02 December, 2006

Stuff and nonense.

Jamie Oliver is the odious little celebrity toad who was conscripted by the health fascists in the Blair government to tell the nations' children what, and what not, to eat. The majority of children can tell a pillock when they see one and have not been impressed.

Now, the Daily Mail is enjoying itself at Oliver's expense. The health food fanatic has got a double chin. In fact, in non-Mail parlance, Oliver is a right fat bastard, larded with hypocrisy.

The Mail also reports that Nigella Lawson does not want to be regarded a " kitchen blow-up sex doll". To prove it she poses for the Mail in one of few recent publicity pictures in which she does herself justice and hasn't been tarted up like a six-penny whore. All this in aid of a cookery series she has on BBC this week. Never the less, I think she's missed a great marketing opportunity with Nigella Blow-up Dolls.

Musa Qala: template for peace or Pandora's Box?

The International Herald Tribune carries an article, which first appeared in the New York Times, reporting differences in Afghan opinion over the truce negotiated between the British army and the Taliban at Musa Qala, in September. The article says the truce has deeply divided opinion:

Some fear it represents a capitulation to the Taliban, sets a dangerous precedent, and may further weaken the authority of the central government. Others defend the accord and say it could point to a way forward in negotiating peace in parts of Afghanistan.
The locals and their tribal elders are happy enough to be left in peace. Most of the opposition seems to come from vested interests: former militia leaders and the Kabul government's members and officials trying to defend their own power bases.
By allowing one district to choose its own officials and police, which was also agreed to under the accord, the government has opened a Pandora's Box and more districts are clamoring for the same right, one lawmaker warned. Granting local autonomy in exchange for peace would represent a reversal of five years of U.S. policy aimed at building a strong central government in Afghanistan.
There is the problem of Afghanistan, which the US and NATO need to take on board. I have written before of Pashtun independence and it applies in a wider context: any attempt by Kabul to impose tight central control on the provinces is likely to have only one result - civil war. The tribal elders are not going to give up their rights to run their own affairs as they see fit.

The question now is not if the Taliban will be part of any settlement but how much authority they will be able to exert within Afghanistan's borders. Unlike the elders, Karzai's government has shown no sign of being able to deal with them. The best the US and NATO can hope for is some sort of loose federal system in which Kabul respects the authority of the elders, as the only group which can exert some limiting influence over the Taliban.

David Cameron: Daily Telegraph interview.

David Cameron has given the Daily Telegraph an exclusive interview to mark the first anniversary of his becoming leader of the Conservative party. Here is the full text of the interview.

There is also an audio file and links to various related articles.

What does the cretin in chief say? In crude terms, redolent of John Major, the DT headline sums it up: back me or we will lose again. I will have to think about that. The interview itself is an anthology of the garbage Cameron has been spouting over the last twelve months: rebranding the party, ditching outmoded ideas, taking the centre ground, poverty, schools, NHS, discipline, CBI, US, Iraq, blah, blah, blah. Towards the end there is history lesson:

I believe in steady and sensible evolution. This is what the Conservative Party has done for generations, whether Disraeli taking the Conservative party’s appeal to the new middle classes, Churchill and Eden reaching out to home owners. Margaret Thatcher making the Conservative Party attractive to reform minded trade unionists who wanted a growing economy. This is what the Conservative Party has always done...
Disraeli actually stood for the traditional landed interest against the nouveau-riche manufacturing interest and I think he is confusing Churchill and Eden with the crypto-socialist Macmillan. However, that's debatable but for Cameron to claim a Thatcherite legacy in any shape or form is just drivel of the highest order. Mrs Thatcher always put the individual before the state and said what people needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. Maggie had principles.

Back me or we will lose. Let's see. We are going to lose with Cameron as leader, so we might as well tell Davey boy to piss off now and give his successor time to try to salvage something from the mess he will inherit.

01 December, 2006

Panorama: "3 Commando: hunting the Taleban."

