by China to Iran have been found in Taliban hands, and that Iranian armor-piercing munitions were also a threat.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Iran is “a helper” in the fight against extremists, and denied the possibility of any arms sales to Taliban forces, reports Agence France-Presse.

Source:

“U.S. concerned about Iranian weapons going to Taliban”
Agence France-Presse, September 11, 2007

* Experts Fear ‘Another Darfur’ in Ethiopia

Fleeing refugees say that soldiers of the U.S.-backed Ethiopian government are suppressing a widely supported separatist movement with rape, beatings and murder.

The government claims the Ogaden National Liberation Front insurgents have ties with Eritrea and Somali Islamists, and that its troops are “well-trained” and wouldn’t attack civilians, according to McClatchy.

Aid groups are banned from Ogaden, an eastern desert region already isolated by years of neglect. While the Bush administration echoes Ethiopia’s claims that no civilian slaughter is afoot, experts are starting to worry that the conflict could become “another Darfur.”

Source:

“Ethiopia starves, kills own people, its refugees say”
McClatchy, September 15, 2007

* Swiss Citizenship Hurdles Called Racist

An official report released by Switzerland’s Federal Commission on Racial Discrimination says the Swiss citizenship system is racist because it allows community members, not elected professionals, to vote on whether someone is fit to be Swiss.

The BBC reports that the system historically excludes Muslims, people from the Balkans, and Africans. Becoming Swiss is already tough; permanent residents must wait 12 years before applying, and a birth in Switzerland is no guarantee of naturalization, according to the BBC.

The report recommended changes to the citizenship balloting process, which allows villages to hear arguments from the applicant and then vote based on their religion or any other criteria.

Source:

“Swiss citizenship system ‘racist'”
BBC (U.K.), September 13, 2007


ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH

* The Chemical Legacy Today

A host of chemicals created for use in industrial and commercial processes are having unintended effects on populations.

The Guardian reports that a study of Inuit communities above the Arctic Circle in Russia, Greenland and Canada found twice as many girls as boys are being born.

The blame was placed on DDT, PCBs, and endocrine disrupters that enter a mother’s loodstream and change her baby’s sex before birth.

The chemicals are used in electronics like televisions and generators. The chemicals are absorbed by seals, whales and polar bears at 1 million times the normal rate, and the animals are then consumed by the Inuit, scientists say.

In Chile, the most popular and widely-used pesticide is metamidofos, a fumigating chemical marketed by the Bayer Corp.

Designated as an “extremely dangerous” chemical by the World Health Organization, it’s responsible for many of the pesticide-related deaths and illnesses doctors report each year, and can even cause children downwind of the fumes to faint or vomit, according to the Santiago Times.

A move is afoot to ban the most toxic fumigants in Chile, and some farmers have turned to organic farming with the help of advocates.

But small and large farming operations worry that losing the most “effective” chemicals will diminish Chile’s productivity.

Agence France-Press reports that metamidofos has also made an appearance in Vietnam, where tests have found it in vegetables sold at most farmers markets

The chemical is banned there, as well as in Hong Kong South Korea and the United States.

Despite this, more farmers in Vietnam and China are using dangerous pesticides to boost productivity, while consumers are increasingly afraid to buy their products.

Those concerns were compounded by the recent discovery of formaldehyde in the traditional Vietnamese soup pho and a cancer-causing chemical in domestically-produced soy sauce.

The government has known of the problem since 2001 but did nothing to control it.

Sources:

“Agro-chemicals take a toxic toll in rural Chile”
Santiago Times, September 7, 2007

“Man-made chemicals blamed as many more girls than boys are born in Arctic”
Guardian (U.K.), September 12, 2007

“Toxic soy sauce, chemical veggies — food scares hit Vietnam”
Agence France-Presse, September 11, 2007


PETROLEUM POLITICS

* Smuggler’s Paradise for Iraqi Oil Runners

After a revenue-sharing bill that would have opened Iraq’s oil fields to foreign investment failed in parliament, Iraq’s domestic oil industry has seen business as usual — theft, corruption and destruction of pipelines for political gain.

