Archive for August, 2010

August 31, 2010

Government expands Agent Orange care

Cached:  http://www.examiner.com/wellness-in-hartford/government-expands-agent-orange-care

Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange may soon be able to claim disability compensation for heart disease as well as Parkinsons and some forms of leukemia. They can already claim benefits related to diabetes as well as certain other types of cancer.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, vets will only have to prove that they were in Vietnam when Agent Orange was used and later got one of the illnesses (possibly) linked to it.

Close to 12,000,000 gallons of Agent Orange were used by the military to defoliate the jungles in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971 in an attempt to “deprive enemy guerillas of cover and food. It was also “part of a general policy of forced draft urbanization by destroying the ability of peasants to support themselves in the countryside.”

Agent Orange was given its name from the color of the orange-striped in which it was shipped. “It is a roughly 1:1 mixture of two phenoxyl herbicides in iso-octyl ester form, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid .”

According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million if itsople were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in “400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.”

The VA estimates that the extended coverage for veterans will cost the givernment about $42 billionover the next decade as Vietnam veterans get older. The new rules will go into effect in November (unless Congress intervenes).

To learn more, please contact The Department of Veteran Affairs, 287 West St., Rocky Hill, CT 06067 860 616-3600. Veterans Info. Line 866 928-8387

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The White House Blog

Agent Orange and Veterans: A 40-Year Wait

Cached:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/08/30/agent-orange-and-veterans-a-40-year-wait

Posted by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki on August 30, 2010 at 04:59 PM EDT

With the unwavering support of President Obama, VA is transforming to meet its 21st Century responsibilities.  Advocacy, on behalf of every generation of Veterans, is central to this transformation.

Agent Orange was a blend of herbicides used by the U.S. military, during the Vietnam conflict, to deny concealment to enemy forces.  More than 19 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed to remove foliage and undergrowth.  The most common, Agent Orange, was sprayed in all four military zones of South Vietnam.

Heavily sprayed areas included the inland forests near the Demilitarized Zone; inland forests at the junction of the borders of Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam; inland forests north and northwest of Saigon; mangrove forests on the southernmost peninsula of Vietnam; and mangrove forests along major shipping channels southeast of Saigon.

The issue of Agent Orange’s toxic effects on Veterans, who served in Vietnam, has simmered for decades.  Its insidious impact on those exposed to it has become increasingly apparent.  That growing awareness has resulted in the Congress’, this Department’s, and the Institute of Medicine’s previous validations of some 12 diseases, which, to date, have been granted presumption of service connection for those exposed to Agent Orange.

Last October, based on the requirements of the Agent Orange Act of 1991 and the Institute of Medicine’s report, “Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2008,” I determined that the evidence provided was sufficient to support presumptions of service connection for three additional diseases: Parkinson’s Disease, Hairy Cell and other Chronic B-Cell Leukemia, and Ischemic Heart Disease.  After a public rulemaking process, we are now issuing a final regulation creating these new presumptions.

This action means that Veterans who were exposed to herbicides in service and who suffer from one of the “presumed” illnesses do not have to prove an association between their medical problems and their military service.  This action helps Veterans to overcome the evidentiary requirements that might otherwise make it difficult for them to establish such an association in order to qualify for healthcare and other benefits needed as a result of their diseases.  The “Presumption” simplifies and accelerates the application process and ensures that Veterans will receive the benefits they deserve.

As many as 150,000 Veterans may submit Agent Orange claims in the next 12 to 18 months. Additionally, VA will review approximately 90,000 previously denied claims from Vietnam Veterans for service connection for these three new diseases. All those who are awarded service-connection, and who are not currently enrolled in the VA health care system, will become eligible for enrollment.

Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam, including its inland waterways, between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975, are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides.  If you know a Veteran who may have been exposed to herbicides in service and who suffers from one of the diseases that may be presumptively service connected, the Veteran or the Veteran’s family can visit our website to find out how to file a claim for presumptive conditions related to herbicide exposure, as well as what information is needed by VA to determine disability compensation or survivors’ benefits.  Additionally, VA’s Office of Public Health can answer questions about Agent Orange and VA’s services for Veterans exposed to it.

This rule is long overdue.  It delivers justice to those who have suffered from Agent Orange’s toxic effects for 40 years.  I have been invited to testify before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on 23 September to explain these decisions, and I am happy to do that.  It was the right decision, and the President and I are proud to finally provide this group of Veterans the care and benefits they have long deserved.

VA is committed to addressing the health care needs of Veterans from all eras.  Forty years from today, a future Secretary of VA should not be adjudicating presumptive disabilities associated with our current conflicts.  Change is difficult for any good organization, but we are transforming this Department to advocate for Veterans.  We will not let our Veterans languish without hope for service-connected disabilities resulting from their service.

Eric K. Shinseki is Secretary  of Veterans Affairs

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Aging vets’ costs concern Obama’s deficit co-chair

Cached:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/31/AR2010083103903.html

By MIKE BAKER

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 31, 2010; 4:26 PM

FILE - In this May 1966 file photo, U.S. Air Force planes spray the defoliant chemical Agent Orange over dense vegetation in South Vietnam in this 1966 photo. Because of concerns about Agent Orange, more than one-quarter of the 1 million Vietnam veterans receiving disability checks are getting compensation for diabetes and other common ailments of age, with erectile dysfunction among them, according to millions of VA claims records obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act. (AP Photo, File) (AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. — The system that automatically awards disability benefits to some veterans because of concerns about Agent Orange seems contrary to efforts to control federal spending, the Republican co-chairman of President Barack Obama‘s deficit commission said Tuesday.

Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson’s comments came a day after The Associated Press reported that diabetes has become the most frequently compensated ailment among Vietnam veterans, even though decades of research has failed to find more than a possible link between the defoliant Agent Orange and diabetes.

“The irony (is) that the veterans who saved this country are now, in a way, not helping us to save the country in this fiscal mess,” said Simpson, an Army veteran who was once chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has also allowed Vietnam veterans to get money for ailments such as lung cancer and prostate cancer, and the agency finalized a proposal Tuesday to grant payments for heart disease – the nation’s leading cause of death.

