US Backed Malitia Fighting Saudi Backed Malitia In Somalia

May 16, 2006

From The World Tribune:

Islamic forces loyal to such countries as Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia have been gaining control in the the streets of Somalia's capital.

A United Nations Security Council report said that militias, bolstered by weapons from regional states, control 80 percent of the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The report said Islamic forces have gained control over the city as they overcome U.S.-backed militias, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Three fundamental sources feed this [weapons] flow: a widening circle of states — each with its own agenda — arms trading groups and economically powerful individuals, and the business elite," the report said.

The report was released as more than 120 people were killed in militia violence in Mogadishu this week. The battles have centered on the rivalry between Islamist units and those aligned with the United States. Both oppose the so-called Transitional Federal Government.
 
"There appears to be a correspondingly greater volatility of the security situation, particularly in central and southern Somalia," the report said. "The pattern of militarization and the trend towards increasing volatility greatly increases the chances of more fighting and the resulting loss of life."

On May 10, the Security Council renewed the mandate of a group established to investigate an arms embargo on Somalia, without a central government since 1992. The council determined that despite the 15-year embargo, foreign countries continue to pour weapons in an attempt to expand influence in the Arab League state.

"Arms, military materiel and financial support continue to flow like a river to various actors, in violation of the arms embargo," Qatari ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nasser, chairman of the sanctions committee, said.

The Islamic militias have improved their skills in combat and organization, the report said. The Security Council said these militias employ foreign fighters and use shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons.

The report said the U.S.-backed alliance — entitled Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism — has been on the defensive. The UN monitoring group said it had received credible information that the Islamists have captured and beheaded several U.S.-financed militiamen.

Islamic militias have emerged as a third "ideologically motivated and now independent" force, the report said. The other actors were identified as the U.S.-backed militia and the Transitional Federal Government.

Western diplomats have determined that the Islamic militias have invited Al Qaida-aligned groups to use Somalia as a base. Al Qaida was also said to have established training bases in southeastern Somalia.

The report did not identify countries that support the militias in Somalia. But diplomats identified some of them as Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

"The clandestine support of individual states is narrowly defined and motivated by self-interest," the report said. "As a result, the [UN] Monitoring Group sees no end to the trend of continued clandestine state support and, therefore, no end to the ongoing militarization in the near future."


Those Crazy Saudis

May 16, 2006

From CNN:

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, under pressure from Islamists to curb reforms, has warned local media against showing pictures of Saudi women, local newspapers reported on Tuesday.

Many Saudis have said they hope the king, who came to power last year, will loosen strict political and social mores in the ultra-conservative kingdom which imposes an austere version of Islam called Wahhabism.

Newspapers have broken with tradition and have more frequently begun printing photographs of Saudi women beside stories, usually with hair covered but faces showing, which many Wahhabi Islamists consider morally wrong.

They have also printed debate about other issues concerning women, such as whether bans on women driving and working in some retail stores could be reversed, issues which have raised the ire of many religious conservatives.

"There are photographs published in some newspapers … and one needs to think if he would want his daughter, sister or wife to appear like that. Of course, no one would," the king was quoted as saying at a meeting with newspaper editors late on Monday.

"Young people are driven by emotion and the spirit, but the spirit can go astray. So I ask you to go easy on these things."

In recent months, many figures in the powerful religious establishment have used mosque sermons, Internet forums and public debates to decry a wave of "liberalization" they fear will secularize the country along Western lines.

The king, whose media persona is of a modernizing father figure, also warned the media against "hurting the country" in comments that appeared to refer to a stock market crash that began earlier this year.

"I ask you to go easy on … unclear issues based on rumors and not to write things that hurt your country," he said.

"Some correspondents just want to stand out and they go too far. If he has something, he should go to the relevant minister to clear up the picture. Others just want to laugh at misfortune and that's not our way."

The octogenarian ruler last month reduced domestic fuel prices partly in an effort to soothe public anger over the crash, which affected hundreds of thousands of ordinary Saudis who had been encouraged into the market by the government.


United States Commission On Religious Freedom Blasts The Saudis

May 11, 2006

Full report here.

