22 December, 2006

Crumbling Spires will now be closing down for Christmas. Thanks to all who have visited over the last four months and who have made it all worthwhile. It will be back after the festivities.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

Times interview with the Defence secretary.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, is one of the few senior ministers in the present government who gives the impression of not being out of his depth. He has been talking to the Times.

Browne accepts the army is struggling with serious problems of manning and equipment. However, as long as the Treasury refuses the military proper funding, and continues to make social spending a priority, it is hard to see what he can do about it.

It is also encouraging to see him publicly backing General Dannatt.

Update 29.2.06
The Ministry of Defence is whingeing that the Times has misquoted Browne in claiming that he said the army is "too small to cope". If the MoD is correct, then why is the army in Afghanistan and Iraq undermanned?

21 December, 2006

Christmas al Qaeda terror threat.

From the Blotter:

British intelligence and law enforcement officials have passed on a grim assessment to their U.S. counterparts, "It will be a miracle if there isn't a terror attack over the holidays in London," a senior American law enforcement official tells ABCNews.com.

British police have been quietly carrying out a series of key arrests as they continue to track at least six active "plots" tied to what they call "al Qaeda of England."

Officials said they could not cite any specific date or target but said al Qaeda had planned previous operations during the Christmas holidays that had been disrupted.
The Blotter and ABC News have more. It can surprise nobody who has been listening to the authorities over the last three or four months.

Cap doffed to lfg.

Johm Hemming MP on David Southall and the GMC.

In a speech in the House of Commons, John Hemming the MP for Birmingham Yardley, has continued his campaign against the mistreatment of children and their parents by the authorities in child abuse cases. He had much to say of interest regarding David Southall's controversial research into Sudden Infant Death.

In the speech, Mr Hemming raises some disturbing questions about the nature of Southall's research and the way the issue has been handled by the General Medical Council. It does seem remarkable that, for some reason I cannot figure, the GMC have not only adjourned their disciplinary hearing against Southall for 11 months but they have also left him in possession of key documentary evidence. Here is some extracts from Hansard:

Dr. Southall has done much research on sudden infant death—an important area of research, given the numbers of children who have died without a clear diagnosis. Perhaps the biggest project was known as protocol 85.02. Dr. Southall looked at the response of babies to asphyxiation, shortage of oxygen and the presence of carbon dioxide. The experiments were known as sleep studies, and started with about 7,000 babies born in the mid ’80s at Doncaster and Rotherham hospitals.

Phases 1 and 2 of the experiments were quite reasonable. Phase 3, however, involved choking babies for 10 sessions of 10 seconds, depriving them of oxygen by giving them only 15 per cent. oxygen rather than the normal 21 per cent., and then giving them too much carbon dioxide. Parents were not asked for their consent to the experiments; they were merely told, in writing, that they would happen, without any details.

A large number of brain-damaged babies were born in Doncaster in the 1980s. However, the records showing which babies were in the experiments were not in the medical files, because Dr. Southall kept secret files, known as special case files. Although compensation was paid, the causation was not entirely clear. The process expanded with the Office for National Statistics providing details of all deaths from sudden infant death syndrome—about 12,000 cases—so that Dr. Southall could continue his research with the siblings....

...Protocol 85.02 was not the only research project operated by Dr. Southall. He also gave carbon monoxide to babies with breathing problems, caused so much damage to babies in his experiments that they needed resuscitation, and did considerable damage through his experimental continuous negative extrathoracic pressure tanks, which he told others was tried and tested when in fact it was research...

..In essence, what we have is evidence of a doctor managing research likely to lead to brain damage and/or death in infants. There is evidence of a substantial number of babies being brain-damaged at the same hospital. There are also records of babies dying from symptoms that could have been caused by that type of research. However, there is no detailed explanation.

The allegations are very serious, but the system of regulation wants to ignore them. After many years of struggle, the General Medical Council started to hear evidence in November relating indirectly to research. It has, however, now decided to adjourn the hearing for 11 months. What is particularly interesting is the history of the special case files. Those have been stored in all sorts of locations, and they have been involved in criminal prosecutions and in family court actions. At one stage, a parent infiltrated the charity run by Dr. Southall to get access to the files. Court action resulted in their repossession.

