An American University in Iraq

Around 150 miles north of Baghdad, the year-old American University of Iraq-Sulaimani is beginning to transform Iraq’s educational landscape by introducing its students to Western-style learning. Jane Arraf, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, said the 256 students, most of them undergraduate, are encouraged to debate, think freely and question critically, instead of sitting quietly and being lectured to. Officials and investors of the private school hope the students will become the educated, politically astute leaders the country will need throughout its reconstruction. Many of the students have never used a computer or written essays, the Monitor said. The school’s curriculum currently highlights topics that will have immediate practical consequences for Iraq’s economy and political stability.

NSA: Total Information in Texas?

The National Security Agency is creating a new data center in southern Texas that critics say will track the daily activities of all Americans, reports the San Antonio Current. The 470,000-square-foot data warehouse, formerly a Sony microchip facility and almost as large as the local football stadium, could help the government identify potential terrorist threats. Yet the lack of oversight of NSA activities has raised civil-rights questions — as has the proximity of a nearby Microsoft facility, which could provide access to the software company’s mass of stored email data. In particular, activists say that the NSA’s “watch list” of people who may be a threat to national security is not always accurate. The Current also cites an October report sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security that found data mining to be ineffective for identifying terrorists or potential attacks.

Betrayal in Estonia? NATO Claims a Russian Spy

A former Estonian defense official has been arrested for allegedly selling NATO and European Union secrets to Russia, reports Der Spiegel. Herman Simm, the accused official, has been under surveillance for months and was arrested in September, although news of the arrest is only just becoming public knowledge. Upon Estonia’s acceptance into the EU in 2004, Simm was responsible for setting up and running a system to handle the country’s classified information, including top-secret documents from NATO allies, information about Russia’s war in Georgia, and the controversial U.S. missile defense program. State officials believe the KGB recruited Simm in the 80s, before the collapse of the Soviet Union. NATO and EU officials are investigating the extent of the alleged betrayal.

Spain's Mass Graves Closed for Now

A Spanish judge who pledged to investigate the deaths of thousands during the Spain Civil War and the Franco regime conceded mass grave exhumation to regional courts after pressure from Spanish conservatives. The Times of London reports that Judge Baltasar Garzon ordered the exhumation of 25 mass graves across Spain thought to hold over 114,000 people who disappeared throughout General Franco’s 36-year dictatorship. In addition to the remains of Spain’s most famous poet, Garzon hoped to identify the bodies of union members and Franco’s left-leaning opponents at the behest of family members. Garzon alleged that tens of thousands of people were killed on orders from 44 high-ranking regime leaders and Franco himself, accusing them of crimes against humanity
Opposition to Garzon’s move came from members of the conservative Popular Party, the Catholic Church, and the public prosecutor’s office, which said a federal investigation would violate a 1977 national amnesty agreement. Other objectors stated the prosecution of 70-year-old crimes was a needless reopening of past scars.

Dim Views on War on Terror

Respondents in 22 of 23 countries surveyed think U.S. action has failed to weaken terrorist groups, according to a BBC World Service poll. According to the poll, only 22 percent of 23,937 respondents said al Qaeda has been weakened. Roughly 30 percent believe the ‘war on terror’ has had no effect, while the same percentage of respondents think U.S. efforts have made al Qaeda stronger. Roughly half of those surveyed believe neither side is winning the conflict, while 61 percent feel negatively toward al Qaeda. France and Mexico had the highest number of participants who believe U.S.led action has empowered terrorists.

Sri Lanka War Nearing End?

One of Asia’s longest-running wars could soon be over if Sri Lanka’s government is to be believed. Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told the BBC on Friday that government forces will soon recapture the rebel stronghold city of Kilinochchi, in the far north of the island nation. “Our numbers are very much greater than theirs, our firepower is much greater. We are very confident we can win and we want to finish this very soon,” the BBC quoted him as saying. The 25-year-old war between government forces and the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, has killed 70,000 people, and displaced hundreds of thousands of others, according to news reports.

PTSD Hits the British Armed Forces

Roughly 24,000 British veterans returning from duty in Iraq or Afghanistan are now battling the UK’s criminal justice system and constituting nine percent of the prison population, according to reports. The U.K.’s Telegraph reported the findings of three separate studies sponsored by the National Association of Probation Officers and other veteran support groups. Research from 2001 to 2004 along with the case histories of 74 veterans showed that the majority of violent offenses committed by veterans is fueled by drug and alcohol abuse, the result of untreated post-traumatic stress disorder. With 8,000 veterans currently in custody, concerned citizens argue that the Ministry of Defense is doing too little to screen recently discharged servicemen and women for early signs of mental illness. The Ministry says it utilizes “robust systems” to treat and prevent PTSD with pre- and post-deployment screenings, and subsequent access to counseling.

Journalist Slaying Stirs up Trouble in Russian Hinterland

Hundreds of protestors packed the streets of a Russian city on Monday after a critic of the Kremlin was arrested and killed by police. Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of a Web site in the rebellious Ingushetia region, was arrested on Sunday at an airport after getting off the same flight as the Moscow-supported leader of the region, according to the BBC. Soon afterwards, he was shot in the head and dumped near a hospital, where he later died from his injuries, the BBC reported. According to the London Telegraph, Ingushetia has been the scene of a number of deadly attacks in recent months, as a low-level Islamist insurgency has targeted local officials. The region has a stormy history with the nearby South Ossetia region, where Russia has supported a breakaway region against the Georgian government, and, the Telegraph reports, Russia’s recent war with Georgia has further destabilized the situation.

Olympic Terror Fears Spur West China Crackdown

China’s western Xinjiang province is still simmering with violence and repression, as the government cracks down on Uighur rebels seeking to capitalize on the Beijing Olympics. Critics, however, say that the threat has been exaggerated to justify harsher security measures. Last week, a coordinated series of bombings targeted a dozen public buildings, leaving as many as eight dead, and prompting a complete lockdown of Kuqa City, home to 400,000 people. Businesses have been shuttered there, and travel restricted. The week before, two Muslim jihadists drove a truck into a group of security forces out jogging, killing 16 people and injuring 16 more, the China Post reported.

Court Dates and Coup Attempts for Turkey Secularists

Political unrest and terrorism is causing problems for Turkey’s ruling party, which has staved off coup attempts as well as judicial efforts to remove it from power. Turkey’s highest court decided not to ban the government’s ruling party Wednesday for allegedly attempting to establish Islamist rule in country, the Turkish Press reported. The courts deliberations on the conduct of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) began Monday on the heels of a terrorist bombing in Istanbul that left 17 dead and hundreds more injured, al-Jazeera reported. The case highlights the schism between secular groups in Turkey and the ruling AKP, which draw support from devout Muslims with ties to the country’s Islamist movement. The party is accused of trying to introduce non-secular rule in Turkey while in power, a charge AKP officials denied.