Simpson declined to say whether the issue would become part of his work on Obama’s panel examining the nation’s debt. He looked to Congress to make a change.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat who currently chairs the VA committee, said Tuesday he will address the broader issue of so-called presumptive conditions at a hearing previously set for Sept. 23. The committee will look to “see what changes Congress and VA may need to make to existing law and policy,” Akaka said in an e-mail.

“It is our solemn responsibility to help veterans with disabilities suffered in their service to our country,” said Akaka, who served in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. “That responsibility also requires us to make sure limited resources are available for those who truly need and are entitled to them.”

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat and Vietnam combat veteran, has also raised questions about the spending. The leading Republican on the committee, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, has not responded to several requests for comment on the topic in recent months.

Because of concerns about Agent Orange, Congress set up a system in 1991 to grant automatic benefits to veterans who served in Vietnam at any point during a 13-year period and later got an ailment linked to the defoliant. The VA has done that with a series of ailments with strong indications of an association to Agent Orange, including Hodgkin’s disease, soft-tissue cancers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Other ailments have been added even though and Institute of Medicine review has found they only have a potential association and that they could not rule out other factors. Those maladies include prostate cancer, lung cancer and diabetes. The committee has said that, for diabetes, more powerful influences include family history, physical inactivity and obesity.

The AP found in reviewing millions of VA compensation records that diabetes is now the most frequently compensated ailment, ahead of post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss or general wounds. VA officials use a complex formula when awarding benefits and do not track how much is spent for a specific ailment, but AP calculations based on the records suggest that Vietnam veterans with diabetes should receive at least $850 million each year.

The VA also acknowledged in its heart disease rule Tuesday that it could cost billions more than initially anticipated. The initial projection was that the new ailments, mostly heart disease but also Parkinson’s disease and certain types of leukemia, would total $42.2 billion over 10 years. But that was based on disease prevalence rates for the general population, not representative of the aging class of Vietnam veterans.

VA used an age-adjusted formula in its latest proposal and estimated that it could cost some $67 billion in the next decade.

“It’s the kind of thing that’s just driving us to this $1 trillion, $400 billion deficit this year,” Simpson said. “It’s not that I’m an uncaring person, but common sense is the most uncommon thing in Washington.”

August 31, 2010

Analysts Views: Iraq faces tests as U.S. ends combat mission

Cached:  http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE67T5S620100830

BAGHDAD | Mon Aug 30, 2010 5:20pm EDT

(Reuters) – The U.S. military formally ends combat operations in Iraq on Tuesday, limiting its troop levels to 50,000 7-1/2 years after the invasion as President Barack Obama seeks to fulfill a promise to U.S. voters to end the war.

But Iraq remains fragile and insecure.

Reconciliation between majority Shi’ites and once dominant Sunnis is far from complete after years of sectarian war, and Kurd-Arab tensions may contain the seed of a future conflict.

Its leaders have yet to form a new government almost six months after a March election and Iraq is hounded by persistent attacks by a weakened but stubborn Sunni Islamist insurgency.

The following are analysts’ views on whether the United States is extricating itself too early, and on what the main challenges are that lie ahead for Iraq’s fledgling democracy:

DAVID BENDER, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST, EURASIA GROUP

“As it turned out, the U.S. withdrawal of combat troops was poorly timed, but renegotiating the timeline for the end of the combat mission was not politically feasible in either the U.S. or Iraq. Iraq is still without a government and a clear uptick in violence is being felt across the country. But the risk to a return to the violence that began to overwhelm Iraq in 2005 is relatively small.”

WAYNE WHITE, ADJUNCT SCHOLAR, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE

“It probably is not premature for the U.S. to end its combat mission in Iraq. Since 2008, the Iraqi government has resisted calling upon U.S. forces for assistance in most all instances of violence and tension because of a generalized concern that doing so would be viewed by a significant portion of the Iraqi populace as a compelling demonstration that the government was unable to deal with the security situation itself. There also are nationalist concerns within the Iraqi leadership related to a perception that to summon U.S. military assistance once again would smack of a return to ‘occupation.'”

KYLE MCENEANEY, HEAD OF MIDDLE EAST PRACTICE, ERGO

“It is difficult to see how a few more months of combat operations would materially improve permanent stability in Iraq. The U.S. will continue to provide support where possible, but a sustainable, stable outcome in Iraq over the long term must derive from Iraq’s own solutions to the challenges it faces.

“A major challenge for Iraq is the development of its human resources in both the private and public sectors. Decades of war and sanctions have quarantined Iraq from new technologies and industrial development. Another challenge is infrastructure. Iraq has outlined ambitious goals for development in energy, power, and other sectors. In order to realize these goals, it will need to make massive investments in ports, pipelines, roads, and rail, all in a fairly short period of time.”

GALA RIANI, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST, IHS GLOBAL INSIGHT

“The withdrawal is premature in so far as the current circumstances are well below optimal conditions because of the government formation troubles. However, U.S. combat troops have in many ways done what they can for Iraq. The troubles that persist are political in nature and may not be solved in the short — or even medium term — and they will need to be solved by Iraq’s constituent sectarian and ethno-national groups.

“In relation to the combat troop withdrawal the greatest risk will be seen in the disputed territories — particularly in Nineveh and Kirkuk — where U.S. efforts to ease tensions between Kurds and Arabs have prevented the eruption of serious violence. Iran has to a great degree already found its role in Iraq. The U.S. combat withdrawal will allow Iran to entrench that position but it is worth noting that the Iranians have clearly not seen U.S. presence as an obstacle to their influence in Iraq, particularly not in the past couple of years.”

TERRENCE KELLY, SENIOR OPERATIONS RESEARCHER, RAND CORP

“There certainly are dangers that remain, but these will persist in one form or another for a long time. Also, the U.S. has other forms of national power besides the military that will have some influence, and the military will remain in a relatively large scale for some time. Finally, U.S. presence in Iraq comes with real financial and opportunity costs, that must also be taken into consideration.