Saudi Arabia

The government of Saudi Arabia engages in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Despite the State Department’s contention in its 2005 International Religious Freedom Report that there were, in fact, slight improvements in Saudi government efforts to foster religious tolerance in Saudi society, the report again concluded that freedom of religion “does not exist” in Saudi Arabia. Since its inception, the Commission has recommended that Saudi Arabia be designated a “country of particular concern,” or CPC. In September 2004, the State Department for the first time followed the Commission’s recommendation and designated Saudi Arabia a CPC. In September 2005, Secretary of State Rice approved a temporary 180-day waiver of further action, as a consequence of CPC designation, to allow for continued diplomatic discussions with the Saudi government and “to further the purposes of the International Religious Freedom Act.” The waiver expired in late March 2006.

The repressive Saudi government continues to engage in an array of severe violations of human rights as part of its repression of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief. Abuses include: torture and cruel and degrading treatment or punishment imposed by judicial and administrative authorities; prolonged detention without charges and often incommunicado; and blatant denials of the right to liberty and security of the person, including coercive measures aimed at women and the broad jurisdiction of the mutawaa (religious police), whose powers are vaguely defined and exercised in ways that violate the religious freedom of others.

The government of Saudi Arabia continues to enforce vigorously its ban on all forms of public religious expression other than the government’s interpretation and enforcement of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam. This policy violates the rights of the large communities of non- Muslims and Muslims from a variety of doctrinal schools of Islam who reside in Saudi Arabia, including Shi’as, who make up 8-10 percent of the population. The government tightly controls even the restricted religious activity it permits—through limits on the building of mosques, the appointment of imams, the regulation of sermons and public celebrations, and the content of religious education in public schools—and suppresses the religious views of Saudi and non- Saudi Muslims who do not conform to official positions.

Members of the Shi’a and other non-Sunni communities, as well as non-conforming Sunnis, are subject to government restrictions on public religious practices and official discrimination in numerous areas, particularly in government employment. In past years, prominent Shi’a clerics and religious scholars were arrested and detained without charge for their religious views; some were reportedly beaten or otherwise ill-treated. Reports indicate that some of these Shi’a clerics have been released, but the current status of a number of others remains unknown. Between 2002-2004, several imams, both Sunni and Shi’a, who spoke out in opposition to government policies or against the official government interpretation of Islam, 191 were harassed, arrested, and detained. On a positive note, in February 2006, thousands of members of the Shi’a community in Qatif, in the Eastern Province, made their largest public appearance in observance of Ashura without government interference.

Spurious charges of “sorcery” and “witchcraft” continue to be used by the Saudi authorities against non-conforming Muslims. Several individuals remain in prison on these charges. In 2000, in the Najran region, after the mutawaa raided an Ismaili mosque for practicing “sorcery,” approximately 100 Ismailis, including clerics, were arrested. Many were released after serving reduced sentences, but dozens remain in prison and reports indicate that some are occasionally subject to flogging. Members of the Sufi community continue to be harassed, arrested, and detained because of their non-conforming religious views; some are held for hours but others are detained for days. In September 2003, the mutawaa arrested 16 foreign workers for allegedly practicing Sufism; their status remains unknown. In June 2005, Saudi authorities shut down a weekly gathering held by a Sufi leader who adheres to the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence.

Criminal charges of apostasy, blasphemy, and criticizing the nature of the regime are used by the Saudi government to suppress discussion and debate and silence dissidents. Promoters of political and human rights reforms, as well as those seeking to debate the appropriate role of religion in relation to the state, its laws, and society, are typically the target of such charges. For example, in April 2006, a Saudi journalist was arrested and detained by Saudi authorities for almost two weeks for “denigrating Islamic beliefs” and criticizing the Saudi government’s strict interpretations of Islam. In November 2005, a Saudi high school teacher, accused for discussing topics such as the Bible, Judaism, and the causes of terrorism, was tried on charges of blasphemy and insulting Islam and sentenced to three years in prison and 750 lashes. Although he was pardoned by King Abdullah in December 2005, he nevertheless lost his job and suffered other repercussions. In a positive development, in August 2005, King Abdullah pardoned three human rights reformers who had been imprisoned since March 2004 on charges of “sowing dissent and disobeying the ruler.”

