- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2010

IRAQ

Iraq braced for more attacks as U.S. leaves

BAGHDAD | Iraq foresees a rise in attacks by al Qaeda-linked groups when U.S. troops formally end combat missions this month but believes its forces are up to the challenge of providing security, a senior Iraqi official said.

Iraq has been hit by a series of bombings and attacks over the past weeks, killing dozens and underscoring the country’s fragility as politicians squabble over a new government almost six months after an election that produced no clear winner.

As U.S. forces get ready to end combat operations in Iraq on Aug. 31, some seven years after former President George W. Bush launched a war to topple Saddam Hussein, many fear a spike in violence amid doubt Iraq is ready to defend itself.

But acting National Security Adviser Safa al-Sheikh shrugged off concerns in an interview with Reuters and said Iraq’s forces are ready to fight a stubborn insurgency.

“I imagine these small attacks and assassination attempts will continue. From time to time, they will stage attacks that they need to advertise in the media to attract money from abroad,” Mr. al-Sheikh told Reuters on Tuesday.

“But we don’t think it will really affect national security,” he said. “We think the Iraqi forces are ready and capable of preserving security … so we are not worried about the U.S. withdrawal.”

MEXICO

Troops hunt killers in migrants massacre

CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico | Mexican troops fanned out in the remote countryside near the Texas border Thursday as they hunted the perpetrators of the worst massacre in the country’s escalating drug war.

With helicopters overhead, heavily armed patrols in armored personnel carriers, trucks and jeeps swept though towns and cities in the border region a day after the bodies of 72 people were found in an empty building at a remote ranch.

The victims, believed to be Central and South American migrants, appeared to have been blindfolded and bound before they were lined up against a wall and gunned down.

Photographs showed bloodstained bodies heaped on the ground at the ranch in Tamaulipas state, which has become the scene of some of Mexico’s worst drug violence as the Gulf cartel and a spinoff group, the Zetas, fight over smuggling routes.

The sole survivor of the massacre, an unidentified Ecuadorean man, escaped the remote ranch on Monday after being shot and told authorities about the ordeal. He said his fellow victims included Brazilians, Costa Ricans, Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans.

ISRAEL

Israel military judge defends Gaza blockade

JERUSALEM | Israel’s top military judge said on Thursday the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip is legal, in testimony before an inquiry into a deadly May 31 raid on an activist ship seeking to break it, media reported.

“We’ve consulted with the attorney general and with the Supreme Court, and found that it is legal and permitted,” Judge Advocate General Maj. Gen. Avihai Mandelblit told the five-member Israeli commission of inquiry, according to the Haaretz daily.

He also said the naval blockade was imposed out of “pure military considerations” and not as a part of “economic warfare” against Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza and is committed to Israel’s destruction.

He also pointed out that, even before the blockade was imposed in 2007, all supplies were transferred to the Gaza by land because Gaza has no proper port.

Nine Turkish activists were killed on May 31 when Israeli naval commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara ferry, which led a six-ship flotilla seeking to deliver aid to Gaza in defiance of the blockade.

FRANCE

France cracks down, deports Gypsies

PARIS | The French government continued it crackdown on Gypsies, or Roma, on Thursday, putting them on two flights to Romania.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government has linked the Roma minority to crime and is dismantling their illegal squatters’ camps and putting many of them on flights back to their homes in Eastern Europe.

At Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport, dozens of Roma, including children and babies, were escorted by police onto a flight to Romania. The country’s Mediafax news agency said a total of 284 Roma arrived from France on Thursday. Those who leave voluntarily are given 300 euro per adult and 100 euro per child to help resettle.

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