“I think the major challenge in the future — after Iraq has a government in place — are long-term. The importance of those factors that will shape Iraqi society and how they choose to live together (if they do) cannot be underestimated, yet are critical aspects of a good outcome there upon which we have spent very little resources or attention.”

JUAN COLE, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EAST HISTORY AND PROMINENT BLOGGER, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

“Consider the advantages of a U.S. withdrawal for Iraqis. The Shi’ites and Kurds have behaved very high-handedly with the Sunnis because they knew the Americans would kill the latter if they gave them any trouble. Likewise, Kurdish expansionism has been encouraged by their American alliance. Without the U.S., Iraqi political factions may be more willing to make hard compromises, because they will be more afraid of the backlash if they do not.”

MARINA OTTAWAY, DIRECTOR MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE

“It is not premature for the U.S. to end its combat mission. The U.S. cannot force reconciliation on the Iraqis and it is the lack of internal consensus that threatens stability in Iraq. If Iraq was threatened from the outside, the U.S. should stay. But the U.S. has no business becoming part of a domestic conflict, which would happen if it stayed on. Also, we should not forget that the U.S. simply cannot continue its combat mission in Iraq and in Afghanistan simultaneously, at least not without mobilizing for war in a way most Americans would not accept. “The problem that underlies all the familiar tensions, is the lack of any common vision for the country. The constitution was hastily put together and furthermore never respected by any of the actors including the U.S., so it offers no guidelines. Politicians have no vision for the country, only for their role in it, thus they are unwilling to compromise. The result is that the country will continue drifting or sink into conflict again.”

WATHIQ AL-HASHEMI, INDEPENDENT BAGHDAD POLITICAL ANALYST

“Iraq has become a theater for settling foreign intelligence accounts. Iran has said many times … that it will fill the vacuum after the U.S. withdraws. The country has become the target of regional ambitions and interference in its affairs, and this is a result of a weak government, weak politicians, and a weak parliament that is not taking important decisions.

“The U.S. was not keen to arm the Iraqi army with heavy weapons, and Iraq therefore faces big challenges by not having an air force, a navy. The armaments, proficiency, experience and performance of Iraqi forces do not meet current needs.”

PAUL ROGERS, PROFESSOR OF PEACE STUDIES, BRADFORD UNIVERSITY

“A substantial proportion of the 50,000 remaining troops are organized in fully combat-capable ‘advise and assist’ brigades and there remain significant numbers of U.S. Special Forces with unpublished rules of engagement. Even so there is a risk of a lapse into further violence aimed primarily at Iraqi police and army units, government offices and Shi’ite communities. A full civil war is unlikely but persistent violence is probable.

“With 7-1/2 years of war, four million internally and externally displaced people, over 100,000 dead and 200,000 plus injured, the core problem is post-conflict reconciliation and rebuilding of community relations. This will take at least a generation.”

EDWIN GUTIERREZ, PORTFOLIO MANAGER, ABERDEEN ASSET MANAGERS

“It’s definitely premature as the withdrawal seems to be predicated by an Obama campaign promise rather than existing conditions on the ground. The lack of government is the biggest risk. And any delays on getting expanded oil production up and running as this is the big positive that offsets all the negatives.”

SAAD AL-HADITHI, ANALYST, BAGHDAD UNIVERSITY

“The drawdown of the U.S. forces is in accordance with the security pact but it’s premature in that it is detrimental to the future of Iraq. The Iraqi military is not yet ready to take over, and there is no national agenda bringing together all Iraqi political opponents.

“The security challenge is the major one facing the country. Also, interference by regional powers is significant. The lower the presence of U.S. troops, the higher regional interference will be in Iraq.”

(Reporting by Michael Christie and Khalid al-Ansary; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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August 31, 2010

China Flexes Hydropower Muscle

Cached:  http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=19330

By MARWAAN MACAN-MARKAR / IPS WRITER

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Xiaowan hydropower station (Source: http://answers.china.org.cn)

BANGKOK — After all the turbines in the Xiaowan hydropower station sputtered to life last week in China’s southwest Yunnan province, the Asian giant was able to lay claim to having the world’s largest hydropower capacity.

A “great leap forward” was how Liu Qi, deputy director of the National Energy Administration, described the expanding hydropower muscle of the country, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

“The rapid development of the hydropower industry is of great significance to optimizing China’s energy structure and reducing carbon emissions,” Sun Yucai, executive vice chairman of the China Electricity Council, said in the same report.

The 700,000-kilowatt scheme of the Xiaowan power station is expected to push China’s installed hydropower capacity to 200 million kilowatts, Xinhua reported. The country’s second largest hydropower project, which cost US $5.86 billion, can “produce 19 billion KW hours of electricity every year, it added.

This power station will receive water from another showpiece of Chinese power: the Xiaowan dam, the world’s tallest double-arch dam with a storage capacity of close to 15 billion cubic metres.

The Xiaowan is the fourth dam that the Chinese have built out among a planned eight cascades of dams in the upper part of the Mekong River, which the Chinese call the Lancang, that flows through the mountainous Yunnan terrain. The Xiaowan Dam began impounding the Mekong’s waters in October 2009, nearly two decades after the Manwan, the first among these dams, started to harness the waters of the 4,660-kilometre-long river.

But China’s celebration of its dam-building feats, coming nearly 100 years after it built its first hydropower station near Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan, will not be shared by countries in the lower stretches of the Mekong, say activists.

Many downstream communities have been reporting erratic water levels in the Mekong and blame this on China’s construction of dams on the Lancang.

Following drops to the river’s lowest levels in 50 years, green groups and sections of the media blamed the Chinese dams—particularly the Xiaowan—for affecting the livelihood of riverine villages in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

A Chinese government effort in March to explain that these were due to a severe drought did little to ease the worries of villagers who depend on the river’s ecosystem and fish catch for an income.

Fishing is the main source of livelihood for the 60 million people living in the Mekong basin, and the annual income from fisheries in the lower Mekong is between two to three billion US dollars.