A BBC crew has been filming in Helmand, Afghanistan with the British army and on Sunday, 3rd December, Panorama will be showing the results on BBC1 at 22:15. It will also be streamed on the web at the link above. The publicity for "3 Commando: Hunting the Taleban" says:

Amid battle scenes that have been described by one commander as the most intense "since the Korean War", the BBC's Alastair Leithead, award-winning cameraman Fred Scott and field producer Peter Emmerson spent nine days embedded with UK forces in southern Helmand province, facing the risk of ambush and attack.

During the trip, the BBC team gained unique, prolonged access to the soldiers of the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade as they fight a shifting and elusive Taleban threat.
Hat tip: arrse

David "Tosser"Cameron - food snob.

On a rare day off from saving the universe, David "Tosser" Cameron has been preaching a sermon on good food. You can read his neo-socialist recipes, in full, here.

I shall paraphrase, for those with better things to do than read the ramblings of the next Conservative leader to lose a general election:

Instead of gorging themselves with junk food, the lower orders should ask their domestic staff to cook vegetables; even if they are as ugly as Cherie Blair they will be far more nutritious. The Conservative party is going to have a policy review group to find ways of making sure the proles only employ the highest quality chefs.

I, myself, do interesting things, tossing salads with my old friend, the Soviet hero, Red Tractor Mark and that delightful cabbage, Jamie Oliver. I intend to change attitudes so that, whenever you see somebody tossing something, you will think of me.
Can somebody please explain how we got lumbered with this idiot.

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Cash for honours: nearly time to start feeling collars?

A few weeks ago, Assistant Commissioner John Yates wrote a letter to the House of Commons public administration committee, detailing the progress made by his inquiry into cash for honours.

According to the the Daily Mail, Yates also secretly briefed the committee, telling them that he was confident he would have enough evidence to bring charges and, in terms of the inquiry's progress, "he was 80 per cent of the way there."

Much as it would be fun to see Blair in the dock, it somehow seems the most unlikely outcome, however optimistic Yates might be.

al Yamamah: Saudi ultimatum

The Daily Telegraph leads today's front page with the news that Saudi Arabia has issued an ultimatum to the British government: you have 10 days to stop the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into the al Yamamah contract or the deal is off. Instead Saudi Arabia will turn to France.

The Saudis are understood to have already opened negotiations with the French about buying 36 rival Rafale jets.

The Daily Telegraph has learned that President Jacques Chirac has been to Saudi Arabia twice in recent months to offer full French co-operation on such a deal.

There has since been a series of meetings in Paris. Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi national security council secretary general, visited the French president on Wednesday of last week.

Last Monday, an envoy from the Saudi government is understood to have gone to Paris to confirm details of a potential new deal.
At risk are at least 50,000 jobs and continuing access to Saudi intelligence on terrorism. None of which appears to worry Lord Goldsmith who, as Attorney General, has powers to end the SFO inquiry in the national interest.

Previously on CS, with a link to the relevant legislation: Al Yamamah: will Blair act?

30 November, 2006

World AIDS day in South Africa.

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day and the Guardian reports that South Africa is going to mark the occasion by launching a plan to counter the disease that does not involve beetroot and garlic. In October Crumbling Spires reported on the new policy and this appears to be the formal burial of health minister, Dr Mantombazana Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang's medical eccentricities, which recommended a nutritious diet based on garlic, beetroot, lemon and African potatoes as the best way to fight AIDS.

Manto, or Dr Beetroot as she is widely known, may be down but she is not out. According to Independent Online, she is ill at the moment with a lung infection but "is looking forward to doing her bit in the fight against HIV and Aids when she returns to work." She will not however, be attending any World AIDS Day functions.

In a related story, IOL reports criticism of traditional herbal cures for AIDS, which seem to be not far removed from Manto's remedies.

More AIDS-related stories from South Africa via News24 and SABC News and the Mail and Guardian.

Does NATO's failure at Riga mean a wider war?

The International Herald Tribune carries a piece by Ahmed Rashid arguing that NATO's "abysmal failure" at the Riga summit to address effectively its problems in Afghanistan is likely to lead to a wider war, as Afghanistan's neighbours compete for influence.