Restrictions on public religious practice, for both Saudis and non-Saudis, are enforced in large part by the mutawaa, official enforcers of religious behavior that fall under the direction of the Ministry of Interior. The mutawaa conduct raids on worship services, including in private homes. They have also harassed, detained, whipped, beaten, and otherwise meted out extrajudicial punishments to individuals deemed to have strayed from “appropriate” dress and/or behavior, including any outward displays of religiosity, such as wearing Muslim religious symbols not sanctioned by the government. In November 2004, a press report identified a former member of the mutawaa as the leader of an attack on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah that resulted in the deaths of five people. In recent years, the Saudi government has stated publicly that it has fired and/or disciplined members of the mutawaa for abuses of power, although reports of abuse persist. Equally troubling, many of the human rights abuses committed by the mutawaa are within the scope of their authority.

Although the government has publicly taken the position—reiterated again in early 2006—that it permits non-Muslims to worship in private, the guidelines as to what constitutes “private” worship are vague. Surveillance by the mutawaa and Saudi security services of private non-Muslim religious activity continues unabated. Many persons worshipping privately continue to be harassed, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, deported, and generally forced to go to great lengths to conceal religious activity from the authorities. Even diplomatic personnel from Western countries report difficulties in their religious practices. Foreign guest workers without diplomatic standing, and with little or no access to private religious services conducted at diplomatic facilities, face even greater difficulties. Moreover, the Saudi government does not allow clergy to enter the country for the purpose of performing private religious services for foreigners legally residing in Saudi Arabia.

There is a continuing pattern of punishment and abuse of non-Muslim foreigners for private religious practice in Saudi Arabia. In September 2004, seven Filipino Christian leaders were arrested and detained when the mutawaa raided a religious service. All were released within one month, but the mutawaa reportedly pressured their employers to deport them, resulting in six deportations by late 2005. In March 2005, a Hindu temple constructed near Riyadh was destroyed by the mutawaa, and three guest workers worshiping at the site were subsequently deported. Also in March 2005, the mutawaa arrested an Indian Christian and confiscated religious materials in his possession; he was released in July 2005 after four months of detention. In April 2005, the mutawaa raided a Filipino Christian private service in Riyadh and confiscated religious materials such as Bibles and Christian symbols. Also in April 2005, at least 40 Pakistani, three Ethiopian, and two Eritrean Christians were arrested in Riyadh during a raid on separate private religious services. All of the Pakistani Christians were released within days and all five of the African Christians were released after a month in detention. In May 2005, at least eight Indian Protestant leaders were arrested, interrogated, and subsequently released for reportedly being on a list, obtained by the mutawaa, of Christian leaders in the country. Throughout the spring of 2005, dozens of Christian guest workers were detained, some for several days and others for several months, for holding religious worship services in private homes. Several of those who were released have been deported and others fear criminal charges and possible deportation. In April 2006, an Indian Catholic priest, who was visiting Saudi Arabia, was deported after being detained for four days in Riyadh for conducting a private religious service.

The government’s monopoly on the interpretation of Islam and other violations of freedom of religion adversely affect the human rights of women in Saudi Arabia, including freedom of speech, movement, association, and religion, freedom from coercion, access to education, and full equality before the law. For example, women must adhere to a strict dress code when appearing in public and can only be admitted to a hospital for medical treatment with the consent of a male relative. Women need to receive written permission from a male relative to travel inside or outside the country and are not permitted to drive motor vehicles. Religiously based directives limit women’s right to choose employment by prohibiting them from studying for certain professions such as engineering, journalism, and architecture. In addition, the Saudi justice system does not grant women the same legal status as men.

In March 2006, the Saudi Embassy in Washington published a report summarizing efforts by the Saudi government to revise the state curriculum and a number of school textbooks to exclude language promoting religious intolerance. Nevertheless, non-governmental organizations from outside Saudi Arabia continue to report the presence of highly intolerant and discriminatory language, particularly against Jews, Christians, and Shi’a Muslims, in these educational materials. Moreover, in the past year, there were frequent reports of virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Christian sentiments expressed in the official media and in sermons delivered by clerics who are under the authority of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. In some cases, the State Department reported, clerics prayed for the death of Jews and Christians.


Saudi Minister Scoffs At US Energy Independence

May 4, 2006

From The San Francisco Chronicle:

Saudi Arabia's oil minister scorned the popular notion that America can achieve energy independence as a myth, saying Tuesday the idea denies the existence of interdependent global markets and the need for countries to work together for oil-price stability.

Top Democrats in Congress, who argue that America can become independent of foreign energy sources within 10 years, reacted heatedly to Saudi minister Ali Naimi's statement, insisting their goal is realistic.