“Many people living in the lower Mekong region will still believe that the filling of the Xiaowan dam reservoir contributes to a drop in the water level during the dry season,” says Ame Trandem, Mekong campaigner for International Rivers, an US-based environmental lobby. “It will remain so until the Chinese make public all the information related to its dam operations.”

China’s offer of some information about its dams to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) is insufficient, she told IPS. “China has been taking positive steps to be cooperative by releasing some details. But it still needs to be willing to be more accountable and transparent, since local communities have not seen the information given to the MRC.”

The MRC, an inter-governmental organization whose members include Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, says China’s dams do not have the capacity to influence water levels all the way downstream, because much of the Mekong’s waters come from lower basin countries. “The MRC doesn’t anticipate that the Xiaowan dam will have a significant influence downstream on the lower Mekong,” says MRC spokesman Damian Kean, echoing views that the Vientiane-based organisation aired when the Chinese dams were under fire early this year.

But “later on, as more and more dams come online, you are going to see a greater impact,” he told IPS from the Lao capital.

“All the lower Mekong countries want to see the right decision being made in this sector.”

At the same time, China is well aware that the impact of its dams on the Mekong—which flows from the Tibetan plateau, through Yunnan, then passes Burma before snaking its way through the basin to empty out into the South China Sea in southern Vietnam—is not limited to the countries that share Southeast Asia’s largest body of water.

Since July, Beijing has also had to contend with the US government, which has been reviving Washington’s involvement in the region after the disengagement by the administration of George W Bush.

In fact, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s push for greater cooperation between Washington and the Mekong basin countries during a visit to Thailand in July 2009 spurred warnings from US experts about the danger that China’s hydropower ambitions pose to other Mekong countries.

China’s dam plans will turn the Mekong into a “Chinese River”, warned Richard Cronin, the South-east Asian head of the US-based Stimson Centre, in Bangkok this month.

In an August article, the Washington-based ‘Foreign Policy’ publication urged the US government to step into the fray. “Washington’s willingness to get involved in the Mekong River dispute could create an almost perfect counterweight to China’s strategy,” wrote John Lee, visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC.

For now, Beijing’s response to growing US criticism is to pursue ‘soft power’ diplomacy, says a regional analyst. “China wants to assure governments in the lower Mekong that they have nothing to fear.”

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China flexes hydropower muscle

Cached:  http://www.dailymirror.lk/print/index.php/opinion1/19921.html

When Xiaowan hydropower station sputtered to life this week in China’s south-west Yunnan province, the Asian giant was able to lay claim to having the world’s largest hydropower capacity.

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Aug 27, 2010 (IPS) – After all the turbines in the Xiaowan hydropower station sputtered to life this week in China’s south-west Yunnan province, the Asian giant was able to lay claim to having the world’s largest hydropower capacity.

A “great leap forward” was how Liu Qi, deputy director of the National Energy Administration, described the expanding hydropower muscle of the country, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

“The rapid development of the hydropower industry is of great significance to optimising China’s energy structure and reducing carbon emissions,” Sun Yucai, executive vice chairman of the China Electricity Council, said in the same report.

The 700,000-kilowatt scheme of the Xiaowan power station is expected to push China’s installed hydropower capacity to 200 million kilowatts, Xinhua reported. The country’s second largest hydropower project, which cost 5.86 billion U.S. dollars, can “produce 19 billion KW hours of electricity every year, it added.

This power station will receive water from another showpiece of Chinese power: the Xiaowan dam, the world’s tallest double-arch dam with a storage capacity of close to 15 billion cubic metres.

The Xiaowan is the fourth dam that the Chinese have built out among a planned eight cascades of dams in the upper part of the Mekong River – which the Chinese call the Lancang – that flows through the mountainous Yunnan terrain. The Xiaowan Dam began impounding the Mekong’s waters in October 2009, nearly two decades after the Manwan, the first among these dams, started to harness the waters of the 4,660-kilometre-long river.

But China’s celebration of its dam-building feats, coming nearly 100 years after it built its first hydropower station near Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan, will not be shared by countries in the lower stretches of the Mekong, say activists.

Many downstream communities have been reporting erratic water levels in the Mekong and blame this on China’s construction of dams on the Lancang.

Following drops to the river’s lowest levels in 50 years, green groups and sections of the media blamed the Chinese dams – particularly the Xiaowan – for affecting the livelihood of riverine villages in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

A Chinese government effort in March to explain that these were due to a severe drought did little to ease the worries of villagers who depend ed on the river’s ecosystem and fish catch for an income.

Fishing is the main source of livelihood for the 60 million people living in the Mekong basin, and the annual income from fisheries in the lower Mekong is between two to three billion U.S. dollars.

“Many people living in the lower Mekong region will still believe that the filling of the Xiaowan dam reservoir contributes to a drop in the water level during the dry season,” says Ame Trandem, Mekong campaigner for International Rivers, an U.S.-based environmental lobby. “It will remain so until the Chinese make public all the information related to its dam operations.”

China’s offer of some information about its dams to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) is insufficient, she told IPS. “China has been taking positive steps to be cooperative by releasing some details. But it still needs to be willing to be more accountable and transparent, since local communities have not seen the information given to the MRC.”

The MRC, an inter-governmental organisation whose members include Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, says China’s dams do not have the capacity to influence water levels all the way downstream, because much of the Mekong’s waters come from lower basin countries. “The MRC doesn’t anticipate that the Xiaowan dam will have a significant influence downstream on the lower Mekong,” says MRC spokesman Damian Kean, echoing views that the Vientiane-based organisation aired when the Chinese dams were under fire early this year.

But “later on, as more and more dams come online, you are going to see a greater impact,” he told IPS from the Lao capital. “All the lower Mekong countries want to see the right decision being made in this sector.”

At the same time, China is well aware that the impact of its dams on the Mekong – which flows from the Tibetan plateau, through Yunnan, then passes Burma before snaking its way through the basin to empty out into the South China Sea in southern Vietnam – is not limited to the countries that share South-east Asia’s largest body of water.