In December 2005, it was agreed between the GMC and Dr. Southall that the files should be part of the medical records. However, he has now been allowed 11 months to sanitise them. It is important to remember that there is evidence that the files have already been partially sanitised. Many of the patients are completely unaware that the files exist. I have made numerous requests of the NHS to control the files and legal proceedings are continuing in an attempt to keep them intact. However, the authorities continue to resist this, and to tolerate a major cover-up.
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SANTA TRACKING: for children of all ages.

Not long until Christmas Eve, when once again various organisations world will be following Santa's real-time progress around the world. To help get in the mood, here are some sites to bookmark.

My favourite one is NASA's Santa Tracker. It uses NASA's own J Track satellite tracking model.

Thankfully, NASA's tracking equipment is a little more up to date than their front page. Surely there is a few elves around NASA who can touch it up a bit.

NORAD will be also be watching ready, as ever, to scramble their fighters at the first sign of trouble.

A few other sites also track Santa, though not all links may work.

A veiled criminals and a useful idiot..

Yesterday, it was reported that murder suspect Mustafa Jamal had fled abroad using a veil as a disguise. Today, the government has fairly obviously put up John Denham, MP, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and a former Home Office minister, to deny the story is true and to defend the right of violent Muslim drag artistes to remain in the UK, whatever crimes they commit. According to the BBC:

Mr Denham, a former Home Office minister, said the suggestion that a veil disguise was used, when there was no evidence to support the claim, was potentially damaging because "veils are a very sensitive issue in our society at the moment".
Note the technique. A backbench Labour MP thinks he is very important at being asked to help out by ministers; so important, he might even get offered another government job. He duly follows orders. If the Jama story is indeed false, then there is no harm done; however, if it turns out to be true, Denham is left looking more stupid than usual as Home Office ministers and officials, trying not to smile in public, celebrate being off the hook because they have denied nothing. Some useful idiot did it for them.

NOTE: Due to operator error, yesterday's post on this subject has vanished into hyperspace.

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Baaz Tsuka 6: (updated)

In a press statement on Wednesday, the ISAF announced that Operation Baaz Tsuka had secured the regions of Howz-e Madad and Zangabad", both of which are to the west of Kandahar City in south-eastern Afghanistan.

Multi-map .com: Click on map to enlarge.

CBC News has been in Howze-e Madad and can report that, although Canada deployed tanks for the first time since the Korean War, the town was taken without a single shot being fired.

The Toronto Star carries what I think is a syndicated report from Bill Graveland who has been with the tanks.

Let us hope for another incident free day.


Canada.com can report that it has been a quiet day, so far. Long may it continue so. However,though quiet, as the latest ISAF press release indicates, there is much to keep the troops busy.

23/12/06: Pictures from Baaz Tsuka: militaryphotos.

20 December, 2006

Afghanistan: analysis and suggestions from the Rand Corporation.

In an illuminating interview with Afgha.com, Dr Seth Jones, of the Rand Corporation, examines the position in the southern provinces, analyses Pakistan's role in relation to NATO and the Taliban, and suggests a possible four-stage resolution to Afghanistan's problems.

Operation Baaz Tsuka 5: strategy and tactics (Updated)

My tentative reading of the strategic aim of Operation Baaz Tsuka is that it is an attempt to consolidate NATO's political and military position in Kandahar, the Taliban's major Afghan power base, partly in order to be able to press ahead with the ISAF's development and assistance programme, and partly (mostly?) in preparation for forthcoming political developments. Despite persistent press reports to the contrary, over the summer and autumn, the military position in southern Afghanistan has been relatively stabilised: the British held Helmand; the Canadians held Kandahar, which has obviously been the most difficult of the provinces; and US forces did much to push the Taliban from eastern Afghanistan over the border into Pakistan. It is now a question of holding the Taliban at bay in order to provide a stable environment within which various political processes begin to unfold. Those Earl repolitical processes will almost certainly decide the immediate future of Afghanistan.

