For a Soldier’s Father, Deportation

When Pfc. Armando Soriano was killed in Iraq, his mother benefited from a loophole on immigration law that allows soldiers’ family members to apply for legal residency. But the rules work on a case-by-case basis, and his father, who has been in the U.S. illegally since 1999, faces deportation because he once snuck back into the country. One of Soriano’s sisters is also not a citizen. Such cases are increasingly common as more foreign-born fighters join the military en route to citizenship.

Hezbollah: Talkin’ War and Peace in Lebanon

Lebanon’s conflict-driven internal politics and Hezbollah’s relationship with its neighbor, Israel, are having an effect on the entire region. Hezbollah leader General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called for a government of “cooperation and unity” even as he critiqued the U.S.-backed government of Fouad Siniora, Agence France-Presse reports. Siniora has refused to give the opposition party veto power in the cabinet and has lost six ministers this year, prompting much controversy and upheaval. Nasrallah is angry with the United States, which recently announced it would freeze the assets of anyone it perceived as undermining Siniora’s government. Speaking to the Lebanese people, he said Hezbollah supported a “peaceful, civilian and civilized” campaign, and promised not to turn its considerable arsenal of weapons on any other Lebanese faction.

Iraqi Politicians Fear U.S. Pullout

While Congress debates (or refuses to debate) a withdrawal timeline for Iraq, most Sunni and Shia Arab parties in the Iraqi parliament are getting nervous at the prospect of losing the protective presence of U.S. troops. A Sunni-led group called the Iraqi Accord Front has reversed its earlier position, which was for an immediate U.S. withdrawal. Leaving now, the group says, would shift power to “outlaws” and send Iraq “back to the middle ages.” [The Associated Press reported today that the “Accordance Front” has since announced its withdrawal from the Iraqi government over failure to disband militias and other security measures.]
Only parliament members allied with Muqtada al-Sadr still advocate for an immediate pull-out, which some analysts attribute to the fact that Sadr’s allies have enough power to overwhelm the weak Iraqi Army and take over. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to disagree with officials in parliament, saying last month that U.S. troops could leave “any time.”

A Farewell to Arms

Gun sales and stockpiles may be booming worldwide, but in Colombia an unusual ceremony saw the destruction of 13,778 handguns, machine guns, rifles and mortars. The weapons were melted down as part of International Gun Destruction Day, and will be used to make school chairs and a memorial for victims of gun violence there. According to Inter Press Service, Colombia has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and 70 percent of those murders were committed with mostly illegal firearms in 2005. Most of the guns destroyed were taken from gangsters and militias, officials said — while the rest were legally owned, and turned in voluntarily by their owners. In addition to Colombia, International Gun Destruction Day was also observed by Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Albania.

Azerbaijan and Armenia: War Without End

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that killed 30,000 people and created one million refugees supposedly ended 13 years ago with a ceasefire in 1994 — but the countries are still at war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory in Azerbaijan controlled by ethnic Armenian forces. Ordinary citizens are now caught in the middle. Azeri farmers living along the borders of the war zone dodge bullets as they attempt to sow vegetables and graze cattle; their irrigation water is blocked by Armenian forces and a lake that used to feed into six local villages has dried up. Traveling across the war zone to visit the nearest town six kilometers away requires a special pass, American and European efforts to resolve the issue diplomatically have failed, and the president of Azerbaijan is threatening a new war if the Armenians do not give up the occupied territory. The government of Azerbaijan also refuses to recognize the results of an upcoming presidential election in Nagorno- Karabakh because they do not consider it a separate state.

Big Boom in Baghdad Home Shares

Sunnis in the south of Baghdad, and Shias in the north, have been forced out of their homes as their neighborhoods came under control of militants of another sect. Rather than flee the country, however, their solution has been to swap homes with a Sunni or Shia family in the same situation. These home swaps are “booming,” according to a real estate agent who claims to have arranged 211 such deals so far. The practice is not without its risks, however; sometimes the houses of uprooted families are “claimed” by the visiting family who, with help from local militants, decide it’s theirs to keep. Source:
“Iraq: Sunni, Shia families swap homes in bid to remain safe”
IRIN (U.N.), July 5, 2007

The Two Burials of Kamal Jalil Uthman

U.S. military officials took credit for killing a top al Qaeda leader — twice. After a recent announcement that Kamal Jalil Uthman, the leader of al Qaeda terrorists in Mosul and a “very dangerous terrorist,” was killed in a raid last month, a reporter from the Examiner noticed that the military had already taken credit for killing Uthman last year. Questioned by a reporter, a military spokesman admitted officials “probably could do a better job” on labeling previous killings. A few hours later, a second spokesman called to say Iraqi officials had captured, not killed, Uthman last year and released him this spring for unknown reasons, after which he was killed by U.S. forces. Source:
“Iraqis set free terrorist, U.S. forces kill him”
The Examiner, July 6, 2007

Al Qaeda Spreads

Even as Al Qaeda sympathizers in the United Kingdom make headlines, the terrorist group has seen affiliates taking root in other countries. In Algeria, officers arrested 13 minors, some as young as 12, and dismantled a terrorist training camp near Algiers in early June. The young soldiers were members of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an outlawed group that calls itself the “North African branch” of Al Qaeda. The Salafist Group has also come to Spain, where officials arrested two suspected members last week and alleged they were recruiting fighters to be trained in camps as far away as Mali, Niger and Mauritania. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a bomb attack in Algeria in April, saying its goal was to end the Spanish occupation of the municipalities of Ceuta and Melilla.

Backlash Brewing in Mogadishu

Mogadishu’s transitional government, backed by Ethiopian troops, is credited with pushing out the hard-line Union of Islamic Courts. But residents say the new mayor’s harsh tactics have made life even more unbearable than before. More than 1,500 government critics have been detained, many without charges, the Los Angeles Times reports, while longtime “squatters shopkeepers” have been violently evicted, and the streets clear for fear of muggings after 5 p.m., despite house-to-house searches and the destruction of thousands of weapons. This is seen as creating sympathy for the Islamists, but Mogadishu mayor Mohammed Dheere, a militia leader credited with reducing crime in his home city of Jawhar, denies that his tactics are creating terrorists. His citywide disarmament program, backed by a 1,200-member police force, is meant to enforce “law and order,” he told the Times.

A Photo-Free NYC

A post-9/11 requirement that tourists and other casual photographers get a permit before taking pictures in New York City has the ACLU claiming a First Amendment violation. The city’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcast proposed the new rules, which would “require City-issued permits and proof of insurance for any person using a handheld camera in any public area in a group of two or more and using the camera for more than thirty minutes,” according to the North Country Gazette. The rules are expected to affect tourists more than any other group, as they tend to gather at places like Ground Zero with their cameras for long periods of time. Source:
“NYC would require permit for casual photography”
North Country Gazette (NY), June 28, 2007