Since July, Beijing has also had to contend with the U.S. government, which has been reviving Washington’s involvement in the region after the disengagement by the administration of George W Bush.

In fact, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s push for greater cooperation between Washington and the Mekong basin countries during a visit to Thailand in July 2009 spurred warnings from U.S. experts about the danger that China’s hydropower ambitions pose to other Mekong countries.

China’s dam plans will turn the Mekong into a “Chinese River”, warned Richard Cronin, the South-east Asian head of the U.S.-based Stimson Centre, in Bangkok this month.

In an August article, the Washington-based ‘Foreign Policy’ publication urged the U.S. government to step into the fray. “Washington’s willingness to get involved in the Mekong River dispute could create an almost perfect counterweight to China’s strategy,” wrote John Lee, visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C. For now, Beijing’s response to growing U.S. criticism is to pursue ‘soft power’ diplomacy, says a regional analyst. “China wants to assure governments in the lower Mekong that they have nothing to fear.” -Blueplanet News

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China succumbs to Mekong nations

Cached:  http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/China+succumbs+Mekong+nations/3459342/story.html

By Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver Sun August 30, 2010

China has started to share information about its Mekong River dams with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. The countries have complained that the dams have afiected water flows, and are disturbing fish migrations and populations. Photograph by: Chor Sokunthea, Reuters, Vancouver Sun

China has made a significant policy about-turn in response to a sharp contest with the United States for friends and influence in Southeast Asia.

After years of rebuffing increasingly anxious requests for information about its dams on the upper reaches of the Mekong River from countries lower down the river’s course, Beijing has relented.

China’s change of tack comes as Washington is moving to broaden its non-military engagement with Indochina.

Dozens of U.S. officials have been shuttling back and forth to the region promoting cooperative agreements since July last year when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched what is known as the Lower Mekong Initiative.

The aim is to take advantage of China’s less than stellar reputation in Southeast Asia by offering development aid and assistance to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos for whom the lower reaches of the Mekong River are a vital economic resource.

At the same time, the U.S. has signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with the 10-nation club of regional countries, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This treaty affirms U.S. commitment to regional peace, stability and involvement in ASEAN processes and institutions.

China is very much aware it has a public relations problem in Southeast Asia, in part because of its belligerent military activities and outlandish territorial claims in the South China Sea.

But for the countries through which the Mekong River flows much suspicion of China stems from its secrecy over its dam-building projects on its stretches of the 4,880 kilometre-long river, which it calls the Lancang.

In recent months there has been a crescendo in the always intense public criticism in the region claiming China’s four dams on the upper Mekong are affecting water flows, disturbing fish migrations and populations, and are threatening the livelihoods of up to 70 million people.

But in June, China shifted policy and officials from the Mekong River Commission (MRC), created by a 1995 agreement between Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, were invited to China’s Yunnan province to look at two of the four dams. They are reported to have received detailed information about the operation of the dams and their effects on river flows.

The dams were the Jing Hong, already in operation, and the massive Xiaowan, one of the world’s tallest dams whose reservoir will take up to 10 years to fill and which will hold 15 billion cubic metres of water, more than five times the capacity of the other three Yunnan dams put together.

China also invited the MRC to send officials to Beijing to discuss how China might play a fuller role in the commission’s activities.

China and Burma, which its ruling military regime calls Myanmar, have always kept at arms length from the MRC.

Like all autocratic regimes, they try to avoid exposing their internal affairs to any outside scrutiny or influence, and have therefore only taken “dialogue partner” status with the commission.

China has, until now, been equally unforthcoming about sharing information with the MRC.

MRC officials have usually only learned when decisions have been made and ground broken about Beijing’s dam-building plans on the 44 per cent of the Mekong than runs through Chinese territory after rising in the mountains of Tibet. And China has plans for at least another four dams on the Mekong to generate electricity and control floods.

Information about management of the completed dams has been equally hard to come by with China only recently giving detailed information about the wet season flows of water.

Now, apparently, China has indicated it will give information about the dry season flows too.

If China continues to openly share information about its dams and the life of the Mekong in its territory, it will do much to clear up a lot of disagreements and conflicting analysis about what is happening to the Mekong, which does not seem to be functioning as it has in past decades.

Most concerning are low water levels and their effects on such natural wonders as the Tonle Sap, the great lake in central Cambodia usually filled to overflowing every year by waters from the Mekong during the rainy season.

Fish from the Tonle Sap not only provide an incredible 80 per cent of the protein in the diet of Cambodia’s 15 million people, the lake also acts as reservoir that feeds water back into the Mekong during the dry season and allows year-round cultivation and cropping in the delta region of Vietnam.

But the low volumes of water in recent years have frequently been blamed on China stemming the flow of the Mekong to fill the dam reservoirs feeding its hydroelectric schemes.

But MRC experts such as chief executive Jeremy Bird doubt this is so. He says he thinks prolonged drought in Southeast Asia is the most likely cause.

Australian author, historian and consultant on southeast Asian affairs, Milton Osborne, says the way the Chinese have tried to defend themselves against the charges by using misleading statements and information has damaged Beijing’s cause.

Osborne points to China’s regular response that it can’t be held responsible for what happens on the lower Mekong, because only about 13 per cent of the water in the river at that point comes from China.

This, Osborne says, is nonsense because during the dry season, when the effects on features such as the Tonle Sap are most profound, at least 40 per cent of the water in the Mekong comes from China.

jmanthorpe@vancouversun.com

- – -

IN BRIEF

BURMA’S GENERALS KEEP THEIR BANK ACCOUNTS INTACT

1. Burma’s generals have taken a dozen years to craft a fake transition to civilian rule designed to ensure that after the planned November 7 elections they are still behind all the most important desks with their personal security and bank accounts intact. Last week the top three men in the fiveman junta, generalissimo Than Shwe and his leading cohort generals Muang Aye and Thura Shwe Man, took the nerve-racking step of hanging up their uniforms. This move to mufti is so that they can become, in the above order, president and vice-presidents after the election follows its allotted script. But it comes as no surprise that despots, such as these whose main claim to fame is the blood and suffering of others that sustains them in power, are always worried about their personal security and that of their families. It’s often fear and anxiety about being paraded in a courtroom in The Hague that keeps men like Kim Jong Il, Robert Mugabe and Than Shwe from making any concessions to reform. So even as the Burmese junta adjusts its hold on power to try to calm its neighbours and fool the international community into slackening sanctions, the generals are unsure of the outcome. That’s why, says Prof. Sean Turnell of Australia’s Macquarie University and a dedicated Burma watcher, the generals and the top officer corps are getting as much money and other assets out of the country and into safe havens as they can. Turnell, a former senior analyst with the Reserve Bank of Australia, says the Burmese regime is “morphing from this nationalistic, quasi-Stalinist state into a criminal economy,” and like all organized crime, its likes to keep its money out of sight.