The exchange came as Congress was locked in a testy debate about how to react to record high gasoline prices, an issue that both parties recognize has jumped to the top of voters' election-year agendas.

Politicians from President Bush on down are scrambling to respond to the public's anger. Republican leaders said Tuesday the House will vote today on a bill intended to strengthen Federal Trade Commission tools to investigate allegations of oil price gouging. They also indicated votes are scheduled today or Thursday on legislation that the GOP says would speed construction of new refinery capacity by granting quicker regulatory approvals.

Showing the rush by Republican congressional leaders to let voters know they've heard the call for action, both hurried bills will be considered under rules requiring two-thirds majority approval for passage instead of the usual simple majority vote. That means passage will depend on Democratic votes, and it wasn't clear Tuesday how the minority party will react.

But the gas price issue also has split the Republican leadership.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, denounced the proposal by Senate Republican leaders to give every taxpayer $100 to make up for higher gas prices.

"Trying to satisfy voters with a $100 rebate is insulting,'' Boehner told reporters. He said constituents thought the proposal "was stupid.''

Bush's top economic adviser, Edward Lazear, also cast doubt on the rebate idea, saying the administration is studying it, but "is that the best way to be using our tax revenues? Is it the most efficient way to allocate our resources?"

The Saudi oil minister Naimi, in Washington for a Saudi-U.S. energy conference, rejected the idea that energy self-sufficiency is a worthwhile goal for America.

"While self-reliance is appealing, the efficacy of such an approach for achieving long-term energy security is an illusion built on the myth that security can be achieved through protectionist measures aimed at blocking certain types of imports or goods and investments from certain regions of the world,'' Naimi said.

He stressed that the world oil market, stretched thin by surging demand and years of low investment when prices were low, can provide "sustainable energy stability'' when consumers don't feel gouged and producers get an adequate return on their investment.

Naimi said that even though he questions the viability of U.S. energy independence, Saudi Arabia thinks America should increase conservation efforts and research and development of such alterative fuels as ethanol.

"I believe it's beneficial to begin research on alternative fuels that can go hand in hand with hydrocarbons. We are going to need an alternative'' as oil resources are depleted in coming decades, added the oil minister of Saudi Arabia, which is the world's No. 1 oil exporter and the fourth-largest foreign supplier to the United States.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders gathered to denounce Bush and the Republican Congress for what they say has been an overly close relationship with big oil that has resulted in the prices of more than $3 a gallon.

They attacked Naimi's position. "How dare they come to our country and say that our declaration of independence is a myth,'' said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

Her Senate counterpart, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, said the experience of Brazil, where a three-decade campaign based on increased production of sugar cane-based ethanol has resulted in energy independence, shows the United States can do with far less foreign oil. "If they can achieve energy independence, certainly we can,'' Reid said.

The Democrats also linked the war in Iraq to high energy prices, blaming it for bringing uncertainty to the world oil market and cutting Iraq's oil exports because of insurgent attacks on pipelines, refineries and other facilities.

The Bush administration has already outlined the goal for domestic ethanol production of 5 million barrels a day by 2025. By comparison, U.S. oil consumption today is 20 million barrels daily, a figure that is expected to increase to 26 million by 2025.

"If we are successful, and that remains to be seen, in developing ethanol, we will still be using imported and domestic oil and natural gas in very significant quantities,'' Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said in an appearance with Naimi.

John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, questioned why the public and politicians have focused on energy independence.

"I find it ironic. We don't say we should be financially independent from the rest of the world … or food independent. We don't say we want to be manufacturing independent,'' Hamre said. "We're misleading the American public. We should be talking about energy interdependence.''

The debate, and the House's plan to vote on two measures, was just a small part of a multifaceted spurt of action about gas prices.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing today on legislation that would grant the executive branch the authority to raise minimum fuel efficiency standards on cars without congressional approval.

The president has that power over trucks and sport utility vehicles, and he recently used it to raise the mileage standards. His administration was sued Tuesday by 10 states, including California, which claim the increase was insufficient.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who had pushed the $100 tax rebate idea, may also try to attach energy legislation to the huge emergency spending bill now under debate.

One key provision he and other Republicans have pushed for years is their plan for drilling in a slice of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That plan is vigorously opposed by environmentalists.

In the Capitol, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., met with ExxonMobil chief executive officer Rex Tillerson as part of a GOP effort to be seen pressing big oil companies to do more to increase gas supplies.