The Taliban, backed by Pakistan's military regime and encouraged by NATO's inaction, is preparing for a major spring offensive against Kabul and the Karzai government. NATO is unlikely to have the resources to respond effectively to widespread assault.

Pakistani officials are already convinced that the Taliban are winning and are trying to convince NATO and the United States to strike piecemeal deals with the Taliban in the south and east, which eventually could develop into a Pakistani- brokered Taliban coalition government in Kabul.

Such a plan would never be tolerated, however, by the swath of other neighbors who in the 1990s supported the former Northern Alliance in their war against the Taliban. To beat back Pakistan and the Taliban, Russia, Iran, India and the Central Asian states may step up their support for Karzai's government, but they will almost certainly look for alternatives, such as rearming and mobilizing their former allies - the warlords of the north.

As in the 1990s, such a scenario could develop into an ethnic civil war between the Pashtun Taliban in the south and the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras of the north. At Riga, NATO demonstrated that it does not have the will to stop such a civil war, which could lead to the partition of Afghanistan along north- south lines.
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Lord Ramsbotttom:

Lord Ramsbottom, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons, has been criticising the British justice system. The Independent claims it has an exclusive article from Ramsbottom.

I suppose technically it is an exclusive, but it is not as entertaining as His Lordship was on C4 News in the UK last night, when he made much the same points but with the demeanour of a man who has just discovered the nurse has hidden his claret. The hapless interviewer couldn't get a word in as old Rammy railed about the government and the Home Office. One of the major axes being ground was that Home Office ministers and their officials have spent too much time inventing management systems to manage managing prison management instead of focusing on managing the prisoners.

The unkindest cut of all.

The Royal Navy has opened a second front against the Royal Marines in Afghanistan, hitting them were it really hurts. The underpaid Marines had been told by the Royal Navy that they were to receive up to £17 per day in extra payments during their six month tour, making a possible bonus of some £3,000 in all. Now their Lordships at the Admiralty have sobered up sufficiently to realise that the promised figure was an administrative error and the Marines are, in fact, entitled to bugger all. Result - some unhappy Jollies and low morale.

I think a plea of justifiable homicide should cover anybody shooting the MoD flunkey who said that, although the a mistake had been made,

"However, it is important to note that they are not taking a cut."
According to the Daily Telegraph:

One troop commander said: "How is morale? It's absolutely dreadful out here. Some people, particularly senior NCOs, are going to lose out on a significant amount of money."

A senior NCO said: "This is another kick in the teeth just as we have deployed out here. We will do what we do job-wise, but this just shows the value the MoD places on our service."

At the time of posting, there is nothing on the MoD site.

al-Yamamah: will Blair act?

al Yamamah continues to unfold, with British jobs vanishing before our very eyes. The Daily Telegraph reports that Tony Blair is coming under pressures to intervene and that

.... it emerged that governments in Germany, Italy and Spain — Britain's partner nations in the Typhoon/Eurofighter project who are relying on the £10 billion contract for more work —are concerned about the SFO inquiry.

One defence source said: "Although BAE is leading the production of the Eurofighter, it has implications not just in the UK. [Other countries] are asking, 'Why can't the UK government control this'? "

Why indeed. It is a problem entirely of the government's own making. Despite warnings that this type of case would inevitably occur, ministers introduced the corruption legislation at a time before they had grown up politically and were still posturing like an opposition. It is long past time to end the enquiry. The left will squawk, but then they are always squawking about something. Yet, it is difficult to see what Blair can do, except prod the the Attorney General into action. It is the lawyer's call.

I am not a lawyer but, from this link, I think the relevant legislation is Part 12 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security (ATCS) Act 2001, which came into force in 2002.

29 November, 2006

India on Afghanistan at the UN.

Nirupam Sen, India's ambassador to the United Nations has been addressing the UN General Assembly on Afghanistan. From the Hindustan Times:

Rejecting suggestions for making a deal with the Taliban, India has said the long-term solution to problems in Afghanistan lies in a judicious mixture of using force against extremist elements and providing credible and sustained development opportunities.