In brief, on the political front we can expect a series of jirgas, (meetings of tribal elders) at which agreements for the local administration of areas will be thrashed out between those concerned. The most important of these should be the Grand Jirga, due shortly between the Afghan and Pak governments, if they ever manage to stop exchanging insults for long enough to reach an agreement to meet. The great unknown in the jirgas will be the role of the Taliban. Certainly, the Taliban will be part of the jirgas and much may depend on the relative strength of their negotiating position. If Operation Baaz Tsuka can drive the Taliban into their safe bases across the border in western Pakistan the jirgas might well go better for all concerned than if they were still controlling ares of Kandahar.

Moving away from strategy to tactics, although Baaz Tsuka was announced as a British led operation, the reports of the first few days seem to indicate that it is, in fact, mainly a Canadian show. As with yesterday's reports, tactically the operation seems to be proceeding as a series of discrete actions, taking out whatever targets intelligence or opportunity present. This morning, the ISAF has reported an air strike against a command post and a successful attack on a terrorist leader. Over the coming days, we will probably see a stream of similar, apparently disjointed reports. Only later will overall progress become clear.

Other reports:

CNews: "Cdn troops launch tank, artillery barrage."

Canada.com: "Canadians join NATO offensive against Taliban."

Update @17:15

As many as 50 Taliban have been killed so far in air strikes on Taliban command posts say the Globe and Mail (Canada) and the Irish Examiner. They seem to be drawing on a report from Reuters in which a NATO spokesman is quoted as saying that

"We have cleared one large and two small villages of Taliban. We have killed a reasonable number of Taliban ... it is in the range of about 50,"
Reuters continues with the immortal line, " The Taliban could not be contacted immediately for comment." Oh well, the phones must have been down. They can always use ring-back.

Cash for dishonour.

Not much is happening publicly in the cash for honours match up between Scotland Yard and Downing Street. Last weekend the press made a big thing of saying the inquiry was widening to encompass Blair's inner circle, Although the story made a splash abroad, as far as I can see, it is basically just a reworking of the "police seek e-mails" story which seems to accompany any major investigation these days.

Elsewhere, according to the Independent, some Labour MPs are out to get Assistant Commissioner Yates, the man in charge. The Evening Standard leads with the story but it is probably more accurate to say that they are continuing to go after Yates. As Lord Mackenzie, Labour peer and ex-policeman, pointed out previously, this sort of thing is not unknown amongst the criminal fraternity.

Which brings me seamlessly to Parliament. The major story to emerge is from this scandal is that MPs are using the case as an opportunity to bleed further the taxpayer. The logic,as expressed by leading Liberal leech doctor Alan Beith, seems to be that politics needs cleaning up, so remove the need for dodgy donations by funding the political parties with taxpayers' money. What next, abolish theft by giving everybody mounds of taxpayers' money?

Do not be fooled by the Guardian's headline that, "Time is running out for deal on party funding," or the difficulties identified by the Times, a deal will be eagerly agreed with tear-jerking, oscar-winning public reluctance and then whatever numbers are being mentioned now will pale into insignificant figures when our elected unrepresentatives really get their hands in the till.

19 December, 2006

Operation Baaz Tsuka 4: oust Taliban, deliver assistance.

The Canadian National Post, succinctly sums up the operation's aims as a subtitle to a story headed "Canada's New Afghan Offensive": to oust Taliban, deliver assistance. However,the ISAF is not making predictions about how long the ousting will take. The Edmonton Sun quotes an ISAF spokesman:

[He] would not say when NATO forces will be ready to proceed with the second phase of the operation - asking village elders to nominate trusted civilians to serve in the Afghan National Army and police, to protect their homes and land from the Taliban after NATO has withdrawn troops back to their bases.