JAPANESE PM FACES TEST OF HIS LEADERSHIP

2. It was always obvious that the most dangerous enemies of Japan’s new Prime Minister Naoto Kan were behind him. And the most deadly of those would-be political assassins was undoubtedly Ichiro Ozawa, the second in command of Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan. Now Ozawa has stepped out from behind the curtain, knife in hand, and announced he will run against Kan for the party leadership in the September 14 election for the DPJ presidency. If Ozawa wins, it will catapult him into Japan’s prime minister’s office without the inconvenience of an election. In truth, there is some justification for Ozawa’s ambition, as unseemly as it may be. It was he who as previous party leader used his consummate skills in the dark arts of Japanese politics to build the DPJ and then unseat the Liberal Democratic Party, in power for over half a century, first from the upper and then from the lower house of parliament. But early last year, before the DPJ’s victory in June’s lower house elections, Ozawa was forced to resign over a party funding scandal. Ozawa said last week that “although I am unworthy, I have decided to run in the leadership election” because of the poor showing of the DPJ under Kan’s captaincy in last month’s upper house elections.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

August 31, 2010

Glenn Beck’s ‘Honor’ rally: What you missed

Cached:  http://edition.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/08/30/glenn.beck.rally.monday/#fbid=gH-ZVXWVEGH&wom=false

August 30, 2010 — Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)

People flocked to the National Mall to hear conservative commentator Glenn Beck speak at his "Restoring Honor" rally.

(CNN) — Conservative commentator Glenn Beck says his revival-style rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday was about restoring America’s honor and returning the country to the values on which it was founded.

Tens of thousands of people showed up for the event, which also featured former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Beck insists the rally was nonpolitical, but the event, which took place on the 47th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and in the same place, was not without controversy.

The message: Support the troops; return to God.

Beck said his role was to wake America up to the backsliding of principles, values and most importantly, faith. His speech took on a spiritual tone as Beck urged the country to “turn back to God.”

“Look forward. Look West. Look to the heavens. Look to God and make your choice,” he said.

Beck told Fox News, the network that carries his weekday television program, that the rally was meant to reclaim the U.S. civil rights movement “from politics,” arguing that the movement was about “people of faith.”

The essence of the movement was about “people of faith who believe you have an equal right to justice,” he said in an interview that aired Sunday.

Beck says he wanted to reclaim civil rights ‘from politics’

The controversy: Time and location.

People filled the park by the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool, in the shadows and echoes of the most pivotal civil rights address in America’s history.

Some of those who marched with King in the 1960s said Beck had usurped the day for his own political gain. The Rev. Jesse Jackson told CNN that Beck was mimicking King and “humiliating the tradition.”

Beck said the site of his rally was appropriate to reflect on the legacy of King, “the man who stood down on those stairs and gave his life for everyone’s right to have a dream.”

He also said he was unaware that the rally coincided with the King anniversary when he scheduled the event.

Alveda King, a niece of the late civil rights leader, participated in the “Restoring Honor” rally, saying that her uncle would have approved of the event.

Beck talks faith in rally coinciding with anniversary of King’s speech

Beck also came under fire for some of his previous statements, such as his 2009 remark that President Obama “has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

In his Fox interview, taped after Saturday’s rally, he said he regretted his remarks about Obama, but said the first African-American president’s worldview was shaped by “Marxism disguised as religion.”

The other rally: “Reclaim the Dream” of King

Civil rights activists gathered nearby with the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network in a “Reclaim the Dream” rally. Participants marched from a high school in northwest Washington to the site of the future Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, just a few blocks from the Lincoln Memorial.

Speakers insisted that King’s vision for America has not been completely fulfilled.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that they have the right to take their country back. It’s our country, too,” said Avis Jones Deweaver, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women, making a reference to the Tea Party members attending the Beck rally.

“We will reclaim the dream. It was ours from the beginning. A dream that we will make reality,” she said.

Rally aims to ‘Reclaim the Dream’

The crowd size: Big.

Estimates of the crowd size range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of people. The U.S. Park Police no longer makes estimates, so there are no official estimates of events on the National Mall.

CBS News commissioned a crowd estimate by the company AirPhotosLive.com. The network reported that AirPhotosLive estimated the crowd at 87,000 people. But they noted that with a margin of error of 9,000, “between 78,000 and 96,000 attended the rally.”

NBC Nightly News estimated the number of people in attendance as “tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands.”

Fox News, citing organizers, aired a banner characterizing it this way: “CROWD ATTENDING BECK RALLY ESTIMATED AT OVER 500,000.”

The Washington Post quoted Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota as saying, “We’re not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here today — because we were witnesses.”

On the morning after the rally, Beck himself told Fox News Sunday that he believed the crowd was between 300,000 and 650,000.

So how many people were really there? In the end, most people will believe what their own eyes tell them.

The one estimate guaranteed to be correct was Beck’s own comment making fun of the inevitable controversy: “I have just gotten word from the media that there are over 1,000 people here today.”

Wildly conflicting reports filed about Beck rally crowd size

The impact: To be determined.

Beck’s speech oozed religious language and evoked the feel of a religious revival. Beck has also begun organizing top conservative religious leaders — mostly evangelicals — into a fledgling group called the Black Robed Regiment.