"What is needed is to eliminate the bases of extremists' support," India's Ambassador to UN Nirupam Sen told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday without naming any country and called for interdiction of sources that provide terrorist groups with arms and finances.

He rejected suggestions for making a deal with the Taliban and warned that such a course would bring neither peace nor security.

"The swamp of terrorist insurgency cannot be drained till the stream feeding the swamp dries up or is at least reduced to a trickle," he remarked.
Here is the official UN press release on the General Assembly's debate on Afghanistan.

Even terrorists human rights, according to the EU.

The friends of the terrorists (human rights department) are working overtime after the release of a European Union report condemning some European governments for allowing the CIA to transport dangerous terrorists to places where they might be treated less than gently; the so-called "rendition". Human Rights Watch is particularly offended, so offended it calls on the US to stop it. Amnesty International is self-righteous as ever and links to the story of a terrorist suspect whose human rights were "violated"

In the House of Commons, the minor parties are getting all worked up. The SNP and Liberals, according to the Guardian, are demanding a public inquiry and

...jointly attacked the government for its "complicity" with the US government over the practice, whereby secret CIA flights transferred detainees to locations where they risked being tortured.
For once the Conservative party is behaving sensibly and refusing to comment.

The Independent also covers the story.

It never ceases to amaze me that, even after 9/11 and the London bombings, so many people are prepared to treat the war against terrorists as though it was some kind of Corinthian amateur sporting contest to be played by rules. The question the human rights lobby will never answer is whether they would prefer another atrocity to occur or rather it be prevented by effective intelligence gathering.

NATO summit.

At the Riga summit in Latvia, NATO has a agreed some sort of deal regarding the caveats imposed by some member states on troop use in Afghanistan. Such caveats have prevented NATO commanders in Afghanistan from deploying the troops of certain nations in combat, however dire the emergency. The NATO press release says:

Leaders of the 26 countries agreed to remove some caveats – national restrictions on how, when and where forces can be used – to further strengthen the effectiveness of the NATO-led forces in the country.

They also confirmed that, regardless of the remaining caveats, in situations of urgency, every Ally will come to the assistance of the Allied forces that require it.
It is a start but the obvious questions are: who will define the "situation of urgency" and what precisely is meant by "come to the assistance of "? For example, it is not difficult to foresee that the French, German or Spanish governments might not regard as "urgent" a British unit hanging onto strategic position in Helmand or a Canadian unit in a similar position in Kandahar. Equally, France, Germany or Spain might well interpret "assistance" as evacuation rather than providing combat reinforcements. Furthermore, the possibly empty promises have been given after the major conflict, as a political settlement for Afghanistan begins to loom on the horizon.

The Times remains sceptical of the developments. The BBC seems to take NATO members at their word. More realistically, Monster and Critics headlines its report, "NATO leaders paper over Afghan troop deployment discord."

Reports are also emerging from Canada of a few hundred more troops being sent to Afghanistan , but it is not yet clear exactly how many, or where they are to come from: Globe and Mail and CBC News.

No doubt more details will seep out after the summit as journalists are briefed but, for now,that appears to have been the public face of NATO at Riga.

Al-Yamamah turmoil.

More on the al-Yamamah scandal and the destruction of British jobs.

According to the Guardian, the Serious Fraud Office has unearthed Swiss bank accounts linking questionable payments by BAE to Wafic Said, the Saudi rulers' arms dealer.

The Guardian also has a profile of Wafic Said, an FAQ guide to the case and a typically sanctimonious leader.

Elsewhere, in the Times the Saudis are being diplomatic, for the moment. By contrast, the Daily Telegraph says the Saudis have suspended negotiations over the deal, and reports on behind the scenes attempts to sort out the mess.

Meanwhile the Attorney General is still conspicuous by his inaction.

Pak support for Taliban.

The Daily Telegraph reports that, after being defeated by the Taliban in their own back yard, Pakistan is now advising NATO to surrender to the terrorists in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, has said in private briefings to foreign ministers of some Nato member states that the Taliban are winning the war in Afghanistan and Nato is bound to fail. He has advised against sending more troops.