"We will be ready when the area is secure to move on to the (recruiting) phase," Marsh said.
As the Sun reports, it has been a remarkably quiet start to the operation, with only sporadic clashes. I presume that is because the Taliban have retreated over the border into western Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the ISAF has issued another terse statement on Operation Baaz Tsuka.
During today’s Operation Baaz Tsuka manoeuvres, Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF forces discovered and destroyed a large enemy weapons cache that included anti-tank mines, 82 mm mortar rounds, rocket propelled grenades and communications equipment.

ISAF and Afghan forces continue to make steady progress as part of the operation. Only sporadic resistance has been encountered so far. The troops will continue manoeuvring through the region in the coming days in order to improve security, which in turn will foster future reconstruction and development efforts.
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Margaret Beckett on the 45 minute lie.

Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, has let slip to the BBC that ministers doubted the government's infamous claim, made in 2002 during the debates over invading Iraq: that Saddam Hussein could land WMDs on London within 45 minutes. In a BBC Radio 4 Today interview, the Daily Mail reports, Beckett said :

“That was a statement that was made once and it was thought to be of such little relevance — and perhaps people began quickly to say, ‘I’m not sure about that’ — that it was never used once in all the debates in the House of Commons.”

Her words imply Mr Blair and ministers quietly dropped the allegation yet failed to withdraw it or correct the record. After speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show Mrs Beckett was challenged by presenter John Humphrys on why the claim had not been corrected in public.

She retorted: “Oh, come on — nobody thought it was relevant. Nobody thought it was a big sweeping statement.”
Little relevance? Not relevant? Not a big sweeping thing? People were not sure about it? At the time, everybody knew immediately, rather than quickly, that it was a crude lie. The lie, made by Blair at the suggestion of his press officer, Alastair Campbell, ignited the mother of all political rows, which was to leave in its wake one suicide, sundry reputations in tatters and arguably the most dishonest official report in British history: the Hutton Report. Two years later the hapless Lord Hutton is still trying to salvage his reputation.

For the next 7 days you can hear Beckett's interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today website under Listen Again for Tuesday 19th December 2006, towards the end of the 08:10-08:25 segment. The BBC does not do transcripts for the programme. Humphrys approached the claim through the recent Carne Ross story. What the Mail report does not convey is how much Beckett was caught unprepared by that and was obviously trying- and failing - to think on her feet.

Cash for honours: promotion and peace.

John Yates, the intrepid Scotland Yard detective in charge of the cash for honours investigation has been formally promoted from Deputy Assistant Commissioner to Assistant Commissioner. According to the BBC , he is now officially number 3 honcho at the Yard. Given that, these days, the top man, Ian Blair, seems to spend more time spouting sociological drivel than actually policing anything, arguably that makes AC Yates Britain's second most senior operational copper.

I can find no comment from the Prime Minister but the Daily Telegraph points out that Yates' appointment would have required the support of the Home Secretary. Meanwhile, the same link says, in the cash for honours nonsense, a peace of a sorts has come to the Middle East:

Mr Blair yesterday showered praise on Lord Levy, Labour's chief fund-raiser and his Middle East go-between, after a weekend of damaging speculation of a rift over the cash for honours affair.

Mr Blair said Lord Levy, who accompanied him to Ramallah for talks with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority, had performed "an excellent job" and been "immensely helpful" in his role as Middle East envoy.

Acknowledging the compliment, Lord Levy nodded in gratitude.

But in a sign that he has become a more controversial figure, he was placed in the second row of the press conference behind other government officials. During a trip to the Middle East in September, he sat prominently next to Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, in the front row.
You're not my friend any more, I don't want to sit with you. God help us. I wonder what the Palestinian terrorists thought of it all.

Chatham House: Foreign Policy Report.

The reaction of the British media to yesterday's release of the interim report from the Conservative Party's Security Policy Group has been relatively muted. Or perhaps, more accurately, disinterested because a similar but better report has appeared.

Poor old Cameron has been spiked somewhat by Chatham House, a UK Think Tank which has just published: British Foreign Policy and Its Possible Successor(s). Click here for the pdf version. It says much the same things as the Conservative document - Blair was wrong to support Bush, invasion of Iraq a mistake, Europeans should not have been isolated, lack of influence, role, etc, etc - but at least has the merit of being coherent and readable.