Is he a new leader for Christian conservatives? Maybe. Beck’s emerging role as a national leader for Christian conservatives is surprising not only because he has until recently stressed a libertarian ideology that is sometimes at odds with so-called family values conservatism, but also because Beck is a Mormon.

Many of the evangelicals whom Beck is speaking to and organizing don’t believe he is a Christian. Mormons, who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, call themselves Christian.

Some evangelicals criticized Christians for partnering with Beck this weekend because of his Mormon faith, provoking a number of evangelical political activists to pen defenses of their decision to join Beck.

At rally, Beck positions himself as new leader for Christian conservatives

The prospects for a Beck-Palin ticket: Not likely.

Despite the buzz in the blogosphere, Beck says “not a chance.”

“I have no desire to be president of the United States. Zero desire,” Beck told Fox. “I don’t think that I would be electable. And there are far too many people that are far smarter than me to be president. I’d like to find one with some honor and integrity. I haven’t seen them yet, but they’ll show up.”

CNN’s Dan Gilgoff, Kristi Keck and Matt Smith contributed to this report.

—————————–

—————————-

Shock jock Glenn Beck has a dream: Turn rightward toward God and ‘restore honor’ to U.S.

Sarah Palin's and Glenn Beck's speeches on Saturday were a made-for-TV event, a reality show masquerading as a momentous political happening.

Here is Glenn Beck, the affable demagogue who says he’s really all “mushy” inside, at his rally to bring back honor to America at the Lincoln Memorial. Him. Beck. Big honor hunter. He probably wants to dress up like the guy who used to hunt crocodiles on television.

Here is Beck, having already sounded his alarm about how “for far too long, this country has wandered in darkness.” And told the country to turn back to God.

A right turn, presumably.

Now Beck is moving up on the big finish to his big day, one that must have guys like Rush Limbaugh wondering what they have to do to top it, finally telling his audience:

“If you restore honor in your own life, we will leave freedom better than we found it.”

Wow. You rarely hear language this rousing outside of tight races for student council president.

But this is the speech about God and country that Beck says so moved him – when he was lying on the floor writing it – that he broke down in tears. Over his own words. Then Mrs. Beck got on the floor next to her husband, Beck told Chris Wallace on Sunday, and asked him what was wrong. And he said, “No, it’s what’s right.” Good times at the Beck house!

Only this wasn’t about religion on Saturday in Washington, as much as Beck aspires to be the Elmer Gantry of the Tea Party movement, with God as much his co-star Saturday as Sarah Palin.

And it wasn’t about racial healing on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s “I Have a Dream” speech. Once you call the President of the United States a racist and hater of white people – as Beck once did – you just fall in with other, less famous race baiters. No matter how much Beck wants to walk himself back from those comments now.

Oh, sure. Now Beck says President Obama isn’t a racist, just a “libertarian theologist.” Right. I make that mistake all the time. Maybe Beck thinks you can be a racial healer, but only on weekends.

Whatever the size of Beck’s crowd Saturday – estimates had it anywhere from 87,000 to half a million – this event was the kind of political showbiz that seems to inform so much of American life these days. Starring carnival barkers like Beck. Who dress up Hallmark platitudes about honor and freedom and God and country and actually delude themselves into believing they’re doing it for something other than ratings.

You go back and watch his speech, and watch Palin’s, and realize this was just another made-for-TV event, a reality show masquerading as a momentous political happening. And church service: If I’m this close to God, the other side must be lined up with the Devil.

In the end, Beck has no real interest in unity or honor, just the best show.

Then, of course, there is Palin, the pompom girl for pep rallies like Saturday’s, telling the crowd that she’s an even better American than we knew because, well, she raised a combat veteran.

She did. Her son fights for his country and what he believes and good for him. But really Palin should have been talking about her daughter Bristol, on her way to “Dancing With the Stars” in the fall. You want to trace Palin’s DNA, you don’t have to look further than Levi Johnston‘s former squeeze.

Yet there the two of them were, Beck and Palin, performing on Saturday, doing their act at the historic site where the Rev. King once stirred a nation with soaring language about greater liberty and justice for all and his dream about bringing the country together. Beck and Palin? They speak of unity when their real game is dividing the country every chance they get.

Beck hates it when people compare him to Father Charles Coughlin, the radio wingnut of the 1930s. He talks about how vastly different their politics are, and he’s right about that. But Beck is the new Coughlin in so many other ways, starting with this one: confusing the size of his crowds and the size of his audience with an actual political movement.

So did Coughlin, whose career ended badly, the way Beck’s someday will. The Michigan clergyman finally became so delusional he thought he could run a North Dakota congressman, William Lemke, for President. This was in 1936, on Coughlin’s own Union Party ticket. Coughlin had a vast radio audience in a smaller America, and predicted that Lemke would get 9 million votes. He got 900,000.

Coughlin was another showman who thought he was something more. And a champion of the little people, the way Beck says he is. Not to mention being real good with God. Yeah. That’s what they all say.

Related:
August 30, 2010

Iraq’s uncertain future: The reckoning – American troops are leaving a country that is still perilously weak, divided and violent. Little wonder that some Iraqis now don’t want them to go

Cached:  http://www.economist.com/node/16889410

Aug 26th 2010 | Baghdad


THE last American combat soldiers in Iraq shuffle through a half-empty base as they prepare for the one-way journey to the Kuwaiti border. Some recall their exploits during many tours of duty over the past seven years, charting their fortunes with language that has become common currency on television back home. The shock and awe of the invasion was eclipsed by insurgents using IEDs. Backed by contractors who erected blast walls around a green zone, the soldiers eventually inspired an awakening among Iraqi tribes that, aided by a surge of extra troops, in time brought something like order. In the soldiers’ telling, the names of places that were little known before the war have acquired the resonance of history: Najaf, Sadr City, Abu Ghraib.