With Basra’s oil fields and ports under the control of warring Shiite tribes, militias illegally export millions of barrels of crude to Iran by boat under the noses of Iraq’s maritime forces.

On any given day, up to 300,000 barrels are smuggled into Iran, according to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

The Iranian coast guards and the Iraqi Navy are said to be involved in the trade, but the main culprits are the main ruling parties and militias of Basra, as well as the most influential tribes.

Iraqi maritime forces say they may arrest smaller smugglers but the government won’t allow them to arrest the larger gangs.

Meanwhile, the oil shortage means the price of gas and fuel put them out of reach of most Iraqis. Under a stable oil system, the country could be earning billions of U.S. dollars a year.

Tribal sheiks around Kirkuk also benefit from oil smuggling.

Insurgents used to destroy the oil pipelines at night, but now they dismantle them and capture the crude, reports the IWPR.

Oil companies can’t stop them, and sometimes won’t stop them, because the people hired to guard the pipelines are often from the same tribes as the smugglers.

The state-owned Northern Oil Company is said to have a mafia-like element that helps the smugglers divert the oil through the pipelines.

Rather than wait for the state to impose regulation, oil-rich Kurdistan’s regional parliament passed its own law to regulate oil production and sales as it prepares to open its fields to foreign investment.

Environment News Service reports that at their peak, Kurdistan’s oil fields could produce nearly half of all the oil in Iraq — more than the oil produced by Nigeria, Africa’s petroleum king.

Sunnis, whose tribal lands hold little oil, oppose the arrangement, as does the central government.

Agence France-Presse reports that the Kurdish regional government called for the resignation of Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani after he said any external oil deals the region would pursue would be “illegal.”

Sources:

“Smuggling thrives in Basra”
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, September 7, 2007

“Tribes sabotage Kirkuk pipelines”
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, September 7, 2007

“Iraqi Kurds demand oil minister’s resignation”
Agence France-Presse, September 13, 2007

“Kurdistan’s gushing crude spawns conflict”
Environment News Service, September 12, 2007


AFGHANISTAN

* Canada Ponders an Afghan Quagmire

Canada faces renewed uncertainty in Afghanistan, with the death of more than 60 Canadian troops and new pressures on its humanitarian mission there.

Under pressure from a dispirited public to withdraw troops, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada would end its combat mission in February 2009 unless parliament votes otherwise.

Harper is now seeking a consensus vote to extend the mission; the Canadian Press reports that “‘consensus’ means 50 percent plus one MP in a parliamentary vote.”

Fearful of losing one of its greatest assets in Afghanistan (Canada has 2,500 troops in Kandahar alone) British and Polish NATO officials are calling for “strategic patience” at a crucial time for security there, reports the CanWest News Service.

Canadians, however, seem to be out of patience.

The Times Colonist in British Columbia reported that protestors at an anti-NATO rally last week accused officials of “war crimes” for the bombing of Afghan civilians.

Canada’s $1.45 billion humanitarian mission in Afghanistan also faces major obstacles, according to the United Nations news service.

Violence in southern Afghanistan has eliminated Canadian medical workers’ access to five provinces, and Canada’s reconstruction team, which took over from American efforts in Kandahar in 2005, cannot rebuild the thousands of homes it has committed to.

The Canadian aid program has also come under sharp criticism from a British think tank for the way it funnels its money directly into the Afghan government’s coffers to do with as it pleases.

The report said millions of dollars were being wasted this way.

Sources:

“Protesters take on NATO generals”
Times Colonist (Canada), September 9, 2007

“Harper wants troops to ‘finish job’ in Afghanistan; dims hope for quick vote”
Canadian Press, September 9, 2007

“Canadian exit from Afghanistan would be sorely missed, top officer says”
CanWest News Service, September 10, 2007
http://www.canada.com/topics/news/world/story.html?id=a2712537-ccfe-440b-bfb1-fab971d463fe&p=1

“Afghanistan: Canadians and Kandaharis differ on security and development”
Integrated Regional Information Networks (United Nations), September 9, 2007


Editors: Julia Scott, Will Crain, Josh Wilson

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