Asadullah Wafa: the new Governor of Helmand.

So, the Times got it right after all. Mohammad Daud has been sacked as governor of Helmand, the southern Afghanistan province in which the majority of British troops are based, and the scene of some of the fiercest recent battles with the Taliban.

Daud has been replaced by a former governor of Paktia and Kunar provinces, Asadullah Wafa, whose first act has been to announce that he will allow no more deals like that brokered between the British and the Taliban by local elders at Musa Qala. I read the decision as the outcome of an internal Afghan debate over what to do with the Taliban; so, given President Karzai's tenuous authority outside Kabul , Wafa's announcement should probably not be taken as irrevocable.

I think we can leave the involvement of the CIA and a drugs mafia in Daud's sacking to the conspiracy theorists. Not even the Foreign Office is buying that.

British Foreign Office officials said that they did not believe that Mr Daud had been fired due to American pressure.

One official said: "I'm aware of the newspaper reports saying that [President Hamid] Karzai sacked governor Daud due to 'CIA pressure with the Musa Qala arrangement'. It seems unlikely to me. There are certainly differing opinions on the Musa Qala agreement, but I don't think that would be a make or break for a governor, especially considering the deal was done with the full consultation, and approval, of President Karzai."

18 December, 2006

David Cameron: the Conservative Security Policy Group.

On Friday, in a light-hearted post, I wrote,
Meanwhile the serious part of the Conservative Party shakes its collective head and waits for Cameron's next hostage to fortune.
Previously Cameron's stupidities have been harmless fun, at worst electoral disaster. Today he has moved onto a new level of misjudgement, as unacceptable as it is surprising, in a senior politician. Even in my most cynical moments, I never expected Cameron to start playing party politics with UK security policy at a time when British troops are in action and the country is possibly facing an immediate serious threat.

Following the publication of the Conservative Party's "Interim Position Paper of the National and International Security Policy Group", tomorrows headlines will probably be that Cameron blames the invasion of Iraq for the terrorist threat to the UK. The International Herald Tribune and the Guardian have already picked up an AP report of the story. Expect more of the same and inevitably damage to the UK's reputation abroad.

The Interim Paper can be downloaded here in pdf form. Amongst the criticisms of British policy and anti-American sentiments, for me, the following quote (page 5) stands out:
Management of our key relationships however requires attention. We need to recognise that for our longstanding positioning to continue to serve UK interests and for the UK to avoid becoming merely an echo of American policy, allies and partners must share our aspirations for a functioning alliance and for close, cooperative US/European relations. Not all European partners do to the same extent. Nor will they unless we work at it. The paradox is that unless the UK wishes effectively to retire from the world, in which case a context for action does not matter, British freedom of manoeuvre lies in the existence rather than the absence of this framework. The drubbing that key relationships have taken over Iraq has served the interests only of our (collective) enemies. And anti-Americanism, which polls show has risen especially markedly in the UK, is a self inflicted wound. But it is also a reflection of the discomfort felt in this country with recent policy outcomes.
The debate over the UK's policy interests into relation to the US took place immediately after 9/11 and, as I have written before,Tony Blair rightly concluded that UK interests were the exactly same as those of the US, as enunciated by President Bush. It was not, therefore, "an echo of American policy" that led the British into Afghanistan and Iraq with the US but a transatlantic convergence of principles and national interests. Other European countries took a different view but that is a matter for them. From a British point of view, given NATO's performance in Afghanistan it is obvious who are the UK's most reliable allies, and they are not situated in Europe.

I would say that currently western anti-Americanism is not as bad as it was in the years of President Regan and the Cruise Missile debates. Then we had a Conservative leader in Mrs Thatcher who fought such nonsense, not pandered to it, reacting to opinion polls by seeking votes in such meaningless concepts as "frameworks" and "(collective) enemies". What is a "(collective) enemy" anyway - a kulak?