Some 50,000 American troops will stay on in a support role, to “advise and assist” the Iraqi forces that are now supposed to be in charge of the country’s security. Nonetheless, August 31st marks the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the combat mission that began with the invasion in March 2003. As a sign of America’s changing role in the country, the State Department will now assume some of the responsibilities that were previously undertaken by the Pentagon. Chief among them is the training of Iraqi policemen, a key to keeping the peace. Consular offices will be opened across the country to replace military bases. Since the State Department does not have its own forces, it is hiring private gunmen. They will fly armed helicopters and drive armoured personnel carriers on the orders of the secretary of state long after the last American soldier has gone home.

For their part, the people of Iraq never learned to trust, let alone like, the Americans. Yet public opinion has shifted remarkably in recent weeks. After countless American warnings of their imminent departure, all met with stubborn Iraqi insistence that the “occupiers” would never leave, the penny has suddenly dropped. They really are on their way out. But instead of feeling joy, Iraqis have begun to worry. “We’re not ready to go it alone,” says Wesam, a junior army officer. He, like many others, fears a return of sectarian war. That points to the fragility of much of what the American army can claim to have achieved since 2003.

On the positive side, they conclusively ended the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein. Only his deputy, Izzat al-Douri, escaped capture and punishment in a war-crimes trial. American soldiers were flexible enough to change tactics in order to defeat an insurgency that threatened to overwhelm them; their emphasis on recruiting local allies proved superior to the unadulterated fire power they had used at first. They avoided all-out civil war and cut short the brutal reign of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born jihadist, who was hunted down and killed.

Furthermore, a more open society has taken shape in urban Iraq. Safia Souhail, a member of parliament, holds regular salons where discourse is free and often contrarian. On the streets too, politics is discussed openly, even among strangers. Iraqis are no longer afraid to say what they think. Where once there were only whispers, a cacophony of shouted curses now assaults political leaders. The press is nominally free, though highly partisan and often harassed by officials. Religious freedom is generally accepted, even if some minorities still complain of discrimination. Alcohol cannot be sold at certain times, in deference to Islamic hardliners, but is available nevertheless.

Iraq is also much more open to the world thanks to America’s intervention. Travel is unrestricted, imports are plentiful, internet connections have gone up from 4,500 to 1.6m and the number of mobile phones has risen from 80,000 to 20m.

Yet freedom is still not universal in Iraq. Women and gays suffer discrimination, and there is little they can do about it. Across Iraq the rule of law is usually a distant aspiration rather than a solid achievement. Justice is no longer arbitrary, but judges can still be bought and the pace of trials is often glacial.

These gains have come at a terrible cost. About 150,000 Iraqis as well as almost 5,000 American and allied soldiers lost their lives. More than 2m Iraqis fled the country, many of them desperately needed professionals who are building new lives elsewhere. They despaired of a country in which many residents still don’t have access to basic services. Although American taxpayers have spent more than $700 billion,

drinking water is scarce, health care and education are inadequate, electricity is available only for a few hours a day and petrol often runs out. Many say life is harder than ever.

This lack of services has crippled the economy. Manufacturers cannot survive without power; this condemns the non-oil private sector to irrelevance. The Americans have tried to boost business by financing the construction of markets across the country. They also gave seed money to entrepreneurs. But about half the Iraqi workforce is still without a full-time job. The Iraqi government is barely able to collect taxes and spending is financed almost entirely from oil money.
Leave us to bicker

The biggest failure of all is political. Building a state with a democratic government and institutions that work was central to President George W. Bush’s vision of the new Iraq. The country has ended up with a travesty of good governance. Positions in the bureaucracy are awarded on the basis of family or sectarian allegiance rather than merit. Partisan interference so mars elections that no Western diplomat will call them “free and fair”. The watchdog Transparency International reckons that corruption is endemic.

More than anywhere else in the world, Sunnis and Shias still fear each other in Iraq. Trust even between moderates is minimal, and national reconciliation non-existent. Five months after inconclusive elections, Iraq still has no new government. Parties are deadlocked in negotiations. The most obvious coalition partners are the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, a moderate Shia whose block won 89 seats in the 325-member parliament, and Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister who is mainly supported by Sunnis and controls 91 seats. Yet the two men dislike and distrust each other so much that they rarely speak.

The prime minister could instead strike a deal with the next smaller block, a mix of mostly Shia religious parties dominated by the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, a hardline cleric. But Mr Sadr too distrusts Mr Maliki. Mr Maliki’s only quasi-ally, the Kurdish block, has too few seats to secure him power.

Attention is now focused on an American proposal that would allow Mr Maliki to keep his job and make Mr Allawi the head of a powerful new national security council. The Kurds and Mr Sadr’s followers are being encouraged to join as well. The result would be government by committee, a recipe for further deadlock, but perhaps the least bad plausible outcome. Corrupt party hacks would further carve up the ministries, but at least Iraq would have an elected government.

None of this would matter quite so much if the country were secure, but Iraq is still under siege. The insurgency is weakened but not defeated. Violence is down by 90% from 2007, but al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have staged a comeback in recent months. Officials and policemen are assassinated almost daily. The number of dead is increasing again, to nearly 500 in July. On August 25th a series of bombs throughout the country killed over 50 people and injured hundreds more. “Al-Qaeda can probably keep this up for a while,” says an American general.

Instability afflicts the whole country. In the south new extremist groups are springing up and old ones like Mr Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, are reforming. In the scarred northern city of Mosul much of the battle damage is recent. Along the dividing line between Arabs and Kurds, tension is as high as ever. Iraq’s territorial integrity is not certain. Borders are routinely violated by aggressive neighbours.

The future of Iraq will hinge on its security forces after the Americans officially hand them control on September 1st. The forces are much better than they were a few years ago; buckling under pressure is no longer a certainty. Yet even their own generals say they are not really ready. The Iraqi army chief of staff wants American help until 2020. Privately, American officers agree their job is not done. Iraqi intelligence work is poor, extremist infiltrators are common, the air force is in its infancy, some commanders follow nakedly political agendas and initiative in the lower ranks is lacking, as is equipment. Prisoners are widely abused.

It is clear that Iraqis will for many years be plagued by corruption, insurgents, meddling neighbours, and their own stubborn politicians. Ending America’s “combat mission” is a gamble—and gambles can be lost.

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