Western ministers have been stunned. "Kasuri is basically asking Nato to surrender and to negotiate with the Taliban," said one Western official who met the minister recently.
Kasuri has some support from Lt Gen Ali Mohammed Jan Orakzai, the governor of North West Frontier Province, who has played a significant role in negotiating the surrender to the Taliban in Pakistan's western provinces. The DT goes on to report that many Pashtuns are not happy with Orakzai because they "...consider the Taliban as pariahs and a negation of Pashtun values."

28 November, 2006

David Southall : 8

David Southall has been continuing his evidence to the GMC disciplinary hearing. After his recent memory lapses, Southall seems to have recovered sufficiently to display a mastery of language. No,he said, he had not been aggressive or angry, when dealing with Mrs M., a woman whose 10 year old son had hanged himself. Rather he had been "professional" in investigating his concerns for the safety of the woman's other child. Southall denied accusing her of murder. From the Daily Mail: [link fixed]

Prof Southall said he had wanted to explore three "scenarios" with Mrs M - that of whether her son had died by accident, had committed suicide or had been killed by somebody.
Beneath the professorial semantics, the implication is clear: who was the "somebody" who did the killing, if not the mother?

The BBC reports that:
Asked by his QC, Kieran Coonan, if he had gone beyond his remit by accusing her of drugging her child and leaving him hanging on a curtain pole to die and then calling an ambulance he said: "No and that is just not acceptable.

"I did not do it. That is a key issue and that was the line across which I could not move."
More semantics. Of course he literally "did not do it" but the mind games he was playing with the mother were clearly intended to have that effect.

Over the last two reports I have noticed that Southall is cleverly managing to reduce the case to one of his word against that of the mothers' involved. I think the outcome is becoming increasingly predicable.

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy in New York.

A series of articles relating to Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, from newsday.com, in connection with accusations made in New York against Cindy Becvar and Susan Nilsen:

The case: Controversial diagnoses split up two families.

The doctor's view: Response from Schneider Children's Hospital.

Background: England a hotbed of Munchausen scandal.

Political tossers in debt.

Last week I posted a story about a populist Conservative campaign encouraging young people not be "tossers" and get into debt. Today, the Electoral commission has published details of loans and donations to the main political parties. Both major parties are revealed to be debt-ridden tossers.

Here is the register of loans, available also in spreadsheet form. Donations are dealt with separately, on an individual basis. Essentially, whereas donations are gifts, loans attract commercial rates of interest and have repayment schedules. The relevant legislation is the 2000 Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.

The Guardian has some figures

In total, Labour had £23,390,992 of loans at the end of September, the Tories £35,315,060 and the Liberal Democrats £1,131,277.
I have no idea why the Tories need such a huge sum. The Daily Telegraph reminds us that that the party hierarchy blew £5m or so on new offices but that still leaves over £30m, a sum which I doubt the constituencies see any of. My best guess would be that most of it has been blown on advertising during election campaigns. A significant amount of Labour's debt is probably due to servicing existing loans with new loans. Indeed, the comrades' severe cashflow problem is picked by both the Guardian (above link) and the Times. The Thunder also makes the obvious "tosser" link.

Mirza-Tahir Hussain. The Times interview: part 2:

Part two of the interview with Mirza Tahir Hussein in Times, focuses on life on Rawalpindi's death row and the campaign for his release. Today's instalment also has a video interview and pictures of Hussein with his family.

Click here for links to part one of the Times' interview and previous posts on Hussein.

27 November, 2006

Garmser: more details emerge

In October I linked to a Daily Telegraph report which recounted how a shortage of troops in Afghanistan resulted in gunners and red caps being pressed into service as infantrymen to hold Sangin in Helmand Province. Now the Daily Mail reports similar desperate measures in Garmser (Garmisir).