Where is the "drubbing" Cameron? Yes, there is serious problems remaining in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, but as I have demonstrated more than once this week already, progress, however painful and slow, is being made in the right direction. Not that such things seem to interest Cameron. If he lambasted the government for its operational manning and equipment failures, Cameron would have a reasonable point; however, he seems to show little interest in such things, preferring instead to launch a full scale party political attack which can do nothing to help the situation. Now is not the time for a responsible politician to engage in such things.

19.12.06 @7:35 - minor edits applied for clarification.

al Qaeda is coming soon.

The current edition of Newsweek has a story that al Qaeda is using its safe bases in North Waziristan, Pakistan to train a 12-man team of terrorists in preparation for a strike in the West. The putative mass murderers are said to include a couple of Norwegian Muslims, an Aussie and 9 British passport holders.

As Newsweek points out, MI5 is aware of this type of threat but there is so many suspect individuals travelling regularly between Pakistan and the UK that it is almost inevitable that a few will slip under the British and Pakistani security services' radar. It is well worth reading the full article.

It looks like the recent warnings from the Home secretary and the head of MI5 might well be fully justified.

Cap doffed to Hindustan Times.

Newsweek Permalink.

Sergeant Steven Roberts.

The inquest into the death of Sergeant Steven Roberts in Iraq during 2003 has ended with the coroner returning what is called a "narrative verdict". My lay understanding is that it means the coroner produces "...a short, factual statement setting out the circumstances of the death if this more fairly and accurately reflects how the deceased came to his or her death" than the other options available.

Bluntly, the finding is that Sgt. Roberts died because he was amongst the unluckiest of the 2,000 troops who went into Iraq without the best available armoured protection because of shortages of a £167 worth piece of kit. The Times quotes the coroner, Andrew Walker:

"To send soldiers into a combat zone without the appropriate basic equipment is, in my view, unforgivable and inexcusable and represents a breach of trust that the soldiers have in those in Government," he said, recording a narrative verdict in the death of Roberts.

"This Enhanced Combat Body Armour was a basic piece of protective equipment. I have heard justification and excuse and I put these to one side as I remind myself that Sergeant Roberts lost his life because he did not have that basic piece of equipment.

"Sergeant Roberts’s death was as a result of delay and serious failures in the acquisition and support chain that resulted in a significant shortage within his fighting unit of enhanced combat body armour, none being available for him to wear."
Other reports from the BBC and the Daily Telegraph.

I will update this post with the formal inquest verdict if it becomes available.

Opreation Baaz Tsuka: 3: ISAF statement.

The ISAF has issued a statement on the early progress of Operation Baaz Tsuka, the anti-Taliban operation in Kandahar, Afghanistan:

As Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and ISAF continue their movement in and around Zahre, Panjwaii and westerly districts of Kandahar province [the Zahre-Panjawii area is roughly 25-30 miles south west of Kandahar city].

During the operations, ANSF and ISAF have discovered large weapons caches, including mortars, dynamite and anti-personnel mines. These caches will be destroyed.

Local village tribal elders have been receptive to ANSF and ISAF taking up positions in the westerly districts of Kandahar Province and have encountered little to no resistance from insurgents.

Since the start of manoeuvres today in Zahre District, there has been one armored vehicle damaged due to an IED strike resulting in three minor injuries to ISAF troops.

South of Panjwaii, ISAF patrols discovered groups of local Afghans displaced from their homes by the Taliban. They have been given essential aid and identified for further relief.

The armoured vehicle attack was probably this incident, from the Washington Post.

Elsewhere in Kandahar, in what seems to be a separate incident, as the Canadian Globe and Mail reports, there was a clash between coalition forces and Taliban at Sperwan Gar, the scene of a notable engagement last October.

Tony Blair in Iraq

On his historic mission to secure peace in our sometime for the Middle East, the Prime Minister has taken the opportunity to visit British troops in Iraq. According to Downing Street, he is"four-square behind Iraq".
He said that British forces would remain in Iraq "until the job is done" and that the handover of power to Iraqi forces in Basra was "going well."

