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News in Brief: 21 May 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Nearly One-Quarter Of Iraqis Living In Poverty. Abdul-Zahra al-Hindawi, a spokesman for the Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology, told RFI that a survey conducted by the organization shows that 23 percent of Iraqis live on less than $65 per month. People living in rural areas are even poorer. Hindawi added that poverty is most abject in southern provinces like Al-Muthanna, where 49 percent of the inhabitants live below the poverty line, and Babil, where 41 percent do. (RFE/RL)

Iraq eyes Turkey as farm ’disaster’ looms. Iraq faces an agricultural “disaster” this summer if Turkey continues to retain waters from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which have sustained Iraqi agriculture for millennia, experts say. (Hurriyet)

UAE Torture Tape Complicates Nuclear Deal. A U.S. agreement to exchange nuclear information and materials with an Arab country in the Persian Gulf is facing opposition because of a video of torture conducted by a member of a ruling family from one of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). (IPS)

Turkey’s political trench warfare. With court charges of corruption against President Abdullah Gül, Turkey’s conservative establishment opens a new front in what amounts to a form of trench warfare between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and its opponents. One way or another, a showdown of sorts appears to be approaching. (Today’s Zaman)

Obama’s power players. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Vice President Joseph Biden, and national security advisor Gen. James L. Jones, of course, are the Obama administration’s foreign-policy heavyweights. But beneath the layer of cabinet secretaries, who are the most influential foreign-policy players on the team? The following is FP’s list of the 10 administration officials who, according to existing reporting and with input from sources, are driving U.S. foreign policy in the Obama era… (The Cable)

Beholden to the Big Powers: Israel, Gaza and the UN. On December 27, 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a massive assault on Gaza. 22 days later, around 1,400 Palestinians, including over 300 children, and 13 Israelis were dead; about 5,000 Palestinians were wounded. Israeli forces bombed and shelled schools, medical centres, hospitals, ambulances, United Nations buildings (including UN schools), power plants, sewage plants, roads, bridges and civilian homes. This was described in much of the press as hitting “Hamas targets.” Earlier this month, the UN announced the results of an inquiry into attacks on its buildings and personnel in Gaza… Contrary to Israeli claims, the UN inquiry found no evidence that “Hamas militants” had used UN property to attack Israel or Israeli forces. Indeed, the report demanded that the UN urge Israel to retract its allegations to that effect. (Medialens)

U.S. Pullout a Condition in Afghan Peace Talks. Leaders of the Taliban and other armed groups battling the Afghan government are talking to intermediaries about a potential peace agreement, with initial demands focused on a timetable for a withdrawal of American troops, according to Afghan leaders here and in Pakistan. (New York Times)

Fears of a Taliban spread. The Taliban phenomenon in Pakistan is confined to the western border with Afghanistan, where the military and militants are currently engaged in fierce battle. Any movement of the Taliban towards the north may complicate Pakistan’s relations with China, Central Asia and Russia, even jeopardizing the stability of the region. (Asia Times)

U.S. Rejects Afghan Civilian Death Estimate. The American military on Wednesday rejected a claim by the Afghan government that a recent aerial bombing had killed 140 civilians, but acknowledged that 20 to 30 civilians may have been killed. (New York Times)

Baghdad, Kirkuk suicide bombers kill at least nineteen – officials. Suicide bombers killed at least 19 people in Iraq on Thursday in separate attacks in Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk, security officials said, underscoring the fragility of Iraq’s security gains. (Hurriyet)

Three U.S. Soldiers Killed In Latest Baghdad Attack. Three U.S. soldiers were killed and nine were wounded Thursday morning when a unit conducting a foot patrol at a busy market in western Baghdad came under attack, the U.S. military said. The attack happened at approximately 10:40 a.m. at the Assyrian market in Doura. At least four civilians were also killed in the blast, said Maj. David Shoupe, a U.S. military spokesman. (Washington Post)

India, Pak sharing intelligence at US prodding: Report. The CIA arranged for New Delhi and Islamabad to share information on Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for last November’s terrorist attack on Mumbai, the Wall Street Journal reported citing US officials. (Times of India)

Palestinian rift widens as new govt assumes power. The Palestinian rift widened on Wednesday after a new government, again headed by Western-backed Salam Fayyad took power, with Hamas categorically rejecting the cabinet. (The News)

Ahmadinejad announces successful test of new missile. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on Wednesday that Iran had successfully test-fired a new medium-range missile, drawing a warning from Israel that Europe too should now worry about the Islamic Republic’s ballistic program. A US official said the missile test appeared to be successful. (The Daily Star)

EU Looks East, Again. The European Union’s Eastern Partnership, promoting closer cooperation between the EU and former Soviet Republics, has been enthusiastically endorsed in Eastern Europe, ignored in the West, and criticised in Russia. (IPS)

What to do About Guantanamo? The US Congress is refusing to allow President Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, a symbol of torture and abuse. Apparently their vote was driven by fears of public backlash if those detained were brought to prisons in the US. Obama had failed to specify exactly what would happen to the prisoners when the facility was closed, but one is slated to be tried in New York for the attacks on the US embassies in East Africa in 1998. (Informed Comment)

Lowering the Drawbridge of Fortress Japan: Citizenship, Nationality and the Rights of Children. Two decades ago, as Japan’s economic engine hurtled along at full throttle, the Justice Ministry announced a policy that seemed to signal an end to its attempt to keep the world at bay. After years of restricting new immigrants to a trickle of white-collar professionals, the country would start accepting mostly unskilled workers to feed a labor shortage in its hungry factories. The policy change came with an unusual and perhaps uniquely Japanese caveat: it favored visa applications from descendants of immigrants who had left Japan, mostly for Brazil, long before the nation began its climb up the world’s economic league tables. As one commentator pointed out, it was a limited “blood-relative” approach bureaucratically designed, in so far as it was possible, to leave Japan’s homogeneity unsullied. (Japan Focus)

Pakistan: Armed locals foil Taliban attempt to enter Kalam. The locals captured eight militants amid a shootout and were expecting another attack, Kalam’s deputy mayor said. (Dawn)

Zardari’s gifts come with nuclear glow. President Asif Ali Zardari’s government needs every dollar it can get as 2 million people flee fighting in the war-torn northwest of Pakisan. Pledges of aid from as far afield as Libya and the US will be helpful. France is throwing in a little extra, with help on nuclear-energy matters. (Asia Times)

Pakistan aid bill clears US House hurdle. The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a plan to triple US aid to 1.5 billion dollars annually through the 2013 fiscal year, with a focus on development including improving education. (Dawn)

Massive voter turnout urged in Iran polls. A top Iranian conservative block has called for a massive voter turnout in the June 12 presidential election. (Gulf News)

Iran’s Next Leadership? On June 12, Iran’s electorate will go to the polls to decide whether to keep Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as their president or replace him. If Ahmadinejad loses, as the latest polls suggest that he might, it will be the first time since 1981 that Iranians have denied a president a second term. (Foreign Policy in Focus)

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