When a key strategic town in Afghanistan's Helmand Province fell to the Taliban, British commanders ordered that it must be retaken as a top priority. But with the UK's main fighting units locked in bloody battles further north, it was left to a ragtag band of 12 British soldiers, including TA reservists and medics, to lead a force of barely-trained Afghan soldiers and police across Taliban-held the desert. They hoped to retake the town of Garmisir within 24 hours. In fact they faced an astonishing 14 day close-quarter battle - isolated, heavily outnumbered and fighting for their lives in an action reminiscent of Rorke's Drift.
A quite incredible account of the action follows.

A clear picture is beginning to emerge of just how desperate it became at times in Helmand during the summer. It would seem that, beset by manpower and equipment shortages, only the skill and bravery of the troops averted a military disaster. Our troops deserve better from the MoD.

Lessons from Peace Jirga

Earlier this month, Nobless Oblige reported on the recent Pashtun jirga in Peshawar, Pakistan. An article on Afgha.com examines the jirga and concludes that certain lessons can be learnt, including:

1. Notwithstanding the notion that Pashtuns have problems in adopting of a united stand, this Jirga, held for the first time in the face of a great challenge to Pashtun values shows that this nation can stand united and cares for peace and prosperity of not only the Pashtuns, but of the region as a whole.
2. There is a realization of the fact that enemies of peace and those of progress and prosperity in Afghanistan are aiding and abetting elements that commit violence in and around the Pashtun belt region.
3. Pashtuns are up to meeting the challenges that threaten peace and security in their name and movements that bring disrepute to their sacred religion through carrying out of acts of violence against the innocent and against a fraternal country preventing its stabilization and development.
4. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan should bank on the inherent power and understanding of the tribal jirgas for finding of solutions to social and political evils that lurk on the horizon preventing peace and tranquility to rule in the region.
5. President Karzai of Afghanistan and the commission he has appointed for preparations for the upcoming jirgas with Pashtun leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan should study the details of this jirga and use the finding of the jirga in drafting of the agenda for their proposed meetings.
6. It should be noted that the Pashtun Peace Jirga found the following:
a) There is a growing fear of Talebanization in the region.
b) Tribal chiefs alleged that ISI was helping Taleban prepare for an offensive against Afghanistan next year.
c) The chiefs claimed the Taleban were being allowed to move large amounts of weapons and ammunition to the Afghan border.
d) Pashtuns wanted the world to realize that they were a tolerant nation and that they demanded from the world to respect their national identity and values.
e) Pashtuns care profoundly about what goes on in Afghanistan and could help bring a resolution to the long lasting problems there by curbing the politically motivated violence there.
My reading is that the Pashtun chiefs were concerned to assert their independence and reiterate their right to sort out their own affairs without any outside interference, be it from governments in either Kabul or Islamabad, or even from the Pashtun-dominated Taliban.

Des Browne: Chatham House speech on Iraq.

Des Browne, Defence secretary, has given a speech at Chatham House on the government's policy in Iraq. It is the first coherent exposition of the government's Iraq policy, by a senior minister, that I have come across. For the full text of the speech, click here

The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and the Times all emphasise Browne's intention to significantly reduce the number of British troops in Iraq by the end of next year, although some troops will remain to assist the Iraqi government.

From a close reading of the speech, I would say that, although Browne intends to reduce troop numbers as the Iraqi government takes over the country, he has left the door open for the continuing long-term presence of the British army in Iraq.

Browne began by locating the current tensions in Iraq within an historical context and arguing that a unified Iraq is vital to regional stability. He then identified three major British policy imperatives :