"Our policy is that as the Iraqi forces are capable of taking over control of the city of Basra so our forces stand back and go to a support role."
Both the BBC and the Independent focus on Blair's remarks to soldiers that the long term ambition to reduce troops numbers should not be read as as a change of policy.:
...the Prime Minister told an audience of about 300 troops from the 19 Light Brigade: "This isn't a change of our policy. Don't be under any doubt at all. British troops will remain until the job is done.

"Our country and countries like it are having to rediscover what it means to fight for what we believe in. This is real conflict, real battle, and it is a different kind of enemy - not fighting a state, but fighting a set of ideas and ideologies, a group of extremists who share the same perspective.
All this seems to be in accord with the Defence secretary's Chatham House speech, in which Des Browne indicated that Basra is the key and that, whatever the Foreign Office might say about a spring withdrawal, British policy is to stand by our allies and the Iraqi people until the task is completed. So despite the major concerns over the armed forces' manning and equipment, for once, at least, Blair deserves some credit for taking the right, as opposed to the easy, option.

Not that Blair is getting much credit from the British press. At the time of posting, except for a brief negative reference in a leader, the Guardian is ignoring Blair in Iraq. In both an article and a leader, the Daily Telegraph puts a negative spin on the story; whilst the Times reports on Blair in Iraq in the context of the headline "Blair snubbed by Bush move to send more troops to Iraq". How they work that out is beyond me. I think the Thunderer must be confusing Blair and the MoD with the appeasers at the Foreign Office.

17 December, 2006

My Lord! John Stevens' reports.

Lord John Stevens used to be a humble policeman, no doubt underpaid and overworked as he plodded the beat. Not any more. By the time he had risen through the ranks to become Metropolitan Police Commissioner, (London's Police Chief), he had arse-licked enough politicians to become a Lord on his retirement (without having to pay cash) in January 2005. Since then he has developed a taste for inquiries that are as pointless as they are expensive.

Last week he published his report which decisively proved that Lady Diana, Princess of Wales was not assassinated by either MI5 or the CIA. If anybody wants to see what the taxpayers got for their £3.69m (about $7M), the full 871 page pdf version can be downloaded from here.

Next up this week is his discount report into allegations of corruption in 39 soccer transfers. It is said to have cost the soccer authorities only about £800,000.

What next? Lord Stevens is a natural choice for inquires into both the Al-Yamamah and Cash for Honours investigations.

UPDATE1: 20.12.06

The BBC has reports and links relating to Steven's soccer inquiry, which has been published. As far as I can see, Stevens' most important claim from the inquiry is his expense forms. And I've just seen this in the Times:

Stevens and his Quest team of investigators would continue to pursue at least 8 uncooperative agents but under a new inquiry with a new frame of reference.
That should keep the wolf from the door until a bigger, badder, better, more profitable inquiry comes along.

UPDATE2: 21.12.06

The latest from Stevens is that he has passed a dossier relating to his inquiry to the Serious Fraud Office. For any soccer fans straying onto here, it might be helpful to observe that the SFO is not part of the police, rather it is a government department, and a completely useless one at that. Think of a civil service version of the Keystone Cops. All those concerned can sleep soundly tonight.

Senator McCain wastes his breath.

John McCain urges NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan.

The French reply.

Do not look to the UK, Senator, the British army cannot afford even a jump for the next five or so years.

Blair: Get your panzers off our lawns.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, Muhammed Abdul Bari, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain thinks that the British government should stop causing terrorism by behaving like Nazis towards Muslims. Perhaps they will , as soon as Islamic terrorists stop randomly killing and maiming innocent individuals. Addressing MPs at the All Party Group on Race and Community, Bari could not manage even the remotest trace of condemnation for his co-religionist murderers.

Mr Bari also rejected Tony Blair's call for Muslims to do more to fight terrorism. He put the responsibility squarely at the door of the Government.