First, we are helping the Iraqis build up their own security forces. Second, as these forces develop we are handing them control, province by province, city by city, moving to the point where they have complete responsibility. Third, we are underwriting that handover process by leaving in place quick response forces - not to do front line security work but ready to support the Iraqis if the situation gets out of control.
The Iraqi government, Browne continued, has control over 14 of the 18 provinces and the major question is: how long it will take to handover the rest. Baghdad and Basra are the most difficult issues but, even in Basra, Operation Sinbad, is making progress and it is hoped that the Iraqis will be able to take over next spring (as envisioned by the Foreign Secretary in her speech last week). Then it will be possible to scale back the British forces to a level needed to mentor Iraqi forces and protect Coalition supply routes. Then comes the paragraph, which the press have seized upon:
How large a force will this be? ...I do not believe it is right to give precise numbers, nor to assume what the next 12 months will hold. But I can tell you that by the end of next year I expect numbers of British forces in Iraq to be significantly lower - by a matter of thousands. The planning for this has been going on for some months, and I have been pressing our planners to look at all the options, to make sure we do not ask a single extra soldier to remain in Iraq longer than is necessary.
In the early press reports, rather less attention has been paid the last sentence of the paragraph:
In the end, of course, it must depend on conditions on the ground - including the level of threat and the capacity of the Iraqis to deal with it - and the final decision will be down to our commanders.
That could be interpreted to mean that UK forces will will stay in Iraq however long it takes to do the job, in other words, until the most troublesome provinces - Maysan and Basra - can be handed over to the Iraqis. Especially if Iran starts stirring up the Basra area, that could require reinforcements from more peaceful provinces and, inevitably, take longer than a few months. In any event, it is likely to require a longer time-scale than the Foreign Office's previously stated view of a few months. If the government adheres to its stated policy imperatives, it could be a little too early to talk about large scale withdrawals as anything other than an ambition.

Multi-cultural disharmony

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, has declared war on Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). It seems that Phillips' crime is to question the wisdom of multi-culturalism. Red Ken is retaliating by refusing to attend a CRE conference. and organising a rival shindig of his own. The Observer summed up the phoney war:

A furious clash over multiculturalism has erupted after the Mayor of London accused Trevor Phillips, head of Britain's race equality watchdog, of peddling falsehoods and failing victims of racism...

...Tensions between Phillips and Livingstone have been rising ever since the head of the Commission for Racial Equality began speaking out on multiculturalism, which he argues may have led to greater ghettoisation, and harmed relations with the Muslim community following the 7/7 bombings.

Livingstone recently accused Phillips, who is of Caribbean descent, of being so right-wing that he would 'soon be joining the BNP'.
I suspect that Red Ken is really upset because Phillips' not only called for an open debate on multi-culturalism but threatened to use his official powers to ensure it was conducted on his terms.

Black information is behind the Mayor. It seems they are going to parade a coffin in protest at the CRE conference. I hope they do it in style with a Dixieland band.

The Guardian and the BBC also pick up on the story.

I suspect most of this controversy will degenerate into an exchange of insults referring to Enoch Powell's famous speech which is more often cited than read. Here is the text.

Mirza Tahir Hussain: Times interview

Mirza Tahir Hussain, the British citizen sentenced to death by a sharia court in Pakistan after being cleared in a criminal case, has told his story to the Times; not surprisingly since the Times played a major role in highlighting the injustice of Hussain's case. Indeed, previously the Times managed to interview Hussain in Rawalpindi jail.

The first instalment of the most recent interview deals with the Hussain's arrest and imprisonment, culminating in the original trial.

A second item gives some background on executions in Pakistan.

Previous coverage on Crumbling Spires.

26 November, 2006

al-Yamamah: for and against.

An update on the Saudi corruption probe concerning the alleged payment of bribes in connection with defence contracts under the so-called al-Yamamah agreement.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that, if the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) persists with the inquiry, Saudi Arabia will give the contract instead to France. Moreover, the free-spending Saudis will never again award a defence contract to a British firm.

The French obviously have a more realistic towards the international defence business than the UK, which is prepared to destroy a major industry just so some people, including Sunday Telegraph comment writers, can feel self-righteous.

In Friday's Daily Mail the ever-sharp Peter Oborne takes a more balanced look at the issues. Oborne sees it not as a criminal issue, but as a cultural and political problem, largely caused by an inept UK government. However, Oborne thinks there is still time for the Attorney General to resolve the issue by ending the SFO inquiry.

Afghanistan helmet cam.

The Sunday Telegraph has acquired some video of combat operations in Afghanistan, shot by a soldier's helmet cam. It gives warning at the start but I cannot see anything upsetting in the films. I guess the Telegraph has been careful about what it releases.