He said: "The attempt to place the problem on one doorstep is unfair and counter-productive." He blamed the "relentless barrage" of anti-terrrorism laws, labelling them "hastily formulated responses masquerading as policy".
Blair in jackboots? Strange fantasy.

Baaz Tsuka 2: Afghan army takes on the Taliban in Kandahar.

In one of the earliest dispatches from Operation Baaz Tsuka, the Sunday Telegraph reports on what should be a formidable combination of the Afghan army and the Canucks taking on the Taliban in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

As with my previous link to Bill Roggio in Iraq, it is encouraging to see the local army able to take more responsibility.

al-Yamamah: unhappy days at the SFO .

Yet more on the al-Yamamah scandal. Paranoia in the in the Serious Fraud Squad? Maybe. According to the Independent, SFO officers investigating al-Yamamah fear somebody bugged their offices.

One senior figure who had been helping the SFO said the investigation's security had been repeatedly compromised. "I was told by detectives that the probe was being bugged. They had reached this conclusion because highly confidential information on the inquiry had been reaching outside parties."
So now we know, it was a bug and not either a leak or a corrupt officer selling information. I think I will ask the fairies at the bottom of the garden what they think.

The SFO is still complaining to anybody who will listen. The Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times each lend a not overly sympathetic ear.

In the Sunday Times, Simon Jenkins has a go at the Attorney Genereal on this and on cash for honours.

Bill Roggio on patrol with the Iraqi army.

Another dispatch from Bill Roggio of The Fourth Rail, this time on patrol with the Iraqi army in Fallujah.

The importance of local knowledge caught my eye.

The Iraqi soldier's ability to develop local intelligence networks, understand the language and culture and know the lay of the land far outweighs any tactical deficiencies they may have. “They can tell who's not from the area – who's from Mosul, or Tikrit or Ramadi – just by their accent, and they can tell when someone's lying,” said [US marine] Cpl Burcell.
I hope I am not misreading Roggio but, once again, but I get the impression from a report by somebody actually on the ground that, however slowly and painfully, Iraq is moving in a positive direction.

Of cash and dishonour amongst friends.

Loyalty can be a wonderful thing but it is rarely as entertaining as disloyalty. The headlines tell the story. The Sunday Telegraph goes with "Blair refuses to back Levy in Labour's cash for honours scandal", whilst the Sunday Mail sticks with "Knives are out for Levy as Blair rift grows." As I said again yesterday, Levy has made clear he is not going to be a fall guy and Blair seems to be getting rattled at the very thought of what Lord Cashpoint might say in court under oath. The Telegraph has a candidate for Lie of the Day,

Mr Blair is reported to have contradicted Lord Levy's written account to police when he was questioned at No 10. The Prime Minister is said to have told detectives he did not have "full knowledge" of the loans or the nominations, while the peer had claimed Mr Blair did know of his dealings with lenders.
The Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party had no knowledge of the loans and associated nominations? I hope Yates of the Yard has not spilt his coffee reading that one.

The intrepid AC Yates is still going. According to the Sunday Times, next up to have his collar felt is Jonathan Powell, the head clerk at Downing Street. It seems the Yard want to discuss a few emails.

Blair has told the police that individuals were nominated for honours for services to Labour. No, say the honoured ingrates, it was for " public service to the nation." The Independent says it has seen copies of secret Downing Street papers which prove the honoured ingrates are correct. I think the Indy's point is that Blair lied to the police. All the story proves is that Blair is an equal opportunities liar and certain rich businessmen have a high opinion of themselves.

Finally, for any fellow sad cases still enjoying the story, the Scotsman has a list of potential second time interviewees and names Detective Chief Inspector Graeme McNulty as the policeman who conducted the historic interview at Downing Street. Congratulations to DCI McNulty.

Sunday morning bonus @ 07:50: Andrew Rawnsley, who appears to have resigned from the Blair Fan Club, gets sanctimonious in the Observer. I just love it when journalists go all hypocritical on us. In the Sunday Times, Simon Jenkins has a go at the Attorney General on this (page 2 of the article) and al Yamamah.